Friday, April 30, 2010

30th April, 2010 Time flies

Checking my records (and writing up my report) it is actually a whole year almost to the day since I saw Bree. I went back again today and was able to catch her in the field with her headcollar (a first for her) and lead her in to the stable yard. We did more fancy footwork and the new code is 4, 12, 15 and 20!!; she appears to be more worried about her front left than any other but has stopped moving backwards when I pick it up. I am using clickered treats to accelerate all of this work and it is definitely helping. Clare has found her a lovely new home and we want her to be right and ready before she goes.

This afternoon Jenny rode Theoden in a trot for the first time and once he had finished his work, I sat on him for the first time. Great elation.

In the meantime Petra and Chancer are clocking up a few miles between them and tonight it was David's turn to ride Chancer. I'm all confused now because there I was in my Western saddle when I found ...... an arrow. Real cowboys and Indians??

Thursday, April 29, 2010

29th April, 2010 Bree revisited

It's been a good six months since I saw Bree and at that time I was asked to put a headcollar on her. Today it was asked to go back to work on her foot-handling and leading. As I said in an earlier post, I don't think horses see their feet as a set of four so no surprise that Bree reacted differently with each one. At the end of today's session, she was happy to have her front left held for three seconds, the back left for seven, front right for five and back right for nine. 3,7,5,9 is the code. I am back again tomorrow to carry on with the work and we'll see how much latent learning she has done overnight.

29th April, 2010 Wednesday postscript

After finishing work with Sunny yesterday, I had a great session with Derry and her Hackney Pony, Beth. Despite training semi-feral ponies together, Derry and I have never had any one to one time and it was very enjoyable as we both know how the other one thinks - or at least I think we do! She's certainly camera shy!!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

28th April, 2010 Sunny revisited

It's just two months since I went to see Sunny and the change in him is incredible. From the timid, one sided pony that was really ambivalent about whether he wanted to be with people, he has grown into a confident young man, much happier about people being around. He is good to catch, has his feet picked up and no longer bolts into the field. Jo has done a brilliant job despite grotty weather getting in the way. Today we took his education forward again with the dressing up kit. He wore the scarf, the flag - all over his body, accepted a plastic bag, a fly fringe, a poll guard, a surcingle and followed the umbrella and walked over the tarpaulin. He also accepted the needle-less syringe in exchange for clickered treats which should make the vet's job easier on Friday when he has his inoculations.

"Thank you for another wonderful day. I can't believe how amazing Sun was with everything - he is really growing up! I've really appreciated all your help and support - you really are great value for money - and you are so easy to learn from! Thanks again for a brilliant day,"
Jo and Sunny (definately the best Exmoor pony in the world) x x
"Sun was amazing with his vaccination - didn't bat an eye lid! And let the vet carry on scratching him after it was done!" Jo 30.4.10

28th April, 2010 Tap, tap, tap

Yesterday I had a second visit to a horse to work with his owner on his loading. In contrast to my first visit when he was initially reluctant to load and clearly frightened, this time he was walking on and off calmly, and pausing in the position he would need to be in if we used the partition and at the top of the ramp. We reinforced these pauses with a "tlock" and a treat and he was nonchalant about the whole thing. His demeanour changed however the moment I approached the ramp even though all I was doing was talking to him. The idea is that if he stands still I would walk away and do this three times before even going near one of the doors. Instead, the horse began to piaffe with his back legs and then backed off the trailer (which is a rear facing Equitrek). Once out, he kicked out with short jabbing motions with his back legs something he hadn't done even when we first put his boots on. This pattern was repeated a couple of times so we went back to the original training with no-one approaching the ramp so that we could at least end this session on the very best note. Nevertheless, in time, someone will have to approach the ramp and close up the doors and the ramp itself. Our job will be to prove to this horse that we have no intention of hitting him and will work with him until he is less afraid and then hopefully not afraid of being in the trailer.

