Wednesday, April 26, 2017

26th April, 2017 Devon Daytrip

A day trip to Devon yesterday to meet Mark Broadbent of Fenix Carriages to find out whether his place would be a suitable school for Zoe and Zelda to start their driven education. Mark is one of the most experienced, kind, and accomplished carriage driving competitors, and comes well recommended by my driving friends. Appropriate that he should take us out with two beautifully matched black horses, albeit a lot taller than the Zee Gees as Simon and Zorro are KWPN warmblood, Gelderlander horses with a touch of Hackney in their blood.

Wendy took over the reins for the second part of the lesson and was amazed both by the power of the horses and their reactivity to the lightest of signals.

I learned quite a lot in a short time too - the bits in paired horses have a cross bar at the bottom of the shank to stop the other horse catching his bridle on them but in competition this may be replaced with a piece of rubber hosing so that if it gets caught up on something else it can be released quickly. When driven as pairs, the bridle is fastened to the horse's head by plaiting the horse's mane through it to prevent it coming off.

The traditional hand position, both reins through the fingers of the left hand, ensures that the driver has a sure grip with his right hand able to move, forward of the left, in order to shorten and lengthen the reins for turns, thus ensuring that there is always stability in the reins as well as the ability to steer.

The collar, when placed on the horse, goes on upside down and is turned the right way up in the direction of the mane to prevent damaging it.

So much more to learn, and the training for both the horses and the driver, is expensive but definitely worth getting right first time. I think Wendy was surprised but also gladdened to learn that there is ongoing communication between the driver and the two horses meaning that you can never switch off but that the horses are always listening to you.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

25th April, 2017 Top Spot

Odey took the top spot yesterday. Despite breezy weather in an open field, he coped admirably with the umbrella and the tarpaulin, something that would have been unthinkable a few weeks ago. He seems to settle down to work very quickly once he realises that he will not be asked to do anything he can't handle, and then starts to be curious and brave.

He's extremely beautiful too.

One of the first foals on the Forest. This little filly lives alongside one of the busiest roads on the Forest. Let's hope the traffic slows down.

An afternoon of teeth with wondervet Amy from The Barn. As a protégé of Chris Pearce I can relax in the knowledge that she will do a thorough job of treating my horses' teeth and noticing any abnormalities. Nelly was checked but not sedated this time as we are too close to her foaling date.

Nelly and Blue seemed happy to be back out on the Forest...

Monday, April 24, 2017

24th April, 2017 That's Me in the Corner

One of the happiest days yesterday which just flew by. Lorraine and I went off to the Southern Counties Heavy Horse Association's Heavy Horse Event at Robert Sampson's farm at Harbridge. Once again there was a huge array of heavy horse breeds including Percheron, Shire, Clydesdale, Comtois, and Canadian Belgian Draught Horses - the latter being the tallest.

I had offered to look after the ring in the corner (how come rings are square?) where we had a set of obstacles for people to test their ridden and ground handling skills. With no competition, it meant that we could take the time it took to allow horses to familiarise themselves with the obstacles and grow in confidence. I threw in a tarpaulin, brolly and feather duster for good measure and helped some people with horses that were not sure of themselves.

Driving horses tend to be forwards, forwards, forwards; expected to keep moving and certainly not to back up, swerve, or turn around when they aren't sure of things. Our course gave them the chance to look at things a little more and . It was interesting to see how horses that looked very very confident under harness could actually be quite nervous of new and novel things. Nevertheless, they responded to the same tried and tested technique. Heavy horses and heavy horse people are lovely to work with.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

22nd April, 2017 Leo The Lionheart

I have never known a pony like Leo who does so much to hold himself together for his owner who is probably the first person he has ever trusted. He let's go of his anxiety by stretching out and lowering his neck and he concentrates so hard throughout his sessions. It's hard for a pony like this to let go of his past but bit by bit, with the thorough and meticulous training that he gets from Melissa, he is becoming calmer and calmer. The dentist commented on it when he saw him too.

