Friday, August 31, 2012

31st August, 2012 A right Charly

Last ride out before a week off. Today we were in the company of Charly and Petra. Charly has a very casual riding style which suits Petra very well but he doesn't give her any help in deciding where to put her feet. I'm wondering at what stage she will work out that it might be a good idea to look down or whether they are just going to land in a heap. She's never been very sure footed and over time she has taught me to micro-manage her feet. In the meantime Theoden didn't put a foot wrong again today.

31st August, 2012 Backed before breakfast

First customer at 7 a.m. this morning and we just popped her over her little horse for the first time. Obviously I didn't want to abandon her to take this photograph hence the artistic angle! Next time we should be able to put her on board. Working together as a team like this works really well. We share responsibility for making everything as calm and safe as possible.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

30th August, 2012 Good Guide

I am so pleased with Theoden. Today we took out our first guided ride with Highland ponies Shay and Morag. Not only did Theoden lead the way most of the time but he was also all terrain, happily sploshing through puddles and mud.. I don't know how much his confidence was helped by having to stand and wait for the two slower moving ponies but it was as if each stop recharged his confidence batteries. Perhaps having a purpose helped. In any event this was much better than practicing his 'no' which happens all to frequently when nappy horses are repeatedly kicked or even hit to move on.

"Thank you so much for yesterday, and all the help with the loading [previously]. I really surprised myself with how comfortable I felt on the hack yesterday  - you certainly have a positive effect on my confidence!! So, pleased with the loading too. I realised how much we’ve progressed when you asked if he’d loaded OK on the outward journey and I realised it hadn’t even occurred to me that he wouldn’t." BW

Later it was time to go and see Fern again. We are starting to look at her ridden work and in particular her response to the bit. Having been through a few homes, I suspect that she has never understood what the bit really means nor has she met with any consistency. So many people, me included, were taught that you kick to go and pull to who and even in the highest dressage competitions the bit is mis-used. No wonder horses get so confused. Fern has learned to push through the bit in order to get the release that she felt she needed from a physical or mental point of view. She also engages in displacement behaviour by scratching her leg. By simply closing the hand and waiting for her to soften we made much of this behaviour redundant very quickly and made sure that we rewarded this reaction with a soft release ourselves. At the moment she is wearing a loose-ring jointed snaffle and it may be that in time we will change that to something more sympathetic. In the meantime we are using the gentlest pressure (the closing of the hand) and just asking her to notice the requests that we make.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

29th August, 2012 Darling Bud of May

Two year old Shire filly May has an interesting c.v. Originally she was shown as a foal and then went to a petting farm. After that she went through Melton Mowbray sales and she was then owned by a lady who couldn't do as much as she would have liked with her because of her own illness. At some stage May had to have a kidney removed because she had a serious urinary infection. The net result is a sweet natured but rather pushy young horse that has little sensitivity to body language. She has learned that she can use her head and body weight to get people to go away or to draw them to her. Apart from that though she leads beautifully and moves away from hand pressure when requested to do so. Today we worked on showing her that in order to get the attention that she so likes, all she needs to do is stand still and look beautiful rather than being busy busy busy. A Dually on her own head and a hat on the handler's head means that she can no longer bash her way through everything and everyone as if they didn't exist. Of course she is only a baby and her sessions need to be kept short and sweet but it's good to be addressing this behaviour before she gets to 18 hands high!

29th August, 2012 Before the monsoon

Jenny and I managed to get out for a glorious ride this morning before the deluge. Theoden is doing really well and I am enjoying riding him so much. He's also loading beautifully after a short spell of going on strike and me having to train him like all the others that I go out to work with. I may not have all the answers but its good that I've got a few!

29th August, 2012 Taking Credit

These two ladies can take the credit for my weight loss and fitness. Little Indiana because she needed some help and then Sally her owner, because it turned out that not only had I written  a book on semi-feral ponies but she had written a book on fitness. I realised that I needed her more than she needed me! When I went to meet her to make a start it was a bit like being interviewed. How many sessions a week was I prepared to exercise. "Three?" I answered quereously, "Try five", she answered. Almost three stone lighter and later, I can't thank her enough.

