Monthly Archives: January 2014

No chips please. We’re British.

I have a passport. It is blue and it has my name and microchip number clearly displayed on the front, along with the name of my friends at the BHS. Inside it has my ownership details, a description of me (tricky when you are skewbald), and my age.


The passport laws in the UK are pretty non-existent at the moment. They invented some of them back in the noughties, but there were too many passport issuers appointed, so all the passports looked different. And all of those issuers (PIOs) had different sets of rules and regulations and charges, so in the end it was just a complete mess – far too many ‘differents’ to work efficiently – or even to work at all!

Then they introduced compulsory microchipping – every horse born after a certain date had to have a microchip. Once again, it was a free-for-all. No guidance was given as to the numerical detail of the equine chips, so they were bought in from everywhere! Unlike on mainland Europe, where each country has a dedicated numerical prefix, the microchips used in the UK came from all over the world.

When it came to paperwork, there was more confusion. When you called the vet to get your horse microchipped, you would be offered two options. There was the expensive chip, which had forms to complete (not so popular with the vets’ admin staff) and the cheap chip, where you were advised to phone the National Equine Database (NED) yourself, to inform them of the number. You can guess which option most people chose, but the snag was that the NED telephone line was never manned, so you could never make that call.

Sad, isn’t it, when one of the most developed, well-educated nations of the western world can’t invent a simple catalogue of horses in case there is a disease outbreak or a leak of horse meat into the food chain?

Well, it happened didn’t it? Last year, you were all going to die from eating pony pies, if you believed what they said on the news.

Apparently, DEFRA are looking into how to sort it all out without spending any money. They are bombarded with advice from various sources. Owners would like horse identification to be someone else’s job. Vets would like it all to happen without involving them. Dealers would like to return to the bad old days of no traceability at all and Auctioneers, well, how about the auctioneers? Shouldn’t they be held responsible for checking that each horse has a passport in the name of its vendor – they do it routinely for cattle after all?

I think there should be some clear and basic rules here.

1. All microchips should have a dedicated UK prefix and come from the same source.

2. Vets should bear responsibility for providing traceability.

3. No horse should be presented for sale without a valid passport and microchip registered to its current owner.

4. Ownership should be transferred on that passport before the horse is resold.

5. There should be two PIOs for the UK. Weatherbys for the thoroughbreds and another for the rest.

There are so many people who want to make money out of horses, without ever putting anything back into the industry. I think it is time they stood up to be counted.

Militant little me!

PS If you read this and feel strongly about this issue, please give me a follow.


The Stable Yard Cats

Some of the most important members of staff on my yard are the cats. Every stable yard is the same; we store hay, straw, feed and lovely warm horses and all of these provide a haven of comfort for a rat when the weather turns wet (and at any other time come to that). And there is nothing like a team of cats to deter those rats from joining your yard.

Cats are very singular creatures. They form their own likes and dislikes, friendships and habits. Some are domesticated and enjoy lives as wonderful family pets and undemanding companions; others are born wild and are therefore more tricky.

A kitten which is born to feral parents needs to be captured almost at birth, if he is to be tamed enough to become a pet or companion cat. If reared in captivity from a few weeks old and handled carefully (despite the protestations of his mother!), he may grow up to be tame and biddable. But at seven or eight weeks, his ancestry imprints itself indelibly on his mind and he will, like as not, be a wild boy for ever.

Winston out hunting

Given that there are thousands and thousands of feral cats at large in the UK, what is supposed to happen to them all? They are not popular when they populate gardens and the misguided often resort to cruel means of getting rid of these needy creatures, which are fighting and hunting as nature intended them to do. Sometimes they are trapped and taken to rescue centres, where their health needs are met and they are neutered. As long as they are not being a nuisance, many are re-released where they were originally trapped, so they can continue their lives without the consequences of constant reproduction. But large numbers of feral cats remain in rescue centres for ages and ages, because rehoming them is problematic.

This is where you and your stable yard come in! These cats can be an invaluable and low-maintenance asset to your menage, if you are prepared to give them a chance. There is a particular knack for settling them in to a new situation. They need to be confined to a large cage, with beds, feed, water and a litter tray for a fortnight. Most cat rescues will lend you the equipment to get started. Don’t expect affection from these moggies- they will swear and spit at you and rush to the furthest corner when they see you. But gradually, as they associate you with feeding time and a routine, they will become a bit calmer. Your cages will be situated in a closed stable or building, and after a fortnight, the cats can be released into that space as well – again, don’t expect tameness, but watch for signs that they are getting used to coming for their food.

