Western Riding attire

Saddle sores can quickly cut short a riding holiday.

We have witnessed many a sore rider struggling after a long day in the saddle.

Everyone’s bottom hurts when they start riding. But the more you ride, the less it will hurt, as your muscles and tissues get used to it.

When you choose jeans for riding, they should have reduced friction against your skin, a higher rise to provide coverage of your lower back in the seated position, and a longer inseam, to cover the shaft of your boots while in the saddle.

If you are going on a riding holiday, and are not used to riding in jeans do not just wear your fashion jeans because you WILL BE sore afterwards, and why wreck a holiday just because you didnt buy riding jeans before you left. Wrangler, Ariat, Cruel Girl and many other brands have excellent jeans made for riding, and if in doubt – pantyhose or bicycle shorts under your jeans also work wonders!

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Castellare di Tonda horses, the how and why.

At Castellare di Tonda we are often complimented on our great horses.

Our horses have in most cases been bred onsite, or hand picked as trail horses. The horses bred onsite that didnt have the right attributes to become a trail mount were sold on for other disciplines, whereas the calmer, more solid types will stay on for life.

Unfortunately in many equestrian establishments all over the world, the horses utilized for trail riding are horses that have been ‘recycled’ from previous lives, often unsuitable for trail work just as they were unsuitable for competition because of either confirmation or personality flaws.

Just about any horse can handle the minimal demands of carrying a rider a short distance (one hour max) across flat terrain. The challenge escalates as the rides become longer and the landscape becomes steeper.

The terrain in most of Tuscany is challenging. Forget the dream of softly rolling hills : At Castellare di Tonda, we have some big hills, difficult river crossings, narrow forest paths, and rocky mountain trails. Proper conformation is important to allow our horses to be balanced, powerful and maneuverable over the difficult terrainas well as to maintain soundness over its lifespan.There are exceptions to every rule and we definitely have horses at CT with poor conformation that are excellent trail mounts, and so far have never taken a lame step. However,the below points of conformation are things we definately take into consideration when purchasing new horses for our string.

When we consider a trail horse, we look for traits such as temperament & personality,confirmation, physical build, athletic condition training and more.

A good trail horse, is a well put together horse. Cosmetic problems such as scars dont usually cause any problems with a good horse, whereas confirmation issues do.

A sturdy build is a must, we like a horse with a deep chest and well-sprung ribs. To carry the rider over long miles, he also needs good strong legs!

The bigger the bone, the bigger the joints and the more the horse can sustain impact, hence why we love our Fjord horses and Criollo horses.

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The finer-boned horses dont hold up as well as the horses with larger bone.

Not all horses are suitable for the long rides, and our finer Quarter horses are used more for the reining and western school, whilst the hardier types do more of the long distance work.

A good sound trail horse also often has short cannon bones, long forearms, and pasterns of a medium length and slope. Horses with high angulations tend to be more animated, but tend to break down faster too.

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Feet play a large role in the trail horse too due to the fact that they bare all the weight. Sound feet are crucial. A triangle-shaped hoof ,with the base of the hoof larger than the coronary band is a good thing to look out for. A big, strong foot is important, as it needs to be tough enough to withstand the sometimes tough, rocky ground around us. A horse without good hooves isn’t suited for the continual concussion of long distance riding. Its an old phrase, but a valid one. No foot, No Horse.

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A good horse looks balanced. He should carry equal weight on his front end and back end and on his topline and underline.

The slope of the horse’s shoulder is one of the most crucial aspects to consider. The slope of the shoulder directly influences his stride length and smoothness. Too straight of a shoulder causes him to not be able to easily extend his front legs and therefore he will have a very short, jarring stride. Horses with a nicely sloped shoulder have a free flowing, smooth, long stride since they are able to reach farther with their front legs.

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A horse with a short broad back will have less problems from pressure points (although extremelly short backs, such as arabian horses can present saddle fitting problems too).

We use a barrel racing saddle on our little Shakir.

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A horse with a longer topline indicates that it has a long, weak back. This can cause problems over long distance as longer back length makes it difficult for the horse to bring its hind legs up under its body when it moves. The hind legs reaching under the body are the source of power for the horse to move forward and also allow the horse to maneuver and adjust easily. If a horse is unable to bring its hind legs well underneath its body, more weight must be carried on its front end, thereby reducing its power and maneuverability as well as leading to a more jarring impact on the legs.

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Finally most important of all, is temperament.

Manners are essential for our horses, and clients often comment us on how well behaved the horses are when out on the trail, or even just whilst being prepared.

We allow them to experience everything even whilst at rest. They get used to dogs, tractors, children and noise from the day they arrive at Castellare (for those not born and bred here).

If for an emergency we need to tie three horses to the same ring on a post – we can do it. Our horses have been so well socialised that they will stand through almost anything, are not worried by traffic, and will not kick the horses behind them.

