Fear of the Fall

For such a common eventuality among horse riders, this is something I don’t see too many people talk about. This sport we do is pretty high up there in the ‘dangerous sports’ category – a quick google search of the most dangerous sports will show you that horse riding (or sports involving riding horses eg. Polo, jousting, racing etc) is always listed in the top 10. This doesn’t surprise me one bit and I’m sure it doesn’t surprise you.

In most other sports, people are putting their trust in their own abilities to complete the task they’ve given themselves. They train hard to build their strength and skills to ensure they can perform their job. Yes, we equestrians need to do the same for ourselves, but there’s an additional element that is unique to our sport. We are choosing an animal as our partner. These animals have their own minds and they’re not afraid to remind us of that. Our horses are athletes and they demand the respect of being treated as such. They require immense care along with strict training and diet plans to ensure they are given everything they need to perform the tasks we ask of them. This is the element of our sport that provides the danger.

Some may compare a horse to a race car and yes, in the sense that a vehicle can have an unknown broken part which can malfunction at the worst possible time, there is an element of risk. However, at the end of the day, a vehicle does not have feelings. A vehicle cannot be in a bad mood. A vehicle cannot feel that its back is sore. A vehicle cannot feel the nerves of its driver just before a race starts. Horses feel all of this and more and just like us humans, they have the freedom and right to react to all of this as they see fit. This is where, in my opinion, our sport has no equal comparison. To make matters even more dangerous, we put ourselves in the position where we’re actually sitting on this animal’s back, 5 feet off the ground.

I hope that by this point all you equestrians reading this are nodding your heads in agreement. I mean, when you look at all of this together you have to wonder what went wrong in our lives that we seem to have a death wish?! I’m not going to keep going on about the dangers of our sport, we all know that this hobby is a risk sport and we have consciously made the decision to partake in it. What I want to talk about is the fact that despite knowing all of this, we have decided to do this sport knowing there is a high chance we could die or, at the very least, end up in a wheelchair and yet, we continue despite having the fear of the fall. To be more specific, the fear of THAT fall.

We know that falling off is an inevitable element of our sport and a lot would argue that falling makes you a better rider and this is something I wholeheartedly agree with. The only way to learn is by making mistakes and unfortunately falling off tends to be the result of making mistakes while horse riding. The aim is to ensure you get back up and keeping going – something that is not always possible depending on how bad the fall was. But we know we at least have to try because we love what we do. Unfortunately the getting back up part is not always easy. Sometimes you physically cant because you’ve sustained an injury, other times it’s the straw that broke the camel’s back and we just can’t do it anymore.

Anyone who’s been following NBW over the last year or two will know that I’ve had my fair share of falls. From April 2018 to June 2019, I had fallen off Coco 6 times. Not all the falls were bad, for the first few I was able to get back up and keep going to an extent, but fall number 3 was particularly bad – enough for me to drag myself to A&E on Christmas Eve. This one really shattered my confidence and it took some work to build myself back up and to get back out jumping. Unfortunately after regaining my confidence, the falls just kept coming until my last one in June 2019 which resulted in a broken foot, and me being out of the saddle for an entire summer. By then I had reached a point where I realised I was no longer enjoying riding so I made the difficult decision to sell Coco.

Enter Cosmo.

Even though he was young, Cosmo was to be my brave companion. The first time I rode him ended up being the first time I jumped since the fall that broke my foot (which happened while jumping). I didn’t think that first time leaving the ground was going to be on a very green 4yo, but low and behold this gem of a horse took me confidently over a red roadblock and I made the decision that he was going to be my next horse. He’s been exactly what I wanted from a horse – brave, trusting and incredibly talented. However, being a 4yo (now 5yo) he of course still needs the correct training to ensure he becomes the horse I know he can be.

