Friday, March 24, 2017

24th March, 2017 Plain Sailing

Over to the Isle if Wight yesterday where Mollie, who is now four, had her saddle and bridle and rider on for the very first time. She really wasn't fazed at all. Plenty of preparation, and the occasional visit from me, over the last three years, means that nothing bothers her much at all. Monty even rode side-saddle.

In the afternoon Jane showed me Pie's exercises (set by Chartered Veterinary Physiotherapist Natalie Baker), and we worked on using target training in order to ask him to stretch further. Jane will be able to extend this over the next few weeks...

Afterwards we took him out for some exercise...

"Thanks for another super day. We achieved a lot seeing that only one pony could do outside training. I was so pleased with Mollie who behaved brilliantly in having her bridle and saddle on for the first time without any bother. She certainly enjoyed the attention and having something to do as box rest is becoming very boring !! Pie learnt the target training very quickly and it will be a good way to encourage his bending. He seemed to feeling very well in himself about working. And Mairi watched quietly. Thank you so much. We will work on the targets and look forward to seeing you again soon. Thanks to Tracey as well."
After a long day it was time to feed my own horses and to see my visitors.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

23rd March, 2017 Leading Question

This is one area where Intelligent Horsemanship is definitely different from the BHS. If your horse is being prepared for showing then it may contradict what you will need to do in the ring. I believe that the position in which to lead a horse is with its head at my shoulder and not the other way round. Horses lead in two positions – in front (generally a mare) and from behind, i.e. driving (stallions). By standing at the shoulder we are neither one thing nor the other – we’re actually in the foal position. Some natural horsemanship techniques demand that the horse walk behind the handler – I have two concerns about this. First of all the horse can switch off and go to sleep and if he suddenly starts he can run straight through you, and, some horses start to dominate from behind putting their ears back and taking up a driving position. With the horse at your side you can keep him in your peripheral vision and see what he’s doing and keep up a constant dialogue between you.  I also use a “motorbike hand”, i.e. my hand palm downwards. 

This gentleman could afford to relax his arm right down. If the horse pulls away from him for any reason then his hand will tell him and react accordingly. It's as if your brain is in your hand.


Wednesday, March 22, 2017

22nd March, 2017 Backwards and Forwards

Establishing your body space and asking your horse to stand still

If you start by establishing your body space you can often get the horse’s attention and also bring down his adrenalin levels. All the horse needs to do is to stand still. You need to position yourself directly in front and facing the horse with about an arm’s length to his nose (putting your fingers on his noseband as you step back will help with this) and then ask him to maintain this distance. Facing the horse means everything towards the horse – your shoulders, your eyes, and your tummy. Keeping your hands down will prevent you from fussing with his face and stop you inviting him to touch you. Maintaining eye contact with the horse often helps to keep him where he is but eventually you should be able to completely relax.

If the horse moves forward into your body space then he should be promptly asked to step back out again. For some horses it will simply be a matter of taking a determined step towards them, for others you may need to make your body language bigger.

Once the horse accepts that he should just stand still and do nothing, he will often relax and the “adrenalin graph” of his neck will often drop dramatically. When you relax and breathe deeply, even yawn, you will help him to relax even further.

This is the most important thing to establish with the horse and forms the cornerstone of your future relationship. The horse learns that when you are around he can completely relax and let you take the leadership role. He doesn’t need to worry about a thing.

From here, you can also teach a horse to “ground tie” with his lead rope on the floor.

Moving forwards and backwards – the step by step approach

By asking a horse to step forwards or backwards just one step at a time, the horse will learn to listen and should be easier to handle at gates and during loading.  Backing up is also incredibly useful in ridden training and by teaching them on the ground first you will make the ridden work much easier.

To ask for a step forward I remain facing the horse but look at his feet rather than his eyes. I need to now when he is about to step forward so that I can make sure I release with my rope and give him a cue to stop moving forwards. The first thing to do is to step back out of his space without any pressure in the lead rein. If the horse moves forward to this visual cue then he has no pressure on his head at all. However, if he doesn’t come forward I apply a gentle and easing pressure on the halter (using my ring finger only) until he steps forward. At this point I “conduct the orchestra” by raising my hands gently to ask him to stop. If the horse gets it right he will get a lovely rub and a “good boy”.

