Thursday, October 30, 2008

30th October, 2008 Theodin

Theodin was ridden for the second time today. This 6 year old horse, who is kept in my home village, is a dream to work with. Julie rode him in the inclosure and he was just so relaxed. We met an Old English Sheepdog and he couldn't have cared less.
On the end of the camera, Tanya, my mature work experience student worked with me for her final day to day. I shall be lonely tomorrow!

30th October, 2008 Best foot forward

Douggan looking pretty relaxed with farrier John. The last farrier said that he wouldn't shoe Douggan again unless he was sedated. John is being very careful not to take his box of tools close to Douggan and cannot use a tripod as yet - but we're getting there.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

29th October, 2008 So far, so good....

Cello is a personable little chap. He has his headcollar on and leads nicely. Last week he had his feet trimmed for the first time and then had his tetanus jab. Didn't seem to mind.

So far, this week is going well. We found a solution for our intermittent non-loader on Monday who would move her front feet all day long for pressure and release but steadfastly refused to move her back ones. With a gentle figure of eight rope around her hind quarters she was happy to oblige and we could then work on asking everyone around her to breathe, smile and lower their adrenalin levels. She actually travels like an angel so there was just something about going on that made her hesitate.

E-mail received "Tried loading L for the first time today since last Monday and she went in like a dream, so Bill took us off to Salisbury plain for a lovely ride."
MH 4.11.08

and then:
"Just wanted to let you know about L on Saturday. We went hunting and it was the first test of loading her to come home. I have taken her out a few times since you came and she has been brill going out but have always riden home. On Saturday there was lots of distractions but with the lunge line round her bum she just shot in straight away as usual. I was so relieved you cant imagine - cant believe how much stress we have suffered over the past 2 years and now a miracle has happened!!"
NH 25.11.08

The Andulusian colt I have been working with was a fantastic example of latent learning - he remembered everything he was taught 11 days ago and made good progress again today. Tomorrow our farrier phobic horse is having his back shoes on - I suspect that he will wave to John when he arrives as he anticipates yet another session of trickle fed pony nuts. Back at the yard, Buster is long reining out on the Forest with a very cheerful expression on his face and we have made a little progress with our other visitor who can now commit himself to halting. In the meantime, the deer are in full rut and seemingly oblivious to us working and the pigs come to make a daily sweep of the acorns.

Latest reviews:

Thank you so much for coming out today it was wonderful to meet you! I was so so proud of C-horse, I knew she was clever but she just proved exactly how clever today! I cannot begin to say how I felt watching her learning new things and relaxing. You will definitely be highly recommended by me to anyone I come across with horse issues!! It’s so great to finally meet someone who doesn't go in dominating and terrifying the living daylights out of a horse. Your work is fantastic and I really appreciate you taking time to come and meet us and help me with her.
KE 6.10.08

C-horse was an absolute star this morning for the chiropractor!! She was a bit nervous to start with and pulled some lovely faces but she soon worked out that it was for her own good and settled. You were right her poll was out as was her back in various places and her pelvis was out too! Everything is now back where it should be and so things can only get better from here on. I can't believe that she actually stood there and let her put everything back she never moved away once just stood there and she even allowed her to put the massage machine on her and loved it! Also last night when I groomed her she allowed me to do her girth and chest area without any face pulling at all how remarkable is that! I don't know how to thank you enough!
KE 11.10.08

Just thought I would let you know that when the ponies had their feet trimmed on Tuesday, the trimmer left client sheets written up for all of them and on Gingernut's she had written 'lovely feet and beautiful manners' - I beamed with pride at the 'beautiful manners' part. Not bad for a little chap who was so wild and wooly last summer that he had nervous fits and would throw himself on the ground rather than be touched by human hand! So thanks for being a good teacher and enabling me, in turn, to be a good teacher/leader for my gorgeous little red head.
CH 10.10.08

