Saturday, September 29, 2012

29th September, 2012 Come to the Edge

Heard this poem on radio 4 this morning and thought how appropriate it was on a week when the major theme has been trust:

Come to The Edge

Come to the edge.

We might fall.

Come to the edge.

It's too high!


And they came,

and we pushed,

And they flew.

Christopher Logue (2003)

Friday, September 28, 2012

28th September, 2012 Two Giant Steps Forward

This morning S and I backed her two ponies - Coco for the second time and Rose for the very first. Rose (bottom picture) has caught up with Coco very easily since she seems to be the more accepting of the two even though she was born semi-feral. She is a NF x TB and looks like a racing pony! The white sheet underneath the saddle is non-slip tray matting which seems to work very well under all kinds of saddles and prevents them from moving too much and that, coupled with a breast girth means that we don't end up over girthing young horses.

28th September, 2012 Two Little Steps Forward

Yesterday I worked with Roo again. Since my last visit, her owner has been feeding her on the ramp where she seemed pretty relaxed, however, when asked to take just two more steps forward into the trailer, she was still really frightened and there was no way that it would have been safe to try to turn her into position as she would simply have burst back out again - after all, this is what she has been trained to do in the starting stalls where I imagine she was equally as terrified. Although I could have closed the panels up behind her to ask her to go in, the risk of her hurting herself if she had come out in a great rush was just to high. Any fool could have cajoled her to go on there with a big stick but that is at least half the reason why she is so afraid of going in - her back legs start dancing as soon as she starts to feel enclosed.

Rather than practising her 'no', or being put into a position where we would have to use more pressure or even force, the owner and I have agreed that we need to try a Plan B which will involve getting her used to walking over a rubberised board first and this may well be enclosed with panels just for safety. So watch this space as it may involve my horse agility board and table being moved onto their yard for 'loading' practise. in the meantime, Roo will be fed on the ramp and just these two steps forward of where she was before.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

26th September, 2012 Trust

A couple of months ago I booked to 'Go Ape' with David at Moors Valley and so off we went this morning. It's an interesting test of trust in equipment and of yourself. I found it really hard to launch myself off the first platform and into the cargo net with a massage drop beneath me. We ask horses to trust us so often and we then need to keep our promise to keep them safe. Is it a lack of imagination as to the consequences of things going wrong, stupidity or trust that means they are prepared to put themselves at risk in situations that make no sense to them as a prey animal? I got round all in one piece!

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

25th September, 2012 Cherry on the cake

I am so pleased to be able to put this little photofest on here today. Not wanting to tempt fate (or anything like it!) V's owner asked me not to make her pictures public for a while but today told me to go ahead. This little grey Arab is a delight to work with- very very bright with a lot of character in a good way. Her owner worked in a thorough and thoughtful way to get her to the point where she could be started and since she has started to ride her has proved to have an excellent seat and a quiet and calm attitude. It's so important for there to be trust between me and the owner/ rider when doing this type of work.

First time on board. 

Long reining in the field

Checking out the pole

Off the lead rein in an early session

Just because she is gorgeous

The box used as a good place to suggest and perfect halt

Early steering work

One of the first rides out on the Forest - she is now off the lead rein

Early trot

Monday, September 24, 2012

24th September, 2012 Poignant Moments

Coco was gently backed for the first time this afternoon and was very calm about it all. Rose was long reined out on the Forest track and seemed to really enjoy migrating. These are poignant moments, when horses seem to take great leaps of faith with little or no fuss. However, while we were working, a horse across the way (and out of sight) was quietly put down and taken away by the hunt, and we couldn't help feeling for the owner knowing what a horrible wrench this would have been. It's the time of year when anyone with an old horse that is struggling thinks about whether it is fair to put them through another winter. So hard to play God.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

22nd September, 2012 Holiday Job

While she is on holiday from work, S and I are doing some more starting work with her two youngsters, Coco and Rose. Coco is almost ready to sit on for the first time but had a little wobble about a stirrup leather dropping down. Rather than simply overlook this, we are filling in a gap here and deliberately long reining her with things that might touch her legs as she moves. We started off today with light fabric and next time we might use a heavier scarf. Much better this than her take fright with a rider on board the first time something touches her legs. Rose gets bored very quickly with doing the same thing twice so we kept her thinking by introducing some poles for her to walk over and later she was leant over for just the second time, this time with the saddle on.

22nd September, 2012 Black and White Rulz!