After my litany of falls the previous year, I was of course very aware that a fall from Cosmo was inevitable. I briefly mentioned before about the cause of a fall. A lot of the time, just knowing what caused the fall can be enough to get you back going again. If you know you did something that impacted your horse to make them stop at the fence then you know what you have to work on. Unfortunately not all falls have this explanation. Sometimes it’s just bad luck. Sometimes neither of you did anything wrong. And this is what happened to me and Cosmo a few months ago.

We were doing some jumping at home over some small cross poles and Cosmo went for an off stride and ended up tripping over the fence. He tried his hardest but he just couldn’t get his footing and we both ended up going down. I flipped over his head, landing quite hard on my shoulder and I needed to keep rolling to ensure I got out from underneath him. We were both pretty shaken but thankfully we both walked away with no serious injuries. While I was well enough to get back in the saddle a week later, it took quite a good 3 months before I could jump again (partly due to the pandemic to be fair).

This fall was the one that I had feared the most. I’ve seen so many other horse and rider combinations take similar falls and they are always horrifying to watch. I’ve heard so many awful stories that I always dreaded it ever happening to me. And then it did. And despite the fact that we managed to escape physically unscathed, it was just as terrifying as I imagined. The ‘what if’ of the situation is ingrained in me and the possibility that it could happen again sends a cold shiver down my spine.

Our horses are our escape, the silencers of our minds for the few hours we spend with them.

This fall really got into my head. It was only when I really thought about all of this that I realised what an impact my recent falls have had on me mentally. Most of us do this sport as our hobby and our way of decompressing. Our horses are our escape, the silencers of our minds for the few hours we spend with them. But when fear and anxiety set in and you find yourself no longer enjoying your time in the saddle, or constantly worrying that you’re not doing what you ‘should’ be doing, it can really take its toll on your mental health. Something that I grew to accept was that I may get to a point where I decide that jumping just isn’t for me anymore. And if I do reach that point, that’s ok. As I know if I do make that choice, I’ll be happier in myself.

I also know that I definitely haven’t gotten there yet. I have had a few lessons over the last few months which have shown me that I still love jumping and Cosmo is far too talented to not be jumping. I still have a lot of fight in me to push through these confidence issues. I’ve done it before and I can do it again and I’m too excited to see where me and Cosmo could go to give up just yet. But knowing that I can decide to take the pressure off myself and just enjoy my horse brings a sense of relief but also a sense of determination, when I realised that I’m not quite ready for that.

For anyone else who may be struggling with similar fears, doubts, anxiety; just know that you can decide to do whatever you feel is right for you. If that means giving up jumping for a while then so be it. If it means stopping riding altogether and just spending some quality time lounging in the field with your horse, then that’s ok too. Just do what you know is the best thing for you and you really can’t go wrong.

Thanks for reading,

ORLA

Controversial Topic: Training Aids

The topic that brings equestrians together worldwide & not for those kind hearted reasons. Using a training aid verses not using a training aid, can you believe how aggravated people get on the subject? I often find myself up late at night reading comments under facebook posts, people just love to argue online over this topic!

It is not rare to see people getting annihilated, and torn to shreds with extremely harsh comments over the use training aids, most of the time the person in question is simply looking for was for advice or small tips on the training aid they were using.

I feel like this whole perception just needs to change.

NoBuckingWay

Have you ever really thought about it? How is using a whip, using your legs, a pair of spurs or even a bit in your horses mouth even putting a saddle on your horses back, all these things could be classed as cruel if you really think about it. Rarely you see these items discussed online, nor do you see harsh negative comments plastered across social media for their use.

This post isn’t about slating people who do or do not use training aids, I want this post to be about us coming together to discuss a topic. There is a conception that equestrian opinions are that of dishonesty, so lets open this topic up for discussion.

Personally I think training aids should be used in moderation to help with certain aspects of your horses training. For example, when I began to use draw reins, my instructor constantly drilled into my head than undoing the damage of over use or wrong use of certain training aids is worse then fixing the problem you were using them for to begin with, bearing in mind he was also the person who suggested I used them in the first place.

