Friday, May 12, 2017

12th May, 2017 Kenya, Kenya

Auntie Joan and the Rottweilers are in charge of the house again.  We're off to Kenya for 10 days. Please be here when we get back.

To keep everyone happy here are two foals that I saw on a recent New Forest safari...

12th May, 2017 Long Reining

Preparation for long reining

It is essential that you make sure that your horse is comfortable with the long reins before embarking on long-reining. It is far better if your horse never discovers that he can run off with the long reins; nasty accidents can happen if a horse bolts with long reins and then panics about them being behind them.

Work in a round pen, arena or a small well fenced paddock when you are preparing your horse and the first few times you long rein him.

Here is the routine I use – if there is a block at any stage, I resolve that over a number of sessions if necessary until he is ready to move on to the next stage:

1.    I touch the horse with the end of the long reins all over his body – using the touch and move away technique if needed – and assess how the horse feels about the lines in general. I would want the horse to be relaxed about it before going any further.

2.    I would attach just one line and then ask the horse to walk in a large circle with it dragging to one side. I would be on the same side as the line so that the horse can see that I am relaxed about it being there. I would make sure that I do this in both directions – the right side is often more worried than the left!

3.    I would take the line behind the horse hindquarters and ask the horse to turn away from me and towards the pressure of the rope. If the horse can’t cope with the line being around his hindquarters I might spend some time de-sensitizing him to things around his hindquarters by passing a vet wrap bandage round from one stirrup to the other and then perhaps take him out for a walk.

4.    Moving the head and shoulders away (one of the groundwork exercises you may have already done) - Once again establishing a neutral position on the way, I move along the horse until I am side by side with his bottom (imagine that your inside leg is taped to his) and then establish eye contact. I will often agitate the rope by rolling it towards the horse until he moves away. Once he moves forward I stop moving the rope but walk alongside his hindquarters. If the horse’s head comes round to me then I will put my hand up and push it out towards the horse’s head in order to send the head away. When I want the horse to turn towards me, I turn to face his bottom.

 Long reining

Horses can be long-reined very well in a Dually. It’s a good idea to put sheepskin over the rope section if your horse is susceptible to rubs. I tend not to long rein in a bit until the horse has not been accustomed to wearing  a bit and trained to understand how it works. If you are new to long reining then you will want to wait until you feel really competent before long reining off a bit.

The main things to remember are:

1.    When setting off throw one rein up towards the shoulder; use the same signal to increase speed and up your own energy too. Beware of throwing the rein up and pulling it back again – this will send a mixed signal to the horse.

2.    For left turns put your hands together – take an armful of left rein, move to the right and raise your right hand up towards his head;

3.    For right turns put your hands together, take an armful of right rein. Move to the left and raise your left hand up towards the head

4.    To stop, stop your own body and when the horse commits himself to stopping give a release with the reins to say thank-you;

5.    To stop him eating, agitate both reins against his sides until his head comes up – it is impossible to pull the head up

Emergency procedure – if he does try to take off, drop one rein and pull hard and low with the other.

Never go out on the road without another person with you to help to control the horse in an emergency. By law you should always have your horse under proper control and you could be legally responsible for the consequences of your horse’s behaviour out on the road – accordingly you should review your decision about a bit at this stage and make sure that the horse is responsive to the equipment that you use.

The benefits of long-reining

Note: By lunging I am referring to the practice of circling a horse around a fairly fixed point (a person) using one long rein attached to a cavesson, a bit or the headcollar. This includes lunging with and without side-reins.  

Lunging is based on circles whereas long-reining can be done in any direction, forwards, backwards, left and right. It is also easy to direct pace and rhythm. Turns can be introduced to bring the horse’s adrenalin up or down. Lateral movements can be established using long reining. Too many circles are bad for horses especially young horses.

Long reining on a circle creates better balance than lunging because it supports both sides of the horse and any force is indirect (backwards and not sideways) whereas lunging creates a tangential force on the horses neck, encourages him to brace his neck against the force. Lunging is more likely to damage the muscles in the neck, back and pelvis. Horses that are lunged may canter disunited. Weighty lunging cavessons can also encourage the horse to tilt his head for counter-balance.

Long reining can be used to encourage the horse to move his weight back to his hocks and go into self-carriage through downward transitions and rein-back.

Long-reining allows you to have constant communication with the horse – enhancing your leadership. The horse’s movements can be directed by body language, traditional aids or voice commands or a consistent combination. Lunging horses can encourage them to “switch off” and distance themselves.

Long-reining recreates hand aids and therefore gets the horse used to “steering” and stopping and the proper feel of the bit /Dually. The reins can also be used to imitate leg aids when asking the horse to move away from pressure. Lunging does not mirror riding in any way.

Long reining desensitizes the horse to things around their back-legs, bottoms and in their blind-spot.

With the right safety precautions, you can long rein in the open or on roads as well as in a manege or round-pen. Horses can also be long reined over and through obstacles such as tarpaulin and cones, over trotting poles and small jumps. Long reining can be made very interesting and fun for the horse and handler.

