Competition & Events

    Almanzor and Minding shine at Ascot

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    I arrived at Ascot on Saturday and immediately realised that is was one of those days to celebrate simply being alive. Terrific autumn weather coupled with as high quality a card of Flat racing as I can recall combined to lift the soul.

    As it transpired, the soul needed no lifting whatsoever when Jack Hobbs galloped into the frame to reward last week’s readers of my 20/1 each way tip. Only the wallet needed lifting off the floor, for the first time in what has felt like an eternity.

    The day, however, belonged to Almanzor and to Minding. The former stamped his authority as indisputably the best middle distance colt-in-training this side of the Atlantic and the latter put the seal on a sensational season as one of the best fillies we’ve had the pleasure of enjoying in many a long summer.

    Remember, this was the filly who landed the Classic double over a mile and then a mile and a half back in the early part of the season. Regular readers will know one of my favourite horses of all time was the great Sea The Stars, not just for his unbeaten run in 2009, but every bit as much for the verve with which he campaigned over various distances on varied ground.

    Minding, of course, was defeated in late summer but, to my mind, lost next to nothing in such a defeat and her return against the boys, over a mile, on Saturday stole the show. We will be talking about her in years to come.

    The thin man and the Tin man

    I am a member of the Turf Club in London’s St James’s area. On the stairs down to the cloakroom are a series of caricatures, featuring characters from the sport in the 19th century. I have often wondered who would be most easy to characterise in a modern day equivalent.

    John McCririck, undoubtedly. John Gosden, most likely. Rich Ricci and John Magnier from the elite owning ranks. But far and away the easiest silhouette to identify would surely be the astonishingly angular James Fanshawe.

    The Newmarket handler has always struck me as in need of a good meal or ten but, thanks to The Tin Man, he reminded me too of his unerring knack of squeezing the very best out of his crop at precisely the right time.

    The Tin Man might not be crowned champion sprinter this season, but deserves to be on the shortlist and the scenes from the syndicate who own him in Saturday’s Winners Enclosure were up there with the most the remarkable of the season.

    The Fanshawe team looks like a fun team and, on days like Champions Day when so much is at stake, that’s the highest of accolades.

    Top jock

    Jim Crowley was crowned champion jockey at Ascot. I don’t profess to know him all that well but the 66/1 start of season outsider made his dream his reality by lifting the championship surrounded by his family.

    His affability, his modesty and his graft combined to make this one of the happiest celebrations imaginable and the guard of honour he received from the Weighing Room (and a few of us hangers-on) was one of near universal delight.

    Even Ryan Moore must have been smiling by the end of the day, Minding having given him his first win on Champions Day since its inception, can you believe?

    Roar for the record-breaker

    Looking ahead, we have what I consider to be the last ember of the season on Saturday at Doncaster. Hand on heart, the Racing Post Trophy has not been my favourite meeting, principally on account of feeling cold and poor as it always falls at the end of a month and before pay day.

    I shan’t be travelling to Town Moor this weekend and wouldn’t ordinarily be cheering on the recent Beresford Stakes winner Capri, were it not for the fact that Aidan O’Brien is hunting down Bobby Frankel’s Group One record. If you’re not punting like me this weekend, cheer on the record-seeker.

    Top image: the grandstand at Ascot, by Michelle B via Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0


    What you need to know about equine flu

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    You feel tired, you can barely crawl out of bed, your head hurts, your nose is blocked, your throat is sore and your appetite has vanished. You probably have the flu. It makes you feel lousy and the same condition in horses — although it cannot be transmitted from humans or vice versa — can make our four-legged friends feel pretty sick too.

    Horses with horse flu or equine influenza (EI) share many of the same classic symptoms as humans, such as high temperature, dry cough and clear or white nasal discharge. All these can be accompanied by enlarged lymph nodes in the throat, general weakness, lack of appetite and depression. The cause is damage to the upper respiratory tract (nose, throat and windpipe) sparked by a viral infection.

    How to treat equine flu

    According to the BHS, less than half of the UK’s 1 million horses are vaccinated against EI, which leaves a large proportion of the population at risk of developing this highly contagious disease. It is recommended, therefore, that your horse is vaccinated regularly. Generally this should be once a year, but the FEI, the governing body of international equestrian sport, recommends that sport horses are vaccinated every six months.

    Because EI spreads through the air, any gathering of horses — such as a show — can lead to an outbreak. One case of flu on a yard can spread like proverbial wildfire, too, hence the need to vaccinate horses who live in close proximity, but also to have an isolation strategy in place should an outbreak occur. Because EI is such a contagious disease, you should ensure that you isolate new horses coming into the yard for about four weeks.

    To confirm whether your horse has EI, your vet may want to take a nasal swab which will be sent off for analysis.

