Become a dressage maestro with these top training exercises

We all know achieving dressage success is no free-walk on a long rein in the park. It takes time, patience and productive training to achieve the marks you want. If you’ve found yourself in a bit of a schooling rut lately, never fear – follow these simple exercises to get your horse moving in a forward rhythm, a supple frame and with an elastic contact.

Warm-up: Long and low

Encouraging your horse to warm up in a long, low frame – stretching throughout his body with an extended neck – means you can coax him into a forward rhythm while asking him to seek the contact. Don’t start with your reins at washing-line length, though – allow him to gradually take the rein down as you work, incorporating simple shapes such as 20m circles and 5m loops to give him an active contact to work into and to occupy his mind. Don’t worry if he’s doesn’t have a beautifully arched neck, as you’re aiming for a forwardness and feeling your horse at the end of your rein. Besides, a curve in the neck doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve achieved a good contact!

Exercise 1: Bend and listen

This serpentine exercise is a real test of your warm-up. If your horse is moving forward and seeking the contact correctly, you should be able to gradually pick up a shorter rein and maintain that lovely, elastic feeling with an active step. Your job is to maintain this feeling around the curves of your serpentine and for your trot-walk-trot transitions over the centre line.

Start on either rein and establish an active trot and with horse listening to you. Preparing your turns is key, so make sure your line of vision anticipates the movements you’re about to make, your inside leg supports the turn, and your outside leg maintains impulsion and guards against falling out. Meanwhile, your outside hand should permit the stretch to the inside through his neck.

Before your transition, half-halt to prepare your horse and remind him to keep seeking the contact before asking him to come forwards to walk, keeping your core engaged and your leg secure to prevent hollowing. When you ask for trot again, make sure you don’t throw away the contact and keep looking for your next turn. Next, step things up by trying the exercise in canter.

Wrapping it up: Super circles

In order to ride a correct 10m circle, especially in canter, you’ll need a horse who’s forward enough to maintain his rhythm, supple enough to follow the curve of the circle through his body and accepting enough of the contact to guard against rushing, breaking and falling out. If you’ve not done this exercise before, start with a 15m circle and work your way down.

To ride a correct ten-metre circle, you need to leave the track just after A, touch D at the top of your circle and re-join the track again just before A. You might find you need to use more leg than on your serpentine curves, but don’t let this encourage you to collapse your position or throw away your reins – focus on riding your horse in a way that allows him to move forward and bend around the circle without rushing.

Heading to a dressage competition soon? Get yourself kitted out with Bridleway’s range of jackets, saddlecloths and more, visit bridlewayequestrian.com

Equine dehydration: what you need to know.

Dehydration in horses can be very serious, so being able to spot and prevent it, particularly during the warm summer months, is an absolute must. Making sure your horse has access to a clean, plentiful supply of water at all times is essential, but there’s certainly more you can do to make sure your horse avoids dehydration.

Spotting the signs

At best, your horse’s performance will be affected by dehydration, but in more severe cases it can lead to him exhibiting the symptoms of colic and you’ll need to call your vet.

Dehydrated horses can seem lethargic and produce thick, sticky saliva. Their urine is often darker and their mucus membranes, such as their lips, can become particularly red and congested.

Pinching the skin on your horse’s neck and counting the number of seconds it takes to spring back used to be a widespread method to check for dehydration, but recent research has since suggested that this is unreliable. Instead, checking for tacky gums is a more accurate, easy-to-test indicator of dehydration.

Did you know?

The most accurate way to test for dehydration is to have your vet examine a blood sample for the level of proteins in it – a high level indicates dehydration.

In the summertime

Horses are designed to cool down through sweating. By doing so, they also lose water and body salts, which contributes to dehydration. But, did you know your horse loses water through respiration, too? Therefore, exercising your horse in hot weather, causing him to sweat and increasing his respiration rate, contributes heavily to loss of water and can put him at risk of dehydration.

If you’re taking your horse out competing all day while the weather’s warm, there are plenty of steps you can take to keep him hydrated. Make sure he’s got access to water at all times just as you would at home, and try adding a flavouring such as apple juice if he’s reluctant to drink and if he won’t at all, try a slushy feed such as sugarbeet. Bring plenty with you, as washing him off after his class will help cool him down and reduce his need to sweat and he’s more likely to want to drink water that tastes more familiar to him, too.

