Thursday, April 24, 2008

24th April, 2008 Two out of three ain't bad

I got the following from Linda today....

Following your demo and the clicking training you did with that gorgeous Shetland (want one!) I have used this method on F&F so that I can spray them when the flies get troublesome.


(Except for one bit.)(More later)

I started with Fern just let her sniff the bottle, clicked, took it away, and gave her a nut. It takes some co-ordination on your ownsome doesn’t it? So on until I could touch her all over with the bottle and then gently did a touch and spray. IT WORKED like magic. She was practically turning round saying “and this bit, spray this bit, what about here” etc etc it was great. Freddie was equally as good although whilst he stood perfectly still to be sprayed I have to say it wasn’t with the same enthusiasm as Fern but then she is a lady that lunches first and foremost.

The only bit o’ trouble I’ve run into is that I shut Suze the other side of the gate whilst I was doing this (as she seems to be an old hand at spray and not at all bothered), but she is keen on a nut or two (hundred) and was very interested in proceedings especially the nut part. Unfortunately she popped her head over the gate just as I was doing an enthusiastic manoeuvre with my bottle (Freddie was being sooo good) and I got her right up the hooter.

She then commenced about five minutes of sneezing and snorting (I only had cider vinegar and water in the bottle) and now hates the sight of it!

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

23rd April, 2008 Monochrome or Monotone?

(First, sit the horse down!)

Horses are not born knowing right from wrong - particularly when we are talking about what a human would see as right or wrong. So barging for example, is the right thing for a horse to do to check out where he stands in the herd hierarchy, kicking is the right thing to do if it gets predators off you, biting repels rivals. We just can't expect a horse to automatically know that it shouldn't be doing these things to us and it's no good us trying to sit a horse down and explain to it in English - horses don't understand English. The best way to explain something to a horse is in using consistent body language set at a level that makes it clear that something is, or is not acceptable to us. I might be subtle on the first couple of occasions - once is once, twice is twice and three times is PERSISTENT. So, if a horse persistently walks into my body space, depending on how sensitive the horse is, I would then use big body language to ensure that the horse was very clear that this was not acceptable. I might stamp a foot, slap my rope on my coat, make a kiss-kiss noise and use eye contact to send it back out of my space. Simply saying "no" would tell it nothing. I need to show it "no" instead. Once the horse is back where I want it to be, I need to show it "yes, you got it..." by putting the smile back in my line, maybe saying "goooood boy" and perhaps giving him a lovely rub. By being black and white in this way, the horse gets a much clearer picture of what is and isn't wanted. There are three main rules that I would enforce using big body language - You don't walk into my space, you don't walk past me and you don't attack me with your teeth or feet. Everything else is a request and I start off small and only get big if I need to. In this way the horse learns to respond to the softest request and the biggest I would get would be pressure on the Dually or reinforcing something with a shake of a rattle bottle.

Driving enthusiasts always tell me that their horses do understand words and I expect that some horses do understand a very limited number of words. However, I think they are more likely to be understanding the tone and body language that come with them. A good friend wrote to me about this and this is what I said in reply:

Hmmm – words. I don’t think that horses do understand set words although I think they definitely understand a tone of voice and recognize people from their voices. I have experimented with standing in front of a horse that apparently responds to the word “back” and found that if I don’t accompany it with any body language it just stands and looks at me blankly. On the other hand if I use the Hindi word for back (which is “peechay”) and accompany it with some body language it will back up. I also experimented with Sheila’s dog Echo – I found that I could say any three letter word in the right tone of voice and he would SIT! The funniest bit was when I said elephanT and he still sat – so I think he was responding to the rather Barbara Woodhouse T at the end of the word. Driving ponies are thrown back onto their hearing by their blinkers and perhaps like people with a visual impairment I could develop their other senses – yet again though, most people have a specific way of saying particular commands and proper driving people always say the pony’s name before the command when they intend to go up a gear and the word “and” before the command when they want to go down a gear. I often used “and” in this way and have found that horses do start to slow when they hear it.

Clicker training also sharpens up a horse’s hearing and therefore I can see that calling their name and then giving them food when they arrive would do the same thing.

Unlike some natural horsemanship trainers, I don’t put an embargo on talking to the horse although I do warn people about the dangers of white noise that you mention. However, if someone is too reliant on words and unable to be demonstrative with their body language, I do sometimes ask them to think about not saying anything – and of course I always advise people not to speak at all if they are in danger of going up an octave and speaking very quickly when they are nervous. “Steady! Steady! Shhhhh!” is Equus for Panic! Panic! I think it can help to talk to a horse in a soothing tone of voice and as you know I have pet phrases like “You didn’t die yet” and “Nothing’s changed, you’re fine” and it makes me smile when I hear Julie and Sheila saying them too. I think just talking quietly and slowly to yourself can do a lot to calm nerves and keep you breathing and if I have a feisty horse that I am having to send out of my space, saying “don’t come past me, ever!” helps me to get rid of adrenalin.

I just think it’s better to use body language most of the time so that in an emergency there is no question of the horse having to translate anything.

