Thursday, February 28, 2008

28th February, 2008

We have had a bit of a hiccough with W; He bucked Julie off for a second time. By complete coincidence, a woman who had him on loan last year contacted me and then told me that in fact she had tried to break him in and he had thrown her off four times. He had actually give me a clue - when I stood on the mounting block on the right hand side he didn't move a muscle but when I stood on his left he gently moved his back away. I did wonder then whether someone had had a go - however he had clearly given us the benefit of the doubt because we were much further down the road before he said no. As a precaution we have had his back checked and his feet x-rayed which showed that he had no permanent damage from a bout of laminitis. We are now back on track and he will be ridden out on a lead rein with another horse next week. Poor Julie is allowed no ego! I do feel for his owners as it inevitable costs more to train a remedial starter than a plain starter because you have to undo what has been done before.

X and her companion C, were due to go home this weekend but are now staying another three weeks while their owners concludes the purchase of a field. Julie is delighted to be able to ride X for longer. This morning we rode on the Forest track adjacent to the A31 with lorries thundering by but at a safe distance and on the other side of a fence. X didn't bat an eyelid. She is bitless and barefoot.

Yesterday I went to see yet another wild Exmoor foal. Although he had a headcollar on he was now saying no to being approached so I set his owner up to seduce him and persuade him that in fact touch could be very nice. For the avoidance of doubt, wild Exmoor foals are advance class ponies and it takes a great deal of commitment, consistency and a logical and systematic approach to tame them.

Friday, February 22, 2008

22nd February, 2008 I spy with my little eye, something beginning with E!

What a day! This morning X's owner rode her for the first time since she came in and she was perfect. I couldn't be happier with the progress of this little horse - she loves going out, works honestly and communicates all the time. For her part, the owner rode her quietly only stepping in to help when X needed her to.

This afternoon I went down to central Bournemouth, through traffic jams and housing estates, shops and industrial areas to find six Exmoor ponies that are grazing in Turbary Park. I am so excited about the prospect of working with the staff of Bournemouth Borough Council to ask these ponies to accept basic handling. My report to them included the above chart to give some indication of the level of time of commitment that might be needed to get these four and five year old ponies to the point where they don't mind being handled by a vet - fortunately they are relatively untouched which may make things easier than if they had been manhandled for branding and inspection.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

21st February, 2008

Despite a busy week, I was able to go and watch the BSJA showjumping at Quob yesterday. Annabel was riding her two Dutch Warmbloods, known at home as Mole and Buzz, and between rounds we discussed bitting and the use of whips and spurs. The standard of riding was excellent and it was great to see such athletic horses being ridden by people who sit quietly and flow with the horse; much better riders than I will ever be. However, it was also sad to see some riders hitting their horses as they came into the arena and occasionally beating them three or four times with a whip for refusing a jump - often when the refusal was patently the fault of the rider. I really struggle with this.

This afternoon Sheila and I went to say farewell to Sharon and Kennedy as they will be moving to Suffolk in the near future. In marked contrast to last year, both of them are totally at ease with each other now. I put Kennedy's headcollar on without thinking and he accepted it without demur.

Monday, February 18, 2008

18th February, 2008

Great to see that one of my clients has put her Intelligent Horsemanship car sticker right next to the one that advertises her Ann Summers' parties. Kelly will pleased to know that she is on a par! This could be a promising partnership.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

16th February, 2008 Getting it right first time

We have met a little hiccup with W pony and he has now bucked Julie off for a second time. I have been a little suspicious since he came in that he someone has attempted to ride him before - little clues such as the fact that he moved his back away when I stood on the mounting block on his left hand side but not when I stood on the right and then the way in which he bucked suggested that he had a bit of a technique going. It transpires that he the person who had him on loan had tried to back him and he had bucked her off four times in close succession. So now we have a remedial starter to work with that's going to cost his owners more to get him going - it shouldn't take much extra work; he's a nice pony but it narrows the number of people that he could go out to on loan afterwards. Whether his initial reaction to being backed was due to pain (and you'd be surprised how many young horses are carrying some around) or poor technique doesn't really matter, the fact is that it went wrong first time and now we have some history to undo.