Winter blues

It’s not just the summer months and exercise that pose a risk to him. The moisture in grass goes a long way to contributing to your horse’s daily water needs, so when this is scarce over the winter and is replaced with much drier hay, he’ll need to drink much more to stay hydrated. Horses can be put off by ice in their buckets, so you could try insulating his water bucket by putting it inside a tyre and packing round the edges with straw, or bobbing a tennis ball in it to prevent it freezing over.

What you feed can also help guard against dehydration. Again, feeding sugarbeet can help increase his water intake, but consider your horse’s forage ration, too. Haylege has a much higher moisture content than hay and will increase how much water he consumes, but you could also try soaking your hay.

Last but not least, it’s imperative you replace the body salts your horse loses through sweat and respiration – not just the water. You can do this by feeding an electrolyte supplement at the recommended rate.

For all your equestrian needs, visit www.bridlewayequestrian.com

Handling the Heat – 10 Tips for Better Summer Riding

The UK is currently experiencing the longest heatwave it’s had in five years. Over lots of cool water and an ice cream or two, Bridleway’s team have been discussing how we, and our horses, have been coping with this beautiful but troublesome weather.

Here are our top 10 tips to help you handle the heat when riding this summer:

  1. Change your routine
    Ride in the coolest parts of the day, avoiding the midday sun. Get up early or wait a bit longer in the evening before riding to make sure you and your horse don’t overheat when you’re out. Consider stabling your horse during the hottest part of day too, as this will protect them from the sun and pesky flies.
  2. Use fly spray AFTER you tack up
    A good fly spray is a lifesaver for horse and rider in the summer months, as it is the peak season for horseflies and midges. However, remember to only apply to your horse’s coat after you’ve tacked up – fly spray under a confined area, like the saddle, can cause irritation when your horse sweats.
  3. Choose breathable fabric for your horse
    Even when riding during the cooler parts of the day, keeping your horse dry and cool is important. By choosing a saddlecloth and girth that are made with a breathable or wicking fabric, your horse will stay comfortable. Saddlecloths made from a quick-dry fabric will draw away moisture from your horse and keep him cool. Plus, an ergonomic girth like the Contour Comfort Girth allows greater airflow and reduces moisture, minimising the risk of rubbing or chafing.
  4. Protect yourself
    Whether you’re riding in an open arena, hacking out, or just doing yard work, remember to keep yourself protected too. Stay in the shade where possible, regularly top up your sun cream, and wear breathable clothing, like riding tights or a base layer. The base layer’s moisture wicking properties will keep you feeling fresh, and longer sleeves, whilst sounding counterproductive, will protect your skin from the sun and do a better job at keeping you cool than short sleeves.
  5. Stay hydrated
    Whilst long hacks aren’t advisable during the hottest parts of the day, if you are out for a while, take supplies with you in a handy bum bag. A bottle of water and an energy bar will keep you going and help replace the nutrients and water you’ll lose when you sweat. Offer your horse water on return from your ride and don’t forget to have a drink yourself.
  6. Use a fly veil
    Your horse’s ears are a sensitive spot that flies love to attack. Keeping them covered with a fly veil can protect them from biting insects and have the added benefits of blocking noise and looking good too (especially when paired with a matching saddlecloth!).
  7. Avoid still or stagnant water
    From puddles to ponds, areas of still water are a breeding ground for midges. If your usual hack takes you near a pond, try and find an alternative route to stop your horse getting pestered.
  8. Take it steady
    A lack of rain and constant sunshine dries out the ground, making for uncomfortable footing for your horse. When hacking, try to avoid riding too quickly on hard ground or rocky surfaces. Keep to a walk or trot, as this is less likely to cause damage to your horse’s legs. Stick to an arena for your faster paced schooling work.
  9. Don’t forget the cool down
    Once you’ve returned from your ride, take your time to cool your horse down properly. Sponging or hosing him off will help bring his temperature down and a good body wash brush and sweat scraper will help make the process easier. Don’t forget to reapply the fly spray once he’s dry and pop on a fly mask and lightweight fly sheet for extra protection.
  10. Make cooling treats for your horse
    After a warm ride, your horse will need to cool down and stay hydrated. Help him by using handy tricks that encourage him to drink more, such as adding apples for him to bob for in his water trough or bucket. Another fun idea is to create a frozen horse lick with water and chopped up apples and carrot. He’ll be cool, hydrated and kept amused with his very own ice lolly!

