Sunday, March 30, 2008

30th March, 2008 Looking forward

My next small demo is on 11th May at Horseworld, Bristol. Prince is coming back from his loan home to be part of the day.

30th March, 2008 Flump!

By all accounts my demo went very well and we have raised £1,000 for the RDA Wilton Group. At the start I felt like a bridegroom waiting to see whether the bride would turn up, but all the horses that I had been promised turned up on time and were the stars of the show. No horse, no demo and also no helpers, no demo. I couldn't believe it when we had the whole place set up and ready to go within one hour and all looking really tidy. Dismantling was equally slick and we left the place looking like we had never been there.

The first pony, Tigga, got as far as being half clipped by the end of the first half - we used touch and move away technique and clicker training for him. Bella and Lily were confidentally being touched and having their feet picked up and then followed umbrella's and bicycles around the arena before walking over the carpet and tarpaulin. Lily is actually a Narcissus as she kept gazing at herself in the mirror.

Ori, who seems at least 20 hands high and isn't yet two, came in on her toes and I did wonder whether she would be able to calm down enough to be long reined. With a bit of groundwork and some de-sensitization to the long reins I was able to get her going quite nicely and looking a lot more relaxed by the end.

Finn, the biting horse didn't live up to his reputation and after I shook the rattle bottle at him once, I couldn't persuade him to try to bite me again no matter how provocative I was.

Sunny the horse that won't load to go home, wouldn't load and we were able to give a good demo of pressure and release and use of the panels. He kept throwing his head up into the air, usually a clear sign that he has previously hit his head, and seemed very worried about the partition once he was in.

Reviews specifically from the demo:

Well done yesterday, you did a great job.

I am glad you are saying 'successful'! It really was a brilliant demo and you were amazing. I really hope that you get a lot of feedback and work from it. I had some feedback from Fi last night. She sent a text saying 'fantastic, really glad I came'. Then she phoned me and said that she wanted us all to know what an absolute pleasure it was to watch us all working and she wanted to shout to everybody to take notice of what we were doing and how we can change their horses lives! Anyway well done to you.

Well must say... i'm kinda beaming today... we finished up yesterday's clip... without sedalin, vet sedation or a twitch in sight! (something we've never been able to do!) But by the very end after our last break i could just turn the clippers straight on and put them on him! Amazing results... and i did notice near the end when i turned the clippers on you could see him go to move them suddenly as if a light came on he'd freeze and stand rock solid still... i can only describe as if waiting for his click & treat! We got in done without a battle of wills just by using the clicker.
Jodie (owner of Bella and Tigga)

Great demo! It all worked very well and I was proud to be one of the team. You have no need to be nervous about doing such events, just be yourself and people love you.

I came and watched you yesterday and thought you were very good and very brave, well done.

I really enjoyed it. Sarah makes it all look so easy!
Evelyn (non-loading horse)

I was there 2, well done sarah it was very interesting 2 watch,(great demo's)

Had a great time and thought Sarah was amazing! I for one am extremely proud to have been a part of the display and thoroughly enjoyed it, and going by Lily's behaviour she did too! right little show off bless :-)
Tracey (nervous pony)

Was an enjoyable demo-did you get to finish clipping the 'mini'?I came away with a few tips and will be taking a container of vit C Pills in my picket with my sometimes nibbly horse (ok to rattle not to take!)

fantastic Sarah thanks so much, ori was such a good girl and settled nicely in a decent time. brill demo, enjoyed watching all the ponioes... but tigga is SOOOOO cute!! and ori looked.... soooo big
Toni (owner of Ori, long reining horse)

Have you recovered from Saturday - you must have been exhausted once the adrenalin wore off? I thought it was an excellent demo and what a great selection of horses/ponies. Although I was impressed by the sheer size and beauty of that 2 year old thoroughbred I think I liked the chestnut Shetland best and the Welsh pony was totally fascinated with the mirror - it was very funny!!

