From equestrian weddings to home-schooling

Horses are creatures of habit – and don’t have a clue about Covid 19. Suffolk equestrian weddings venue Crow’s Hall has turned to tech for help.

Accomplished eventing horsewoman and owner of Crow’s Hall, Caroline Spurrier, loves welcoming those wedding couples whose four-legged equine friends just have to come too!

With stabling and paddocks adjacent to the moated manor house and magnificent Tudor long barn, it has to be one of the best-kept secrets for equestrian weddings in England.

Crows Hall  I Horse-friendly Weddings

During lockdown though, Crow’s Hall has had to shut its doors for a while to wedding parties and invite equestrian friends to return at a later date. But there is no question that farm-life must carry on as usual – and that all local residents with four-legs keep fit and healthy too.

Caroline shares her concerns for the equestrian community at this time, and reveals how she has managed to turn to tech, to keep her trusty steeds in fine fettle and give herself some weekly horsey highlights to look forward to during isolation.

“With my passion for horses, it is a joy that Crow’s Hall can help fellow horse-lovers include the animals most dear to them in their wedding celebrations. But equestrian weddings make up just a small part of life at Crow’s Hall estate. Many full-scale equestrian businesses have suffered however dramatically due to lockdown and the welfare of horses is becoming a major concern, not only with regard to animal health, but also potentially neglect.

Equestrian lockdown – the bigger picture

We hear of some livery yards completely closing, others failing to establish a rota-system for owners to attend to their horses on a daily basis, such that the livery yard owner/manager is suddenly looking after the needs of many more horses than they can practically cope with.  Owners and riders may have been discouraged to ride their horses due to the “high” risk of the sport and any extra strain it may cause to the NHS.  It is highly likely that many horses and ponies were suddenly turned out to grass to largely fend for themselves.

Riding schools have closed too and the amazing work done by the ‘Riding for the Disabled’ has had to come to an abrupt stop.

For the horses, the result of all this is an increased number of cases of Laminitis (a sometimes-fatal inflammation in horses’ feet primarily caused by an excess of spring grass with its high sugar content) and colic due to sudden change of diet and routine.  Horses recovering from injuries and/or needing physio through exercise, this ‘turning away’ policy in itself, turns into a welfare issue.  With this state of affairs, vets are as busy as usual without any of the routine visits.

Most importantly too, even fit horses can become difficult to handle from the ground if they were in full ridden work and this is suddenly brought to a halt. Horses are creatures of habit, still need care and don’t have a clue about Covid-19.

Managing equestrian matters at Crow’s Hall

As with the farm, for my horses, it is also business during lock-down as usual – just without the competitions – or visiting four-legged friends and their owners here for an equestrian wedding.

The horses are not being jumped at the moment and their work consists of hacking and training for dressage.  Casper, retired from a wonderful career with me eventing is now just hacking with a bit of light schooling; Oscar started work a year ago after a two year lay-off following injury and just started competing in dressage before lockdown; Charlie had just started walking exercise before lockdown following a field injury; Jimmy came home following winter training and in need of a holiday, so he is having a break.  Three out of the four horses need to continue their work to maintain fitness, as I do!

With lockdown, non-essential travel has included that of our trainers who come to Crow’s Hall and other venues, to train individual riders with their horses and keep their training progressing correctly.  With three horses continuing their work, it was a huge setback not to be able to continue with their training… until I discovered that tech could come to the rescue.

From wedding dresses to dressage

As well as seeing some superb wedding dresses come and go – whether for equestrian weddings or neigh (!) – Crow’s Hall has witnessed some first-class dressage training sessions over the last couple of years. I have been trained by Rui Campaeo, a classically trained Portuguese dressage rider and trainer, so some of his techniques are rarely seen in England and have been developed from traditional Portuguese and Spanish riding methods. He learnt skills by the prestigious Francisco Bessa De Carvalho, spent many years riding for the Portuguese School of Equestrian Art in Lisbon and is trained by Miguel Ralao.

Rui has an excellent and sympathetic approach to training horses and their riders. He comes highly recommended through some of the UK’s leading chiropractors with his classically trained techniques, helping with strength and straightness. He is also very enthusiastic and encouraging during the lessons. Not being able to get his input was highly disappointing, until I discovered that during lockdown, he is continuing to share his expertise from his sofa in Portugal!

Online home-schooling – for horses & their riders!

I soon learnt that all that was needed to attend a ’virtual clinic’, was an accomplice – at a safe social distance of course – with a bit of a steady hand (designated the official role of videographer!); a set of bluetooth headphones (not so comfortable with a riding hat, but a small price to pay really) linked to a videographer’s phone which was to WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger the video to Rui’s screen in Portugal. It was a bold move, but a rewarding one – just amazing when, all set up and scheduled in, the expert instructions came back from Rui immediately!

It has become the horsey highlight of my week – and Oscars’ too. Rui’s unique training methods have been the core to Oscar’s recovery as it is the strength and straightness training which has brought him back to work. Two years ago, he was suffering from severe back pain due to muscle weakness across his back, allowing the dorsal spines to almost rub and certainly causing inflammation in that area. The real root of the problem is still a mystery (although he did escape as a four-year-old, was found and came home lame) and even after considerable veterinary exploration there seemed little hope for recovery.

Oscar needs consistent work and training to maintain his strength. Last year, with the help of Rui, I started working Oscar in hand and last July, he was ridden for the first time in two years.  He has very careful training and is now leading a normal working life, so time off for Coronavirus would be a huge setback for both him and for me as his owner-trainer.

For me this chance introduction to virtual training for horses has been a hugely important one. Both Oscar and I have enjoyed the new-style home-schooling. It has been just another reassuring way of knowing that help is as hand even in difficult times. It will, I am sure, be something for the future – although I’m not sure that couples could ever get a true feeling for Crow’s Hall as a dream equestrian wedding venue just on a video call! We will just have to see.”

Crows Hall  I Horse-friendly Weddings