Thursday, June 30, 2016

30th June, 2016 Phenomenon

The big horses were looking very Stubbs-like this morning when I arrived but I was due to work with Nelly's niece and Bella's sister.

Day two of Zelda and Zoe's Independent School and they have excelled themselves. They are both leading nicely and have started to relax about being further away from each other - from just a few feet to three-quarters of the way across the field. The great thing about training in this way is that the ponies are still learning when they are the one left in the field. They learn that they can predict that their companion will come back and that they can survive on their own for a little while.


For identification purposes, Zoe has 'noe' white markings, and Zelda has more name and more white. Got it?

They have also met some new obstacles and both are curious rather than frightened. By taking incremental steps, interspersed with little sections of leading, they ended the session both walking across the big bridge. Phenomenal for two ponies that came in barely able to lead on Tuesday.






From Z to A this afternoon as I went off for my regular visit to Anna; caught in an instant again today.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

29th June, 2016 Foot Perfect

Today was the third session of working on foot handling with two year old coloured cob, Bertie. When I first started working with his feet he would walk through you, snatch his feet away, kneel on you, stamp his back feet down on top of yours, or just kick. For session 1 I worked on asking him to accept touch and NOT pick his feet up, using a feather duster, and later my own hand. For session 2 I worked on setting up a cue to ask him to pick up his feet and then asked him to hold them up for 5 to 10 seconds each time.

For this third session I worked on asking him to hold them up for much longer (in fact I no longer needed to time it because he is so well balanced he can hold them up for as long as is needed), to allow them to be picked out, tapped with the hoof pick and 'rasped'. I gave him marks out of ten for the presentation of each foot and he achieved an astonishing 38 out of 40 on several occasions and with his owner. He is now ready for a trim from the farrier which should tidy his feet up a lot.

On our way back to Fritham we spotted these New Forest ponies and assorted friends not looking at all impressed with the wintery weather. One of them has somehow managed to get her, hi-visibility collar around her front leg but doesn't seem to be struggling.  She is a very wild, wild pony and so it's not possible for anyone to get near enough to cut it off.  I am assured that she is being carefully monitored for rubs by her owner and the local agister and will be extricated at the next drift if it hasn't come away by then. The collars are breakable and elasticated.

I made a little start with Zoe and Zelda, working on leading and separation from each other. Although they are only partially related - one's mother is the other's grandmother - I now think of them as twins. In fact, Zelda is Bella's half sister as both are by Lovelyhill Hendrix.

The plan was straightforward - take one pony out of the top gate, walk down the adjoining field at a slight distance from the fence, and then go back in through the bottom gate. The incline makes it easier for the pony to 'accidentally' keep up and therefore to find the release in the lead rein; both are instinctively inclined to pull at the moment.

Feet picking up, leading, and so on, are things that we take for granted in the well handled, domesticated, older horses that we buy and yet all of these things have to be taught somewhere along the line. I think the greatest proportion of my work these days in helping people to educate their young horses.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

28th June, 2016 Z Cars

Jack was intrigued to see what came out of the trailer this morning...

Black beauties, Zoe and Zelda, both two year old New Forest ponies, did a pretty immaculate job of self-loading on to a stock trailer so that they could be moved up to mine. They were bred by John and Penny Hankinson and have therefore been handled carefully and kindly. They have come to me to further their basic education. The biggest challenge will be asking them to work separately from one another.

"Utterly delighted! - Photo’s absolutely fabulous – we will have them blown up and put onto everything😊 It was a really great start and I can’t wait to see how they progress." WJ

As well as asking for the girls' autographs, Henrietta had a very successful session of her own...

...this looks awfully like a headcollar don't you think? I think we may be ready for the real thing.

Afternoon appointment with two more New Forest ponies, Kesali and Copper. Both are wearing a bit under their Duallys for all kinds of work now and seem very happy with the Neue Schule starter bit.

Jackie has been getting on Kesali on her own and is now riding around the field. Today we worked on breathing out into walk and breathing out into halt.

As the threatened rain arrived we worked on asking Copper to take his handbrake off so that he would trot in hand and go forward when short-reined.

