Saturday, June 28, 2008

28th June, 2008 Reflections

I have sort of had a week off this week but made use of my newly discovered gardening hormones and also helped to build a wall. I did however keep working with an Anglo-Arab mare with a real fear of trailers where she needed some continuity. Fortunately I have reached a point now where the owner can load her and practice before I go back next week and hopefully dispense with the panels and put the ramp up for the first time. She is now relaxed about contact with the front and back bars and is much happier about the partition now that she has a rug to wear (chestnut horses do have thinner skins).

I don't know whether the credit crunch is having an effect on my clients but for the moment I am holding my prices. I have just received a flyer from another horse trainer who is charging £199 for a one day clinic per horse with a maximum of three horses! I charge £120 in total for a five hour clinic for up to four horses. In any event I am always generous with my time and information and always provide a full written report of the work that we have done.

Monday, June 23, 2008

23rd June, 2008 In which Cello has two mummies

Cello has been adopted by a bay mare on the Forest and spends most of his time by her side rather than Nelly's. I suspect that she is also feeding him. This evening he was at least 1/2 a mile away from his mum and totally unperterbed.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

22nd June, 2008 MAXimising Horsemanship

On Friday evening I went off to see Richard Maxwell's demo at Quob. He was on very good form. As well as being really enjoyable and at times, very funny, I learned absolutely loads from listening to him and watching what he does. I think there is a very special generosity from everyone who’s work at least originated with Monty and a real desire to help horses rather than to keep very valuable information a secret. I’m was also impressed that he is still motivated to find new things and to move things on himself– I think it says something when lots of other trainers turn up to see him. He did some fantastic stuff on asking horses to be calmer on cue. I shall pinch this unashamedly but I do always give the original "author" credit for the techniques I borrow.

Richard summed up the thoughts expressed in my last post in just one sentence: the hardest thing of all is to get a horse to revisit it's nightmares but he went on to show how it is absolutely vital that we ask it to do so. This was brought home to me yesterday when I went to see a four year old New Forest pony that hates being touched by third parties. Yet again he's another one who has had a bad time with the vet - not the vet's fault but a painful procedure. This pony offered me everything from circling to kicking, shoulder barging and biting even though all I wanted to do was to touch him with a soft false hand. He had to work out that all of this behaviour was redundant (another lovely phrase from Richard) and find his way through it. It took some time for the penny to drop and just leaving the subject wasn't an option - I had to show him that not everyone is out to hurt him and every time he let me touch him without arguing, I took the hand away to reward him. I can understand how this pony feels; humans are not exactly brilliant at letting their fears go either, but if he is to be a safe ride and safe with other people he has to find a way.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

19th June, 2008 Oh Knickers! Conspiracies and paranoia

It's been one of those days, no, one of those weeks. On Monday I got lost on the way to somewhere I've been before and then the horse I was meant to be loading had a bad eye and I couldn't work with it. Yesterday my Satnav gave up on the way to somewhere that wasn't shown on any map. Today I had arranged to meet the vet, the owners and the potential owners of a horse that required an urgent blood test. The vet arrived 3/4 hour early, someone had taken the horse's headcollar off and the day before she had had to be forcibly restrained because of her behaviour and therefore she was adamant that she wasn't having the headcollar back on again. With this little lot queuing up to watch, some of them on a meter and me desperate for a wee, I had to persuade her to be caught again - no pressure then!!! I did manage to do it but it seemed a little unfair when the next thing is that she was stabbed by the vet. Repeat......I must not get involved or emotionally involved especially when I'm not being paid and only doing it to be helpful. That's a long sentence and I shall forget it within days. I might even start to see the funny side.

Because money and sometimes pride is involved, I am often called as the last resort for untouched horses and that's usually because there's an emergency looming - either overgrown feet or some veterinary procedure. Now, I am good at taming wild horses but to have a predatorial event so soon after they have placed their trust in a human for the first time is more than unfortunate and very likely to set them back a long way. In some cases it just can't be helped but it doesn't make my job or the owner's any easier. Sometimes the transition from frightened untouched horse to amenable friendly horse can seem miraculous but pleasant experiences have to be repeated over and over again for that trust to become ingrained. I think I have said that in three different ways now - the first time I hope you wrote it down, the second time you might have underlined it, if I say it again I've no doubt you will rub it out!!