    Added complications

    Very young foals, as well as horses with compromised immune systems, older horses and those who are over-exercised while suffering from EI can go on to develop a secondary bacterial infection. Just as it happens among humans, a horse with a secondary infection is likely to be unwell for a lot longer than one just suffering from EI. They are also likely to need antibiotics from a vet. In very severe cases of secondary infection, the horse may develop pneumonia, which can prove fatal. Horses who go on to recover from secondary infections should not be exercised too soon as this can seriously damage their health.

    Healthy adult horses with no secondary complications should recover from EI within a few weeks, although in some cases returning to full health and fitness can take months. Bear in mind that it takes between 50-100 days for the lining of the respiratory track to fully recover. As a result, it is recommended that for every day the horse has had a fever he should be given a week’s rest to allow him to fully recover. To avoid complications, consult your vet on when to recommence exercise and how much you should do.

    How to nurse the patient

    There is no magic cure for EI. You should ensure that your horse receives enough fluids, while anti-inflammatory drugs can help to reduce the fever.

    The good news is that once a horse has had a certain strain of EI, he will have built up an immunity to it, but that doesn’t mean that he won’t succumb to a different one as various strains exist — plus the virus can also mutate. Because of mutations, vaccines can lose their effectiveness, but scientists at Newmarket’s Animal Health Trust are constantly monitoring the disease through their surveillance scheme and vaccines are updated when necessary.

    If you are worried, you can research UK EI outbreaks on Equiflunet (, plus you can follow their Twitter posts about outbreaks in the UK and abroad (@Equiflunet).


    How horses learn: a guide to understanding equine mental processes

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    Knowing how horses learn is key to creating a strong relationship with them. By understanding the basics of their mental processes, we can become better handlers, carers, trainers and riders.

    If you imagine that your horse has similar mental abilities to you, think again. They don’t. While we differ in terms of ‘brain power’, though, the good news is that we all learn the same way.

    The horse has evolved to survive predators, living in the ‘here and now’, and is driven by the three Fs: friends, forage and freedom. While the human brain has a well-developed prefrontal cortex, enabling planning, projection of time (forwards and backwards), concepts and self-reflection, in the horse the pre-frontal cortex is underdeveloped.

    However, essential to the survival and evolution of the horse is the amygdala, the fear centre in the brain. The horse boasts the largest amygdala of all domestic animals — and we ride him!

    In the beginning…

    From the moment a foal is born, he is learning escape and avoidance behaviour to survive predators. From trial learning through social transmission to habituation, every interaction the horse has in his environment is a learning opportunity, including with you.

    The simplest form of learning

    If a horse is exposed to stimuli often enough with no consequence, he will learn that he no longer needs to fear it. For example, when he wears a rug for the first time and does not remove it through bucking, rolling or similar, then he learns to get used to it. This process, called habituation, is the simplest form of learning.

    How horses learn by consequence

    Horses also learn through trial and error, or operant conditioning. This works through releasing pressure for the correct behaviour (negative reinforcement) or rewarding a behaviour by adding a scratch at the base of the wither or food (positive reinforcement). This makes the behaviour you do want more likely in the future.

    How horses learn by association

    Horses are excellent at associative learning. A neigh at the sound of your car arriving at the yard is an example of associative learning, as the horse predicts food, freedom and friends, which is anticipatory behaviour.

    This mode of learning is all about a vocal, visual or physical cue and is often referred to as classical conditioning. “If you slow your seat, then use your reins if your horse doesn’t respond, with repetition, he will slow his legs from your seat alone. You no longer have to use the reins, as your seat predicts stronger pressure to decelerate,” explains Lisa Ashton, an equitation science consultant.

    A photographic memory

    A horse boasts a fantastic long-term photographic memory, but a particularly poor short-term one. “Horses have a photographic memory, unlike humans who recall information in a series of episodes with each recall slightly changing and distorting it,” says Ashton.

    It is through this means that the horse may be aroused by an unusual picture that will trigger his flight mechanism. Human intervention — in the form of training and riding — aims to halt this.
    It is therefore not surprising that when the horse sees even a familiar object in a familiar place that wasn’t there yesterday he will react and respond.

    “If you take an object your horse knows, such as your wheelbarrow, and put it in the school, he should react — an essential behaviour to his survival and evolution,” says Lisa.

    “While you need some stimulus for your horse to perform optimally, always benchmark relaxation in training,” she adds. “Anything learnt through fear will come back when you least expect it, like a burst and referred to as spontaneous recovery. The key to good training is to read how your horse feels about his environment, which includes you, and stay below his optimal arousal threshold, so that learning occurs.”

