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Naughty Neds - kindly written for World of Horses by Karry Gardner
Hello, It's Me, I'm Back from Down Mexico Way !!

Well, have you all missed me ?? I'd like to say that I have missed you lots but I would be lying because I had a really nice time in Puerto Vallarta (pronounced Port-Oh Vay-Yarta, otherwise the Mexicans will laugh at you and give you short measures of alcohol in your Pina Colada's & Tequlia Sunrise's and what not. So it's best to get the semantics right here once and for all). 

I didn't miss anything about the Bleak Mid-English Winter including mucking out, exercising, cleaning tack and all the other yucky, cold things that winter and Neds bring. And I couldn't write to you at all because I couldn't type when I got back - I was so cold.

Unfortunately, Madame Ginger Bits hasn't missed me either but nor has she forgiven me for abandoning her to the cold weather and the discipline of "The Boss" who has been schooling her in my absence. Allegedly he upset her so much one morning, she nearly had him off. He of course has denied this publicly and who can blame him. At 108 years old MGB should have learned to behave properly, at least that's the theory here.

I love theory, it's so, well, theoretical and logical isn't it and so easy to understand that even really silly blonde and old (and brown , oh yes, don't leave out brown here !!), people like me can grasp really difficult things like "getting your horse on the bit using legs and forward motion" (hah,hah!!) and "using your outside leg to support the turns and stop the horse falling in which makes the horse go down and round" (hah,hah but louder !!) 

Yes , theory is GREAT in theory !! anyway, I'll return to the outside leg bit shortly. First we are going to address that hoary old problem of age and when IS it time to retire your ned and then I'll tell you about Mexicans and how the Charro's of Mexico treat their Neds and how equitation and attitudes differ from us Mad Brits. (All foreigners think we're mad, and I think that it's a compliment really!).

Q. What Time Is It When Your Ageing Ned Starts To Develop Irritating & Unusual Habits ?

A. Maybe It's Time For A Change Of Direction or Maybe It's Time To Retire It!

As you all know, MGB is 108, but she is a very, very fit 108 year old and to be fair, she's had quite a nice life even before she came to me. She was bred, 108 years ago by the showjumper Graham Fletcher but by the age of three, she had developed a pathological fear of jumping and poles (even on the ground) so he sold her on to Snainton, where she has lived ever since. 

She was never a school horse but was ridden by Students taking their BHSAI exams and up. She is very well educated but even to this day, jumping is her worst nightmare (no pun intended) and hacking out not be attempted by people with a nervous disposition and without private Health Cover including dentistry bills !

Even leaving the yard to compete or changing loose boxes has MGB quivering with fear and lathering up in sweat. She's a great horse in lots of ways but she is a Chestnut Mare and so that's IT really. She was never hammered around out hunting or eventing and cross countrying and such, so she has had very little wear and tear on her fat ginger body and looks as though she has undergone several facelifts and is an habitual vitamin "popper". She is not, however, the norm as far as horses of her age and size go. (She's 15.3 NOT 15.1 as previously reported and that's another fib she told me ).

There comes a time in the life every horse when you have to make a decision about "the future". When MGB ceases to enjoy life and she literally gets "so long in the tooth" that bitting her becomes a problem, then Horse Heaven will beckon. I will never retire her to a field because for a horse that has had the continual stimulus of work, it would be a slow death to her. Also, she goes lame quite quickly if turned out for long periods of time. (Actually, even loose schooling her can have the same effect).So I have a plan and every horse owner should have one too.

By the age of 25, most larger horses that have been in hard work most of their lives are starting to show serious "wear & tear" on their frames. Thoroughbreds are particularly vulnerable to this especially if they have hunted, raced, showjumped and have generally been hauled around by various people throughout their lives. As they get older, various factors come into play like the state of the teeth. As the teeth get longer and start to slope at the front of the mouth, it gets more uncomfortable for the horse to chew and bit. That's why it is so important to have them rasped at least once every six months at this age and get the back ones checked out for cracking and abcesses. Often, as a horses mouths becomes less comfortable, it gets "harder" in the mouth and people resort to stronger and stronger bits believing that this will cure the problem. It won't. Horses that have been yanked around and pulled about by rough hands need better handling and not stronger bits.