Pro’s of using Training Aids

  • Improves acceptance of contact
  • Beneficial for difficult horses
  • Help your horse to carry themselves correctly
  • Improves your horses way of going
  • Building up a topline
  • Helps to lunge effectively

Along with many more, but for arguments sake I shall list a few!

Con’s of using Training Aids

  • Provide a False Outline
  • They are not a Quick fix to riding problems
  • Develops an unatural headset if used all the time in training

Again, along with many more, but for arguments sake I shall list a few!

My Thoughts on Training Aids

Hands up if you’ve ever felt personally victimized by internet trolls for the use of training aids? Yes, my hand is up!

Dante was a stubborn opinionated mule when he was younger. He was honestly such hard work. Trying to get him to drop his head or try to work in an outline of any shape or form was always something that never ended well. He hated a contact in his mouth and hated not being in control, or that I was in control of him for that matter. We had tough times at the beginning, and before all the suggestions of pain start pouring in, he was regularly getting his back/teeth/tack fit checks done. Sadly for me, my Dante was just a dick.

I used training aids to better my riding and to help with Dante’s training. Within the last year my ReinRite has been a product that has just rounded us off and transformed the way Dante moves. And no I am not just saying that either cause I am a brand ambassador, I wouldn’t be an ambassador if I didn’t believe in the product!

I wont lie, It took me a while to get Dante working in a correct outline, this was because he just wasn’t fit enough to actually work proper;y from behind, he just took longer to develop. You have to remember that muscle building work is very strenuous for your horse, especially if they are not used to it. I used training aids once or twice a week for short sessions, this way I knew productive work was being done and that his muscles were being activated and put to work correctly.

I know a lot of people do not agree with training aids being used on horses. But honestly who gives a fu*k. Life is too short to care about what people think. Using training aids the last few years has at times probably saved my life, if asking for help comes in the form of a specific training aid then I see no problem in that.

For people who do not agree with the use of training aids, that is ok too I highly respect your choice and also your opinion. 99% of the time people who use training aids on their horse have either done their research or have been advised to use one to progress forwards in their training. With that in mind, I have asked some of my fellow bloggers & riders their opinions on the subject by asking them some questions on the topic keep scrolling to have a read.

What are Your Thoughts on Training Aids?

Inside Track Eventing: If used correctly, a training aid can be an incredibly beneficial compliment to a horse’s training and conditioning plan. The key is to choose a training aid that complements how you would ride or train your horses, and that supports you in targeting the weaknesses that you are trying to combat – be it your horse’s or your own.

Paddy – Inside Track Eventing

Mikaela Weld: The equestrian world is hugely divided on this subject. Training aids can be really helpful. Unfortunately a lot of people on social media I see are using them incorrectly.

TackNTails: Training aids are a tough one, the name suggests they’re used to aid in training and schooling. To, perhaps, help the average rider and amateur to communicate more clearly to their horse, reinforce their legs and hands or to encourage the horse to work correctly when being ridden or lunged. I think training aids can be a helpful resource, but unfortunately they are often used and abused by novice riders. They are used as a quick fix in many cases. The majority of products available are aimed to get the horse to tuck their head in, to look pretty with no regard for their hind end or back. I think they are often used in place of going for lessons and actually learning how to ride and schooling the horse correctly. Let’s be honest we know how damaging they are in the “wrong hands” but many people who use them have shit hands and are using them because they can’t ride properly therefore unable to get the horse to work correctly.

Ginger Ninja & Co: Training aids when used for the right reason can be incredibly beneficial for both the horse and rider. Lunging without a training aid is pointless unless you just want to burn excess energy as quickly as possible. When I ride I attempt to not let my horses run around in a circle with their head in the air, so why would I let them when I lunge? However, training aids are often used by the inexperienced riders for the wrong reasons. Mostly because inexperienced riders don’t know how to get a horse to work the way they know their horse should work. An outline doesn’t come from tying down the front end, it comes from riding the hind end.

