Wednesday, December 31, 2003

Winter 2003

Attended the Stage II course to complete my Monty Roberts' Preliminary Certificate in Horsemanship. What a week. I never thought I would sit exams again after so many years. I couldn't believe my bad luck when I pulled out a 17hh horse to do my Join Up with tack. When his name was Grose I knew he was going to be big. This huge horse did his little best with me and I came out feeling that we had done a good job.
After the stunning news that I had passed my course there followed a flat anti-climax feeling which was only heightened by my filling the diesel van up with unleaded petrol and parting with £209.75 to have it all drained off. All set to start my business I discovered that it would be £1,300 to get myself insured properly. My field promptly flooded, the fence started to lean over and the horses took great delight in skidding about on what was left of the grass.
Last weekend I went to assess a pony all the way over to Portsmouth and discovered that it was an untouched New Forest mare - nothing new there then! As she is loose in 7 acres of land and wants for nothing, she has very little incentive to be caught. The fences are all wire so I've said I will go back when there is a smaller safe area for me to work in. If it was an emergency I would have caught her there and then but I want it to be a gentle experience for her rather than a repeat of the round-ups she will have experienced before. On Sunday I went to work with Magic who seemed to have remembered everything we have done so far and even been practising it while no-one was looking.
Later I learned that I passed my course with a distinction which hopefully means I should be able to become a Recommended Associate of Kelly Mark's much more quickly. You can imagine that I was delighted.

Attended the RA Conference as a guest. Lots of issues to discuss from advertising to ethics.

Friday, October 31, 2003

Autumn 2003

Completed my Join-Up videos for my Stage II course. Horrendous technical problems with digital video recorders not talking to the computer and the computer not accepting certain formats and a horse squashing the video camera and and and and... tapes running out and batteries running out and a 45 minute video of the inside of my pocket....
Attended Beaulieu Road Sales to take more video footage for my project.
Rode out with Agister Peter Rix on my own horse. Decided that Petra would be a liability on a Drift. She doesn't seem to look where she is going at all. Peter rides as the crow flies and he looks at the horizon and the horse looks at the ground.
Helped out at the Alfred's Tower Festival of Endurance - just opening and closing a gate all day. All the riders say thank-you so it is worth it.
Buy a New Forest colt off one of the Commoners and get some free snuff into bargain. End up coughing and spluttering all over the shop! In this way I manage to save Vigo going though the drifting process. His new owner takes him home after a couple of days.
Helped at the Three Rivers Endurance Ride which ran from Salisbury Racecourse. Vet writer for the day. I have to record the horses' pulse rates and whether they are fit to continue. The venue was at Salisbury Racecourse so it was great to have the opportunity to have a nose around. It was also a good opportunity to quiz a vet without having to pay for the answers.
Visited Martin Meaker who is a farrier on the Forest and his wife Diane (both Commoners). We discussed management of the New Forest ponies and their methods of breaking ponies in. I was then taken out in the carriage with Martin riding one horse and leading another behind. it felt like a scene from the Little House on the Prairie.
Took Pie to Folds Farm show where he came last in the Handsomest Gelding competition. What poor taste! I'd even given him a bath using warm water from our jacuzzi. It has been an exciting weekend for Pie. Since he has let himself into the girl's field I have realised that I should be able to lead him from Petra. This gives him a chance to get used to people being above him and moving about. Yesterday he went out for two hours with the girls. At stage in the enclosure, I let him off his rope and he trotted and galloped about after us quite happily. We had a sticky moment when a horse went the other way but as Petra is his girlfriend he stayed close.

I watched the pony drifts at Burley Rocks and learned a lot about what the agisters do. Hard work and very dangerous but the ponies have a tough time too. (More on that in my New Forest Project). Jonathan Gerelli, who has recently been appointed as the new head agister anticipates the ponies movements instinctively and tries to minimise adrenalin levels all round. A guy called Arnhel came to take photographs and stood on top of the posts inside the pen! Apart from possibly alarming the ponies, I was amazed that he dared do it - I have been pussyfooting around people taking the most discreet photos I could for the last six months.
My Join-Up videos have gone off to my course assessors this week - I am feeling very pessimistic as you can always spot faults after you have done something. Whatever will be will be and all that...

Helped out at Kelly's Demonstration at West Wilts Equestrian Centre. Jenny Tillyer came with me nursing her poor thumb which had been decapitated by a frantic pony. Kelly was on fine form as usual. Later went to see Richard Maxwell at Quob Equestrian Centre. Both demonstrations were enthralling but it was very funny to watch Richard being chased by Lynn Chapman when he asked her to catch him. He was worn out but she said she hadn't even been trying!
Revising like mad for my exams and putting the finishing touches to my Project aswell as putting together my homework together. This is the first time I have enjoyed revising.