    Lisa Ashton runs EquiSci. For details of her clinics, The Best for your Horse (4, 11, 18, 25 January), in Stanton by Dale, Derbyshire, visit


    What you need to know about colic in horses

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    Colic is a blanket definition for abdominal pain in horses. It can have many different triggers and is one of the most common causes of death in horses – in 2015, for example, German dressage star Isabell Werth’s retired grand prix dressage horse, Warum Nicht, died after suffering from a bout of colic. But there are also remarkable recovery stories; horses bouncing back from life-threatening surgery against the odds to win again.

    Today, recovery is far more likely than it used to be, thanks to improvements in the way colic is diagnosed and treated.

    There are many different types of colic, which can be caused by a variety of factors:

    • Spasmodic colic: it occurs when the gut contracts painfully. One of the most common types of colic, it can happen when a horse is stressed or frustrated, as is thought to be the case with horses with vices, or when his diet changes dramatically. Worm damage — particularly a tapeworm infestation — can also cause the gut to spasm

    • Impaction colic: the result of a blockage, it often happens when the hindgut cannot cope with an overload of food passing through it

    • Colon torsion: this potentially fatal condition happens when a horse’s huge, horseshoe-shaped colon twists inside the abdomen. A torsion of more than 270 degrees will block blood supply, and will usually require surgery

    How to spot the signs of colic

    Early diagnosis is crucial to a horse’s survival so look out for signs of colic. In a mild attack, a horse may curl his lips, be restless, turn his head to look at his flanks or paw the ground. In a moderate bout, the horse may keep trying to lie down and get up and try to urinate frequently. In the most severe cases, you may see rolling, sweating and an accelerated breathing rate.

    How to reduce the risk of colic

    • Feed your horse little and often with a high-quality, high-fibre diet
    • Provide access to a clean, fresh water supply
    • Turn out your horse in a paddock and avoid sudden increases in the time spent in the stables
    • Make dietary, exercise and other changes gradually. In particular, avoid sudden changes in the amount of hay or haylage you feed to your horse
    • Minimise the number of people involved in your horse’s care – recognising when a horse is looking and feeling below par is key
    • Provide regular dental care
    • Worm your horse regularly

    More often than not need, colic needs urgent veterinary attention. If your horse only shows mild symptoms, you can try walking him around gently for no more than ten minutes (do not trot or canter). However, if he continues to be unwell, call your vet immediately.


    Preventing laminitis in autumn

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    Laminitis has long been regarded as a spring affliction associated with a peak in grass growth. However, this is a dangerous assumption: the condition — the second biggest cause of lameness in horses and ponies in the UK — can also emerge in the autumn or indeed throughout the year.

    What is laminitis?

    In equine anatomy, the laminae are the tissues that connect the coffin bone to the hoof wall, keeping it suspended within the hoof capsule. When a horse develops laminitis, the laminae weaken and fail, causing severe pain and lameness. If enough tissue breaks down, this can lead to the coffin bone rotating away from the hoof wall and eventually sinking within the hoof.

    What causes laminitis

    The exact cause of laminitis is still unclear but we know the condition can have multiple triggers — from the complications of an infection to insulin resistance, Cushing’s disease or even a reaction to some drugs. But one factor in particular is usually linked to laminitis: a diet that’s too rich in soluble carbohydrates.

    Carb intake may easily become too high if a horse eats too much lush, rich grass, which has high levels of simple sugars, or too many grains, which contain starch that then gets turned into simple sugars during digestion.

    Research has shown that too much sugar disrupts bacteria in the horse’s hindgut and can lead to high levels of insulin in the blood, both of which are associated with laminitis.

    The past few months, in particular, have seen ideal growing conditions in our paddocks: warm, sunny days, cool nights and plenty of rain. The resulting growth surges can produce an excess of sugars in the grass, which, in turn, can overload the horse’s digestive system with carbohydrates and trigger laminitis.

    So, how can you recognise the signs of laminitis and how do you go about protecting your horse?

    Laminitis symptoms

    In the early stages of the condition, you may just get a sense that your horse isn’t quite right. Later on, signs vary depending on the severity of laminitis, but watch out for:

    • Your horse walking stiffly or being reluctant to walk or trot

    • A tendency for your horse to stand with its front legs stretched forward, while leaning backward, to ease the weight off his feet

    • Your horse shifting his weight from foot to foot

    • An obvious pulse where your horse’s digital artery runs over the fetlock

    • Foot soreness or lameness, with a particular difficulty to turn in a circle

    • Unwillingness or, in severe cases, inability to move. Your horse may be panting, sweating and leaning back on his heels, trying to take his weight off his feet. In the worst cases, he will lie down and be unable to stand — this can be confused with colic.