Have you ever used Training Aids?

Mikaela Weld: I use training aids daily on my good horse RD Powerplay and not as much on my younger horses, but I do use them on them. I use both draw reins and the reinrite. Mostly when I am flatting the horses at home I will use the reinrite. When I am jumping my good horses or ones that are coming up the level I like to jump them in draw reins it gives me more control (for perspective I am 5 foot 2 and riding 16h and up to 16.3 horses and I am breaking horses and producing them up to 2* level and maybe more soon……) but I only use them if I need more adjustibility, if the horses is being really nice and adjustable I just have them as a back-up.

Mikaela Weld – International Showjumper

My younger horses very rarely jump in training aids. I will only use these aids if the horse has a snaffle or a very soft bit in their mouths. These bits are great to keep horses mouths soft so when you go to a show and put a bigger bit in their mouths they listen. We only use the bigger bits at shows training is mostly done in snaffles.  When I was training for 5 months with Nick Skelton and Laura Kraut everything except for one horse unless they were jumping around they had snaffles and draw reins always. I also use either a bungee or the rein right attached to the roller when lunging horses.

Ginger Ninja & Co: A pair of draw reins can be of great benefit for increasing your safety when on a “naughty horse” by this I mean a horse who’s prone to acting up by rearing, bucking, plunging etc. As they are traditionally used by feeding them from the girth through the bit and to the riders’ hands, they are controlled by the rider, you pick them up when needed but then release when not. I am currently hacking one of my horses in draw reins. Over the winter she became every difficult to hack and would begin to plunge which for obvious reasons is far from ideal. She is now hacked in draw reins as a means to control her head so that she can’t throw it around and begin plunging down the road to our untimely death.

Dave Modelling his Draw Rein

I will continue to hack her with draw reins until I deem it safe to remove them. Another way I have used training aids is by using a single draw rein through the horses noseband and into the riders hand on the stiffer side of the horse. When fed through the bit, they can cause great inference with the horse, you cannot ride into a contact when riding off a draw rein – it’s just physically impossible. Therefore this isn’t a way to school a horse. When the rein is fed through the noseband the draw rein does not interfere with the bit or the contact but the rider has extra help to bend the horse and control were they carry their head. This is only beneficial for a horse that is evasive by going with their nose in the air or has a particularly hard mouth. You can see Dave modelling this way of using the Draw rein.

What was the purpose of using them?

Murphy – Anxious Riding Clubber

Anxious Riding Clubber: I used side reins to help get him working into a contract on the lunge, but they just made him panic and it resulted more often than not him just bolting. The Libby’s Lungie Bungie encourages him to take that contact, and work from up and over his back and engaging his hind end. It’s made of a strong elastic cord and it mimics the hands of a good rider. It encourages the horse to take up the contact. The elastic is fed through a loop on a bit attachment which means there is always even pressure going to your horses mouth.

Keep It Country: My horse spent the majority of his life being pulled out of the stable and fired onto a hunting field so ‘working in an outline’ was not one of his strong suits. No matter how hard I try to work Bèag and get him supple, he needs that extra bit of help every now & then. The training aids help massively when they are used correctly and softly.

Inside Track Eventing: I like to lunge to see how my horses move, without a rider or any tack on their back. For my horse Paddy, who has soundness issues, it’s helpful to see how he moves myself, as what I feel and see are not always the same. For my younger horse Flash, I use lunging with a training aid as a means to develop her topline, and to encourage her to connect her front and back-end, without my asymmetric style of riding interfering! I personally choose not to ride in training aids, only lunge. There are many valid reasons for riding in training aids, such as a bit of added security with a fresh horse, but for my horses there have been no particular issues that I have faced that couldn’t just be solved with me working a little bit harder than I’d like to!

Flash – Inside Track Eventing

Mikaela Weld: I use the draw reins for extra control if I need them while jumping. Out hacking they are mostly used as a break. (Just as a precaution). I use my rein rite when I am flatting the horse especially my good horse. My good horse can get very anxious and stress on the flat. I have found the wheel between the clips that attach to the bit acts like a soother for her and it is nearly something she likes to play with. 