On the way over to the Dog Listener this morning (if you want to read more about that then join IH before the Spring Edition of the IH Magazine comes out), I spotted the three black and white cobs that were chucked out on the Forest earlier in the year and have now migrated to Telegraph Hill. They are virtually inseparable and have kept themselves to themselves ever since they went out.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

20th September, 2012 Long Reign the Long Rein

For a long time now I have maintained that I would be very worried about putting anyone on a horse that wouldn't accept long reins. Not only do long reins help to introduce horses to the aids and looking after their own feet, they are also brilliant for building up a horse's confidence. They are an excellent tool for assessing how well a horse will cope with something being on both sides of his body at once and something being in his blind spot. I have now got another excellent reason for using them. A friend's pony has just been found to have kissing spine and is receiving corticosteroid injections and undergoing physiotherapy. The physiotherapist has recommended the use of a Pessoa in order to build up the pony's back muscles. Now, this is a pony that used to spook very badly at things that came up behind her and has been very frightened by ropes in the past.- a tall order then?

"I am meant to be putting S in the Pessoa, so thought I had best start training for it today. She looked round at it, with all its ropes, clips, sheepskin, jingly jangly bits and  wasn't worried at all. Fine, I pop on the rear end (with breast girth so it cannot slip back when only half on), not bothered, walked her - not bothered, trotted her, she shortened up as she felt it move behind her bottom, stopped and turned her neck round to the RIGHT to have a look!   We continued with a little trot in both directions, did the rest of it up loose, more walk and trot just to check she is happy. This is a totally different horse, happy, ears forwards, no longer checking out whats behind her, and able to casually turn and look. Early days I know, but this is almost too good to be true.  Other than the injections, this all boils down to one thing, a massive thank you to you for politely putting it to me that she really does need to cope with long lines before backing even though she accepted the saddle before she accepted ropes." JC

20th September, 2012 Trust Me

I need to emphasise from the outset that the saddle company has agreed to come out straight away to rectify this situation....

Yesterday I rode Theoden out in his new saddle and pad combination. For the first twenty minutes he was great - trotting freely and seemed very happy. After that though he started to feel very twitchy and was swishing his tail. I thought he had a crab fly so got off, checked his undercarriage and then went off again. Within minutes he felt all itchy again so I got off and checked his pad, thinking that perhaps it was too far back. I got on again and asked him to go forward but he kept stopping and this time he brought his head around to my leg, almost as if he was pointing - first one side and then the other. I got off again and put his stirrups up to see whether that made any difference and it was at this point that I saw that the brackets on the rigging were turning in and digging into his sides. I loosened off the girth and we walked home with me on foot. He still occasionally stopped but eventually we got home. I then took photographs as I un-tacked him and this is what I saw.

It would have been very easy to press on and ignore him, the signs he gave me were so small but very clear. To me this is a major breakthrough, the Theoden of old would never have believed that anyone would listen to the small stuff and would have bronced me off. As it was he kept trying to tell me that he was uncomfortable and kept letting me get back on and try to work out what was wrong. It was as if we were working together to analyse the problem.

The white marks on his back are a very poor freeze brand.

Postscript: Curiouser and curiouser, rode him in his 'old' saddle today (20th) and he was fine but looked at the brackets at the top of the rigging and, guess what, they do the same thing or rather, they sit at the same angle but I have been using a thicker pad. Next plan, agreed with the David L. is to try the new saddle with the old pad and see what we get tomorrow. Could be in for another long walk home or a really comfortable ride and horse. Having read The Princess and the Pea, I am surprised that making something thicker could actually help but since has never complained about the bracket before, I can only assume that it does. Watch this space - the one on his back!!

Postscript2. Rode Theoden in the new saddle with the old pad today (21st) and although his behaviour was a lot better (or should I say his comments about the saddle were a lot less) he was was still wary of me getting on in the first place. At the end of the ride we took new photos of the bracket and I also noticed that there was a completely new mark on his old pad (which is pretty thick and protected by leather). So, the bracket on his old saddle may have turned in a bit but this one is actually digging in. Needless to say, I have asked David L to come out again asap. 

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

18th September, 2012 Observers

Off to Oxfordshire to work with Kolinka a Danish Knabstrup. Kolinka has been expressing some aggressive behaviour particularly when she is tied up - her ears go right back and she occasionally charges too. It's tempting for the object of her anger to go on a counter-attack but in Kolinka's case, less if definitely more. By using assertive but subtle body language we were able to ask her not to invade space and the instant her own body language softened we made sure she was given a really love rub. After a number of repetitions, she was much softer from the outset and no longer coming forward with the face of a disgruntled shark. She's a bright girl and her feelings are always absolutely transparent. I wonder what she would say about us?!