Yesterday we took Indiana and Theoden out for a walk and got chatting about the use of words around horses. As you know, I think horses understand feelings and intent but I don't think they understand a word of English. As we approached a little gap in the trees I said to Theoden "Come on" and Sally said to Indiana "Wait", just proving that most of the things we say to horses are actually to inform other humans of our intentions or that we are doing something about the horse's behaviour. I think this is why people shout at dogs too.

Last night I spent another hour with Emma and Max who are doing so well. Bit by bit Emma's confidence has developed to the extent that she is trotting Max around the school. This is massive progressive in relative terms for this partnership since Max has spun and bolted a few times in the past and was as worried about being ridden as Emma was of riding him. Confidence is vital and yet fragile. You can only be confident that a horse is what he is and then do everything you can to build up his trust and confidence too so that he no longer feels the need to resort to past behaviours. Max expresses his confidence levels through his bit and nowadays he is able to relax and just hold it rather than fighting it or surging through it.

Returning to the subject of words though, Emma was using the word "T-rot" to ask Max to go into trot at the same time as a gentle leg aid. This caused Max to transition into trot with a lot of energy. By changing the request to trot into just a breath out, the transition itself was a lot calmer. When I go running, I don't transition from walk to jog with a flourish - in fact I do very little with a flourish!

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

28th August, 2012 Good company

It's so important for horses to have the company of other horses and to be able to touch and interact with them. Little Indiana has got the rest of the herd wrapped around her little hoof but they have taught her so much about how to be a horse. So many horses that are kept alone develop coping and self-sedating behaviour such as wind-sucking, and the longer they are kept away from other horses, the more of a rod for their owners back they become. Not only do they start to see humans as the entertainment committee, often demanding attention by being noisy or disruptive when people are around, but they become less able to mix with other horses later without the risk of them being injured. Theoden had been kept separately from other horses when I got him and was quite aggressive around them (possibly why he was kept separately in the first place0 but now he is a benevolent dictator.

I love just spending time with the horses, watching their behaviour and intermingling with them. People often tell me that their horse loves to spend time with them when they are poo-picking. I think the lure is not just the person but the poo. As well as giving them a  stack of information about who else is around and what state they are in, I think the smell of poo helps or motivates horses to poo. After each of these horses had sniffed the contents of the barrow, they stood close and had a poo. Territorial or laxative effect?

Sunday, August 26, 2012

26th and 27 August, 2012 To the Trig Point and Beyond

A nine mile run  yesterday morning. I met lots of horse riders and tried my best not to frighten the horses by talking to them as I came up behind. If only I could get cyclists to do the same when I am out riding. Much better to hear a reassuring voice, no matter how out of breath, than to hear a silly bell or have no warning at all. Perhaps we all need wing mirrors.

Nine and a half miles today and hardly enough breath to say hi to horses!

Saturday, August 25, 2012

25th August, 2012 S-t-r-e-t-c-h-i-n-g exercises

A visit from the physiotherapist can have many benefits for a horse but occasionally there are side effects. Carrot stretches, often recommended by physios in order to address soreness and stiffness, can turn some horses into muggers in about 10 minutes flat. This can be avoided if you use clickered stretches and ask the horse to touch a target in exchange for a click and a treat. Later you can use the click as an intermediate bridge and have a terminal signal for when  the task is completed. This means that a stretch can be maintained for a few seconds at a time. It;s important to shape the behaviour that you want so that the horse is only mentally and physically stretched in incremental stages. In that way the important association between the desired behaviour, the click and the treat are maintained and the horse won't find the exercises so physically taxing that he is put off or put into conflict.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

23rd August, 2012 'til Death Do Us Part

With seven horses and ponies in our care at the moment, we felt that it was time to make sure that they were as safe as they could be if anything happened to us. Our wills were updated and signed on Monday night. We've left provision for them so that they can all be looked after by a friend in the first instance along with sufficient funds to keep them, and thereafter HorseWorld if she is unable to for any reason. With a will in place there should be no time lag in being able to access funds if we were to suddenly die (ha! said the word).

