Wednesday, September 29, 2010

29th September, 2010 Nine O'Clock (good) News Part II

It's been some time since we worked with Magic and Merlin, the wild Bodmin Moor ponies. I got this e-mail from their owner this evening and she has promised me photos very soon:

"Tthought I would let you know how the boys are getting on. We have been walking them one at a time all around the fields then out of the top gate down the road and all around the front garden, in and out of the cars and back out up the road and back to the stables. They have been brilliant!!. A tractor and trailer went past while they were in the gate way and they just looked as it. Merlin has calmed down so much, when I brush his tail his head nearly touches the floor and I have taught them both to be floor tied." TT

29th September, 2010 Nine O'clock (good) News (Part I)

Julie with Fern

Almost eighteen months ago I worked with a starter called Fern. As well as starting to ride her, we spent time getting her used to traffic again as she and her owner, Linda, had been hit from behind by a car when walking out about a month before she came in. Little did she realise at the time, but Linda actually had a broken bone in her back and later underwent very difficult surgery and a long period of recovery. Sadly the driver who hit her didn't stop at the scene and hasn't ever been traced. I was delighted to hear that Linda is now riding again and it is all going well:

"Just wanted to tell you that although it's a year later (what with broken back and all that jazz) I'm now riding Fern regularly and she is a dream. Despite being ignored for a year and being greener than a green thing she is just the sweetest thing. Soft of mouth, yields to the slightest leg, listens and only gives things a thorough stare when unsure - a friend rode her out in traffic alone to make sure she was ok with it and she is fine with cars in front, behind, to the side, anywhere and everywhere - all that walking down that busy road you did obviously paid off! I have hacked out across the village through 'rush hour' on my own now and we survived despite my singing! I can't thank you enough - I know that the root of all this is your excellent care and attention to her and her wellbeing. I really wanted to say was thank you again to you and your lovely team for making just the best job of Fern, she is really much too good for me now! I have been offered loads of money for her too (twice) because she is just so responsive and quick to learn and despite being steady as a rock is not at all asleep, she's keen as mustard - I'm keeping her though! "LBP

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

28th September, 2010 Who am I, what am I, what am I doing here?


Pony friend

I wonder if most of an equine's sense of self comes from those that he is with? I use the word equine advisedly here as I have been fascinated by the mules and hinnies that live on the Forest and who they choose for company. As most have pony mothers, they seem to hang out with ponies rather than donkeys.

28th September, 2010 Little police horse?

This is Pepsi, aged three. As you can see, she isn't worried by much even a pretend vet and the helicopters that come over regularly and hover over the field next door. I was asked to assess whether she is ready to be started and then ridden by the owner's grandchildren. With the whole of the winter set aside for her preparation, I could see no reason why she shouldn't be absolutely fine. She did have a rather grumpy expression at times and put her ears back when approached along her neck. She was quite reactive at the poll and responded well to some light massage. Pepsi was Forest bred and I strongly suspect that she was halter broken by tying her up to something solid knowing who the breeder was. I have recommended that she have her neck and poll checked and treated by a specialist.

"Just wanted to thank you millions again for today, I am now looking at my little bay pony in a completely different light."VR

28th, September, 2010 Good attention, bad attention - anything will do

Last Friday I went out to see an Irish Sports Horse that actually appeared to be mainly Arabian that had been behaving aggressively when loose in the field. At that time on her own, but due to get a companion, she was demanding the attention of visitors the moment they entered her field - sometimes she would do it nicely with her ears forward and then in an instant she would become nasty and try to bite or even turn her back end and threaten to kick. It seemed that she didn't care what sort of attention she got as long as there was some attention involved - it was if she needed to prove she existed and people had to be the entertainment committee. We worked on changing the whole emphasis by not giving her attention either when she pulled a happy face or a cross face as both were invasive and intimidating as she came up really close and waiting until she was peaceful and calm around us and then giving her a lovely rub (rather than a pat). The good news is that it seems to have worked and even better, she now has a little companion so that she can be a horse with a horse again.

