It’s the only thing anyone is talking about – not only at the yard, but all over Cyprus – what on earth is going on with the weather?
For more than three weeks we’ve been storm-battered and head-to-toe drenched as the heavens opened and the island received some much-needed rain. However, unlike most winters which see rainy spells interspersed with periods of glorious sunshine, the onslaught has been relentless – and the problems for horse owners are manifold.
The first casualty of this almost month-long, non-stop deluge was our arenas. While the dressage and jumping arenas have drainage systems in place, they are not up to the standard of Europe’s top yards and we can’t get our hands on the different types of sand, fibres and rubber surfaces that help seep water away. The sand we use is the best available, but it is so fine it can sometimes clog up and lock the water in. Thankfully, because we actually have very good drainage systems underneath, if we get a break in the rain for 24 hours – like in most previous winters – the arenas are dry enough to be ridden in. There might be the odd puddle here and there, but they are properly rideable.
Again, because we’re not in mainland Europe and we don’t have access to big, green fields, we use smaller paddocks for our horses as most of the time the ground here is very dry and very hard with a lot of rock under the soil, meaning it’s safer for the horses to be in smaller paddocks as they are less likely to injure themselves. Unfortunately, because the layer of soil we do have is very clay-like, a lot of rain means the paddocks quickly become muddy thanks to the horses continuously walking around in them. Thankfully, as these very wet periods are rare, we don’t tend to see ailments such as mud fever, but all this mud is actually very time consuming for our staff who have a lot of livery horses to turn in and out, which means a lot of hooves to pick out and a lot of legs to wash down. Also, as the temperature can change quickly, rugs might be on and off throughout the day, all of which means a lot of man hours over the winter period.
As we have a few horses classed as ‘paddock horses’, I sometimes ask the owners to consider stabling them for a short while when we get excessively wet periods as it’s not great to leave them standing in the mud for days on end. They need a break from it. Of course, should it get particularly stormy – such as when the huge hailstorm hit last week – we have the facilities to bring all of the horses in. It’s a basic standard of care we provide. Likewise, for those horses whose owners are unable to come down to check on them, we take it upon ourselves to treat them like one of our own. This means they are brought in, washed, groomed, and they have their rugs changed over – or given rugs when one hasn’t been provided.
Unfortunately, another problem we need to look out for at this time of year is colic. It’s something we see a lot of here in Cyprus because the weather is so changeable – one minute it’s really cold, the next minute the sun is out and it’s a lovely warm day. It’s a shock to the system that doesn’t sit well with many horses and it can bring on what is usually a mild colic. However, like any form of colic, if it’s not treated quickly it won’t stay mild. We’ve actually had a couple of cases ourselves this year, but the horses were spotted almost immediately and we are able to give the necessary injections as we’ve got the medicine. This is one of the major benefits of having someone on-site 24/7.
Of course, once the weather starts to turn for the better, it throws up a host of other problems; not least how to get your horse safely back into work following significant time off. Although some horses can be kept ticking over by hacking out – depending on the character and training of the horse – in cases where we feel the horse is likely to get silly, we don’t advise riders to hack, simply for their own safety and the safety of the horse. This might then mean the horse doesn’t get ridden for a few days, but we take the view that it is our job at the Ranch to lunge or ride that horse before the owner gets on because we don’t want any accidents. In fact, we actually have one quite exceptional case here at the Ranch involving an ex-racehorse who only came off the track a little over a year ago.
Lucky Star is in peak physical condition and though he has taken incredibly well to his new life and to a new way of riding, he has proved to be very, very difficult to teach to lunge because when he sees an open space in the arena he bolts off. This makes it’s quite tricky to bring him back into work after such heavy rainfall as he’s not been taught to go out hacking yet. All of which means, we had to come up with a plan. So, the first thing we did was put Lucky in one of our bigger paddocks so that he could run up and down and let off steam in a safe environment. I then went on to lunge him, using a couple of gadgets to help keep him a little more contained because the last thing we want is for him to go galloping around the arena when he’s not been ridden for a few weeks and injuring himself. So far, the plan has worked really well. This week – weather allowing – I will get on and ride Lucky for a couple of sessions until I feel he is safe. His owner will then get on, probably supervised by me for a session or two, until everyone is back into their normal routine. It’s a bit of a process, but it’s also the best way to bring a horse like Lucky back into work because we’ve done so much with both the horse and his rider over the past year that we don’t want anyone to lose their nerve or learn bad habits, not when the boy was doing so well.
Of course, another consequence of this type of cold weather, and it’s something I don’t think many people realise, is just how much we have to increase the amount of hay we feed the horses in order to keep the weight on them. Clearly, if this was something that went on for months on end, it would have to be reflected in the livery prices, but thankfully the last few days have seen a return of our famous Cyprus sunshine!
Hopefully, this now means we are over the worst of the wet weather for the year because, let’s face it, nothing beats riding your horse under a blue Mediterranean sky with the warm sun on your back!