I hope you have recovered from your marathon session on Saturday. It was amazing how you kept going. I wanted to thank you so much, rumour has it that you have raised around £1,000 which I can't belive. Anyway, thank you so much for your good nature and keeping going and the wonderful display that comes through love and patience and patience and more patience and working from the horse's point of view.
Pat (Burgess)

You will also be pleased to know that Sunny has been practising loading last week with no issues, but the test was a Wimboune RC Gymkhana on Saturday. Unfortunately I wasn't there but C took him and on the way home he loaded for her within 5 minutes..... much to the shock of many others there!!! (he has a reputation!!!)

From ER 6.4.08

Friday, March 28, 2008

28th March, 2008 Dear Dr Morris

Mass hysteria in our house tonight when I let David read a letter my doctor has received from the rheumatologist which describes me as a "44 year old caucasian horse whisperer"!!! I'm actually 45 anyway.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

27th March, 2008 Making Plans

With the demo only two days away I am looking forward to it with some excitement and a little apprehension. I am hoping that as soon as I get a pony under my arm I'll be fine as they seem to ground me better than anything else. We've sold over 150 tickets with a few more to go on the door and we hope we covered everything from food, to seating, music and ponies! We've got six for the demo: two miniature Shetlands, Tigga and Bella, one of which objects to being clipped and the other is frightened of bicycles, a Welsh pony, Lily, that was sexually abused (??!!), and lovely Ori, the Arab cross Thoroughbred that I have worked before that we hope to introduce to long- lining. Finn the RDA pony bites like a shark and Sunny won't load to go home from events. Whilst I am hoping that everything we do will be interesting, I am keen not to try and copy either Kelly or Monty and will just use IH techniques to do dramatic things in a non-dramatic way. I may also be able to show some clicker training where it would help.

Back at home, I am making plans to restore myself to good health. I have just been diagnosed with Fibromyalgia which seems to stem from both physical and mental exertion. I have certainly had a hell of a winter with three horses coming in for supposedly six weeks and then not going home for twelve. Inevitably there is an element of emotional involvement with every horse and owner I meet and this can tax my brain at 4 a.m. while I try to work out which way to go for the best.

So, the plan is to get myself off to a chiropractor and a nutritionist a.s.a.p. and to work with them and the doctor to minimise my symptoms. I shall continue to work with horses on a freelance basis and get my additional exercise through pilates, the gym and riding my own horse. David thought it would be quite novel for me to go walking with him rather than at the end of a set of long-lines for once. We used to walk absolute miles at the weekends and once worked our way through the Jarrold Book of Lancashire walks all in the right order - which is a bit sad actually.

I took Petra Perkins to a saddle-fitting clinic by Dave Siemens at the weekend where he found that her saddle was bridging ever so slightly. I hadn't noticed this because I always check with my palm down rather than palm up (which makes your hand flatter). We also tried her in a western saddle and she looked fabulous. Dave gave her a chiropractic treatment which wasn't too dramatic and she does seem to be moving better. Kate Barnett came out to give her physio yesterday and will come again next week. I am hoping that my lessons with Amanda Barton will continue to persuade Petra not to be "on a mission" all the time that she is ridden and that she will watch out for me going out of a shoulders, hips, heels alignment. With a corrected saddle, lots of stretching exercises, pole-work and long reining I am hoping that Petra will stay fit enough to ride throughout the year.

Friday, March 21, 2008

21st March, 2008 Speeding across the Forest

Following another bad year for animal accidents on the Forest, the police are using the above poster in the hope of getting people to slow down. In a recent speed check, 12 people were issued with fixed penalty tickets - all of them lived in the New Forest National Park.

21st March, 2008 Assets and liabilities

From an accountant's point of view most, if not all, horses have to go in the liability column of the accounts. Just like adding an extension to your house, there is no guarantee that the cost of any improvements will be reflected in the value of the horse. Many of my clients have spent far more on training and equipment for their horses than the horse cost in the first place. This is especially true for native ponies some of which can be bought for under £100.

I used to have the view that competition compromises horses - the drive to win can make people very predatorial and can mean that horses are over worked when they are too young, they may be kept in a lot of the time and have to wear gadgets aimed at disguising symptoms rather than curing problems. On the other hand, I think many of our ordinary hacking horses can be compromised too - the cost of physiotherapy and the frustration of finding a decently fitting saddle often mean that things are deliberately overlooked until a horse starts shouting. Petra Perkins has got a sore back at the moment and I have had to take a deep breath before embarking on the long journey through physiotherapist, saddle fitter and then riding instructor. Petra cost me nothing in the first place but she has cost me quite a bit since!

