Tuesday, October 31, 2006

October 2006 (2)

I finished a good run at the Margaret Green Foundation Trust on Thursday knowing that I had all but done myself out of a job. The staff there are all much more confident around the horses now especially the big ones like Tyson, Cassie, Barney and Cinnamon. Much of the groundwork has become instinctive to them and the horses are enjoying the consistency. There is also a greater acceptance that "playing" with the horses is really very worthwhile work. It was good to hear that Squirrel and Cinnamon are being worked regularly in preparation for them finding new homes. From now on I will only be going there to work with particularly difficult cases.

On Thursday night I went to a talk by Sally Fear, a superb photographer and supporter of the New Forest and the work of the Commoners. Her book and film "The New Forest Drift" provide a real insight into the workings of the Forest and the issues faced by the Commoners. She points out that 10% of the Commoners own 80% of the ponies on the Forest and without these commoning families the Forest just would not work. It is true that it is the same faces that turn up whenever there is hard work to do on the Forest; managing the drifting of the ponies; the running of the sales yard and manning various stands at public events. If the animals were taken off the Forest it would be an ecological disaster and the Forest would be overgrown and almost impenetrable within a few years. Sally's book is a must for anyone who loves the Forest or owns a Forest-bred New Forest pony.

The last week of October seems to be developing a theme. All three of the ponies that I met at the beginning of the week have been trained using natural horsemanship methods - including Intelligent Horsemanship and modified Parelli, most of which had been gleaned from books. Accordingly my work was simply to tighten up their groundwork with suggestions aimed at achieving better clarity and responsiveness. For example, it is so important to establish a neutral position at the withers before asking a horse to move his hindquarters away from you otherwise he may start to move as soon as you walk down his side. This can result in a horse that moves away from you when you want to mount. It must be excellent news for horses if this sort of horsemanship is becoming more widely used - although in each case the owners felt somewhat isolated within their own livery yards. One of these ponies was Flash, who used to be at the Margaret Green Foundation Trust, this delightful little pony is now so confident and came over to be caught. He had been frightened opf his rug but by the end of the session he was happily accepting it.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

October 2006 (1)

The theme of this month seems to be long reining. My visit to the Margaret Green Foundation Trust entailed long-reining two horses for re-homing in the morning and in the afternoon we took Squirrel out on the roads. It is hoped that she will become a driving pony so Holly walked behind her with a squeaky wheelbarrow. We got some very funny looks from people going by but Squirrel was unperturbed. Later I started to long-rein Maisie the donkey. Maisie is quite a complex character but loves having something to do. That same evening I long reined a horse that has some leadership issues and objected to being directed at all. She performed the most beautiful capriole in protest and I was glad of my hat and all Kelly's warnings about being clear of the kick-zone!
I am always pleased to have a copy-book loader too. S-horse had a bad experience of being loaded four years ago and has not been asked to load since. Using very gentle pressure and release and rewarding two steps forward with one step back, I was able to ask him to load within minutes and we were able to spend the rest of the session getting him used to the bars going up, the partition being closed and the ramp going up behind him. By shaping his behaviour in this way we break down the loading process into a series of bite size peices that keep the horse's adrenalin down. I also feel it is important to put the person loading the horse in control of everyone else around the trailer. I get them to tell me when they are ready for the ramp to go up and to unload the horse when they feel that they are ready - not the second the doors are opened.
Happily I am busy every day this month. I had the chance to tone up my skills in handling untouched ponies when a lady contacted me after she had bought two New Forest foals from the Beaulieu Road Sales yard. Despite being weaned at just four months, both of these foals are well grown and well bred and should turn into lovely ponies once they trust people. By the end of our session, both ponies had been touched all over and were far more relaxed. I also had the chance to practise clicker training with a particularly sensitive pony who just cannot cope with long reins. Hopefully we can encourage him to stick around for long enough to learn that they aren't actually going to kill him.
It was good to see Hilary Vernon again at a clinic I helped to arrange at Caroline Douglas's yard in Sway. Both Hilary and Caroline are driving enthusiasts and it was extremely interesting to watch Hilary work with carriage horses and ride and drive ponies.
The following week started with a lot of groundwork training for horses and owners. Most owners don't have the facilties for a Join-Up and I usually make a start by establishing my body space and simply moving the horse around. Quite often I then have a calm and amenable horse to work with amd I am told that the horse hasn't shown it's true colours. I don't think it's because I have any special gift and I certainly don't have a magic wand. I have lost count of the times that I have seen this basic simple work change a horse's attitude. It was Tom Widdecombe who taught me the value of this and his book "Be With your Horse" is on my recommended list. Trust me, this stuff works.
One of the horses I saw this week is an 18 month old Appaloosa cross Arab. Two major injections of intelligence in her parentage - a very bright sensitive horse with manners to die for. Her owner had applied logic from the outset and despite a strong emotional bond had always treated the horse as a horse. I was called in simply to make suggestions as to the best way to prepare her for a ridden life. I emphasised the need to work on the left as well as the right (we do so much on the left because of our swords!), to work in her blind spots above her back and behind her tail and the benefits of getting her used to all sorts of objects. It's nice to be asked before things go wrong.
On Wednesday evening I accompanied Caroline Douglas to a demonstration that she was giving to the New Forest Pony Enthusiasts' Club in Brockenhurst. She took Norman and Torin, her two wonderful Hampshire Cobs, and gave a display of long reining technique that included figures of eight and lateral movement. Achieving such precision at the same time as obviously having great fun had the audience entranced. She is the epitome of Kelly's favourite quote: "An amateur will practice something until they get it right; a professional will practice it until they can't get it wrong".