This behaviour - piaffe with the back legs and the short jabbing kicks - is usually a clear indication that the horse has been "tapped" and I know that this lovely horse has spent time with a trainer that advocates tapping horses. "Tapping" is a practice used by some so-called natural horsemen to encourage horses to move forward and to load. It is a euphemism for repeatedly tapping a horse on the shoulder or on the back legs, sometimes on both sides, with lunging whips in order to irritate them and thereby create a "pressure" which the horse can only relieve by moving forwards. Andrew Maclean's book "The Truth of the Horse" shows this horrible practice on page 88 this time using tapping at the shoulder which to me is absolutely bizarre. He says, "Lead the horse to the base of the ramp and stand facing its rump. This is so if it does run backwards the handler can run forwards, tapping to set up an irritation the horse will want to avoid. Many horses run off the ramp in soon as it begins to run, however explosively, run with it, and keep up a mild head pressure and quite fast tapping. Run as far as the horse does, and keep tapping until the horse steps forward - and it will.....If the horse tries rearing to avoid loading, keep tapping until it lands and steps forwards....Don't be afraid that it will hit its head on the roof of the trailer; (note from Sarah: The horse depicted has no poll guard on!) if your tapping stops when this happens, the horse will learn that this stops the tapping and then its flight response as it shoots backwards will reward head tossing." The same practice of tapping legs is sometimes actually used to teach piaffe with the horse cross tied on pillars and so it is little wonder that it begins to happen with horses that are frightened of loading and then confined in a small space where they can't go backwards or forwards easily.

In the photo above, which was taken by a member of the audience at a public demo, two assistants of a "natural" trainer are using lunging whips on either side of the horse to encourage it forward and over the tarpaulin with taps.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

25th April, 2010 Another small step for Jack

These photos were taken with my phone so are not the best quality. Jack wore a numnah for the first time today.
Had to laugh at the sign for the local play on the way in to Fordingbridge. "What's Around the Corner?" it asks boldly, and someone has scrawled underneath, "Nana Pats".

Saturday, April 24, 2010

24th April, 2010 Best foot forward

It was off to Britford to meet a beautiful bay horse that has come over from Ireland where he was hunted. It must have been interesting putting shoes on him as he has a well rehearsed technique of wafting his hind leg at people in a rather purposeful way - probably because of the way in which he was shod in the first place. Today we worked on asking him nicely but making it inconvenient for him to behave like this. I used a cue to ask him to lift his feet in the first place with lots of praise and lovely rubs if he got it right. Working at first with a curved walking stick around his fetlock, it meant that if he kicked the stick would remain in place until he stopped and then it would go away. It is so tempting to tie horses up to carry out procedures such as picking out feet but this just gives the horse full control over the 180 degrees behind him.

Theoden seemed to be fine today (boosting my belief in Equine Touch) and stood very still next to the mounting block for Jenny to get on. Once he was off the lead rein we wanted to use the lightest leg aid to ask him to move forward. To give him more of an incentive to keep going, I got on Petra bareback and we walked around the round pen together.

Friday, April 23, 2010

23rd April, 2010 Curiosity

Lorraine's new Curly coated filly is a treasure although the curls themselves are proving to be a challenge as they knot up very easily. Anyone know of any good products that won't coat her in plastic or stain her cream coat? We did some groundwork for beginners today and she is a light, polite girl and curious about absolutely everything.

Back at the fields, Theoden started to move away from the mounting block and, trusting our instinct, Jenny and I checked his back and found a few sore places. Kate the chiro is due out at the beginning of May but in the meantime Jenny gave him an Equine Touch treatment. Judging by how relaxed he was I think he needed it and enjoyed it.

23rd April, 2010 Commit to your horse - Commit to your appointment

Cancellations cost me in the region of £100 per week given that most of them are last minute and there is no hope of filling in the gaps; it's particularly galling when other people are desperate to get early appointments. Given that I haven't put my prices up for at least three years and that I now earn considerably less than I did as a lawyer (and work considerably more hours), this is unsustainable. It is with great reluctance that I have decided to introduce a general cancellation policy: from 1st May, 2010, all appointments will be subject to a non-returnable deposit of £30. This should only affect the small minority of people who do cancel rather than force everyone to bear the cost.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

22nd April, 2010 Phew!

Magic, Merlin and Maverick are all fine after their various castration operations. Magic and Merlin who are much much friendlier now, coped extremely well with a male vet walking up to them and giving them an intravenous sedative. He was very quiet and efficient and didn't ask to twitch them. Both of them toddled off into the field afterwards and even had a canter around. Maverick has come home with half a shaved bottom and some decorative purple stitches in his side. He loaded without hesitation to come home. Hopefully they will all recover well.
E-mail received about Maverick 6.5.10:
"The vet has just been out to take the stitches out. Everything is healing really well. He has got one more week left in a small paddock then he can go and play. He has been very well behaved while recuperating. "

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

21st April, 2010 Chillin' and Splashin'