The Observer's Book of Horses describes the Knabstrup as an old Danish breed exclusively confined to spotted horses. The all go back to one foundation mare, left behind by the Spanish during the Napoleonic War, which was relegated to pulling a butcher's cart. Her name was Flauebehoppen and she was bred to a Frederiksborg stallion.

And this is Teddy, a Dartmoor Hill Pony that came from the H.O.P.E. charity without which he would have been slaughtered. From a frightened semi-feral baby he has become a confident, amenable and rather beautiful pony. Ultimately his owner hopes to drive him.

Ran out of steam tonight and didn't get to pilates or the WCRG talk - luckily Jenny is taking notes.

"Oh My!! I must report on what a glorious morning A & I have had. The neighbours would have been in hysterics if they had heard us telling each other "chicken wings", "no patting" (don't mishear that one!!) and clicking away with a packet of biscuits in our! Seriously, together we did our best to put it all into practice and I can honestly say both mares are reformed characters. Kolinka only pulled faces a couple of times but A just waited and when K softened she was straight in there with a good rub. Ta da! I think we are now speaking the same language - or damn close anyway. 

I decided to try lowering the ante with Mouse today. She has of late been spooking and shooting forward which is a killer on my back. I reassured myself she has [actually] been startled by something and is just being a horse so I calmly brought her back to a walk and then rewarded her with a good neck rub. Wow. By the end of the hack if she was startled by a scary rabbit all she did was a small flinch round it :o) We do of course have rabbits of enormous proportions in the Cotswolds!! lol :o)

Can't thank you enough for helping us ALL here in Holwell xx" SR

18th September, 2012 Autumn

Early morning with the horses, cattle and swallows all getting ready for colder weather by growing their coats or clearing off. I've got a long day ahead with a horse visit in Oxfordshire, collecting stuff from the saddlers, pilates and then a talk on Atypical Myopathy at the Wessex Classical Riding Group. A year ago I really wasn't bothered about riding but I'm really enjoying it now. Theoden and I have put a good few miles on the clock over the last few weeks and he has been absolutely great. Yesterday I had out David Lloyd, Western expert and saddle fitter, and Theoden has now got a new saddle to fit his new and more muscular shape. Like everyone I want my horse to be as comfortable as possible but it's hard to find people you trust. The answer is to become a bit of an expert yourself but you can't possibly know everything about everything. It worries me that when people like David retire, where is the new expertise going to come from?

Friday, September 14, 2012

14th September, 2012 More updates

You'll recall that while I was away I went to see the young colt who was rather boisterous and Xanthe and I suggested that perhaps he needed a playmate just to impose a few rules in his life. Well, guess who has turned up? One spotty mule called Tomeu. They should have the time of their lives now and Lucero, the colt, will be able to be separated from his Mum without too much trouble and before she loses too much condition.

Some time ago I went to see another young horse called Sam who had unfortunately injured himself in the fence the night before. You may remember that we only did the lightest groundwork with him while we waited for the vet and it paid immediate dividends as he stood so nicely for the vet to examine him. Since then he has needed his leg hosed regularly and this is what his owner says:

"His behaviour is much better now!  I used the trick you showed me with the fly spray and managed to get him to stand still while hosing the swollen leg down!  He started out like a crazy animal that was really scared and now isn't that bothered by it at all, so I'm really pleased!   So I feel your visit was a great help!  Thank you so much :)" KM

14th September, 2012 The Straight and Narrow

This week I went out to a 12 year old cob mare that pulls terrible faces when the girth is done up and has occasionally bitten. I talked to her owner about whether she could be sore and she has agreed to ask her physiotherapist to check this the next time she comes out to check her which will be in a month's time. In the meantime she is going to use some massage techniques in the girth and pectoral area to see whether she can make the horse more comfortable and at least find out what sort of touch she likes where. We also looked at the saddle which has a tendency to move unless the girth is really really tight. Out came my new piece of kit, anti-slip matting for trays. This is something  I have been trying out with another client who has a treeless saddle which has a tendency to slip unless over-girthed. In both cases the matting seems to be working. Considering that a roll of it only cost £4.50, it's a bit of a find.

"I just wanted to let you know that C and I rode out for a couple of hours today and I used your anti slip mat.  It worked amazingly well, so much so that I didn't have to shift my weight once, despite some cantering and even jumping a couple of logs.  C said she had never seen me look so straight.  I think this could be a big help in sorting out D's back and shoulder issues, if I can stay more stable when on her.  She did sweat up a bit under it, but no worse than with the Limpet, and without the bulk.  The only issue is keeping it from rucking up underneath the saddle cloth.  however, she didn't seem to object." JR

14th September, 2012 Brain or Pain?