All horses will avoid the contact - this is their mission in life - and they do it because they do not like the feel, the taste and the restriction it places on them. This is amplified when a horse not only has had enough of the game (has got too old to really give a stuff) but when it's mouth is not comfortable . If the horse is old and yet sound in every other way after the teeth have been checked, then maybe it's time to re-access what you can do with a horse like this. 

Maybe gentle schooling and a change of discipline to supple and flex old and worn joints will help. Maybe, if it's happy being in a field and doesn't go lame, the answer might be to let it go as a companion horse. Be careful about this though, many people advertise for companion horses and the horse ends up in cat food because would-be buyers pose as genuine people in need of a companion horse but are actually unscrupulous meat dealers who don't give a damn other than to make a fast buck out of your horse's advancing years and your decision to ease it into retirement. 

Check out any would be home and "lease" the horse with a proper legal agreement then at least you've got some control over the twilight years of your horse's life.

If your old horse gets to the stage of being a bit "mouthy", misbehaving on rides and showing increasingly inconsistant behaviour patterns (horses get senile too), then you've got look carefully at the reasons and not just assume a change of bit or a bit of schooling will help. 

After the age of 30, it's a miracle that they are still alive at all (unless they are small, wily, willful, canny ponies who live forever so that they can plot against children learning to ride and then that's another story. ) We know when the time comes to call it a day and what we try and do is give the horse or pony one last summer at grass before he is put to sleep, at home where he is happiest and at peace. 

We've lost three in the last year - Bomber was 23 and a half bred Hanovarian who belonged to "The Boss" and "Small Boss" and Ben who was 24, had mainly thoroughbred in him and had belonged to "The Boss" and was born and died at Snainton . Both came in stiff and lame from the field and creaked when ridden. 

Ben had started tearing off with people in canter when he had previously been so well behaved. It wasn't fair to let them go on, their life had little quality. Little Sandpiper, who was only about 12 hands , pure white and maybe around 27 had been "Small Bosses" first or second pony and had Show Jumped, Cross Countried, taught millions of sprogs how to fall of, finally went permanently lame and listless. 

She was in pain and no amount of box rest could put it right so she went to heaven with diginity (and with Ben & Bomber and all her other horsey mates who were saving her a patch of celestial grass "up there") . Don't keep an old horse alive just because it makes you feel better if it's lame and blind and can't eat - it's just satisfying your own emotions.

It's a funny thing really how sentimental we are about our Neds in this country. I won't say that it's wrong, it's just sometimes we do things for the wrong reasons with animals and keep them going well past their "sell by" dates because we love them so much.

Different Strokes for Different Folks !

I travel abroad a lot thanks to my lovely husband who not only bought my Ned, but even takes me on holiday with him and our daughter, which is nice considering how much my Ned costs to keep. I have been to lots of far flung places like the Seychelles, Mauritius, America most of the Caribbean, Egypt and Mexico to name a few of them. I always try to find out about how horses are viewed and treated by different nationalities and it's interesting.

For example, if I was a horse in Egypt, I think I would commit suicide. If I was a poor person in Egypt, I would also commit suicide. In Egypt, all life is very cheap so the way all animals and children are treated is horrible and inhuman. I like the history, hate the life.

Horses in the Caribbean don't carry any body fat at all because of the lack of grass. They are fed mainly on hard feed which gives them a lean rangy look which we would deem to be underweight. It isn't really, it's just that the fat and muscle proportions are different because the energy requirements of a much hotter climate are different. Horses in America carry less body fat than ours except maybe the imported German & Dutch stock who still manage to look sleek and shiny and decidedly plumptuous.

Now Mexicans take their horses seriously because lots of parts of Mexico are only reachable by horse or air or boat. Mexicans are not big on roads except in the big cities and their traffic system is confusing to say the least. 