Hi Sarah,
I attended the foal demo today and I would just like to say thank you. This came just at the right time for me as I have just bought a 5 month old foal who was born on the forest and has had no handling. She has been pretty difficult and I was beginning to lose faith that I could ever just be able to touch her. You showed me it is possible, after the demo I went to feed my foal, made a Monty hand and am now able to touch her with the hand.
JH 11.10.08

Just to let you know, today I have touched my foal all over which this time yesterday I had no chance of doing.
JH 12.10.08

Thank you so much for a great day! I learnt loads and it was great to meet members of The Herd, as well as meet the cutest foal around!
KB 14.10.08

Thanks for a lovely afternoon, I really enjoyed it and I am sure Jos did too! it was lovely to know that I am doing lots right already and to have such clear guidance on what I need to work on and how. Thank you for sending me the report so quickly and for the lovely things you said about Jos - as well it was good to read it while everything was so fresh in my mind, I could relax (and therefore sleep well) knowing you had described the exercises we did so I can remember how to do them and practice with Jos.
CJ 15.10.08

Sarah explained everything in a way that I could really understand and she would demonstrate what she meant with my horse, let me re iterate it back to her and then I would have a go......................................... She was happy to answer all my questions and adapt her explanation if I needed her to............................................
She quickly built a good rapport with my horse and worked causing no confusion or anxiety in him, she treated him with understanding and respect and I really feel that he enjoyed the experience. I certainly did!...........................
Evaluation form CJ 15.10.08

I have a horse called Zee, an abuse victim, who is very spooky and wary of people – particularly people he doesn't know. He gets worried, panics, spooks, bolts. He can't take any pressure or restriction. This makes it hard, risky or impossible to do any of the usual or necessary things (e.g. vets and foot trimmers). I also am not convinced the horse is as happy as he would be if he became less scared of the things in his life. Whilst it is understandable, it has been an ongoing problem that I have tried many approaches to solving. I asked Sarah to come out to give me some new ideas, which she did. She introduced both Zee and I to clicker training, which along with a calm energy seems to be a learning environment Zee responds well too.

I saw instant results from the method Sarah used and taught. Zee also relaxed over the course of the session and indicated that he was happy with the approach.
Happy horse + Happy human = Good result

CW 16.10.08

This is the second year Sarah has come down to our open days to show different ways of working with unhandled ponies. She has been on both occasions an absolute pleasure to have around and we are extremely grateful for everything she has done for our organization. It is wonderful to have someone around who obviously shares such a passion for working with wild ponies. Sarah came down this year with four other helpers, 2 of whom also worked with some of the ponies we had at the event. Both were fantastic to work with and had a real passion and gift for working with our Dartmoors. Sarah is a real credit to your organization and is totally committed to making the world a better place for horses and ponies, especially unhandled ones. We hope that she will come again next year and hope to be able to run a course for people wanting to buy a wild pony and find out more about training them.

I couldn’t recommend anyone more than Sarah for working with nervous, unhandled or traumatized ponies and horses.

NT Dartmoor Pony Training Centre 16.10.08

Thank you very much for a smashing day. Gracie has lead in and out perfectly since our meeting. I feel I have really benefited, and hopefully in turn so will Gracie.
JS 18.10.08

Yesterday Pip and I led Baby up and down the pound without a stop, so we all felt very pleased with ourselves. Thank you very much indeed for last Monday. It was a wonderful help and Pip and I and I’m sure baby all enjoyed it hugely.
DE 18.10.08

I really enjoyed the day and I am sure it will have helped my riding and also O-horse’s development. We all want to do the best for our horses and the more input the better.LC 20.8.08

I would just like to thank you so much for a really enjoyable and informative day on Sunday and your lovely comments on your blog.
AG 20.10.08

D-horse’s general attitude is much improved. She settles perfectly well in the school, in the stable and out and if she looks as if she might get out of line it is straight forward to correct her. She therefore seems much happier.
CC 20.10.08

Honey is brilliant by the way. She is super friendly and trustworthy, I almost forgot she was "off the forest" today…..(and later)…. Just been doing some leading work with the Honey Monster. Best hundred quid I've ever spent !!
AS 23.10.08

Hi sarah, thanks for the notes, she let me rub her down her neck yesterday and today she let me put the head collar on and groom her all down the back, and front legs, she was chewing and licking her lips the whole time, She’s really starting to trust me.
LW 25.10.08 (who worked from my notes on how to handle a semi-feral pony with a mare and foal she had bought from the sales three day’s before).

