Friday, November 30, 2012

30th November, 2012 HorseWorld Horses

Over the week I worked with eighteen members of staff and about as many horses. Alice was a fantastic teacher when it came to body language. She taught everyone to measure their energy levels very carefully and to think about what they were doing. On the second day we  had seven people in the pen with her passing her from one to the other like 'Pass the Parcel' using body language to pick her up and to pass her on to the next person.

Dreamer can be awkward to bring in from the field and resistant to the halter - a quarter rope helped here to ask her hindquarters to move rather than using pressure on her head. The quarter line also helped to 'park' her next to the mounting block and by the second day she was parking herself without needing to use the line at all. We also used clicker to ask her to stand at the mounting block once mounted. Normally Dreamer is nappy to ride and prone to rearing. By using hardly any contact or leg aids and thinking her into the next pace, we were able to press all the right buttons without touching them, and she worked beautifully.

We did foot handling work with various ponies including Dilly and Lucy. The main message here was about consistency since we discovered that staff have more than five different techniques for picking up feet!

We did more ridden work with Archie and Darcy, teaching them to back up without bracing. Instead we wanted to encourage the horses to soften whenever they felt a small pressure on the bit.

I finished the week with the Husbandry Team who are often responsible for administering treatment to new arrivals at the Charity. This coincides with the time when the horses may be at their rawest in terms of training, physical and mental state. The unofficial title for today's course was 'Anger Management for Horses'. We considered all the reasons, past and present, that a horse may feel angry and the behaviours that can develop as a result. Fortunately their arrival at HorseWorld often takes away most of those reasons, but we talked about the need to touch horses in the right way so that they are not irritated and then considered ways in which the behaviour itself can be addressed. We need to show the horse that there is no need to do all the big stuff because we will notice all the small stuff.

We had three wonderful horses to work with: Vera, a mare taken from the travellers who arrived with a head-collar embedded in her neck- no wonder she gets angry if people get too close to her head. Cherokee, an ex-racehorse that I think is pretty sore and wary following some years in jump racing; and Cuthbert, a six year old entire who cannot be gelded until he is officially the property of the Charity. We treated him no differently from any other horse, quietly insisting on small boundaries, and got as far as preparing him for long lining. I almost brought him home with me!

"It was great to be able to spend so much time with you and certainly all of my team were very grateful for the opportunity to have training on the everyday problems we struggle with! Sometimes just watching someone’s manner of working and timing is very insightful."
Sarah Hollister.

"I had such a great day with you Sarah and have learnt a LOT! thank you so much for coming and giving us your time. and of course for letting us ride your lovely Theo! hopefully see you soon." Caitlin McK

"It was great fun and loved every second thank you so much." Kayleigh MacC


30th November, 2012 HorseWorld

Theoden and I have just come back from five days away at HorseWorld which was a bit of a Busman's Holiday for both of us. I encouraged Theoden to have a go at everything while he was there and he also helped out during the sessions. He was long reined by the staff from the Visitors' Centre and ridden by members of the Welfare Team as well as trying out the horse walker and having breakfast every day with Dominic the Pig.

He wasn't at all sure about approaching Dominic until I suggested that maybe they'd like to share a meal. 

A visit to the Visitors' Centre - where Theoden met another pig called Janey, some goats and donkeys. 

Walk, trot and canter with Caitlin, Charlotte, Sarah and Kayleigh.

Theoden's two tricks - don't try these at home. Lean on Me! and one I haven't thought of a name for yet.

 In the meantime I appear to be able to levitate....

Sunday, November 25, 2012

25th November, 2012 Temporary Halt

While I slogged my way around a gruelling up hill and down dale thirteen mile course this morning with oppressive rain clouds looming over head and gale force winds contemplating the trees and mud and puddles and everything everywhere, ALL David had to do was amble to the top end of our track and take a photo of me, then wander to the bottom end of our track some twenty minutes later to do the same and then go to the end of the race to take a picture of me going over the line. I achieved my part of the deal, David unfortunately failed his since not only did he miss the middle and the end, he didn't have a memory card in the camera when he was at the beginning either! The only proof I have that I DID IT, is this medal. Downton Half Marathon completed!

