Saturday, 29 December 2012

Happy New Year!

Wow, another year has come to a close. What a year! I had a baby, took 7 months off riding, passed another 3 law units (not long to go now!), started my little boy at Montessori school 5 mornings a week, started back at work after a year off doing a PhD, went on mat leave (they must seriously love me at work!), got my filly in foal, resigned from a board, became acting Chair of another (how does that even happen!!), finally got my dressage judge accreditation, planned a wedding (well, still planning....sigh), paid off my credit card (hooray!).....and that's just what I can think of right now. It's been a hard year for most of us, full of trepidation and uncertainty, disappointment and resilience. Here's to a new year of promise, achievement, positive change and reward for hard work!

My new eventing buddy and I sat down yesterday over a very noice brunch and planned out the first 6 months of next year in our quest for 1* domination. She, it was decided, will go to every bloody event in a 4 hour radius. I, however, can only go to events where I don't have to camp due to baby restrictions. She will assist at said events by holding the baby while I ride - leaving my very understanding husband-to-be at home with our young man. Sounds easy, right?

So, I think we'll be doing:
  • Berrima in March, Intro
  • Albury in April, possibly our first Prelim if all goes well at Berrima
  • Wagga in May, Prelim
  • Canberra the weekend after, Prelim
  • Berrima again mid-June, Prelim.
Looks good on paper (e-paper?) but I'm confident we can get up to Prelim by June. And all but Canberra are pretty easy-going courses so Assegai should get lots of confidence if I don't screw it up. :)

Hopefully, I'll see some of you there. Thanks so much for reading my blog! It's been amazing how many people have actually read past the first post. I promise it'll get way more interesting once we actually start competing.

For those of you on holidays and in need of some holiday reading, or for those of you hardcore enough to do it at work,  here are some really interesting articles from one of my favourite online mags, The

You may need to sign up/register as a member for The Horse - it takes but a minute and the site is a goldmine. Interesting with the last two how, despite the research showing the benefits of barefoot, the disbelief of the researcher seems to downplay those benefits and they recommend barefoot only for horses with no imbalance or pre-existing conditions (there is no such horse!).

Happy New Year! Hope yours is way more debaucherous than mine!

Monday, 24 December 2012

Reflecting and scheming

So, it's that time of year - the reflection on the past and scheming for the future time. And it's been one hell of a year, 2012. I can only imagine what is to come in 2013!
Horse-wise, things have been quiet this year. I was pregnant for most of the year, which does kill off any riding intentions for me - I get quite morning sick, and I feel all weird about jumping on my young horse when I know he could turf me off any time! But, 3 weeks after the baby was born I had my first ride! Call me crazy, I know....but it's a matter of mental health!

Now that Assegai is 6 and has obviously enjoyed his time off, I am starting to look towards our future. I have to be honest and say that I seriously contemplated selling him on and looking for something 'easier'. He has a very difficult temperament (ie he's a complete grump and has built a solid reputation as downright aggressive around our agistment centre!), and he's also very spooky so he's liable to start stopping on cross country 50m away from a fence he hasn't seen before! I started to find it really frustrating (how many times can I be yelled at to 'get him in front of your leg!' before I have to just down tools and tell said yeller to get on and give it a go yourself! But, all whingeing aside, he's exceptionally quick to train, he can jump when he puts his mind to it, and after 7 months off didn't even put in a pigroot or a shy until several rides in when I felt stronger!

So, what is a good goal? I figured I'd throw caution to the wind and set my sights on 1* with Assegai. I want to ride at Melbourne 3DE and I figured, hey, it's only 110cm, right? (Insert derisive laughter here) And once you get to 1* you can crack on for 3*, right? (Insert derisive snorting guffawing here)

But, seriously. 1* it is. And that means I have to get strategic. It's one thing to just fang along doing Intro (EA80) and even Prelim (EA95), but getting up to higher grades requires planning, training, commitment and management - and an air vest!! I'm terrified of being involved in a rotational fall. They're the ones that kill you. Eek!

Fiona Gruen, when I sheepishly confided my goal to her in our first lesson a few weeks back, without batting an eye (I guess 1* seems pretty normal to people like that) said, "dressage and showjumping, that's all you should be doing for the next 6 months!" A bit deflating, since I love cross country the most - like all eventers! - and suck at both dressage and show jumping. But she has a point. I guess you have to practice most what you're least good at. Sigh. But with that in mind, my aim is to do our first Prelim by my birthday (June) and step up to Pre-Novice at Berrima in 2014. It's such a lovely, forgiving course and I've heard it's a good one to step up to the next level at.