    If your horse suffers from chronic laminitis, his hooves may change, showing dropped soles, visible, diverging growth rings around the hoof wall and wider than normal white lines.

    Preventing laminitis

    It is incorrect to think that all cases of laminitis are caused by poor horse management, or that laminitis only occurs in overweight ponies. This disease does not discriminate and can affect any horse, even top-flight racehorses such as the Triple-Crown winner Secretariat and the Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro.

    There are some general rules of thumb, though. Animals that are fit are generally less susceptible to laminitis, and those that are prone to it should be kept well exercised.

    Feed your horse according to the work he does. A laminitis-prone horse or pony should always follow a diet that’s high in fibre and low in sugars and starch. Choose hay that has low nutritional value and Laminitis-Trust approved feed, and consider a grazing muzzle or strip grazing to restrict grass intake.

    Don’t allow your horse to become fat but also remember that horses have evolved to be trickle feeders, so it is best to provide feed little and often. Never starve a horse or a pony as this could lead to a very serious condition called hyperlipidaemia.

    What to do if your horse has laminitis

    If you suspect laminitis, it is vital to contact your vet immediately. The sooner you act, the less likely it is your horse will suffer serious permanent damage. Put your horse in a stable that has a deep bed made of clean shavings, provide plenty of water and don’t make him walk or exercise. If your horse is in a field that’s far away from the stables, put him in a trailer rather than make him walk back.

    Your vet will then provide the appropriate medicines, fit frog supports, and treat any underlying problem that may be causing the laminitis. You’ll also need to ask and follow the vet’s advice for feeding and turnout.

    Image: bay horse in autumn by Smallorbigofmen via Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0


    How to choose the right horse clippers

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    With a plethora of horse clippers on the market, anyone new to giving their horse a haircut can feel totally confused about what to buy. But by following our top tips, you should end up with a product that is right for both you and your horse.

    Featuring reduced noise, a ventilated head and lower vibration levels, the versatile Lister Liberty clippers also offer a choice of three power supply options: mains, power-pack and battery. £325.88 through Derby HouseLister Liberty horse clippers

    Sparks will fly

    If your horse is relatively calm and you aren’t worried that a dangling electric cable will either spook him or be a trip hazard, then clippers that plug into mains electric will be a good choice. Ensure, though, that they have a long enough lead to reach up to the horse’s head from the extension cable.

    Battery power

    If there is no electric facility where you are clipping your horse, a cordless device will be the answer. This kind of horse clippers run off a battery, so it is important to ensure that this is fully charged before use.

    Reduce noise if you can

    Many horses don’t turn a hair at being clipped, but some fidget and get particularly nervous when approached with noisy clippers. It is, therefore, essential to try before you buy, checking to see if they emit a quiet hum or a horrific buzz.

    These fast and efficient clippers are lightweight and easy to hold. £305.20 through Derby HouseLister star horse clippers

    Weighing it all up

    Clipping a horse can take anything between one and two hours, so check the weight of the clippers you are buying before you hand over your credit card. What can initially seem light, after more than 60 minutes in your hand can feel like it weighs a tonne. Additionally, assess how well the horse clippers fit your hand. If you have small hands, a product with a wide diameter grip will quickly feel uncomfortable and could give you hand cramp.

    Fit for the job

    You may only have one horse at the moment, but things might change in the future, so when you invest go for heavy-duty clippers that will enable you to clip more than one horse in a day. A native horse or pony or a cob, for example, will have a much thicker coat than a sleek Thoroughbred and so you need clippers that are fit for the job in hand. Bear in mind, that light-duty horse clippers will be suitable for no more than a bib clip.

    Terrific trimmers

    Some horses will become agitated if you try and clip their head and face with large, noisy clippers, so you may find it worthwhile to invest in a small pair of quiet trimmers.

    These quiet, cordless, rechargeable trimmers are perfect for your horse’s face and hard-to-reach areas. £139.99 through Derby House
    Wahl horse trimmers

    False economy

    As with anything in life, you get what you pay for, so don’t assume that a cheap pair of clippers will necessarily be up to the job. Also, while you may be able to snap up a fantastic second-hand device, you may be unlucky and be sold a dud — horse clippers that haven’t been well maintained and that are nearing the end of their shelf life are guaranteed to do a shoddy job.

    Keep your horse clippers happy

    If you haven’t clipped before, it might surprise you to learn that your clippers will need oiling regularly — around every two to five minutes. Generally, they will tell you when they require oil as the tone of the motor will change. Also, if you think that the blades are becoming blunt, send them away for sharpening. Never put blades away blunt as spring approaches because they then won’t be ready for that vital first autumn clip.

    Find out how to clip your horse

    Top image: Clipped horses by Roland Zh, CC BY-SA 3.0