Today we started off with long-reining in the school in his saddle for the very first time and we moved on to looking at the walk to trot transition. Until now this has been troubling him and he has had a tendency to run away and go into automatic pilot. I asked Melissa to simply ask for a couple of paces of trot, using a very subtle cue with her inside rein, and to ask him 'with love', i.e. with a soft attitude.

This worked very well and although his adrenalin still rose when he was asked, he didn't run off and he did exactly as he was asked. In time his neck didn't rise at all and he began to literally take it all in his stride. The main thing is to allow him to go forward without actively pursuing him.

For a change of scenery he then went out into the woods where he seems to enjoy being able to migrate. Although his adrenalin levels rose, his halt was still available and that's always worth checking!

Back in the school to finish and a few leans overs with the saddle on...and there's that stretch that he does to relax himself.

Here Leo looks quite tense but he is actually listening for the three clicks that herald the arrival of a treat, having side-stepped to the mounting block so nicely.

He's a super pony but needs a lot of careful work.

Friday, April 21, 2017

21st April, 2017 Where Were We?

I promised to reproduce my general notes on here and will get to the next set fairly soon. They are all about desensitisation and the three basic methods you can use to get your horse used to anything new and novel. Like all of the horsemanship I do, there are extremists on both sides of me - some that say that there should never be any need for desensitisation, it's all about the relationship, or even that it can damage a horse because it amounts to flooding, and those that might think that a horse should be inured to any stimulus. As always there can be a happy medium. Desensitisation is a means to an end but the end never justifies the means; as with any other piece of horsemanship it needs to be done ethically, logically, systematically, and consistently. Desensitisation techniques can help to enhance the relationship between a horse and a handler as the horse learns how to deal with fear and that his handler is looking out for him; moreover it makes the horse safer when taken out in public where there is a duty of care to those around you.

Training at home can help to make a horse safer on the roads: the engine is running
The sport of Horse Agility has really taken off in this country and abroad, giving horses something else to do which can be even more useful when they are young or too old, small or nervous, to be ridden. People can take part it in it as a sport in it's own right, or as part of the stepping stones towards creating a horse that is an all rounder, loads well, hacks out nicely, and isn't perturbed by shows, and other activities. What can seem like tricks, standing a horse on a plinth for example, is a great introduction to trailer loading. Being able to cope with things that flap, helps a horse to be safer out on the road where a bag on the verge, or a pheasant, may suddenly fly up.

It isn't compulsory to wear a fireman's uniform when training your horse (although it might help)
Just like any horse sport though, there are different methods of preparing a horse for a Horse Agility event, whether it be competition or playing at home. These can range from traditional horsemanship, through Parelli, Intelligent Horsemanship, and clicker. The important thing is that there should be some underlying method and training philosophy. For me, a combination of IH and clicker works really well and it is those desensitisation techniques that I will be talking about in more detail when I am short of a blog or two.

If this handler wasn't careful, in this case moving the umbrella away from the horse he could terrify it with the brolly during the initial stages of training; that's not the idea.
As I never tire of saying, however, there are only two letters difference between desensitisation and sensitisation and that's why it is important to think about technique, as well as the safety aspects of what you are doing. Get it wrong and the horse learns something entirely different from what you intended, especially if he gets hurt or frightened in the process. Accordingly, choose your instructor well and check they have qualifications, experience, and, if you are going to their premises, the right facilities and insurance in place; several horses working together without adequate supervision can lead to chaos. In order to run Horse Agility events, especially competitions, an instructor does have to have insurance and to be a Horse Agility Accredited Trainer. Membership of the Horse Agility Club is not the same!

This kind of obstacle needs to be introduced without the bottom section to begin with, or even to walk the horse over just the piping on the floor.
Of course Horse Agility has become a shorthand way of people saying that they are doing bombproofing or spook-busting or desensitising their horse to new and novel things, in which case they don't need an instructor at all, as long as they know what they are doing and think things through. Not being a competitive person at all I am quite happy just setting things up at home and there's a lot to be said for invading your local tat shop, or asking for permission to take things out of a skip. People could have a very nice time just going round to each other's for an afternoon and trying out each other's obstacles.

Closely supervised we use 'horse agility' obstacles to train the fire officers how to gain trust and control with a horse in an emergency.