I am always pessimistic when I am asked to handle a group of wild ponies just so that they can be handled by the vet. This is an unrealistic expectation. Before a pony can accept the unpleasant and sometimes painful attention of a vet, it must have an account full of pleasant experiences. To get a pony to that stage requires a great deal of time (and money) and could mean that the pony will talk to strangers and tourists. You can't really have it both ways.

On a lighter note, the pony at the top is Knickers. We were enjoying a long reining session when the vet arrived early at my other client's. Now I am sure that no-one would expect me to drop my Knickers just because of a vet!

Sunday, June 15, 2008

15th June, 2008 If it don't fit, force it!

One of my clients was sold this tailor made saddle for her pony by an well known independent saddle fitter. Now, I am not a saddle fitter but I hope that I can recognise when a saddle doesn't fit and I said so in my report. The owner contacted Wow who manufactured the saddle and they put her in touch with their representative saddle fitter who has fortunately put things right and only charged for a visit. I have at least one friend at Wow now because the lady there said: "The saddle should not be sitting as your photos show and I think your instructor was very, very restrained in her comments - please tell her so as it unusual!". I have never been described as restrained before although these days I do try to say things like "in an ideal world" and "if this was my horse I would...." at the beginning of my sentences.

Other reviews have come in this month:

Hi sarah just to let you know that Amani is doing really well after all your work with her and I have been able to give her a little groom and comb her mane.
RS 30.5.08 (untouched Arabian filly). She has since clipped her for showing!

Hello! Had another go with the LL (long lining) and Suze was fab. I just did the turning round thing with one line with both Freddie and Fern. She jumped the first time (only a teeny weeny one) and is now absolutely fine. I can't thank you enough for putting up with us! I really feel we have all learned something and Fern was so relax about it all - I had to go and cry (again). As usual it was lovely to see you and Julie of course. I hope you will come again in the summer holidays to get Fern on the LL - I would not be happy doing it without you doing it first! Meanwhile I shall practise on Suze - good job she's just such a lovely natured dolly! I think she was actually enjoying it yesterday, I felt a real spring in her step as we went in and out the dusty bluebells - it was a real joy - thank you from both of us.
LBP 30.5.08

I must say a big thank you to you both for all your help and encouragement with S-pony on Saturday. I am in a much more positive mood and I am actually looking forward to working with him in the future. We will take all that you say on board and I hope that when we next meet we may be really making progress.
CH 2.6.08

Thanks very much for your visit today, it was very interesting and Diva wasn't the only one learning! I did more practice later on and she was fantastic. Sounds daft but it's amazing how changing little things and being more aware about body language can change a horse so much.
AS 5.6.08

After an enormous up while you were with us and an enormous down overnight things have levelled out and last night he was a star! I even got on with no-one else around (several times as it happens of course!). I kept the dually halter on and when I had to get off did a quick bit of leading and stuff and then got back on again. Even surviving an attack by a white bucket!
VB 6.6.08

Anyone experiencing difficulties or needing to go back to basics with their best friend, will not be disappointed. Treat yourself and your horse to the kinder, better way of working side by side. Everyone’s a winner.
AMc 11.6.08 Evaluation form

Many thanks for your help on Monday night. We have now taken 35 steps down the lane without any napping at all – apart from a very minor protest just after the gate. They have been forward going, no sign of napping, steps. I will keep going. I wonder how many steps there are on the lane!!
AP 11.6.08

And then......

Success already.

Thursday evening we got to the bend, and Maddy napped but I got 50 good paces before we turned around. Then Friday evening I counted to 150 and she was still going nicely, I concentrated on relaxing her head and my arms and kept on going. I could tell she was going to do it, I think the sticking point was the bend. We had a lovely hack around the woods, with no rushing or pulling to get home. She did nap in the woods and I did something you might make a face at – I hit myself on the back with my stick (wearing a body protector) which was noisy and sent her forwards.

