Saturday, December 30, 2006

December 2006 (2)

After one week, the two newcomers are progressing well. Both have seen the physiotherapist and are due to have their teeth done on Tuesday. The starter had his first long-reining session today having been introduced to rugs, pigs and dogs last week. He is really enjoying his walks out on the Forest - as a stud bred pony he hasn't really had the chance to explore before. The coloured remedial horse is enjoying her walks too and loves jumping over the streams and logs that we meet. Today I rode her for the first time and she was fine. On the way out of the fields tonight I thought I would just back Nell. I put a headcollar and lead rein on her and leant over her a couple of times and then got on. She stood there as if nothing had happened before turning and chewing my shoe lace. We then pottered off for a few strides before I got off and gave her a big kiss. Not bad for a "wild" pony.

Approaching Christmas we have had a lot of visitors - mainly to see Piper it has to be said. Our daily session are now observed by two or three people at a time and he is becoming oblivious to their presence. These get togethers are an excellent excuse for lunch at the Royal Oak.
At long last I have got round to having Petra microchipped. I can't imagine the anguish of your horse going missing or the police finding it but not being able to prove that it's yours. She was very suspicious of the microchip reader and not impressed with being bar coded! She has never met a brush that goes bib-ip before.

Just before Christmas I received notification that my offer of free assistance to the New Forest Pony Publicity group has been rejected. They didn't give any reasons.

Horses may be unpredictable but life isn't, every high I have is usually followed by an equal and opposite low. Having put Piper's headcollar on for the first time on Saturday, I managed to get myself kicked the following Monday when I made a small mistake with him. He turned away from me and when he felt me against his leg he kicked out. Not his fault but ow, it hurts (a lot). My long-reining sessions with the other two horses were a bit limpy.

Neal from the IHDG has been staying and helping me with the horses this week. It's great to have some company and to be able to long-rein in tandem through the inclosure. He's also good at laying the fire and making supper when my poor injured leg forces me to rest. I love having people up at the yard helping with the horses and hopefully picking up some of the techniques on the way. I work on the basis that I don't pay and I don't charge! Over the Christmas holidays Sophie and Stephanie both came up to lend a hand and David went out riding on Petra.
On the Thursday after Christmas we had a long dog walk with dogs Fudge, Connie, Hannah, Lucy, Molly, Buster, Echo and Sasha.

Wednesday, December 6, 2006

December 2006 (1)

Two lovely horses have come in at the start of the month. A bay New Forest pony for starting and a big coloured mare for some general remedial work. It looks as if I will be kept busy all over Christmas. Little Pie decided to come home yesterday so he is topping up his calories and having a wormer before he goes out again. Petra, with her go-faster stripe clip is enjoying having her own herd home again.

The New Forest pony was stud bred and hasn't encountered pigs before. On day two I couldn't get a second of his attention because there were three pigs outside the field. I took him over to look at them and after trying to dive away, he settled down to just staring at them. After a while he became fascinated and we followed them up and down the fenceline to watch them snuffling away in the leaves. Good timing I think because when I left the field at night, three pigs had moved in and were gaily going over my trotting poles. D-pony just carried on grazing.
I have to confess to being an addict of programmes such as House of Tiny Tearaways, Supernanny and Dog Borstal.Although they can be formulaic they all show how being consistent and persistent definitely works along with being logical, using positive and negative reinforcement and some definite leadership. Last night Tanya was explaining how a three year old child could not fill an emotional hole in his mother's life and that the child just could not cope with those expectations or the disappointment she felt when he couldn't do it. Developmentally he could only be what he was - a child of three. I wonder how many of us get frustrated when a horse cannot be what we want it to be; they can only be what they are - a horse. Many of us seek solace in our horses when life isn't going right ........

I was delighted to receive a box of chocolates today as a thank-you from a client who's just been awarded her 50 hours rosette for hacking out. She is really enjoying her riding now and the pony has a lovely new saddle made by Clare Barnett. These rosettes which are presented by the Wessex Classical Riding group are a great incentive for people to get on and get out with their horses.

On my way to a client at Blissford, I spotted the hinny that normally lives at the Fighting Cocks in Godshill. She really is the most beautiful mule I have ever seen.

Friday, November 24, 2006

24th November, 2006 Piper's Story

Piper is a seven year old Exmoor stallion from the Anchor herd. He has lived out on the moor all his life and had his own group of mares. Sadly, his owners decided that they had one stallion too many and that Piper would have to go. I don't want to go into the reasons why Piper was chosen - it doesn't really matter. It could have been any one of the stallions.
Piper was booked to go to Potters for meat on Friday, 11th November. To some people this may seem unforgiveable but the truth is that there are very few people who can take on a mature wild stallion given the cost in terms of time and money, and the facilities needed to keep him while he is entire. Who knows, even now, Piper might prefer to be dead than to have to give up his moor, his mares and his freedom from human contact.
Having been successful with 23 wild ponies at the Moorland Mousie Trust aged from 6 months to 2 years, I asked to be given the chance to work with Piper before he was put on the lorry. "If I'm not going to do any good," I said, "he can still go." He was deposited in a stable at the back of the Centre and during my lunch hour I would spend just ten minutes assessing his attitude to being approached. I was struck by how polite he was - he would go to the back of the stable, stand sideways on to me and indicate that he was "just over here, minding my own business" and would I kindly do the same so that there would be no confrontation. He was not aggressive but like Marlene Dietrich he preferred to be alone.
When I telephoned David asking him to bring the trailer down when he came to pick me up at the weekend he wasn't in the least bit surprised. The fact that half my money from the Moorland Mousie Trust course would be spent on an unwanted pony was just about typical really. I started work with Piper the day after I got back. He was parked in the barn which is really a Nissen hut with bedding in one end, food and water in the other and the gate open into the pony pound; a sort of room with en suite and conservatory. He seemed to settle very well but would speed away if I even so much as looked at him. "It's okay, I'm going away...." he would say. He really was extremely sensitive and I was very conscious that I would need to work very carefully if I was going to bring him round. Being faced with a blank canvas like this can be very daunting. It's important to make the first splash of paint before you decide to avoid it altogether.