"Just with that hour she was totally different the next day, I was taken by surprise as I didn't expect her behaviour to change so quickly. Instead of flat back ears and a bottom in my face, I had a leisurely head raise to say hello and then total indifference - bliss! I was able to walk over to her and give a lovely gentle 'caress' and then walk away to finish poo picking in peace! She now has a companion in the shape of  a little 10yrs old Welsh Section A gelding. This appears to be love at first sight but not over the top excitement just the opportunity to relax and roll (almost Rock 'n Roll!). So, I hope Missy and I go from strength to strength on our journey of enjoying and teaching other how to behave and as long and as I can always be leader I think we will be friends." SS 28.9.10

Monday, September 27, 2010

27th September, 2010 All the Single Ladies

Those psychic girls turned up today in good time for their pedicures on Wednesday. Blue's rather un-ladylike roll set off a wave of rolling.

27th September, 2010 Beyond Reasonable Doubt

Yet another legal analogy has struck me recently. Following my unscheduled dismount from Theoden a few weeks ago, I have been going over parts of his education to make sure that I haven't missed anything. I found that my confidence and his had been dented even though neither of us were hurt. Theoden, like most horses, is sensitive to how I feel and I can hear him asking me if I am really sure. The same test is applied to legal cases where the jury is told that they should only find someone guilty if they feel satisfied so as to feel sure that the defendant is guilty. The only way to feel satisfied so as to feel sure is not to take either of us way out of our comfort zone until we both feel good and ready. Bit by bit we have got back to the place we had reached in the first place and I hope that with the foundations even more solidly established, we shall both feel a lot more sure about where we are going - literally. It needs to be beyond reasonable doubt.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

23rd September, 2010 Habiba!

The Arabic for darling is Habiba and that's just exactly what this foal is. I was asked to do some early leading work with her and to show her owner the No Fear, No force approach to putting a headcollar on. Until now she has managed by putting the headcollar over a feed bowl and waiting for the foal to take her food. This approach can work but relies on the foal not growing wary of taking feed. Today she had her headcollar on and off several times. 

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

21st September, 2010 Autumn is here

Out with the camera again today at one stage resting it on Blue's bottom to catch a picture of her beautiful face.

21st September, 2010 Working for Peanut(s)

Yesterday I had a fairly routine visit to a really nice 6 year old Connemara pony called Peanut. I had been asked to work on his loading but his owners were really keen to make sure that all their groundwork was in place before we began. This really paid off because when we eventually approached the trailer, he loaded pretty easily and we were able to end the session on a great note. Next time we will train him with the partition in place and hope that he is just as positive.

"I experimented with my 2yr old later in the day with the groundwork you showed us with Peanut. It worked like a dream and he was walking with me all around the paddock with a long looped line and changing direction with me really well!" SS 21.9.10

Monday, September 20, 2010

20th September, 2010 Are you sitting comfortably?

I can now take a rest while I put Jack's headcollar on. Up until now I have only been able to put it on from one side or the other, never head on.

20th September, 2010 Don't drive your foal up the wall

No Fear, No Force is a guide to handling foals in a gentle, ethical way. It shows the importance of touch before introducing the headcollar and how to train your foal in such a way that he is soft in his responses from the outset. Please encourage people to buy this book when they buy a semi-feral or shy foal. It is available through my main website with postage free to anywhere in the world.