Hopefully these 10 tips will help you and your horse stay comfortable and make the most of this British heatwave.

For all of your summer equestrian needs, visit your local Bridleway stockist or  www.bridlewayequestrian.com

Perfect Protection

For all horsey people, their trusty four-legged friend’s safety is paramount and thankfully, there’s a wealth of kit available to fit every horse, from fine-boned Thoroughbreds to chunky cobs.

However, it’s also important to consider your own safety. Rider protection takes many different forms, be it high-visibility clothing or riding hat bags to cushion your most vital piece of safety gear.

Best foot forward

Boots and bandages come in a wide range of colours and styles, and can be used for a variety of purposes, including competition, travel and training, to help protect your horse from cuts and bumps while he’s out and about. Brushing boots are suitable for daily exercise, while over reach boots help protect the bulbs of his heels. The Bridleway Fleece Trimmed Quick Fit Over Reach Boots are available with a fleece lining that reduces the risk of rubbing or discomfort.

Shine bright

Making sure you can be seen is essential while hacking out, especially on the road. A simple piece of high-viz, such as a hatband or vest, helps you to be seen up to two seconds earlier by other road users. Bridleway’s stunning range of orange high-viz clothing is designed to make you and your horse stand out while out on the road.

Buzz off

At the height of the summer, pesky flies irritate us all. Relieve the stress by kitting your horse out with fly masks, veils and rugs to reduce the risk of fly bites and to help alleviate itching. Choose from Bridleway’s range of fly rugs and team up with a fly mask to create the best combination for your horse to keep him fly free. For ultimate fly protection, treat him to a Bridleway Sweet-Itch Bug Stoppa rug, which has breathable fabric to keep him cool on a hot summer’s day. In addition, liberal use of fly spray is a good idea, and you can also buy creams or gels for sensitive areas.

Ahead of the game

Protecting your head is the first port of call for rider protection, but it’s also important to protect your helmet. Invest in a padded hat bag to keep your hat safe from dirt and damage while on the move. Many bags include pockets to store extra essentials such as gloves, which help to protect your hands and improve your grip on the reins.

Protection is priceless for both yourself and your horse, so head over to bridlewayequestrian.com for all your safety needs.

jumping success Bridleway Equestrian

Jumping success – exercises to try at home

Jumping at home is something a lot of riders enjoy, but without the help of an instructor it can be hard to know what to work on. Setting up one fence to pop over a few times on each rein might be fun for a few minutes, but there’s not much for you and your horse to learn from it. Here are a few simple exercises to help inspire you to take your jumping at home to the next level.

On the grid

Gridwork is very effective for improving horse and rider technique and confidence. A line of fences in quick succession encourages your horse to concentrate and pick up his feet, while your position is tested as the lower leg becomes an anchor, and the urge to over-fold must be resisted.

Another benefit of gridwork is being safe in the knowledge that you’ll hit every fence on a perfect stride and in a powerful canter every time. Using a grid to set you both up to a stride or two before an oxer makes trying bigger fences feel easier and less daunting.

Start with a three-bounce fence in a line, each 3–3.7m apart, and a fourth another 6.4-7.5m away to ride as one canter stride. Remember to build the fences up slowly – don’t just ask your horse to tackle the whole grid from the word go as this might knock his confidence.

A different angle

Jumping fences on angles encourages your horse to think on his feet and will give you a real advantage in a jump-off situation. After you’ve warmed him up over a couple of fences, set up a small upright in the middle of the school for ease of approach from A on both reins. Keep the place pole under the original line of the fence, but move the right-hand wing around slightly towards E. This will create an angled, corner-shape fence with a ground line that’s easy for your horse to interpret.

As your horse grows in confidence, you can create a steeper angle with the fence and even place the ground line directly beneath it to make the exercise more challenging.