21st March, 2008 Innocent bystanders

Quite often my training sessions are watched by other interested parties or the partner of the owner. Just lately this has been a real bonus as they can often point out the differences between how I handle the horse and how the owner does - "you need to be more military when you turn towards the horse" said one man. On another occasion it became clear that while the owner didn't hand feed, her husband did - as soon as he took hold of the lead rein the horse started to mug his pockets! A bit of a giveaway that.....that particular horse didn't mind a bit of inconsistency!

It does help if the partner is supportive and not sceptical. Everyone needs to be on the side of the horse.

21st March, 2008 Won't, don't or can't

To me, horses seem happier and more relaxed where there are some ground rules that they have to follow and which are applied consistently. I think it helps if the handler can work out whether they are a don't, won't or can't when it comes to controlling the horse on the ground. Some people don't because there is no need - the horse is generally polite and they can live with the odd nudge or awkward behaviour. Others don't because they don't realise that they are being moved around by the horse. Of the wont's, it's quite often because of the emotional involvement with the horse and not wanting to offend it; everyone loves to be loved by their horse. Of the can'ts, it is sometimes because they don't have a technique to manage the horse or a consistent approach or it may be because the horse has gone beyond their abilities. Yesterday I went out to a Thoroughbred that quickly outstripped my arsenal of tools - despite going through the groundwork exercises and then pressure and release and body language, this horse kept coming at me on his hind legs, screaming his head off at the mares down the barb-wire enclosed track. I'm afraid I drew the line and declined to work with him any further.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

16th March, 2008 Nappiness, nappiness

A couple of years ago I helped on Kelly's horse psychology course where we were discussing what to do with a horse that is nappy. I turned to see a Dutch student rifling through his English dictionary, he looked at me quizically, "Diaper?" he said.

On a local website, the standard answer to a nappy horse seems to be hit it - you need to show it who's boss or it's only taking the p____. The great thing about IH is that it's taught me to look at things from the horses point of view, and it seems to me that most horses will only do what they feel they need to do in a given set of circumstances in order to avoid pain, over exertion (both mental and physical) or fear. So the horse that won't go forward or rushes home, may be reacting to a poorly fitting saddle, a bad back, poor riding, fear of the unknown or loneliness. It always amazes me that horses will go anywhere with us with so little incentive and their willingness to co-operate is inspiring. I see plenty of nappy humans too, manipulating their way out of work or avoiding things that take them out of their comfort zone and many speed across the Forest on their way home. I have become nappy about working horses at the yard partly because I ache at the end of every day!

This all begs the question of why do horses co-operate with us. If there was any justice in the world, horses that are beaten or kept in 23 hours a day wouldn't win at Olympia. Just like us, they can be coerced into work and because they can't shout other than through body language, and sometimes just keep quiet anyway, they can be easily abused. As someone said on the IHDG, if the dogs at Crufts had been hit in public to get them to perform, there would have been an outcry and yet horses are hit excessively at equestrian events all round this country and very little is done about it. I was brought up believing that it was okay to hit horses and I wish I had never done it. I will live with the guilt forever.

Friday, March 14, 2008

14th March, 2008 All work and no play

Further to my post about being somewhat worn out, I have made the decision to have a shortbreak and then only to accept horses in on a d.i.y. basis with training sessions added as needed.The last pair of ponies are due to arrive next weekend and will be gone again, all being well by the middle of April. Fortunately these are ponies and owners that I know really well and they are always pleased with the work that I do and I like working with them. Sadly, having horses in our full time care is just not cost effective - £150 per week turns into nothing when each horse gets at least five hours training, poo-picking and all feed included and then I pay Julie for riding them and my landlord's rent. It's taken me three years to work this out - not exactly a rude awakening but a slow realisation. This winter may have put the tin hat on it: the constant battle to keep my fences together, wading through thick mud and poo-picking forever hasn't helped. My experience has been that most horses come in with a physical problem of one sort or another and that their training is rarely as straightforward (or as cheap)as everyone would hope. Despite having a range of saddles myself, saddle fitting is still a huge problem and ponies rarely come in with anything decent enough to use on them. Wherever possible, we do everything that the owner asks us to do but are left in an awkward position where we feel that the horse's welfare is being compromised for example where we asked not to put a rug on in the winter, where a barefoot horse is footy on gravelly going or the horse is simply not ready to be ridden. Just to cap it all, there are horses that don't get on with each other, pace up and down the fenceline, chew my field shelter to bits or just walk through the post and rail fencing.

