Monday, March 31, 2014

31st March, 2014 Fair Chance

Chance is a rather striking two year old Bodmin Moor colt. Fortunately he seems to have escaped being branded although he will certainly have been manhandled.  He's travelled a long way from home, taking in three sales yards en route before ending up locally. His future is a lot more certain now. He arrived with a head collar on and his owner has done really well to be able to replace it after carefully handling his head over the door of the stable. However, she has been quite worried about attempting to touch him anywhere else on his body whether in the stable or in the paddock.

Using good old No Fear, No Force methods and the feather duster I was able to start touching his preferred side, his right hand side. Progress was pretty rapid from there and I was soon able to touch him with my hand on his right hand side and to give him a lovely scratch under his neck. He's really rather itchy at the moment and moulting like mad. His coat is rather matted too but it's important not to try to pull any of the matted bits off.

The scarf was fairly routine as he doesn't mind having his head handled but I could then use the scarf to teach him to lead from his neck and then later from the head collar itself.

It was a short step literally and metaphorically to being able to touch him on his left hand side which he had protected until now. All of this meant that I could swap his head collar over fairly easily and soon there will be no need for one at all.

Facebook TG: Chance with Sarah Weston amazing is all I can say 
Message received 1.4.14: "Walked into stable on his own today. New yellow duster was nudging it before I even went into stable good as gold.  Amazing thank you you much !" TG
Piglet had some more lead rein practise this afternoon. He still has a tendency to pull away from time to time and so we wanted to practice catching him again. It was back to the scarf because I hate to see him being jolted in the nose when he treads on the end of the lead rein and I do think that it was putting him off coming back to be caught. Given that there is no way of holding him if he does pull away, we need to keep him keen to come back.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

30th March, 2014 Stick in the Mud

One of the things on Piglet's to-do list was to get more used to children. He was rather surprised by the game of 'It!' but by the time we got to 'Stuck in the Mud' he was fine.

Once we'd worn the children out, we introduced them to Piglet, outside the pen....

...and then inside....I have no children of my own (and I don't mind) but it's great to be able to borrow other people's.

While Nettles was being brushed into within an inch of his life, Jack, who looks like the result of a pillow fight, is learning a new way of going over the bridge. Until now he has jumped it.

Piglet was happy to watch men at work...

but did offer to wash the car with Indy.

They were keen to offer David a spa day too....

...and wanted to do the washing up straight after lunch.

"What a grown up boy! I can't believe it's the same pony. Those photos made me smile. Walnuts and rice- must be a welsh thing!" DB

Saturday, March 29, 2014

29th March, 2014 Daylight Rubbery

This morning's pony took me back a few years now to when I first met and worked with Piper. Although this picture looks quite promising, this Exmoor pony is absolutely terrified of being touched.  Moor bred, he has been tied up to something solid be hot branded three times, inspected and possibly micro-chipped and DNA tested as a foal. He then lived out on the Moor until he was three years old and was later gelded - something usually achieved by driving the pony into a cattle crush and heavily sedating them with drugs such as Ketamine. All in all not a good experience of humans at all and one that seems to have scarred him for life in more ways than one. It's a long road ahead.

Piglet reminded us of just how far he has come since his arrival. The repetition in these pictures is a useful representation of just how much repetition is needed in order to lay the basic foundations. Time, patience and technique. The lovely thing is that he chooses to be with us now and appreciates a lovely rub as a reward.

Friday, March 28, 2014

28th March, 2014 All Things Bright and Beautiful

With the rain lashing down we were glad of the barn again today and Piglet withstood the noisier conditions pretty well. However, he wasn't so sure about my orange coat and found it difficult to allow me to go up both sides of his face with the head collar.

It can go on from the side more easily than head on
Once it had been on and off a few times it was time to take my coat off and lend it to him.

