Sunday, April 29, 2007

29th April, 2007 Macho men

David and I have spent most of the day at Bovington Horse Trials watching McTavish take part in the Pre-Novice event. It's been 10 years since I sold him and it's wonderful to see him doing so well and to be so loved by Claire Dixon, his owner. H e events under the name Eleda Firefighter which is a reference to the time he had to be rescued from a ditch by the fire brigade. He almost died.

Back at the field, we introduced Rushy to the motorbike and in his normal laid back style he studied it very carefully and thought he liked the noisy rumble of its engine.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

28th April, 2007 Charity cases

Spent the day at the Margaret Green Foundation Trust training new staff and new horses. All were very interesting. Megan Turner came up from the charity Horseworld - they have 110 horses in their care! It was good to compare notes. The most challenging horse was a 17.2 h.h. 16 year old unbroken Cleveland Bay cross who was absolutely beside himself when we brought him in. He has become very attached to another horse within days of coming in and spent the first ten minutes neighing his head off and walking forward into me. After working with him pretty intensively for 15 minutes he suddenly seemed to realise that I was there and began to listen and to respond. We ended the session by long-reining him in the school while his new friend watched him from the stable area. It was a touching moment when he chose to follow me loose around the school rather than diving for the fence to find his friend. This little horse lost his mother when he was three months old and he appears to be still searching for her.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

26th April, 2007 Puck

Puck and his mother (Sire: Buckland Cruiser)

Nice work if you can get it. Today I worked with an untouched yearling New Forest pony called Puck. He was a straightforward textbook case. Although he is Forest-bred, he has never been drifted or branded and has a friendly mother and owners - both nature and nurture on his side. Within an hour I had his headcollar on (and off and on and off and on) and had handled his feet and picked them up and started to lead him. In the meantime, Rushy has been out looking at traffic and decided that he quite likes boys toys swooshing past him in the rain.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

25th April, 2007 Rushy, son of Nicky

Rushy is the spitting image of his mother only much more orange. His temperament is so laid back and he is just happy to do whatever you want him to. He only came in last Saturday, we started work on Monday and today little Frances sat on him bareback. Hopefully he has got an IH home arranged already and will go on to be a great pony just as Nicky did.

25th April, 2007 Milo (The Tractor Shy Horse that lives on a farm)

Hi Sarah, just wanted to let you know that Milo didnt flinch when a tractor passed him today, I was in shock, I was more worried than him, but he just stood there all brave, thankyou. E-mail received from L.W. 25.4.07

25th April, 2007 Malakai and Red

Splendid news about Malakai, the Arab that we had in almost two years ago. Malakai arrived in pretty poor condition with terrible teeth and a broken rib. His previous owner had been pouring food and money in to him but to no avail. He left us in better condition having eaten his head off all summer and is now competing in endurance with his new owner in Yorkshire.

Little Frances, who is doing her work experience with me, brought her lovely pony, Red with her. He has a terrific clipper phobia having been ear twitched to have his top-notch clipped before she got him. With careful de-sensitization we have got him to the stage where he will accept the clippers on his neck without him feeling the need to leave. The de-sensitization technique has been the subject of some debate on the Intelligent Horsemanship Discussion Group with people expressing concern about horses being restrained whilst being de-sensitized. I tend not to totally enclose a horse or force them to stand still. The art has to be in the timing. When a horse is frightened, the muscles in his neck tighten as a reflex, i.e. automatically and yet to lower his head he has to make a decision to unlock that reflex and relax his neck. I have started to add a bit of finesse to de-sensitization work so that if the horse tenses, I look for the slightest sign on softening and then take the stimulus away, give the horse a lovely rub, a kiss on the nose and tell them that they are a good boy and perhaps walk them forwards before repeating again. At first, even the blink of the eye, or a movement of the ear is enough and later I'll look for the head to drop a little. In this way the horse learns to unlock the reflex much more quickly and to effectively lower their own adrenalin levels. I see the neck as an adrenalin graph. I am all for not frightening the horse in the first place but I also think it helps them to learn how to deal with their fear in a way that doesn't involving leaving the scene! A phobic person will tell you that the greatest freedom doesn't come from avoiding the thing they are frightened of but from learning how to deal with it. having supportive people around while you are doing that is absolutely fundamental; people who belive your fear is genuine even if irrational (rather than someone who says pull yourself together or puts the wriggly worm in your hand - I am terrified of earth worms but happily poo-pick these days). I say to the horse "I do know how you feel" and "you can cope" and "you didn't die yet". I feel that constant reassurance coupled with sensitive exposure to the thing you're frightened of is the most likely to work.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

22nd April, 2007 Alana Sugar

I have been watching The Apprentice and am now going to join the Alan Sugar School of Management. Accordingly I can report that my global enterprise made a profit in 2006/2007 for the first time (may have to go public soon) and that Petra reached the height of her international career today by completing the Rockbourne Charity Ride. I almost joined the Gordon Ramsay School of Management last Tuesday when a horse went completely berserk with me when it got bitten by the first of these year's crab flies. (Who invented those?)

