Sunday, February 28, 2010

28th February, 2010 Chaffcutter

I haven't been able to saying anything for a week but very sadly my step-father, Tony, died last Sunday. I didn't want my Mum to find out via my blog while she was away on holiday even though they have been divorced for some time now. Tony had young onset dementia and was only 66. He was a great step-Dad in that he never attempted to be a father to me at all. He loved the horses and was mad keen on all kinds of contraptions like his restored Landrover, hydraulic log-splitter and anything that seemed particularly oily. His handle in the heyday of the C.B. radio was Chaffcutter. Hopefully there will be a lot of his friends and family at his funeral which is arranged for 8th March, 2010.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

27th February, 2010 ARC training

Jenny and I have just come back from three days at Chard where we continuing the work with Magic and Merlin. Their owner, Tabitha, has made great progress with Magic over the last couple of months despite some rotten weather that meant she couldn't even bring them down to their stables for several days. Merlin was proving more tricky as he is 18 months old, a colt and far more nervous than Magic. At the start of our stay this time, Magic could be caught and led out in the yard; Merlin would let Tabitha touch him on his left hand side only. By the end of the three days, Magic has been having his feet picked up, has been touched and groomed all over including having his tail combed out. He has been led all over the yard and consented to walk over a tarpaulin and was keen to follow an umbrella.
Merlin took quite a while to let me touch him with my hand on his left hand side and wanted to bite me when I went round to his right. He would allow me to put a scarf around his neck but seemed a long way from accepting a headcollar. In his case I spent some time using advance and retreat and another session teaching him the association between a click and a treat. By the end of yesterday I had put his first headcollar on using a combination of advance and retreat and clicker training and by the end of today he was accepting his headcollar really easily and letting Tabitha touch him all the way down to the base of his neck on the right hand side without any defensiveness at all. He had been led inside the stable and was moving his front and hindquarters in answer to a very gentle pressure i.e. a slight pressure on his headcollar or looking at his bottom.
I think I may call this ARC training or Advance and Retreat Plus. I no longer accept that it is unethical to use the two methods in unison where everything is taken very gently and incrementally. Both require careful shaping and a very sympathetic approach.
I have heard from Jo with Sunny (from Tuesday) and she is also employing a click and a treat to say thank you once he has accepted the headcollar and reports that he is now standing like a soldier while she put the headcollar on. (he is no longer skiing her into the field either!).
Last night, a gang of us went to see Monty's demo at The Hand as it was less than an hour away. It was a good demo with some lovely horses and who wouldn't envy Monty's borrowed Quarter Horse, Copy? Martin Clunes did a Join-Up with his big (very very big) horse Chester.
E-mail from tabs 28.2.10 - "Just to let you know I have haltered magic and de-sensitized him all over ran my hands down his legs and we have been for a walk. Merlin came straight up to me in the stable, I did a click and treat. He allowed me to put the rope over his neck as I haven't got a head collar to fit him yet. He allowed me to touch him all down the left side and around his head and face. Did a click as I removed the rope and click and treat at the end, he was brilliant.
Thank you for getting me to this stage, it feels wonderful !"

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

23rd February, 2010 Intriguing....

23rd February, 2010 Sunny one so true.......

Off to work with Sunny and Jo at Bristol today. Sunny is a foster pony from the Moorland Mousie Trust and was trained using the foal handling techniques I helped to set up there. Just four months later, he can be be caught in a field with lots of other ponies in it, leads pretty well and copes with the hustle and bustle of a busy but sympathetic yard. There are still a few gaps in his training - he is still worried about people being on his off side at the front and is troubled by going through doors and gateways. Jo's body language and understanding of advance and retreat is well honed already. He seems to be quite sore in his poll, likely to be attributable to having been tied up to be branded and inspected, and this makes him wary of being touched around his ears and a bit wary of the headcollar still. We tried clicker training for a short time to see if we could create a good association with the headcollar but he became very avid and indeed aggressive about the food quite quickly. I understand that he has been possessive over food before today and we agreed that clicker would not be appropriate for him now - if ever. There is probably too great a conflict between his really wanting the food and yet really not wanting the headcollar. He copes better when allowed to "fish" for the noseband rather than it being imposed on him. Better, we concluded to recap over some of the work that has already been done and to consolidate it. By the end of the day (with gaps!) he was leading in and out of his stable very calmly and walking into his alarmingly muddy field without taking off. I did have an interesting skiing incident with him earlier - just waiting for my gold medal!!