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

22nd August, 2012 Parenting Classes

I was recently contacted for help and advice about a three week old colt that was exhibiting some quite boisterous behaviour around his owners. When he was born he had to have some veterinary and physiotherapy intervention to help with some limb problems which have now been resolved. His owner was concerned that he may have been inadvertently imprinted having had such close contact with humans. I was able to reassure her that everything she was seeing was perfectly normal in a bright and healthy colt. They aren't born domesticated and come with automatic, instinctive behaviours that they don't even have to think about. It's up to us to train them to do the exact opposite to this in some cases but it is more than the exact opposite because it also requires them to think and make choices. With a foal of this age it is important that he is allowed to be a horse most of the time and that he isn't over-handled or petted on demand. Nevertheless he can also cope with short sessions of training, just a few minutes at a time between lying down, having a drink, and cavorting around the field. Providing his adrenalin is always low and the training is not too taxing, he will be absolutely fine.

Although he isn't a semi-feral foal (he's a posh warmblood) much of the training can follow a similar pattern to that described in the later chapters of my book, No Fear, No Force. In particular it's important to use body language rather than words to ask him to do and not to do things; he simply doesn't understand words. When asking him not to bite it's important to use spikey body language aimed at your own body rather than coming into contact with him by pushing or even smacking. Engaging with his body will just activate his into-pressure, automatic instinctive behaviour that he would use with other colts.

He really is a super foal - floaty paces and and effortless canter.

"It was a pleasure to see you work with Leo.  When I made the appointment, although I knew you were experienced with foals, I was still worried about what would happen.  However, you made everything look so easy and calm, it was hard to believe I had ever seen it differently...  what a magic touch you have.

I love the stuff you showed me, even though I do similar with my 'big' horses I hadn't quite seen how to translate it to Leo, i.e. how to use pressure/release to begin training him. How to tell him to 'no', without being too big and giving him a fright.  How to be around him without causing him to jump up and play! Seeing is believing and after seeing you interact with Leo, I now just feel a whole lot different about being in his presence... it is a good feeling. 

I am sure he will now have the best of starts and his whole future will be better because you came to visit." KR

Monday, August 20, 2012

20th August, 2012 Milestones

I have been remiss recently and not taken photos at every appointment. On Saturday morning I went out to a two year old Connemara x Thoroughbred that has been a bit boisterous of late. When I got there his owner explained that the day before he had gone through some fencing and despite there being only superficial cuts, his hock was quite swollen so we agreed that the first call should be to the vet. Accordingly we couldn't get much work done so just worked on asking him to stand still and asking him to lead nicely; both things that would be needed by the vet. Work that appeared to be well worth doing...

"Thanks again for coming out yesterday! I found it really beneficial. Sam was really well behaved for the vet, for the first time :). She wasn't too concerned about the swelling but said to try and hose it down and take him for a couple of short walks every day to help bring the swelling down!  I've got antibiotics to give him too".

Later I went to see the grey Arabian that the owner and I have been starting. recently she has been ridden out on the Forest a few times and this time she had her first trot off the lead rein in a nearby school. After that it was off to see Emma and Max. Both have new found confidence in each other and it is lovely to see Max relax with the bit and not to be surging forward with worry.

My day off with David yesterday entailed a 26 mile walk to Ringwood and back via the Forest and then the Avon Valley Footpath, which predictably was somewhat flooded.

This bull made us take a little detour!

New Forest ponies hanging out at the pub.

A herd of Percheron at Harbridge take refuge from the flies.

Friday, August 17, 2012

17th August, 2012 Two Jacks

This morning I worked alongside Dog Trainer, Ian Mackay. We were working with a Labrador called Jack who tends to become excited around horses and to chase them if they run away. He started off very gently and low key by introducing Jack to the horses at the gate.

After a while we upped the pace and worked together doing figures of eight, parallel trotting, fly pasts and crossing over.

After a little rest I went to fetch my Jack so that we could have a loose horse and do some agility.

In the end, my Jack took the initiative and went to say hello to Jack the dog, who was absolutely fine. No drama, no tension, no problem.

Despite being at opposite ends of the predator/prey spectrum, many of the techniques are just the same - no tension in the line while the dog is doing the right thing, being in the moment, redirecting energy, energy in is energy out, and so on. I feel an article coming on.....