In Puerto Vallarta (practice , NOW) , in the state of Jalisco where the Mexican Hat Dance and Tequila both come from, the Sierra Madre Occidentals (Mountains to you and me) run very close to the Pacific Coastline and there's really only a strip of usuable land close to the sea and lots and lost of river inlets called "Rio's" like the Rio Grande and the Rio Cuale.

Most of the pleasure rides take place up these river beds which are very, very rocky and stony and sometimes you have to ride down 45 degree cliff faces. You can ride on the beach but it's very hot during the day even in January (85 to 90 degrees, every day) and tourists tend to get in your way and picking a tourist out of your horses feet can be very tricky and if it's an American tourist, potentially litiginous to boot !! 

So river rides are what we do most of. My husband and seven year old daughter ride better than me because they are fearless having never "nearly" killed themselves on several occasions so they don't mind mad Mexican Quarter Horses, 45 degree drops and swimming through rivers, in fact, they think it's seriously cool. 

I am not so keen especially when I get the newly broken 5 year old mare who was wild on the hillside five months ago and saw her first human at that time. It's my own fault really for admitting that I've "ridden before" which the Mexicans take to mean that you're probably a Grand Prix Showjumper from England which of course, in a previous existence, I was.

This little mare was adorable; a cutesey little brown spotted Appaloosa around 14.2 hands with an unspoilt mouth and great steering gear. To be critical here though, the brakes needed adjusting slightly and she wasn't very keen on my husband's horse which tried to eat her and this made her a bit scatty. 

She liked swimming a lot and tried to do it whilst I was riding her. My daughter got a "slow one" and she wanted to swap with me - she would have probably been OK , as she's at least Medium Advanced to my "almost nearly preliminary" ; she's nearly eight - what hope is there for me now ?

This mare's name was I think "Peda" although I may have misheard and my husband rode "The Clown" - chestnut, big white face and an attitude problem - he believed he had to be the lead horse and galloped to the front all the time to stop dead and then he was happy - I would have called him "The Complete Jerk" but there you go - maybe the name was lost in the translation somewhat.

When people on the ride worked out that I knew a bit about horses, they kept coming up to me and asking "What does it mean when ...?" and I had to answer all these American tourists with a straight face. I thought that all Americans were born knowing four things ; The American Constitution, the Ten Commandments, the secret of the perfect barbeque sauce and how to ride like a cowboy. 

Apparently I got this wrong as they kept asking me about why horses pricked their ears forwards, backwards, one forwards, one backwards why did they stumble a bit , why didn't the brakes work every time, why they trotted so fast (lack of dressage training obviously) how old did they live to and what did most of them die of (listening to daft questions from American tourists probably, serious GBH of the ear !!). 

But, I answered them as best I could and the most interesting thing they found out from me was that horses can't be sick and so tummy ache (colic) is serious. Now, why Americans are fascinated with an animal's inability to heave up the contents of it's stomach are is not for me to question to deeply - it could have been worse - we could have been talking "poo problems" I suppose.

The Mexican Charro told me that they always feed dry food to their horses because then the corn does not blow up too much inside the gut when mixed with digestive juices and so keeps the swelling of the feed and therefore the gut, to a minimum. Colic is rare in Mexico - now that's interesting when we are all so pre-occupied with damping down feeds with water and sugar beet. 

There's not a lot of grass available all year round and little hay and so the horses are lean but generally well cared for. All shod with T Bar shoes and all wearing the traditional one eared bridle with five inch long straight curb, these animals are so sure-footed, they make mountain goats look clumsy. 

I was negotiating a 45 degree drop after watching he sun set over the Bay of Banderas and the easiest thing for me to do was say to the horse "Look, it's over to you buddy, I'll just balance myself in your favour for this descent - the horse said OK Amiga, just sit still and let me do my thing !" And hey did - beautifully and safely.

Now I'm not mad keen on these wooden Western type saddles - they rub your leg and the huge pommels make rising trot and loping (cantering) impossible in anything but a staight , deep seat. Now that shouldn't be a problem to a dressage rider (don't laugh !!) but there are no knee rolls to brace yourself against and I found trotting horrible and loping almost impossible. 

