Last month I gave an overview of my time in England at Carl Hester’s gorgeous yard, and this month I thought I could impart more specific tidbits about horse care that I learned over in the Old Country. Yes, they do speak the same language over there, but even the King’s English can be very different than our American version. Just check out a menu and it becomes quite clear: Bubbles and Squeak??? Bangers and Mash??? Huh?
The stable management can be different too.
First, the feed programs are usually based on haylage rather than hay, although some grass hay is available. Haylage is made by baling and compressing all the air out of still moist hay, and then wrapping it in plastic to keep the air out. It ferments, and that helps preserve the nutrients in it. Haylage has more of all the nutrients that are leached out by sunlight and drying, and as such is quite rich. Usually higher in protein and carbohydrates than our grass hay, it can make horses quite fat quite easily! Ayscha loves it, and for the first time in her life is in good body condition (she tends towards the very lean, supermodel body type). Haylage is also moist, so there is never any dust, and is very easy to store and move. It is compressed, so a lot of haylage takes up a small space, and the plastic wrap makes it neat and tidy. So many things to love about it! If you are interested in feeding haylage (it’s available here in limited markets) I know that many vets recommend giving a botulism vaccine, so talk to your vet first.
While there are pellets fed, most of the grain available are mixed feeds, what we call “sweet feeds”. The difference is that their mixes use very little or no molasses, and they often have lots of herbs in them, which gives them a very distinct smell and taste. Ayscha was not sure she liked this – apparently she has quite a sweet tooth – but I found a mix without any herbs and she gobbles that up. Most barns feed their grain mixed with chaff (chopped hay or straw – we call it Dengie) to give the horses more to eat and to slow down their consumption rates. They have to chew their grains much more when it is cut with chaff, I believe this practice reduces colics, ulcers and choking.
Supplements are similar to here, (high quality and plentiful) but I don’t think they have a company yet like SmartPak Equine which does the daily packaging and regular shipments for their customers. Hmmm – I just got an idea J!
The veterinary care can be different. I found that in general stable managers know a whole heck of a lot about using natural and homeopathic remedies first. There are huge lines of products developed just for horses that are natural and drug free, yet can be very effective. Luckily I did not have to deal much with veterinarians as Ayscha is very sound and healthy (yes, I am touching wood and crossing fingers as I type) but I did chat a lot with vets and horse people when I was there. Some of our very common drugs are not much used, while others that we don’t use regularly are highly regarded. The vets and surgeons are definitely highly skilled in all the latest cutting edge medicine, but I get the impression that expertise in stable management and rehabilitation of horses is more common over in England and reduces the relative amount of cutting edge medicine that the vets actually have to do on horses in their care.
My theory on this is that most British horsemen and women grew up with stable management having the same importance as riding in their horsey education. Pony Club seems almost obligatory for kids, regardless of the wealth of the family. Also, most of the riders I got to know over there had some eventing in their background, and lets face it, event riders have to know a great deal about fitness and soundness as well as all other aspects of stable management. Many kids take care of their own horses, so if they grow up and decide to make horses their career they have years of education and experience already to draw on. The horse industry is large, and is spread out around a relatively small country. Working as a Stable Manager is a legitimate career over there (and can carry a lot of status if you are the Stable Manager in a yard of a celebrity like Carl) – so learning top notch stable management is seen as a great advantage, not a road to a dead end job. “Head Girls” and “Head Lads” of good yards are just as vital to success as the quality of horses and training, and this is acknowledged by all.
I left Ayscha in England when I came home. The quality of management in general in England and specifically in Carl’s yard is so high that I feel completely at ease with her being in their care. This allows me to take advantage of Carl’s great training and the European shows for longer, even while I am back home (I love England but boy was I homesick) and getting my business back in gear. Next month I hope to get over in time to show in Saumur, and in October in Biarritz, I hear they are both great shows and I am expecting my girl to be perfect after training with Master Carl J. I figure I’m pretty darn lucky to have this happening as we go into an Olympic year!