"Just wanted to say thanks to you and Tracey for another really illuminating session with the boys. It's good to know I'm doing the things that need to be and them are learning so much together. Had a really good groundwork session with both of them today. Copper is trotting in hand pretty nicely! Thanks so much for your help and ideas. And of course the good humour! I'm sure that the ponies respond just to the pleasant "vibe" that you generate." JH 

Monday, June 27, 2016

27th June, 2016 Monday Closing

An unexpected day off so not only time to ride the big horses, but time to see where we're at it with Henrietta. I've been able to touch and pick up her back feet for a while but any attempt to touch the front with a hand has been met with a convincing threat to bite, apparently totally instinctive. Today I managed to get as far as her knee (wrist).

Sunday, June 26, 2016

26th June, 2016 Sunday Trading

It's a fortunate cow that gets a lie in on a Sunday. Eager to keep up with Honey and Iona's training, Sandra and I agreed to work with them today. Nothing extraordinarily new but some nice forward progress literally and metaphorically. Both horses have some clicker training running alongside the gentlest of negative reinforcement - the squeeze of the leg, a light pressure on a lead rein and so on.

Although I don't believe that horses generally understand voice commands, those trained with clicker tend to become very attuned to the voice and so the rider and handler have to be fairly strict and clear about which word cues they are going to use for what - all too easy to train a horse to come to a grinding halt with the words "Good Girl" so whilst "Walk on" would seem to be common sense, "stand" can be too easily associated with any other word ending in "and" and mean that you could come to a violent halt when riding with a companion and talking about the brand new band you saw on the stand and the sand on the land at the strand. Intonation helps!

Having watched the earlier session very carefully, it was Honey's turn next. She is a few stages behind Iona having waited for a suitable saddle, and continues to make progress too. She's a different character and is sometimes ambivalent about accepting direction from the handler.

Although seemingly submissive, a word I struggle with anyway, the pinned ears suggest to me that she is in two minds about whether she should be accepting direction.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

25th June, 2016 If Bob Marley did Long Reining...

...he would talk about eye-on-eye contact. Today it was a case of working with a Smartie between two Thorns, both children's riding ponies but with a semi-feral background. Neither had ever been long reined before.

In Thorn's case, his owner, Michelle,  is looking for a way of exercising to keep weight off him when her daughter cannot ride. With semi-feral ponies it is essential to do preparation exercises before introducing two reins to make sure that the pony is comfortable about seeing the handler and kit out of either eye, and can also cope with the handler passing through their blind spot from one side to another. Failure to prepare and assess can result in a pony taking off with the long reins and going through whatever fencing (and people) are around.

The preparation exercises include single-line driving (not quite the same as lunging as it depends on constant communication and careful body language - note the eye on eye contact and the 45° angle.)

This exercise is designed to assess whether the pony understands how to follow a pressure and whether they accept the long rein against their hindquarters.

Once Thorn understood what she was being asked to do, she long reined really beautifully, and I was then able to use her to teach Michelle how to long-rein. She finished her session walking over a simple pole on the ground, something that Thorn had leapt about six foot over only a few weeks before.

Smartie and her young handler are  an absolute delight, both very bright and cheerful. We did all of the preparation exercises together and went on to long rein Smartie.

For owner, Fiona, it was helpful to work on the exact body language and level of assertiveness which will keep Smartie going forward as she is more of a laid back pony and wants to keep coming turning in to her handler.

Back to Thorn and we needed to do a little work to repair a loss of confidence on both sides. Thorn has recently reverted to a default position of rearing when she objects to the things that are happening to her such as injections by the vet, getting out of sight of a riding companion, or being schooled by an adult rider. The adult rider answer to this might be to push her through it, to be fairly heavy with the leg, or even to use a whip. Unfortunately this has led Thorn to fight even more as she feels she is being told rather than asked. Thorn has begun to anticipate and ready herself for a battle and as a result her young rider was seeing and feeling a rear coming through even before it had really begun.

Before we began we discussed what our plan was going to be if we felt a 'no' coming through. You can see Thorn's anticipation of trouble with that 'running foot'. Although this young woman uses the lightest of squeezes, Thorn's reaction was a good swish of the tail, a grunt or a lifting of the head and withers. Instead of forcing her to confront the mental wall in front of her, likely to result in her going up instead of forwards, we simply asked her to take a step to the side around it.

I gave her plenty of space to work on this technique, acting merely as an anchor in case of trouble. In no time not only was she moving sideways as asked but she was beginning to walk forwards when asked too. All she wants is to be asked nicely.

Rather than 'schooling' in the future, this little partnership will be working on having fun, carrying on with their hacking but also finding something positive to do in what has been seen as a boring and confrontational work place.