"It was really a worthwhile and rewarding day - thank you!"JA 24.2.10

"Sunny was a little star whilst I was away and is now letting me, Carly and Kim put head collar on, turn out and be caught in the field and doing the gate and even coming to call in the field.
When I went to get him in yesterday I called him and he did his first whinny - oh he is soooo scrummy! He is so much more relaxed and chilled now. I groomed him on the weekend and he let me go all over his offside for about 10 minutes! "31.3.10

Saturday, February 20, 2010

20th February, 2010 Tidying up

Jack and I have reached the point where my rather casual clicker training has needed a bit of tidying up. We have reached a bit of a plateau with some of the essentials such as foot handling so today it was off to a Ben Hart clinic at The Fortune Centre, near Burley. Out of the window my mouth "tlocking" and in with a proper clicker device so that I can mark the behaviour that I am after more accurately. I also realised that in seeking to extinguish the need for clicker for some behaviours I have been extending the number of clicks before the terminal bridge rather than introducing a truly variable schedule of reinforcement. Nevertheless, I got the impression that Ben thought I had done a good job so far and that Jack was a pretty confident pony given his history. He reminded me that I need to work with the pony that I have got now rather than the pony that he used to be. Considering that he had loaded, unloaded and travelled so calmly and also worked in a school with several other ponies and lots of people, I sort of knew that he had come a long way. His owner, Sue, was able to come for the morning to and I think she was pretty pleased with his progress.

Friday, February 19, 2010

19th February, 2010 Pain in the neck

As I have got an acute pain in my neck at present, I had some sympathy and empathy with Harry, the pony at the top, who is not sure he likes being touched because he is quite sore in places. His owners are doing the rather familiar dance between saddlers and back people in an effort to make him more comfortable. In the meantime I have been working with them on reading his body language so that they can adapt their depth of touch to match what he prefers in each area. He's a bit like a paint by numbers in this respect and likes different touch in different places and will probably change his mind again tomorrow. By placing his rug higher up his neck when it first goes on and is done up, we disuaded him from biting as he sometimes thinks he will "get in first".
I'm not too achey to take Jack for a walk and this morning he did some jumping whilst loose in the inclosure.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

17th February, 2010 Holy?

I took Theoden out for a walk again today and we met this lady (and several others). I explained that he is meant to be half a cow pony and he seemed to consider that before deciding whether to be fightened or not (he wasn't). As we walked away I thought I heard him mutter something along the lines of "but did you see those horns?"

17th February, 2010 Starting, not finishing, a horse

If a horse is going to be wrecked, it's normally before he is five. Young horses are very cheap and when the time comes to begin their ridden education, there may not be enough money in the kitty to pay for the horse to be started nicely or to pay for the owner to learn how to do it themselves. The adverts on our local website are full of horses and ponies available for loan that apparently need to be broken in or schooled on. I wouldn't want to trust this important stage in their life to someone who may or may not do a good job and if I was the loaner I'd be pretty put out if the owners reclaimed the horse after I had done all that work.

In an ideal world horses and ponies wouldn't be started until they are late three or four and nothing would be rushed. They needs to be physically and mentally ready to be ridden and to have no outstanding issues with anything on the ground. This all takes time but not as much time as it takes to remedy poor training. Those early weeks need to be relaxed and enjoyable for them and not about tying them down with gadgets or working him in endless circles. It should carry on that way too......

Four to six weeks is an absolute minimum for starting a horse or pony that has already done a bit of groundwork and seen something of the world. At the end of that short period, the horse is still very green and will need lots of consolidation on non-consecutive days before he is expected to do any serious work. He is going to ask a lot of questions during the following months and those questions should not be seen as naughtiness - he is entitled to ask and to get a logical and reassuring answer.