Monday, June 30, 2003

Summer 2003

I work with a small Welsh Mountain pony called Pie. Born wild, he had been sent away to a BHS yard for breaking but he was absolutely terrified of people. When he bolted they used a Chifney on him and he still bolted. (Pie subsequently came to stay and never left. He bucked me off in late June 2003 and I broke a rib. He also appeared on Meridian TV on the New Forest programme showing some of my work. I don't think he will ever be safe for a child to ride so he is now a meeter and greeter at my yard).

I went to observe the Stallion Passing at Beaulieu Road. I met all the stallions that would be out on the Forest this summer including Knightsway Bill Boy and Smiler of Sheepwash. (Sadly Smiler of Sheepwash was subsequently killed by a van driver three days before he was due to come off the Forest).

Attended the Stud Management and Foal Handling weekend course with Ian Vandenburghe. I learned all about mares' insides and just how much intervention goes on in the racing industry. I led a foal in from the field which I was told was worth £100,000. Good job I didn't let it escape then!

Last week I finished the work I was doing with Tiara and Trixie, Soldier and Samson, Beatrice and Eclipse. Save for the two young fillies (T and T) it has been decided that all the ponies should now go back out onto the Forest and they were going to be turned out last Sunday. We all ended on a high note - the farrier came out on Thursday to trim all their feet and they were all perfectly behaved except for Soldier who felt that the farrier had looked him in the eye and was far too predatorial (I agreed with the pony). One of the Agisters had also come to watch what happened and I think he was quietly impressed. I was amazed that the macho farrier and the macho Agister spent much of their time discussing their diets! I was particularly pleased with Samson's progress. He was altogether calmer and completed the scary obstacle course I set up for him. This consisted of walking up to the false arm and being rubbed all over with the false hand, walking between two tyres, stepping over a pole, walking upto a brolly, letting it be opened and then "chasing it" round to the next obstacle; allowing himself to be flapped over with a dayglo safety waistcoat, stepping over a raised pole and finally allowing himself to be touched all over with a halter. He looked rather pleased with himself by the end and proudly led the others down to the Reserve where they were spending the next few nights. I shall go out and find them and see whether they will allow me to touch them and catch them when they're in the wilderness.

Went to Spain for two weeks on the motorbike. It broke down. Saw wild horses in Galicia. I did some research on these horses and found out about the Repas de las Bestas (Shearing of the Beasts) where the horses are brought down from the mountains and have their manes and tails cut for identification. However the festival also includes the struggle between man and beast - basically all the horses are put in one pound (curras) and youths from the village mount the horses and fight to subdue them - I wonder if the horses get the religious and cultural significance of the occasion? In Vigo there is a magnificent statue celebrating the wild horses.

I went to see if I could find any of the project ponies. Unfortunately it was very windy and the all the groupswere huddled up behind gorse bushes. Pat had given me permission to feed them so I took a brand new rubber bucket and some pony nuts with me. I learned that if you call a horse Eclipse, you can't expect to see it very often. Iwandered all over the area where she had been turned out but couldn't find her. First catch you horse? First find the wretched thing! I'd been told that Beatrice was at Balmer Lawn so I trecked across there with my binoculars and spotted a pony with white socks and a white stripe. As I approached she took no notice of me and then looked up ... and walked towards me. I gave her a lovely rub and offered her the feed which she gladly accepted. I put my arm right over her neck as if I had a rope and she didn't move. A success I think! As I wandered back across the Lawn the rain came down heavily and I found that the best use of a brand new rubber bucket is to turn it upside down and wear it as a hat. The rain pelted down so hard that I decided not to look for the geldings but I was elated to have found Beatrice and touched her.

Started work with a mare called Magic. Magic had bucked off the first person to sit on her. I started her off with groundwork and a Join-Up and eventually rode her. (She did eventually chuck me off and I ended up at Salisbury Hospital for the second time in a month).

I attended the Verderers' Court where the issues included National Park status, deer population levels, routes for cyclists and the latest sport of wind skateboarding. Many members of the public attended to make their presentments to the court. I interviewed Rick Manley, Chairman of the Commoner's Defence Association about the welfare and the management of the ponies and future initiatives to promote the ponies. A foal was badly bitten by a Staffordshire Bull Terrier last week and had to be put down and seven foals have been killed on the roads in the last few weeks.

Kelly Mark's niece is coming to stay for a week - she wants to become a lawyer and is going to shadow me at work for three days - after that we'll go and play with ponies instead. I'm sure she's going to need agood Indian meal or two..........