Long reining also builds up confidence because the horse has to move ahead of you as it would when being ridden. It is also natural for horses to be “driven” as this is what the stallion in a herd would do.

A long reined horse has to take responsibility for its feet and choose (to some extent) where it walks. Asking a horse to pick its way through challenging terrain will help them to think about what they are doing and to build up special awareness.

Long reining can be used as a way of assessing a horse’s physical condition and performance. You can see how the horse is tracking up, check whether it is moving easily and evenly and whether there is any reluctance to turn in a certain direction or move in a given direction.

Long-reining is an excellent way of exercising a horse that cannot be ridden, needs variation in its work or is recovering from injury. Straight lines can be used where circling is not advised. Long-reining helps horses to build up their muscles. Long reining can be carried out on the flat or uphill and downhill and on most types of terrain.

Long-reining can be used to warm a horse up and decrease his energy levels before riding.

Long-reining is essential when training a horse to harness.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

11th May, 2017 Pregnant Pause

Unfortunately I have nothing to report on the foal front, although he or she appears to be lying sideways if the size of Nelly's tummy is anything to go by. She is waddling to the pond and waddling back to the plain each day and looking rather fed up.

11th May, 2017 Ear, Ear

The best way to get over ear shyness is to give the horse some control over the process. I start off by placing my hand on the horse’s neck as far up as I can go without the shyness being activated and then begin the touch and move away process earlier. Once my hand is behind the horse’s ear (and if it is a tall horse I use a feather duster) I wait until the horse moves his ear back towards my hand and then reward him by taking my hand away. In time the horse starts to touch my hand with his ear and I continue to reward him by taking my hand away. In time I wait until he has pressed my hand more firmly. From here I am usually able to touch his ear and move away if he keeps still and so on. My aim is to be able to touch the whole of his ear and if possible gently, very gently, massage it.

If you rub inside a horse’s ear always rub outwards so that any debris falls out of the ear and not down it. Imagine how you feel when you have bits of liquid poured into your own ear – no wonder they try to avoid it.

It is important that a horse is never grabbed or twitched by the ear and that any fly lotions that are applied to the ear are applied very gently and preferably at body temperature. I have found that by asking a horse to “lick” the lotion off my hand with his ear I can still get a good result and the lotion will eventually seep into the ear. It’s rude to stick gunge in your horse’s ear and they often form the view that you have forfeited the right to touch them!

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

10th May, 2017 Moon Shine

Of course we couldn't resist another short session before Moon went home. Natasha, Karen's daughter was persuaded to go in with her. Having observed every session until now we could only hope that she learned by watching - and she certainly had. She had a very nice energy about her which suited Moon well and, as a result, we had yet more progress: Moon stood still as the feather duster approach her and in a new place, she stood still after it had gone away and came back again, she also allowed the feather duster to stroke her bottom as it left her body, and of course, this only Moon's third person to work with her. It's great to think that this little team are going home well able to work with Moon in the future.

No spectacular results over the two weeks - too much to hope for, but some good ones all the same - and an emotional experience for all of us.

Karen has given me permission to draw attention to this aspect of Moon's story. As a paramedic and ambulance driver, Karen is all too aware of safety issues and yet, like a lot of people had not appreciated that the position of a horse within a trailer could affect the nose weight and therefore the stability of the trailer and the towing vehicle. In fact Ifor Williams now have a sticker in their trailers which states that horses should not travel further forward than the position of the front bar, and indeed the front and back bars of a trailer form an integral part of the structure of the trailer and help to prevent it collapsing in an accident.  Because she is still wild, Moose travelled down loose and without bars. I would always be wary of carrying a pony loose in a normal horse trailer rather than a stock trailer which is made for the purpose. There is a risk that a pony might think about trying to come out through the front window which is particularly large in this model of Ifor Williams trailer and I'm not sure whether the top doors at the back would prevent a taller horse from making its way out. To reduce the risk, and to balance the trailer on the way home to Suffolk, Karen jammed straw bales into the front section of the trailer.

I was sad to see Karen, Natasha and Moon go but giggled at the list they had drawn up in preparation for their seems I could have been in the back with Moon!

I wasn't the only one sorry to see them go...

10th May, 2017 Moon Rising

Yesterday was Moon's last session and brought us up to some 24 hours work in total. Each hour we've worked with her, each day we have worked with her over the last two weeks, she has made some significant progress.

Although I couldn't drape the scarf over her, I could drape it over the feather duster and use the tail ends of it to help waft away the flies; anything to prove to her that we can be useful. This also desensitised her further down her body.

First touch on the left hand side...

...and her 'go-go' rather than 'no-go' areas have extended.

I also had my first sit on a horse of 2017 and am looking forward to riding again when I get back from my holiday. My thumb is about as good as it is going to get now although I hope it will get stronger.

Finally, Henrietta is entering her elegant stage...slowly.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

9th May, 2017 Decent Desensitisation

As promised, here are my notes on desensitisation with additional comments...