Training aids can be of great benefit to your horse if used correctly”, do you agree?

TackNTails: This is a vague statement. Anything can be of benefit if used correctly or in a specific manner. But what defines correct? Guns can be of benefit if used against terrorists, but does that mean we should allow anyone in to buy them with absolutely no experience? The danger is exactly this, we allow people to completely bypass learning to ride, going for lessons, getting vet/physio/dentist checks, or even sending their horse off to a professional rider and head straight for the gadget section of a tack shop and pick up anything they want. Training aids are often used in place of experience and proper riding. Let’s be honest, who are you most likely to see with their horses in these ‘aids’, it’s the amateur rider who knows what they want their horse to do and look like, but have no clue or cannot communicate to their horse how to do this. Yes, getting a horse to do something without these aids will take longer, but it’ll make for a better rider in the end and they will be able to transfer those skills to other horses too!

Anxious Riding Clubber: Most definitely! I personally don’t see a point in using something incorrectly, as more than likely it will cause more problems or even pain, than help solve them. It would be like me going out to chop a tree down with a chainsaw, I’ve no idea what I’d be doing and more than likely hack my leg off than any bit of a tree!
If I’ve no idea what I’m doing I go and research online or ask people that use the equipment. I’d never just whack something on Murphy without knowing what I’m doing.

Would you recommend the use of any training aids? If so what type and why? If you would not recommend the use of training aids please let me know why.

Anxious Riding Clubber: I would recommend the use of training Aids but the type depends greatly on the horse in question. I only have dealing with Murphy and we’ve not used many training aids. What works for me and Murphy may not work for you. Personally I would recommend the Libby’s Lungie Bungie all day long. Its changed the lunging game for myself and Murphy. And let’s be honest here, it’s fun to say!! For me, I dont see Murphy’s head been held in place, he can move about and it just encourages him to come back to the contact and relax in his work.

TackNTails: Honestly, probably not, but I definitely know which instructors I’d send people to! I’m not against them, they can be a really helpful and useful resource. I think chambons have gone very out of fashion but are great to really encourage a horse to stretch, work long and low, step under themselves and to build up strength all along their topline. Under saddle, I like that when using draw reins, the rider has the ability to use and then release them immediately. So many of the aids and gadgets available force

them into a certain frame without any release or else they only focus on the front end. I simply believe they’re over used and over relied upon. I don’t even want to give the usual “bad in the wrong hands” speech. Let’s be honest, a lot of those who use and rely on these aids are the reason why their horse isn’t working correctly and properly in the first place. I would say 99% of the time, the horse isn’t the problem, it’s the rider. Perhaps people over horsing themselves could also be to blame. If you’re relying on a gadget to school your horse, the horse isn’t the problem.

Mikaela Weld International Showjumper : I would recommend training aids once they are used properly. It really depends on what horses you have and what they like what they don’t like. What do you want to achieve with the horse. I use draw reins and the reinrite which I swear by these two training aids I always have them in my tack locker at shows and always in my cross tie bay. I love draw reins on the more experienced horses who have already muscled up well. While on the younger horses I prefer the reinrite it soothes them and helps to teach them to be balanced.

Inside Track EventingNatalie O’Keeffe : I primarily use two training aids – good old fashioned side reins and an Equiami. Side reins are a helpful simulation of a rider’s hands, and create a contact for the horse to work into. I usually start off with them quite loose and will tighten them after a short warm up – much like you’d warm your horse up on a longer rein and slowly take up a contact. I use those on Paddy, or if I am in a bind time-wise with Flash. The Equiami is a great piece of kit for any horse owner to have in their tack box – it is a self centering loop that simulates the release-reward mechanism of training that you might do when riding – encouraging the horse to work from behind, and loosening and reducing pressure as soon as the horse works correctly. I use this on Flash as Paddy just does not appreciate anything rubbing off his hindquarters!

