Saturday, December 31, 2016

31st December, 2016 Should Auld Acquaintance be Forgot

As the New Year celebrations begin it was time to catch up with old acquaintances.

Far from puckering up for a kiss at midnight...

...Terese thought she would play dead!

Please note: polyester hat! Not a real ocelot! Temujin is wearing real fur.

I was reunited with my quiet favourite, Temujin...

...while David listened intently to what Terese had to say.

Lloyd and all of the alpacas were really well...

and new face, Popeye, a Shetland with two blue eyes.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

29th December, 2016 Ever So Slightly Dottie

This morning I worked with a horse for the first time since my accident. David shook me into my work trousers (too much cake and only one opposing thumb) and came along with me. He did all of the hands on work alongside Vanessa, and my communication skills were tested a bit as I tried to explain what I meant by different things and which hand was left and which was right. Still, we did a grand job, and now that Dottie has a new and well-fitting saddle we can make more progress.

David, dressed up to the nines, with two of his other women.

Helping Dottie to take the weight off the foot that Vanessa wants to pick up

Picking out a wafty back foot

Acting as a hitching rail

A human cone

...and again
Vanessa has recently made me aware of Dottie's breeding. Her sire is Scoundrel, a CHAPS registered horse with many wins at County level. Her dam is a Welsh Cob.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

28th December, 2016 Finely Honed

Ending the year with Kerry's guest blog about her wonderful and lucky Exmoor Ponies, Hazel and Finn.

The road to Sarah and the story of our ponies has been a long one but started when a man knocked on our door one Sunday morning to ask if we wanted to buy his parents' field which joined the bottom of our garden. Chris and I live in Germany on the border with Luxembourg in converted railway water towers. After a series of negotiations the field became ours. The field was long neglected and our first job was to cut down the huge rotten fruit trees, clear the weeds, seed it, and fertilise the land. As a child and a teenager I had been horse mad and always thought I'd have a horse one day. University, travel, jobs, moving had all intervened but now there was a field to put one in .... except of course it needed to be at least two so the horse wasn't alone.

By chance I found out about some needy Exmoor Ponies in the Netherlands that were part of a conservation grazing project. Thirty seven of them were due to be culled. Homes were being sought for them by a lady who was trying to save them from a very early departure from life. So, one hundred fence posts later all hammered in by hand, and after Chris had fully studied the electric fence manual, Finn and Hazel duly arrived in Germany as semi feral Exmoors.

By this time I had started doing a lot of reading and had already come across Sarah and her book "No Fear, No Force" when looking for some guidance and ideas. The ponies were gentle but young, unhandled, and very nervous; everything was new for them. The whole experience was a steep learning curve for all of us. They had to learn to eat from a bucket, that hay came from a feeder, and that people were around several times a day and wanted to get close to them now that they were on their way to domestication. We had to source "Heu" (hay), a Tierartz (vet), Möhren (carrots) (20 kilos for €4 from the vegetable shop on the border) Lucerne, die Haltern (halters), ropes and later a Felderhelter (field shelter) without much German and no one horsey around to offer help or advice. Maybe that was a good thing though as we met Sarah! 

Getting halters on the ponies took a while but slowly, gently, and with a lot of patience we managed in the open field. 
Thinking had changed since I was last around horses and looking back I don't think I was taught very well at the time. It didn't take long to find out that we really needed some help and guidance on how to progress further. It had been a very long time since I had been involved with ponies and I needed some refresher lessons with sound techniques for semi feral ponies. Chris had never had anything to do with ponies but was keen to learn. So I emailed Sarah who immediately offered some good advice. We bought panels to make a pen, got the ponies used to going in it and carried on. Round here semi feral ponies are rarer than hens' teeth and so are the people who know anything about them. Besides which, we wanted to do this the "No fear, No Force" way. 

Here they are showing their ability to do well in tough conservation conditions. They love grass but will happily tuck into fresh hawthorn ... or willow, apple tree or blackthorn. And they love the roots of stinging nettles. I have watched them dig them up, shake off the earth and chew them with relish. We learn more about them all the time! 
So, last year we booked two days training and off we went via Easyjet to the New Forest and Sarah to learn more. (We can recommend B&B with Maureen & Barry Penfold at Primrose Cottage.) We spent two intensive days with Sarah learning about Dually halters, long lines, horse psychology and body language and clicking. Our heads spun. But home we came, upskilled and enthusiastic to carry on with the feather duster and some new clicking techniques. Over time - we are slow - we moved on, getting to touch them all over, asking them to pick their feet up and then we were into leading, walking and turning, backing up and moving over. We learned the power of the pause and endless patience. We roped in visiting children to wave umbrellas, kick footballs and to be noisy. We introduced them to the lawn mower, bicycles (the locals thought I was a complete weird cycling round the field ringing the bell closely followed by two curious ponies), poles, and even scary Mallorcan hats. 