I'm very careful about which starters I will take these days. I can't fulfil the requirements of owners who want a push button horse that rides a perfect circle in a perfect outline at the end of six weeks. I'll only take on fairly straightforward ponies where the owners are totally realistic about what can be achieved in that time and accept that we want to get it right first time. By the end of six weeks I would hope to have a pony that is happily going out on its own or in company in all the lower gears, wearing a bit, a saddle and a rider!

17th February, 2010 Hot branding

I haven’t put anything too controversial on here lately so here goes.

I hate hot branding. I do think it causes pain and I think it can traumatise ponies. For those reasons, I started off feeling that it should be made illegal. Now that we have microchips which give a unique identification number, there should be no reason to hot brand a pony that is going to live in a herd owned by one person in one place whether that be a moor or a holding, “in ground” or a pony that is definitely going to be sold on and domesticated. Branding or the purpose of proving a pony’s eligibility for registration by a breed society cannot be justified nor for reasons of pride or tradition. Microchips in horses do not migrate as they are inserted into the nuchal ligament. Microchip readers are now available which can read any microchip.

However, I have come to the view that at present there is no viable alternative to hot branding where free-roaming ponies of inter-mixed ownership need to be identifiable from a distance. Sadly, microchips cannot be read from more than a metre away (at the very most) and there seems to be no huge incentive for electronic engineers to develop Radio-Frequency Identification devices that can inserted into an animal - this is not the lucrative racing industry where research and development is well funded.

At present RFID’s as they are known, come in two types. One that can only be “read” – with the same limitations as the microchip and another that will “answer”. This latter requires a battery in the answering device and that battery may leak and has a limited life (certainly less than the life span of a horse). I understand that this type is being used in humans (!) who may be at risk of kidnap. Sheep and cattle farmers make use of this technology but here, the RFID is inserted into an ear tag which is put through the animal’s ear. The process of inserting an ear tag would certainly be very traumatic for ponies and in any event these tags are frequently torn out. If anyone knows more about this technology than me please contact me. I would be delighted to test an RFID which could be read at a distance on my semi-feral ponies. If we can track dolphins and birds and eels then we should be able to track ponies too.

Without a device that can be read at a distance, Commoners whose ponies are depastured on the Forest where there are thousands of ponies, will find it very difficult to identify their own and to check on their welfare. I only have three ponies out there and they are all friendly and come to call, but one of them, Nelly, looks like every other bog standard bay New Forest pony and I have to work hard to find her in the summer; in the winter she’s waiting at the gate. It just isn’t feasible for commoners to have to drift in or colt-hunt every time they want to check up on their pony especially when there are foals at foot. Drifting itself is a quite a fast and dramatic process and I am sure I wouldn’t want mine going through that every time someone felt that they had to get a group of ponies in to check their identity. If the Forest was divided into an invisible grid, you could ask commoners to oversee the welfare of those in their given area but I doubt that they would co-operate or see this as practical; I'm not sure that their standards of welfare are all on a par either. There are five agisters currently funded through marking fees paid by the commoners. They already have a really wide remit and I doubt that it would be feasible for them to be able to check on every single pony on a regular basis.

It has been suggested that we use dye to mark the ponies. This is a possibility, but, unlike sheep, horses roll a lot and moult on a regular basis. Unless someone can come up with 500 different colours to represent the 500 different commoners not only would we need a long lasting dye but we’d also need to be able to make symbols with it.

Freeze-branding is not an option either as it requires the pony to stand still for a lot longer than a hot brand. In my view freeze branding is still a painful process and much more prolonged than hot branding. Overall it has a higher trauma factor for an unhandled pony than hot branding and is just not practical anyway.

I would add that there needs to be a hard look at the standards of branding as carried out by the various practitioners and those that are inept should forfeit their right to brand at all. The standard of branding of some Exmoor ponies is appalling. Here, the brands are often heated with a blow torch and when they reach the pony they are not hot enough and some have to be re-applied. When you think that these ponies are also branded with three separate symbols, this is cruelty, especially when it has been shown that the brands are not a credible indication of a pony’s status for registration (subsequent DNS tests have highlighted the flaws in this system). I am told that ponies cannot be sedated for branding because they need them to react in order to know that the brand has been successful. This is rubbish, a hot brand applied quickly to a clipped patch should be applied for no more than three seconds.