WOW What a great success!!!! Her visit has given both T-horse and I sooooo much confidence!!! Onward and upwards from here I reckon, thank you so much Sarah
K.C. 26.10.08

Is it normal to feel like bursting into tears when you touch a new wild foal for the first time !?!
Sticky hand, duster and real hands on first foaly today. He was going to sleep, bless him ! Very happy,
AS 28.10.08

Freddie has had halter on and off three times...yay !
AS 29.10.08

Saturday, October 25, 2008

25th October, 2008 End of the summer

It's been another busy week with visits from the vet and the farrier to set the horses up for the winter. If Nenad the vet grows much taller I am going to have to get a stand for my New Forest ponies to stand on to have their teeth done. It's good to know that they are all comfortable and can get the most out of their food. This week we have also started Theodin, the NF x QH at his own home - Julie thinks that we should get a Western Saddle for all starters as she felt so secure. Our farrier phobic horse has had front shoes on and will have his back ones on next week. Next week promises to be busy too with two in at the yard and plenty out on the road - not literally you understand.

Pleased to see vet Dr Sue Dyson highlight the significance of neck pain in the performance of horses - she says "Muscle injury can be traumatically induced by a horse pulling back when tied up, whether or not it succeeds in breaking away." (Horse and Hound 23rd october, 2008 page 21). So what risk to the vulnerable immature neck bones and muscles of a foal when it pulls back in absolute terror?

Thursday, October 23, 2008

23rd October, 2008 When Pie met Joey

Day out in London to see War Horse at the National Theatre. Wonderful play and the way that the puppet horse is brought to life is incredible. In the afternoon there was a special review where Kelly's Pie met the War Horse. Both Kelly and Monty were there too but it was Pie and the War Horse that stole the show. Amazingly Pie completely accepted this wicker horse that stands at at least 17.3hh. In the evening, all of the cast, including the horses, got a standing ovation.

Monday, October 20, 2008

20th October, 2008 Only when they need it

I was talking to someone about a professional trainer today and asking whether she found her a bit fiesty. She replied that the she'd never seen the trainer being feisty and that she only hit the horses when they needed it. I wonder how they tell her they need it?

Sadly I have had to introduce a cancellation policy. I am pretty busy all the time now and it is a shame to make some people wait three weeks before I can get to them and then have someone cancel me for the very next day. I also share mileage between people who are close together only to lose one of them at the last minute. Not fair on me or the other person to have to cover the cost of the extra mileage. Commitment is probably the most important ingredient in training a horse and that has to begin with keeping appointments. I don't mind postponing where there is a good reason for doing so - really grotty weather or the horse or owner is poorly. Inevitably I have to work in slightly off weather or I'd never work at all!

Sunday, October 19, 2008

19th october, 2008 Four Icelandics in Credit

It may have been a bit of a marathon, but I have finished the week on an absolute high with four fabulous Icelandic Horses at Verwood and their lovely owners. These horses are just such fun to work with. In just one clinic we covered groundwork, long-reining and ridden work based on breathing, counting and being present. Tired now. Lie down, white wine, Indian and Strictly Come Dancing I think.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

18th October, 2008 Iberian connections

Yes, what do you want?

I worked with this young man this morning. He's Andulucian and has all his assets. Young stallions can be quite a challenge and yet so responsive when you get their attention. This afternoon we had a new pony to come in to work with. He's a Lusitano cross and a little quirky - the hope is that we can persuade him to be a little less quirky.