Thank you so much. I had planned to get her down the lane by the school summer holidays and in fact we made it by the weekend.

AP 15.6.08
(I wouldn't have pulled a face at all. I always tell client that in Intelligent Horsemanship it's okay to hit yourself but never the horse!!)

Thanks so much for getting this (report) to me so quickly. Thanks too, again, for everything you did for us this weekend -- it was fantastic to finally be stand quietly in a stable with Graylie rubbing his shoulder, and to put his headcollar on with no fuss at all, like a proper grown-up pony. I'm thrilled at the progress he made under your careful tutelage.
NB 15.6.08

15th June, 2008 Foxtrot

Happily Fox is completely better and is leading his Mum and Sheila a merry dance. The vets were unable to say what was wrong with him other than a roaring temperature and a terrible lameness - we suspected a broken rib but then he recovered almost as rapidly as he went downhill.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

14th June, 2008 Antidote anecdote

I have spent the weekend working with the perfect antidote to my unjustified disappointment with Piper. Graylie is a four year old New Forest pony who has made his way bit by bit to Swanley, Kent (by trailer and not on foot!). Totally adored by his owner, Graylie has perfected the art of going away and staying away just as his mother would have taught him. By the end of today we were handling his legs and he was asking us to put the headcollar on; a combination of clicker training and careful body language. He is probably the most beautiful New Forest pony I have ever seen and looks more like a small Lusitano with his curly black mane and matching black eyes. I don't normally work this far away but Nina felt that I would bring a bit of New Forest expertise with me. It also gave me the chance to catch up with lovely Liz Pitman who is just over the border in Essex.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

11th June, 2008 The plain zebra

For those of you who have been waiting with baited breath (I have received so many supportive e-mails in just one day), there was no great miracle in Fritham today. I suppose there is no real reason why Piper should remember the loving cuddles he got yesterday any more than the vet stabbing him with a needle and perhaps feeling unnaturally woozy all afternoon. I may be mistaken, but I do think his eye had softened towards me and he allows me to get much nearer in the big field than I could ever do before. Once in the barn I got his headcollar on easily and clickered him with his favourite linseed lozenges. I was also able to repeat everything I did yesterday, putting my arm over his neck and stroking him all the way along to his hindquarters. However, it was like having a time bomb under my arm and I could almost hear him going tick tock, tick, tock. So I just did it for old time’s sake and I shall leave him alone again now.

This is what the vet said today: "Glad we managed it in the end! It was a bit like sedating a zebra - but I reckon even he would improve if we did it every week - may get a bit expensive though! Best wishes - and thanks for the wine."

My own horses are perhaps not the best advert for me but by definition I get to keep the most awkward ones. Nelly and Blue are no trouble and little Chello is allowing himself to be touched all over – he especially likes his tummy rubbed. Nell has put on enough weight now to go back out on the Forest tomorrow. Pie seems to like his natural life style and his girlfriend has had another foal that he can pretend to father. Rosie is doing her own thing over at Blissford and her old owners keep an eye out for her and will alert me to any trouble. Petra Perkins is still a conundrum in her own way – she is always on a mission on the way home and quite uncomfortable to ride. She goes out calmly enough but quietly bolts in walk all the way home. I have done all the standard stuff including physio and chiro and having her saddle checked (over and over again). I have tried different bits and have been working with Amanda Barton to try and ride through the problem. We have been working on channelling the energy into a circle whenever Petra “leaves” me and starts to rush home. I have seen this work beautifully with other horses and I have tried to be utterly consistent and fair in its application. Somehow I am not giving her the right message and she hasn’t improved. Today I have started an entirely new tack, clicker training her to do one step towards home for a click and a treat. Hopefully I can extend this so that we can do a number of steps and then any number of steps and I can reward her for stopping when asked. My theory is that she will then be thinking backwards towards me as a rider and have a vested (and positive) interest in staying present. Watch this space…… Of course when I had quite a ploddy horse I used to long for something with a bit of oomph and now I am yearning for ploddy again.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

