Saturday, October 30, 2010

30th, October 2010 Piggies

Pictures of Tabitha's ponies, Magic and Merlyn, licking pigs over the fence was a sharp reminder that I have some work to do with Theoden. Despite living on the edge of the Forest, he seems to be terrified of pigs and our last session with the farrier was a bit exciting as he was completely distracted by five pigs frolicking in the field next door. I resolved to do something about it when I got back from Dartmoor but there was some Godly intervention on the Saturday as we were about to leave. David and I had gone to collect the panels from the field amidst the blackest clouds. As it began to pour down, we took refuge in the trailer, and we watched Theoden standing like a statue next to Jack and Petra as two large pigs, one pink, one black invaded their field. As a massive hail storm developed, the two pigs fled into the field shelter to save their softer skin and this seemed to convince Theoden that they were not fierce predators at all. Later he followed them down the field and then started to graze fairly close by. Job done!!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

21st October, 2010 Of course

21st October, 2010 Zeegeegees

Back to Vale Farm yesterday for our third visit. The next time we go it will be for the first of our courses but with 45 equines about the place, a zorse and a zonkey all set to arrive in November, we are not going to run out of horses, ponies, donkeys and things beginning with Z to work with for some time. The zeedonks were already quieter yesterday and much more curious and confident than the week before. We also began work with a cob called Blue who is headshy and difficult to catch. She lives in a huge field as a brood mare before moving to the farm and probably didn't need humans all that much or like them particularly. I started clicker training her. We are very much at the beginning with many of the animals but progress is already significant with Dot accepting touch on his right legs and ready to be touched with a hand next time. Students will experience a whole range of work without the animals being compromised and the emphasis will be on working steadily, eithically and gently.

Monday, October 18, 2010

18th October, 2010 Equine Awareness Course

I am now offering Equine Awareness Course at Vale Farm (between Blandford and Shaftesbury) over the winter months on Wednesday or Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. This will include working with the zebra, the zeedonks and various other equines (mammoth donkeys, Quarter Horses, foals) on areas such as halter training, handling (in particular leg handling), leading, catching, long reining and loading. This is an amazing and unique opportunity to get close to some beautiful animals using gentle and ethical techniques. £50 per person with a maximum of 4 students per day. Please contact me if you are interested. Gift vouchers available.

18th October, 2010 The feet feat

I think Brandee is just about the winner of the widest bottom competition in the picture above. However, this was a huge break through as I was able to pick up and pick out each of her feet something she hasn't had done, other than by the farrier, for over four years. In the meantime, Vanessa is long reining Champ to help him lose some weight so that he can be ridden next year.
Fiona has had a similar breakthrough with Gylfi. Unfortunately she found that he was lame one morning and had to be kept in a restricted area for a while. "The good news out of this is that I had to make sure his feet did not have anything stuck in them so I have now managed to successfully pick out all 4 feet without getting kicked!!!! I have also popped his headcollar on without any fuss. This is all down to your help so thankyou." FC

Saturday, October 16, 2010

16th october, 2010 True colours

Kathryn asked me whether I was going to find Dartmoors dull after working with the Z's. Heavens no! My deepest philosophy is that if they exist they matter. I get so much joy from being around horses of any sort. My heart feels fit to burst when Blue walks up to me on the common and just wants to spend time being rubbed and cuddled, no food involved.
On Friday afternoon I went off to see Harley, who after a break from riding, is expressing the horse equivalent of agoraphobia. After tidying up his groundwork a little in the field, we went down the lane to see if we could push his boundaries outwards just a little, using the same groundwork - no overtaking, counted stops and a lovely rub when he gets it right. We found a big driveway in which to stop and just be and worked on asking him to be as relaxed there as he is in the field. Not easy with a strong horse but he has a favourite scratching place and we used that to positively reinforce him standing still. He was on a mission on the way back home and it wasn't easy to insist that he didn't go ahead but absoloute consistency and persistency worked. I have talked to his owner about creating little petals in order to extend his comfort zone whenever she can. Being in for the long haul shouldn't mean being hauled about.
Only one week to go before we head off to Dartmoor for the Foal Handling Workshop. The course is full and we have a vet, a horse therapist and a mule tamer from Mallorca amongst the students. One of them is the winner of the Your Horse competition and a writer and photographer will be coming down to watch and create an article about the course. In the meantime, copies of No Fear, No Force are gently trickling out of the door and I have ordered a second batch.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