Friday, October 17, 2008

17th October, 2008 Dactylis Glomerata

Today I ran a clinic over at Wellow and worked with a lovely pony called Dacs (top) whose registered name is Cocksfoot. His owners have adopted the Latin version of this rather than calling him Cocky! I also worked with Gracie, a lovely Dartmoor filly who was orphaned a few days after birth and found under a bush; she looks great now. The last horse, April, is a beautiful Thoroughbred brood mare - I'm introducing her to clicker training so that visits from the vet can be made more pleasant for her.

All of the good news this week is overshadowed by the fact that little Vieshot, who was at my demo last weekend, suddenly came down with a virus and died within a day.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

16th October, 2008 Mind and body

Petra and I went to another Amanda Barton clinic today. Having used my body to influence her body at the last lesson, today we worked on using my mind to influence her mind. By thinking about what I really wanted from her, I was able to create it more easily. I love my little horse.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

15th October, 2008 From A to Z

Another great day. This morning I worked with a yearling filly who was absolutely adamant that she wasn't going to go in a trailer. She wasn't impressed by clicker treats or the promise of her best pink bucket in the front of the trailer. It's so important not to use too much pressure on her head, especially as she has previously shown an inclination to rear, so instead we relied on panels to just encourage her forward. Once she had her front feet on the ramp she realised that she was quite safe and toddled in and out of the trailer quite lightly.

This afternoon I worked with a lovely cob who is still wary of people even though he is 9. His owner can get his headcollar on intermittently and he has never had his back feet handled or picked up. He was very enthusiastic about food and caught onto clicker training in about 2 seconds flat. By the end of our one and a half hour session, he had had his headcollar on and off a number of times and all of his legs and feet handled. He will have his first visit from the barefoot trimmer very shortly.

There really is no great mystery about clicker training. Yes, it can be used to shape behaviour and to teach absolute specifics but in these sort of cases, I am just using it to ask the horse to pause, to give humans the benefit of the doubt and to make it worth sticking around. The discipline of the click means that horses don't become pushy or nibbly in the long term although initially they can become very enthusiastic. It also helps them to become imaginative. Most of all though, it helps to provide a pleasant association with or a distraction from procedures they have always worried about before. I rarely use anything more exciting than single cheap pony nuts and always reduce overall food rations in proportion to the amount I have used in training. I know that there will be clicker training purists out there who will sigh when they hear that I use clicker training to influence demeanour and am pretty liberal with giving the treats and that I use negative reinforcement (pressure and release) in my training too; oh, and I don't use a clicker device either - just a Tlock with my tongue. On the other hand, I am pretty strict with it - I don't give treats for free; the horse always has to earn his treat by trying and I am careful not to reward behaviour that I don't want. Accordingly I may have to come up with my own name for it: Positive Association Training? Brings a whole new meaning to PATting - which incidentally I don't do.

Reviews added 24.11.08:

The clicker training has been going well. Both horses are responding well to it.
Yesterday I went back in the pen with him. He knew exactly what the game was. He stepped straight up to me and was happy about to have his head collar put on several times.
Today, he started by standing the other side of the pen and quietly refusing to come to me. T stuck her head over and I chatted to her, rubbed her neck and gave her some pony nuts. I let Z come to me in his own time. He held out for 3-4 minutes before deciding to come over. Then he was happy to have his headcollar put on several times. When I took the rails down to release him, he left slowly, wandered into the field then came back to me. I was then able to put his headcollar on a few times in the field. Great result! Thank you so much for teaching us clicker training. It's been really good. I have a lot more hope for Zee now. CD 31.10.08

Z is doing well and is a happy boy. I can feel his confidence growing daily. Today he stood alongside the gate and had no problem with me leaning over and touching all along his body and tail. That's pretty unusual for him. He is a lot more cuddly and confident about being touched when I am in the field with him too. Looks like you found the right trigger for him! It seems to have affected his entire confidence level.
CD 19.11.08