Twice a day feeds keep the cats fit and strong

Twice a day feeds keep the cats fit and strong

After another fortnight, you can open the door to the big wide world. By now, the cats will know where their home is and they will begin to explore. You will be amazed at how their confidence will grow at this stage. A feral cat hates to be confined, so once he is free again, his true character will emerge. Some will remain completely wild; others will become tamer, though probably never quite up for a cuddle! The aim is that you can get close enough (at feeding time) to administer flea and worming treatment – and of course, to grab them if they need to go to the vet (wear gloves by the way).

All in all, this is great way to get a team of cats for your yard – and to help a very particular type of needy animal. Our three lovely cats, Winston, William and Tilly came to us two months ago as eight month old sibling kittens. Already they are bringing ‘trophies’ to the feed room and are proving to be delightful company during mucking out and feeding round. They are quite happy to be touched at feeding time and love to patrol the buildings and the woods around the farm. They were neutered, microchipped and vaccinated whilst in care, so they are healthy and strong.

Winston's first mouse was a cause of great excitement

Winston’s first mouse was a cause of great excitement

The foster carer has three more similar cats waiting for someone to understand their needs. They are called Tom, Dick and Harry. Meet them here:

 If you can help them, phone 01239 810595.

The next time you need a cat for your stable yard, please consider rehoming a feral one.

Dreamyard on Twitter

The weather is so dire at the moment, that a lot of horses and their owners are wishing wishing wishing for better living conditions and an end to the storms. I have been asking my friends in the ‘twitter herd’ for their wish lists over the festive season and their requests have given me quite a challenge!

There is no Harry Potter movie this Christmas, so here’s a test for all horse keepers, film makers, technological genii and wizards.

Some of our wishes are simple – rolling acres of old turf, free draining with no rye grass: great big gorse hedges for shelter and friends to share our space. There will, of course, be sufficient so that land can be rotated and rested, not to mention some hill land for the Shetlands and fatties to enjoy. The donkeys from Birmingham and the rehab boys at RSPCA Felledge have also requested a fine view.


And it must only rain at night.

There will be various types of building including field shelters for the free spirits, barns for the community types and individual stables for the poorly and pregnant.

Ublah the Trakehner is a wise old bird and her list was very long! She asked for grills between stables so that nobody is isolated and off-road riding for the enjoyment of all.

What a brilliant track!

Arnie (The Fat Pony) was not alone in his request for a solarium. And Ruth included a photo of exactly the thing we have in mind.

Heat lamps

Tilly wants a mud patch, bless. I am sure she will share.

My old friends Oscar and Teddy share my preoccupation with food. This is where the magic and technology come into play. I think we can achieve Teddy’s automatic haynet filler with a coded microchip sewn into his rug and some awkward mechanical dangly things. Oscar’s grassy stable floor which regrows after it has been nibbled is quite another matter. To be honest, I think their worries will all be sorted by the daily work and turnout – in fact I would suggest they are turned out together.

After my friend Valentine’s warning this morning, all turnout rugs will be fitted with alarms. In the event of a thief attempting to remove a rug, huge floodlights will switch on and the deafening sound of galloping hooves will fill the air, alerting the staff to the misdemeanor.

The automatic drinkers and horse treat vending machines could also be worked with the clever microchips, but do bear in mind that the yard will have STAFF. They will never sleep and will be at our beck and call 24/7. I expect there will have to be some concessions to their comfort as well – hot showers and a Costa machine maybe and chocolate biscuits for when they are extra good.

The yard is right next to a beach and future plans include a wave powered hydro-electric system to run the heat lamps (no Arnie, we can’t put the Shetlands on a treadmill). I can confirm that Kauto Star, our most famous inmate, will have a flatscreen in his stable, so that he can relive his favourite triumphs.

Kauto Star

Future developments will include a true replica of Cheltenham Racecourse as well, so that Kauto can pose for the cameras whenever he likes. Provision of iPads for the donkeys is dependent on sponsorship from Apple apparently. The rest of us will be quite content with the actual apples, thank you.

I hope you approve of the interim plans for the Twitter yard. My own wish is that its doors will be forever open, if any horse, pony or donkey needs somewhere to go.

And once a year, just for a week, proper snow!