Wednesday, August 30, 2006

August 2007 (3)

Ahh - a very busy day - I worked with five horses today - three that hardly reached my knees. I love working with Shetland ponies. They really make you think abut the body language you use; no good using lots of eye contact if they have a huge forelock and can't see anything but your feet!
I have faced two of the most challenging cases I have ever met this week. A gorgeous Hackney horse that really doesn't mind running straight over the top of you and a big Irish horse with a big biting habit. I managed to avoid being trampled by the first one but I did get bitten quite hard by the second one. Both of these horses are difficult on the ground but for different reasons - I don't think the first one has ever had any ground rules imposed on him before and the second one has had to defend himself from some pretty awful treatment in the past - why would he have seven seperate brand marks up his neck including right behind his ear? Both owners have inherited these problems from the past and their horses have each had 10 years to perfect their behaviour. It's going to be a long road for both of them but we have started to make an impression at least. Contrast this with a young ex-racehorse that I went to see. She was very sweet and just waiting for someone to say, come on, let's do it this way instead. Kelly Marks has a fabulous article called "The Racehorse in Your Garden" coming out in the Autumn Listening Post. I think it's one of the most important articles she has ever written for the post and I shall be making sure that anyone thinking of rehabilitating a racehorse has a copy.
Lovely Lars, my vet from Endell's, has moved to Damory in Blandford now. I used to be with them when I lived in Dorset and only had to change vets because they were too far away in an emergency. This week Fernando from Endell's came out and did an amazingly thorough job of rasping a pony's teeth for me. I have decided to adopt him as my vet now - I hope he is pleased!
Pie got caught up in the Drift today. I had intended to get my ponies off the Forest to avoid the drift but the date was brought forward without notice. I turned up at my field to find the Drift underway and ponies corralled at the drift pen just beyond my gate. I really do like all of the Agisters that work on the Forest but I wish the drifts were less brutal. Ponies are hit and poked with sticks to get them to go down the chute when if they only moved people away from the outside of the chute they would be able to go down voluntarily. The ponies seem someone scary standing with their arm through the fence and don't want to go forward. Sometimes two ponies will run into the chute together and they bang their pelvises and shoulders on the post. Branding is pretty controversial in the first place and if it is justifiable on the grounds of identification and that it involves less handling than freeze-branding or micro-chippping, then there is no justification for a second brand. When young colts are being branded there is no need at all to twist their ears or their tails. Pushing them against the fence and making sure they are not approached from the outside is plenty. At least the brands are hot enough - on Exmoor the brands are often heated up with a blow-torch - it's not good enough. Today's Drift involved no roping so that has to be very good news. When I did my project on the New Forest ponies, I was told that there was no psychological effects from the drifts and the sales yard. So why do I spend so much time working with ear-shy and rope-shy ponies? It's not just because they were born wild in the first place. There are many many Forest-bred New Forest ponies succeeding in all sorts of spheres from showing to show-jumping but I do wonder what the fall out rate is.
At the drift I also got the apalling news that both Blue and Nell have strangles. I had ridden out to see them at the weekend and they had both been fine.They looked very bright and a nice weight. I went to find them immediately and my fears were realised. The Agisters have asked me not to bring the ponies in as there would be a risk of them giving it to ponies in the area around the yard. As it is, they are half a mile away at Longcross and we shall just have to see whether it spreads throughout Fritham. I am very fortunate because both of my ponies are friendly and I can catch them easily. Fernando has advised that they should not have antibiotics as this will only supress the formation of abcesses. I take their temperature every day and if it goes much over 101.f then they can have a sachet of Bute. They have lost a lot of weight and I am giving them very sloppy feeds of Lucibix, pasture mix, garlic, Total Eclipse and linseed oil with hay for pudding. No wonder they are pleased to see me. I go to see my home horses before going anywhere near these two and then I am showering and disinfecting before going to see anyone else's horses. I have closed the fields themselves so nothing is coming in or going out until the coast is clear. Being so methodical is helping me to cope with the fact that my poor ponies are so sick. I am keeping a close eye on Pie too - since his girlfriend and step-son were taken off the Forest at the drift, he has rejoined Blue and Nell.
Sadly, I have had to cancel the Hilary Vernon Clinic that I had arranged for 2nd September and I may have to cancel my holiday to Denmark - my first horseless holiday for well over a year. I'm also going to need to look for a part-time job. Apparently envelope stuffing has become totally automated these days.
One of the positive benefits of closing the yard has been that I have had longer to work with a piebald pony that came in just before the scare. He has proved to be quite a conundrum. He has been trained using natural horsemanship techniques for a good long time and although his groundwork is exemplary, he seems to go through the motions rather than to understand that it's all about leadership. If he does understand, then he seems to have found this leadership wanting. He is really good at panicking and surging forward and I have to work quite hard to stop him running into me. I am hoping I have had a breakthrough this week - I did another Join-Up with him this morning and he was much more attentive and when I invited him in he came and stood stock still next to me. His follow-up was perfect and then he let me into all his vulnerable areas - just as if he had read a how-to-do book and for the first time I felt that we had really connected. After this we went back to some trailer work that he has really been struggling with. Today he was calm and every time he softened, I rewarded him by gently backing him out of the trailer. This is a pony that used to tremble on the ramp and make a dash for the front door once he was in. After this we let off some steam by using the clicker to guide him through and over the obstacles. He really seems to like this work and I hope that eventually he will follow the target into the trailer.
As the week has gone by, this pony's attitude is changing rapidly and today we had no spooks at all despite the windy weather. By combining the body language work with the clicker training I have been able to establish my leadership through complete consistency coupled with very positive reinforcement. These two methods are not mutually exclusive although some purists believe that horses should not be given food rewards. By being very disciplined about the use of the food reward, for example, never giving food for free, I have found that the horse does not become bargey or rude. By always using a target you avoid the risk of being frisked. This is proving to be excellent therapy for both of us while we can't go out and explore the Forest. Some purists say you shouldn't kiss your ponies either..........