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

14th October, 2008 Rewarding work

Work is particularly rewarding at the moment. This morning I worked alongside John the Farrier on a horse that has become very very frightened of farriers. The last time someone attempted to shoe him, they took him into a stable and had a real battle with him before giving up. The horse and the owner became apprehensive the moment the farrier's van arrived. We worked using clicker training to reward the horse for allowing the farrier near to him, to touch him, to handle his legs and then pick up his feet. John was able to take his old shoes off (which had been on for in excess of 12 weeks). In just over a week we will do the same and re-shoe the horse's front feet first and then, on the following occasion, his back feet. Hopefully by then the horse will be pleased to see the farrier rather than mortally afraid. If only all farriers were like John. He has no vast ego, is not macho or anything else ending in o. I can well understand that farriers get fed up of ill-mannered or untrained horses but getting cross with the horse is not the answer.

This afternoon I worked with a beautiful Dutch warmblood horse. I really like these horses - they seem to study what you are asking them to do and then try their hardest to do it perfectly. I have met quite a few that have been pushed and pushed and it is only then that the lid flies off the pressure cooker. It can be quite spectacular.

Monday, October 13, 2008

13th October, 2008 New leaf

We started work this week with Wellow Leaf. Four members of the Herd came to the Handling The Wild Pony Course and "Baby", as he is known, had his first headcollar on, learned to be led and had his legs and feet handled.

This golden pony, with a lovely nature, is for sale.

Sunday, October 12, 2008


I was immensely proud of Sheila, Julie and David yesterday when they worked with three untouched foals, including a Forest bred foal, in front of an audience of about 35 people who go on the New Forest Equine Directory. After a particularly heated thread about the handling of foals, it was great to be given an opportunity to just demonstrate what we do so that people can make up their own minds whether they like it. Fortunately the weather was beautiful and the setting at Vanessa's house just perfect. There were also doughnuts in abundance.

Tomorrow heralds the start of a 7 day working week for me with everything ranging from an Andulusian colt to Icelandic horses, a Dutch Warmblood and an untouched New Forest pony.

E-mail received after the demo:

Hi, I just wanted to say thank you to Sarah and all the people who organised the foal demo. I attended the demo not knowing the circumstances in which it was arranged. The reason I wanted to go was that I had recently purchased a foal and was looking for a non violent way to train her. My foal was unhandled straight from the forest and now I can touch her all over, put a headcollar on and lead her with no problems. Previously she would try and kick you at the slightest oppertunity. I am glad there are people like Sarah & friends that are willing to take the time and effort to organise these demo's so thanks alot, me and my foal are now on the road to success!!!!!
JH 1.11.08

Thursday, October 9, 2008

9th October, 2008 Virgin on the ridiculous

Unfortunately VIRGIN are having problems at the moment and I haven't been able to recieve or send e-mails for three days. As someone who is somewhat obsessive about replying to e-mails promptly this is driving me to distraction. If you are trying to get hold of me then please try ringing in the evenings.

Petra's answer to the credit crunch is to cultivate her own money spider - look carefully.

Monday, October 6, 2008

6th October, 2008 Sharp teeth

Back to work with a vengeance today with a lovely Arab x Welsh this morning and then a Quarter Horse x New Forest this afternoon. Both horses have inherited the best of the two breeds. However, I was demonstrating how horses can get sharp sides on their back molars and discovered that this horse's teeth were so sharp that they sliced my finger. Ow! Tomorrow I'm off to a relatively unhandled horse in the morning and then five untouched miniature Shetlands in the afternoon. Could get back ache!

Saturday, October 4, 2008

4th October, 2008 Progress reports isn't it, just?

