Hi! I am writing the Free Rein series with a focus on 8 – 12 year old readers and the view to teach them about horses and Christ.
In the sixth book in the Free Rein series, Contagious, Kate King’s horse Captain gets sick. In time, so too does Jacqui’s pony Jaq. The family are on watch over all the horses being agisted at Genesis, for fear of the horses having caught something that could easily be passed onto others.
This is the perfect opportunity for Kate to teach her daughter about taking a horse’s vital signs. One of these vital signs is the temperature. And this is an area where values will differ greatly for Australian horse owners and American horse owners. We measure temperature quite differently! In Australia, we measure degrees in Celsius. A normal temperature for a horse will be in the vicinity of 37.5 degrees Celsius, give or take a degree.
The same cannot be said for those who make measurements in Fahrenheit! A horse’s normal resting temperature in this measurement will be a lot higher – around 99.5 degrees up to 100.5.
Wherever you ride and care for horses around the world, it’s important to know what measurement is used on a thermometer to check a horse’s temperature. Digital thermometers are great in that they show the numbers on them, but it could be concerning if you expect to read 37 and instead you find 100 as the figure on display! Luckily the other vital signs are measured the same worldwide. This includes the horse’s respiration rate (breaths per minute), heart rate/pulse (beats per minute), hydration status and capillary refill time.
Here’s an excerpt from the sixth book in the Free Rein series, Contagious.
Kate took in the droopy ears of Captain and a runny nose. The fluid wasn’t the clear colour it should be, but instead was a yellowish-green colour.
Being cautious, she grabbed a thermometre to check his temperature. Standing to the side of his hind end, she lifted Captain’s tail a little and placed the thermometre in his rectum after putting some lubricating jelly on it. She was sure to place the thermometre against the side of his rectal wall, rather than straight into the bottom of the horse. If she did this, the thermometre might be placed in a piece of manure and the temperature reading wouldn’t give her the best indication of Captain’s body temperature.
With it placed on the side in his rear end, she let it sit for a minute until it beeped. Because it was a digital thermometre, the temperature appeared in numbers on a little screen. Kate frowned as she took in the figure of 38.8 degrees Celsius.
Captain had a temperature. A horse’s normal temperature range lay at 37.5 degrees Celsius, plus or minus a degree. Because Captain’s temperature was over 38.5 degrees, Kate knew that something was wrong in his system. This as well as his droopy looking ears and runny nose told her that he had something that made him feel unwell – and something that could affect the other horses on the property.
Kate chose to put Captain away in their quarantine yard, rather than back out in the paddock where he would come into contact with other horses. After she’d placed him there and called the vet, she grabbed a bucket and put some disinfectant and water in it. Then she grabbed the brushes and halter she had used on Captain and placed these in the water, giving them a good scrub.
As Kate worked, she thought about the other horses on the property. She knew she needed to check them all over to make sure none of them too, were sick.
She hesitated, wondering if it was best to wait for the vet to arrive and give a verdict on Captain before she jumped to conclusions about the others.
“But if he is contagious then the others could already have it and need the vet, too,” she reasoned with herself.
She went inside quickly to change her clothes and scrub her arms and face in the bathroom before going out to look at the other horses. Kate started in the paddock Captain had been in, glancing at the others from a distance. If she didn’t need to touch them, she wouldn’t.
When she noticed the animals happily grazing with ears pricked and no sign of lethargy, she decided the rest in the paddock were fine. She made a note to check temperatures the next day and to keep an eye out for any signs of illness.
As Kate checked the other paddocks that housed horses and ponies, she was relieved to find that they all appeared in good health.
“Maybe it’s just Captain,” she said to herself, silently praying that it was and that he wouldn’t get any worse.
She sighed with relief when she noticed a vehicle making its way down the drive. The vet was here.
Like what you’ve read? You can purchase Contagious on Kindle over at Amazon.
I believe this particular term used to describe a horse’s height isn’t Australian. It’s a term commonly used by many horse people around the world.
Jacqui and her friends ride ponies more often then they do horses. A pony is known to be 14.2 hands high, or shorter. Horses and ponies are measured in hands and can be as small as 7 hands high, right up to over 21 hands high – wow! It depends on their breed.
A hand is equivalent to 10 centimetres or 4 inches. One inch is 2.5 centimetres. So 4 inches multiplied by 2.5cm is equal to 10 centimetres.
So let’s consider a pony that is 14 hands high. If we multiply 14 by 10 centimetres, we will have a pony that is 140 centimetres high. Now this height isn’t measured up to the horse’s head. It is instead measured from the bottom of the hoof, up their front leg, all the way to the top of the wither. All horses and ponies are measured this way.