10th June, 2008 She who pays for Piper calls the tune

Piper is still on the waiting list for a conservation project although the urgency has gone away. He became quite sleek over the winter and is still able to graze in the big field with the other horses at the moment. Chancer is doing what he can to keep Piper slim and fit, they seem to play all day - it's a delight when both of them, for different reasons, were rather remote. Piper borrowed half of Chancer's rug throughout the winter and is now sharing the field shelter. I have done very little work with Piper, resigning myself to the fact that he will always struggle to be around people and might need to go wild again at any moment. Luckily his feet don't grow like other horses and he only had his feet trimmed for the first time when he was seven and under general anaesthetic being gelded. Due to the wet weather, his feet have suddenly grown again this year and today I arranged for him to be fully sedated so that John Adams the farrier could attempt to trim his toes. Despite my best efforts Piper is still very wild - I can get a headcollar on him easily enough but he is desperate to get away as soon as he is approached and I have never been able to touch below his knees on his forelegs. One person is a person and two is a gathering (Exmoor round-up) as far as he is concerned. He was horrified to see Chris Pearce the vet who did an amazing job to get an intravenous sedative into him. With Piper almost completely out of it, John was able to pick up and trim his feet with Piper doing his best to be a tripod while he was so droopy. I couldn't believe it when John put Piper's foot between his own legs and finished the job as beautifully as he does with all the tame horses - that's one brave man.

Trimming over (and bottles of wine handed out accordingly) Julie, Sheila and I all spent the next hour or so stroking and rubbing Piper gently while he came round. This is an experiment I have wanted to do for some time but felt it was unethical to sedate him just to touch him. With a legitimate purpose to sedating him, I didn't have such a problem with exploiting the situation and using this time to get my hands all over the pony always taking care not to behave like a predator. Three hours later, Piper was still half asleep and Julie and Sheila had gone home. I had continued to work on him, putting my arm over his neck and massaging his neck, running my hands down his front legs - wouldn't dare do the back ones even if he was practically unconscious - and stroking his face. At times he was asleep with his head in my lap and I just worked my way all round his face trying to imagine what he would like the most. I talked to him calmly throughout and tried to breath as deeply as I could. Tomorrow I have got the day off and I will be able to check out whether it has done any good at all - if nothing else, I have had the opportunity to express how I feel about him and to touch him in the way that I have always wanted to. There's a song with the words "I stand alone without beliefs, the only truth I know is you" and I would love to dispel the beliefs that Piper has about people and to become his truth. At the moment he is more like "The Boxer" - in a clearing stands a boxer and a fighter by his trade and he carries the reminders of every glove that laid him down, or cut him til he cried out, in his anger and his shame, I am leaving, I am leaving but the fighter still remains. Piper, who in the end is actually very passive, is that fighter.

Being objective for a moment, there have been experiments before whether ethical or not, which have tried to investigate whether near death experiences can bring a horse round. In the States, a couple of men had a specially designed horsebox into which mustangs were driven and then, with only their head protruding from the side, totally immersed in grain. They reckoned that afterwards the horses were tame and this is some of the basis upon which some so-called horse whisperers lay horses down on the ground and on which some commoners used to put their horses in a bog to get on them for the first time. One can only imagine the psychological effects which may in fact be to shut the horse down completely - sometimes termed learned helplessness. Nevertheless I have had two occasions where due to accidents, animals were close to death and I soothed them and helped them and thought healing thoughts and the animals were totally amenable from then on.

The first was a stray cat that used to burgle my house when I was out and pee up the walls to mark his territory. One day he turned up when I was there and was obviously in trouble. He had a broken leg and for the first time I was able to get near to him and take him off to the vets. The vets fixed his leg and I brought him home and just lay next to him gently stroking him for hours. From then on he was my best friend and when he wasn't claimed I took him with me when I moved house and he lived until he was 18 and was an adorable cat.