The fantastic news is that this is taking us in an entirely new direction, supporting, assisting and training people to start their horses at home or at the yard by making sure that their horses are physically and mentally ready to be sat on for the first time. The combination of groundwork, long reining and spook-busting leads to a confident, fit and accepting horse. We can be as hands on or hands off as the owner and horse need us to be.

Back to the yard for one moment - Polly came in as a difficult loader but after just one session she was happily loading time after time: she can now load in almost blizzard conditions. Instead of downing tools and delighting in a "quick fix" her owner and I have continued to load her every day and then gone out and about on the Forest riding and long reining.

Here are the latest reviews:

I am just really grateful that you gave me the confidence to work on Bailey's 'problems' myself. Many trainers may have taken the line "Oh yes, it sounds like you need my help..." and reach for the diary! But you gave me the opportunity to persevere and we're really getting there! However, its lovely to have you as my back-up plan if I get out of my depth
NB 18.2.08

Wow Sarah the clicker training sounds so interesting (can you use it on husbands?). I can't wait to find out more (I will get the books). I have seen it used on dogs before but not horses. It sounds like you got W's attention and he must have enjoyed the 'new game'. Thank you Sarah you are such a great trainer, not just because of your multi-dimensional skills but for your insight and understanding of both horse and owner; you're wonderful. I would recommend you to anyone.
LR 26.2.08

I just wanted to say a big thank you for letting me tag along with you yesterday. I really found it incredibly interesting, and have already learned a lot from just watching you do your thing.
LF, Grazing Officer 28.2.08

Thank you for yesterday, have been in this morning working with glove and feather duster. It is great that I can again have contact with William and with your help hope to make progress
GS 28.2.08

Thank you so much for coming to see A, it was a great help and totally amazing. I am very keen to use these methods and try them out with B too,
ZY 8.3.08

The lesson was really good, the only thing I would say I would have prefered B-pony to have done something naughty in a strange roundabout way, as it would have good for me to see and learn how to recorrect his faults using the Dually.....B-pony has always been excellent in hand but yesterday he learnt very quickly and really understood of what was being asked. All people do stuff in very different ways working with horses so I picked up on a few things Sarah did which you just find yourself thinking "God I didnt think of that or I didn't realise that"....It was really good B-pony was so happy with the lesson, his body language said it all really - closed eyes licking on the lips and lowering of the head! I would recommend Sarah as much as the Dually - great talented lady.
CF on NFED 14.3.08

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

11th March, 2008 The clip-clop of tiny feet

Gale force winds and sideways rain are playing havoc with my diary. I have been working flat out since mid-December and had no break at Christmas so I am looking forward to some spring weather and even a holiday. With seven horses in and four hungry ponies coming home off the Forest every day I am ploughing through my hay too.

X and her companion are due to go home at the end of this week and W may be going too. He is now trotting out in company thanks to some pretty imaginative work aimed at asking him to trot without any pressure (or indeed any bucking). It's the first time I have used clicker training for ridden work and we spent some very amusing days wandering about the inclosure and giving him a click and a treat for trotting up to me (or rather the feather duster that I was carrying). Now that he has got the hang of trotting independently with a rider on board we can cut down on this.

Rushy is coming back from his loan home through no fault of his own and we are going to assess him and do some work with him before trying to find another loaner.

Julie and I had fun on Saturday working with two miniature Shetland ponies. They had taken to including their owners in their colt games and were biting whenever they were led. We took them out for a walk on the Forest and addressed their behaviour as we went. It's so easy to see their behaviour as cute because they are cute but it's not funny when they pinch your skin. I shook a rattle bottle at the braver one and Julie slapped her coat at the other one and that sobered them enough to get their attention and to stop them being persistent. It makes me laugh that IH is not about hitting the horse but sometimes it is about hitting yourself!