They notice absolutely everything different or new! 
We found out if you are short of time don't bother with a training session, as you can be sure the ponies will detect the need to hurry and react!

This year we met Sarah again for a very wet day in April and met Henrietta, the charming but challenging mule. Otherwise it was a truly dreadful year for us with many things going wrong and finishing off by me falling on and breaking a finger. Sarah has all my sympathy. (And yes before you ask a pony was involved.) So it was only in the summer that we started long reining them. We saw It took a while to get both ponies comfortable with having the lines all around them and touching them. Slowly, slowly and with patience we progressed. They now turn and back nicely and we can work on getting them going forward more. 

Here is Finn during one of his first long lining sessions? He had a few questions- "What do I do now I am all hitched up," he says? If in doubt stand still!

Trying out bits and bridles for the first time.
We now have two very calm and friendly ponies who are easy to catch and handle, who speak to us when we appear in the field, who rush up to greet us and follow us around happily. They have a pretty comfortable easy life in their field with trees, apples, a track and a shelter. It has taken lots of time and hasn't been easy, there have been setbacks and frustrations along the way but it continues to be hugely rewarding, especially when we look back and see how far we have all come. Chris has even discovered a new interest that doesn't involve petrol! Best of all Finn and Hazel didn't end up on someone's dinner plate as youngsters. There are too many people who eat horse meat around here and unfortunately we do find it on restaurant menus as a speciality. I won't even mention Brexit!

And what are we going to do with the ponies long term? Well the hope is some driving. The pipe dream is some work in a friend's vineyards but there is a huge amount of learning to be done on all our parts before we can even think about that. We have some carriage driving lessons fixed up for us here in spring (in English despite the fact we are learning German). It will take us quite a while before we can hitch up and drive off into the sunset but the possibility is now there and we are not in a rush. Slowly, slowly there is the possibility of many things. And there is always Sarah to refer to for her skilled help and excellent advice!

On the subject of Exmoors, I received the following email from Emily G today. She has an Exmoor foal that hasn't had much handling:
"I received your no fear, no force book for Christmas and what a help it's been already."

Hello, Pluto

Peter and Pluto

28th December, 2016 Hands Off!

Just before Christmas, after I had injured my hand, I was contacted by Caroline about her pony, Rosie. She said, "I keep thinking my mare will improve but after 4 months I still can't rely on her loading." Explaining that I didn't know when I might be able to come out, I asked for more details about her horse and the horsebox. She replied, "It's a front facing lorry. She travels really well but just seem to think she is in once her front feet are in! She isn't naughty - just goes in fully once she decides. I have to wait for her which can take time!" I suggested a couple of simple things to try one of which was, "Make poles on the ground in shape of lorry and teach her to step into the far back corner and turn."

Yesterday I received this message from Caroline:

"...just wanted to say thank you so much for your guidance with loading. I tried the poles on the ground and it was amazing. She has been loading herself practically at home and today we went out for a lesson and she loaded so well both on the way out and also our biggest test, on the way home when she was tired. I still have the poles out ready in case I have to go back to that but there was a real light bulb moment when she worked out turning herself when she was up the ramp. Thank you again and please could I make a payment for your advice as I really would have not got where we are if you hadn't seen able to assist."
In the New Year I will be offering a 'hands off clinic' giving as much as help as I can by email, Facebook messenger, or telephone.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

27th December, 2016 Dragonian Measures

This blog is about ponies, but it is also about people.

About a hundred years ago, when I was studying for my MBA, I read a really interesting book about organisational management. It explained that for every step that at an organisation took to maximise attendance and production, disenfranchised employees would find a way round it, to thwart it, so that it ended up costing the company more in the long run. Thus, if the company decided to dock fifteen minutes pay from anyone who was five minutes late, the employee would make sure they were fourteen minutes later rather than just one minute. The company would retaliate by docking one hour's pay for anyone that was fifteen minutes late and then find that employees would turn up fifty-nine minutes late.

The villagers of Woodgreen have been some of the first to have their bottoms smacked for parking on the Forest verges. The initiative came from the National Park Authority who quite rightly could see that parking on the grass was quickly eroding the area available for the animals of the Forest to graze, as well as looking pretty unsightly: (Don't Treat Our Verges Like Dirt).  Although residents are certainly not the only ones parking on the Forest, some could not be bothered to open the gates to their drives to park on their own land.