Important note: don't let the horse eat the obstacles - if it moves he will clamp his teeth and run away with it.
There are three different methods that are really useful for dealing with things that a horse might be afraid of:

Touch and move away (advance and retreat)

Where something is small and he can be touched with it, you can use the touch and move away method (advance and retreat) to introduce him to new things. A feather duster is ideal to start with as it is soft and friendly and smells of horses if you have used it before. I often use a fleece to get the horse used to something going over his back. Start by asking the horse to touch the object or your hand with his nose and once he does move it away immediately. Repeat this at least twice more before approaching the horse in a non-controversial area and, if he keeps still moving away instantly. Sometimes just touching the air above the place is enough. Repeat a number of times – if the horse moves way then stay with it until he stops and then move away instantly to reward him. You can then touch him with the object or your hand and again, if he stands still move away immediately. If he moves try to gently go with him without being predatory or exclaiming in any way. Repeat this a number of times and then touch again but if the horse’s skins twitches then again stay with it until it stops and then move away to reward the horse. You can then work your way to the place where the horse is reluctant to be touched and continue in the same way. It is important to remember that whilst you are asking the horse to cope with the touch, it is the release of moving away that teaches the horse that it is okay to be touched. You can really help the horse too by breathing out as you touch the place that he is worried about.

(Moon is a perfect example of how this can work for even the most anxious horses, providing it is done sensitively, incrementally, and slowly.)
Later you can wait until the horse shows some sign of softening in his face – just a blink, a movement of the ear, a lowering of the head, a lick or chew or turning the head towards you should be rewarded. This teaches the horse to lower his own adrenalin and to relax. In time you may be able to rub the area gently but firmly and if you haven’t already done so, use your own hand. Again it is really important to make this the most pleasant touch that you can rather than scratching vigorously. Remember to move away from time to time to allow the horse to lower his adrenalin and to ensure that he knows you can be trusted to keep to the same rules. It sometimes helps to count in order to ensure that you do this.

The horse should always be told he is a good boy, quietly, for getting it right. In more difficult cases I would use clicker training as a positive reinforcement for the behaviour that I want - although some wild horses will not accept food from the hand.

Chasing things

Where something can be moved then the horse can be encouraged to follow and “chase it”. This encourages to see new things as fun and to believe that he has the power to move them instead of the other way round. This is particularly good for things like umbrellas, bicycles, tractors, dogs and so on.

Ideally you should have control over both the horse and the stimulus – it has been shown in scientific experiments that this works much better than simply exposing the horse to something novel and leaving them to get used to it. Indeed, it is much safer – a loose horse may attempt to leave and get badly injured if turned out with something he is really afraid of. If the stimulus is something that you can’t handle/operate at the same time as you horse you need to ask someone to closely co-operate you. (Pick someone you trust who will not take over control). It needs to be a staged process, gradually increasing the degree of difficulty so that it is easy for the horse to take the next step. The more steps you take and the more thorough you are, the more likely it is to work.
With an umbrella for example, you would start with it fully down. Ask the horse to follow it and stop a few times so that the horse takes one extra step and gets nearer to it. In time you can unfurl and open up the umbrella and continue to use exactly the same approach and then start to raise it higher too. With a motorbike, you’d start with a really big gap between you and the vehicle and ask the horse to follow it at a very slow speed. In time you can decrease the gap and the motorbike might be able to go faster and be noisier.

In both cases you can progress to asking the horse to pass the object going in the opposite direction and gradually decrease the gap between them as they pass.

Once this is well established on the ground, riding horses can be introduced to the same stimulus from the saddle.

Circling and backing up

Where there is a static obstacle then, such as a carpet, tarpaulin or puddle you can circle around it keeping yourself between him and the object so that he can observe your demeanour and feel protected by you. If you keep your adrenalin down, use a low soothing voice and yawn a lot, you can bring his adrenalin down. This should be repeated on both sides if possible as horses see things differently out of each eye (remember to change sides to lead your horse the other way). After this he can be encouraged to approach the obstacle. If he hesitates then don’t press too hard – find a good place to stop and then thank him by gently backing him off three paces. You should see his head come down (and accordingly his adrenalin: the neck is an adrenalin graph!). You can then approach it again and go further forward by just one step. You may need to repeat this several times just moving forward step by step until he goes the whole way over the object. A good horseman will resist the temptation to pull the horse the whole way across in one go and instead back the horse off every step of the way.

The first time the horse goes across the object, he may rush especially when he has all four feet on it. By walking over it another couple of times at least, he can be encouraged to slow down (and even stop). If you lower your own head and really look at the obstacle, you often find that the horse will drop his head too.

Santi took the plunge
For bridges, ramps, streams and rivers, you would have to leave the circling bit out but the backing up technique still works. Indeed, the backing up element works with anything that is stays more or less in one space.
This same technique can also be applied for ridden work. 

Later this week - note on ear shyness and long reining...