If a pony is 14.2 hands high, this means it is 14 hands and two inches high. So this would be 140 centimetres plus 2 times 2.5 centimetres. In total, the pony is 145 centimetres high at its wither. The wither is the point where the mane ends and the back starts. It is also the point where we put the front of the saddle on the horse.
Captain, the horse ridden often by Jacqui’s mother Kate is over 16 hands high, or 160 centimetres at the wither. That’s taller than me!
Here’s an excerpt from the fifth book in the Free Rein series, A Dollar Goes a Long Way.
Sunday morning the King family headed off to church. As had become routine, Geordie joined them. Jacqui happily headed out to kids church with her redheaded friend, thinking once again how nice it would be if Hannah were with them.
Hannah didn’t think much of God, church or the bible. It seemed to make her uncomfortable anytime Jacqui would talk about it, so she’d learnt to not bring such things up in front of her other friend. Jacqui wondered if that meant Hannah would never learn about God.
This week they were looking at having the strength to do something, in spite of being scared. Jacqui was surprised to find that this was what courage was all about.
As their teacher talked about being obedient to God even though you’re scared, Jacqui realised she had recently had such a conversation with her mother. Jacqui’s pony Jaq had been getting difficult to handle and Jacqui had fallen off him a couple of times.
She was scared of falling again, and had decided it may be easier to not ride him at all. Kate had encouraged Jacqui to get back on her pony in spite of being scared of falling.
Under Kate’s instruction, Jacqui had been able to correct Jaq as he got pushy and disobedient. This had helped her confidence to grow a little. That afternoon Kate had had a fall off her horse Captain, and broken her arm.
Jacqui had been surprised to find that her mother would be getting back on a horse as soon as her arm was better and the doctors said it was ok. Kate didn’t seem scared by the idea at all.
Jacqui had come to learn that falls would happen every now and again, but if she learnt from them it would make her a better rider. She just needed to learn to protect her body in the event of a fall, and to correct her pony if his behaviour caused the fall.
Their teacher at church was talking about the many things that King David did in his life while being afraid. David was described in the bible as a man after God’s heart. Above all else, he cared what God thought of him and sought to do what his Saviour would want.
“It is understandable that we feel pressure from people at home, school or elsewhere, but we need to recognise that God is the main One whose opinion we should care about. Sometimes we may be scared to do something that we know is right. Or maybe we are being stubborn and we just don’t want to. It’s important to consider what the right thing to do is, and do it in spite of being afraid.”
A young girl put her hand up in the class. Brian nodded at her.
“Do you have a question, Sarah?”
“If we do something even though we’re afraid, because we know it’s good for us, does that mean we won’t get hurt?”
“Now that’s a tough question! We have to trust that God will look after us, but we also have to know that things can go wrong.
“Let me give you an example: if I was nervous about crossing a really busy road and I decided to cross it anyway, because I needed to get to the other side, that doesn’t mean I can’t get hurt. In fact, if I don’t watch the cars and wait until a safe time to cross, I can hardly expect that God will make it work out fine for me just because I want Him to!
“We need to be careful about how we do things, but we also need to trust God that He knows what’s best for us. If we do something because we know it’s the right thing to do, like apologise to a friend for a disagreement that you had, then at least we can be comfortable in knowing that we’ve done what God would expect of us. It doesn’t mean that the friend we apologise to will accept our apology, unfortunately! That is up to them.”
Jacqui thought about this. She realised that she was trying hard to respect Hannah’s discomfort about anything relating to God and felt this was the right thing to do. It didn’t mean that Hannah would recognise Jacqui’s attempt to be sensitive to her feelings and say thank you, or even decide that she wanted to know about God. That was tricky!
The young blonde decided she would make an effort to pray about her friend. It was lovely that Geordie was so receptive to the idea of church, but it would be nicer still if all three of them could go together.
There are instances in the Free Rein series where horses or ponies need to be relocated from one property to another. An example is when Geordie and Hannah get their first ponies. They have to be moved from Hannah’s Aunt Jan’s property, to Jacqui’s parents’ property, Genesis.
This can be done in a large vehicle that is able to fit many horses – a truck. For smaller numbers of horses, a float can be used. This is a trailer for horses that attaches to the back of a car.
A float may otherwise be known as a horse box or trailer. You can have a single horse float that houses only one horse. Or a double horse float, that is able to fit two horses in it. Floats can be angle loaders, in which the horses stand in them on an angle as they travel. Or horses can be loaded in straight, facing the back of the vehicle that is pulling them.
