Gosh now this is a question! Along with the rest of world, the equine world is being rocked with uncertainty and fear due to COVID-19.
Those of you who saw my FaceBook Live this morning will know that I am one of the lucky ones who can access their horses at anytime. I am based on a private DIY yard with only two other owners - one of which is my best friend (Hi Steph!), I can go to my babies whenever I like and together Steph, Viv and I have a great support network in each other and my fab groom, Leila.
I know that not everyone is as lucky. Some of you are self-isolating so can't reach your horses, or are on yards which have restrictions - some as strict as only 45 mins at the yard a day. Please remember that these restrictions, whilst very frustrating, are being put in place to keep you safe. It is not yet known whether the virus can survive on fur or if it can be transferred across to other people from it. It is known, however, that it can live on metal for a long time - have you ever stopped to think about how much metal you touch at the yard? About how much of that metal is touched by others also? Today I spent a good half an hour wiping down door locks, gate catches, fork handles, pooper scoop handles and that's just the metal stuff. Theres feed bins, canisters, feed scoops, wheel barrow handles, brooms - all communal items that the virus can be spread on so please fight the frustration and remember it is for you own good.
For those on larger yards be thankfully also for your safety net. I've mentioned mine - my other lovely liveries and my groom, but do you have a safety net? Make sure that you have a plan in place so that your horses can be cared for if you fall ill. Please don't be afraid to reach out, there are lots of people out there that will help you. Make sure that you have your animal's needs well documented: feed, hay amounts, grazing times, which rugs for which temperatures, medicines and also emergency situation plans. If needed, would you send your horse to Newmarket for surgery? Are they insured? Lots to think about! At our yard we have a board with the numbers of all individual vets, farriers, back people, emergency contacts for ourselves and each others numbers. At a glance I would know who to call for either Monty, Kodi or Harry (Molly and Ted's buddies!).
Speaking of my wonderful, fellow equine professionals - what does COVID-19 mean for us?
Sadly for most of us it means ceasing practice.
The Register of Animal Musculoskeletal Practitioners (RAMP) advised that all treatments stop with immediate effect on March 24th in light of the government's announcement. They advised that in the case of an emergency that treatment may be carried out at the request of a vet in a safe location. They advise that carrying out treatment without the owner being present may affect our insurance as it goes against our code of conduct.
The Society of Master Saddlers encourage owners not to expect our saddle and bridal fitters to be available for appointments until restrictions have been lifted.
The British Veterinary Association (BVA) announced that
'all veterinary practices must reduce face-to-face contact immediately'
Vets will only be travelling for emergency appointment only and will adhering to all social distancing rules.
Also adhering to these social distancing rules are farriers, however, The Farriers Registration Council have said that farriers can continue to provide essential services to equines.
The other unsung heroes of the equine world still trotting on are our grooms! The British Grooms Association announced that acting as a groom and primary care giver to a horse is an essential job and as long as each person adheres to the strict government guidelines they may continue to work. The British Grooms Association FB page is well worth having a look at. As an organisation they are providing a lot of information to help their members including mental health support, advice for the self employed and up to date info about COVID-19.
So thankfully most our horses' daily care, feet and emergency health care can be seen to and I am extremely grateful to those vets and farriers still going about their work providing these services. Check out your own vet's FaceBook page or website for their individual strategies at this difficult time and spare a thought for those of us unable to work - we are missing our four-legged clients! Lots of us are also struggling with our suddenly reduced income, as I am sure plenty of owners are too. Lots of unanswered questions buzzing about. Should I be saving hay? Will I still be able to buy feed next week? Will I be able to afford either? Should I be riding?
Well farmers are still farming and grass is still growing! Feed stores are working around the clock to keep orders coming in and to provide you with the option to either collect your feed as you need it or deliver it to your door. Thank you again to all of you continuing to provide these services especially Equine Supplies Essex, Hornsea Animal Feeds and Lakes Barn Horse Feed and Country Store for keeping me fully stocked with feed, bedding and anti-bac!
So the question on everyone's lips.... Should we be riding??
I've seen this debated to death on social media over the last few days. We know that it has been banned in other countries and all imagine it will be only a matter of time before it is banned in the UK as well. But before we have that guidance what should we be doing?
My opinion is that every situation is different and the one thing we shouldn't do is be judging others without knowing the circumstances. Personally I will not be riding Molly until this whole thing is over. She is nearly four and despite never having put a foot wrong she is only just backed and I have no idea what she is capable of. Luckily she is extremely level headed (the cob outweighs the welsh 90% of the time!) and I can still continue to do lots of ground work with her. I have ridden Teddy this week. He's extremely good on the road - coming face-to-windscreen with a dust cart on Tuesday proved that. However, take him to a grassy track and he instantly thinks he's back racing so I certainly won't be doing that! And as he's nearly 21, we don't ride often.
So I would urge you to use your judgement. The main reason for those being against riding is the risk that we will place extra stress on the NHS at this vital time. However I know plenty of horses that I would rather be on top of than on the ground next to. I also slipped getting out of the shower yesterday and nearly broke my arm and I'm not not showering for twelve weeks! There are also horses that need exercise for their health - those with laminitis and PSSM for example where a regular exercise routine is important for sugar levels and muscle health. So don't judge those who are still out, it may well be the safest way to keep their horses healthy and as long as they are only in groups of two and two metres away from each other all will hopefully be well. But please make sure that you think before you hop on board.
So! If we aren't riding and only have 45 mins a day to spend with out horses what can be we doing to help them?
Over the next few days/weeks (hopefully not months....) keep an eye on my social media for inspiration of what you can do with or without your ponies during this frustrating and scary time.
Yesterday I decided to spring clean Ted's 'cupboard' instead of riding him. Yes I definitely thought I had made a massive mistake half way through.....
And very nearly gave up until I realised that if I did, Ted would have nowhere to sleep! Anyway I was very pleased with my efforts! Check out the end result on my Instagram!
Now I realise that those of you with time restrictions won't be able to do a deep clean but when was the last time you:
Washed your numnahs?
Cleaned your tack?
Cleaned out your grooming kit?
Polished your boots?
Mentally practised those dressage tests? Go on, get those markers out in the garden!
Cleaned out your trailer/lorry?
Thought about yourself? Your fitness? Your mobility or strength?
Actually looked at what your horse eats?
Researched your horse's bloodlines/breeding?
Looked into those disorders that your horses may be suffering from?
Why not start planning your horse return to work programme?
Message your osteos, physios and SMTs for advice on exercises to do with them in your limited time to help keep then fit and supple?
For those of us able to spend our free time with our horses, when was the last time you:
Gave your horse a really good groom? I mean mane pulling, tailing trimming, hoof oil, the works?
Felt your horse's body all over? What temperature are their feet normally? What lumps and bumps do they have?
Actually did the carrot stretches you have been advised to do?
Just sat and enjoyed them? Obviously only do this now if it is safe. Don't meet up at the yard with all your buddies and make sure that you keep your distance from other owners, disinfecting as you go.
I hope these few bullet points have inspired you and will help you to use this time for the gift it can be. Don't forget your priority must be staying safe. Don't go to the yard if you don't have to, don't ride your fresh warmblood in the wind next to flappy sacks and through a flock of pheasants! Do wash your hands constantly, do disinfect tools and latches and do reach out if you need help. The equine world can be tricky but it can also be wonderful when we all come together!
Follow me on Instagram and FaceBook for more 'Lives' and to see how I'm using this time with my babies! For now...stay safe, don't judge and be kind.
P.s. How cute was Molly as a baby!