Get creative

The most important aspect of your jumping is that both you and your horse enjoy yourselves. If you’ve been asking a lot of him recently with difficult exercises and competitions, why not try taking a more relaxed approach to jumping every once in a while – it’s possible to do this and still teach him something.

Instead of demanding a high degree of technical accuracy, try jumping some small yet unusual obstacles he might not have encountered before. Maybe you have some plastic barrels lying around, or some tarpaulin that can be fashioned into a makeshift water tray? Asking him to approach some new and interesting fences will not only boost experience and bravery, it’ll give you the chance to learn how to ride positively into fences he may have doubts about.

Don’t forget to protect your horse’s legs with boots when you’re jumping. See Bridleway Equestrian’s range of affordable boots and bandages at bridlewayequestrian.com.

Bridleway Grooming Tote

Grooming routines your horse will love

Grooming your horse isn’t just about making him look squeaky-clean. Regular grooming will keep him comfortable while he’s wearing his tack, and promotes overall skin health and loosens his muscles. It also offers the chance to thoroughly check him over and help him shed any dead hairs. Plus, daily grooming allows for valuable bonding time and will build trust between you and your horse. Here’s how to make the time you spend grooming him extra special.

A shedload of hair

At this time of year, loose hair can make your horse hot, itchy and uncomfortable. Turning him out without a rug on, if the weather permits, will let him have a roll to dislodge some hair – which will give you the chance to give him a thorough groom when you bring him back in.

You can help him speed up the shedding process as you groom him. Use a rubber curry comb in vigorous circles to further dislodge any hair and help bring mud to the surface. Once you’ve done this all over, use a brush with stiff, long bristles, such as the Bridleway Long Bristled Dandy Brush, to flick away the hair and mud you’ve worked out of his coat. Finish by rubbing a hot, damp cloth over him to lift away any remaining hair and dirt to leave him with a clean coat. Add baby oil to the cloth to give him that extra sparkle.

Hot and bothered

With warmer weather on the way, your horse will really appreciate a cool down after a ride, particularly if he’s hot and sweaty. It’ll help loosen off his muscles after hard work, too.

Rather than just hosing him down, try using a wash brush to really work the sweat out of his coat to avoid leaving marks. Concentrate on where his saddle has been to help alleviate any tightness in the muscles post-exercise. When you’ve finished, don’t forget to use a sweat scraper to remove any excess water from his coat – the Bridleway Spotless range includes a good range of grooming equipment and matching grooming bag to keep your kit together.

Best of friends

What better way to unwind is there than spending time pampering your horse? Not only will this strengthen the bond between you both, but there are also added health benefits that come with it, such as boosted circulation and a sense of calm.

A great way to bond with your horse is to mimic the way another horse would groom him. You might often see your horse and his field mate stood side-by-side, grooming each other’s manes, necks and backs. Focus on grooming him in these areas, with short brush strokes. With any luck, he’ll turn his head and groom you in return!

Bridleway products and great advice can be found at your local Bridleway stockist, find your nearest at bridlewayequestrian.com

Keep him supple with our schooling tips for hacking

Varying your riding environment is an important part of keeping your horse happy and interested in his work – you don’t want to stay at home doing the same things every day and neither would he. Using your hacking time to occupy his mind and work on any schooling issues in a fun, pressure-free environment is really beneficial, particularly if you don’t have easy access to an arena. Here are some tips to get you started

Long and low

Asking your horse to take up the contact and stretch into a long-and-low outline can be an effective warm up. Not only does it encourage him to relax into the contact, he’ll also raise and engage his back, working the muscles that support a correct ridden frame. Be sure to work him gradually down so that contact is maintained – if you just drop your reins, you’ll loose your connection.

Time to flex

Keeping your horse’s body straight and his gait forward, use your rein to ask him to flex from one side, then to the centre, then to the other side. This exercise will warm him up while testing his suppleness and obedience. It’ll also free up his neck, preparing him for any more complex questions you’ll ask of him later.

Side to side

The flat, stable surface of a quiet path is a perfect setting for asking your horse to leg-yield. This movement requires him to use his whole body and reinforces the idea that your leg aid doesn’t just mean go, but can also mean move away. This exercise requires straightness and engagement, so is a good indicator of how well he’s working. It’ll also reveal any corrections you need to make in your riding or his way of going. Make sure you check the path is clear of pedestrians both ways before attempting a leg-yield.