Thursday, April 19, 2007

19th April, 2007

Well at last I can breathe (and sleeping might be quite good too). Piper came out of his operation okay and is staying at the vet's overnight so that they can check his undercarriage in the morning. I have rarely felt such an immense sense of responsibility for the suffering of an animal - if he had died on the operating table would I have regretted ever taking him off the moor in the first place? It was a condition of his purchase that I must have him castrated but I did feel a huge sense of sadness that he would not be able to breed anymore. Having said that, he has hardly looked at a mare since he arrived and he is was very passive for a stallion - not a hint of biting or rearing. Of course I have become far too emotionally involved with him and I doubt that he will ever be going anywhere away from here.
I defy anyone not to fall in love with this pony.
I have the luxury of a Work Experience student for a fortnight. Frances is already very experienced with horses and has a lovely attitude towards them. She picks up concepts and techniques really quickly and I am able to really get on with my work without worrying that she will go off on a frolic of her own.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

18th April, 2007

I have taken Piper to the vets today in time for his castration which is due to take place tomorrow. I felt awful leaving him there but he is in the capable hands of Ruby, the Veterinary Nurse who declared herself in love with him at first sight. I have changed veterinary practices because I felt that the vets at The Barn were far more in tune with the type of work that I do with horses. They took my concerns about Piper's welfare very seriously and understood that I wanted to be around as much as possible. Health and Safety rules and insurance requirements mean that I can't stay with him throughout the operation (he is having a general anaesthetic) but I wanted to be with him the moment he woke up properly.

Friday, April 13, 2007

13th April, 2007

Kennedy and Piper are really fond of each other.

I ran my first Handling the Wild Pony course in the New Forest today. Clare Kitcher (equestrian Artist) and her husband Steve (professional photographer and owner of the New Forest Equine Directory) let me work with four of their yearlings - one untouched and the others at various stages of their education. We had great fun and I think everyone enjoyed themselves. By the end of the day we had headcollars on all of the ponies and progressed to leading technique. I also covered groundwork for confident babies and leg handling. So, so tired though now. A quiet weekend ahead with Kennedy going home and just one new horse coming in.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

10th April, 2007

I'm pretty exhausted after my second 12 hour round trip to Somerset, this time for a clinic for four people and five horses. It's so weird how patterns emerge because I met another pony raised by a charity who has lost almost all respect for people and was completely de-sensitized to any form of body language. His loaner is going to have a tough job regaining control. I'm not normally into terms like respect, control and dominance. I like to work with horses as a "passive leader" as described by Mark Rashid rather than an out and out alpha mare. However, there are some times when it is necessary to take control by dominating in order to get respect so that you can ask the horse to listen and move on. I still would avoid hitting at all costs and I'm not comfortable with some of the trainers who thump horses in the face. I can usually achieve the same "impact" by shaking my gravel tin at them. It's the same with humans, the ones that have had the least parental guidance, lack of consistency and socialisation are the ones that end up having to have the toughest love to set them straight. At the other end of the scale yesterday there was a beautiful big bay mare with manners to die for - she was so light that the aim became to see just how subtle we could be.

Saturday, April 7, 2007

7th April, 2007

It's been a busy and tough week with me having to tell two people that their ponies are not safe to work with. The first, a horse that rodeos when she is ridden will need the careful attention of Ian who has a rider who can get on and stay on without being horrid to the horse. It is frustrating for the owner when their horse is perfect in every other respect and does the most wonderful groundwork. She has been checked physically and her saddle fits well. She just won't tolerate being sat on. Then I was literally stunned by a four year old Exmoor pony. When he thought the session should be over he simply stood on his hind legs and plunged forward to attack me and kept on attacking me even when I was on the floor. This little boy who had been bottle-reared and overly handled is probably the most dangerous and unpredictable pony I have ever met - gorgeous to look at with a soft eye and an open face and absolutely no compunction about attacking adults or children. He went back to his previous home immediately. I have given very clear advice about what should happen to him - he needs urgent professional behavioural training or putting to sleep before he actually kills someone. Luckily I got off with just a bump to the head and a few bruises. Poor pony, it's not his fault that it has come to this.

Monday, April 2, 2007

2nd April, 2007

Oh dear. I made the mistake of leaving Petra Perkins in the top paddock with Kennedy only a couple of electric fences away. I came up in the morning to find them together and not like mother and son! Extraordinary what a 10 month old colt can do with only one testicle down. I've got 10 days to decide the best course of action although I expect Petra would love to have a foal and it would be nicely bred.

p.s. She isn't!