A friend and colleague of mine, Sue Palmer IHRA, is also a Chartered Veterinary Therapist. She has a regular bulletin called Brain or Pain which highlights the fact that many seemingly behavioural issues are actually caused by pain rather than psychology. All of the IHRAs encourage owners to consider the physical before addressing the behavioural even where there is no physical symptom of a problem. However, it isn't feasible to have a horse checked out from head to hoof by every type of practitioner using every type of test from the outset - just think what that would entail. So we start off with the more obvious (and let's face it cheaper stuff) - what I call back, tack and sack, i.e. the rider! If we change too many factors at once it's hard to determine what it was that made the difference if any. Most of us end up oscillating between two approaches, one physical, the other behavioural and then it's a question of how far do we go and how much do we spend trying to find out if there is one root cause. Even if money were no object, it isn't always easy or even possible to get to the bottom of things.

I have a great deal of respect for owners who go with their instincts, sometimes pushing vets to do more tests even when their horses are not insured and the vet is saying "it's all in the horse's mind". One client and one friend have been through this recently and in both cases their gut instinct has been vindicated. Sadly in one case the answer was kissing spine but, with medication, she may be fine and at least the owner isn't putting herself at risk whenever she gets on the horse and the horse is no longer in fear of sudden sharp pain in her back. In her case a Bute test revealed that the horse was much more comfortable and freer in her movement and play, justifying the owner's belief that it was physical.

To join the mailing list for Brain or Pain, contact Sue Palmer, IHRA and also see her new book Horse Massage for Horse Owners.

14th September, 2012 One to One

One to one, tailor made sessions with horses and their owners seem to reap the greatest rewards. In the last couple of months I have been to see two Shire horses and their respective owners for a one, one to one session on groundwork. This sets the horse up with a set of ground rules and simple boundaries, easily established, that then last forever. This little set of manners works both ways because it means that the owners doesn't inadvertently encourage the horse to push and shove.

Both horses have since been to shows where their behaviour was exemplary.

May in the Grand Parade

Meeting another Shire Horse

"May has certainly become a more mannerly horse since our groundwork session, and she has a greater respect for our space. It sometimes lapses but that's just baby forgetfulness!! We had a successful day at the Romsey show, although unplaced in her class, which was strong, and she needs a bit more show condition, she was super all day and so very well behaved. She didn't bat an eyelid at anything, and met everything from donkeys to the hunt!! And we even did the grand parade with all the other heavy horses in the main ring and was amazing :-)" SH

Murphy at Ellingham Show

"Yes, I have been practising the groundwork we learnt with you. It gave me so much confidence in fact that I took Murphy to the Ellingham show in August. He was so well behaved, I entered him in the Shire Gelding class, and he came 4th!!!!" AS

Thursday, September 13, 2012

13th September, 2012 There's no 'Con' in Confidence

Working with Roo and then riding Theoden over the last couple of days, as well as working with other horses over the last few weeks, I have been mulling over the concept of confidence and where it comes from.

Confidence cannot come from conning yourself that there are no dangers involved in riding, handling or loading horses, or in training a specific horse that has an underlying default position. Take Theoden for example, I know that he has a 'no' that involves dropping his head to the right, bucking and then, if I don't intervene straight away, continuing to buck and twist. My confidence in riding him doesn't come from pretending that couldn't happen again, it comes from having spent time training him, addressing the underlying reason for the behaviour and knowing what to do if he starts to get into a pattern. Yesterday for example he had a one little protest about going out with Joey instead of Petra and being asked to walk out properly. I was able to keep his head up straight away, redirect his energy and ask him, nicely, to go on again. I felt my adrenalin rise, felt a little shaky, but breathed properly and on we went. If I had been pretending that this behaviour no longer existed then it might have been a nasty surprise. I don't spend all the time dwelling on it, I just quietly accept that it is there and that I need to have a strategy to try not to precipitate it and to deal with it if if happens. One day, the default position may be entirely reset but until it is, it's just a default position.

In the same vein, when I was working with Roo, I quietly went through the scenario with her owner, finding out what had happened before so that I could hopefully guard against it, train in such a way that I didn't activate her flee response and had a strategy or two in mind for it I did. This isn't doom-mongering or trying to undermine anyone's confidence, this is quietly accepting that there are some risks, particularly with this horse, limiting them as far as is possible, training them out as far as we can and then knowing what to do if the very worst happens.