Shoulder showdown

Now he’s warmed up through his neck and back, you can start asking your horse to engage through his whole body by asking for shoulder-fore, Make use of hedges and fence lines to help guide your horse as you ask his front end to bend slightly away while keeping him travelling forwards. However, be sure not to allow him to over-bend.

Going in circles

Coming across an open field out on a hack is a huge bonus because you can use it as a giant school. Take the opportunity to play with the space, performing transitions, circles and changes of bend through serpentine work to encourage suppleness. Be vigilant to falling out, though, as there won’t be any fences to help prop your horse up!

Don’t forget visibility for you and your horse when you’re out and about. For high-viz and everything you’ll need out on a hack, visit bridlewayequestrian.com

Breathe easy – respiratory health explained

Your horse’s respiratory system is a complex part of his body. If he’s in good health, you probably won’t give it a great deal of notice, but respiratory problems can affect his wellbeing and performance, so it’s important to know what to look out for and how to keep him in the best of health.

Signs and symptoms

Your horse is only able to breathe through his nose, so his nostrils are a good place to start. You’ll notice that, when at rest, he takes 12–20 breaths per minute, with barely any movement in his nostrils. This will increase in abnormal conditions – he’ll breathe more rapidly in hot weather or with exercise. Flared nostrils at rest is a sign there’s something wrong.

Nasal discharge is also an indicator of respiratory health. You’ll rarely see any in a healthy horse, although small amounts of a clear, watery substance during or after exercise is normal. However, increased, thick or smelly mucus could indicate an irritation or an infection.

Although many healthy horses cough occasionally, frequent coughing is another common sign that something’s not quite right. If you notice your horse coughing regularly, speak to your vet to get to the root of the problem.

Be in the know 

Problems occur when your horse’s respiratory system is unable to function properly or efficiently. This can be caused by a number of factors, such as…

  • viruses
  • allergens
  • air quality

These factors place stress on his respiratory system, meaning it has to work harder, but there are lots of simple actions you can take to minimise these and help support his health.

Supporting his respiratory health

Knowledge of what can cause stress to your horse’s respiratory system is an important tool in maintaining and supporting it. Many horses are allergic to dust and fungal spores found in hay and bedding, and horses with prolonged exposure can develop conditions such as recurrent airway obstruction (RAO). As well as problems associated with ingesting dust and spores, these allergens can also have an impact on air quality, particularly if you have an enclosed, American barn-style yard and an adjoining indoor school.

Management methods to help combat these issues and support your horse’s respiration include…

  • steaming or soaking hay before feeding to minimize dust and spores
  • making sure he’s got clean, high-quality, dust-free bedding
  • improving ventilation on your yard, which could be as simple as keeping the doors open as much as possible
  • ensuring he’s out of the way when you’re mucking out or sweeping up
  • using a specifically-formulated feed supplement to help support a healthy respiratory system
  • maximising his turnout

If your horse seems susceptible to respiratory problems, consider shaking up his management a bit with a couple of these suggestions. It’s worth talking to your vet to help you formulate a management plan.

For all your horsey needs, visit bridlewayequestrian.com

Preventing winter injuries

Whether you’re battling heavy rain or frozen conditions, winter weather can result in an increased risk of injury to your horse, either in the field or when ridden. But by making a few simple adjustments to your routine it’s possible to reduce the chance of a problem.

When to turn out?

While we all know that plenty of turnout is an important part of our horses’ management, it’s not necessarily best to put your horse in the field at all costs. If he’s used to living out, he’s likely to cope fine with whatever the British winter throws at him (provided he has access to shelter and a tough, waterproof rug (such as the Whistler Turnout Rug & Neck Set) to keep him dry. However, if your horse is on a combined system there may be days when it’s better to adjust his usual turnout routine by turning out for a shorter period of time, or providing him with other ways of stretching his legs – for example, turnout in the arena, using a horse walker, or hand walking in addition to ridden exercise. Very slippery ground, either due to ice or heavy rain, increases the risk of slips or falls, which can cause soft tissue injuries that may take many months to heal. If your horse is turned out as part of a large group, consider whether subdividing the horses in these conditions would help everyone remain more settled – or why not feed hay in the field to keep them occupied? Remember to always offer more piles of hay than there are horses, to avoid arguments.