Monday, March 3, 2008

3rd March, 2008 Loaded Question

It is the loading season again and I'm being asked to go out to all sorts of horses and ponies that have gone on strike about travelling. Regrettably, I am usually called as a last resort and when all else has failed or so close to the event that there isn't really time for the owner to get lots of practice. Even more sadly, the safety of horses and people is compromised by the state or design of the vehicle they are loading into or the place where they are being loaded or even the style of driving once loaded. Recently I was contacted by a lady who seemed astonished when I said that I won't load horses off a hard surface even though she'd told me that her own horse had a propensity to rear. One horse trainer that I am aware of, did attempt to load a horse on a concrete surface. The horse reared and went over backwards and was killed - simple as that. This owner cancelled her session with me because she can load the horse in a school, she said, and if she needed to load him off a hard surface she would just hit him harder.

I also went out to a pony that wouldn't load into a fairly old trailer - with hindsight perhaps I should have realised that it might have old fashioned webbing straps at the back. In any event, we were loading without a partition because the trailer was too narrow with it in so the straps were useless and more than that, fastened together they would have been dangerous. When the pony was loading well but showing an inclination to run backwards I called a halt to the session and advised the owner that she would need a full length back bar before it was safe to put up the ramp. Seemingly she is not satisfied with my advice and is continuing to load the pony without a back bar in place with a child holding on to the pony in a pressure halter. Having seen the catastrophic injury last year to a man who was holding on to a ramp as a pony came out backwards in a hurry, I stand by my decision. Loading is dangerous enough without deliberately taking risks. My only consolation is that someone who is so quick to complain when I can't finish the job would be even quicker to sue if I had injured her pony or her daughter. This same pony went through the floor of a trailer with a previous owner so it's not going to help him if he has another trailer accident.

By coincidence I have picked up a new full length back bar for an Ifor Williams 505 this morning. It cost just £41.13. Not much to pay in the great scheme of things.

By contrast, there are some very conscientous owners around. Patty, who used to work with me, is planning to go to a clinic in a few weeks time and is hiring a man and a trailer for the day. In the meantime she has booked two loading sessions and is going to borrow my trailer for a week to make sure that Bobbin is totally at ease with loading before she sets off. It's very easy to be excited or nervous on the day and much better to work with no pressure beforehand. Another lady has just bought an Equitrek trailer so that her horse can enjoy travelling backwards (most horses' preferred option) and is going to get a CCTV so that she can keep an eye on her horse as it travels.

On Saturday last week I worked with a Welsh pony that struggled to stand upright in the lorry. The driver wasn't to blame as he always drives smoothly and relatively slowly - chauffering the horse rather than transporting it. At one stage this pony has leant on one of the partitions and it gave way and now he doesn't trust them. Like many horses he goes "into pressure" and leans into it and almost falls over and appears to become comatose. Our job was to gently manouvre him to encourage him to put his weight on each foot and to keep him conscious by talking to him and distracting him. This worked really well. His owners have been experimenting with different widths of compartment and found that his horse is happiest with a wide space and right next to the back doors which are sturdier than the partition. He also prefers to be without boots.

The best bit of advice I have heard about journey length is to make sure that it is more than twenty minutes. If you stop a horse's journey while he is still full of adrenalin then he is sensitized whereas if you stop when the adrenalin has fallen he is de-sensitized. Of course, if a horse in imminent danger then you would stop anyway.

3rd March, 2008 Matter over mind

The Dog Whisperer programme on Shy Three should be compulsory viewing for everyone with a dog and everyone with a horse. Last night, he was working with a Hungarain Visla that was terrified of life out on a noisy New York street. Every time it met something new, it's tail clamped down between it's legs and it would either run or hide; everything new. Cesar Milan worked with the dog and just kept lifting it's tail up over and over again and putting the dog into a prouder more confident stance. Finally, the dog was walked on lead which was attached also to his tail and gently held it aloft. In no time, the dog was striding down the street without a care in the world and certainly no fear. In horses, I often work on asking them to lower their heads in order to lower their adrenalin. The two go hand in hand. Perhaps it's like smiling - you might not feel like smiling but if you do, you feel just a bit happier almost immediately.