Horse floats are handy tools for moving horses to competitions or new homes. They need to be pulled by vehicles that can handle extra weight and have a tow ball to attach the float to.
The King family don’t have their own float. In instances when they need to transport horses, they hire a truck or borrow a friend’s float to do the job.
Here’s an excerpt from the fourth book in the Free Rein series, Learning to Fall.
Hannah entered the classroom and sat down opposite Jacqui with a large grin.
“Guess what?” she asked excitedly.
“Is this about another party?” Jacqui asked, unsure.
“No! It’s about horses,” Hannah replied, waving impatiently to Geordie as she dawdled into the room.
Geordie continued slowly, taking her time to put her bag away and get to the table. Hannah frowned at her.
“You did that on purpose!” she accused her friend.
“Did what?” Geordie asked innocently, holding back an amused smile.
Jacqui wasn’t sure whether to laugh or to tell Geordie to be quiet. She wanted to hear Hannah’s news!
“So what’s your news?” she asked Hannah curiously, hoping her friend would share, now that Geordie was seated at their table.
“My Aunt Jan rang last night and asked when we’re next coming to visit her. Apparently she’s gotten a new pony, and she wants her three helpers to come and exercise her ponies over a weekend so that they all get worked. She said the spring grass has given them lots of energy and they need to be ridden instead of her giving them exercise by lunging them.”
“Can we visit her anytime soon?” Jacqui asked, surprised and pleased.
“Can I take Rose?” Geordie asked, talking about her mare.
“Yes and no,” Hannah responded to her friend’s questions, “she asked if we could come for a weekend very soon. I already asked Jan if we could bring our ponies and she said that wasn’t such a good idea.”
“Why not?” Geordie asked, surprised.
“Don’t you remember we talked about that last time we were there? Jan doesn’t have a lot of room for extra ponies, plus because they’ve been on a different property, she’d have to keep them separate from her ponies.”
“Just in case one of hers was sick and passed it onto Rose or Jasper,” Jacqui finished for Hannah, remembering the talk with Jan when they’d first visited.
“Oh yeah, I remember now. I’m not sure I want to go if I can’t take Rose.”
Jacqui suddenly felt disappointed. If Geordie didn’t want to go, maybe Hannah wouldn’t either… and she couldn’t possibly go by herself.
“If it’s just for a weekend, you could spend time with Rose during the week and as soon as we get back, Geordie,” Jacqui suggested, keen to go.
“Yeah, Jasper could do with a weekend off, I think! I’d love to ride some of Jan’s ponies again and see the new one she’s recently gotten,” Hannah said, causing Jacqui to smile in relief.
“Please, Geordie? I’d love to go back to Jan’s. We had so much fun last time.”
“I don’t know… I’ll think about it.”
Jacqui prayed her friend would do so, and change her mind about not wanting to go. She struggled to focus when the teacher had called the roll and started the day’s lesson. It suddenly seemed so important that the three girls went along to Jan’s for a weekend!
Once a month I like to do a short post on a term that comes up in the Free Rein series. It may be one that is specifically Australian, as has been the case for the word agistment. Or, it may be a word that is specifically horsey.
This month’s term is agistee. As a recap, the word agistment refers to boarding for the horse. In Australia it is common for people to pay a fee to keep their horse on a property. This is often known as agistment. It may include keeping a horse out in a paddock 24 hours of the day, with other horses. They have access to grass, water and companionship.
It may also include keeping a horse separately in a paddock, in a stable – or both at different times of the day. An agistee is someone who pays the fee for their horse to stay elsewhere. Generally the agistee is the horse owner.
Although the horse is being kept on someone else’s property, it is often the responsibility of the agistee to tend to the horse’s needs. This includes feeding, feet care, rugging, riding and on some properties, even picking up manure.
Although some places do offer to feed, exercise and rug horses – for an extra fee – it is generally the agistee who does all this. This is the case in the Free Rein series. Geordie and Hannah, Jacqui’s friends groom their ponies, ride them and care for them. Jacqui’s family makes sure there is safe fencing, grass and water, but otherwise the care is generally left to the agistees.
Being an agistee means you can have a horse, even if you don’t have your own land. It can be a great way to get a pony without having to buy a place to keep it.
Here’s an excerpt from the third book in the Free Rein series, Free Reign.
“Hey, who are they?” Geordie asked of her two friends, looking toward the Genesis driveway.
“Who?” Jacqui asked, glancing up to where Geordie was pointing.
The young blonde frowned, not thinking they were expecting any more agistees. At least, her mother hadn’t said so. She shrugged helplessly at Geordie.