Ride right

If you’re heading out hacking, pay extra attention to the going, particularly when trotting and cantering. Avoid going at speed through deep ground, which could cause damage to the delicate tendons and ligaments in your horse’s lower legs. Look for good grass cover to reduce the risk of your horse slipping, too.

Essential warm-up tips

The more mobile your horse is, the looser his muscles will be. So, if he’s stabled more than usual at this time of year he’ll also need longer to warm up before a schooling session. Your first priority should be to keep him warm while tacking up – folding a fleece rug over his quarters is ideal, then leave it handy in his stable to put back on him as soon as you return from your ride to avoid him catching a chill.

Using an exercise sheet while warming up, or even for the whole session if the weather is particularly cold, is a good idea. Incorporate plenty of walk work and suppling exercises – for example, spiraling in and out on a circle – alongside lots of transitions within and between the paces before moving on to longer periods of trot or canter. Some horses really benefit from massage pads or rugs to help keep them feeling loose and supple – why not try to borrow one from a friend to try before buying your own?

Hair maintenance

Your horse’s winter coat is likely to have almost completely stopped growing by mid to late January. While it might not be falling out just yet, the lack of blood supply to the roots of the hairs means they’re much more prone to damage – for example, rubs from reins (on the side of the neck), girths (behind the elbows and under the tummy) or from the binding on saddlepads (usually just behind the saddle). Don’t wait until he has a bald patch – or worse – before taking action. Check him carefully every day for signs of rubs or sore areas and adjust his clothing as necessary. Merino Lambskin is soft and naturally wicking, allowing air to circulate and improve blood circulation. Lambskin-lined saddlecloths, Lambskin girth sleeves and the Lambskin general purpose sleeve (which can be used anywhere that a bit of extra padding is needed) can be used to keep him comfortable.

The best stocking fillers any rider could wish for

With Christmas just around the corner, now’s the time to start stocking up on gifts for friends and family, or pick some items to add to your own wishlist!

Base layers keep your skin comfortable under layers by wicking moisture away. Bridleway’s Lawley base layer comes in two colours, rosy red is perfect for winter mornings.

Gloves are perfect for keeping your hands warm, especially in winter, and Bridleway has a pair for every occasion. The Aachen competition gloves are smart and lightweight, with silicone print for improved grip. The Hickstead everyday gloves are ideal for riding at home, with suede grip and four-way stretch nylon backs for comfort. Both pairs of gloves have a touchscreen-sensitive index and thumb, so you can check your phone without the risk of chilly fingers.

Long socks are perfect for keeping your legs warm inside your boots and make a really funky fashion statement. Bridleway has two styles to choose from – Daydreamer and Twinkle Toes – which come in packs with three different designs. They’re all cotton-rich and feature a cushion loop terry foot for comfort.

 

High-vis is a hacking essential and there are lots of different options to help you stay safe and be seen. The Visibility bum bag is a must-have – made from bright orange fabric and featuring reflective prints, it’s got two zipped pockets for storing your valuables while you’re riding. Team it with the Visibility hat band or hat cover for some super-safe co-ordination.

 

Bridleway has two types of spur available, made from stainless steel to ensure a long life. The ball pein spur has a rounded, blunt end for a softer feel, the while plastic ball spur has a rubber ball at the end of the shank to roll along your horse’s sides, reducing the risk of rubbing. Choose between black and havana spur straps to match your boots.

Whatever your discipline, a whip can be a handy way to back up your aids. Bridleway offers a wide range for you to choose from. For those who like to strut their stuff between the white boards, there’s the dressage whip, featuring a thread-covered fibreglass stem, leather handle and silver-coloured mushroom top. If you’re more into jumping or hacking, then the leather GP whip will be more your thing. It has a leather handle for a super-smart finish.

Whatever’s on your Christmas list this year, Bridleway is the place to find it. Visit https://www.bridlewayequestrian.com/rider to check out the range.