Monday, February 29, 2016

29th February, 2016 Leaps Forward

It was good to be back on a horse again today for the first time since the injury I received four weeks ago. I'm not exactly comfortable but the sight of orange ears is always uplifting. I love the fact that Theoden and Petra can be left for so long and, probably because they live out full time and they have mellowed with age, there is no excessive energy when you get on board again.

They all came flying across the field...but only Theoden and Petra went out. We're just having a clickered treat each before we go.

Another black horse, Kizi, is doing well with her clickered halts introduced because she has a tendency to rush when out riding. She had an incident with a vehicle about 18 months ago and hasn't been the same since. Owner, Karen, contacted me during my 'sick leave' to ask me how she could help Kizi to be calm when things come up behind her out hacking.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

28th February, 2016 Corps De Ballet

Ever since I was young I have loved cows but always had a healthy respect for them. I've been admiring this bull every time I make this particular trip and this morning I had five minutes to go and interview him personally. Although he was lying down as we arrived, he soon wandered over to the fence. 

He then presented his shoulder which I started to rub, rather gingerly,  which he seemed to enjoy immensely.

Working on a Sunday again but what a pleasant task. Another trip over to Minterne Parva this time to say goodbye to Theo. Once again one of our students has taken a fancy to one of the foals and although that is not part of the plan, it's lovely when it happens. Theo and Vicky are so well suited. He has the antecedents that she needs in a fantastic dressage horse and she has all of the calm and sensible attributes that he needs too.

We has an army of peaceful people with various roles - gate opening, leading, gate closing, and feed carrying.

Theo was led down the track with a feed to keep him interested. A week out in a field has taken a lot of the excess energy out of him.

Archie followed him down so that he wouldn't be isolated in the field...

...but Theo confidently led the way.

Archie asks Bella if she fancies going out later...

but isn't so keen to go back in the stable himself after his taste of freedom. He was soon in and took the opportunity to have a snooze despite the arrival of a horse box in the yard.

Energy restored, Theo on his way to his new home, and the fillies out for the first time in a few weeks, it was time to head back out to the fields.

With the two broodmares metaphorically in the lead for comfort and reassurance, we negotiated the corridor between the fields...

..and then into the fields where they could really let off steam.

The good news is that Theo has arrived at his new home safely and been introduced to a new friend. We'll look forward to hearing how he goes on in the future.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

27th February, 2016 Pas De Deux

Went to see two very calm horses this morning. Honey and Iona both originally came from the RSPCA and both had been neglected to the point of emaciation. Since the came to Sandra nine months ago she has worked steadily and methodically using a combination of IH techniques and clicker training in order to gain their trust and teach them what they need to know. She has asked for my help in backing them once it gets a bit warmer so the purpose of today's visit was to see where she had got to with her training and how ready they might be. She has done a really thorough and considered job with a good dose of empathy too.

Honey is almost if not quite full Thoroughbred and five years old. 

Iona is TB x Connemara and she is eight years old.

Back at Fritham we took Nettles out with Maddie on board once again. As the hunt were out for their last hoorah of the season we took the precaution of keeping him on the lead rein. Fortunately Maddie has no ego and didn't mind.

Here she is giving him a treat for his clickered halt, something we tend to install as a matter of course these days for emergency stops.

Henrietta couldn't wait for another game of Bridge.

This is the first time she has allowed me to touch her bottom while she has been standing on the higher bridge.

Friday, February 26, 2016

26th February, 2016 Développé

I was contacted by Olive's new owner because Olive was demonstrating some neat ballet moves whenever the farrier came to do her feet. Her behaviour had got worse over time and the farrier had recommended that they got some help before someone got hurt. Olive has spent most of her life as a hireling for hunting in Ireland and although we cannot be certain, I suspect that she has been worked very hard and jumped over some pretty demanding hedges. You will know that the front legs of a horse are not connected to it's spine by bone but by muscles, ligaments, and tendons and I suspect that she has experienced considerable jarring. Certainly she was pretty reactive as I went over her body with my hands looking for obvious signs of soreness. On top of this, she has probably not enjoyed a one to one relationship with anyone before. Accordingly she has learned to take care of herself, avoiding and postponing the physical and mental discomfort of picking her legs up for prolonged periods of time. She has probably never been taught to pick her feet up well in the first place and even at 11 needs to learn how to balance. I have recommended that she has some physical therapy from a well qualified specialist to complement all the other checks that the owner has already done on her teeth and her saddle.

Whether this is all conjecture or not, we needed to undermine her pattern of behaviour as quickly as we could especially given that the farrier was due in just half an hour! We suspected that we would be fudging it a bit today and coming back to do some more work after his visit. As luck would have it, he has another horse to shoe at the same yard and we negotiated a change in the running order to allow us to do more practice before he attempted to do anything with her. I started off by lifting each of her feet for just 3 seconds and clicker training her through it. To start with one click, one treat and then one click (no treat) to mean keep on doing what you're doing and three clicks with a treat to say job done! Once this was established I lengthened the period for which I held up her feet and then the owner's daughter, A, took over from me.