20th September, 2010 Corridors of power

Horses are very aware of thresholds and in the wild they would naturally meander before going through one in order to check for predators or difficult terrain. That's why horses are often funny about going through gateways and narrow places. These pinch points would be where the lions would hang out. I think this is why narrow passages between fields can be difficult for horses - it's one long threshold, and if there are other horses on both sides, some leaning over the fence to bite your horse and others running up and down, it can make the experience entertaining as your horse rushes here and there and tries to lead you out of danger. When the fences are made of barbed wire or electric fencing you cannot easily school the horse you are leading. Something to think about when designing the layout of a livery yard.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

18th September, 2010 Cream Tea

This afternoon it was off to meet Calypso and a new client. Having done a bit of natural horsemanship with him, she was familiar with the big concepts of pressure and release, predator and prey and into-pressure, so that left me to work with little bits of technique where I could make a difference to their relationship. My biggest worry about leading with the the horse behind the handler is that it encourages the horse to have his ears back as this would be their delegated area of responsibility in a herd; this can then lead to dominant body language or behaviour (or to a horse that falls asleep and then jumps on you if he is startled). I prefer to have a horse right by my side where I can see him using my peripheral vision and communicate with him all the time. The photograph shows Calypso with his ears back and during the session they gradually started to come forward a lot more.

18th September, 2010 Another Tot of Brandee

This morning it was time to make a little more progress with Brandee. In the hope of eventually being able to catch her in the field, I re-introduced clicker training and began to put her headcollar on whilst knelt on the floor. In time I was able to put her headcollar on her facing her and in a standing up position. Both V and M followed on from me. The session ended with M leading her into the field with just a scarf around her neck. The last picture is of Champ taking a feed even though he is three years old!!

18th September, 2010 Paws.....for thought

A lot of horses learn to paw at the stable door or at the gate in order to attract our attention, invite our affection or to hurry us up with the feed. This may seem harmless and we continue to inadvertently reinforce the behaviour by doing as asked. It can seem endearing to begin with. The temptation once it gets annoying is to ignore the horse for a bit and hope that it stops but in time, the constant banging and clanging breaks through our subconscious and we give in. This actually teaches the horse to have stamina! In M's case above, she has practically dug a moat around her field through pawing and in B's case, he got his leg caught between the gate and the gate post and ended up at the veterinary hospital for a month with desperate injuries to his hoof and coronet. It takes a lot of stamina and concentration in the human to never reward this behaviour and to break a routine if that becomes necessary. Once this sort of behaviour is established, it is extremely hard to stop, and B has re-opened the wound on his foot by pawing at the fence rails while his owners are near the feed shed or working with another horse. It's a very hard habit to break and requires the horse to always be ignored while he is doing it, i.e. walk away completely and give no attention to it whatsoever, not even breathing in his direction. For that to work, you have to know that the horse isn;t going to get himself into any sort of danger. Once you are worried that he will injure himself, you cannot help but to go to him and give him attention. The other option is to consistently use some sort of sanction for the behaviour without fail - each time, every time without fail. Yesterday we shook a rattle bottle at M to see if it would put her off and indeed she did stand by the fence and gate for a good ten minutes without pawing whilst her owner actively provoked the behaviour by going in and out of the feed shed and giving attention to a horse in the yard. Practically though, it is difficult to know whether this will be effective in the long term because unless four shakes of the bottle is miraculously effective, the level of consistency that will be needed and the fact that you need two people in order to put it into action, will make it impossible to be consistent. This horse does it when she can see her owner in the conservatory!! I have my doubts as to whether it is do-able in this particular case but winter is coming and perhaps the owner can stay in the lounge!!

18th September, 2010 Bluebell Would

Bluebell is a very confident pony now and stands solidly next to whoever is working with her. Yesterday we started to work on handling her legs using the feather duster to establish touch before offering her a set signal to ask her to pick her feet up. She was also led outside for the first time using just a scarf as a lead rein. In the field, where she was loose, she chose to stay with me and allowed me to "catch" her with the scarf.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

