While we have several international-standard stable yards, and a number of growing properties that are nearing that same standard, we still have many yards that have a lot of catching up to do.
This month we look into what yards overseas are doing differently from us, and we chat to the team at Nyberg Equestrian Centre, a competitive showjumping yard based in Europe. HQ contributor, Dr Lizzie Harrison, also shares her insights based on her time spent in the United Kingdom.
The first thing to keep in mind is that the weather in South Africa differs largely from other major equestrian countries, most of which are based in Europe. South Africa’s climate is generally drier (area dependent), with far less rain than European countries receive. Our temperatures are warmer as well during the summer and winter months, with very few areas in South Africa experiencing snow.
Most of Europe is fortunate enough to have access to year-round rain, meaning that their grazing in the paddocks is almost always green and lush. While this may seem fine and dandy, it does mean that the horses are consuming very rich grazing – which can ultimately lead to health threats such as laminitis.
Horses in Europe spend most of their time standing indoors owing to multiple factors. The grazing is too rich, which translates to limited time allowed grazing naturally. “Because it rains a lot, the ground can become very slippery, which is a potential threat for competition horses who might hurt themselves,” says Dr Harrison. There isn’t space available in Europe like in South Africa. Many yards don’t have all that much paddock space, so horses have turns being turned out for short intervals at a time.
“We are fortunate to have a lot of space on our place, which makes the work nicer and easier,” says Kristin Nyberg. “Our horses are turned out between two and six hours a day in the field.”
European horses spend the majority of their day stabled. “They’re mentally less healthy and often more fizzy because of the restricted turnout time,” says Dr Harrison. She goes on to explain that they are prone to accumulated fluid in their joints and depression as a result of all the standing. Giving these horses daily exercise is paramount for their health. “You can’t skip a day,” says Dr Harrison. Kristin tells HQ that while her horses are extremely fortunate to have lots of turnout time, they still have daily ridden exercise and sessions in the horse walker.
While a life indoors is not natural or ideal for a horse, Dr Harrison explains that the horses get used to it and their bodies learn to physically adapt to their lifestyle.
A lack of land in European countries means that there isn’t that much space for facilities. Some of our larger South African yards stable over 50 horses and have multiple arenas to accommodate all the riders. Nyberg Equestrian Centre has 21 stables, a horse walker, paddocks, a solarium, wash bays, a 25m x 80m indoor arena, and a 100m x 45m outdoor arena. This yard represents a standard European yard and facilities.
The horses are also fed very different diets, loaded with fibre and salt. Kristin tells HQ that the horses at Nyberg are fed hay four times a day, and also eat pellets, muesli or mash three times a day.
One of the most noticeable differences between South African and European yards is the availability of services. “The majority of the stable yards in Europe are DIY,” says Dr Harrison. This means that you are expected to feed your horse in the morning, muck out the stable, turn your horse out, bring your horse in, groom him, and feed him his meals – all on top of your livery cost. Some of the more prestigious yards do have in-house grooms, but this comes at a much greater cost than what we are used to.
Other services provided by farriers, physiotherapists, chiropractors, and saddle and bit fitters are extremely expensive. “The vets are far more specialised as well,” adds Dr Harrison. If your horse is unwell, a general vet will come out and see your horse, and will then refer you to a vet who has specialised in the relative area.
Lessons are also far more expensive. The cost of a basic riding school lesson in Europe is the equivalent to a lesson with a top instructor or competitor in South Africa. Riding times are also very different owing to the length of day in Europe. In summer, the sun is up at 4am and only sets around 9pm – so lots of riding takes place in the evenings. “Europeans are also not at risk of African Horse Sickness, so they can afford to ride later,” says Dr Harrison.
Photography: Nyberg Equestrian, Shutterstock
The full article appears in the August issue of HQ