To ask the horse to step backwards I also like to give a visual cue first – I will step next to the horse, looking at the foot that I want to move. If the horse doesn’t step back then I will gently slap my rope against my coat three times and if he still doesn’t move, more assertively three times. If he still doesn’t move then I apply pressure to the halter. Some people prefer to press the horse’s chest. In any event, the aim is to ask the horse to become lighter and to respond to the slightest cue or body language. If the horse gets it right he gets a lovely rub and a “good boy”.

It helps to be aware of the “into pressure” reaction when asking a horse to move by using pressure on his body. A horse’s natural instinct when they feel a push against their skin is to push forward; they have to learn to do the opposite for humans.

Moving the hindquarters

To move the hindquarters, I start at the horses head and move to his shoulder. Here I give the horse a lovely rub at the withers in order to establish a “neutral position”. This is important when it is time to mount the horse as you don’t him to move his hindquarters away the moment you walk down the side of his body. With a slack line I then walk along the length of his body before stepping out so that I am opposite the horse’s bottom and facing it with my eyes, shoulders and tummy.  The more accurate your body language, the better the response that you tend to get and frequently the horse will step away immediately and bring his head round to you with no further pressure. This exercise can also be done by applying thumb pressure to the horse’s bottom until he moves over but be aware of the instinctive into-pressure response.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

21st March, 2017 Thoroughly Grounded

The groundwork that I do with a horse is intended just to set up a few little rules that make life easier for the horse and the handler and enable both to relax, and just 'be' together. There is nothing overly complicated or designed to do anything other than that, i.e. it is not about exercising the horse, making the horse ultra responsive, or supple. Asking these few questions may give me an idea of whether a horse is stiff or troubled.

Here is the continuation from my general notes about training:

Sometimes groundwork can appear to be irrelevant to training, especially when you are dealing with a ridden problem. However, a lot of ridden problems stem from a misunderstanding about signals and body language, lack of consistency and most of all, a lack of trust and leadership. All of the groundwork exercises I use, simple as they may be are excellent for building up a relationship based on trust and leadership.
Horses control each other and establish the herd order by moving each other around – sometimes quite quickly; sometimes very subtly. In the same way, if we move our horse around that makes us the leader but if the horse is moving us around then it is the leader. Most horses don’t want to be the leader – it’s a very hard job involving responsibility for the security and direction of the herd. In the wild it means the difference between life and death. As a horse’s leader you need to control his speed, direction and destination. Once you are the leader your horse can afford to relax.

Some horsemanship techniques take the accuracy of the groundwork exercises to the nth degree. I do think it’s important to remember that the aim of the groundwork exercises here is to establish leadership rather than to become an end in themselves and endless repetition of groundwork games can lead to boredom, frustration and a horse that switches off or escalates its behaviour.  I prefer to be a passive leader (a good friend) rather than an alpha mare or a dominant leader in order to get a horse to want to follow me anywhere and will only use the groundwork exercises where I need to establish or re-establish my leadership. The rest just gets incorporated into my every day work with the horse and becomes an instinctive way of working with horses. Again, my aim is to be using body language rather than a system of cues.

I do full Join-Up from time to time with horses but quite often they are already pretty joined-up or the facilities are simply not available. I have found that the groundwork exercises can be just as effective if done well. There are some horses where Join-Up is not appropriate – those that are not sound, are known to be very aggressive, bottle fed horses and untouched horses particularly semi-ferals. I might for instance Join-Up for a horse that has learned to switch off to anything but cues or a horse with persistent catching issues. Join-Up cannot cure a horse of all his issues but can be a useful tool in opening up communication and building a bond with the horse.

It is sensible to do all of the groundwork exercises from both sides of the horse as they don’t transfer much information from one side to the other and can be more worried about something happening on one side than the other. The main reason why we tend to do everything on the left of a horse is because of the sword. Most of our horsemanship comes from the military and the sword tended to be carried in the right hand and withdrawn from the left. Everyone was right handed in the military whether they liked it or not.  It was important not to stab your horse when drawing your sword so he was kept on your right.