My husband and daughter were tearing off all over and I preferred to walk - how sad is that ? And I ached afterwards like I never do at home and then they all laughed at me because I'm the one who should be able to "do it!" . I told my husband he could school MGB for me when we got home and he hasn't taken up my offer yet. HAH !! What does THAT tell me - it's just a lucky flash in the pan kind of experience for him and he can't ride at all really so , NURRRH ! Give me a week and I would've got better - honestly, I would !!.

Now Go And Make a Cup Of Coffee Please

Can you excuse me for a bit cause I'm just off to watch "Rogue Trader" on telly - I used to work in banking and securities and fraud and stuff and although it's not as interesting as Neds, it makes me feel really smug that I managed to escape from all that financial rubbish and now have only a 24 hour a day job instead of a career with loads of dosh and kudos !! ( Honestly, I prefer my life now to all that money !!)

Well, that was boring ! Not a single horse or even a three legged donkey - there's no wonder Nick Leeson got caught - he had nothing other than money in his life to think about BUT if he had owned his own Ned, he would have been much too busy worrying about getting it "down and round" to be bothered with all that insider trading rubbish. People never learn do they ?

A Quick Lesson in the Art & Language of a Mexican Charro

Any way, lets return to Mexico (PLEASE !!). The Charro's were fascinated when I told them how we "start" young horses in this country and when I explained lungeing and backing they rolled their eyes in amazement and exclaimed..... "But why are you not KEELED doing zis crazy sing. Eeef you break Mexicano 'orse in zis manner you would be DIED .Zey unnnerstand nossing like zis. You have to just get on zem and pray to Dios and ze virgin Mary zat zey will give up ze fighting before you fall off zem !"

From this exchange, I concluded zat (sorry I mean That really) Monty Roberts hasn't managed to get to Mexico yet - maybe we should set Monty a challenge on this one, after all, Mexico is but a hop from the US compared with the 6,500 miles we had to travel to get there.

Right, anyway that was a bit about Mexico and if you want any further details about it I've been to Vallarta, Cancun and San Jose del Cabo and Acapulco so just email me via World of Horses and I'll do my best to answer any queries.

There'll Always Be an England and a Chestnut Mare to Give You "Problems"

Right, so back to Blighty and freezing cold weather which was not my ideal welcome when we got back. I picked up my cats who promptly camped out in my bed, under the duvet and have refused to come out again in case it means going back to the cattery. Not impressed.

When I went to see MGB she just blinked at me, turned her back on me a poo-ed at my feet - so I had a good idea of what she thought of my absence. Bribery is starting to pay off now, but it has taken two weeks, half a sack of carrots and 10 packets of Polo's plus the promise of a new Thermatex Rug in Black bound with Gold (apparently and according to MGB her Blue bound with Red is so last week she cannot bear to be seen in it now) to instigate a conversation with her.

Day 1

Getting back on was an ordeal, not helped by having a vast audience of people who gathered round to look at my tan and the extra 10 pounds of weight I have acquired. "Small Boss" actually remarked that I had gone rather a funny shade of brown which I think was just sheer envy on her part. 

Having not ridden my Ned for almost a month by this time, I couldn't remember what hole my leathers should be on and much to everyone's amusement, I had put MGB in her exercise sheet because felt cold just looking at her naked, clipped body. We started in walk which I find is advisable and my first thoughts were how stiff she was to the left. 

I hadn't put my spurs on because I thought my legs were wobbling too much with the cold and I might upset her. She took advantage of this and pretended that she couldn't feel my leg through her exercise sheet and that she had forgotten how to flex to the left. We got nowhere that day .
Day 2

Was a bit better, no sheet, spurs and I had thawed out both hands and could use my whip in my left hand as well. After what seemed like three weeks, the walk got better having slowed her down with half halts and made every effort to keep my legs on her all the time. 