Away from the villages, although there are hundreds of designated gravel car parks on the Forest, some dog walkers and tourists seem to prefer to find their own quiet area to walk and therefore park wherever they like. Cars do not float and inevitably the grass is damaged. Parking, like litter attracts more litter, attracts more parking.

The work to prevent parking on the grass has been carried out by the Forestry Commission or their contractors. It's a shambles. Along the road into Woodgreen where there are several gates and bridleway gates into the inclosure they have dug ditches halfway across the existing gravel so that cars are now parking on either side of the ditches rather than inside the narrow gravelled area where they would block the gate. The ditches are so close to the bridle-gates that horse riders will have difficulty negotiating them.

In the village itself, dragons teeth and ditches have effectively formed a moat and palisade all the way around the grassy areas. Villagers have now been forced to park their cars on their drives which would appear to be a good thing. But there are three houses in Woodgreen that have no vehicular access at all - one of them is ours. Although the track is called a drove, it has been defined as a footpath. I don't mind this at all since it is like waking up everyday on Christmas Day because it is so quiet. Now all occupied, each of these houses has at least two occupants who work in different directions and at different times from each other. The chap at the bottom is a builder, as is his son, and they have a big van and a flat bed transit. The tenants next door have two cars. We have two cars.

To make things easier we have for years rented a space for one of our vehicles at a neighbour's, paying him with a regular case of beer, but there is nowhere else for all of the other vehicles to go.

The Forestry Commission have allowed space for two cars in total. Someone, not me, removed two of the dragons teeth in order to make more room and recent attempts to replace them were thwarted because I am unable to drive my car which is parked in the way. I can see that we are going to have to go and talk to the Forestry Commission as they have not responded to the letter I send them before the work began.

Living in the Forest is idyllic most of the time. However 124 animals have been involved in collisions in 2016, a figure that is sure to rise when at least 3 ponies have been hit and killed this week. I would have thought that most people living in and on the Forest would have recognised the value of the animals in conserving the Forest just the way it is and limiting the amount of mechanical management that has to take place. This is not the case. For example a local Facebook page reveals that some think that we should all keep our 'pet' ponies at home or fit them with hi-vis clothing. Whilst I do put collars on my ponies, and have tried streamers in their tails, they do come off easily - they have to. People seem to think that collisions are inevitable and the fault of Commoners who do not put collars on their ponies.

A collar didn't save this filly
The daftest thing I have seen lately is a huge salt lick hanging outside the Fighting Cocks public house which is immediately next to the B3078. I've no doubt that this publican's profit is increased by the number of tourists who come to meet the ponies and donkeys that congregate outside for petting and chips, spilling out across the road, and forming a chicane for the queuing traffic. This salt lick is bound to attract animals in the same way, causing them to cross one of the busiest and most dangerous roads on the Forest.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

25th December, 2016 Do They Know it's Christmas?

Coincidence or some sort of cosmic ability to know it's Christmas? Nelly and Blue turned up at the gate this morning at exactly the time that we arrived. We go at different times every day so that the 'in' horses don't get into a routine that then makes them fret if we don't follow it. These two look so well but I suspect they have been having their breakfast at Roly's.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

24th December, 2016 Friends with Benefits

Hi it's me! The thumb is getting better every day and fortunately not hurting. Nevertheless I am told it will be the end of February before I can put my hands on a horse. In the meantime I can do some hands off, instructional work either with the owner or with Tracey and the horse. I'm going to have another week off completely, save for one visit to Dottie, and then I shall start doing a bit more.

Henrietta was acquitted at her recent trial
In the meantime I am 15,000 words into my next book with people queueing up to read the first Chapter and hoping to have it finished by the end of my enforced rest. From New Year's Day I will be setting up my charity phone line in aid of the British Animal Rescue and Trauma Association (which supports rescue work across the fire and rescue and veterinary services), HorseWorld and Shy Lowen. For a minimum donation, horse owners will be able to contact me for advice about their horse. If you have a New Year's resolution involving your horse, you could give me a call. Details will be announced on New Year's Day.

Delegation is a wonderful thing: but I still feel guilty.
Like all of the Recommended Associates, I am insured for every aspect of my work but not covered for personal accident. This makes Henrietta a VERY EXPENSIVE mule but then it is the same with all rescue animals. There's always something costly about them! Helen has just found this with her mule Hattie. While she was with me I pointed out that I had spotted a problem with her teeth. This is what she has found!

The wobbly ones will need to be removed.
That all looks rather complicated and we know that the best equine dentists don't come cheap!