I've also discovered the 'performance trim' being used by the odd higher level barefoot eventer (here's one such example: I'm keen to try it out in wetter conditions. We haven't had dramas slipping yet, but I'm sure there'll be a comp coming up where studs would be handy!

Hope you all had a great Christmas and a recharging holiday!

Saturday, 15 December 2012

Chris Burton Clinic

What a week! I feel completely exhausted, broke and school holidays only just kick off tomorrow so no rest for the wicked!

Well, I'll say one thing....Chris Burton sure can ride. The man hopped on two horses in my group over the course of the weekend and had them going beautifully within about 2 minutes. It was a complete pleasure just seeing how he works. That being said, he's so quiet and subtle you have no bloody idea what he's doing!

There are a couple of things I will be taking away from the clinic. The first was a very simple but quite difficult exercise using two poles. Simply put two poles down a fair distance from each other (around 25-30 metres, I'd guess) and work on adjusting your horse's stride in between the poles so you meet the second pole on the number of strides you choose. Chris had us putting 4, 5, 6, 7 and even 8 and 9 strides for the over-achievers. He said, do this every day as a flat exercise, a warm up, whatever, but EVERY DAY, and you'll be the most accurate jumping rider around. So, now when I watch Chris ride on DVDs I'll know how he gets so good.

The other main lesson that came out of the clinic for me was having my horse in front of the leg. I had exactly the same lesson from Clayton Fredericks a year ago, but clearly haven't quite nailed it! Assegai is a spooky horse that backs off fences and is prone to stopping and cat leaping. It drives me crazy!! So, we need to work on having him extremely responsive, to just go forward when I kick regardless of how scary he thinks the jump is! What I really liked about Chris' training technique for young or inexperienced horses is the gentleness and time he takes. There was a lot of yelling (by Chris) at those of us who pushed to quick to get their horse across the little ditch or into the water. There was even whacking with a big long stick! But the idea of giving one kick and if any kind of forward movement, or even if not much at all happened, you are to simply wait. Keep the horse straight to the obstacle with the reins and kick if he steps back, but just sit there and let him work out the fence, letting him have his head - I had my reins at the buckle! It was quite effective - Assegai walked himself into the water after a minute or two, no stress, no kicking and reefing and belting with the whip. I liked it.

So, a couple of days off, I reckon! Then a couple of rides and it's Christmas. I'll have to do the young filly's hooves tomorrow so I'll post some pics. I don't do the best trim job but my trimmer won't be out for a couple more weeks and hers are pretty ordinary right now! She's such a big galumpher that her hooves have a tendency to flare out if they aren't trimmed every couple of weeks at the moment.

Thanks for reading!

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Manu Mclean Clinic Day 2

What an exhausted pair we are! It was seriously hot today - 30 degrees but it felt like more. Poor Assegai had spent a restless 24 hours in a paddock by himself out at our friend's place and clearly hadn't been doing much eating as he was suddenly starving and trying to rip my arm off to eat any old dusty tussock of grass that appeared near us as we walked up to the stable! Still, not exactly a bad thing - he still has a bit of weight to lose. And so do I! Kind of wish someone would restrict my diet so I could lose some weight! Or do I.....

So, today we worked more on suppleness and roundness using the bending exercise from yesterday, but we added in an extra degree of difficulty - canter. Manu had us doing an exercise she first introduced me to about a year ago but I went off and had a baby and forgot all about it! Canter, steady, down to trot then immediate indirect turn of 90 degrees. As he starts to round and bring his back up to complete the turn, ask for canter again. And voila! His head stayed down. We'd been losing lots of marks for canter transitions as he'd hollow and stick his head up even though he was being obedient and not truly resisting.

We basically played around with techniques to help him lift his back and a bit more cementing of the 'two taps on the chest' to stop game. It's really fun! Assegai started doing those cool sliding stops like western reining horses. Felt awesome.

So, now a day off all round before we start the clinic with Chris Burton on Saturday. It's forecast to be very tropical (for Canberra) ie hot and wet. I'm really looking forward to it. Now I've set my goal for this horse it seems to be achievable when I break it down into steps. 1* is certainly intimidating when you're still at Intro and haven't competed at any kind of decent level in 10 years, but I'm going to give it a red-hot go, using some non-traditional techniques like barefoot and equitation science. Glad you're along for the ride (no pun intended). :)

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Manuela Mclean clinic - Lesson 1

This week is the big week of clinics. Yesterday and today I have two lessons with Manuela Mclean of the Australian Equine Behaviour Centre. She and Andrew Mclean are world leaders in training using evidence based theories and especially learning theory. Their son, Warwick Mclean, is an FEI level dressage rider training with Kyra Kirkland. I've known Manu and Andrew for most of my life, having grown up riding in Tasmania where they were our local Pony Club instructors! Talk about lucky....