The other concerned a New Forest pony called Beatrice. She had always been elusive on the Forest and came in on a round up. She was one of six ponies that I worked with for my MRCPH project. The first time I went into the pen with her she was very aggressive towards me. During the night, she was badly injured in her owner's field, tearing a 1" strip of fur and tissue off her face leaving the bone exposed. It was a real mess. Fortunately her owner decided not to have her put down and called the vet. Vicky from Endell's sewed her face up in some sort of mosaic whilst Beatrice was sedated in a crush. Obviously we couldn't put a headcollar on her to restrain or support her so throughout the operation I stood with her head in may arms and stroked her neck. The following day I approached her in the pen thinking she would probably chase me away. Instead she seemed to say "Oh thank God you're here, I've got such a headache - can you find me some painkillers and a fly hat?" Thereafter I spent hours designing a fly hat which stood off her nose which required countless fittings and I could groom her, pick up her feet and later go and catch her in the middle of the Forest.

I'm not holding out too much hope with Piper but watch this space.....

Monday, June 9, 2008

9th June, 2008 Another Arabian

A good start to this week too as I went back to an arabian stud to work with a yearling colt that has never been touched other than on his own terms. I was somewhat intimidated by how tall and leggy he is. Although there isn't an ounce of aggression in him, he could reach a long way if he decided to point one of his legs at me. He was very flighty to begin with but within a short time he was accepting touch and then obviously enjoying it and by the end of the session I felt quite a bond with him. He had his headcollar on and off three times to finish the session.

Friday, June 6, 2008

6th June, 2008 My friend Flicka

This has probably been one of the very best weeks since I set up my business. After Horseworld I have worked with four more lovely horses and their equally lovely owners. Three of them are newly bought horses and it brought it home to me how much we can do to help them settle into their new environment. At Horseworld most new arrivals are turned out into a mixed herd and allowed to chill out for at least a couple of weeks before work begins. Whilst being turned out won't resolve long standing behavioural problems, the herd dynamics can instill basic good manners in confused young horses and restore their equilibrium - they remember what it is to just be a horse. After that owners can use good quality groundwork to establish their leadership and introduce security and stability. There is even room for control freakery around horses - they like to have set rules as long as they are applied consistently, fairly and logically.

Yesterday I worked with a yearling New Forest pony called Flicka. While I touched her for the first time and then began to rub her neck and introduce her headcollar, I recalled the story of My Friend Flicka (Mary O'Hara) a book I read over and over again as a child and as an adult: still worth reading today. My current read is Mark Rashid's series of short stories "Big Horses, Good Dogs and Straight Fences". He describes how it is sometimes useless to offer advice where it's not wanted. He is told, never try to teach a pig to sing, it isn't possible and it irritates the pig.

I am also enjoying writing answers to questions posed by the readers of Your Horse. Some of then should start to appear in July.

Last night I went to see the final event of the Salisbury Arts Festival, a welcome dose of culture in my life. The Cape Dance Company were superb - oh to be so supple - and to cap it all they used music by Peter Gabriel from Passion, the soundtrack to the Last Temptation of Christ.

Sadly little Fox, Sheila's colt has had to be taken up to Endell's vets this afternoon because he has a raging temperature and can't put weight on his foreleg. Fingers crossed that they find out what is wrong with him and can put it right very quickly.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

4th June, 2008 Horseworld Training

I have just returned from two days training staff from the welfare, husbandry and training teams at Horseworld. It's brilliant working with people who really care about the horses they are employed to look after and are just so interested in the nuts and bolts of horsemanship; oblivious to thing like tea breaks, people even came on their days off. Of course there is a huge selection of horses to work with, each one with a story and something to teach us. Little Oddbod, a 16 month coloured colt with a deformed back, has started to love people. He has been checked out to make sure he isn't in any pain and over two sessions we taught him how to lead confidentally and began to pick up his feet. He must think he has landed in Heaven. We had three relatively untouched ponies to work with, Errol, Bella and Alice and then a pushy pony called Burdock who relented straight away and provided a useful backrest when I sat on the floor talking to the students. Butter wouldn't have melted and I know the staff were willing him to be awkward!