Our horses tie, walk on a lead, stand for grooming and saddling, dont bite, load into trailers easily and allow vets and staff to treat wounds while standing quietly.

They dont worry about noisy lorries, can be ridden as below, bareback and ponied by another horse – and are very much a joy to deal with. 🙂

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Want to come meet them yourselves?

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RIP little Balu

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Our gorgeous, cheeky mascot Balu sadly passed away last Friday.

Balu was well over 30 when he died, and no longer had any teeth. We let him live free the past few years, since in this way he could find fresh grass (since he could no longer use his teeth to munch up hay), and he lived happily in this way.

He was a cheeky pony, as so many of the shetland breed are. He knew when to ‘disapear’ ..generally when their were kids pony rides scheduled, and when to ‘appear’ which was generally just after grain had been fed out (he would kindly clean up all the left overs in the stable).

He liked to hang out at the bar, especially at aperitivo time – and was unpopular for a few weeks after offloading a nice steamy pile of manure (right inside the bar).

We will miss this little guy. RIP Balu.

Last months of savings on spring horse riding holidays

Thinking about how to spend your holidays in 2015? How about a horse-riding holiday in beautiful Tuscany with us?

Our horse riding holidays are filling up fast, and many weeks during the year are now at full capacity.

We have a 20% discount on accommodation, and free breakfast every day during the months of April, May, June and July.

We still have available spots on the following rides in spring:

April: 4-11, 11-19, 19-25, 25-02 (4 spots left on each ride)

May: 9-16 (3 spots left)

June: 06-13, 13- 20, 20 -27

Contact us today and we will quote you a great package with riding, meals and accommodation included.

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Horse job for 2015 in Tuscany

The days are getting longer over here.

No longer is it pitch black at 5pm, but now closer to 7. Spring is on its way – even if weather wise were still in winter territory.

This season promises to be a busy one. We currently have a promotion (running until the end of March) that offers 20% off all apartments booked, even in the high season.

Riding bookings are very good, and we have some lovely returning guests back for another Tuscan fix.

Our beautiful Iza this year has gone back to study in Poland, and will only be helping out for a small time frame in the summer. Therefore we are looking for a new instructor/guide at our stables.

Iza organized our very popular ‘Kinder week’ with German children and was also our german speaking instructor, so one of of the skills required for this position in a  good level of spoken german language.

So. If you or anyone you know is looking for a job in 2015 (starting as soon as possible) Castellare di Tonda is looking for someone with the following attributes:

Good people skills, friendly and happy to work in a team.

Capable working with horses of different ages and temperaments (our horses are all lovely, but some have their quirks, and experience working with different horses is a must)

Safe and careful working with children

Languages: Essential German, with good english and Italian always a bonus.

Love horses. Love Tuscany. Love working outside.

You wont be expected to do boxes, but saddling and unsaddling is part of the job, as is bringing in and putting out the horses.

When their are no lessons or rides out, you will generally help Franco and Marco out with the young horses and their will be the chance to have lessons with them in western riding/reining.

You will have a house provided, a one bedroom private apartment with all bills paid. Free internet available at the reception, and during high season you can eat at the restaurant both lunch and dinner. Your apartment has its own kitchen for preparing meals.

Work week. You will work a 6 day week, with one day off (generally a saturday).

Good wage offered, as well as seasonal contract from March through to November.

You will need to have a work permit for Italy, or be a European citizen.

Know someone? Let us know! info@castellareditonda.com

Pics of the apartment offered:

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and the jobs kind of summed up like this…

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Tempted yet?

Maremmani Horses

Last year we made a photo excursion down to the south of Tuscany, to photograph some very special horses. The Maremmani. The group of riders we photographed were passionate Tuscan riders, who kept alive the Butteri style of riding, and the love of the hardy and strong minded Tuscan cowhorse, the Maremmano (and one adorable rare Tolfetano mare).

Below are some of the photos. It was an amazing day, with really wonderful people, and the horses were something out of this world.

If you ever have the chance to ride one of these horses (there are many trekking centers in the south of Tuscany) and try the fantastic traditional tack, you should jump at the chance.

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Through the eye of the horse

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Winter in Tuscany brings rain. Lots of rain. Driving to work daily, I find myself noting how the ground looks in sections where I normally pass on horseback. Its something I do unconciously, even though right now I am not riding at all.Weather is such an important factor to working outside with horses, and the softness of the ground, slipperyness of hill sections, or obstacles caused by heavy wind or rain, really can make a huge difference to the safety of the horses or riders I accompany out during the season.

Working as a guide means in an area where the weather can change quickly during the wet months, means having alternative routes in the case of emergency is a must.

Early spring makes for challenging riding, the weeks leading up to our seasonal opening (end of March) make for a lot of maintenance runs in the truck, tractor or horseback. Annually in the spring we need to clear the trails of fallen trees, rebuild the bridge that runs between Castelfalfi and Castellare, over the river (which swells considerably during the winter due to heavy rainfall), and fill in any of the dangerous sink holes that open up due to flooding.  All of the trails need to be checked before we ride them, as any obstacle could bring about lengthy extensions to our rides.

