Planning on staying away with your horse?

If you are planning on staying away with your horse, whether you are heading to a major championship or going on holiday, there are lots of things you need to think of to ensure both you and your horse enjoy the experience. Para dressage rider, Bert Sheffield, rides at international level and is sponsored by SEIB. Read on to learn her advice when staying away with your horse.

Oh it has been a busy summer! Traveling around Europe as part of the Canadian Para Equestrian team; trying to speak very bad French and even worse German at the unsuspecting locals; scaring the poor girl in the Mulhouse nail bar when I desperately needed my talons sorted, otherwise I start biting them again; indulging in fondue in Switzerland (it HAD to be done!); cooking ourselves in the hottest weather in Germany for something like 150 years, 45 degrees C is not a pleasant riding temperature; all in the name of trying to get the Canadian team qualified for Rio Paralympics next year. We won’t know if we have succeeded until the end of January next year which of course makes staying away from biting my nails even more difficult!

Because of all the traveling to compete I have to do, people often ask me what to expect when staying away from home at a show and what they need to do to make it a good experience.

Showgrounds vary wildly! I have had my horse stay in air-conditioned temporary tents in Qatar to really rough, small wooden permanent, basically garden sheds in the UK. Usually in the UK, it is temporary stabling on grass or carpark. I always prefer to be on grass if it isn’t going to pour with rain. Some horses will root about and eat the grass overnight but at least there is less chance of injury than there is on stony, broken tarmac. If the weather is bad staying in temporary stables is never pleasant and it is always a struggle to keep the horses and all their kit clean and dry.
Most shows provide a bale of bedding for each stable, don’t expect a whole bed! You can usually bring your own bedding as long as it fits with the show rules (often there is a ban on straw) or you can buy bedding from the show office or stable manager. I always have a big bed in temporary stables to protect the horses, often temporaries are only 10’x10’ so the horses need banks to protect their hocks. Also lots of clean bedding does help to keep the horses cleaner, especially the white bits. You may want to bandage your horse or use stable wraps overnight for protection as well as keeping clean.

I use my Cyclo-ssage massage rug a lot when away at shows to combat the stiffness that can happen due to the small stables. It also helps when plaiting a restless horse! Getting your horse out of the stable and hand-walking and grazing if grass is available helps a massive amount.

If you are not arriving at the start of the show, you will often find that your stable was used the night before so has some bed already in there. Usually shows have the stables with a kick out time of 3pm or 5pm to allow the next horse’s groom time to sort things and settle their horse before it gets dark. It is common courtesy to muck out stables when you leave so that it is clean and tidy for the next occupier. If you find that your stable has been left in a mess, tell the stable manager! Often you have to leave a deposit with the Stable Manager which you then get back when you leave and she has checked your stable is cleaned out. I always put clean bedding in my stables so that my horses stay cleaner.

Make friends with the stable manager – they are your port of call if you need an emergency vet or farrier and they want to help you, even if it doesn’t always seem that way! There may well be nothing provided on the stable for you to note down your contact details. I use a piece of card with my name and telephone number on which has been laminated. This is then tied onto the door with cable/zip-ties. You may have to hand your horse’s passport in to the stable manager and have a vet check to make sure that all his vaccinations are up to date and in the right time frames. Make sure to leave plenty of time for this in case there is a queue, it can take a long time! After that’s all done, the stable manager will usually give you a stable pack with wrist bands and stable number and their emergency contact details and at some shows, even meal tickets!

For the duration of a ‘stay away’ show, your horse must wear his official number at all times when he is outside his stable. Then if there is a problem the officials will know who he is and who is responsible for him.

Many of the more experienced riders will have personalised stable drapes. These are great for covering the bars of the stables and giving the horses more privacy so they can rest.

You will need to take your own mucking out tools and buckets. Don’t use and remove any buckets provided – you don’t know what they might have had in them and it could have been medication which would cause your horse to fail and an Anti-Doping test. A wheelbarrow is really useful to move kit from the lorry to the stable. Don’t leave anything outside the stables unless it is locked to the stable framework when you aren’t around. Things walk away really easily!

If you need a mounting block to get on or a stool for plaiting, don’t forget to pack one. I have a great one that cost £8 for Lidl which has been all over Europe. It doesn’t need to be fancy and the lighter the better, just has to be the right height for you.

The show will provide water for the horses to drink but whether there is a hosepipe or a bathing area is entirely up to the show. Often washing facilities are very basic with no tying up on grass so they quickly turn into a mudpit. If you bring a clean horse to the show it is cleaner to keep it clean than trying to scrub it there. The dry shampoos and greenspot removers are brilliant. Be aware also that early in the morning other grooms may be using the hosepipe for a long time, cold-hosing legs etc so try to plan allowing time to wait about.

Remember to put in rainsheets and other slightly warmer rugs than you would use at home. Sleeping in a plastic tent in a small stable is a lot colder for the horse than a permanent stable at home. I also use fly rugs as with so many horses together, sweating and poohing, there is often a bloom of flys during the day when it is too hot for ordinary rugs.

Find out where you can hand graze your horse, at some shows they set aside an area and for FEI shows you have to have a steward watching you so there are often set times for grass. Same goes for where you can ride, exercise, lunge or warm-up. There may well be set areas and time restrictions. For dressage shows, ask about arena walks. They are often early in the morning before the show kicks off and it will be specified whether they are be to ridden or unmounted. Arena walks can make a huge difference to a show performance as the horse and rider have had time to look at the arena and see that all the scary bits really aren’t so bad.

Staying away from home at the big shows like the SEIB Trailblazers Finals can be huge fun. Always pack lots of wet weather gear, changes of socks, warm blankets, food and enjoy it as a great holiday with your horse!