We are so excited to introduce our newest Verm-X Ambassador, Sophie Ostler.

Sophie has loved horses all her life and is a passionate equine behaviourist, amateur rider and self-described “horsaholic.” She also runs an equine wellbeing centre in Scotland and aspires to achieve Grand Prix in dressage, with her barefoot, rug-less herd.

We asked Sophie a few questions about her horses, her farm in Scotland and why she loves our Verm-X for Horses.

 

How old were you when you started riding?

I was nine when I started having riding lessons in Somerset where I grew up. 

How many horses do you own? 

Six. They are all so different, I just love their individual personalities.

Jason, my first horse, now 25 years old, I’ve owned him since he was 5. He’s an Anglo-Arab. We’ve been through it all together and he’s taught me so much, I first met him when I was working full time as a behaviourist, he was very anxious back then but he soon earned the nickname Granddad for his laid-back nature. He’s a big part of why I think outside the box to this day when it comes to horse training and care. At 15.2hh he’s far from the biggest horse here but he is the boss of the whole herd.

Then along came Minnie, the Connemara pony, I got her to keep Jason company when I first had my horses at home. She was a very successful jumping pony, she cost me £1 due to having a tendon injury and needing time off to heal with no guarantee she’d come sound. Her tendon healed and we had some showing successes, and lots of fun. She’s very sweet, always comes to call, but can be opinionated. She has Cushing’s and takes some extra management, like clipping her long coat twice a year to keep her cool and comfortable. She’s lovely to ride, very responsive and enjoys being ridden bridle-less.

Ferdy is the cheeky one, such a playful character around the yard, yet he switches into work mode in a heartbeat. He loves to please and is very quick to learn. He’s a Hanoverian, I searched the internet for stud yards offering promising dressage youngsters, and there was baby Ferdy. Fully expecting I’d be travelling hundreds of miles for my dream horse I was quite surprised to discover the stud yard was a couple of miles up the road from my house! It was clearly meant to be.

Fifi is the gentle giant, rising 7, tall and elegant. She is Ferdy’s half-sister, though she doesn’t share his cheeky personality. She is unbroken, but fast becoming the most sensible horse of them all. This will be a fun year now she’s matured enough to start training. I bought her shortly before we moved to Scotland, so the four of them had quite a long journey to our new home.

Dante, a Belgium Warmblood, arrived as a rehab project, shortly after we arrived in Scotland. She had a successful career Show Jumping at Newcomers, but she’d broken her leg in a field injury and needed time and therapy. Her rehab was going really well, with her being declared sound by vets, hoorah. I’d literally tried a saddle on her for size when a new lameness sadly struck, so she’s presently back in therapy. Fingers crossed she’ll come sound soon. She’s a total sweetheart.

Tommy is an ex-racehorse, he’s the newest addition. He clearly wasn’t destined to be a racehorse, finishing mid-field in all his races, but I’m so glad because I can’t imagine life now without a Tommy. I had said “no more horses” but he’s an absolute stunner with his blaze and four socks, I just couldn’t resist! I’ve only ridden him a couple of times as I felt he needed a year off to decompress and enjoy being a horse, and he’s certainly done that! The sweetest boy ever, attracting admirers of everyone he meets, and with bags of potential, I’m very excited to see what we can achieve together. He is happiest when roaming the farm free range and following humans around for his own amusement.

Do you have any other pets?

I have four dogs, all rescued, most of them were terrified of humans when they arrived, it’s the most rewarding thing to gain an animal's trust and love.

There are five cats on the farm, last year I adopted a feral mum and kittens, they are now very friendly and demanding of daily cuddles! Jubilee Sweet Pea is my oldest cat, I’ve had her 11yrs now. She is still a little suspicious of the “feral” gang that invaded her farm but she gets her own space as she is the only one brave enough to live in the house with four dogs!