He doesn't seem to worry bout things draped over him at all - he has worn a rug all winter
Next we did some backing up work from the left and then the right. Backing up often encourages softness in ridden horses and I wanted to see if it might have the same effect on the ground. Although he is often quick to leave, he is also a pony that instinctively wants to keep moving forwards if he is worried. Backing up might give him another option. Of course all horses know how to back up, it's just that they don't normally practise it much on their own!

He is fascinated by the brolly and happy to follow it at close quarters. I think he would die a thousand deaths though if it moved towards him. He will let it approach him when it is taken down.

Loose and free to leave whenever he likes, he chooses to stay and investigate all the pretty things.

It seems hard to fathom him out sometimes, what will and won't frighten him although his fear of people and of being trapped are pretty consistent. With limited time left to work with him, I just have to concentrate on consolidating what we have got and only mildly pushing at his boundaries. It's clear that one false move and his confidence takes a real knock. On the plus side we now have a pony that comes to select people whenever they are around, accepts a head collar even in a big space, accepts a lead rein and will lead easily from the left and more tentatively from the right; a pony that comes back even if he leaves with the lead rein and most of all a pony that will give things a go. On the minus side he is wary of new people especially men and tall people, has a tried and tested technique of pulling away if he feels the need to, and is fairly dubious about people's intentions towards him. Ponies called Piglet know that they are edible.

The key to all of this has to be to accept that he is what he is and what he thinks is what he thinks and what he does is what he does - because he is a pony. He just does what he feels he needs to do, and what has worked in the past, to keep himself safe.

28th March, 2014 Volume Control

The engineers amongst you will know that things like sound and earthquakes do not increase in a linear fashion like time. Horse's adrenalin levels seem to increase in the same way; and  increases in adrenalin are not just a product of what you're doing but how long you do it for.

For example, Dear Piglet copes well with having a head collar on now. Yesterday I wondered if he could do it with his head lowered while I was crouched down; I might look less threatening at his own height. Although he would happily put his nose into the nose band and let the crown piece go up the side of his face and over his neck, by the time I went to fasten the buckle he had had to raise his head which effectively put it out of reach.. The neck itself is a wonderful adrenalin graph and gives you all the clues you need to a horse's state of mind. Piglet also likes to push his head to the right to check that the exit is clear in case he needs to leave. 

For the lay people amongst you, this is how David, who is an engineer, describes it for people like me:

In short, a logarithmic scale is non linear, so that each "step" is a multiple of the previous step.
So, a car has a linear increase of speed, but the power required is logarithmic (double the speed requires 8 times the power 2^3 if nothing else changes).
In Piglet terms, this means that twice the pressure equate to 4 times the response (2^2), so 4 times the pressure is 4^2=16 times the response.
^ means "to the power of" in computer speak, so ^2 is squared, and ^3 is cubed (2^3 =2x2x2=8).

In Piglet's case where his automatic, non-thinking, totally instinctive prey responses may have been reinforced by humans. Practising the no, when the no is instinctive, is never a good idea. . The IH methods of advance and retreat enhanced in his case with clicker mean that we have achieved more in 24 hours of training (in instalments) than was achieved in the previous 12 months. Nevertheless there is still an awfully long way to go before Piglet will trust people.

I shall tell Piglet that he is logarithmic today.

This week I have also been out to a New Forest Pony that came with a bit of a shopping list of problems which included kicking and biting if touched while he is loose and eating. My normal response would be to put a head collar and lead rein on so that at least if he tries either of these things you have a bit of control of both ends of the horse. However, he knew the difference between this and being loose and wouldn't do a thing with the head collar on. You could also say well, just don't touch him when he is eating - he deserves to be left in peace. Whilst this is true to a certain extent, you do need to be able to at least approach your horse while he is eating without the risk of being injured.

Of course this sort of behaviour is instinctive, non-thinking, automatic behaviour, designed to defend their food, which is then reinforced when it works, i.e. when it moves other horses or people out of the way. In order to interrupt that reinforcement, it needs to stop working. Once more the trust feather duster came in handy here as it could be used to touch him, at a distance, and could stay put if he decided to kick it. It only moves away again once his foot is down and committed to staying down.