During the first two weeks with Piper I have been able to touch him all over his left hand side with the hand on the stick and also the feather duster. I have been able to touch his bottom and rub his bottom with my hand and to creep a little way along his back. I've even been able to brush his bottom with a rubber curry comb and a body brush. I can move parallel to his body with the hand on the stick and approach him from the front and touch his shoulder with the hand on the stick but if I attempt to move my hand further along his body or to touch the front of him, he either flees to the back of the hut or threatens to kick me. He has only actually kicked out at me once. I can touch his legs all the way to the floor and rub behind his fetlock with the hand on the stick. I can even touch his tail. I can reach over his back with the hand on the stick and touch him on his right hand side but he will not expose his right hand side to me at all yet. He is much less sensitive to movements of my fingers and will eat food from a bucket in my arms and he can now cope with my feet moving towards him as long as I don't get too close. I found that he loves the smell of Ylang Ylang and that it calms him so I put a little on my hands and on the hand on the stick. I have had to wrestle with my thoughts on a daily basis about the best approach to take. Should I have insisted on touching his shoulder rather than his bottom first of all to prevent him presenting his bottom to me whenever I approach? I think beggers can't be choosers and I'd rather be able to touch anywhere than nowhere at all. Although he sometimes rounds his bottom towards me, this merely seems to be him going into pressure as I come within touching distance and is more a polite acceptance of what seems to him to be inevitable rather than him warning me not to come any closer. Should I have insisted that I started with a rope round his neck so that I could direct his movement by force if necessary for safety reasons and teach him all about physical pressure and release before I did anything else? The trouble is that I don't know what Piper has been through before. He must have been branded and inspected at some time and this will have involved a rough rope being forced on his head and him being tied to something immoveable. These rope halters continue to tighten while the pony struggles and fights the pressure. He may also have been haltered and "swung" as a colt to teach him not to fight a rope. I doubt that he has ever met a sympathetic touch. I felt that whilst a rope might keep me safer, it could also break our relationship right from the outset - it was likely that he would tear around the pen with the rope trailing after him and I just felt it wasn't worth it. I wanted Piper to stay with me by choice albeit that I might make the choices very black and white for him.
Piper has made significant and positive progress every day that I have worked with him. It hasn't been as dramatic as the foals which switch within hours of first working with them; nevertheless there has always been a step in the right direction. Today (24th November), Piper has made a huge breakthrough. Until now, he has been reactive and yet prepared to endure something providing nothing goes too far. Today he started to be pro-active, working things out for himself, giving things a try and allowing himself to be curious.He's amazing.
I decided that I needed to be able to work at the front of him. I invented a game which I have called Grandmother's Steps. It goes like this: I take a couple of steps towards Piper's head from directly in front of him. I don't look him directly in the eye, I keep my arms down and I walk sideways like a crab. I don't want him to get confused when I ask him to step backwards by moving my feet directly towards him. If he stands still, I move away again and pause for a couple of seconds before repeating the exercise. If he backs up, I keep walking with him until he pauses or even looks as if he will pause and then I reward him by moving away from him again. If he turns and flees, I keep after him much more positively and send his bottom away from me but the second his head comes round, I drop my body language and walk away from him to reward him. It's basic Monty advance and retreat technique but I needed to apply it absolutely consistently and make my timing as perfect as I possibly could. In no time Piper was engaging with me - I don't think he could have done this a week ago, he would have just fled - as I approached he would nod his head even if he was backing up. In time I was able to take three steps towards him and then four and five until I was getting really close. I could pause for a little longer before moving away again. And next, he started to take the occasional step towards me - if he did I would instantly move away and reward him by staying away from him for longer. In time he was taking four or five positive steps towards me and I was getting closer and closer to him when I went towards him. Eventually I closed the gap by leaning my body towards him and then moving it away again. He started to reach out to smell me and each time I would reward him by moving away. And then he just leaned forward to smell me, dropped his head, gave a huge sigh and completely relaxed. We just stood together quietly while I told him how clever he was, how amazing and how beautiful and tried to put convey pictures into about how much I love him already.

Grandmother's Footsteps worked so well that the following day I was able to put my hand on his face and to stroke his forelock. As you can see from the photograph, every muscle was poised to go backwards at the first sign of any trouble but by the end of the short session he was far more relaxed. The day after that I could stroke him much more definitely and he allowed me to touch him between the ears and to rub his forehead. I was also able to touch his cheek and chin. By the end of week three he is letting me stroke him along his back, all over his face and part way down his neck - just a 6" gap between what I can touch from the front and what I can touch from the back! He chooses to stand near me when we are resting now and stands much closer while I do "room service". Although he is having to live alone, he receives regular visits by the Forest ponies and can touch them through the fence. The mare and foal next door often wave through the hedge.
Week four and I have bridged the gap. Piper now let's me stroke him all over his left hand side and loves being groomed with a body brush. I think there has been a distinct switch between him tolerating touch and now enjoying being touched. He softens his eye, lowers his head and relaxes. He likes his ears being touched (what a bonus that he isn't ear shy) and loves his mane being stroked. I'm really enjoying working with him now and am not so worried about whether I am doing the right thing, because it's obviously working! By the end of the week I have been able to touch and groom Piper along the right hand side of his face and neck and he is relaxed more and more as the week has gone by.
And here's the thing..... on 9th december, Piper's former owner contacted me to congratulate me on how far I have got so far. No-one wants their pony to go for meat if there is another realistic option. The truth is that Piper was never going to be easy and it's only because I have the luxury of working with horses all day that I can fit him into my life. We have still got such a long way to go.
Three days later and I have put a rope halter on Piper without a murmur. I haven't asked him any questions with it yet but he at least doesn't mind the feel of it around his head. I have also got as far as his tummy on the right hand side.
I have never allowed myself to have dreams. Partly because it's easier to cope with disappointment that way and partly because I don't want others to know if I have failed. I have a dream for Piper and I'm not going to keep it a secret - nor am I going to let it put pressure on him or me. I would like to ride him in next year's Moorland Mousie Trust sponsored ride on Exmoor; I would like him to go to one good show and I would like to complete a sponsored walk with him across a Long Distance bridlepath in aid of the Moorland Mousie Trust.
After 33 days (approximately 66 hours of gentle work), Piper let me put his first headcollar on. And....two days later he kicked me. It was my own fault as I just put a little too much pressure on him and he turned around and walloped me one. Since then I have put the headcollar on a number of times and he has been led around the barn. At New Year he is moving into a different barn where he will have access to more grass outside.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

November 2006 (2)

Nell and Blue are treating my place like a couple of university students. They just turn up when they feel like it, use the place as a hotel and never tidy up after themselves. They eat me out of house and home and never tell me what time they are coming home or who they are seeing when they are out. I had to draw a line with Nell today when she turned up with some stray friend that I have never met before. The girl appeared to be barefoot and pregnant - but then mind you, so is Nell. Pie on the other hand thinks he is independent - he looks as if he could do with a good wash and haircut but he's got some nice friends that he goes drinking with. (It's okay, just humour me!)

I attended the APBC Workshop at Witney (Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors) which was entitled The Carrot and the Stick, an examination of different training methods for horses and the behavioural tools that they use. I was disappointed that the promised discussion and debate didn't really materialise and that different training methods weren't portrayed on a level playing field. In any event it helped me to clarify the role that clicker training can play in training. Clicker training is an excellent and positive tool to use during short training sessions and is a great way of teaching a horse to be imaginative and to offer behaviours. Nevertheless in my view it isn't a way of being with your horse all day every day since the horse expects attention throughout the sessions and needs to have a clear indication of when the session is over. In my view clicker training cannot avoid negative reinforcement altogether and this was accepted by the panellists - even the act of picking a horse's head up off the floor by lightly pulling on the headcollar amounts to negative reinforcement. I am very keen that there shouldn't be different "churches" within the horse training world and that our overriding aim should be to be as soft with the horse as we can possibly be (here I use soft as in attitude, not soft as in daft!). I will continue to use clicker training in circumstances where it seems the most appropriate way to go. Throughout my training I endeavour to use both positive and negative reinforcement and to avoid punishment.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

November 2006 (1)

The Handling the Young Exmoor Pony course at the Exmoor Pony Centre was an absolute triumph. I have come home on a real high knowing that the 23 ponies that we handled have got an assured future. We worked with 19 foals, three yearlings and a two year old and by the end of the course they had all been touched, had there headcollars on, been led and had their feet picked up. On the last day all of them were caught in the big pen. We had 38 participants from all kinds of backgrounds: from conservation to probation, healing, hypnotherapy and reflexology, environmental health to tourism. All of us found it to be an immensley rewarding and emotional experience as these wild ponies began to accept and then enjoy human contact. 100's of people came to see what we were up to - most importantly journalists, pony breeders and staff from the National Park. We are already taking bookings for next year.
Pictures from the course are shown on the Exmoor Pony Centre website at but here are a few more!

While I was there, the Johnny Kingdom programme "A Year On Exmoor" featured me and Billy Milton with david in the background. The general consensus was that I had come over well and David got an e-mail from RAF Lossiemouth asking him for a signed photo!

Came home with Piper - a seven year old Exmoor stallion.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

October 2006 (2)

I finished a good run at the Margaret Green Foundation Trust on Thursday knowing that I had all but done myself out of a job. The staff there are all much more confident around the horses now especially the big ones like Tyson, Cassie, Barney and Cinnamon. Much of the groundwork has become instinctive to them and the horses are enjoying the consistency. There is also a greater acceptance that "playing" with the horses is really very worthwhile work. It was good to hear that Squirrel and Cinnamon are being worked regularly in preparation for them finding new homes. From now on I will only be going there to work with particularly difficult cases.

