Wednesday, January 11, 2017

11th January, 2017 Benji

Following her recent success with clipping, I asked Hilary if she would write a blog for me about Benji, her formerly semi-feral New Forest pony.
Benji, my New Forest pony, was born in 2009 and spent his early life living on the forest as a semi feral youngster. He was bought as a 2-year-old, through the Beaulieu Road sales, by a riding school to extend their stock of ponies and I met him because my first pony was on livery at the same riding school. Despite wearing a head collar he couldn’t be touched and retreated to the end of his pen when approached. I wasn’t planning on buying a second pony and certainly not a small, skinny, scared one but something about him made me intrigued and concerned.

I did not own him (I think he already owned me!) but I visited daily; standing by his pen, I tried to ask nothing of him but to accept me there. Although I had no experience with young or semi feral ponies I knew not to look him in the eye so instead I watched his feet, hoping that each small step towards me was a positive one. It wasn’t long before I was realised I needed some expert help so I bought Sarah’s book which quickly and successfully became my manual for working with him. The techniques described were viewed with a mixture of confusion and curiosity by others at this traditional yard- no one else carried a fluffy scarf and a feather duster on their way to the stables!
I arranged my first visit from Sarah in February 2012, which not only accelerated the progress we’d made together, but left me with plenty of homework and confirmation that coincidence or serendipity had found my second pony.

From then on our routine was set- I worked with Benji as often as I could, implementing and practising all Sarah’s advice and suggestions. When we reached another milestone it was marked by another ‘in person’ visit’ and gradually Benji’s foundation skills; touching, wearing a head collar, leading and foot handling became increasingly secure.

Moving on we introduced long reining and, having accepted it easily, he was introduced to a saddle without any worry. On a momentous evening in October 2012 I rode him for the first time, under Sarah’s supervision, and slowly and quietly we began ridden work.

Since he was still owned by the riding school there was some occasional intervention by the staff (which did not help his progress or trust in other people) so in December 2012 I bought him so that I could be in charge of his handling and his future!

I moved both my ponies to a much smaller and quieter yard near my home in May 2013 and took advantage of the extensive hacking to broaden Benji’s experiences.
Since then we have continued to learn together and I have called on Sarah’s expertise each time I have wanted to work on a significant new skill. In this way we have tackled using a bit, standing at a mounting block, loading and travelling in a trailer, having a bath and clipping. All this learning has enabled us to take part in activities that keep Benji’s brain busy- he is such a clever pony! We hack and have enjoyed fun rides, been on a horsey holiday with friends and had plenty of flatwork and jumping lessons.

It turns out he’s a decent example of a New Forest pony and we enjoy some showing. We started with local shows and since these proved successful, we braved bigger events. Amazingly, the pony who was once scared of nearly everything has coped confidently with the atmosphere, crowds, vehicles, marquees and large busy rings at both the New Forest and Romsey shows. In 2015 he qualified and competed at the Royal London Show all the way up in Warwickshire and handled it as if he’d been staying away at big shows all his life!

Our journey so far has been a massive adventure in learning and I have achieved things I would never have imagined possible. Sometimes it has been exciting, frustrating, exhilarating and occasionally a little scary. And although I’ve learned about methods and tools for successfully and ethically handling horses probably the most important lessons that Sarah and Benji have taught me are to slow down, work in the moment, and remember to breathe!