I had the good fortune recently to work with someone who is in the health and safety department in their own job. They understood this approach completely. Confidence comes from having a dynamic risk assessment and taking sensible steps to address the risks involved.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

11th September, 2012 Persuading Roo not to behave like a Kanga

When a horse is worried about being in a stable - crib bites and weaves and only really happy with the top and bottom doors open and a padded chain across - and used to dash through the doorway and still does occasionally,then you know that at some stage she has been got at in a small space. When she is tentative about loading, can't stand still when she's in there and then leaps down the ramp, shoving people she is normally affectionate with out of the way, you suspect that she's been got at when loading. When I tell you that she is an ex-flat racer then you start to wonder how she was 'persuaded' to go into the starting stalls and to load into the horse box and whether she met with infinite patience or, more likely, a lunging whip or an electric prod. Even the horse walkers that are frequently used to exercise these athletes use an electric shock to ask the horses to keep moving if they stop.

This is what we are up against with the little ex-racehorse mare I went to see today. I worked with her sometime ago when she was even frightened of stepping over a pole (she's also hurdled) and fortunately she is much much better about that now and doesn't complete panic and refuse to try again if she accidentally touches one with her foot. In fact she is a lot calmer now - a combination of being in one home for over twelve months for the first time in her life, being looked after by kind and patient people who understand her behaviour and believe that she is fearful and not naughty. She has come so far with noises that we were able to create a safe place with the panels around her and she was clonking on and off the ramp - hardly with gay abandon but certainly more confidence that no-one was going to come up behind her and force her on or contain her before she was ready. Nevertheless, we left the session with her willing to stand on the ramp with all four feet and we didn't ask her for more. I used mild pressure and release with her, taking care to reward every step forward she took with a clear release of the line, a big deep breath out, a kind and quiet word, a clickered treat and a lovely rub before gently backing her off again. A ratio of six rewards/releases for every offer she made to try and a combination that takes some time to go through adding to the general air of non-urgency. I want to absolutely prove to this horse that we are prepared to be utterly fair to her and that we will work with her not against her.

Fortunately we were working in a yard where people are interested in helping, not putting in their own two penneth about how we should be doing it. We've got some way to go but this was a good start in its own way.

"Thank you very much for all your help with Roo today.  K and I are both so pleased to have your expertise, knowing that you care for our horse in the same way as us.  Too many people don't understand why we treat her the way we do, so it is marvellous to have you on our side. I am very pleased to say that Roo happily munched her dinner from the trailer ramp this afternoon.  I had a big snort when we diverted course from the field to the stable via the trailer, but when she saw the bucket of feed, she was only interested in that and forgot all her reservations about the trailer itself." AB

Monday, September 10, 2012

10th September, 2012 Merlin the Magician

If you look back through the archives you'll find this lovely pony when he was a yearling and just off Bodmin Moor. Jenny and I spent a few days with his owners working on his early halter training and leading. Since then I've visited a couple of times to introduce him to long lining. His owner has just sent me this picture of him being ridden. He's now started hacking out with his little friend Magic.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

9th September, 2011 Bedrock

This is the plan

We're going down there

..and through that

...along there...

...and over lots of these.
Made it

What sensible people do as Santa Colobra

Most of our holiday was entirely restful but as thank you for helping her, Xanthe arranged for us to go on adventure walk with the Experience Mallorca company whose founder she has been helping with her horse (this system works well!). Joining up with a small group and a guide, we walked just 6.5 kms in four hours and twenty minutes but what a walk! The Torrentes de Pareis runs from Escorba to Santa Colobra, from the Tramuntana mountains down to the sea, across some very challenging and beautiful terrain. Much of the descent is across boulders and has to be negotiated with care and energy and rather at lot of time spent slithering along on your bottom! I wouldn't have missed it for the world however, as I write this three days later, I am still walking with the action of a triangle wearing flippers and my planned participation in the 10 km Little Wishford Run has gone by the board.

It's great to be appreciated and motivates me to keep going. There are times when I seem to bend over backwards to help people, only one or two, who then seem to want to push me over and walk on me. Sadly these are the ones that make me think about giving up and certainly being less inclined to be generous with my time, training and equipment. I have to work out whether I stop being so generous or stop being hurt when it is taken for granted – yet another boulder field to negotiate then! I am in the fortunate position where I could stop work and just concentrate on my own but I still really enjoy training horses, coaching owners and resolving problems for them.