On Thursday night I went to a talk by Sally Fear, a superb photographer and supporter of the New Forest and the work of the Commoners. Her book and film "The New Forest Drift" provide a real insight into the workings of the Forest and the issues faced by the Commoners. She points out that 10% of the Commoners own 80% of the ponies on the Forest and without these commoning families the Forest just would not work. It is true that it is the same faces that turn up whenever there is hard work to do on the Forest; managing the drifting of the ponies; the running of the sales yard and manning various stands at public events. If the animals were taken off the Forest it would be an ecological disaster and the Forest would be overgrown and almost impenetrable within a few years. Sally's book is a must for anyone who loves the Forest or owns a Forest-bred New Forest pony.

The last week of October seems to be developing a theme. All three of the ponies that I met at the beginning of the week have been trained using natural horsemanship methods - including Intelligent Horsemanship and modified Parelli, most of which had been gleaned from books. Accordingly my work was simply to tighten up their groundwork with suggestions aimed at achieving better clarity and responsiveness. For example, it is so important to establish a neutral position at the withers before asking a horse to move his hindquarters away from you otherwise he may start to move as soon as you walk down his side. This can result in a horse that moves away from you when you want to mount. It must be excellent news for horses if this sort of horsemanship is becoming more widely used - although in each case the owners felt somewhat isolated within their own livery yards. One of these ponies was Flash, who used to be at the Margaret Green Foundation Trust, this delightful little pony is now so confident and came over to be caught. He had been frightened opf his rug but by the end of the session he was happily accepting it.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

October 2006 (1)

The theme of this month seems to be long reining. My visit to the Margaret Green Foundation Trust entailed long-reining two horses for re-homing in the morning and in the afternoon we took Squirrel out on the roads. It is hoped that she will become a driving pony so Holly walked behind her with a squeaky wheelbarrow. We got some very funny looks from people going by but Squirrel was unperturbed. Later I started to long-rein Maisie the donkey. Maisie is quite a complex character but loves having something to do. That same evening I long reined a horse that has some leadership issues and objected to being directed at all. She performed the most beautiful capriole in protest and I was glad of my hat and all Kelly's warnings about being clear of the kick-zone!
I am always pleased to have a copy-book loader too. S-horse had a bad experience of being loaded four years ago and has not been asked to load since. Using very gentle pressure and release and rewarding two steps forward with one step back, I was able to ask him to load within minutes and we were able to spend the rest of the session getting him used to the bars going up, the partition being closed and the ramp going up behind him. By shaping his behaviour in this way we break down the loading process into a series of bite size peices that keep the horse's adrenalin down. I also feel it is important to put the person loading the horse in control of everyone else around the trailer. I get them to tell me when they are ready for the ramp to go up and to unload the horse when they feel that they are ready - not the second the doors are opened.
Happily I am busy every day this month. I had the chance to tone up my skills in handling untouched ponies when a lady contacted me after she had bought two New Forest foals from the Beaulieu Road Sales yard. Despite being weaned at just four months, both of these foals are well grown and well bred and should turn into lovely ponies once they trust people. By the end of our session, both ponies had been touched all over and were far more relaxed. I also had the chance to practise clicker training with a particularly sensitive pony who just cannot cope with long reins. Hopefully we can encourage him to stick around for long enough to learn that they aren't actually going to kill him.
It was good to see Hilary Vernon again at a clinic I helped to arrange at Caroline Douglas's yard in Sway. Both Hilary and Caroline are driving enthusiasts and it was extremely interesting to watch Hilary work with carriage horses and ride and drive ponies.
The following week started with a lot of groundwork training for horses and owners. Most owners don't have the facilties for a Join-Up and I usually make a start by establishing my body space and simply moving the horse around. Quite often I then have a calm and amenable horse to work with amd I am told that the horse hasn't shown it's true colours. I don't think it's because I have any special gift and I certainly don't have a magic wand. I have lost count of the times that I have seen this basic simple work change a horse's attitude. It was Tom Widdecombe who taught me the value of this and his book "Be With your Horse" is on my recommended list. Trust me, this stuff works.
One of the horses I saw this week is an 18 month old Appaloosa cross Arab. Two major injections of intelligence in her parentage - a very bright sensitive horse with manners to die for. Her owner had applied logic from the outset and despite a strong emotional bond had always treated the horse as a horse. I was called in simply to make suggestions as to the best way to prepare her for a ridden life. I emphasised the need to work on the left as well as the right (we do so much on the left because of our swords!), to work in her blind spots above her back and behind her tail and the benefits of getting her used to all sorts of objects. It's nice to be asked before things go wrong.
On Wednesday evening I accompanied Caroline Douglas to a demonstration that she was giving to the New Forest Pony Enthusiasts' Club in Brockenhurst. She took Norman and Torin, her two wonderful Hampshire Cobs, and gave a display of long reining technique that included figures of eight and lateral movement. Achieving such precision at the same time as obviously having great fun had the audience entranced. She is the epitome of Kelly's favourite quote: "An amateur will practice something until they get it right; a professional will practice it until they can't get it wrong".

Saturday, September 30, 2006

September 2006

My New Forest ponies are on the mend and gaining weight too. Some people on the Forest are really blase about strangles and local shows have been going ahead as well as the sales. The drifts were cancelled for Turf Hill and Long Cross. I shall pleased when this is over as my girls will be immune to strangles forever more.
I have not been totally ostracised, and have had some very interesting work this week. Today for example I did a radio interview for BBC Radio Somerset Sounds on the Moorland Mousie Trust and went to load a New Forest pony in the afternoon before visiting a Morgan x Trotter on behalf of a friend. I was so nervous before going on air but the producer and the DJ were really easy to talk to and I used all my horsey methods for bringing my adrenalin down. I really enjoyed the experience and got a good plug in for the Trust.
The afternoon pony was a real planter (what do you expect from a pony that is called Flower?) and it took some time to get her to move at all. We used the panels to help her and once she was loading we took them down again. She must have loaded 25 times by the end of the session and her owner, who is 12 was doing all the work. I am always amazed at the abiltiy of teenagers (or thereabouts) to absorb information through watching and then put it into action.
Incidentally, David really enjoyed his five day course at Hartsop Farm and has come home enthused. Now he is discussing ponies with me!

Leaving Nickie in charge, David and I were able to go to Denmark for a week without horses although I did spot some Warmbloods, Norwegian Fiords and Shetland ponies. Copenhagen is marvellous and we came back very relaxed.

Back in England, Blue and Nell are both better. What a relief. They can come in and eat their heads off all winter before going out again next spring. It also means that Petra is allowed out of the field again and we spent the weekend at a Perry Wood clinic. Petra went beautifully and Perry said some lovely things about her. He also praised my hands and seat - it's good to hear such reassurance when I am working with sensitive and young horses most of the time. Petra still stretches me more than any other horse - just a millimetre in one direction with a finger or my leg and she will respond by mirroring me.
I ended the month by helping out at the Monty Robert's demo at West Wilts Equestrian centre. It was great to be surrounded by people I know - Patsy, Linda, Freya, Georgi and David all came to help too and we joined Carol, Serena, Rita and Yann. Helping at the demo is a fabulous way of discovering what goes on behind the scenes - how the horses are assessed, how Monty prepares himself and the amount of sheer hard work that goes into setting up the venue. I love doing car park duty because I get to say hello to everyone that comes in. My favourite clients turned up including almost everyone from the Margaret Green Foundation Trust. Monty's third horse was one of the most dangerous cases that I have seen him work with - a lovely looking horse that would stand straight up on it's hindlegs when anyone tried to mount it. To see Dan Wilson riding this horse around the round pen after a display of some of the most intense and careful horsemanship I have seen was a very emotional experience. This horse came in holding a one way ticket to the slaughterhouse. There is no doubt that this little horse will need a prolonged period of very sensitive training before she is fully rehabilitated and yet she has already put the hardest part behind her. Monty's demos have provoked great debate as to the ethics of the so called "quick fix" and to the inherent pressure of working under bright lights with an audience of over a 1,000 people. I think it is by no means established that the slow way is always the best way - Monty is extremely experienced at working with horses just beyond their comfort zone and yet well below the panic zone - a narrow corridor where learning is at its absolute peak.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

