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15 April 2015 ~ 0 Comments

Futurity and Feet – Trials and Tribulations

A few months ago, I wrote a blog about my yearling that I had purchased with a view to eventually producing her as a competition horse. Wilma is now rising two and has been trialling Equimins Hoof Mender 75 Supplement Powder. Wilma is a very mixed bred horse being half thoroughbred, then a quarter each of cob and warm blood. Last year I really struggled with her feet. I don’t think a month went past when she wasn’t sore or lame from abscesses and her feet looked really poor and cracked, despite me taking every care with her diet and foot care.

Wilma1It was quite a worry for me as my other horse, Wanda (Wilma’s Aunt), has brilliant feet and has never lost a shoe let alone had an abscess. Despite being superb in every other way Wilma definitely reflected the old and well used adage ‘no foot – no horse’.

As I mentioned in my previous blog I even had to re schedule Wilma’s first official ‘event’ because of lameness, and was lucky enough to eventually take her to futurity grading at Writtle College last August.

So what is futurity all about?

British Breeding Futurity assessments are held across the UK during August and are supported by Baileys Horse Feeds. www.britishbreeding.org

The Futurity is the fastest growing young horse evaluation programme in the UK. The assessments aim to identify British bred young potential sport horses and ponies destined for top level careers in dressage, eventing, show jumping or endurance, and may even find the Olympic champions of the future.

Horses and ponies are entered for the Futurity discipline they are bred to perform in, with age groups for foals, yearlings, two and three year olds. Each horse is evaluated in hand and loose in an indoor school as well as undergoing a vet’s assessment. Breeders value the Futurity because it allows them to get their young stock out in public, but in a low stress enclosed environment.

The Build Up…

Also known as ‘what build up?’ I totally ran out of time because of all my commitments! I had days of hot tubing Wilma’s suspect abscess, so I couldn’t take her out to practice loose schooling or even trot her up as she was so sore. I just spent the build-up time grooming and getting her coat, mane and tail shipshape and smart. Wilma also wore her show bridle, so she was really used to the feel of the bit. It was time well spent but I was worried that I hadn’t done enough preparation. As it happens, dear Wilma had her first proper test lorry journey (to the next village and back) just two days before our big event. All credit to her as she was fantastic and loved all the attention! In an ideal world, I would have loved to have loose schooled her some more but it wasn’t to be. I did glean some really helpful tips from my vet who had been through the futurity process before. She warned me to make sure that Wilma’s feet were tip top and she looked as fit and well as possible. At this point I became rather concerned about her soundness, cracked feet and rather portly tummy! I resided to the fact that futurity was just going to be an ‘experience’ and not build my hopes up of a first class score.

Wilma had a few days of pampering leading up to the event. Those of you who have piebald or skewbald horses will now how tricky it can be to get them immaculate. She had her long and rather wild mane tamed ready for plaiting, but I still worried about those cracking feet. As a gut reaction I decided to call my farrier and ask him to trim Wilma on the morning before we left. It was quite a gamble as I would either get away with perfect looking feet or she would be slightly sore and not perfectly sound. It was a risk but I wasn’t prepared to take her without trying to get her feet looking acceptable. At futurity you aren’t allowed to use any hoof preparations such as hoof oil or balms so horses are assessed very much ‘naked’, with no cover-ups.

With Wilma trimmed, polished and plaited we loaded her up and headed off to Essex, about an hour and a half away. She travelled brilliantly, without making a sound, it seemed like she knew exactly what she was going off to do.

The Grading

When we arrived, we unloaded and took Wilma for a little stroll so she could settle and take in her surroundings. The venue was Writtle Agricultural College so we were parked in a car park surrounded by assorted barns and lecture rooms. Wilma coped so well and we finished getting her ready and donned our all white outfits which are advised so that you can ‘show off’ your horse and not distract from them. Not exactly flattering and we were paranoid about getting grubby.

Futurity is split into several stages. Firstly, two representatives from Baileys Horse Feeds do a top line and condition scoring and discuss feeding requirements. Notes from the conversation are supplied after the assessment. Next, up you walk, and then trot your horse up on level ground for a vet’s inspection. The vet also inspects your horse for conformation, health and condition. I knew feet would be part of this inspection and I was worried in case we lost valuable marks. Amazingly the vet not only gave Wilma a glowing report regarding her condition, but told me to congratulate my farrier on the condition of her feet. If only she had known the stress we had getting her to that point!

After a short break we moved onto the indoor arena for the full grading. This was in front of a Wilma2panel of four judges including the revered Jennie Lorriston Clarke who was the chair of the panel. To start, I had to walk Wilma in a triangle, around large plant pots to mark our route. I then had to trot her in hand for some time, making sure she was moving forward and was as relaxed as possible. This was quite hard as she was quite sharp and didn’t always move as forwards as she needed to. However, the panel gave us plenty of time and gave me some guidance as to how to show her to her best. It was quite hard running on an arena surface for quite a while and I was glad I wore trainers (as recommended in the BEF guidance notes).

Lastly we had to loose school Wilma, with both myself and my helper Jess ‘shooing’ Wilma round the arena in trot, then in canter. This was harder than it sounds and we both looked rather hot afterwards. Finally Wilma was caught (you can take some treats for this) and I was asked to walk the triangle again while the panel discussed Wilma’s final grade mark as a future event horse. This is an average of her vet mark and the final grading mark. I was thrilled when they announced that Wilma had scored 8.15 which is a first level mark. We left the arena and Wilma loved the fuss and treats that followed. It was such a rewarding mark and looking back at the photos I am really pleased with the horse that I ‘produced’ on the day. The experience was really worth the time and expense for both of us. I think it gave Wilma a really great test to see how far she was in her basic training. I gained confidence in handling her but also have a very clear picture of things I’d like to do before I send her to futurity as a two year old.

Which brings me back to the subject of feet! I was very lucky in this instance that I made the right call regarding a last minute trim. However, I’d prefer not to go through the stress again. Wilma spent the winter turned away at our family farm in Suffolk and had abscess problems again, which was not only stressful, it was also expensive. It’s not much fun changing poultices in the middle of a muddy field in winter!

Futurity gave me a plan. To work on improving Wilma’s foot condition as this is a long term necessity, and then start to work on her top line and basic muscle condition in the early summer, leading up to futurity this year. I was lucky enough to be approached by Equimins who supplied a huge container of Hoof Mender 75 Supplement Powder for Wilma to try. It was easy to use, coming with its own scoop, and it didn’t take Wilma long to get used to a slightly different smell in her pony nuts.
I have been trialling Hoof Mender 75 for a few months now and in the time Wilma has been on the supplement she hasn’t suffered from any abscess problems or lameness. Obviously hoof horn takes a while to grow and strengthen so in my next blog I will be writing about the final outcomes of the trial, including some photos of Wilma over the winter, how her feet have improved and what I am doing to prepare for this year’s futurity.

To find out more about Nikki, Wanda and Wilma, see Nikki’s website Black and White Eventing (https://bandweventing.wordpress.com/)





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