Flygrazing, abandoned horses – what about leasing?

Got called in for a team meeting for the day job and some chance remarks from my colleagues set me thinking. The first was from a British colleague who reported that the habits of “flygrazing” and even horse abandonment were resurfacing in her part of southern England. Flygrazing usually takes the form of tethering horses or ponies to graze on common land, grass verges or even roundabout.

Theoretically, this somewhat desperate habit could be accomplished without cruelty – if the horse or pony is regularly monitored and has access to water and shade from the sun. But what happens all too often is that the horse is simply left, sometimes for days at a time. There’s the danger too that the horse may break free and wander onto roads or into other hazards. For concerned members of the public the dilemma is whether to report such instances or not. Is the horse suffering? Will its owner re-appear soon or not? Sometimes what starts as flygrazing ends up as the total abandonment of horses.

Check out this link to the Farmers’ Weekly to read about proposals to make flygrazing a criminal offence. There’s a picture there of a badly tied mare with foal:

In the past, flygrazing was restricted to the travelling community, who generally did keep a regular eye on their horses but the financial crisis has meant many people have squeezed incomes, reduced hours of job losses to contend with plus the rising cost of stabling and general upkeep for horses. I think too that the unusually sunny summer in England has really slowed the regrowth of grass. England’s “green and pleasant land” is looking distinctly yellowy-brown in places. It’s the first ever summer I’ve had to feed hay throughout – my cob mare is a hairy native breed, out in the field all day but the grass is simply not coming through. Hay prices are not at all cheap.

Back to my colleagues. My second colleague is based in Florida and she – quite separately – commented that leasing horses is almost a craze there. With leasing, two, three or more people share the cost of keeping one horse. They also share the riding and the fun. Think holiday timeshare when it works well, but on a much more frequent basis. So, could leasing help address the difficulties in being able to afford to keep a horse in England? Probably yes – but it needs organisation and it needs trust and co-operation. It won’t solve the whole problem by any means but it could certainly help some. Perhaps social media such as Facebook could easily be used to help riders find other riders nearby with similarly constrained finances. It’s worth a try, isn’t it?

Have you seen flygrazing? Have you leased a horse? What are your thoughts?

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Horses spotted in Costa Rica

My brief pause in blogging here has been due to two-week holiday in Costa Rica. (Note to self: I really should crack the art of setting up blogs and tweets for release while I’m away). I had a fabulous time in the rainforest – huge sloths (with long green hair) hanging from the trees, howler monkeys leaping on the roof every night (cute – but believe me the novelty wears off when you’re tired), brightly coloured frogs (poisonous, can be deadly, but hallucinogenic, I’m told – if you get the dose right though you’d need to be pretty foolhardy to try). Above all there were exotic birds. We even glimpsed the famed and rare Quetzal bird.

Whenever I go to another country, I’m always interested in the horses and how they are treated. I’ll never forget the shock of seeing underfed and badly treated horses and donkeys in Greece when I went there many years ago on a school trip. Happily the treatment of horses in most European countries has improved enormously (if only because their owners realised bad treatment upset the tourists and might jeopardise the income from them).

Developing countries are another matter though. Poverty and sheer ignorance sometimes lead to overwork and poor nutrition for horses, donkeys and mules, whether they pull farm equipment, carry loads or pull fancy pony traps for round-the-town tourist rides. I was very impressed with Costa Rica overall. They’ve been democratic for ages, abolished their army in 1948 and have an admirable programme of green and sustainable tourism and rainforest management. They do not seem to have many horses (probably just as well since they do have venomous snakes. I experienced one magical moment on an expedition in the depths of the rainforest though – suddenly, as I looked uphill, to my amazement I saw two beautiful white horses jumping over a fence. They’d stopped by the time we got the camera focused – but here they are.


Interestingly, the museum in the capital San Jose showed that there were horses back in the days of mammoths. I hadn’t realised there had been horses on the American continent before the Spanish conquistadors arrived but apparently there were (until they were hunted to extinction). Here toImageo is a picture of some Costa Rican riding trail horses. You’ll see they don’t look neglected.

Falling off horses – and Johnny Depp

Anyone else find that falling off horses seems to be getting more dangerous? I was a fearless teenage rider – once. When I was 13, I nonchalantly  wrote in my diary that I fell off some pony called Fudge (not even a pony I remember anything about) seven times in two months. It didn’t bother me. Much more recently, though, when I fell off (horse bucked) everything seems to go into slow motion, I was plain scared. My neck was twisted and painful for three weeks after. I realised I just don’t “bounce” any longer when I hit the ground. And there have been five horse and rider accidents in this small village alone that have involved a hospital. Frightening.

And now Johnny Depp has told US TV host David Letterman about his own fall while filming The Lone Ranger. Film sets usually have stuntmen and safety measures galore. But filming The Lone Ranger has been dogged with mishaps – and as we know, horses can be unpredictable. And they are large. Johnny Depp’s account is quite graphic:

“We were shooting at a different place in the desert where there’s these little bumps and things, And so the horse that I was on decided to jump a couple of these little obstacles. The horse was unaware that the saddle I was wearing to sit on top of it was jury-rigged, kind of faked … to give the effect that I’m riding bareback. So basically it’s not very tight on the horse. So when we came down, the saddle slipped and I went to the left and had the reins here and somehow had the wherewithal to grab the mane of the horse. All very calm for some reason, I figured that fear would kick in but it didn’t. I was waiting,” he said with a laugh.

Depp is said to have been dragged a whole 25 yards with the horse.

“All I saw in front of my eyes were these very muscular horse legs and striations of muscles moving, this kind of death machine. One word popped into my head: Hooves. Mind the hooves.”
“So, what do you do when you’re in that position?” Letterman asked.
“Well you make a decision: Will I go with the beast until someone wrangles it or will I drop?”

“I dropped”.

So this mishap ended ok – we’ll still have The Lone Ranger to look forward to. And very importantly, we still have Johnny Depp. There’s no mention of any injury to the horse so I’m hoping it was fine. We’ll have to look out for any American Humane statement in the film credits – you know the one “No animals were harmed during the making of this film….”.

For more on film stunts and how Errol Flynn fought for key changes to stop cruelty to horses in filming, see Chapter 9 “Tricks and Stunts: How did he do that?” of Lights! Camera! Gallop! The Story of the Horse in Film .

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War Horse – and War Paint

The fabulous film War Horse has been showing on Sky TV in the UK this week.  But did you know that the horses playing the main equine characters had a specialist make-up team of their own?

Their were coats dyed and markings added to ensure continuity between them. And for the scene where Joey, the war horse of the title, is born, a ‘non-toxic slime’ make-up was devised and smeared on to the foal playing the part. And for the really dramatic scene where Joey has fled through World War One’s muddy trenches (see picture) and then lies bleeding, tangled in barbed wire, special non-toxic make-up was used for the blood, mud and cuts on his skin.

For more on horse make-up in film, see Lights! Camera! Gallop! The Story of the Horse in Film


Hairy horses are BEAUTIFUL

Yes, clipped and tidy can be great – but if you ever doubted that hairy horses can be beautiful, check out this one from the Heavy Horse Show in Kent.

Yes, hairy horses can be BEAUTIFUL