August 2007 (3)

Ahh - a very busy day - I worked with five horses today - three that hardly reached my knees. I love working with Shetland ponies. They really make you think abut the body language you use; no good using lots of eye contact if they have a huge forelock and can't see anything but your feet!
I have faced two of the most challenging cases I have ever met this week. A gorgeous Hackney horse that really doesn't mind running straight over the top of you and a big Irish horse with a big biting habit. I managed to avoid being trampled by the first one but I did get bitten quite hard by the second one. Both of these horses are difficult on the ground but for different reasons - I don't think the first one has ever had any ground rules imposed on him before and the second one has had to defend himself from some pretty awful treatment in the past - why would he have seven seperate brand marks up his neck including right behind his ear? Both owners have inherited these problems from the past and their horses have each had 10 years to perfect their behaviour. It's going to be a long road for both of them but we have started to make an impression at least. Contrast this with a young ex-racehorse that I went to see. She was very sweet and just waiting for someone to say, come on, let's do it this way instead. Kelly Marks has a fabulous article called "The Racehorse in Your Garden" coming out in the Autumn Listening Post. I think it's one of the most important articles she has ever written for the post and I shall be making sure that anyone thinking of rehabilitating a racehorse has a copy.
Lovely Lars, my vet from Endell's, has moved to Damory in Blandford now. I used to be with them when I lived in Dorset and only had to change vets because they were too far away in an emergency. This week Fernando from Endell's came out and did an amazingly thorough job of rasping a pony's teeth for me. I have decided to adopt him as my vet now - I hope he is pleased!
Pie got caught up in the Drift today. I had intended to get my ponies off the Forest to avoid the drift but the date was brought forward without notice. I turned up at my field to find the Drift underway and ponies corralled at the drift pen just beyond my gate. I really do like all of the Agisters that work on the Forest but I wish the drifts were less brutal. Ponies are hit and poked with sticks to get them to go down the chute when if they only moved people away from the outside of the chute they would be able to go down voluntarily. The ponies seem someone scary standing with their arm through the fence and don't want to go forward. Sometimes two ponies will run into the chute together and they bang their pelvises and shoulders on the post. Branding is pretty controversial in the first place and if it is justifiable on the grounds of identification and that it involves less handling than freeze-branding or micro-chippping, then there is no justification for a second brand. When young colts are being branded there is no need at all to twist their ears or their tails. Pushing them against the fence and making sure they are not approached from the outside is plenty. At least the brands are hot enough - on Exmoor the brands are often heated up with a blow-torch - it's not good enough. Today's Drift involved no roping so that has to be very good news. When I did my project on the New Forest ponies, I was told that there was no psychological effects from the drifts and the sales yard. So why do I spend so much time working with ear-shy and rope-shy ponies? It's not just because they were born wild in the first place. There are many many Forest-bred New Forest ponies succeeding in all sorts of spheres from showing to show-jumping but I do wonder what the fall out rate is.
At the drift I also got the apalling news that both Blue and Nell have strangles. I had ridden out to see them at the weekend and they had both been fine.They looked very bright and a nice weight. I went to find them immediately and my fears were realised. The Agisters have asked me not to bring the ponies in as there would be a risk of them giving it to ponies in the area around the yard. As it is, they are half a mile away at Longcross and we shall just have to see whether it spreads throughout Fritham. I am very fortunate because both of my ponies are friendly and I can catch them easily. Fernando has advised that they should not have antibiotics as this will only supress the formation of abcesses. I take their temperature every day and if it goes much over 101.f then they can have a sachet of Bute. They have lost a lot of weight and I am giving them very sloppy feeds of Lucibix, pasture mix, garlic, Total Eclipse and linseed oil with hay for pudding. No wonder they are pleased to see me. I go to see my home horses before going anywhere near these two and then I am showering and disinfecting before going to see anyone else's horses. I have closed the fields themselves so nothing is coming in or going out until the coast is clear. Being so methodical is helping me to cope with the fact that my poor ponies are so sick. I am keeping a close eye on Pie too - since his girlfriend and step-son were taken off the Forest at the drift, he has rejoined Blue and Nell.
Sadly, I have had to cancel the Hilary Vernon Clinic that I had arranged for 2nd September and I may have to cancel my holiday to Denmark - my first horseless holiday for well over a year. I'm also going to need to look for a part-time job. Apparently envelope stuffing has become totally automated these days.
One of the positive benefits of closing the yard has been that I have had longer to work with a piebald pony that came in just before the scare. He has proved to be quite a conundrum. He has been trained using natural horsemanship techniques for a good long time and although his groundwork is exemplary, he seems to go through the motions rather than to understand that it's all about leadership. If he does understand, then he seems to have found this leadership wanting. He is really good at panicking and surging forward and I have to work quite hard to stop him running into me. I am hoping I have had a breakthrough this week - I did another Join-Up with him this morning and he was much more attentive and when I invited him in he came and stood stock still next to me. His follow-up was perfect and then he let me into all his vulnerable areas - just as if he had read a how-to-do book and for the first time I felt that we had really connected. After this we went back to some trailer work that he has really been struggling with. Today he was calm and every time he softened, I rewarded him by gently backing him out of the trailer. This is a pony that used to tremble on the ramp and make a dash for the front door once he was in. After this we let off some steam by using the clicker to guide him through and over the obstacles. He really seems to like this work and I hope that eventually he will follow the target into the trailer.
As the week has gone by, this pony's attitude is changing rapidly and today we had no spooks at all despite the windy weather. By combining the body language work with the clicker training I have been able to establish my leadership through complete consistency coupled with very positive reinforcement. These two methods are not mutually exclusive although some purists believe that horses should not be given food rewards. By being very disciplined about the use of the food reward, for example, never giving food for free, I have found that the horse does not become bargey or rude. By always using a target you avoid the risk of being frisked. This is proving to be excellent therapy for both of us while we can't go out and explore the Forest. Some purists say you shouldn't kiss your ponies either..........

Wednesday, August 9, 2006

August 2006 (2)

On the 6th, I attended the Margaret Green Foundation Trust's Annual Dog Show where I provided an all day demonstration of horsemanship to an ever changing audience. Almost 300 people came to watch in total. I had a lovely time working with Roodi (17.1hh Appaloosa), Barney (17.1hh ex-hunter), Cassie (17 hh Percheron x T.B.) and Squirrel (11hh New Forest x Shetland). I based my demo on turning fear into curiosity, asking all of the horses to walk over the obstacles including the tarpaulin and then to long-rein over them too. I rode Roodi and Barney over the obstacles too. It was a great day and hot again!!!

They say that pride comes before a fall, and I partially fell off a remedial pony the following day. Due to back pain and an unsympathetic saddle (synthetic) this lovely pony had been running away from the saddle and rearing on mounting and dismounting. Having had his back treated and fitted him with a comfortable leather saddle, done lots of groundwork and long-reining, I had got to the stage where I could put his saddle on while he was loose, mount him quietly and ride him in the round pen without incident. Unfortunately he was still very frightened of being dismounted and shot away as I was half way off. The rest of my descent was somewhat chaotic and I have a badly bruised and strained hand and tender bottom. This has really made up my mind for me that I can no longer ride remedial buckers, bolters or rearers especially if they have already put someone in hospital! I don't bounce as well as I used to (in fact I don't seem to bounce at all!); horses and ponies like this really need to go to people like Ian Vandenburgh. I shall stick to straightforward starters, groundwork, non-loaders, handling problems, clipping problems and untouched ponies, as well as continuing to do preparation work with remedial horses.