Hi Sarah,
Just wanted to update you on how Bailey is going.....................and he's going BRILLIANTLY! I think the key phrase for us at the moment is "Consistent NOT Persistence". In other words, I have to be totally consistent with the rules, to stop his persistence in his behaviour. I took him out for a 50 min walk around the lanes today and he was excellent! Lovely manners - and he only tried to pass me once when a lady who was gardening in her garden suddenly stood up and 'appeared' from behind the hedge! I think this was more of a spook than trying to barge in front! We had two tractors and trailers pass us, a motorbike, and a Gales Ales shire horse and cart off to a wedding!!! All of which he took in his stride! Oh, and he had his saddle on which as usual he was fine about. Thanks for all your help, we're on the right track and it’s looking good! Nikki 23.8.08

Had to email you as soon as I got home, because I'm bursting to tell you …Graylie had his headcollar on today like a normal pony! Nose into the noseband, and then fastened up in the normal way. First time ever! Not only does he now not fly into a tizz when he feels pressure on the headcollar (there were a couple of "lively moments" with this in the beginning) but he steps forward on a pressure cue -- and back! He is getting a bit pushy now, but much less twitchy -- this has always been a delicate balance with him, but I think maybe he needs to feel confident enough to lean into us calmly, before we start teaching him that we really don't want him being quite so cuddly.

After his "work" he and I stood together watching some jumping lessons in the school. I could feel his breath against my skin, and every so often he'd give me a little nudge, and I'd give him a scratch in return. He's getting more and more of the vibe of a normal pony.

NB 24/8/08

Joe is running at <50% energy level since the last time you saw him. Carol is leading him around the yard and he acts like a pussy cat now.
SB 5.9.08

Well today I had the pleasure of meeting Sarah and I can confirm she is a very, very nice person who is very realistic and down to earth. We did ground work but it was marvelous and real progress was made, he even carried on being good after she'd gone! I won't go into detail but basically I am confident that I can carry on what she taught me and we can get through our issues that make hacking such an ordeal. Really impressed and really tired - we walked miles!!So thank you Sarah, it was so lovely to work with you and to read your report so I can remember the visit in great detail! I would recommend her to anyone having any kind of issue with their horse as it now all makes sense and I feel confident that I can deal with it and start enjoying my horse again! Thanks again, it was really fab!
Bigsox CP 13.9.08 on NFED

I have stuck with the circling technique and this week walked up to the woods where we went to the entrance and all the way around the tracks and back home with only a handful of circles required - it was lovely!
JA 14.9.08

Hi Sarah, Thank-you so much for your advice. Each day little by little he is getting better.

Claire (Nr Amesbury) following e-mail advice 16.9.08

M-horse is being an absolute star at the moment. Hacking out is so good. When we first moved to Tollard Royal I was relying on other people on the yard to hack with. Now everyone wants to hack with us because she is so reliable and doesn’t react if other horses are being troublesome or scared. I took her out of the yard to the right for the first time on her own on Friday – she didn’t put a foot wrong – even going past her mates in the field. Thank you.

AP 21.9.08

Hi Sarah

I know you would have loved to see how she worked. I can so see the difference between long reining and lunging. Her whole outline was much better, and she worked beautifully.

Kate Boe came out to see her on Saturday morning. She then worked on her for well over an hour - an experience which Knickers thoroughly enjoyed.

SR 23.9.08

You asked for feedback - well, I thought it all went very well - a 3 ring circus with you as the ringmaster! It was very informal but well organised and there was a very positive atmosphere generated by so many people who cared about the ponies gathered all in one place.

I was tired last night - you must have been exhausted! How do you work with a horse and talk to the public and answer questions at the same time? I think the 'audience' got a good deal having a running commentary and demo of 2 different approaches to handling untouched horses. You say you talk too much but I think you give a wealth of information for those that listen. If you can begin to modify the perceptions/attitudes/behaviour of people a little in such a short time you have achieved a lot.