16th September, 2010 National Equine Crime Database

It was a great privilege today to attend the VIP launch of the National Equine Crime Database on behalf of Kelly and Intelligent Horsemanship. The database should be a really useful resource for horse owners allowing them to register details of their horses, tack and horse transport. As well as being a deterrent to theft and burglary, loss of registered property can be circulated nationwide and locally very easily and readily identified when recovered. Tack can be marked using current Horsewatch equipment and the scheme has the full support of the police and the British Horse Society. Details can be found on and Hampshire Horsewatch are offering discounted NECD registration to their members (no matter which county the property is in). As well as a press conference, there were several displays at the event. Richard Waygoods showjumping masterclass was great fun with the horses jumping with great confidence even though one of them wasn't quite sure about the live screen at the back of the arena. I volunteered to hold Lynn Russell's horse while she rode her other one, a four year old, side-saddle for the very first time.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

15th September, 2010 Gold star for Jane

I set Jane off with clicker training Havanna to accept her bridle but she has done all the hard, detailed work, day after day. I was thrilled to bits (did you see what I did there?!) to get this text today: "Thought you'd like to know that Havanna just shoved her head into her bridle for the first time ever and let me put the bit on with no problems at all!" Let's hope it is upwards and onwards (not too upwards because she is already very tall) from here on in.

15th September, 2010 Life Lessons from Silver

This is Silver who sadly lost his eye as a result of an accident in his field. Today I went out to do a bit of groundwork with him but as he is only the second one eyed horse I have ever worked with, I was keen to find out what he could teach me. The astonishing thing is just how much trust he places in people when they are on his left hand side - the side on which we traditionally stand, lead and fasten everything up. He could also sense body language even though he couldn't see it and I wonder just how much his ears compensate. You'd think he would spend all his time making sure people were exactly where he could see them but he would only occasionally peer around at me. Lovely pony.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

14th September, 2010 So lonely.......

Mussels has clarified something in my mind. These last few days I have been bringing Chancer in for work and allowing Mussels to wander in behind him or not, as he pleases. Mussels is totally unconcerned about being left alone and sometimes stays where he is, totally isolated from the other horses. He doesn't get upset at all when Chancer goes off for a ride nor does he greet him when he comes back. Mussels knows that the world is full of horses and he has never been put in a position where he has been forced to be alone. When very young horses are deliberately isolated I think they must feel very vulnerable; it is so contrary to their instinct and they know it is dangerous. The subsequent loneliness makes them determined to never let it happen again and they form a very strong bond with the next horse that comes along and develop so-called separation anxiety. Horses need to be with other horses most of the time and benefit from the exercise it gives them and hours of mutual grooming, synchronisation and companionship. Like elephants, I think this element of socialisation is incredibly important to their mental wellbeing. Of the horses that I have worked with that live alone, 80% of their behavioural problems just disappeared when they were put in with another horse.

14th September, 2010 The spirit of the horse

There's something about horses that makes us crave a spiritual connection with them - soul to soul - as we work with them or simply spend time with them. There are organisations which use horses to help people overcome mental illness and lack of confidence or cope with autism. Many believe that they have healing powers. Other people believe that they have the power to heal or communicate directly with horses and help them to overcome past trauma. I have no doubt that a kind healing hand and an earnest attempt to communicate with a horse, whether it connects directly to their brain or is simply reflected in our body language can help to soothe a horse and start to build their trust. That's why I will let anyone who does gentle equine body work be it Reiki, Equine Touch or sports massage, work with my own horses. Nevertheless, it is not enough on its own. Traumatised, confused or wild horses need to be shown the route to take with their bodies as well as their minds otherwise nothing changes. Practical, down to earth, consistent yet empathetic training is also needed. This takes time and effort on the part of the human and a reorganising and prioritising of time and sometimes money.

14th September, 2010 Himalayas

David has taken some brilliant photos in India and seems to have had a great time. There were 30 of them altogether, all on Indian Enfields, clambering around the mountains overtaking lorries, mules and sheep wherever they went. The mules travel alone carrying packs and are trained to go to their next stop where I presume they get fed as a reward.