Ginger Ninja & CoDearbhla Creagh : As I use training aids I’d be a hypocrite if I didn’t recommend the use of them. However there are a few caveats worth considering. Training aids are not an alternative to correct schooling. If you are considering the use of one and are unsure of what to start with or have never used it before then you really should only use it under the supervision of a trusted and qualified instructor. If the problem in your schooling is so great that you need the help of a training aid to overcome it, especially prolonged help, then perhaps you should consider getting your horse schooled by a professional.

Keep It CountryKate Colbert : I would recommend *side reins for lunging, *bungee or rein rite when schooling. I find the side reins are a massive benefit for your horse when lunging, they encourage them to ride long and low without any interference of your hands. It also is good to see your horse working from the ground. The bungee and rein rite are ideal for getting your horse working hard when riding, I find I can concentrate on leg yielding, counter canter and flying changes etc while Bèag is concentrating on staying balanced, tracking up and in an outline. Getting all of those points lined up and working together can be quite the challenge & so the extra hand is definitely a benefit.


Lets all embrace our differences & support one another in our riding decisions, Training aid or no training aid. I know that might be hard for some people to grasp, but I like to think that maybe it can be done.

Thank you to everyone who has taken part, you opinions have been fantastic on this topic. Our “Controversial Topic” post I think has already began to grow legs, see keep your eyes peeled for a series of topics we here at NBW are dying to discuss!

As always, we would love to hear your opinions on the topic in the comments below.

Darielle

The Impact of the Covid-19 Pandemic on Equestrians in Ireland

Unless you’re one of the three astronauts who landed back to earth from the space station on Thursday, I’m sure you are well aware that there is currently a global pandemic gripping the world that has come in the form of Covid-19.

The arrival of coronavirus has had a devastating affect on every country it has touched. Healthcare systems have been brought to their knees as they fight to reduce deaths, while governments plead with their populations to adhere to social distancing guidelines until they are given no choice but to implement country-wide lockdowns. All of these necessary health measures have had a massive impact on economies and people’s general way of life with unemployment rates soaring within a matter of weeks. There’s not a single aspect of society that hasn’t been impacted and that rings true for Ireland’s equestrian community.

In an effort to remain transparent, I am going to keep the focus of this post on Ireland as I don’t feel I can comment on the goings-on in other countries just by what I’m seeing on social media. However if you are reading from outside Ireland, I would love to know how your equestrian life has been affected by Covid-19 so please share in the comments.

What is happening in Ireland?

As of today, Saturday 18th April 2020, Ireland is on lockdown. This means that everyone must stay home in all circumstances unless:

  • You are an essential worker and you are travelling to/from work
  • To shop for essential food/household goods or to attend medical appointments
  • For vital family reasons eg. to look after children or elderly/vulnerable people
  • For brief physical exercise within 2km of your home

The initial announcement for lockdown was made on Friday 27th March at approx. 8.30pm when we were given the above instructions and advised that they would be in place from midnight that evening until Easter Sunday, the 12th April – so we were staring down the barrel of a two week lockdown.

When these restrictions were announced, the equestrian community in Ireland was left reeling as it struggled to determine what that meant for equestrian owners and businesses. We were given no guidance on what was considered an essential business so there were very large question marks over when we would be able to see our horses again.

As mild panic began setting in, people took to social media to see what further information they could glean from their trusted sources who, at the time, probably knew as much as anyone else in the country. That was, until approx. 10.30pm, when Horse Sport Ireland (Ireland’s governing body for the equestrian industry), posted the below on their Facebook page.

With this we were able to let out a sigh of relief as we realised we would still be allowed to visit our horses to give them the much-needed hugs and kisses we knew they’d so desperately miss in our absence (yes, I’m being sarcastic..we all know your horse just wants their feed and they’ll be happy, the hugs and kisses are for us).