Hot branding is just one part, no doubt a significant part, of a process that seem to be set up to traumatise ponies – sometimes for life. Abrupt weaning, forcible haltering and tying ponies up to something solid so that they can be inspected and branded are all likely to cause trauma, both physical and mental. Taking away the branding element won’t stop these practices and if not branding means that ponies have to be manhandled more often, it could have the opposite effect to that intended by those seeking to have it outlawed. At least with hot branding, the pony can be branded and then left in peace between annual drifts.

I never thought I would end up in this position but the prospect of not being able to find a pony of mine within the thousands that are on the Forest really does worry me. I take great care of my Forest ponies but if I had a very wild one that went walkabout, I would be stuck unless it had some unusual markings. I don’t want to be reduced to only being able to check my ponies once a year or to be relying on someone else to do it for me. Yes, I could keep them in, but I like the life they live and I think they do too.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

16th February, 2010 Bright eyed.....

Jack is better! I've put his forelock in a bunch to keep it out of his eyes and I am finishing off the antibiotic drops but all appears to be well.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

13th February, 2010 Jack's Eye

When I got up to the fields today, Jack was standing with his eye half closed and streaming with tears. Nicky, the new vet at the Barn, turned up to investigate the problem and that pony stood like a rock while she shone lights into his eyes, firkled with his eyelids, put dye into his eye and then antiobiotics. I was so proud of him and relieved to be told that there is no sign of any damage to the cornea or any infection. He must have just banged it on something (ouch!).

Friday, February 12, 2010

12th February, 2010 Home Work

These pictures probably speak for themselves. Theoden has settled in fine and Nelly loves him! Jack had a short session of loading into Steve's lorry yesterday although he couldn't work out what he needed to do next. I still think it's brilliant that he would even think of going in at all given that he has never even been stabled. Despite the bitterly cold weather, I have managed to do quite a lot of work and to go out riding. I am chilled through to the bone by the time I get back home. Meanwhile, David has been out in Dubai again and has come home with a mild tan.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

10th February, 2010 He's Home

Jenny and I walked Theoden the six miles home from Woodgreen to Fritham today and he was a really good boy. Considering he has been hardly anywhere for quite a while, it was a big ask to take him away from his firends and then in a more or less straight line to somewhere else with no build up. Up hill, down hill and on the flat, through streams and across wooden bridges and through some sticky mud, he was fine. He seemed to think we knew where we were going so he would go too.

Monday, February 8, 2010

8th February, 2010 Theoden King of Imzadi

I can now reveal that Theoden is my new horse. There seems to have been some inevitability that I would have him in the end as I have always really liked him. I am having his feet trimmed tomorrow and then walking him home across the Forest with Jenny on Wednesday. We might even re-back him on the way. I know Julie will be delighted as she started Theoden with me just over a year ago.
An interesting lesson in shaping behaviour this morning as I had moved the trailer into a different position and Jack wasn't at all sure that he should go in. Fortunately he overcame his misgivings and after he had loaded and unloaded four times, I was able to shut it all up again until tomorrow.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

7th February, 2010 Sunday Funday

Liz and I were meant to be working (on a course we are running in Essex) but instead went out riding on Chancer and Petra. Chancer rode past the big pink pig in the inclosure and was fine. He was less sure about the donkeys. We discussed energy in equals energy out as the topic of the day (amongst about 1001 other horsey things). After that we took Jack out around the Forest and this time into South Bentley inclosure where there is a grass ramp which we used as a cross country jump. Jack jumped it without hesitation and complete nonchalance. On the way back we met fifteenymillion red cows with huge horns and he coped with that too. On the way out he had also coped with three loose dogs one of which was splooshing about in a pond. I think he's going to be fine.