What does your bog standard RA do on her day off? Well, quite apart from the fact that I have been holding my breath, waiting to hear news of Maverick who was having his operation today, I have been out and about with my camera this morning and doing a bit of work with Jenny's Splash this afternoon. Maverick is fine by the way and due to come home again tomorrow - he had a retained testicle which meant that he had to have a general anaesthetic.
The ponies at the top all live on Woodgreen Common where there was an array of sunbathers this morning to rival that on Bournemouth beach. Splash is learning that just because something looks like a stick doesn't mean that it is a stick; it can actually be something quite pleasant!
Before anyone shouts "Get a Life!" I am going out to supper this evening with David and then to the theatre to see Sean Lock, the comedian.....oh and then I am driving down to Tabitha and George's in Chard so that I can be there when their vet comes to geld Magic and Merlin tomorrow morning. More holding of breath then.....

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

20th April, 2010 Please look after this bear

This colt foal is due to go to the sales on May 6th at Beaulieu Road and I am hoping that I can divert him. His owner would like £125 for him to take into account the fact that he has spent the winter in a field with his mother and his granny and been fed and wormed rather than simply turned out on the Forest. He is very friendly, comes up to be caught and loves being fussed and cuddled. Due to a ghastly mistake by the owner with an over-tight headcollar, he has got a scab on top of his nose and under his chin at the moment but the one on top shouldn't scar and as he is grey it shouldn't matter in the long run. Despite this injury he was still easy to handle and my job today was to teach him to lead. I used the sleeves of my jumper around his neck to get him going and then used a 12' rope to ask him to move here and there. He is registered and passported. He is by Skywalker (by Obershade Skylark) out of Wellow Limpet (hence his name Wellow Mussels!!).

Monday, April 19, 2010

19th April, 2010 Loading, loading, loading...

Yesterday it was off to Audrey's for the loading course where she was letting me use her four yearlings, all dark bays but some darker than others, to teach my clients how to load a pony for the first time. These four have only travelled loose except for Faith who has been to a couple of shows as a foal at foot. The course covered how to introduce protective gear, light manoeuvring around an L-shape and then loading and unloading from the trailer including introduction of the partition, bars and ramp. The L-shaped poles are a really useful way of teaching ponies to move around a small space. Needless to say they all behaved like angels and were a joy to work with.
It is so beneficial to practice before going anywhere. Magnum and Harrier haven't travelled since last year and yet this two year old and three year old loaded like old hands when we tried them yesterday and have forgotten nothing of what they were taught.
A very sad e-mail from Tracey also highlighted the benefits: "Ludo was put to sleep yesterday whilst in theatre undergoing surgery for colic. He suddenly had symptoms on Wednesday morning when thankfully someone at the yard noticed him lying down. Unfortunately despite trying surgery they decided it was inoperable and we decided to let him go whilst he was under the anesthetic. It is a devastating loss having cared for him for 23 years, he was definitely my best and most precious friend and I can’t imagine life without him, he has always been there since I was 17. Anyway I also wanted to thank from the very bottom of my heart as without you I would never have got him loaded so easily in his hour of need. Despite not being loaded since your last visit he went on within 10 minutes in the early hours of yesterday morning with virtually no stress an absolute god send when things were incredibly stressful for us as it was.
Without your last visit I doubt we could have persuaded him to load at all without causing unnecessary stress and I was prepared to let him go at the yard if he couldn’t go on the trailer so as not to cause him any more suffering. As it was we managed to get him to Lansdown Hospital very quickly where he was given the best possible chance with the best possible care and for that I am forever grateful. I wish everyone who has put off loading training could realize how critical it could be for their horse and tackle it sooner rather than later, before it’s too late. I’m so glad I found you to help us when we did. Yours forever gratefully" TA
Maverick loaded easily to go to the vets this morning and although he got hot, he travelled well too. Once again we were helped by Jim, Nicki's calm friend who was so useful and pleasant to have around on Thursday last week. I'm sorry I forgot to thank him then - everyone should have a Jim!!!