DJ re: Dartmoor Pony Training Centre demo (28.9.08)

Rode Weedy and did as instructed although she picked it up so fast that by the end of the ride I only had to stop moving with her rhythm and start to say 'A . .' and she stopped dead square. I couldn't believe it worked like a dream and she was thrilled to get food whilst out on a ride. So thank you for the advice I now feel I can get her back to me instantly and her attention is more on me. Also it’s so positive - we resolved this issue with her enjoying it rather than be battling with her and enforcing my will of her. So again, big thank you.
CB following e-mail advice 29.9.08

I have not got round to thanking you yet, I think you have done so so well with B-pony.
We are doing all the stuff we practiced at yours. All is going well, he was a bit funny with the cream on the ears but we got over it. He is brilliant with the stick, carrier bag, we have now starting with the fly spray just rubbing it on him with me making noises, he has been really good! THANK YOU..........

CF 2.10.08

Georgie has been absolutely amazing over the last couple of weeks and all the groundwork has definitely paid off. Well back to Georgie being AMAZING........ I have been long-reining her round the gorgeous tracks on the farm and in the school since we moved in and yesterday she was backed for the first time........ I have been working her quietly in a bridle and saddle on the ground for the last few weeks and she has been an angel. She didn’t put a hoof wrong and within a coupe of minutes was being ridden quietly round the school without anyone beside her. All the groundwork has worked a treat and the exposure to all the different situations and things around the farm and at shows. She is such an intelligent pony and seems to really be enjoying the work she is doing.

Update from HB 3.10.08

4th October, 2008 Red fiery creatures and those with long ears

With over 50 miles under our walking boots, David and I relaxed by working with a couple of Shetland ponies on Thursday and then came home via the Donkey Sanctuary. Eishann and Marbles (not pictured) are both solid little chaps with characters to match. Nina, the donkey, had a poorly leg but still shuffled over for a cuddle and a lovely rub.

30th September, 2008 Grenofen, Tavistock, Devon

Dartmoor was in its autumnal glory as we drove across the moor to Widecombe. Once again we were able to work with Dartmoor ponies which are so naturally amenable and uncomplicated. Derry did a fantastic job with two entirely untouched and unweaned foals whilst Julie and I worked using a combination of touch and move away and clicker training on 3 older ponies. Julie's pony had been ear tagged so although seemingly bold he was especially worried about his ears. My first pony took to everything like the proverbial duck and had his first headcollar on, touched all over, led and feet handled within an hour. In the afternoon, Annie took her treats regally and looked very fetching in her purple headcollar. sadly all of these ponies will still be going to the sales on Friday where they are at risk of going in the wrong direction. Natalie, the Chairperson of the DPTC will show them off to their best effect on behalf of their owner and cross her fingers for their futures.

I must admit that my jaw dropped when one breeder told me that they preferred to have their ponies ear marked ( a shape cut of the pony's ear) rather than ear tagging them as a form of identification. They have already got brands that would easily pass for helicopter landing pads what more do they need? I am still working out how I feel about the practise of blindfolding them while they are being branded - would this really be less traumatic?

29th September, 2008 Labelling

Following on from the aggression post, it is easy for horses to acquire labels over time. By working with them sympathetically even long standing behaviour can be completely extinguished although for some horses it will remain a default position which could re-emerge if things go awry.

There are also lots of labels for different types of horsemanship and the phrase "natural horsemanship" can cover a real multitude of techniques, some of which (many?) bear no reemblance to nature at all. It is so important for every person making choices on behalf of their horse to read the label first and then to soak if off and take a really close look at the actual contents; not just philosophies and concepts being relied upon but their practical application. I am very wary of techniques that purport to be all about love and libertyfor the horse when in fact they are about mental constraint and physical abuse. If your trainer tells you it is necessary to put your horse on the floor in the name of natural horsemanship or submission then please walk away (and take your horse with you). It is neither necessary or natural and is more about the trainer's ego and need to dominate than your horse's best interests. I have recently been told that at one natural horsemanship ranch there cure for separation anxiety is to tie it to a tree for two days and nights completely alone with no feed or water so that it could deal with its fears and be pleased to see its owner when they rescued it! My concern is that there is just as much nonsense, cruelty and dominance carried out under the banner of natural horsemanship as in any other school of horsemanship and plenty of room for charlatans. I don't know which is worse, never becoming aware of how horses really think or being totally aware and then abusing them with that knowledge. Once you know how they tick you know how to take them to the brink.