Saturday, August 5, 2006

August, 2006

I started the month with a 99.9% horse who is an absolute darling until anyone produces a set of clippers. Poor lad has obviously had a bad experience at some time and trembles as soon as he hears the noise. I encouraged his owner to walk around with something vibrating in her pocket for the week before I met him and she had got as far as being able to lay the clippers on the floor next to his feed bucket while he ate. We used a little travelling hair dryer to desensitize him to noise and warm air before we just touched him with the clippers. We finished the session by being able to touch him all the way up his hogged mane to his ears. He has had this problem for a long time and it will take some time for him to get over it but it was a good start; much better than having to resort to a so-called humane twitch everytime. Twitches may work in the short term but eventually the horse gets wise and starts to play up way before the twitch arrives. I wish vets wouldn't resort to them quite so quickly - if they want to keep themselves safe why on earth don't they start with something as basic as a skull cap?!
Now don't get too excited, but my lovely man, David is off to do his Stage I at the end of August. David is unwittingly good with horses - he has no preconceived ideas about them and see them for what they are - a horse. He doesn't feel the need to dominate them or project his unresolved emotional issues on to them and they seem to find his chest a very comfortable place to be. He doesn't do ego and he doesn't do macho even though he has a motorbike and leathers. He doesn't do competitive and he doesn't do stressful. He's the only person I trust to put me on an unbacked or remedial horse. On the other hand, he has an interesting style in long-reining.......

Sunday, July 30, 2006

July 2006

I spent the first weekend of July doing one-to-one work and a small demonstration at a livery yard on the Isle of Wight. Phew! What a scorcher as the papers always say. It was extremely hot in the sand school. The following day it was off to Exmoor. Regrettably the Open day couldn't take place because the building hadn't been completed but I was able to work with the new staff, Laura and Caitlin, who are both wonderful and some of the ponies that the Exmoor Pony Centre will be using for trekking. I was happy to hear that these ponies will be rotated so that they have a break from trekking and that they are going to live out full time when they are not working. It was also a great opportunity to go and see Billy Milton and Liony. We took Billy out for his first walk on the roads and he loved every minute of it - he has such courage and was happy to take the lead in front of Merrion and to go up to things like tractors and give them a jolly good inspection. Liony is living at Twitchen Farm at Challacombe; yet another lovely place that does bed and breakfast for horses as well as people. Liony looked extremely well and has, at last, filled out. David and I went down to the Dartmoor Pony Centre at Brimpts Farm, Dartmeet and met Dru the project manager. She told us all about the scheme for the preservation of the Dartmoor Hill Pony and to increase the marketability of the Dartmoor colts. Once again, it all comes down to sensitive early handling.
During my first quiet week in months, I went to Malvern to see my Grandad, Pye. He was in good health so we went off to see my cousin Rosie who works for Weston's Cider in Much Marcle (Fred West country!). Unfortunately I am no relation to the Westons but I they always look pleased to see me anyway. The visitor centre is excellent and the cider too but the highlight was being able to groom their Shire horses and to meet their new arrival, Duke. Rosie's husband Tom has recently taken over the reins, quite literally, and drives their team through the middle of Ledbury.

Friday, June 30, 2006

June 2006

This is a special message for Linda Ray Brown - if you are reading this please get on with your coursework and stop surfing the net!
Good news - it looks like I will be doing regular work at the Margaret Green Foundation Trust, a charity set up for animals. They are hoping to re-home more horses in the future and need some more focused training for some of them to enable this to happen. Bad news, I came off one of the Fell ponies at speed and although I haven't broken anything, I am so sore I could cry. I am forced to catch up with admin work and daytime t.v. Fortunately David came to my rescue over the weekend and helped me to look after the ponies (and my landlord's flowers, fish and pheasants). The following week Auriol, Bea, Sheila and Yolanda all helped me to work the horses and keep the fields tidy. Auriol has even offered to take my crutches back to the hospital! I managed to ride a few times and to do lots of groundwork. At the end of the week the two Fell ponies and Boss all went home leaving me a rope-shy New Forest Pony to work with. For a change, he is not black!
During the week my talk on the Moorland Mousie Trust went down well and raised a little money for the charity itself.
I had a wonderful animal sitting job this week not only do I have to feed the cat and the ponies but I also have to provide cordon bleu food for the wild birds, foxes and badgers. Each evening David and I have sat extremely still in the summerhouse and watched the badgers and foxes.

A little rant about saddles. It's really quite simple, a decent horse deserves a decent saddle. All horses are decent therefore, they should all have a decent saddle right from the outset. I have had too many horses come in accompanied by terrible saddles that I am told will do for starting them ( because "it's not worth getting him a good saddle yet because he will change shape"). What message does it give a horse if the first time you sit on it with a saddle it is bloomin' uncomfortable if not painful and when they move it restricts their movement? I have seen horses with saddle damage simply from being long-lined in a badly fitting saddle. Muscle wastage can happen really quickly. When someone buys or gets given a horse, no matter how cheap and cheerful the horse is, they should still budget for a good saddle that fits properly. I am amazed by some of the saddles I see being used on horses - they are too narrow at the front, twisted and lumpy, having not been serviced or checked for years. Saddles should be checked for fit at least every 12 months and fully serviced (locally this costs me less than £50). The flock shouldn't just be topped up, it needs to be replaced. I don't care if the saddle has a posh label - if it is too narrow, it is too narrow. There are very few saddle makers or fitters that I feel able to recommend - most simply fit to the shape of the horse without allowing for the recover of badly wasted muscles and just exacerbate the problem. I really don't like synthetic saddles as they are so unsympathetic to the shape of the horse; I never see top riders using them. I am reserving judgement on treeless saddles as I am not convinced that they don't create pressure points on the horse at the front, back and where the stirrups straps cross the horse's back. I have found them to be too slippy in most cases for using on starting horses. Poorly fitting saddles are one of the major factors in creating behavioural problems in horses - a horse can't tell you that a saddle is nearly killing him, all he can do is fidget when he is tacked up, pull faces at you, move awkwardly when ridden and when he feels the need to shout, start to nap, buck or rear. Don't get me on to Dutch gags and martingales!!!
I have been to visit Kelly at Lambourn and it was good to catch up with all the exciting things that Intelligent Horsemanship is doing. The courses are as popular as ever- always oversubscribed. I had the privilege of riding out on Kelly's beloved Pie alongside her lovely new racehorse, Nessie. Kelly gave me the kick start I have been needing since I came off a couple of weeks ago. Despite having good reviews, I do suffer from self-doubt. That's one of the side-effects of having an open-mind; you always wonder if you could be doing something differently. Nevertheless, by the time that the rope-shy pony went home, I could ground tie him and throw a rope on the floor next to him without him even attempting to leave. With him I used the de-sensitization technique coupled with using a click and a reward. Next week is going to be strange as I have no ponies in at all as I wind down ready for Exmoor.
Out on the Forest, my three ponies are doing extremely well and haven't taken to chasing tourists or lane creeping. Blue is living with Cinders, a pony I fed through the winter as she was so thin. Nell has taken up with Oliver, a big blue roan gelding and little Pie, the honorary Welsh New Forest Pony is co-habiting with a little skewbald mare and her dun coloured foal. I see them almost every day as they tend to drink over at Janesmoor Pond now that the streams and small ponds are dry. They don't come back for food anymore.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

May, 2006 (4)

On Bank Holiday Monday I ran a "Turning Fear into Curiosity" course with the help of David, Kayti and Alison. Despite the odd heavy shower, it was a wonderful day. All the people and the horses that came were lovely and the highlight was a congo of ponies following the noisy tractor around the field and then weaving in and out of the bollards behind David on the trail bike.