We have abandoned poo-picking and will harrow and rest the fields in the spring; this makes me feel guilty too.
I saw all of my horses, in and out, this morning. They all look really well, particular Nelly, Blue and Pie out on the Forest. I'm wondering if the two mares could be pregnant from the shape of them. I'd be keeping these foals for myself so I am not worried about adding to the number of horses in the world. Despite the risks of the wretched roads on the Forest I think they have a splendid life and are bursting with health. Their annual welfare benefits turned up yesterday, £127.66 to put towards their upkeep, £66 of which will find it's way back to the Verderers on New Year's Day for their marking fees.

Pie is not entitled to any benefits because he is a boy!
This current injury almost put a tin hat on what has been my busiest but most testing year. David often says you should have the inscription "The horses are alright" along the side of my car. However, most of my customers are absolute stars, with their hearts in exactly the right place, and the odd ones that aren't soon fall by the wayside. If you are one of the former, and not one of the latter, Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. In any event, mules like Hattie, and ponies like Nightingale, Hector, Bear, Twizzle and Ivy make it all worthwhile. Zoe and Zelda were fantastic, and to take them from pretty unhandled to a major show was amazing.

Nightingale, happy, sound and trim in his new environment
From the New Year I will be reinstating non-returnable deposits for appointments since late cancellations can ruin a small business and it's not fair on other people who wanted an early appointment but can't be fitted in. I think it's fair to test people's commitment to their horses before I go out. Make 2017 the year that you think and feel deeply about your horses.

Friday, December 23, 2016

23rd December, 2016 Jazzy B

Today Sarah B tells us about Dina's daughter, Jaz...

"One white sock... buy him,
Two white feet... try him,
Three white feet...look well about him,
Four white feet...go without him."

"Chestnut mare.... beware."

"All Arabians are hot headed and crazy"

Judging from the above common stereotypes Jazmine doesn't have much going for her really. Are they really true? 

Jazmine was considered to be a miracle before she was even born. Her dam had survived colic surgery and she had clung on in there too. The wonderful vets at the Barn Equine Surgery were deservedly proud of their work.

She was my first foal, and I had been a little ambitious with my breed choice, and while most things were plain sailing, I also have managed to train her to do things that I don't want. From day one Jazmine was handled... A LOT. She was practically 'imprinted' within a minute of her birth when the safest and easiest way to get her from the field to the yard, was quite literally to pick her up and carry her.

With Dina being tricky to catch I was keen to ensure that she didn't teach her foal to be the same. So by the time Jazmine was two weeks old she being caught with her funky little headcollar as though it was the most natural thing in the world. When she was old enough,  leading came easily at first although she was quite willing to throw the odd strop usually involving her putting herself on the floor.

She grew up to be incredibly confident and never questioned anything we asked of her. She picked up her feet, tied up, loaded, and was stabled. She was even good with traffic from an early age living next to the busy road. When she was weaned she never looked back as I took her away to join a small herd of foals whereas Dina was distraught.  However, leading became tricky, as she would pull and ignore instructions. She was cute and still small so I thought it was ok which was the biggest mistake I made. When Sarah came to see Dina, I took the opportunity to quiz Sarah about the leading issue.  I booked a further session for Jazmine, keen that I should have a well mannered mare.

The sessions that I did with Sarah were so useful and of course Jazmine and I practiced loads. I asked Sarah to help me target train Jaz for stretches to help with stiffness in her neck and back. Jaz was very food orientated so we trained her with a feather duster as a target ,and a proper clicker device  to keep her click different from Dina's. This proved to be a complete waste of time as Jaz didn't take long to work out what Dina's tongue click meant and I was soon getting two beautiful dished heads with one click each time I went to catch Dina.

I took Jazmine over to Sarah's fields to have a play with her agility obstacles. Jaz was completely unfazed by them, so we tacked her up and took her for a hack in the forest instead. At four years old hacking out alone in a strange place didn't worry her.

 After the winter Jazmine didn't seem quite right when she was brought back into work.  A through veterinary investigation revealed that she was suffering from grade three gastric ulceration. Why she should be susceptible is unclear although she does have an intolerance to some grain; not your typical ulcer candidate as she isn't a stressy type, she didn't go off feed or hay, nor did she drop condition. Now healed there are lifelong management implications for her. Starting with living out this winter.

Jazmine walked all the way to the vets, heading through the town, past the Post Office and butcher's shop, for her final scope and she didn't put a hoof out of place. This autumn she took part in the firemen's training and was one of the calmest horses there. 

I've since lost enough weight to begin riding her myself so it's just confidence holding me back now.

So....back to those stereotypes...