Monday, April 21, 2008

21st April, 2008 Further details of Horseworld Demo

Horseworld are holding an open day on Sunday 11th May between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. at the Horseworld Visitor Centre, Staunton Lane, Whitchurch, Bristol. It will include Western Riding, Military Displays, Heelwork to Music and I shall be doing two short demonstrations of Intelligent Horsemanship at 11.40 a.m. and 2.45 p.m. in the sand arena.

We are hoping that Prince will be back just for the day - he was a foal that I worked with last year and is now in a loan home. I may also be working with what I am told is a rather bargey Ardennes horse. Should be fun.

Horseworld is a remarkable place with over 130 horses in their care. MRCPH holders Sasha Holden and Megan Turner both work there and do fantastic work with abandoned and remdial horses.

More details, including ticket prices can be found at or by ringing 01275 893034 or e-mail

Sunday, April 20, 2008

20th April, 2008 Back to work

Having had a bit of a cultural week - two more events at Salisbury Arts Centre - it was back to work with me on Saturday. Julie and I spent a full day at Bere Regis working with two Quarter Horses and a Welsh Cob cross. Each presented quite a challenge - Quarter horses are born with big muscles and big ideas! - but we made good progress and we are going back in a couple of weeks to see the difference it has made.

Petra and I went to the Rockbourne Charity Ride with Frances on Zac. Another year gone by. Petra was rather lively to begin with but coped well with horses cantering by and jumping right next to her. We popped over a couple of fences but they all look quite solid to me.

Thankfully Nelly, Blue and their male escort, Oliver turned up at the farm today. They have been missing for a week and with Nelly so heavily pregnant I was worried that she had gone into hiding or been kidnapped by the stallion. They have all had a pile of hay and I was able to have a good look at Nelly-noo. She now has a definite bosom and I think she could foal any day now.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

15th April, 2008 A change is as good as.....

David and I have just returned from three days away. Very strange not to see any horses for over 24 hours but I managed. We decided to have a long weekend in...wait for it....Birmingham! I am out of the habit of shopping so a day in the Bull Ring Centre and two pair of new shoes and a skirt was all very exciting. Having been to see Josie Lawrence at the Rep last night in a clever play about spies called Hapgood, we walked around some of the museums and galleries today and looked at architecture. David taught me to look up very soon after I first met him.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

12th April, 2008 Variety is the spice of life

Jack went home yesterday after his two weeks of training. He did an excellent Black Beauty impression when he was turned out with his friends. So only our own lot back at the yard - Nell should foal any day now. Piper is still waiting to hear whether he is going to a conservation project in Surrey but has lost enough weight over the winter for me to stop worrying about him. Petra is building up to a sponsored ride next weekend and Chancer is just building up.

I have dealt with an assortment of horses this week including two with real problems when travelling. Both of them just drop into the partition and go "into pressure" scrabbling along the outside wall with their front feet. It is really frightening at the time and a hard one to solve especially as they seem to become comatose. The horse itself is quite distressed and must be really fearful to go to such extremes. Some people have had success with travelling them without a partition and cross-tied with a full width breast bar and back bar and indeed one of them will travel happily this way. All options have to be considered very carefully to make sure that both the horse and the handler are kept as safe as possible and whether it is worth persevering at all.

I have also been to see a couple of young riding ponies who are full of energy and comedy at this time of year. One of them plays a great game of football and would be worthy of an England cap. We have just been working on installing a manners program for when they are with people.

Finally today I went to see a Dartmoor pony called Zippy and try as I might, I couldn't hide him in the back of my car.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

9th April, 2008

Today I worked with a New Forest yearling colt that was born and bred on the Forest, handling him for the first time and putting on his first headcollar. The job was made easier by the fact that he has never been drifted, has not been branded and has not had a headcollar forced on him or been tied up. Having lived at Roundhills Campsite, the colt alternated between looking at me sweetly and putting his ears flat back - I think he has been mugging tourists! In any event, by the time I left he was happily letting his owner touch him and put his headcollar on.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

8th April, 2008 Tired now!

What a day! I started off by helping with two goats that were having their feet trimmed. They are so much calmer now that no-one is shouting at them when they move! I then long reined Chancer out with Jack on the Forest for the first time which was fine until we met a Jack Russell in the inclosure. Chancer was not impressed and gave an impressive display of his bucking and rearing skills. I then went to work with a horse that is struggling to travel in her trailer. She goes "into pressure" and slumps into the partition on one side and scrabbles with her feet on the other - it's quite frightening for everyone; she must be feeling pretty worried about travelling to panic like this. Finally I went to see a gorgeous Anglo-Arab that had little compunction about invading anyones' space. I had to work very had to convince her otherwise but I got there in the end. Tomorrow promises to be just as interesting as Jack is being ridden again and then I have a wild New Forest pony to handle for the first time.

Picture: Tanya makes sure that Chancer is relaxed about the long-reins before we take him out.

