Creating Harmony with Horses is the Tory Hill Farm mantra. Pair that with owner Jill Willcox’s favorite saying, Waste Not Want Not, and the seeds of innovations are planted!

Jill explaining how to become part of the horse.

Jill Willcox explains how to encourage straightness. OTTB Sammy Streaker often climbs onto the block for a stretch.

About ten years ago, Jill became fed up with saddles designed for small dogs rather than her rescued racehorses re-developing their muscular backs. Out went the saddles and in came thick pads held on with vaulting girths. For beginner riders, the vaulting handle is a godsend. Everyone should spend some time bareback. It is an ideal way to find a good, balanced seat.

Riding Pads with Vaulting Girth

Several Pads held on by a Vaulting Girth have replaced the Saddle.

A number of years ago, a particularly disturbed OTTB gelding, Runner, arrived off the track with a loathing for bits. Jill began his rehabilitation riding off a noseband. It worked so well that she removed nose bands and reins from all the bridles to create a collection of bitfree head gear. The horses prefer them over bits. I rarely see the horses throw their heads up to evade the bit pressure. Most students inadvertantly use the reins to balance. They also turn with reins rather than the seat, legs and mind. I think sore polls are as common as bad feet.  Advanced riders have challenged whether the horses perform as well; they do! Contact is contact.

First lesson, 11 year old Hannah works with Sam in-hand

Her first lesson: young Hannah works Sam (27) in-hand in his Bitfree Bridle.

Three years ago, Jill added bailing twine neck rings to our tack. By adding some tension on the ring, the horses are encouraged to lift their necks from the base, cervical vertebrae 7, located under the shoulder blade.  Many people play or pull at the mouth to find collection or self carriage. In truth the horse breaks at the poll and often tucks his head further to avoid bit pressure. That is false collection so frequently seen in competitive dressage and elsewhere.

The neck ring became a great tool for Doc who was so leery of anyone hurting his poll. I work him in-hand with just the neck ring and he relaxes into the exercises. With anything touching his poll, his nervous system fires

erratically often resulting in head twitching or spasms. The ring also offers a good secondary hand hold for the unbalanced student.

I purchased a firmer, lariat style, adjustable Liberty Neck Ring from Linda Tellington-Jones. I love experimenting with it. Jill has taught me to ignore the nay-saying experts who avoid change. “Be part of the solution,” she is always telling her students.

Last summer, the 6′ bamboo pole joined the tool box. As we begin each lesson with work in-hand, next to the arena wall, the bamboo pole offers another reference point for the crooked horse to straighten himself. Finding balance and straightness, at a walk is the beginning of all the work.

Jill working Runner In-hand with bitfree headstall and bamboo pole.

Jill invites Runner to walk in Self Carriage.

Jill’s innovations extend to horse husbandry as well. Her (free but formerly broken) Holsteiner warmblood, Charlie, and boarder, Daniel, a Percheron, consume hay like their lives were at stake. Unlike the six thoroughbreds, a pause button is not part of their original equipment. How could we make their 15 lbs of hay (about 5 flakes) last the night?

I printed out all the slow feeding ideas from Paddock Paradise. What a resource! Round bale options, small square bales ideas, even hay cube dispensers are discussed with photos along with construction plans. That really got our wheels cranking!

In the winter, Jill stalls the horses at night. But the set-up is more creative than most barns. Each horse has his own patio. Danny and Charlie occupy the last two stalls in the barn. We keep both their doors open so they can visit each other as well as access their paddock.

To slow their nightly hay consumption, Jill came up with the Slow Feeding Hay Cone. It’s a cylinder of (left-over) deer fencing, laced together at the bottom and side with, our favorite, bailing twine. At the top opening she makes 5 circles of (left-over) high tensile wire and knots the deer fencing to the wire circle with twine. She added a bailing twine handle so that we could suspend the cones. Our later, improved models utilized lovely macramé knots with alternating colors of twine. Perhaps there will be bead or chime accouterments for next year’s model?

Slow Feeding Hay Cone  Close up of the Hay Cone

Slow Feeding Hay Cone for Outdoors or  Stalls.                               Close up of our early model.

When we first added hay cones to the stalls, Charlie went nuts! He literally rushed over to Danny’s stall hoping that Danny had a nice, full hay rack! No darn cone! When it comes to food, horses are geniuses in my view.

Over the following week, everyone except for Sam and Sunny were switched to Jill’s slow-feeding hay cone. As for Sunny and Sam, they need all the hay they will eat. Sunny is never blanketed and is ridden every day and Sammy is 27 and thin. Since Sunny hates stalls (he is brilliant in so many ways), I put a traditional, rope hay net with large holes in his aisle/patio, right next to his ever-present ‘dunking’ bucket of water.

Sunny and 'sister' Annie eating hay

Of course keeping it from his hay-eating sister, 2 year old rottie, Annie, is another matter!