The importance of getting it right first time is often lost in the drive to save money; it's a false economy. It is extraordinarily rare for training to increase the value of a horse by more than the cost of the training so you might as well relax and accept that all horses are a liability just like a car. Two cancellations have upset me recently. The first is a valuable dressage horse that has to be loaded into the lorry wearing a chifney and still refuses to go in. I indicated that I won't load a horse off concrete (Kelly would kill me if I did) and we agreed that I would load the horse in the school. A few days later the owner rang to say that the horse would load if it was in the school or against a wall and that as I wouldn't load it from concrete they would just hit it harder until it did load. The second concerned a lady who had bought three ponies the last of which was just rising four. The pony was described as being suitable for a novice but has since bucked it's rider off and gone through a barb wire fence while it was being lunged. We had arranged for me to go down there and to start with leadership exercises but now a woman from the riding school opposite has agreed to go and help.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

14th February, 2008 Incremental training

This year's RA conference was a positive affair with RA's turning out from Denmark, France and Mustique and Monty coming all the way from California for this and the tour. Hot topics included saddle fitting and barefoot boots as well as the link between scientific study and true behaviourism - so that for example, a recent study found that systematic desensitization works better than habituation (like it or lump it approach) which backs up all the anecdotal evidence that introducing a horse to something gradually in a controlled environment is better than throwing him in at the deep end. Monty calls the former approach incremental training whereas I have always said to the Exmoor ponies, "Nothing's changed!" when I have only changed one thing. I like to draw a series of steps in the sand, dust or on the mesh of a round pen panel to explain to people not to go from the bottom to the top in one jump - the good horseman, I say, is the one who includes the most steps and that's what rosettes should be given out for. The good horseman is the one who is not afraid of going back a few steps the next time in order to consolidate what they've done - every day should not be a puissance.

As horses learn to learn, to generalise and to trust, the steps link up to form a web which can widen in many directions at the same time.

Latest reviews:

Oh! Wow You clever girls congratulations. Well done W-pony I'm so proud of you all, I have been thinking about you all day. You are all stars!! Give him a gigantic scratch and rub from us lot.
L.R. 22.1.08 on hearing that we had backed W-pony.

It was lovely to see you yesterday and it was all so positive and it didn't rain! I really feel we have taken a step forward for training in a way they (and J) can enjoy and there is no reprimand for getting anything wrong so its a real win, win for them.
CH 24.1.08

Hi Sarah, Thanks for today. It amazes me that you manage to juggle your own horses, clients’ horses with different needs and aims, owners and visiting people! I think what I find most rewarding about my days with you, is the balance between having confirmation that the things I'm doing are on the right track, and giving me fresh ideas and new ways to look at things. Particularly, I liked the 'stopping after 10 steps' and doing the 'driving' with one long-rein before proper long-lining. I'll keep you posted, and at least I know who to call when I get stuck!
E-mail NB 26.1.08

Hello Sarah,

I am a success! I am a success! I am a success! And what's more Sarah thinks I'm brilliant!

He had his headcollar on the grown up way twice and lots of cuddles. Then I took him through into the rear stable and left him there while I opened both big gates. then I showed him the big snakey lead rope and clipped him on again. We did little steps 5 at a time untill we got to the field, I took him past the open gate and little shed and then stopped. he moved away slightly nervously and then walked back to me so I could undo his headcollar. What a good boy!
I must say I was very thrilled to have done it and it must get easier each time so that I don't really think about it. Lots of love and thank you for being there for me.
JH xxx
E-mail 1.2.08

Hi Sarah,

I hope you are well! It's a week since you came and I thought you might like to know Conker's being a good boy and I have led him out from the stable 6 times now on Fri, Sat, Sun, Mon, Tue, Wed and tommorrow. Love Jane xxx

Just though I’d let you know that I already saw a change in G-pony this morning. Did a little bit of sending her backwards while I was getting her through the gate to bring her in and as we walked across the field she was licking and chewing. After her feed she walked straight back with me, didn’t barge at all and only tried to go for grass once……..cant believe it is making a difference already.
From HB 7.2.08

I thoroughly enjoyed it (the course at the Exmoor Pony Centre), learnt lots and found you a very helpful, calm, friendly and approachable teacher. I still hear your voice in my head when I am handling "I'm not dead yet! Instincts, God and his mother...." !! I'm not really sure if this means I am mad, I think you should take this to mean that you have an effective teaching method which sticks in people's heads!!
JH 7.2.08

I just wanted to let you know how much I enjoyed your Session on Saturday and how very helpful it was to both myself and B-horse. He has been a different horse since, very respectful and so good. He was a good little boy anyway but has stopped all the nibbling, and prodding, and stands to have his rugs changed. No more fidgeting.