Riding on these trails in slippery, often unstable terrain during the early spring weeks requires an immense amount of trust in my horse. Here at Castellare we dont use any type of fixed martingales or tie-downs with our trail horses, and we ride them ‘on the buckle’ in english terminology. Basically, we dont have any contact unless there is a reason for it.The horses are incredibly sure footed, as many of our past clients can attest too, and know their jobs so well, that they need no rider assistance to show them where to put their feet.

When clients ride out with me down steep and sometimes muddy banks, I always remind them to let the horse have his head completely. It amazes me how many people find this idea difficult, often because they have been taught to keep a contact on the horse. One client that travelled out here a few years back had learnt the hard way the importance of this rule. While riding in Portugal, the group was taken down a steep slope. Her horse slipped, and she tried to correct him, but instead with the head pulled up, the horse lost his balance and fell- rolling down the hill and nearly crushing the rider.

This week I was reading an article in the Horsemanship Journal, by Maddy Butcher Grey that talked about the dangers of restricting a horses head when he is required to work over uneven terrain on trails or negotiate obstacles. One comment jumped out at me.

 “All true horsemen are going to say the same thing as far as head restriction of any kind.Stay off the face. The horse knows where his feet are coming down better than you do” (Ross Knoxx)

Horses are so vulnerable when they cant move their heads as they would naturally, and this is especially valid for trail horses moving over uneven terrain.

A client that was visiting a couple of years back told how on a ride horse back in her homeland, a horse in a tie down tripped on a rock, couldn’t use his head to regain his balance and fell off the trail down a fairly steep hill. Without the tie down it would have been an innocent, quickly forgotten stumble; with it, it was a disaster for both horse and rider.

To understand why the concept of fixed martingales on trail horses is so wrong, one needs to look at how the horse is physically made up, especially of note in this post – the horses vision.

Horses have the largest eyes of all land mammals. The eye of the horse is roughly eight times the size of a human eye. The placement and structure of the horse’s eyes is very different from ours. Horses are unable to focus their eyes the way humans and most animals can. When a wild horse raises and lowers his head as it looks at an object, it does so to adjust the focal length, moving until the object comes into focus on its retina. And, since the horse’s field of vision doesn’t overlap—the right eye sees what’s happening on the right side of its body, and the left side sees it on the left.(Monocular vision).

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The visual streak of the eye structure of the horse, means they see in an ultra panoramic format.

We know that horses do see some colors, but with limitations. Horses much like pigs, goats, cows, sheep and deer,  have only two different cone types on their retina, providing them with what scientists call dichromatic vision .

Reducing the number to two greatly reduces the number of colors horses see. They have no intermediate hues, but grays and pastels. They see mostly in the yellow, brown, and gray ranges.

A horse’s vision is its primary detector of danger. Even though horses have poor color vision, they can differentiate blue and red hues from gray ones. They have trouble differentiating yellow and green from gray and also poor depth perception when only using one eye.

Horses have an acute ability to detect movement. This is why a horse is much flightier on windy days; things that are normally stationary are now moving and perceived as a potential threat -and for this reason, especially in racehorses, trainers often use blinkers to bring their attention on the race ahead.

Our horses don’t see as sharply as humans – their average vision is around at 20/60 rather than 20/20,  but the eyes protruding from the side of their head offer them amazing peripheral vision with only two blind spots—one directly in front of the nose extending around four feet in front of it, and the other behind the tail, about ten feet long. This peripheral vision allows them to things in a panormaic format, spotting movement on either side of the faces, as well as in front of them.

Pulling a horses head down in a tie down not only comprimises his balance in the case of a fall or stumble, but also compromises his sight. For me, this means the horse is working at a disadvantage, and I need him to be 100% physically able to deal with anything that comes our way. He should have the liberty to move his head to see the landscape in different angles, so to assist him in how he moves over it.

My favorite guiding horse Shamal (below), who is now close to retirement age, has the peculiar habit of moving his head side to side as we ride out. At the walk he will literally turn his head to get better views of the area we are moving through. Its not always super comfortable, but the fact that this horse has on numerous occassions spotted obstacles or dangers that I hadnt noticed (holes in the ground, wild boar coming out of a clearing, hunters crouching in bushes etc) that has then given me the time to warn riders following us, means I will happily allow him the liberty of his head since it is what guarantees our safety, and those behind us. It is also worth pointing out that this is a horse that strongly resists any bit contact, and it has taken us the past two years to really understand each other. Since Shamal has a very strong, dominant character, letting him ‘take the reins’ for most of the rides we lead, has in turn developed our partnership into one of trust and understanding, something I could have never achieved by riding him on a contact, or with a forced short head carriage.

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