14th October, 2010 Getting more zzzz's

The draw of the animals at Vale Farm is pretty irresistable so I dragged (hardly!) Jenny along to meet them yesterday. We did some valuable work with Dot and the Zeedonks and learned something new; when ZZZ's think, they wag their tails! We also discussed setting up some private courses over the winter and the first two are already full. Details of the courses will appear very shortly. This is an amazing opportunity to work with equines of all types, age and sizes and is just an utter joy. Jenny described it as the best day of her life!

Monday, October 11, 2010

11th October, 2010 Stars and stripes III

When I picked up an answering message that said "I need your help with a hand tamed zebra", I checked the date on my calendar to make sure it wasn't April the First and then eagerly phoned the lady back. Today it was off to a farm in Dorset to meet Dot the Zebra and to do some work on his leading and with his legs. Dot was born in America and now lives on the farm with Delilah the donkey and numerous other equines of all shapes, sizes and patterns. Next year it will be open to the public and I shall put details on here.

11th October, 2010 Stars and Stripes II

These three zeedonks arrived on Saturday and are a little nervy at the moment. Hopefully I will be working with them in the future. Today we just did the very basic introductions.

11th october, 2010 Stars and stripes I

Amongst the other horses and ponies we met today, Scarlet a Quarter Horse foal, a Shire mare,
American Mammoth Jackstock donkeys (all heading for 16 hands) and a Norwegian Fjord pony.

11th October, 2010 Why does a pony bite?

It is unusual to find a yearling semi-feral pony that bites humans. Most are timid and would rather go away than engage in confrontation. Biting is an instinctive and natural behaviour in all horses, one of the manufacturer's setting if you like. Nevertheless, it's not one you see in many young horses other than as a playful, investigative behaviour. The mouth is the equivalent of the opposing thumb and very useful to slow things down, manipulate and retaliate.

With Taita you begin to wonder if there is more to it than that; something genetic. I know of another foal with the same father who was also quite aggressive and it could also be that her mother was an alpha type mare. Beyond nature there is nurture and Taita could have copied her mother if her mother engaged in the same sort of behaviour particularly around humans.

I am great believer in cause and effective-ness and I think Tiata's behaviour was brought out first by a fear of being eaten (we know that she went through the drift, was branded, went through the sales and then was put in a crush twice -once for her microchip and once for a headcollar to be forced on. She was also wormed.) Once a prey animal can no longer run away from a predator, it can only bite the predator, kick it or squash it. Secondly it was activated by a very strong desire to take and then protect her food. The behaviour manifested itself when there was food around. The most important factor though is that the behaviour has been successful in making people go away. I also suspect that she is sore in her neck (having probably been swung) and she may even have gastric ulcers from the stress of having been handled roughly and moved so many times with a sudden change of diet each time. This would be enough to make any pony grumpy.

I have no doubt whatsoever that given time and training this behaviour will go away. In her particular case, I would never connect food with her training and would simply give her her feed and move away. In time I would make sure that I could stand by her and even touch her while she was eating but I would not use clicker training at all.

It would be important to make sure that the biting behaviour was never, ever, successful in making people go away or making people give her food. This isn't going to be easy for the owner in a shared field surrounded by people who will want to feed the pony over the fence. Whilst I would let her bite the feather duster so that she learns that biting it never makes it go away, I would react to any attempt to bite a human with some meaningful body language - underneath she is still timid and all it takes is a little kiss kiss noise and arm movements like an angry blackbird, nothing more. I would never turn my back on her or not have her in my peripheral vision whilst working with her or moving about in her field; once she is being led I wouldn't want her behind me. Once Taita knows that the behaviour doesn't work and most importantly that she has no need to use it, I am sure she will be fine. Yesterday proved that she is very trainable and that she does like the right sort of touch and will accept a headcollar readily.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