Ian, The Dog Listener, can be contacted on 01794 502445 or email

17th August, 2012 One more river to cross

Really enjoyed my early morning run today. Eight miles crossing the Avon and splashing through flood water a lot of the way. Nice and flat too. I've got to start upping my mileages again soon as I have the ten mile Great South Run ahead of me in October and want to do a half marathon after that. From there do I have the nerve, determination and stamina to do a full marathon in 2013?

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

14th August, 2012 Julie's birthday

Had a Winnie the Pooh and Piglet moment yesterday when I forgot to take Julie's birthday card with me and couldn't even give her a deflated balloon in a honey pot. This is what it would have looked like. Instead though we had a glorious ride through the Forest on Theoden, and Petra, who has yet again come out of retirement. Lunch then at the Royal Oak before taking Jack out for a walk, run, walk in the pouring rain. We decided to test his hide and seek ability again but, having failed dismally, resorted to shaping his behaviour by half exposing ourselves (is that allowed?) so that he could catch a glimpse of us, slide to a halt, and come trotting over. Very silly but great fun. All work rained off later which was a good job as I had to collect David from Crescent motorcycles where he has abandoned his motorbike which has a MAJOR problem but a bad job because it means we have less money to pay for its repair.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

12th August, 2012 Liver Birds

An emotional, fascinating and heart warming weekend with the founders and volunteers at Shy Lowen Horse and Pony Sanctuary in Liverpool this weekend. This Sanctuary started from five horses on reclaimed land and has now put it's arms around forty more horses (with many many more out on loan contracts) and loads of local young adults aching to be with horses. Each volunteer forms a special connection with one horse and they learn as much as they can about each other. Read more about the Sanctuary in the IH magazine and also on their Facebook Page. If you are a secret millionaire or have won the lottery, this would be a good place to spend your money.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

9th August, 2012 Early in the morning

David and I got up extremely early so that we could go for a walk down to the river to see some wildlife.

After that, it was another busy day with an appointment with Fern this morning and a non-loading Hackney cross cob this afternoon. Both very successful appointments. An interesting weekend ahead...

"Thanks so much for today it has been a great learning curve and helped me understand S-horse better."CW
"Thanks for letting me join you today. I really enjoyed and learned from watching you work-every day's a school day!" HP

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

8th August, 2012 Running Late

Having gone slightly wrong, I ran two extra miles I hadn't planned for this morning, taking my total to ten and a half miles. This had a knock on effect on the rest of my day but I managed to reach Jenny only 10 minutes late for our ride this afternoon.

On a recent rides Theoden began to co-ordinate his napping with young Rye. I suspect that they tell each each other ghost stories and their confidence ebbs away. I felt it was time to take Theoden out with a forward going, older pony so that we didn't spend time practising our 'no'. We had a lovely ride all around Hale and it certainly did the trick. Theoden happily led the way most of the time and the handbrake was definitely off.

Joey decided to scratch his nose when he was half way off the pavement. Pretty gymnastic eh?


Tuesday, August 7, 2012

7th August, 2012 The four corners of a circle

This week's pink pony is Benji, who now lives out full time and comes up to be caught in the field. Today we worked on his leading and what to do if he plants, building up to trot in hand, leg handling and tying up. Asking a horse to walk around in a circle, either as a part of ground or ridden work, throws up an interesting pattern. Most horses seem to divide the circle into four and exhibit a behaviour in each section. In Benji's case he would plant in section 1, become distracted in section 2 where he could see the riding school horses,  come in with his shoulder in section 3 (so that he could still see the riding school horses) and then hold on to his lead rope in section 4. Hilary and I worked on ironing out those corners - using angles to un-plant him, asking for his attentions with a light pressure, using body language to ask him not to lean with his shoulder and vibrating the rope to ask him to let it go. Four great training opportunities in just one circuit and by the end of just three circuits he was walking nicely all of the way round.

Incidentally, I wouldn't tie a horse up  to solid rings of baler twine even when they have been trained. If they pull back it won't give and it won't break. Hilary has an Equi-ping ready for when he can actually be tied up.

"Thank you for the visit, it makes such a big difference each time. When I work with him we make baby steps of progress but your visits enable us to make BIG steps forward!" HP