Tonight we need to watch Countryfile to see if we catch even the smallest glimpse of me working with Kelly at Adam's farm.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

6th February, 2010 Rarara

Yesterday it was off to Audrey's to work with her four yearlings: Remus, Jackson, Faith and Dunbar and to do a little trotting practice. Afterwards I felt like an electioneering politician as I has spent most of my time kissing babies!
This morning it was off to Gussage to work with Dave and Davey. Davey's owner, Dawn, is venturing out more often now and wanted Dave to act as a second hand on the dimmer switch if Davey's adrenalin suddenly surged. Dave is such a calm guy in the first place, with no preconceptions of how horses should be, that it was simply a matter of showing him what the signs were and then what he could do about them. The idea is to keep Davey present and relaxed throughout the ride.

At lunchtime, Liz Pitman, RA for Essex turned up and we had intended going riding. Unfortunately the hunt were at Fritham and so we had to change our plans rather than get in their way. We did some more loading with Jack before rescuing one of the hunt followers whose pony had gone on strike about loading and was kicking out against lunge lines and running backwards in the car park. Hopefully the two of us were a good advert for IH as the pony was eventually on its way without anyone getting cross. Later still we were joined by Sheila (now an RA herself) and Jenny for a evening of horse talk and more horse talk, lasagne and chocolate tarte.
E-mail from Dawn: "Just to let you know Dave and Davey went out for walkies on Sunday and I went along to watch and learn. It went really well and it felt like a weight had been lifted from my delicate shoulders (I never expected that!). There were moments where Davey was unsure and Dave was brilliant working through them in his own way, he also took Davey on unfamiliar territory which I admit I would have had concerns about but no problems. We finished with two relaxed smiling humans and one very relaxed horse there were lots of smiles. Dave has given me lots of confidence seing him with Davey, they seemed to have really bonded. Thank you again for your time and patience." DB

Friday, February 5, 2010

5th February, 2010 From trail to trailer

Jack's dad, Warren Play Away at the Stallion Passing a few years ago.

Jack is still going out for walks but this week I have been working on asking him to load. You may recall that he arrived in a stock trailer and came out like a bull. I remember thinking what the hell have I taken on? There is a possibility that we may get in at a clicker clinic in a couple of weeks so trailer loading has become a priority. I though we might end the first session with one foot on the ramp if I was lucky but ended that first session with him happily half way in, enjoying his clicks and treats. Day two and within 10 minutes he was stomping all the way in and backing off calmly. Today he has been stomping in loose, having his headcollar put on in the trailer, and then backing off calmly. Nevertheless, I can tell that he would have a complete panic if anyone tried to put the ramp up at the moment so I'm scouting about for a stock trailer than I can borrow for a day at the same time as consolidating what I am doing. I really feel that he is ready for the clinic itself and its only a matter of time for the loading.

5th February, 2010 Mystery horse

With only a smattering of work this week (and a lot of rain) I have been making plans for the future and, I have bought a horse. All being well I will be walking him home to mine next Wednesday and in the meantime I have everything crossed. I can't tell you who he is for fear of it falling through but there are a few clues above and you have met him before!
In time, I hope he will become my main riding horse and as he is half Quarter Horse, he should be fabulous to ride Western. The other half is New Forest pony so he should be sure footed too. Petra will then be taking a back seat and will still be my training horse for everything from groundwork, long reining to loading and perhaps do a bit of horse agility too.
I'm very excited about Horse Agility ( and really hope it takes off for Vanessa and Philip who came up with it. It will be ideal for young horses starting their education, horses that are being got fit or rehabilitated or those like Jack who are unlikely to ever get ridden.
Guy the farrier was out on Monday and we talked each other's heads off for two hours. He's a man who uses his brain rather than his brawn to look after horses' feet. We forget, or don't know, that farrier's have a four and half year apprenticeship in the old fashioned sense, on minimum pay scales and they have to pretty dedicated to get through. To do this and to still find feet and horses exciting is exceptional. When we run out of things to say about feet and horses, then Guy knows a thing or two about War History and places like Ethiopia. He's doing a talk at the Wessex Classical Riding Group on Tuesday 16th February at 8 p.m. at The White Horse in Downton. It should be well worth listening to.