The sheep may as well be counted as dogs too, although they don’t live in the house, much as they’d love to. They were bottle fed orphans, a bit of fun during lockdown, but they make excellent mowers and cross grazers for the horse paddocks. They provide much entertainment..

There are 20 chickens, 19 hens and a lovely cockerel, they have the whole farm to roam, just like the sheep they provide amusement, and plenty of yummy eggs, and some frustration when you’re sweeping up into piles and before you can fetch a shovel they’ve redistributed it all around!

How long have you been using Verm-X?

I started using Verm-X close to a decade ago, initially for my first two horses Jason and Minnie. Jason suffers from digestive upsets, and Minnie had a history of bad reactions to chemical wormers so using a more natural approach for their intestinal health really appealed.

We’ve used the powder, liquid and pellet forms, depending on which works best for the time of year and feeding routine, all variants have been readily and greedily accepted. I do regular WEC and saliva tests, so I know it works for my horses.

Why have you chosen to have your horses barefoot and rug-less?

My first two horses came to me shod, so initially I blindly continued to have them shod. We had recurring lameness issues, and unhealthy feet. They would lose shoes, as a result they’d be foot sore and their feet would break up. Minnie would stand quietly for the farrier but always become anxious and showed signs of pain whilst the nails were driven in, my concerns were always dismissed but I started to question if the shoes were masking issues.

It became apparent that shoes were doing my horses feet more harm than good, so we took them off and now many years later with six barefoot horses I only wonder why it took me so long to come to my senses! I have been trimming my own horses feet for a few years, and my trainer comes out periodically to check my work.

When I first owned Jason he was a poor doer, and I kept him rugged up all winter, being an Anglo-Arab he’s not the hardiest of breeds. He would always become fed of wearing rugs, and I lost count of the number of times the weather would change and he’d be totally over or under rugged as a result, but I used to keep him on livery and worked full time so it wasn’t really an option for him to be rug-less in a field from dawn to dusk.

Once I got my own land and provided adequate shelter I decided to ditch the rugs, and give him a chance to regulate his own temperature, he became fatter that year than any winter previous! This year I have started to rug him on the coldest days, he’s got some arthritis and he’s very appreciative of his FAR infrared rugs. I am certainly not anti-rug, but I am anti over-rugging.

The other five are all rug-less, the exception being if they are ever clipped and not overweight. Dante gained a lot of weight due to her lameness and I was therefore unable to exercise her to keep her trim, so she was clipped for winter but only rugged on cold nights or very wet days, thankfully she’s lost some weight but will take careful management this summer to keep the weight off.

Tell us about your farm 

My herd share a big barn for shelter, with a large turnout pen which gives access to all of the paddocks, I designed a central track so I only need to open and shut gates from this track to rotate their grazing. We planted a woods at the beginning of the year and I designed a long central avenue so I will be able to incorporate it into the horses track system, just to make their life a little more interesting and encourage more natural levels of movement.

I really enjoy thinking up ways to enrich their lives. We strive to make things as natural as possible to keep them healthy and happy whilst always bearing in mind that our horses are domesticated, so it’s not always best comparing to horses in the wild. Today's thoroughbred bears little resemblance to your typical hardy wild breeds, so to some extend they do have different needs. Simply applying the rule of barefoot and rug-less because it’s natural isn’t always in the horse's best interest. Treating each horse as an individual is the most important thing.

All horses, wild or domesticated, need the three F’s: forage, friends and freedom, but most of us don’t have thousands of acres to allow our horses to roam and satisfy all their needs, so I strongly believe that domesticated horses need us to also provide them with the three S’s: shelter, shade and (mental) stimulation. 

What’s your favourite thing about horses?

This is a surprisingly tough question to answer!

I could list a hundred things but to pick one, I’d say my favourite thing about horses is the relationship we have with them; if you treat them with kindness and give them what they need, they give you their heart in return and you have a friend for life.

 

You can follow Sophie on Instagram or Facebook and learn more about her Equine Wellbeing Centre over on her website.

March 22, 2023 — Clementina Davies