I'm off to HorseWorld in the morning, complete with Theoden who I promise not to leave there, to work with their staff for a week. In the absence of my own good camera, I have forced Jessops to loan me one, so we should have lots of pictures by the end. However, all will be quiet here until next weekend. 

Saturday, November 24, 2012

24th November, 2012 Uberrima Fides and Caveat Emptor

One day I might use these two Latin phrases as names for New Forest ponies. The first, Uberrima Fides means "utmost good faith" and is the name of a legal doctrine which governs insurance contracts. This means that all parties to an insurance contract must deal in good faith, making a full declaration of all material facts in the insurance proposal, i.e. everything that would affect risk. For a business person or a horse owner, it means that you are under a duty to tell the insurer EVERYTHING that affects the amount of risk in the work that you do or the horses that you keep. for example, that you work with semi-feral ponies, horses with behavioural problems or that you ride in a Dually head collar rather than a bridle. If you fail to do so then the insurance company are entitled to say that you are not covered for your work or for your horse. The irony of it all thought is that it is very tricky trying to get an insurance company to say that you are covered for every single thing that you do and it is essential to pin them down. The title 'Freelance Instructor' on its own for example, does not cover the work of a Recommended Associate 

This contrasts with the legal doctrine caveat emptor (let the buyer beware) which rules the sale of most goods including horses. This means that unless a vendor lies, for example states orally or in writing that the horse does not bite when in fact it does, the purchaser cannot say that they were mis-sold the horse even if the horse is in fact dangerous. I have just written an article for the Spring IH magazine on the importance of setting criteria when horse-hunting and the importance of asking the right questions and testing what you are told. 

Thursday, November 22, 2012

21st November, 2012 OMD Part I: Just a Minute!

My November coloured friend
Sadly we could't get the trailer out of the field this morning - great deterrent to theft but not quite what we wanted. There was nothing else for it but to ride out from the fields and see what happened. It is six months since I rode Theoden out alone - in fact it was at the Mark Rashid clinic where I rode him home to the stable I was borrowing a couple of times. At that time he was alert and full of adrenalin and of course, we weren't going away from or towards Petra. It was a very pleasant surprise today to find him calm, unconcerned and only a little bit sticky on the way out. On the way home he didn't or push through the reins and was calm and seemingly happy. Not job done but certainly job started in a very satisfactory way. It's taken a long time to broach this subject with him again but I am glad that I have put in a lot of mileage with him, albeit under the radar. He just seems to be a much less angry horse these days.

Gale force winds and flappy hi-viz!

Training from this point onwards will be based on the rules of Just a Minute so that we try to avoid hesitation, repetition and deviation!

21st November, 2012 Trust Me

I get quite a few enquiries asking me to help with horses on the very general basis of building up a bond of trust between the owner and the horse. It makes me wonder to what extent we can actually ask a horse to trust us and what trust actually means. It isn't the same as unquestioning compliance. Trust, like respect (another difficult word around horses and one I tend not to use), has to be earned and the only way you can do that is to prove that you are trustworthy. Ultimately I don't think we can be totally trustworthy because sometimes we make mistakes through ignorance and recklessness and at other times we knowingly insist on  a horse doing things that go against his very nature. We are asking a lot when we ask him to trust us and we shouldn't be surprised when they don't or they can't.

Today is the beginning of Operation Marlene Dietrich, when I start asking Theoden to "want to be alone". Once more I am aiming to go under the radar and the plan is to take him out in the trailer and then ride him home rather than asking him to walk out of Petra's magnetic field from the outset. Does he trust me in those circumstances? No, leaving her and his herd behind and going out on his own in the woods is totally counter-intuitive to him. I need to prove to him that he is not alone when he is with me.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

20th November, 2012 Handling the Wild Pony and Foal Course

HANDLING THE WILD PONY and FOAL course Mondays 10th and 17th December, 2012 at Norley Wood, Near Lymington. £150 in total per student (i.e. £75 per day) MAX two students only so lots of practical time.  Using No Fear, No Force techniques for halter training and beyond, with tutor Sarah Weston. Training straight from the horse's mouth! Please contact me for details. First come first served.

Monday, November 19, 2012

19th November, 2012 Good Morning Fritham!