Saturday, April 17, 2010

17th April, 2010 Surcingular achievement

Yet another giant leap for Jack when he wore a surcingle for the very first time today. Given that he can still woosh when worried, I took every precaution with his preparation and clickered him through each step. First of all I passed the 12 foot line over his back and around his tummy and gave him a bit of a squeeze - no alarming reaction. Then I put the breast girth all around his neck and over his back before taking it off and attaching it to the surcingle. Once the surcingle was in place over his back, I passed the breast girth around his neck and clipped it onto the thin piece of twine I had attached to the ring of the surcingle; this meant that it would easily break if Jack took off at this stage. The instant I had one girth strap done up, I re-clipped the breast girth to the ring itself so that if he went off now, the surcingle wouldn't slip backwards and become a bucking strap. This means that I didn't have to do the girth up tightly from the outset and that it still wouldn't slip back if Jack got "thinner" as frightened horses sometimes can. I then did the girth straps up in gentle stages. Once I was sure he was fine with it on standing still, I began to walk forwards with him (note I had no headcollar on him). This was followed in short order by trotting and then jumping over the barrells. No drama at all!

Friday, April 16, 2010

16th April, 2010 Fern

And this wonderful filly is Fern, a cob cross New Forest pony with fabulous markings. Rachel asked me to help because Fern had initially been very friendly even when she was wild on the Forest but an unfortunate incident when she was transported from one field to another caused her to lose confidence in people. I used clicker to persuade her touch the pink scarf and then to allow me to touch her with it. Soon I had it held softly around her head. When I brought out the headcollar she was very pleased to find that it also seemed to produce clicker treats and from there I was able to start putting her headcollar on and taking it off again. It was then just a matter of teaching Rachel how to do it.
After days like this it is always a nuisance to be cancelled at very short notice for the next day (especially when Saturdays are very precious given that most people are only available at the weekends). I would never do that to anyone else without expecting to pay them. Once again I am having to consider having a formal cancellation policy and to ask for deposits before booking appointments. This is my business and not my hobby even if it does look like fun!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

15th April, 2010 Private leg

I have a little theory that all horses have a private leg - just one that is less easy to handle than all the others. Moreover, in male horses it is more likely to be a front leg than a back one. I believe that this is their "colt leg", the leg that took a lead role in colt games while the horse was young. The shoulder on that side is more likely to go into-pressure when touched or pushed and the horse is more inclined to nip the owner's back and to dip the leg or to strike out on that side. There is no reason to believe that horses can generalise and that they know that their legs come in a set of four! Here is Freddie who definitely exhibits this behaviour. With a lot of repetition he got a lot better today and by the end was happy to have this leg picked up whether headcollared or loose.

15th April, 2010 Maverick

A copybook session this morning with a young horse called Maverick. His owner had tried to load him a couple of times in a trailer but he shot out on both occasions. Today we had a very low key training session using an L-shape of panels to create a safe environment. Then it was simply a matter of encouraging him to come forward and explore the space inside the horsebox and to walk on and off really calmly. I used clickered treats to reward him for moving around the box and that certainly helped him to stand and relax at the top of the ramp. I am back again on Monday when he is due to go to the vets to be gelded. Hopefully today's session will make the loading and travelling much less stressful than it would have been.

15th April, 2010 Survival of the fittest?

It's always delightful to see the first foal on the Forest and this must be one of the earliest ones. However, Mum is in extremely poor condition. The argument for not feeding the New Forest ponies has always been three-fold - firstly, that these ponies need to be able survive on the Forest all year round or we will lose the hardiness of the breed and secondly, that they are mammals and mammals are meant to be fat when times are good and thin when they are not. The third argument has always been that ponies that are fed will actually lose weight while they are standing around waiting for their food to turn up. As someone who feeds my semi-feral ponies throughout the winter, and a collection of other people's, I would dispute this given that my own ponies are clearly rounder than most of the non-fed ponies. Thinny, a friend of Nelly's is still thin despite being fed the same as my own ponies and she just doesn't seem to thrive - having said that she is certainly a lot smilier these days. I think it would be worth running a proper experiment to test this theory. It has been such a hard winter for the ponies generally and many of them look absolutely terrible.

15th April, 2010 The eyes have it

If you are squeamish, you might want to look away. The first picture is of the corpora nigra in a pony's eye. This amazing feature of the horse's eye is apparently designed to act rather like a baseball cap in protecting the horse's eye from bright light. It appears at the very top of the pupil and looks like clouds. However, sometimes it can be enlarged by cysts which can affect the horse's eyesight.

The second shows a very clever skin graft onto the lens of Zak's eye (following a puncture injury) which is still connected by blood vessels to his eyelid in order to keep it alive. In the meantime another client's horse has unfortunately had to have his eye removed following the discovery of cancer. Horses seem to cope extremely well with one eye considering they are meant to have almost 360 degree vision.