8th April, 2008 Successes

Thanks so much for following up so quickly with the email info while it is still so fresh in our minds. James & I (and therefore G) got a lot out of our session yesterday, thanks to your excellent communication, we talked about it all evening, so you got us thinking! I used the techniques this morning to help keep G still while I changed her rugs, and led her to the field with me leading further forwards than usual. I can now see that the groundwork techniques will help me in many other situations (eg. fidgeting with the farrier) that I had never really thought about as issues before. We will practice the loading this coming easter weekend, I will keep breathing!

KB re:loading 16.3.08

We have loaded M and gone for a drive then unloaded in the forest and went for a ride and reloaded to go home. She went in perfectly both ways!
LS 16.3.08

Hi Sarah, Just to let you know, we had great success over the easter weekend with G, have now got to the stage where she (and myself) are calm and still in the trailer with the partition shut, the ramp gates shut, and the ramp closed 3/4 of the way. Next weekend we will shut the ramp completely, if all goes well, hopefully go for a little drive. I am also finding that she is calmer in her stable too, even without a headcollar I can adjust my body language to keep her still while I'm changing her rugs etc. I have also bought Kelly's Perfect manner's book to help me jog my memory of your visit and expand the approach. Hope your week and your demo goes well.
KB 26.3.08

hi sarah thanks for comming out to us wens D has taken H-pony out three times and D is in control well almost he trys but soon learns whos boss he is also 90 per cent better in the stable thanks again see you soon
HA 26.3.08

Hi Sarah, Just thought you might like an up date ,so far no loading problems. Polly has now travelled four times very calm and not sweating as she did in the trailer. Keeping up the ground work, and have ordered the Tom widecombe book. I also would like to thank-you very much for your time and patience. YvetteYC 27.3.08

I have however established in my head how kind, caring, strong, hard working, forthright and passionate you are about what is right. ( I can see why you became a lawyer).
These qualities are wonderful, but they also mean that you are hard on yourself, push yourself so very hard and keep going, again admiral qualities but.... what effect is it having on YOU-the skin, bones, muscles and other biological bits?

LR 27.3.08

:Sarah was very professional and explained how she was going to approach the problem and what she was expecting. We were both surprised at what happened but Sarah coped with it brilliantly and we are continuing to work on the problem. I have been really impressed at the progress so far – two sessions – and look forward to more success. There is no way I could have managed on my own.
Evaluation form GC 2.4.08

Hi Sarah, Thank you so much for a wonderful session, even though they were both already quite good it has really improved things between all of us and has madde my day to day management MUCH easier. Your notes and the detailed accompanyment are fantastic and I cant wait till my next session. RG 6.4.08

Many thanks for last night. I found it very interesting and it was really nice to have someone calm and gentle for Talin as he responds better.
CA 8.4.08

Sunday, April 6, 2008

6th April, 2008 Success or failure?

Having made significant improvements to the behaviour of hundreds of horses now, I stumble when I hear the word failure. Have I failed Piper when he will only just about let me touch him after all this time or is it still brilliant that he will allow me to put a headcollar on him using clicker training? This is the pony that lived wild on Exmoor for seven years and only met brute force until he met me. Is it failure that a horse wants to back out of a trailer when he has previously gone through the floor of one or amazing that he will follow me in at all? Is it my failure when I meet an ex-racehorse that goes into stallion mode when he is taken out to his field when I cannot work with him safely because there is barbed wire on both sides of the track? Is it failure when I can't work on handling a wild pony because the field shelter is awash with mud and once again we are surrounded by loopy barbed wire which he has jumped before?

The best successes come when I am able to set the owner up to continue with some good techniques backed up by clear concepts about consistency and commitment. Like everyone else I like to set myself up for success in the first place - Kelly says a poor workman always blames his tools but a good workman always has the right ones. To work with difficult horses or horses with problems going back years is to invite failure (or only limited success) but the alternative is not to try at all. When I worked for the courts, the probation service were criticised at one time for only recommending a probation order for those where there was a high chance of success - when the effectiveness of a service is only measured against recidivism rates then this is bound to happen.

I have also been struggling with the concept of ego. Running a demonstration is a bit like holding a party in your house, as the host you are so worried whether everyone is enjoying themselves you forget to enjoy it yourself. At the RDA demo I never felt that I really got "in the moment" with the horses and I wish I could have spent more time really getting to know them. Being separated from the audience by round pen rails (bars!) I didn't feel as connected with people as I could have done and having a microphone at my mouth I was all too aware of everything I said. I do however get a kick out of live appearances but would hate that to become my sole reason for doing it. The best work is done with horses when you let go of your ego and any pressure to succeed.

As a complete it really Christmas again so close to Easter?

Friday, April 4, 2008

4th April, 2008 Spring!

Now that we have all dried out, we have been having fun working with lots of different horses. Archie at the top wasn't at all fazed by the brolly. Chancer went out on his first walk since he arrived at the fields and enjoyed every minute of it. Jack, who was backed this morning went for a walk to the pub in the afternoon. Yesterday I was greeted at the forest gate by this little dot who demanded a kiss rather than any food. She went to sleep with her head in my arms for 20 minutes and made me late for all my appointments.