Six ponies running down a hill

Emma Massingale and the battle of the bulge

The battle has begun! We spend all winter longing for the fresh green pastures and full hedgerows only to be out there with a ruler hoping the grass hasn’t grown a millimetre for fear of laminitis.

At this time of year, I get messages almost every day asking how I can keep my ponies on grass and not have them run to fat and suffer from the crippling disease.

Of course, my horses aren’t immune. Two of the Connemara’s had laminitis once and my mare Calypso had it after surgery on her fetlock joint. She wasn’t carrying loads of weight but the combination of the drugs they gave her, the lack of exercise and change in routine I believe caused it.

The only other pony was Flint. He was working fine then I left to cycle across Europe with some ponies. Suddenly not working and being a paddock pet for a few weeks meant he also suffered for a while.

For medical or scientific advice ask your vet or Mole’s local in-store Registered Animal Medicines Advisor, but from experience what works for me is a combination of things.

I make sure they all work harder and do more exercise in the spring. Going for a hack isn’t necessarily enough to keep the weight down unless you are adding cantering sections. I use a combination of hacking, cantering in the fields and arena work.

I also make my herd a bit more unsettled at home. As nice as it is to see them all chilled, grazing and snoozing, this translates to waddling about the field, eating and sleeping.

A few times a week I mix the herds up by adding the minis, Shetlands or sporties to the group. Everyone knows each other but, as they don’t all live as one big mob, it means the herd is more active. I put trackers on some of them and the difference was around two to three kilometres more per day.

I personally try and stay away from starving them in a stable or using grazing muzzles as this isn’t conducive to my Liberty work. As soon as they’re loose they would all eat the nearest bit of grass and ignore me!

I also don’t think this is good for our relationship as they can resent being caught to be shut in with no food. I’ve seen countless ponies turn on their heels at the sight of the muzzle.

By the time you’re reading this our spring demos will be finished until the next batch in the autumn. It has been such fun sharing the ponies and my way of training with people, especially the children. Many of them know all the ponies from my videos and of course Albert and Ernie were firm favourites. The demos also showed some of my young ponies’ exceptional aptitude for travel and large audiences, as well as their ability to keep cool in a totally alien environment.

Next for us is our clinics. We welcome people from around the world to our little farm in Devon. They are with us for a week and we do a lot of Liberty or free work - as well as having fun adventures on the moors and beaches.

 I love getting my hands on all the different horses that arrive. Sometimes people are having issues with a particular thing like loading, anxiety when riding with others or being left alone.

Some people just come to hang out and play with our horses in beautiful places. I always get one or two people who want to learn the tricks like training their horse to sit, lay down, or smile. The variety makes it interesting as I have to find the best way to help people achieve their goals but, more importantly, be able to carry what they have learnt home with them. I love it! Now, I have to go and paint some stables…