DA 8.2.08

Evaluation Form

Handling the Young Exmoor Pony 28th October to 12th November 2007

I learnt new aspects of behavioural techniques and was able to practice and reinforce others that I had read about and learnt on courses that I have done in the past.

I was pleasantly surprised at how much hands on work we were able to do with the ponies. Other course, which cost more, offer far less opportunity for practical hands on experience.

The whole course was extremely useful covering many aspects of animal training eg positive and negative reinforcement, advance and retreat, desensitisation and clicker training. I have 2 horses, one mature and the other 3 years old, and I have been able to use many of the skills learnt on the course in their training. I have also found it very useful in handling other horses on the yard that are younger or more challenging than mine.

Sarah was very clear in explaining and demonstrating different behavioural techniques and provided a calm, safe and positive learning environment for both foals and students.

10/10 – without a doubt! For me, the course was the highlight of 2007!

This course offers a rare opportunity to learn how to handle not only very young foals and wild animals but also to learn how to help traumatised ponies.
DJ 10.2.08

Without Sarah’s help, initially to remind me how to long rein and then help desensitiising and helping me to start the pony long reining I would not have got anywhere.

PA 14.2.08

Monday, February 11, 2008

11th February, 2008 Letting go of the past

I am a keen follower of the programme The Dog Whisperer where Mexican dog trainer Cesar works with all kinds of dogs and their owners. One of his wisest comments concerned a rescue dog with a traumatic history. He praised the owners for healing the dog's physical pain and urged them to heal the dog's mental pain by moving on themselves. He felt that their constant pity for the dog because of what had happened to it meant that they couldn't make any progress and undermined their leadership. I think it's the same for horses - yes it helps if you know what has happened to them in the past and it is important to work with empathy but failing to gently confront their issues can reinforce them. Today I went to work with a Shetland pony called Bailey. His owner bought him a year ago. She heard that at one point he had been tied up by a road and local children had treated him badly and vaulted onto his back. As a result, Bailey has become difficult to catch and G has become quite hesitant when she goes to catch him. Between them they muddle through and once he is caught he is fine. For them it is a matter of shaping his behaviour, using some systematic de-sensitization, some lateral thinking and both of them smiling a lot more. I introduced them both to clicker training and by the end of the session we could both catch him in the pen and then in the paddock.

Friday, February 8, 2008

8th February, 2008 We are all made of Stars

With the starters almost ready to go home, we are just building up mileage and experience for them now. Yesterday Julie got bucked off when W-pony decided that going out with Petra was tremendously exciting. She got back on and he was fine. X went out with her companion being long-reined and had her feet trimmed by the barefoot trimmer, Laura Cantlie. I have a good shoeing farrier anyway but it was great to work with someone who wasn't at all predatorial around the horses and willing to really slow down if the horse was worried.
I had me second lesson with Amanda Barton this week which covered foot fall. It was amazing to know exactly when Petra's hind leg was coming up off the floor and to be able to influence it by just thinking what I wanted it to do.
My second visit to Star was very rewarding. She is long reining beautifully now.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

3rd February, 2008

Another week of hard but rewarding work. X and W are hacking out alone at walk and trot and yesterday X had her first canter since she was re-started. Given that they have been ridden in gale force winds, a deluge of rain and five minutes after the hunt have been through, they have been remarkably good. My visits have all involved young horses - Jane is now leading Conker out for short walks and thinking about getting him a new companion. Another pony needed to be re-introduced to the long reins having had a nasty fright with them. In these days of electric fences it is essential to run through a series of exercises to reassure them that the long reins are not made of the same stuff. My final customer was a Thoroughbred x Appaloosa. In his rain mac he looked like an ordinary bay Throughbred colt but it was taken off to reveal the most spectacular markings and what a fabulous character this little horse was.

The week has been overshadowed by the death of my Grandpa. Fortunately I was able to see him on Friday and he gave me a lovely kiss and told me he loved me. He was one of those essentially good people who has never done anything to excess - except work. Fortunately he enjoyed a very long retirement after he and my Nan gave up their shop. Everyone had a great deal of respect for him and it is especially hard for my Nan who has been married to him for over 60 years and isn't very well herself and for my Mum who has never lived more than a few miles away from them. My Grandpa was the sort of person who would buy the opposite pudding to you on the menu so that if you didn't like yours he could give you his.