9th October, 2010 Taita does shark impressions

This is Taita a New Forest yearling (probably a late foal) that came to her present owner through Beaulieu Road Sales and a subsequent dealer. She would have been placed in a crush at the September sales in order to be microchipped and then was placed in a crush again for a headcollar to be jammed on (within three weeks it is becoming so tight that it is rubbing her face). The dealers said that she lay down in the stable when they grabbed her. More recently she has been defending herself against humans by threatening to bite and she looked to me as if she really meant it. As usual I started off using a feather duster and she bit this with some force four times before accepting that it wasn't going to go away just because she told it to. Using the techniques from No Fear, No Force and being careful to leave a copy behind, I moved on to touching her with my hand, the scarf and then putting her headcollar on. By the end of the two and half hour session, her owner was also able to do the same. Moreover, Taita was really enjoying being touched - scratched and rubbed - along her back, neck and head on both sides of her body.
The pressure is on whenever I work with one of these ponies because the cost of the session can soon exceed the cost of the pony. I try my level best to impart as much information as I can, to work with the pony as ethically as I can, but also to make a decent amount of progress with the pony and to leave the owner in a good position to carry on. I'm not a religious person at all but whenever I start work I ask the Horse God to help me do the best job that I can.

9th October, 2010 Fireman's Lift

On Thursday, Jenny, Celia, Heather, Kate and I were needed back at the fire station to help with the final practical exercise on the Animal Rescue Team course. Officers from Essex, Berkshire, Yorkshire and Strathclyde took part and our job was to make it as realistic as possible. Heather, our newest recruit, who has been deafening me during her auditions by screaming very loudly indeed, not only got carried away but actually got carried away.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

6th October, 2010 Becky Holden

This morning it was off to Fir Tree Farm to watch Becky Holden in action with two of her clients. The first, a big mare that has had a seven year break. She's doing really well and was moving very softly and really listening to her rider. Next Clare's little skewbald pony, Peni, who started off with some lateral work which she picked up really well . Amongst the spectator's June's enigmatic black cat.

6th October, 2010 Fascinating but gruesome

No pictures for this one! Yesterday Jenny and I accompanied the Animal Rescue Team and the participants in the ART3 course to the hunt kennels to see a cow being dissected by Josh Slater, the vet. The object of this exercise is to demonstrate to the officers just how vulnerable to injury animals can be when they are trapped and how easy it would be to do more damage whilst rescuing them. In particular, the front legs which are not attached to the rest of the skeleton by bone, the tendons, ligaments and the bones of the leg which are not protected by muscle, and the trachea and the joints of the neck, can be irreperably damaged if handled incorrectly or placed under too much pressure. The stomach and intestines of cows and horses are massive and can soon place too much strain on other organs and the muscles if the animal is recumbent for too long.

Friday, October 1, 2010

1st October, 2010 Multiplication - everyone who breeds horses must take responsibility.

A really nice lady that I know sold a mare last year that she had rescued along with a colt at the sales. She believed the mare to be pregnant and all winter she waited patiently as the mare got fatter and fatter but in the end, no foal arrived. The mare went to her new home and after some time she did have a foal that was clearly attributable to the colt. The new owners are delighted and the foal is fine. All's well that ends well. Once they exist they matter, that's the point and whether people breed horses and ponies accidentally, indiscriminately or even completely deliberately, the main thing is that they should take responsibility for the foals that are produced; here the new owners are happy to take responsibility for this foal so that is that one cared for. The market fills up from two ends and the middle too and we should all think about whether she would be breeding anything at all. It's easy to have a go at the breeders of semi-feral foals and I wish everywhere would take steps to reduce the number that are produced as they have done on the New Forest, but we can't forget that many of the breeders are farmers with a very different attitude to livestock and whether they should be eaten .We shouldn't forget the important role that the wild ponies play in the conservation of our National Parks. Nevertheless, no-one want to see mass culls of foals because there is absolutely nowhere for them to go. At the other end of the market people are still aiming to produce a dream horse and there are too many big, athletic horses ending up in the hands of people who are not experienced enough to start them and ride them and who would actually be much better off with a plain cob or a nice native pony cross Thoroughbred or Arab.

Before anyone shouts hypocrite, I accept that I have two in foal mares this year and I will do everything within my power to make sure that the foals get fabulous homes just as the last two did; after that, the mares will not be breeding again.