Whilst I do not prescribe to the view that there is always a strict hierarchy in a herd, I do believe that there is always a hierarchy in any given moment of time or set of circumstances which may alter as horses are added or taken away, or a new set of circumstances arises. That hierarchy may even be circular at times.

Monday, March 20, 2017

20th March, 2017 Doris Day

Today Tracey and I took this beautiful girl up to the Blue Cross...

...along with all of this kit (very kindly donated by friends and acquaintances)...

I hope to tell the full story of Lady Doris of Janesmoor soon, but in the meantime a heartfelt thank you to everyone who supported this endeavour some of whom handed their horse's kit over as a legacy from them.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

19th March, 2017 Whatever Next?

As Sara and I set off across the Forest this morning David looked remarkably cheerful for a man needing to fix the exhaust on the truck so that we could take the rescued horse to the rescue centre on Monday...

Blue and Blue were pleased to see us...

...and Henrietta was pleased to be doing some work again...

...Jack was utterly delighted to be taken out for a walk after so many months...

...and to jump the ditches...

...look at his beautiful best.

David wasn't quite so thrilled to have these wild donkeys on his lawn as we waited for their 'parents' to fetch them. The one on the right has a very nasty eye infection and so she will need to go home with her daughter to have that sorted out. I managed to soak it with nice warm water before she went.

Friday, March 17, 2017

18th March, 2017 Spot On

Possibly my last loading job. This is eighteen year old Arabian, Dom, who has not loaded in less than forty-five minutes for quite a few years. Even so, we did not work against the clock today. We just wanted to show him that his new trailer is safe as he has always travelled in a horsebox, facing backwards and entering sideways before.

It would be easy to label him as stubborn but he passed several lots of droppings while we were working with him...

I used clicker rewards to thank him for every step that he took forward...

...and eventually enclosed him with the panels to ask him to engage with the trailer...

...once he had been in and out of the trailer a couple of times, it all became a lot easier and we ended the session with him walking on and off very calmly and easily.

Meanwhile, five year old Odey, can be a little worried about life...

...particularly about having his ears touched. We used simple touch and move away techniques and a more certain touch (fingers-together-as-if-wearing-mittens) to help him to like having his ears touched. I think it was light, tickly touch that was bothering him.

His groundwork was pretty 'spot-on' and his owner Georgie has been practising Straightness Training with him. He just needs to be encouraged to do things a little more slowly...

...rather than rushing and anticipating. He needs to breathe and relax more.

He struck me as a horse that has been in trouble with people before and we needed to let him know that he isn't. We can help him with that by being clear and consistent and utterly fair.

17th March, 2017 A Grand Day Out

I have an extra pair of hands at the moment. A day off meant that Sara and I could swan around and our first stop was to Claire's to take another two Percheron, Quetsche, and Tzena out for a drive. I'd like to say we saw the view but even the Rosy, the dog, struggled with that.

We were lucky to see this herd of wild Red Deer stags later too.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

16th March, 2017 Old Horse, New Tricks

Every so often, you meet a horse that goes directly to a special place in your heart, and this was so with Marcus. Marcus is a New Forest pony, and about 21 years old, and he was Forest-bred, branded, and later ridden successfully as a show-jumper for a number of years. More recently he has been a school-master for light adult riders. Despite being in a fabulous home, where he has never come to any harm, he has found it difficult to let go of some older memories, and in particular has always been difficult and nervous about being caught. Typically he has to be driven into a secure paddock where it still takes some time to catch him.

Tempting as it was to see him at his worst, we agreed that we wouldn't even start to work with his 'no' and instead I would use clicker straight away to see if I could undermine his pattern of behaviour. It didn't take long for him to work out the association between the click and the treat even though I started with the three click system rather than one click one treat. Soon he was allowing me to touch him, even though he stood in a soldierly sort of way, and then to catch him. Tracey, Flick and Hazel all worked with him in the same way and you could see him thinking he was on to a good thing and that perhaps it was Christmas or his birthday.

Once this is firmly established, it can be tried in the bigger field.