Interviewed Tony Gerelli, Verderer and Commoner and heard his views on the future of the Forest and the management of the ponies. He takes me round to see a selection of his (wonderful) ponies. He likes to wean them late and the yearlings look really well.
Went riding with Agister Robert Maton. Before we set off he put me up on Gigolo his New Forest stallion that he had quetly backed that morning. Our job on the Forest was to count the foals in a given area and decide which stallion had sired them. It was very poignant because some of Smiler's foals were there. The ponies were in great condition and I got the impression that Robert really cares about the welfare of the ponies in his area. He gave me a four year old to ride and went on to explain that she had only been broken in four weeks ago and then shot off on his own horse. Thanks Robert.

Helped on the Verderers's stand at the New Forest Show. Brian Ingram, Head Agister for forty years was given a special award for all his years' service. Went to the Intelligent Horsemanship Barbecue at Hartsop one day, followed by the Hoofing It Barbecue at the New Forest Showground the next day.

Got my new van.

Monday, March 31, 2003

Spring 2003

I contact the Verderers of the New Forest to enquire about the possibility of focusing my project on the Psychological Effect of the Management of the New Forest Pony (natty little title - working title "I'm not a picnic nicker I'm a picnic nicker's mate"). I start reading everything I can lay my hands on about the ponies, the Commoners, The Verderers and the Agisters and the history of the New Forest.

I meet Monty and the Princess of Norway up at Ian's (sounds like something out of the Tales of Nania). They were recording a programme for Norwegian T.V. Kelly asks me to help set up the next Monty Roberts tour (gulp!). (The tour takes place the following October and is a success.)

Attended the Feed and Nutrition and the Horse as an Athlete Course. It was good to be updated on the current thinking on matters such a laminitis and to really understand how to read a feed label. I love Ian's lecturing style.

Took delivery of the round pen from Positive Horsemanship. I have had it parked at PD's so that I can work with the six semi-feral New Forest ponies that she is letting me work with for the pratical element of my project - Soldier, Samson, Beatrice, Eclipse, Tiara and Trixie. I start to work with them for a little time each day and by day two Soldier and Trixie can't wait to go into the round pen!

I start to work for half a day a week at the Verderers' Office in order to find out more about the management of the Forest and to be generally helpful.

I also worked with an Irish Cob who has trouble picking her feet up and tries to kick anyone who lifts them up. I realise that she has a real problem balancing and isn't really aware of where her back feet are. We work with the L-shaped poles and over a little obstacle course and then work on de-senstizing her back legs with a false hand. Eventually she picks her back feet up easily and seems much happier.

I attend the Handling the Untouched Horse Course. I really enjoyed this course and all of it is really useful for my work with PD's untouched ponies. As this wasn’t one of my compulsory courses I was really able to relax and I learned so much about the body language to use and useful shortcuts which meant that the horses went from being untouched to handled and headcollared within an hour and a half of meeting them. I also learned a lot about safety as many of the horses we worked with were Shires and their back legs reach a long way if you put too much mental pressure on them. By the end of the course we had turned 6 totally untouched horses into calm friendly animals all with smart new headcollars on. One problem with being the holder of a camera is that no-one takes pictures of you but I am hoping for some video footage soon. (Sue Wilkinson if you ever read this – where is the video???! Xxx)

After a holiday of a week it was time to return to my Project Ponies and see what they had remembered from the last time I saw them. PD had also been out and got me two more - Trixie a very small yearling who was purchased from a friend, totally unhandled, very poor and covered underneath in dry cow poo! Also, Eclipse, a 4 year old black mare who just didn't fancy coming in off the forest, ever, thank-you. These last two gave me the chance to use some of the techniques I had learned on the course and I couldn't believe it when I was able to halter them and groom them all over within an hour of first herding them in from their respective paddocks. I do like ponies that know their own language and know that you are not a predator once you have touched them and moved away, rather than eating them on the spot. I made great use of my false arm and hand when touching them for the very first time (it's better than the real ones getting kicked). Soldier and Tiara are now both calm and friendly, allowing me to catch them in the field without food, to put headcollars on and to lead up to the top paddock. All three let me pick their feet up without a murmur. Samson is still nervy and has to be approached quite gently until he relaxes. I think he will take a little more time and I'm going to take some interesting toys with me next time I go in order to build up his confidence.

The first foal has been born on the Common. It's a huge colt foal. All the other herds came along to greet it and for a while they all went round the lanes in a group of about 30. It was like an Italian Christening when even the most far flung relatives come to see the baby.