“I’m not sure. It’s great if we’ve got more people to agist their horses here… but it’d be better if they weren’t turning up just before our riding club starts!” she replied, causing Geordie to nod her head in agreement.
“Maybe that’s the point,” Hannah responded with a smile, causing both of her friends to frown.
“What’s the point?” Geordie asked, returning to brushing down Rose.
“Maybe they’re turning up for the riding club.”
“Can they do that?” Jacqui asked, causing Hannah to laugh.
“I think you’d know that answer better than me – it is your parents’ property!” she replied.
Jacqui continued to brush Matty but kept an eye on the cars that made their way into the arena paddock and then continued toward them at a slow pace. She was surprised to find that there were two vehicles, each pulling a float. Trotting bareback behind them was Alice on Sox.
“Hey, here comes Alice!” Jacqui said with a smile, starting to put the saddle on Matty.
Alice had said that her younger sister wasn’t yet up to the riding club but that she’d love to check it out. Apparently she attended a local Pony Club one Sunday a month, but was happy to try out one that ran on a Saturday. She’d suggested to Jacqui that maybe she could do both!
Kate came over to see how the girls were going with getting ready. Before they rode in their lesson with Kara, they needed to have Kate check that their saddles and bridles were on correctly.
“Mum, do we have new agistees?” Jacqui asked, doing up the throatlatch strap on Matty’s bridle.
“Unfortunately not honey. Alice spoke with me about attending the riding club and mentioned she had a couple of girlfriends from her Pony Club that would also be interested. She asked if it’d be ok if they came along to check things out. I spoke with both of the girls last night about their horse riding and their horses’ health and decided it would be ok if they came and joined us today. Kara seemed happy to have a few more people to instruct as it seems they ride at a similar level to Alice.”
“Oh!” Jacqui replied, surprised she hadn’t known sooner, “well that’s great, I guess. It’ll sure be different riding with three other people, two that we don’t know.”
“That’s true. But it’ll also give you each someone else to learn from. And it’ll be a good chance for Kara to gain some more teaching experience. I’d better direct the girls towards where they can get their horses ready,” Kate commented suddenly, turning toward the two floats that had just pulled up beside where the girls were getting their ponies ready.
Already tacked up, Geordie watched curiously.
“Hey, what a nice looking roan!” she stated appreciatively, watching the red and white haired horse that was backed out of the first float.
“Isn’t he gorgeous? That’s Bentleigh,” Alice informed the girls, sliding off Sox and landing softly with bended knees.
“I hope you guys don’t mind that three of us are joining in today!” she continued, causing Jacqui to smile.
“It’ll sure make things interesting!” Jacqui replied.
She didn’t mention she was a little nervous about riding with two strangers who were more experienced than she was.
“All ready!” Hannah exclaimed, having tightened the strap on Jasper’s girth.
Jacqui hurriedly turned her attention back to Matty, realising she was the only one not ready. Well, not the only one. She glanced back up at Alice.
“Alice, where’s your saddle?”
“In Tina’s float. Her parents drove me here today and I stopped at the paddock to get Sox here quickly so we wouldn’t be late. Where should I tie Sox so I can get him ready to ride?” she questioned with a smile.
Following Jacqui’s direction, she tied her chestnut gelding to a nearby rail. Then she headed over to the float that the roan gelding had been unloaded from and disappeared around the other side.
“So if these two girls ride at the same level as Alice, will they want to ride in the same lesson as us?” Hannah voiced the question Jacqui had on her mind.
The three girls looked at each other and shrugged. The day had taken an interesting turn!
A round yard may otherwise be known as a lunging ring or a round pen. It is an enclosed circular area in which you can do liberty work (the horse is free to move without a lead rope or reins attaching it to a person). It is possible to also lunge horses in this area and first introduce them to a saddle.
Because horses are expected to trot and canter in this area at times, it is important to make sure the diameter of the yard is at least 20 metres. Asking them to do canter work on a smaller circle can be very difficult, particularly for uneducated (green) horses.
A round yard was one of the first things that the King family set up on their property Genesis. This was so that agistees (people who kept their horses on the property) could make use of it to exercise their horses. Round yards can be made out of many things – tyres, rubber, wooden rails. It just has to be an enclosed circular area that a horse and human can get in and out of. Some people choose to have them with high walls and a roof. Others create them so that horses can see outside.