So, yesterday's lesson was really interesting and helpful. The most thought-provoking and fun aspect was the use of the whip to ask for halt and slowing. Manu had me tap Assegai twice on the chest (and keep tapping, increasing in frequency until he offered the right response) to halt. He was very quick to pick this up as he's quite sensitive, especially on his pecs! We'd been having lots of problems with him setting his jaw against the contact and stopping effectively, but heavily. This technique removed the bit from the equation and soon we were doing canter to halts with two taps of the whip. Manu increase the level of difficult further asking for slowing within the gait from one tap. He was pretty good at that too!

The other main issue we have is tension and hollowness throughout his frame. We would easily lose 2 marks per movement and has been very frustrating. Basically, he's simply not using his back and hindquarters effectively and has been really difficult to bend without resisting and sticking his head in the air!

Manu got me turning him with a direct inside rein, at walk to start, into a tighter and tighter circle until his head dropped and he became all 'gooey' under my leg and seat. It's a pretty accurate description! As soon as this correct response was offered we rode straight until his head came up again. This worked extremely well, and I was able to ask for trot from that bending exercise with no head movement.

Coming down a gait worked on the same premise. At canter Assegai found it very slippery (fresh woodchips) and I was initially worried about his footing as he'd never slipped before. Manu commented (along with helpful spectators and friends!) that he stopped slipping once he started bending and sitting more effectively. Essentially, he came off his forehand, started using his body and stopped shuffling along! Barefoot appeared to have no bearing on the going. A very interesting concept - perhaps our horses slip sometimes because they're on the forehand.

Second lesson today, then tomorrow off and a clinic with Chris Burton on the weekend. Very exciting!

Friday, 7 December 2012

The KISS principle

So, I said last time I'd do a post on feeding. I'm by no means an expert in this department, but I've done a lot of reading of research articles and listened a bunch of different horse people. I would have to say, as a result, that I subscribe to the KISS principle - Keep It Simple, Stupid.

Horses have evolved to eat lots and lots of fibrous, low-nutrient grass, almost continuously across a large area. Unlike cows, who have four stomachs, horses have one smallish stomach and a lot of intestine. As we know, horses seem ridiculously susceptible to all sorts of life-threatening gut issues like colic and twisted bowel. Horses can't vomit and they can't breathe through their mouths, adding to the complexity!

That being said, I like to not feed my horses anything they don't absolutely need. They live on grass 24/7 unless at a comp, and I don't feed grain unless they are in a lot of work and not maintaining condition. Grain appears to be problematic for lots of horses, causing a spike in blood sugar and sometimes causing acidosis of the hindgut. There are lots of articles and books to read about feeding grain. I personally dislike it, but lots of people swear by it and the racing industry would collapse without grain!

What horses eat directly affects their hooves. I've noticed that keeping my horses on a predominantly grass/fibre diet means generally very healthy feet and little or no separation of the wall from the laminae. I feed lucerne hay for the calcium it contains (the ACT area is notorious for its mineral deficiencies) and there was some recent research to show that lucerne assists in reducing the acidity of the hindgut during spring grass flushes. This may help prevent inflammation in the laminae, the frontrunner to full-blown laminitis.

I feed supplements in a dipper of lucerne chaff when my horses are too fat for any other feed and keep a 'horse block' mineral block in the paddock 24/7. The idea is to make sure the horses have the nutrition they need, not the nutrition we think they need. I have to constantly stop myself buying the sexiest new feed just because it looks really good!

There is a lot about 'low-GI' feed around and I'm a believer. I have horses that hold weight easily and don't need the extra energy so low-GI works for them. Seems to be good for their hooves too.

I think that's it. I'll be blogging more about feed as we go up the levels and fitness becomes more of a factor. I'll have to see what works.

Thursday, 6 December 2012


My gelding has never worn shoes and that makes me very fortunate in that I never had to transition him from shod to barefoot. His hooves are very hard but I have noticed that the state of the hooves changes with the seasons, the weather and whatever he's eating. The first four pics below show his hooves coming into summer - lots of green grass (very dangerous for those prone to laminitis), hot and dry, creating faster hoof growth and chipping. The three pics at the end all show his hoof after trimming (not great pics, sorry - I was in a rush with the trimmer!). Note the strong hoof growth, the absence of cracks, the uniform shape and overall health of the hoof.