So far, so good - email received today: "I also used my feather duster when I got back, first with the headcollar on in the field and then loose in the field whilst eating his hay, I only did it twice on each side but he didn't even lift his foot or head just carried on eating." SS

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

26th March, 2014 Just got to Have Faith

Since the secondary school teachers were on strike today, Charly brought his daughter, Faith, up to the horses with him. A good opportunity for her to do some work with Nettles and to ride him for the very first time.

On the lead rein at first

and then off.

She also gave me some help with Piglet who needs to be introduced to lots of children. This time incremental learning will means them getting incrementally smaller!

Here's a lovely quote from Mark Rashid:

"Horsemanship is the art of mastering our own movements, thoughts, emotions and behavior. Not the horses." 

Nothing could be more true in the case of Piglet where we can only ask him to meet us part way.

Monday, March 24, 2014

24th March, 2014 Hands on Horsemanship

Hands on Horsemanship

At last we can start looking forward to the summer. If you;re looking for a really good training course, practising your horsemanship skills, then the Hands on Horsemanship Course, based at HorseWorld, Bristol, comes highly recommended. With a 2:1 participant to tutor ratio you are guaranteed to get a truly Hands On experience.

24th March, 2014 Get The Flags Out

Piglet's owner and her Mum both turned up to see him on Friday afternoon and seemed reasonably pleased with his progress. We've tried to address both sides of the equation - lowering his fear levels but also having a nice plan for emergencies so that there is no need to panic if he does get loose. He's had the weekend off and, far from regressing, he seems to have had another leap of faith in us. I caught him within 20 seconds of going into his field and he pushed his head into the headcollar. After that we went for a walk in the woods and practiced our semaphore. For this you need...

A reliable assistant or two

An emergency protocol. Here Piglet is loose with the lead rein and has allowed me to catch him quite easily.

Good communication. We're jogging along well together.

Clear arm signals

Somewhere to rest

A left arm that works too - on his right side this time.

A few obstacles to clear...

and someone to look up to.
"Jumping logs on the lead rein- never thought I'd see that!" DB

Saturday, March 22, 2014

22nd March, 2014 Punch Drunk

Off to see three Suffolk Punches today or should that be Somerset Punches? Sweet Pea (5), Lily (2) and Mirabelle (1) all live on a lovely farm with lots of other animals. Because of the horrendous weather they have been barn kept for the last two months but seem extremely happy and relaxed in each other's company. Today the plan was to do some groundwork and foot handling. The foot handling went according to plan although I often seemed to be working with two at once.

I've worked with Sweet Pea before when she belonged to another lady in Swanage. A complete but happy coincidence. She was just a foal then.

I didn't do any work with Draco, the Short Horn Bull who lives next door.

Lily starts to understand what is wanted.

The groundwork had to be handled very carefully as there was a lot of pent up energy and the girls have grown used to being together. Whilst Sweet Pea was relatively calm, Mirabelle has done very little leading work out in the open and is fascinated by anything new - note the almost exaggerated running foot.

At the end of the day, much to the astonishment of the elderly Shetland Sheep, I was asked to help turn the three horses out.

We stuffed all of their heads into a bucket of food and led them around the perimeter of the chicken farm and down the grass track to their field which they set about ploughing almost immediately. They looked so impressive as they thundered around.

"Thank you so much for yesterday - we both learnt an enormous amount and hopefully we will be able to put your teaching into practice. Thank you very much for the wonderful photos - there are some spectacular ones of Suffolks in full flight (in both senses of the word). You will be glad to hear that they are still in their field happily grazing, all came up for a scrap of feed and a rub (not pat!) to keep their routine going.

Many, many thanks for helping us get them out - above the call of duty - but cannot tell you how much appreciated (especially by me who understood what could go wrong) - as you said, Tim was in blissful ignorance of the explosive nature of grass under their little hooves.

Very best wishes to you and Tracey and hope we will see you again."  SW