Guy the Farrier would have been forgiven for thinking that World War 3 had broken out at Fritham this morning. With the Somme-like mud too thick to drive his van through into the field, I thought we could use the concrete apron just outside the inclosure instead. However this RAF road from the Second World War was already pretty much occupied with Commoners and Agisters at the tail end of a drift. While we tried to settle Theoden down sufficiently to put a set of shoes on there were ponies being branded, weaned and loaded into clanky trailers, with others taking off once they were freed from the drift pen. Bigger wagons were moving up and down with ponies neighing their heads off and my lot all calling to Theoden "Haven't you read Animal Farm? Don't you know what happened to Boxer?!" Then the Forestry Commission joined in with a huge timber lorry loading up with massive tree trunks and this was closely followed by the Royal Navy flying immediately overhead in one of their helicopters.

It's fair to say that Theoden was more in his 'maybe' mode than his 'yes' mode and we occasionally encountered a no. There was a bit of leg wafting, snatching his foot away, and moving around as he said that it was ludicrous to stand on three legs when he might need all four feet to flee at any moment. Guy is infinitely patient and got the job done so I have bought him an appropriate present for Christmas! "To Guy, with love (and apologies) from Theoden!"

Sunday, November 18, 2012

18th November, 2012 Villy-fied

This beautiful Friesian mare has perfected the art of coming out of the stable at the same time as her handler whether she is asked to or not. She doesn't rush but will crush whoever is in the way. We don't always know why a behaviour starts but in this case it may be that she was afraid of being left in the stable on her own, or in an enclosed space. Since she appears to be very settled when she is left in the stable those reasons seem to have gone. However, that initial reason activated her into-pressure response so that as soon as she gets near to the gate or door to her stable she just keeps going. She is too strong to stop once she has reached this point of no return. Friesians are bred to push a cart (and I do mean push) so she is an unstoppable force once this automatic instinctive behaviour kicks in. The behaviour has been working well for her and has therefore been reinforced over and over again. As far as she is concerned, that is job done.

We broke the session down into sections - stopping her walking straight back out again as soon as she was in the stable, asking her to stay in the stable with her headcollar on when we left her, and finally staying in the stable with her headcollar off when we left her.

The Dually halter was insufficient to stop her once she was coming forward and body language only had a limited effect. Accordingly I resorted to using a rattle bottle to ask her to stay where she was in relation to the gate (about three strides away to the right) so that I could leave without her coming with me or rather straight through me.

The rattle bottle is really my last resort for horses that invade space or walk through people but ultimately their safety has to come first. Much better than the practise of hitting a horse with a piece of blue plastic pipe which I know is used at one local stud.  Once again it is a case of asking a horse to give up automatic, instinctive behaviour and to do the complete opposite which requires them to think. The rattle bottle had the effect of causing her to think and worked from the outset. I made sure that I rewarded the thinking behaviour by giving her a lovely rub so that if she even shifted her weight to the outside front foot rather than taking a stride forward, she got a lovely rub.

The loaner is going to practice this and will stop using the rattle bottle as soon as a new pattern is established.      As well as sending her the photos from the day, K will receive her horse report, notes on general training and groundwork, as well as an article on Dually fitting.

"Thank you very much for today and for the pictures and report.  After I saw you I took her for a ride and then tied her up outside. I asked my mum to get the horse that goes in next to her in before I put her in to reduce stress as we do normally bring two in from the field at a time.  She put her horse in and then I led Villy in. I turned her around and I asked her to stand.  I then held up the bottle and walked out of the stable backwards and closed the door. She didn't attempt to move at all and when I had shut the door she still stood still. Excellent result, am looking forward to seeing how she is in the morning." KF

I don't normally work Sundays and so I took advantage of the rest of the day and change of scenery to go for a run. Owners look a little bemused when they see me strip off to my running gear! I got a bit lost once I left the Roman Road and seemed to have explored most of Upton Heath. Overall distance 10.4 miles.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

17th November, 2012 Why???

It's fortunate that we rarely know what is round the corner. So many of my friends and their family members have been hit by cancer recently. It makes me angry thinking about the unfairness of it all. I am stunned by people's ability to battle against it and to absorb the pain and sickness that the treatment itself causes. I'm rooting for every one of them. If there is a God, please help.