During the last week of May I have worked with a pony that is very frightened of tractors and noisy vehicles. This seems to stem from her being run over as a youngster - even though it wasn't a tractor that hit her. We can only guess at how noisy this would have seemed at the time. On the NFED open day she followed the little grey Ferguson tractor in the field and the following day we took her up and down the track walking behind and beside the tractor before performing gentle "fly-pasts". She did well at this and became blase about the whole thing and the day after that we repeated this exercise down a narrow lane where the hedges are high. She then graduated to a bigger, redder, noisier Massey Ferguson tractor with cattle trailer attached. Again she was fine. Before she went home on Saturday, she was ridden beside the tractor and it was driven past her down a narrow lane. Eventually she was cantering with it next to her!

Saturday, May 20, 2006

May, 2006 (3)

Halfway through the month I went to a talk by Patrick Kempe at the Wessex Classical Riding Group. His talk was excellent - he described the horse festival in Portugal and how he came to buy his fabulous Lusitano horse, Tetua. Tetua graces the cover of Margrit Coates' book Horses Talking. Patrick is also a healer and has his own website. By coincidence I am phoned the next day by a lady who has imported an Andulucian stallion and is worried about the future. I urge her to ring Patrick because he has having so much fun with his horse - which show jumps, does Iberian horse classes, picks up litter on the Forest and plays football. I am feeling a little sad myself because Olly and the lovely Hackney horse are due to go home and I have become very fond of them.
Two new New Forest ponies, Jamie and Oliver (formerly Graham!) have arrived for some handling before they get turned out in the field next door. They belong to my neighbour who very kindly gives me access to her outdoor school. Jamie is bright chestnut and arrived in a delapidated trailer. The other, a rose grey, was bred by the same people as my Forest pony, Nell. Both are friendly and need to be get use to being touched, having a headcollar on and being led.

This week I went to Patrick Kempe's to experience healing for the first time. Patrick tells me that his horse is a healer too and I spent a long time with my hands on this beautiful horse. I wish I could say that everything became clear after that but I did feel I got something positive out of it and felt quite serene on the way home.
The following day I went down to The Donkey Sanctuary for a Donkey Behaviour Course only to find that the course was being presented by Ben Hart. What a bonus. It was good to be made aware of the significant differences in the natural herd behaviour of donkeys and the way that they react to fear and pain. Ben uses a lot of positive reinforcement with the donkeys and it was a great opportunity to watch clicker training in action. He worked with a mule called Mrs Knox although he calls her Martha (pronounced Marfa) because when asked she says "I'm arfa donkey and I'm arfa an 'orse".
I do despair of the New Forest Commoners sometimes. There is a pony walking around this village at the moment who likes like a skeleton. I mean condition score 1. Visitors are shocked by her appearance and it will be giving the New forest commoners as a whole a very bad reputation. She has a colt foal at foot which is doing really well and she is now about 30 and probably won't carry another foal. She is absolutely valueless to the Commoner who owns her. I have offered to buy her and her foal but the Commoner said that he didn't like the fact that I had said that she was thin and would rather take her off the Forest himself and send her to Beaulieu Road Sales..... which means for meat. So she has to suffer for his pride. If I contact the RSPCA or ILPH they won't be able to do anything until she is at death's door and anyway he would probably just take her off and have her killed.

Monday, May 15, 2006

May, 2006 (2)

I backed both of the Fell ponies on day six just in the field without separating them. I think they took a lot of comfort in each other's company although, to be frank, it was difficult to get them to stay awake! I just sat on board bareback untangling their manes for a while.At the weekend I am due to go to Exmoor for the Moorland Mousie Sponsored ride. I am borrowing an Exmoor pony called Bracken and it is debatable whether she will carry me or whether I should carry her. There are some very steep hills so I expect I will be on foot for some of them. I have raised over £100 so far and I am hoping to increase that (hint hint). I've always wanted to ride through the water at Tarr Steps - let's hope we don't get swept away.

On the way to Exmoor I went to work with a New Forest pony at Bridgewater that is utterly terrified of ropes and on the way back I go to see yet another black horse. Both of them are likely to be coming in for me to work with.

Saturday, May 6, 2006

May, 2006 (1)

Boss, the Friesian Cross is now backed and has been introduced to the pleasure of long-reining on the Forest. I have to think ahead with this horse because he can't just walk under all the trees! He has worn his saddle and a Myler bit and seems to approve of both. (he is in a 5 1/2" Myler slotted comfort snaffle with 04 mouthpiece - plenty of room for his tongue). The Hackney horse is much more relaxed about being ridden now - she is wearing a 4 1/2" Myler Comfort Snaffle and seems quite happy in it.
Poor Ollie has his social status radically altered when he was castrated. He stood like a rock to be sedated and I felt like a traitor! He went through the operation very well and was soon up and enjoying a new area of grass. He will go home in about two weeks time.
Two super Fell ponies have arrived for starting. They are very typical of the breed and quite bewitching. Their groundwork is so light I can't wait to take them for their first confidence walk on the Forest. They arrived beautifully groomed...... and tomorrow I am going to get them muddy! In the meantime, Boss has proved to be an amazing horse and is happily plodding about in the inclosure with me on board and is apparently frightened of nothing. I rode him back from the school yesterday along the roads and he was absolutely fine. He had a good look at some donkeys but was all curiosity and not a hint of apprehension.the Hackney horse is riding out like a ranch horse and loves it when we go looking for my Foresters. She gets quite broody when she sees the foals. Little Oll is walking out in hand and can now pick his feet up for me without playing colt games.

Sunday, April 30, 2006

April, 2006 (2)

Towards the end of April, the Welsh Cob pony goes home having not put a foot wrong and the New Forest pony goes home with a brand new saddle on order. The next two (ahem!) ponies then arrive, a 13.3 hh Welsh cross and then a 17.1h.h. Friesian cross, both for starting. Little Ollie is being led about and is waiting to have his "plums" removed next week. He is so happy to be around people now and I can even handle him when he is lying down. His owner came to see him last week and was very happy with the results so far.

Out on the Forest, the New forest mares are having their foals. The last couple of months have been so cold and wet that some of them are in a poor condition. They have not been this bad since Foot and Mouth year. I have been supplementing my own ponies' feed but they have now wandered off to Longcross and I think they have a man with them! One of the Woodgreen ponies has had a foal that we have called Whisker, he is Vigo's brother.

On the last day of April, I took Petra to a Hilary Vernon clinic to be bitted. Since giving up the Spirit bitless bridle, Petra has always worn a Myler but has not been as happy as I would have liked. Today Hilary tried her in a Myler Combination with quite dramatic results. I am looking forward to working her in this bit and seeing whether this is the answer we have been looking for. I also bought a selection of Mylers for the horses that come in for training. I really don't like working a horse in a in a single jointed or French link snaffle, these mouthpieces pinch and can cause enormous discomfort to a horse.

