Tuesday, June 23, 2009

23rd June, 2009 End of term

Pictures: Jack (not looking quite as frazzled as me at the end of a working day); Pete - being ridden in a saddle for the first time and unclipped; Rafago - Andulusian with the most wonderful hair!

To be honest, things are getting a bit chaotic around here. Each day each thing seems to concertina into the next as the farrier or the saddle fitter is late and then Frances, is dead on time for her session with Pete or the traffic is bad somewhere and I have to eat lunch in a garage in about five seconds flat. Still I am loving it even if it feels a little out of control. I get up at 7 to answer my e-mails (and update my blog), work all day and then come home and write up my horse reports and accounts with a glass of wine in one hand and the phone in the other. It all stops this Friday and then I've got almost a week off before we travel to Kenya. It has been difficult to turn down "emergencies" involving uncatchable semi-feral ponies but hopefully a copy of No Fear, No Force will keep most people going.

An update - Jack is very friendly these days and allows me to groom him all over and down to his knees. yesterday he learned that tummy rubs are nice. He will wear a lead rein and leads well but with the odd panic in narrow places. For the clicker training afficionados, I use a click an intermediate bridge now and he will lead for at least seven clicks before I use the movement of my hand to the bumbag as a terminal bridge - I shall see whether he will lead for longer each time and eventually not use clicker at all for this. I still don't clip the lead rein on because it terrifies him if it goes with him if he leaves. He will back up and come forwards to gentle pressure and does his level best to co-operate and earn his clickered treats. It isn't just cupboard love though because he follows me around whenever I am about, treats or no treats - perhaps he hopes they will just grow on me like grass! This pony is good for my soul as he just tries so hard.

Pete is doing well too and has now been ridden with his saddle on. He can be a little spooky and we are trying to put our finger on what it is that triggers a reaction. It's always something on the right. He doesn't like lines on the floor so we did wonder whether it was the shadows from the round pen rails. He's also wary of things touching his back legs so we have desensitised him with bandages and now boots - he looks like a showjumper in those! Between ridden sessions he is being short-reined which he seems to love and yesterday loaded on to a trailer for the first time.

On Monday I went out to the lovely Rafago although I didn't see him naked like in the photo as he wore his fly rug throughout the session. What is it with the flies this year? I have been bitten so many times! Rafago was imported from Spain where he was kept in full time. Here he lives out with a lovely mare and goes out for regular hacks. We were working on loading as he has arrived with his owner in a horsebox and in a state and has refused to approach a ramp since. We got him loading nicely but he is very worried about backing out of the trailer so plenty of homework for the owner before I get back in August.

Following this session I had this e-mail from her: "May I say what a pleasure it was to see you, and to watch you work. You are a wonderful person, and a great teacher! Apparently, my un-horsey father spent most of a phone call to his best friend telling him what an interesting morning he had had, and what an amazing woman you are....." IC 23.6.09

Sadly, I don't feel particularly amazing when I get quite a lot of stick around here for my views and the way I do things. I hadn't realise that even the name "Intelligent Horsemanship" gets people's backs up because it suggests that everything else in unintelligent. As Intelligent Horsemanship has never been prescriptive I'd never seen it that way. I've always felt that I have a very wide range of techniques available to me - in fact endless providing they don't involve violence and do involve logic. It may be that a lot of horsemanship is common sense - it should be - but we have to work with the horse's common sense not ours. Horses leave first and think later and we need to find ways to persuade them to want to stay.

Yesterday I was confronted with two ponies that have gone from feeling powerless to powerfull and are using their new power to slow their owners down or keep them away. This happens when a pony feels that no-one is listening to the small stuff, little distress signals that are not picked up - perhaps indicating that he is in pain, frightened or lonely. When the pony has eventually had enough he escalates his behaviour so that no-one can be any doubt that he is fed up and any tolerance he once had diappears altogether. For a new owner they have to unravel the past - get the pony's back, teeth, saddle checked or think about how they handle the pony at the same time as dealing with the big behaviour which can be very frightening - biting, rearing, leaning in. Hitting the pony in these circumstances would just reinforce everything he believes about humans and the need to keep them away in the first place. In time the tolerance returns and the pony mellows. Although the default behaviour may lie dormant, it is always there and there may be times when the pony forgets himself, perhaps opens the wrong page in his photograph album, and does it again. The owner has to be vigilant - but need not be nervous - and make sure they have a strategy for addressing this behaviour. This level of vigilance is only one notch up from the level of awareness that we should have around our horses anyway - in that way we wouldn't miss the small signs in the first place. Horses like us to use our peripheral vision and by honing this we can help them to relax. I like to do role play on this and get a group of horse people to chat to each other - one of them is the "owner" and the others are all horses and their job is to occasionally try to "bite" the owner (not literally but just using their fingers). In this way the owner has to be aware even while they are talking or doing something else and to be ready, without being tense, to address the behaviour when it arises.