A fulfilling weekend at the Shy Lowen charity in Liverpool made a 500 mile round trip and a game of motorway bingo well worthwhile. We're always made to feel at home and Bernadette and Eric, who run the charity, are always grateful for our time and the many generous donations of horse tack and money that we rustle up from friends and distant acquaintances before we go. Indeed we had two pit stops en route to collect more until there wasn't an inch of extra room in the back of my car.
A stay in a sailors' hotel was cheap and cheerful, if noisy and smelly because of its proximity to the docks and the local waste plant, but gave an opportunity for an early night and a bit of TV. I watched Grand Designs and was struck by the similarity between the restoration of an old Suffolk Guildhall and the restoration of the horses at Shy Lowen. Do you strip everything back to the original structure or live with and celebrate the architectural changes that have been made over the centuries to 'enhance' and protect the building?
Isaac is a typical example of the horses that come to Shy Lowen. Failed attempts to break him to ride mean that not only is he a bolter but really he has had it with people. These horses not only bear the physical lumps and bumps of their history but the mental ones too. I spent a little time making friends with Isaac in the field, telling him he has landed on his feet, and that all of the little hands of the kids that work as volunteers at Shy Lowen will help to heal his soul. For today all I needed was for him to demonstrate how to join up without doing Join Up to the six students we had on our course, some of the horse loaners and some of the children at the sanctuary. He happily obliged.
It's always good to have an opportunity to demonstrate the horse's true instinct and Isaac demonstrate his into pressure response amazingly well. We moved on to some gentle desensitisation work with Isaac revealing more of his history because it wasn't the feather duster that worried him but any swing of my arm.
After the demonstration I was asked to work with two of the volunteers. Here Beth was working with Basil. He has a habit of using his head like a baseball bat in order to get attention. This has either been ignored or 'sanctioned' with a push which of course activates his into pressure response and makes him do it all the more. I loaned Beth my shushy coat and just one decisive pat of the pockets when he smacked into her was enough to put him off. That's what I like about IH - you always hit yourself, never the horse!
Basil turned out to be very responsive and did the groundwork exercises beautifully and with only the very lightest pressure. Same as with all Appaloosa's then - they've got the buttons, they are clearly visible, and you only need to press them.
Bambi is a Carneddau pony, destined with many others also rescued by the charity, to be shot or sent for meat. He was so tiny when he arrived that it was easy to tame him and then to over-pet him. As a result he has become very strong with people, barging and biting. Nicole and I worked together to ask him not to do that any more and he proved to be a very willing pony once he had clear but fair boundaries.
In the afternoon we worked with the students. Liz's (Pitman) group didn't have clean ponies either!
Chula, an ex-racehorse seemed to be very switched off when she came out of the field and immune to body language and other cues. Just by moving her feet and asking for her attention we got it and she worked beautifully for my three students.
7 year old Welsh Cob, Brown Boy, was also the product of a failed attempt to break him in and when he was turned out at Shy Lowen he refused to be caught.Having been over the brink it seems that this pony had made up his mind never to trust humans again. Volunteer Megan, who is due to go off to Myerscough College in the autumn, has been working diligently with him when he is in the stable getting him to accept touch and to have his feet picked up. Yesterday was the first time that anyone has attempted to work with him outside and as you can see in the first photo he motored off to get away from his handler, Sue. She did brilliantly and was ultra calm, dropping her eye contact and waiting for him to just bring himself to a halt.
Here she is establishing the first touch on the left hand side and below, Anne manages to do the same on the right. Like so many of these nervous ponies, Brown Boy was much happier with people on one side than the other and it makes you wonder how anyone could have thought that he was ready to be ridden. So much work to do but it will get done.
"Thank you for such a fantastic day. Everyone loved it. You explain so well, and really engage your audience. It's super to watch." LP