Monday, April 10, 2006

April, 2006 (1)

What a splendid start to the month. The sun has come out, the grass is growing and plenty of work to do. I started working with the Welsh Cob pony at the weekend and she is a star. I rode her over the obstacle course on the third day that she was here and she didn't bat an eyelid. In the meantime Patty and I went out to two loaders and got them loading one after the other very easily. The one that had been a particualr problem is much more relaxed now and will walk on with the partition in the fixed position and no longer backs out. These two were followed by a visit to 13 tiny Shetland ponies. One of them was being incredibly difficult whenever his mouth had to be handled and almost impossible to worm. I sat down on an upturned bucket to work with him and he really seemed to appreciate that! In a relatively short time I was able to stick my fingers into his mouth and rub his gums and teeth and then to stick a wormer syringe into his mouth and let him mouth it like a bit. I'm sure it's not pleasant for horses to have foreign objects stuck in their mouths but at least if he is used to his mouth being handled, worming and bitting won't be the horrible shock that they can be to some horses. His owner is going to be putting nice things on the syringe for him to lick at and then fill it up with sweet apple sauce to practice with.
The day after this we met a super New forest pony who is a dream to ride, loves endurance, sweet to handle but just won't go anywhere on her own, ever. I did manage to ask her to go out along a track with some protests but it will take a lot of consistency and persistency to persuade her that this is a normal thing to do. I am hoping that long-reining her will help to build up her confidence and help her to accept that she can go out alone.
I went to see Mary Wanless at Quob on 5th April. She was on very good form and had us all feeling our seat bones. I was relieved to be able to find mine.
I taught Horace something new this week, to stay with me when I fall off. I managed to lose a lot of skin off my fingers but at least he didn't go home alone. I then long-reined another pony in the long rain and got very very wet. What a day.... I quite enjoyed it really and am always pleased to find that I am still alive when I'm lying on the floor.
Just before Easter I have my busiest week to date - with a mobile customer every morning and then four horses plus my own to work with in the afternoons and evenings. For example, Monday I spent an hour with the Ollie, then went to do groundwork with two horses and two sisters, came back to the yard to practise load Bobbin and Petra, rode the Welsh Cob pony out on her own for the first time, took the Hackney pony and the New Forest pony out for a confidence building walk, loaded a non-loader who came in at 4 p.m. and the worked with the Ollie for another hour. I finished my horse reports at 9 p.m. and went to bed at 10 p.m. Tuesday, I backed a 17.1 Friesian cross out at the other side of Salisbury, rode the Welsh Cob pony out with Patty on Bobbin, did groundwork and the obstacle course and some mounting work with the Hackney and the New Forest pony (all in the pouring rain) and then worked with Ollie in the barn for an hour. This is to say nothing of the poo-picking and hay carrying that goes on during the intervals.
Sadly, Patty and I decided to go our seperate ways at Easter and Bobbin has moved back to Burley.
On Easter Monday I took great delight in riding past the same set of picnickers on three different horses. As I use the same green endurance bridle for each horse, I did wonder whether they thought I was riding a chameleon. Both the New Forest pony and the Welsh Cob are riding out well on their own and I took them to see the pigs up at the farm by the pub. Joy of joys, I put Ollie's headcollar on for the first time on Tuesday. That's the longest it has ever taken me to put a headcollar on a so-called untouched pony, but this poor little mite had had an awful time going through various auctions before he was bought by his present owner. When I first went into his stable with a headcollar just in my hand, he started to climb the walls, eight days later and he lets me rest it on his neck, back and bottom and then has it on. He looks even more beautiful in a green and black headcollar. Next step, leading ...

Thursday, March 30, 2006

March, 2006 (4)

I went to work at the Margaret Green Foundation Trust in Church Knowle, Dorset for the day. All the staff and the volunteers at the Trust are really nice people and some of them had come in on their day off to do the training and to see me work with the horses. The Trust does it's best to re-home their horses and wants to put them in the best position to settle in with someone new. I worked with ponies called Flame, Squirrel, Velvet, Belle and a big Bulgarian donkey called Maisie. All of these animals have difficult stories and yet their capacity to forgive is remarkable. Because of the way that they have been treated in the past, many of them have had to be "the leader" when a human is around and some of them have learnt to barge through people and move them around. With a little groundwork it was great to see them accepting their human leader and being able to relax for the first time in a long time. At the end of the day I worked with a little black Shetland pony that had been kept in a tiny pen for 8 months so that children could pet it. The Trust is doing its best to rebuild the pony's confidence and physical health. Alistair, the Trust manager and Amanda, the Stable Manager are very enlightened and want to do all their rehabilitation work without recourse to violence in any form; these ponies have been through enough.
The last week in March was filled with emergency cases - a 15 month old Dartmoor colt, an exquisite miniature version of the Lloyd's Bank horse, that was too wild to handle and an Appaloosa cross who launches himself at people to bite them. On the last day of March, Patty, Nikki and I took advantage of our free ticket into Somerley Park horse trials and had a lovely day watching fit and beautiful horses jumping solid and daunting cross-country fences. At lunchtime we managed to sit at the same table as Bettina Hoy - Patty started to talk to her in German and then Bettina was asking us about the type of work we do and how the New Forest works. Her first competition pony was a New Forest pony. This tiny lady was so warm and friendly and genuinely interested in what we do. I told her all about the biting horse and she wanted to know the outcome. It really made our day, week and month.
I am looking forward to a new ponies arriving on 1st April and then two more on the 8th. All three have already been started but for one reason or another two of them have had a break for a while and the third one is just lacking in confidence. I shall really enjoy comparing and contrasting. One is a Hackney Cross, another Welsh Cob cross and the other a New Forest Pony. The little Dartmoor pony, Ollie is also coming in for handling. He is so delicious.......

Sunday, March 26, 2006

March, 2006 (3)

Went to see Michael Peace doing a demonstration at Hurstbourne Priors. I really enjoyed watching this quiet man work with the horses. There was no drama and the horses all made extremely good progress from a nervous youngster walking over a bridge, a New Forest pony having its ears touched for the first time in several years and an older horse being asked to listen and go through a gateway as directed. His timing is immaculate and his signals very black and white. I like the way he rewarded horses by taking them for a walk - a horse is driven by instinct to move forwards.
Out on the Forest, Blue has absconded with some Shetland ponies and is making her way up to the Nursing Home. Pie and Nell are still hovering around my fields in the hope that I might let them in to the big bale of haylage again. I have given the them some haylage to keep them warm and happy but have hardened my heart and kept the gate closed. (Later the three of them gave me kittens by wandering off to Telegraph Hill, one of the worst accident blackspots on the Forest. I made them life members of the Tufty Club and was very relieved when they turned up back at Fritham again).
My Safari Party on 25th March was a great success much enhanced by the arrival of a Black Forest Gateau and a lot of wine. It seems we are all getting too old for dancing though.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

March, 2006 (2)

The show season must be fast approaching as all my customers this week have been non-loaders. A recurrent problem seems to be horses that will load to go but not to come back (perhaps they don't want to!!). Anyway, I was wondering whether it would be worth setting myself up as a loading service at local shows.......
Patty and I attended a bitting clinic by Hilary Vernon on Saturday, 11th March. What she doesn't know about bitting isn't really worth knowing. She was pleased to hear that I start all my youngsters with Myler Comfort Snaffles. She abhors Dutch Gags the way I do and was able to show me how nasty they really are. Why don't the competition authorities and the Pony Club ban these bits? They pinch the tongue and when the third curb ring is used they drive the bit down into the tongue. When the pony lifts its head up to avoid the pressure then a martingale and flash noseband usually follow. Hilary doesn't work exclusively for Myler and designs bits to suit the horse and rider's needs. We watched for horses being transitioned into new bits and then gently working in them. The improvements were immediate and significant..
Blue, Nell and Pie went out onto the Forest at the weekend. I had hoped that they would stick around so that I could let them in again later and gradually leave them out for longer and longer each day. We were able to trail them for half and hour and then they simply vanished. It's a big decision for me and I just hope they get through their first few days without an incident..... after that they should be fine.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

March, 2006 (1)

This week, Patty, Sheila and I and I have been working with a pony that will load into the trailer but only to travel loose. We had to persuade her that she was fine and to accept contact with the partition and the back bars. This horse had previously been a complete non-loader and had also been frightened of going in the stable or through gate ways. We broke the training down to really small steps, working on entering the trailer with the partition to one side, opening and closing the partition down, ducking under the breast bar and back again, putting up the back bar and so on. On Friday I was able to load her completely on my own. It seems that once she understood that not every movement in front of her, down her side or at her bottom was not significant, she could relax and stay where she was. She is going to new owners tomorrow so it is hoped that they will try to load her sympathetically and not take it for granted that she will load like an old hand.
Trailer travelling is a very bizarre concept to a horse. Any horse, especially one that has been wild, will know by instinct (and because it's mother told it) not to get its head or feet caught up, not to get trapped in small spaces and not to go indoors when it is windy or noisy. Who knows what my creep up and eat you?! You'll note that we don't use full length travelling boots as we find these cause more trouble than they cure; horses feel as if their legs are tied together and that they can't move and they may also get too hot. We find a travelling rug does help ponies who avoid touching the partition and walls.