17th November, 2012 In Which Jenny Eats a Sally

It's a privilege to have friends like Jenny Major and Bonwen Packham. We've just had a happy couple of days planning the next Hands on Horsemanship Courses which will be one day courses next year. A good excuse also for a bit of touristing and an Indian meal.

Wild pony, Tao, recognises friends when he sees them.

I took advantage of an extra rider and leader so that we could take Sian's two starters our together for the first time. Coco was perfectly fine with a new rider and friend on the ground. This was only their second ride out on the Forest and it was drama-less. Thanks to all the home work that Sian has done,  leading them out on their own as youngsters, both horses are independent of each other and happily go along in their own little world without wanting to cling to one another. 

Thursday, November 15, 2012

15th November, 2012 Zak Attack

With the 4 x 4 only operating in 2 x 4 mode, and Theoden in need of a day off anyway, it was nice to be offered a pony to ride out with Lorraine on Hobbit. Crabbswood Zak is only five years old and he was really super. Ah, the joys of being light enough to ride smaller ponies again. Next thing you know I'll be riding Nellie and Blue.

15th November, 2012 B(L)OG!!

Talk about famous last words! Here's a cautionary tale for you and some GREAT GUIDELINES for riding on the Forest.

Yesterday Shuna brought her horse Max over so that we could go for a ride and discuss her project/thesis. It was a glorious day and the horses made friends immediately as did Shuna and I.

It was a bit like taking the rough with the smooth, since Max is all beautifully clipped and trimmed and Theoden, well, isn't. We rode out from Fritham and all along the back tracks to Eyeworth Pond, all the time chatting away happily with the horse swinging along.

Unfortunately as we were halfway up the hill from the Eyeworth track I was just about to interrupt Shuna to say "Stop, the ground looks a bit dodgy here..." when Max and then Theoden plunged into a bog. Theoden managed to struggle to solid ground where I could get off but Max was in up to his chest. It's at times like this that I thank the Horse God for the Hampshire Animal Rescue Team as a quick phone call on 999 had them on their way and meant that I could keep calm and know that ultimately they would get us out of this mess.

I told Shuna to get off and to stand back away from Max so that he could just rest and the two of us talked quietly while she went forward to take his saddle off and I stroked his neck. In time he re-charged his batteries and he chose to try to  get out. He managed one movement and then rested again. We didn't hassle him or encourage him in any way other than to allow him to rest knowing that while he was still he was safe. In three separate (and I admit worrying) movements he got to the solid ground where he rested until he had the energy to heave himself out and once he was out we could see that he was absolutely fine.

We waited until we were on consistently solid ground before cancelling the Animal Rescue Team and then we walked them part way home carrying just their tack before getting on board for the last bit. Then it was home for Max and a warm shower before being turned out in his rug as usual at night. This way (and the same for Theoden) they could walk off any lactic acid and stiffness.

Later of course I had a long chat with Jim Green from the Animal Rescue Team who told me that they had got to Cadnam when they were cancelled and therefore would have been with us within 5 minutes. They have all the specialist equipment to deal with a scenario like this - including mud lances which reduce the risk of the horse's legs and hooves being injured by the vacuum effect of the mud.

It seems that we had done most of the right things although I hadn't thought to call the vet and I was reliant on Shuna's phone because mine had run out of battery so I had left it at the yard. I felt very shaky when I phone the emergency services although I wasn't openly panicking, and I found it very difficult to explain where we were.

There are TWO GIANT LESSONS in all of this. The first is about being aware of bogs and the second of what to do in an emergency.

  1. Signs of boggy ground -No paths or pony poo present; hillocks like grassy mole hills; grass spongy and very light green;
  2. Remember that bogs can be anywhere and not just at the bottom of hill as you might expect;
  3. Pay attention and don't be afraid of calling attention to dodgy ground!