Below you’ll find a piece from In Pursuit of a Horse, book 2 in the series! If you haven’t read this book yet, you can check out a piece to see what you think 🙂
Jacqui grinned as she trotted along on the little grey pony Prince that Jan had helped to saddle up for her that morning. She was riding in a smaller paddock with Geordie and Hannah also trotting on their ponies. Jan stood in the middle, watching the three.
“Now I know that I said the main points to focus on whilst here are safety and fun, but that doesn’t mean that we should stop learning. In fact, learning is fun, especially when it’s about horses! So girls, do you each know about trotting diagonals?” she questioned, gaining a nod from the three.
Jacqui suddenly thought that she was glad Kara had taught her what they were and explained why it was important to rise to the pattern of a particular foreleg.
“Great! Now I want you to all look down at the outside front leg of your horse. Are you moving in time with it?”
Jacqui realised she wasn’t and so sat two beats of the trot before she started rising again. This changed her diagonal so that she was rising and falling with the outside leg.
“Good job, Jacqui! Now all three of you are on the correct diagonal.”
Jan encouraged the three girls to change direction and their trotting diagonal, one at a time. She reminded them about the importance of riding at a safe distance from each other, pointing out that Geordie and Hannah’s two ponies sometimes didn’t get along.
Geordie and Hannah wanted to jump, expressing this to Jan. With a smile she told them that there would be plenty of time for that in a few days. She wanted them to get to know her ponies first – and for the ponies to get to know the girls! Jacqui liked this idea. She’d done a tiny bit of jumping on Banjo with Kara, but the idea of jumping on a horse she’d only ridden once seemed a bit scary to her.
The girls rode for an hour before cooling out their ponies and wiping them over with a damp sponge. Jan pointed out that now that they’d tended to their ponies, they’d better refresh themselves!
The three were thankful for the fruit and cool drinks that Jan offered them.
“So what are we doing next?” Geordie asked curiously, munching on a piece of watermelon.
“How many riding ponies do I have?” she asked a question of her own.
“Umm… six,” Geordie replied uncertainly.
“And how many did you three ride this morning?”
“Three!” Hannah responded.
“So how many still need to be worked today?” Jan asked, earning exclamations of surprise.
“We get to ride a second horse? We’re riding twice today?” Jacqui asked.
“Of course! As much as you three might be having fun, I’m happy to put you to work and my ponies need to be worked regularly! Before it gets too hot, you might as well each try out another horse! Tomorrow you can each ride once, which will give three of them a rest, and then we’ll reverse that the following day. How does that sound?”
The three thought it sounded wonderful. Refreshed from their break, they took the head collars and leads offered to them and followed Jan back to the paddock to catch their next mounts.
Geordie wondered aloud if this was what heaven looked like. Hannah nodded, thinking it must be. Jacqui grinned.
“I’m sure it says a lot in my bible about heaven. I’ll have to look it up,” she mused, putting a head collar on a little brown pony this time.
The girls enjoyed another lesson with Jan teaching them about getting their horses to lengthen their stride at the walk and trot. Jacqui realised after the two riding sessions that none of them had cantered yet. She was surprised to find that she didn’t mind at all – she’d been learning so much and enjoying trying out two of the ponies that it hadn’t felt like there was time to canter!
They chattered over lunch about the two ponies they’d each ridden. Jacqui couldn’t decide which she liked better. They’d both been well behaved ponies and she had really enjoyed herself. Geordie had preferred the second pony that she rode whilst Hannah felt that the first she rode had been a little bit more fun.
The girls were excited to think that they would be riding a different pony the following day.
“I can’t believe that in such a short space of time, we will have ridden so many different ponies!” Jacqui stated in wonder, causing Jan to smile as she directed the girls to put their dishes in the sink.
Once they’d done so, she took them outside to a wooden bench that was in the shade of a large tree. Hannah looked around, confused.
“What are we up to?” she asked her aunt.
Jan explained the discussion she’d had with Jacqui that morning about sunflowers.
“I know you will have lots of memories about your stay here, but I wanted to send you home with something concrete to remind you. So! I’m going to give you a pot, some potting mix and a few sunflower seeds each and we’re going to do some planting!” she announced.
Geordie seemed unsure at first, but shrugged her shoulders. Jacqui was thrilled. The three got to work filling their pots with potting mix before placing a few seeds in them, spacing them out well. Then they covered them over with some more mix, watered them well and placed them in a shaded spot that Jan said would get sunlight in the morning.
“Just you watch, by the time you three head home, they’ll have turned into little seedlings for you to show off,” Jan commented as she headed back inside to the cool air conditioned living room.
The three followed, Jacqui thinking how wonderful this would be. She realised too that it would also be sad because it would mean the end of their stay at Jan’s.