When we went over to Matt he suggested that we see how things go if he tapped her feet and if we had any doubt about our chances of success he would re-book to a later date. In the event Olive allowed him to remove her shoes and to cold shoe her with no problems.

Once again Alex took over from me and proved to be very competent - great timing and attention to detail.

Email received 3.3.16: "Thank you ever so much for all your help,advice and assistance last week. We are still trying to implement the techniques that you taught us and all seems to be going well."KC

At the end of the working day we returned to the fields to find a varied menagerie outside. My neighbour's cows were guarding the gate but fortunately let us through.

Pie called in to say hello and to see if there was any hay going. He has gone through this winter out on the Forest on less than half a bale of hay, rarely turning up to ask for anything.

Kelly on the other hand is begging at everyone's gate.

Orange girl is looking really well and just looks vaguely optimistic.

Henrietta is always pleased to see us these days, anticipating more ginger biscuits and putting herself up onto her pedestal at the crinkle of a packet.

Thursday, February 25, 2016


A tremendous day at Sparsholt College filming a sequence on loading and travelling horses.  This was a real joint effort between the NFU, BHS, The British Animal Rescue and Trauma Association, IH, ICE (the film company), The Horse Trust and Sparsholt College.

Nyala was the star of the show, a Dutch Warmblood (by Nairobi), she had been polished so beautifully by her owner, Courtney, who was also best supporting actor.

Considering Courtney had only been asked by the College the evening before she was superb, calm and correct under pressure.

While we waited for the passing helicopter to move on, along with the disappearing sun, a stream of students, and lots of horses, I went through my script with Vicky.

Once we came to the action shots it was my role to make sure that Nyala had rehearsed her part and was ready for the curtain to go up.

Tracey who is also un-flustered under pressure, was a leading actor too.

Nyala going in and out of the IH horsebox, kindly loaned by Kelly for the day.

25th February, 2016 In Vogue!

I have a feeling there will be no talking without curtseying to Henrietta after this. The IH magazine is available through the IH Website and is full of useful information about horses (and apparently mules). I shall be framing mine of course.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

24th February, 2016 Pride of Our Alley

A trip out to Stockbridge this morning to see our first pony. Like a lot of New Forest ponies, which are also available in white, she's tenacious, courageous and eating is her favourite hobby. Lesley has been having trouble catching her and sometimes she pulls away to get to grass. She's actually a very nice little mare, and a pleasure to ride, and only doing what she feels she needs to do in order to get to or avoid being taken away from food. We worked on two alternative methods for improving catching - the first using body language to 'walk her down' rather than sending her way, and noticing her very first offer to be caught. The second, and much to her approval, clickered treats. The only problem we had with the latter is that when we were practising she spent a long time savouring even just one nut before giving us her attention again.

We also did some leading work - setting up a 'smile in the line' and a 'motorbike hand' so that there was comfort but strength when needed.

In the school Sally paid careful attention to the drawing on 'the board' but she could have been asking me whether it was true that actually Sally is my real name. (It is.)

We used the Dually in this instance so that Lesley could give it a try and note that it works just like a normal headcollar unless and until a horse is really determined to pull away and then it can give you better control. In fact Sally was very amenable and attentive.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

23rd February, 2016 Serious Fun

This morning we constituted a Mottisfontley Crew as we went off to see the Thelwell Exhibition at Mottisfont Abbey. Thelwell lived locally to here, and like a lot of children brought up with native ponies, he formed an important part of my childhood. I used to love my box collection of Thelwell cartoons which included A Leg At Each Corner and Angels on Horseback. National Trust properties are really rather stuffy and not really the best place to put a collection designed to make you laugh out loud. I behaved like a reactionary and chose to go round the picture in the opposite direction to everyone else!

This afternoon it was time to take Jenny for her much awaited visit to see Benny. We were rained off last week because although she might be waterproof, he is not.

It may have been the malevolent look in her eye, the sheer randomness of a life size plastic animal, or the donkey shape...

...but Benny was having none of it. The facilities were not safe enough to put any sort of pressure at all, and rather than him make an association between his own stable-yard and some alien creature, we chose to stop the session altogether. It is so easy to go with your MUST genes and important to make sure that you are set up for success. We had to stop taking him to see the real donkeys as the ground was so wet in the field next door, but we'll take this as a clue that he does need to see more of them in the future. There's a fine line between sensitisation and desensitisation and we need to make sure we are doing the latter, not the former.

Debbie has done her homework for this evening:
"Thanks for today even if it didn't go quite as we had hoped/expected!  I put the wheelbarrow where we had put the donkey and when I brought him out of the field he stopped and looked but figured it was just the wheelbarrow so carried on quite normally, just locking an ear on as we went past in case it suddenly changed shape!  He was just his normal self once on the yard. I will try and find other more unusual objects to put around to see if he reacts at all." DV