  • Always have a mobile phone on you;
  • Get yourself safe and then phone 999 and ask for the Fire Service and then the Animal Rescue Team;
  • Always be aware more or less of where you are on a ride so that you can give good instructions as to your whereabouts;
  • Phone your own vet if you are close to home and get them to come out straight away - they may well be needed to sedate or anaesthetise; 
  • Keep calm and quiet - and don't hassle the horse - while he is still, he is safe;
  • Keep yourself safe and away from the horse's legs in particular;
  • If the horse can be contained, contain him;
  • Have an eye as to where the horse can go so that he is safe once he has been extricated;
  • Make sure that you have some sort of egress if he does start to struggle to free himself.

"Thanks for your tip about the bog. I am glad it was a good outcome and will be passing your advice on" LW. Cornwall

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

13th November, 2012 I Owe This Woman My Life!

It's no exaggeration to say that I owe this lady my life since, with any luck, she has added a few years on to the end of mine. Since I met Sally a year ago and she became my personal trainer,  I have run 575 miles, cycled 742 miles, been to the gym for 100 hours and swum 250 lengths. I have lost 38 pounds in weight and been able to maintain that for almost six months.  In two weeks time I am down to do my first half marathon and the idea is that I do the Amsterdam marathon next October. I have never felt better in my life.

This photo was taken by Jo Monck (Minstrels on the Hill).

13th November, 2012 All Mod Cons

For a traditional Forest pony, Nelly Noo adapts very well to new kitchen appliances. Here she is enjoying her new Hay Hutch with Theoden. I had a change of heart about taking her to the field at Brockenhurst because there is a Yew tree in it and even if it was fenced off, Nelly has always made short work of electric fencing. She's been out on the Forest again but I have brought her in pending the farrier's next visit. She's looking fantastic and has a wonderful winter coat.

Charly and I got carried away today and had a two and a half hour ride and a lovely canter around Hazeley Inclosure which is  encircled by a very sandy track. Everywhere it is so wet but both horses are getting good at looking down to check the terrain.

Monday, November 12, 2012

12th November, 2012 The Right Experience

A busy day mainly working with people that don't have a lot of horse experience either by reason of age, being new to horses, or coming back after a long gap. In some ways they are better off as they don't have the same traditions or pre-conceptions to overcome and can learn about what horses really are, right from the start.

This little owner is just eight years old and loves her pony to bits. I was called out to see if we could work out why her pony was pulling such awful faces when the saddle appears. The saddle itself has been fitted to her very recently but her past experience of saddles have left her feeling sore and sour. It's those experiences that she refers back to whenever she sees a saddle.

"Thank you so much for coming to see us this evening. P really enjoyed it, and I especially found it very interesting, it was a real eye opener to see things in a totally different light! Was very impressed with May and look forward to spending some time with her working on some of the new things we learned tonight - think she will particularly enjoy some massaging! I will definitely arrange a second opinion for her back, do not like the idea of her being so sore."LP

I also went to see a three year old New Forest pony that has never been taught to pick his feet up properly - I imagine that his experiences of having his feet trimmed have all been pretty poor. In the meantime, his inexperienced owner has only ever had experience of lifting up the feet of experienced horses. It's really important to realise that horses don't automatically know how to pick up their feet for people and have no reason to do so. Rather than being stubborn, a prey animal is being sensible when he chooses not to give his only means of escape to a predator intent on holding on to them!

I should mention what a wonderful experience it was to go to a client who keeps her horse at Russells Equestrian Centre, Southampton. I arrived a little early but no sooner was I through the gate than I was scooped up by a member of staff and shown around all of the horses, many of which have come in through the RSPCA. Owner of the Centre, Carol is a keen IH member and we are now in discussion about a running a demonstration together.

12th November, 2012 It's a Kind of Magic

This is Magic and Merlin, the two wild Bodmin moor ponies, going out for a ride. It's been three years since Jenny and I went to stay at Tabs and George's house overnight so that we could spend a couple of days using the No Fear, No Force techniques on these ponies. Merlin, the older one of the two, would practically climb the walls when a human went in to his stable and obviously had a very jaundiced view of people. Magic simply turned his bottom on anything and anyone he didn't like.  I think that the early work we did changed their minds forever and set them up for success. Since then Tabs has done all the day in, day out work with them and achieved more than anyone might have thought possible. Ponies like these and Benji, prove that wild, and sometimes traumatised ponies, can be brought round if people stop acting like predators and act like partners instead.