Naturally managed competition horses

For 10 years Lucinda has been running an internal breeding programme, first at Brackenhill Stud and now at Bowhayes Farm. The programme combines breeding horses for pleasure and competition, and scientific research into naturalised horses and their lifestyles. She has been observing first-hand the benefits and differences that result when a horse lives a breeding life more in tune with its requirements as a herd-dwelling animal. It is a constant learning experience that has proved fascinating.

Lucinda has in recent years reduced her programme significantly due to the limited acreage at Bowhayes and is now concentrating on the youngstock produced to date. The majority of the homebred horses are Andalusian crossed with Thoroughbred. The theory behind this project is that by crossing the trainability of the Andalusian with the scope of the Thoroughbred you should achieve all that you look for in a competition horse. The stallion, El Cid is a pure-bred dark brown Andalusian, by Aderezo out of the champion show mare, Brilliantina. Having been conceived and born under Lucinda’s watchful eye he is very special to her. She has also looked after his mother, father, sisters and cousins so their bond is very strong and Lucinda is able to recognise family traits instantly when working daily with the youngsters. El Cid and the mare Bam-Bam matured together and now have 8 foals between them, the eldest of which, Bowhayes Born Rich is currently one of the team performing demonstrations around the country – a job he has resumed, now under saddle, since his first performance at Contour’s Midlands equine fair as a foal with his family.

As a family group, she has found that, contrary to popular opinion, the stallions offer no threat to the mares and the foals. If a stallion is starved of female company for long periods of time he is bound to become frustrated and so the human-dictated covering dates become all his Christmases rolled into one! Covering naturally, he learns to treat mares with respect, which is a great advantage when it comes to riding: he is sensible when worked in their company. Riding a stallion amongst his family is also good preparation for the warm-up at shows and gives an opportunity to work on keeping his concentration under saddle so that he can go into the test focused and relaxed.

Bowhayes Farm is now breeding the second generation of naturalised foals.

Bowhayes Bright Future, Birthday Girl and Bright Idea are by El Cid out of Bowhayes Bright Spark who is by Brackenhill Fizz. This stallion was bred by Lucinda’s mother out of her racehorse mare Caviar Blini and was nursed back to health by Lucinda as a weanling so the family connections are very strong. This generation were all conceived, carried and born in the field and in the herd. When offered a special ‘maternity unit’ with access to a large barn and a sumptuous straw bed, Lucinda discovered the mares insisted on using it as a latrine and all foaled outdoors close to the centre of the paddock where the risks of bacteria and tight corners are minimal. She also began to notice that the mares only took their foals indoors in HOT weather.

With no official weaning, herds are only split if yearlings are under stress when new foals are born. They have made friends with ‘aunts’ and brothers and should she need to take them away from the parents then Lucinda can just split the group to help make the process less traumatic. Having grown up on a very conventional thoroughbred stud she is determined to avoid the terrible screams of the yearlings when they were locked up in a stable block, and the bad behaviour patterns such as cribbing and weaving that they developed and carried into training.

Years of experience are now starting to confirm for Lucinda that the most striking characteristic of the naturalised youngstock is their increased trainability and confidence: emotionally, huge security is gained from herd support and she has found that youngsters growing up in the herd have far greater confidence. Nappiness has not proven a problem; it is a symptom of insecurity and mistrust and so long as their trust is maintained by treating their fears with respect and understanding, then they seem to regard you as part of the herd and are happy to take your leadership. Neither is Lucinda a great believer in putting headcollars on foals, as if it is done too early it can cause unnecessary battles, and some very sensitive nerves around the poll area can be irrevocably damaged. Having taken the conventional line before, and having experienced trying to catch and lead young foals, she has learnt that the youngsters will lead much more happily if you allow them to take their own time. Similarly, for the naturalised youngster, behavioural boundaries are being outlined by the herd, which enables the human to remain ‘friend’ more than disciplinarian.

These findings have been accompanied by the outstanding general health enjoyed by all Lucinda’s naturalised horses: daily Lucinda is discovering that scientific evidence supports her view that Nature has provided the Horse with many self healing mechanisms. She has also been able to test the efficacy of a number of natural remedies on her stock.

Occasionally the long-term aims of the breeding programme mean that selected youngstock will be available for sale – but, of course, to approved homes only where they can continue the lifestyle to which they have become accustomed! Lucinda prefers not to pass them on to new owners before they are ‘backed and hacked’ as early training leaves its mark – good and bad.

She can then provide continuing support and back up for the new owners.

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