28th September, 2008 Anger Management

More frequently I am being contacted to help with horses and ponies that are aggressive. Aggression, which is a natural behaviour within a horse's range, can be brought on by chronic or acute pain – the horse just feels grumpy and his threshold for annoyance is lowered. We have to take an ethical approach so that we address any causes at the same time as making it clear to the horse that the behaviour is not acceptable. There is growing evidence, for example, that both competition and lesiure horses that are kept in for a high percentage of the day frequently suffer from gastric ulcers. These are caused by acidity in the stomach. Horses are designed to eat for about 18 hours a day and only salivate when their jaws are moving. The saliva counteracts the acidity of the stomach. Unfortunately the only way of confirming the presence of gastric ulcers is through endoscopy by the vet but vices such as crib-biting are thought to be symptomatic of gastric ulcers.

Aggression can also be brought about by a horse’s desire to protect itself. Particularly when a horse can’t get away from something that is frightening it or hurting it, it may resort to self-defence. This is then reinforced if it works. Horses may either slowly or quickly escalate their behaviour until it has the desired effect.

The most severe sanction that I would ever use would be a well timed rattle of a rattle bottle but on the whole some "loud" body language and a kiss-kiss noise are sufficient. I won;t hesitate to be big in this way if it is behaviour that I want to extinguish. I love Monty's phrase that "to attack the point of consternation is an open invitation to war"; a poetic way of saying that hitting doesn't work. Too often it is interpreted as part of the game or battle.

A pony we had in recently had learned to direct his aggression straight at his handlers always geting them to give up. Indeed he had been able to keep going for well over an hour with me and all I wanted to do was to touch him with the hand on the stick. It was tempting to ignore and avoid this issue but increasingly he was saying no to being touched by any third party or any foreign object no matter how well intentioned. The orginal trigger seems to have been invasive veterinary treatment which no doubt hurt. By now though his owner couldn't even remove bot eggs from his body without a fight. I had vision of him attacking a judge if he ever won a prize(!) or continuing to generalise the behaviour to anything else he didn't quite fancy doing. Built like a small bull, albeit a beautiful one, he resorted to biting, kicking, striking out, barging, squashing or leaving. All good fun. I felt that I needed to work with him on consecutive days with no time constraints. I revised his groundwork first and made it clear with judicious use of the rattle bottle on only two occasions that he was not to invade my space and then spent time working on de-sensitisation. As I suspected, he was hyper-sensitive to touch (like me!) and by using firmer pressure rather than more tentative pressure I was able to ask him to cope and then even enjoy touch. Over the next few days, Sheila, Julie, his owner and I all quietly worked with him for an hour or so quietly with objects ranging from the feather duster to a noisy massager (which he loved) and the hand on the stick which he began to accept readily. We tried to work with him rather than against him and also offered him aromatherapy oils which he relished - yarrow, lavender, peppermint, rose, rosemary and thyme - at first but he lost interest in all of them by day three. Yarrow is indicated for hyper-sensitive horses. He's back home and doing fine now.

25th September, 2008 Mousehole, Cornwall

This is a beautiful and lumpy bit of Britain. So far, David and I have walked over 30 miles mainly along the South West Coastal path. The warm weather has been a bonus and a shock to David who was at less than 10 degrees c in Tallinn, Estonia last week. Cornwall is full of romantic names - Botallack, Lamorna and Zennor, Men an Tol, Lanyon Quoit and the Merry Maidens. We've said Hi to a few horses, dairy cows, llamas and even some camels and a Tamworth pig but I'm looking forward to the Dartmoor ponies on Sunday.