One of the things I noticed was she seemed a lot softer in her mouth and wasn't carting me off in the canter. I suppose this is because the "Boss" has a lighter hand than me and gives more in transitions. Also, he had repaired the Trot Button for me, which I had broken towards the back end of last year and I found that the lightest squeeze sent her into the movement. T

he Canter Lever also worked better with no laying back of the ears when I put my inside spur in and my outside leg back although changes of direction made her stiffen in her back. Having loosened her up in three paces, I went back down to walk and started making her move out through her right shoulder whilst keeping my left spur in her side. 

Although this is a useful suppling tool and makes horses less stiff and makes the come down onto the bit more, you really have to be careful with this because it also encourages them to move out through their shoulder when you are riding circles and changes of direction which is obviously not desirable particularly if you , as a rider have a tendancy not to keep your outside leg on as much as you should. 

In fact, I think leg yielding is not a particularly good movement to use too often for this very reason and can actually be a counter productive tool in schooling a dressage horse and we try not to over use it.
Day 3

My friend Lucy, who was observing at this point suggested that perhaps I should give MGB longer to think about the directional changes and try and set them up better . So, I rode down the long sides of the school and made the directional changes by turning off at A and C respectively and changing the neck bend and the flexion between A and X or C and X and MGB seemed to come a lot lighter in my hand and pushed her nose down onto the contact. 

I also used the B and E markers in the same way and then halted for a few seconds in the centre giving my Ned enough time to to accept that I had had changed the position of my legs and I wanted a different bend. 

It's important to ride into the halt with your legs ON and to keep them there otherwise the horse will come off the bit and the head will come up in the halt to walk transition which is undesirable. I keep my legs firmly ON and stretch the new inside rein out a little to encourage flexion in the new direction of travel and it never fails me, MGB always lowers her head between her knees, I only wish she would keep in there !!

Having cracked the walk, the trot was easier because MGB was relaxed and moving her hind legs underneath her instead of trailing them behind. It's important here to keep the horse moving forward and at the slightest hesitation or break of rhythm, I gently tap her behind and put my inside spur in a bit firmer - this has the effect of picking up the outside hind leg and making the horse step underneath itself better. 

You really have to ride every stride, even in walk - especially in walk !! The trot is still stiffening in the changes of direction and I'm still in rising trot (which really is not a good schooling pace as 50% of the opportunity to ride is lost) because I need a fair bit of forward momentum to keep her moving. Until I can relax her more in trot (and me) I will have difficulty in moving her around accurately without moving her out through her shoulder in directional changes. It's my homework until my next private lesson which I cannot afford at the moment until I've paid for Mexico.

My New Years Resolution is to Canter in a Correct Outline

(Maybe I Should Get A Life Too !)

I'll bet all of you out there in Cyber Horsespace think that I must have a really dull life when I ride because I spend so much time and effort on the smallest of things, but I have learned that the only way of achieving this down and round soft outline thingy, is to go back to the very beginning, lose all the pre-conceptions of how I learned to ride thirty odd years ago, and start again. And you know, the more technical it gets, the more challenging and interesting it becomes and the more I want to know.

Now, my New Years Resolution is to compete in my first Novice & Elementary tests this year and to get over 60 points. I don't know what MGB's resolutions are but I suspect she broke them quite quickly because she is Chestnut and a Mare and can't tell the truth to me ;she lies about her height, her age and her breeding so whats' left ?

If this Government has it's way, then all horses in England will soon have to have a passport (which all owners will have to pay through the nose for, no doubt) and I will be the first person in the country to go to Court , maybe even Prison having made false declarations about my own horse on a legal document. Still, at least if I get imprisoned with all the Hunt supporters I will have someone to talk to .

Bella the "Cow" She's back then, your mum ?


Bella the "Cow:"

MGB: Bring me a what back exactly ?

Bella the "Cow"


Bella the "Cow"-


Bella the "Cow:"

MGB to be taken seriously and Blue with Red - very 1997 pre Donatella Versace. You really must pull up your tendon boots Bella that's assuming you've got some worth pulling up of course and get an image - it's 2001 after all not 1981!

Bella the "Cow"

MGB: Yes !! I mean NO of course NOT !(Humpphs into back of box and chews haynet)

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