For handsome Sammy Streaker, we soak his hay to soften it and serve it in a muck tub on his patio and in his stall. My equine dentist, Krystin Dennis (the best!) told me that more often than not, older horses do not eat as well because their chewing muscles are weak. I always thought it was worn down teeth.

How could we dispense the outdoor hay? Jill designed the slow feeding hay pocket, in small and large sizes. They are easy to fill and greatly reduce hay wastage. We hung several of them on the side of the arena which seconds as a shed when lessons are finished at noon. Deer fencing is ‘sewn’ at either end with baling twine. At the top, Jill laced 2 bamboo poles into the fencing. Every farm should have a small bamboo forest! To further slow consumption add hay in pads. To make eating easier, like on a cold windy day, shake the hay into the pockets.

The Large Slow Feeding Hay Pocket Close up

Jill hung several large and small Slow Feeding Hay Pockets on the side of the indoor arena.

March, 2012 came in and went out like a lamb. The warmest March ever and suddenly we found ourselves scrambling for a Pasture Plan for founder-prone Daniel, Charlie and the OTTB from Argentina, Donnie. Jill and her troupe of working students were determined to keep the horses sound this spring.

Charlie, the Holsteiner warmblood, is our biggest challenge, having foundered the last two springs on new grass. The poor guy lived in padded Easy Care Epics, #5, last spring. It took 10 months for him to completely grow out the foundered foot and 4″ abscess lines on both front feet. For more detailed information on lamintis and founder, see my June, 2011 post,  The Challenges of Spring Grass.

Fortunately, Charlie now has great feet that are trimmed every week. The students put steep angles on the periphery to alleviate any mechanical stress on his laminae. He gets his supplements in a balancer feed that has no grain or molasses. As for exercise, all three, Charlie, Donnie and Daniel give lessons, 2 hours of mostly walking in the arena. And Charlie will join the thoroughbreds for their daily romps around the large, hilly pastures. All could use more exercise.

Critical to founder prevention:

  • Diet,
  • Exercise,
  • Trim, in that order.

Jill (waste not want not) designed a muzzle for Charlie from a roll of left-over shade material you might use to protect lettuce in the summer. She attached two overlapping squares of deer fence to form the bottom. All but the center squares are blocked off with material, probably one of her old shirts! If you look closely you can see husband, Mark Willcox’s suspenders used as the crown piece for Charlie’s full head gear. And he is all set for Halloween!

Charlie in his Full Face Muzzle  Close up of the Full Face Muzzle

Charlie doesn’t quite have his girlish figure back!             And the close up, showing Mark’s suspenders!

Daniel in a Best Friends Muzzle

Danny has a Best Friends muzzle with an added throat latch.

Donnie in a Feed Bag Muzzle  The bottom is made of deer fence and cloth.

Donnie wears a retro fitted feed bag.

Treats likes apples and carrots are off the menu; too high in sugar for these guys. Alam is a good alternative. I have learned that products marked “safe starch” are not necessarily so!  Dr. Eleanor Kellon is my expert of choice in these matters.

Could we finally sit back and enjoy the spring? Of course not!

As soon as thoroughbreds, Sunny and Doc, saw the three muzzled boys, they went right for them. Off came the muzzles, literally in seconds. Doc picked up Charlie’s full face coverlet and began bobbing his head to make the muzzle circle! Jill walked over to retrieve what was left when Doc, caught off guard, reared, flung the muzzle 10 feet into the air and took off! “I guess we are lucky it didn’t end up in a tree,” Jill laughed as she picked it up.

It won’t surprise you to hear that Jill went back to the drawing board, again, to create yet another muzzle style for Doc and Sunny.  And thus was created the All-You-Can-Eat-Muzzle! They look very much like the summer feed bags; duped, Doc and Sunny willingly put them on. Then the awful truth sank in. No food just deer fencing squares!

From the arena, Jill watched the two as they reared, struck, climbed on each other and threw a hissy fit for two hours. On the positive side, they looked sound and athletic! But on the down side, we couldn’t afford an accident.

That evening Jill decided that the best plan was to divide the herd. Muzzled and well mannered horses on one half the farm and the bad (curious? playful?) boys on the other. Of course we had to add a string of electric to the bordering fence. You don’t think a fence-line would slow down Doc and Sunny?

Sunny, telling his side of the story, and pal Doc

Sunny is telling his side of the story as Doc nods in agreement.

March is behind us. April and May are high founder months in southeast Pennsylvania. We will breathe a sigh of relief around late June or July depending on the how much rain we get. As I finish this post, so far so good! Everyone is sound.

Other Home-Made Do Dadds of Interest:

  Shed Curtains

From the Inside Out. The Octagon Shed.

Wind and snow block

Attached to a sturdy fence, shade material makes a great wind and snow block for the Self-Care Barn.

I would love to hear about your home-made do-dadds!

Happy Trails,

Dawn Willoughby

Educational articles on natural horse keeping at my 4 Sweet Feet.

Free Videos on the Maintenance Trim.