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

February, 2006

Had my first riding lesson of 2006 and Petra's first ever. She was such a good girl. I need to stop treating her like another one of the baby horses and present her with something more challenging! I have booked her in for the Rockbourne Ride in a few weeks. That'll certainly wake her up! There's always lots of horses there and we can have a go over the cross country jumps.
Went to the RA conference and discussed exciting things for the future. We had talks on the Port Lewis Impression Pad (good for looking for pressure areas under saddles); the Rocking S snaffle and the Tui Loading Bar.
From the 15th to 26th I went down to Exmoor again to work with some Exmoor ponies and to house-sit at West Hollowcombe.This house and cottages are situated in the highest village on Exmoor and the scenery is stunning. Apart from making a few beds for some holiday guests, we could do pretty much what we wanted. David worked with Bertie again and had a great success with him, eventually leading him onto a trailer to go to his new home on a conservation project on the Blackdown Hills. Bertie will never find people easy but he had really begun to trust David. I worked with an untouched colt called Billy and was filmed by the BBC on the first and last days. Billy was an absolute star and went from frightened baby to confident boy within just a few days. When the cameras came back he would lead around the yard and investigate some obstacles (a rocking horse and a bicycle) and then follow me over a tarpaulin. He also chewed the presenter's hat and washed his car! I also had the opportunity to work with Merrion again. I refreshed his groundwork and taught him to long rein and eventually got on his back for just a few minutes. While we were on the moor, Carol Barnett came to work with us for a couple of days and we had a very enjoyable walk with the two resident ponies although there seemed an awful lot of uphill. The plans for the Open Day of the Exmoor Pony Centre (owned by the Moorland Mousie Trust) are going well.
By contrast we saw some pretty appalling horsemanship while we were down there. The traditional method of halter-breaking these ponies involved tying them up to a post and in this case leaving them for hours. This pony had lost half its hair through a combination of stress, rain-scald and malnutrition. Val is negotiating to have this pony gifted to the Trust. If it doesn't happen very soon then the RSPCA will have to be called. It's a difficult line to tread because without the commoners co-operation there would be no Trust and without the fosterers and eventual purchasers there would be nowhere for these ponies to go other than for meat. In another livery yard I saw six horses that are never turned out and rarely ridden. There are two Exmoors, one cob, a thoroughbred and it's two year old son and another warmblood type all cooped up in airless dirty stables with hardly any room to move and filthy thin bedding with nothing to look at all day but the outside wall. The mare was extremely dull and her son was lethargic and had no muscle at all. I also had the misfortune to see their saddles - hard as rock, lumpy and far too narrow. They are all owned by a teenager who thinks she knows how to look after horses. I am rarely faced with such misery but I have been out to the odd client where I have had an ethical dilemma about whether to work with them or call the RSPCA straight away. The RSPCA's powers seem to be so limited and certainly don't cover mental welfare so I often feel that it is better to work with the owners to improve their understanding and change their attitude and then monitor the situation thereafter.

The day after got back from Exmoor I attended a First Aid for Horses Course at a fellow RA's yard. It was good to top up my knowledge and then top up my first aid kit. We spent the afternoon injecting apples with green food dye and I came home with a little green map in the furrows of my hand.

Monday, January 30, 2006

January 2006

Bah humbug! 2006 has started off quite gloomily. One of the New Forest ponies went home, I got a bill for denting someone's car and all my birthday cards were delayed in the post. Still, the New Forest pony had made tremendous progress and proved to be a wonderful riding pony so I had had a lot of fun over Christmas riding a straight forward pony for once. Connie the dog also came to stay so she came out riding with us. Having worked all over Christmas the first week of January has been quiet to make up for it. There's a new pony coming in at the weekend so it's full full steam ahead from then on. This one (a New Forest pony as usual) has been started already and will eventually be driven. However there has been a slight mishap on the way and my job is to overcome that and to get her fitter. All sorts of things to look forward to......... the Open Day for the Moorland-Mousie Trust where me and John Jones RA are hoping to hold a demonstration on how to handle the wild pony. In June I shall be doing my first talk for the Wessex Classical Riding Club on the Moorland Mousie Ponies. What with that and my party (for no particular reason) at the end of March, I have quite a bit to get on with. In the meantime I am making preparations for my two New Forest mares to go out on the Forest in April. Unfortunately they will have to be rebranded as this essential for them to be identified by the Agisters. I shall have it done while they are under sedation for having their teeth done. Hopefully that will make it much easier for them and the vet is going to give me some Bute to reduce the pain. My local Agister thinks I am mad to care so much and my vet thinks I am mad for having it done. If only we knew which microchip is likely to be adopted under the compulsory scheme I would have that done at the same time. In the future I hope they will invent a microchip reader which the Agisters can use to identify a pony from a distance. Until then, I have no choice if I want to turn my ponies out. The girls are also going to have a 5 day course of Panacur Equine Guard in advance of their liberation as Ivermectin is banned once they are on the Forest (harmful to invertebrates).

11th January, 2006 - an appalling day. I went out to work with a pony the other side of Southampton to find her owner waiting for the vet to come out to her seven month old foal. This lovely New Forest filly had been attacked by someone in her field and injured so badly that she had to be put down. Why would anyone do that to her? (Postscript: the vets eventually concluded that this injury was caused by the rope electric fence wire).
Next day: I never thought I'd get so much pleasure from waving a flag at a pony. The second starter that came in before Christmas is so afraid of seeing things out of his right eye that he whooshes forward and sticks his head in the air. Although I have ridden him, it has been impossible to even scratch my nose with my right hand without him being terribly offended. Today I was able to hold a flag above his back while he was loose and wave it from left to right without him disappearing. (Later in the month I started to ride him again and apart from the odd little whoosh of about two strides he was much much better. I used clicker training to help de-sensitize this pony and it had a great effect on him. He became a little more nibbly but I could move my arms about like windmills when I was riding and he was fine. It should also be noted that this pony had a couple of treatments from a physiotherapist and one with the osteopath while he was with me.)

An equine osteopath came out to see a selection of the horses at the fields. This guy also practices acupuncture and kinesiology. Each horse needed something entirely different and it was interesting to see what a wide range of techniques are available for dealing with different physical issues. Petra had her poll adjusted and some massage whereas one of the starting ponies had muscle testing which revealed a fungal infection. The same evening I went to listen to him talk on natural medicine for horses and this was followed by a massage clinic the next day. Petra really enjoyed the massage clinic because she got massaged by about 12 different people. Horses are great levellers though as she refused to load at the end of the demo and it took a little while to get her to go in. It's great to be at an event where everyone doesn't dive for their big brooms and lunging whips. Guess who will be having a bit of practice before we go anywhere again!

I've got a mention in Your Horse magazine this month - Page 90, Letters, Problem Solver.
I attended a meeting of the Wessex Classical Riding Group where Richard James recounted the journey of the Trafalgar Dispatch which was re-enacted last summer as part of the Trafalgar Celebrations. It took two years of planning and training to prepare four young Gelderlanders to pull a post-chaise along the route of the original dispatches - some 266 miles. The story was facinating and Richard's warmth and obvious love for his horses and for carriage driving had us all enthralled.

Had a lovely day off when I went to see Rowan in his new home near Lymington. He has fallen on his feet and is very well loved. I went up to catch part of The Handling the Untouched Horse Course (Intelligent Horsemanship). It was good to see Patty working with such confidence with untouched youngsters much bigger than the ones we tend to have here.