This hoof is the one shown in the pic of the underside of the hoof with lots of chipping. It's almost unrecognisable. That was all quite superficial.

As summer kicks off and I am upping the training and intensity, including more jumping, I have to bear in mind the state of his feet. With this horse, I have had virtually no issues in the last 12 to 18 months. What I do to maintain this hardiness is lots of walking on gravel roads and hard dry clay trails. If I can get access to sand arenas to train in, I take full advantage. Basically, the more wear the hooves see, the faster and stronger they grow. That being said, I don't jump on hard ground very often! This horse can now trot up a gravel road with no problems and gallops over hard ground with no sign it is painful. He has never had swelling in his legs after cross country or show jumping.

Feeding at the moment is purely related to getting his supplements into him - he's a fat bugger right now! This horse is quite sensitive to touch and needs joint support from the wear and tear eventing and general riding has on his body. I feed him a vitamin E and selenium pellet (Kohnke's E-Se is what I'm currently using) and MSM powder I buy on Ebay. I only feed lucerne chaff and a little low-GI pellet to make it worth eating!

I will write a blog on feed soon as I see it as the paramount issue. Out of trimming, exercise and feeding most people focus on trimming in the barefoot world because it's often controversial and seems to be the most important part. It is certainly important, but I consider feed, then exercise, then trimming the order of importance. More on that next time. Happy riding!

Sunday, 25 November 2012

OK, the kids are both having a nap and it's ridiculous degrees outside so I thought I'd do another post given the amazingly good conditions!

How did I get into barefoot? Especially in a sport that is quite set against it....well, it all started with a friend of mine who is a mad endurance rider (and ranked in the top 10 in her weight division nationally). I listened to her talk about endurance horses completing 180km rides barefoot with no problems at all - in fact these horses usually pulled up better, recovered better and had longer competition careers than their shod counterparts. I was incredulous. Then I started firing up the old Google and there they were, these miraculous horses. With photos!!

I bought a book called Barefoot Performance and read it cover to cover, but it was firmly written for the UK audience where the problem is usually too much moisture, not a problem I experience often here in Canberra! But I learnt a lot about how the hoof works, the damage shoeing can do to the hoof structure and function, and the massive effect diet and exercise have on the health of the hoof.

The young warmblood I had just purchased had never had a shoe on, so I thought he was a good guinea pig, rather than trying to rehab a horse from shod to barefoot. But there are some pretty serious issues to consider when it comes to eventing in Australia:
  • Is a barefoot horse able to gallop across the different terrains of cross country in Australia?
  • Boots are no longer permitted in ANY phase of eventing by Equestrian Australia, for reasons unknown, so I can't take preventative measures
  • What about grip? I can't use studs (or boots) to increase my horse's grip in slippery conditions
I have so far been able to navigate my way through these obstacles successfully, but we're still at the lower levels. Grip has certainly never been a problem, and when I look at the underside of my horse's hoof I realise that the entire hoof wall is like a big hoof shaped stud. He's yet to slip at all, even on the slidey grass most shod horses skate on. I've worked hard to toughen up his hooves on dirt and gravel roads, and bitumen when I can, so he shows no change when traveling fast over the hardest ground, and he appears to have vastly increased proprioception, allowing him to protect his feet from injury on rocks.

More on that in the next installment!

Barefoot Eventer is born!

When I was first exposed to barefoot horse management a couple of years ago I looked and looked but found almost nothing on the internet from Australian eventers. I realise I am in the distinct minority campaigning a horse barefoot in one of the toughest equestrian sports on what is usually very hard and rough going. But the benefits to my horse have been such that I have found myself quite committed to this approach and wanted to share my journey online for the benefit of other eventers (or riders in general) in Australia looking to compete barefoot.

A bit about me, so you can decide if I sound like your kind of blogger: I'm 33, I work in the legal profession, I have two kids (my eldest is 3 and has Down syndrome, my youngest is 7 weeks) and a very understanding husband. I own two horses. The Barefoot Eventer original is a warmblood/Irish Sport Horse of dubious character who just turned 6 and, until I put him out for 7 months to have a lad's holiday while I was pregnant, had started competing EA80 (ie Intro). The other horse is a 3 year old Irish Sport Horse of gargantuan proportions who is off having adult time with a very handsome ISH stallion. I agist my horses and live in town, though hopefully this will change in future.

If you're still with me, thank you! My next post will detail my introduction to barefoot and I'll post a couple of pics of my horses' feet to give you an idea of what I'm talking about. The gelding has 'pony feet' according to the trimmer, but the mare's feet are a little more complex. And their hooves change constantly with the weather, season, diet, terrain and workload. More on that next time!