The next question on everyone’s mind however, was whether our yards would still allow us in and if so, would we still be able to ride? This is where things became complicated…

The Options for our Livery Yards

Following the announcement, it was evident that livery yards across the country had already planned for the eventuality that lockdown would be implemented, as owners everywhere began receiving texts and calls informing them of what would happen in their yard.

Over the following days it became clear that livery yard owners had three possible courses of action they could take –

  1. Shut down the yard for the full two weeks of lockdown which would mean no access for owners
  2. Remain open but assign hourly timeslots so as to adhere to social distancing guidelines as best as possible
  3. Keep business as usual and allow free access

These decisions were made and while those who were faced with Option 1 may have been a bit disgruntled initially, for the most part, people seemed to be in agreement that they should do whatever is necessary to help ‘flatten the curve’ (a phrase I never want to hear again once this is all over). So we would just put our heads down and get on with things for the next two weeks.

Unfortunately however, things are never that simple for us here in this delightful community of ours. Over the course of those two weeks, it became clear through social media what yards were still allowing their owners access to their horses and as we drew nearer to our lockdown deadline and talk of an extension began, frustrations were beginning to mount.

Lockdown Extension and Rising Tempers

On Friday 10th April, it was announced that Ireland’s lockdown would be extended a further 3 weeks until Tuesday 5th May. By this point, horses across the country had enjoyed a solid two weeks of time off, getting fat in fields without their rugs as the good weather set in. Meanwhile owners were becoming more and more frustrated being confined to their homes while watching friends in other yards out enjoying their horses. Unfortunately this bitterness has made its way to social media this week (as does everything) in the form of a heated discussion around what livery yards should be doing.

There have been two clear sides in the discussion – those who believe all livery yards should be closed entirely and those who believe that owners should be allowed access to ride their horses while ensuring they adhere to HSE social distancing guidelines. But who is in the right? Well that’s what I want to explore next…

What is the right thing to do?

When I started looking into this I decided to do some research into what we have ‘officially’ been told to do. During my search I was only able to find two reputable sources who have provided some form of direction to the equestrian community, however unfortunately what I found only leads to more questions.

It is not necessary to seek official authorisation – it is up to you to objectively and fairly make the assessment in each case…

Starting with Horse Sport Ireland (click here for full information), for the most part they have provided answers for breeders and answer questions regarding transportation however what is worth noting is the following:

The Government have given guidance for employers and employees and the self employed, including farmers, to decide whether you are providing an essential service. It is not necessary to seek official authorisation – it is up to you to objectively and fairly make the assessment in each case…

So we can see where yard owners may have struggled to decide what the best course of action was. The Government has not provided any specific guidelines for livery yard owners. No law has been put in place. All they have to go on are ‘recommendations’.

From there I found further recommendations published by Teagasc, the Agricultural and Food Development Authority (click here for full information). Again, these are only recommendations and not absolute rules that have been put in place by the Government – it’s all interpretation. Of course the usual recommendations were given around following HSE guidelines to the best of your ability but below are a summary of other recommendations which I found to be most relevant for livery yard owners:

  • Deny all non-essential visitors at this time
  • Set up hand washing sanitising stations in the yard(s)
  • Clients in livery yards etc. should use their own grooming kits, tack etc. and be encouraged to clean between uses
  • In a D.I.Y., or part livery situation, for the immediate term can care of client horses be undertaken by the yard staff, consider turning horses out to grass for a period of rest
  • Alternatively stagger the attendance of clients in the yard with clearly communicated timelines to attend

Again, yard owners are given a swath of recommendations that almost contradict each other and make it difficult for them to decide what they should do. Should they deny owners access to their horses and take on the additional labour that looking after horses on DIY will cause (and for no additional pay mind you)? Should they only allow DIY owners access which, let’s face it, will cause uproar among full livery clients who have been denied access to their horse? Should they allow their client’s access and risk being berated by other yards who have taken the decision to close and are now being questioned by their own clients for their decision? There’s just no winning.

This pandemic has proved to be a highly emotionally charged event. People are anxious and stressed. They also have more time on their hands than they know what to do with so time spent on social media has increased (by up to 40% according to techcrunch.com). With this increase we are unfortunately seeing a lot of negativity. People are angry at the situation and they’re looking for someone to blame so anyone seen to be out enjoying themselves (even though they may be practicing perfect safe social distancing) are instantly seen as the reason we are in the situation we are in. And while everyone is arguing about whether livery yards should be open at all, what I’m not seeing is anyone asking the question, “Should we be riding our horses at all at the moment?”. Which honestly, I think is the most important question.

Is riding really necessary right now?

It’s a fact. Horse riding is a risk sport. It’s the first sign you see when you enter any riding school. So given the current medical emergency our hospitals are faced with, should we really be taking the risk of riding our horses at all at the moment? Horses are unpredictable animals. Even the most bombproof gelding can have a moment which can lead to even the most capable rider landing on their arse. You just don’t know what could happen.

Both HSI and Teagasc make reference to this in each of their articles.

Teagasc says:

Given health services are stretched to capacity it is strongly encouraged to avoid any activities that carry increased risk of injury. Consider giving your horses a break right now. Riding has not been forbidden, but it is a risk activity.

While HSI says:

Extra care should be taken not to take undue risks when handling and exercising horses at this time, due to the increased pressure on the hospital system due to Covid-19. Therefore, precautions such as lunging fresh horses prior to riding or using horse walkers if available, should be taken.

So should we just accept our situation and give our horses some time off? Well the problem with this is that we don’t know how long this pandemic will go on for. It’s all well and good saying we’ll give them the two weeks of the initial lockdown off but once lockdown was extended for an additional three weeks, that completely changed the game. Aside from the fact that time off generally means extended time in the field where our horses can now indulge in the finest fresh grass the recent spring weather can provide, but add in a total of five weeks off work and, depending on your horse, you could be asking for trouble.

You also have the scenario where some horses need to be kept in regular work or they start to become stressed which can lead to weight loss, a deterioration in condition or they can do themselves an injury. And what about young horses? This could be a pivotal time in their development where they need to be kept in consistent schooling to ensure they become the horse they are capable of being.

There are many reasons to argue why we need to keep our horses in work and I’m not here to say what is right and what is wrong. I do believe it’s something everyone should consider though and if you have made the decision to keep riding then I think we owe it to our healthcare workers to be sensible with how we spend our time in the saddle.

You may be able to handle your horse’s excitable moments but maybe for now it would be best to lunge it out of them first. Do you really need to be jumping right now? Would it really hurt your horse to go a month without jumping? Flatwork is the foundation of jumping and you don’t have any shows to be preparing for so maybe use this time to improve on areas you’ve been neglecting. These are questions I would even pose to professional riders and those yard owners who have restricted their client’s access to their horses but are still working away with their own stock of competition horses. For the most part, these riders are looked up to within the equestrian community so shouldn’t they be leading by example?

I would always say to each their own, but I think we owe it to our healthcare workers to not take unnecessary risks while we as a country are still fighting to tackle this virus.

In conclusion…

I think we all need to take a moment and recognise that no one really knows what the right thing is. We are experiencing something that has never been seen before in our lifetime. These are entirely unprecedented circumstances and everyone is only trying to do what they feel is best. As of today, experts are telling us that we have flattened the curve. Which means what we have been doing is working. Yes, we still have a long way to go but I think as a community, us equestrians need to acknowledge that no one is making decisions with malicious intent. Everyone is doing their best to make socially responsible decisions and as we get deeper into lockdown we need to rally together even more.


I’ve done a lot of talking and rambling in this post so now I want to hear from you. How has the Covid-19 pandemic impacted you and your ability to see and enjoy your horse? Let me know in the comments.

If you’ve made it this far, I applaud and thank you!

Orla