Saturday, July 25, 2009

25th July, 2009 Tanzania

It's been a week since I could get near a computer and I am going to have to wait until I get home before I can put up any more photos. Our last night in Kenya was spent at the lake where we went out on a boat to watch the hippos and then sat at the Fisherman's Bar to watch them come out of the water.

We had an early start the next day and were driven down to Nairobi by Henry, a Rastafarian Rwandan who is married to a Kikuyu and supports Manchester United. We were then flown to Arusha by the worlds most diminutive pilot - bit disconcerting that she had to sit on a cushion and still couldn't see over the dashboard - an excellent pilot at that.

Since arriving, life has been chaotic. We were taken straight to the polo club where we found ourselves in the thick of the polo set. I was so tired that I fell asleep on David's shoulder - this was only our third "day off" since we arrived and every one of those has been a travelling day. We have worked with all sorts of horses and all sorts of people and given three little demos to the pony club which is very much in its embryonic stage here. Just 11 children ranging from 7 to 15 and ponies with all sorts of backgrounds; it's a great start. The same themes are relevant here with horses being generally well behaved on the ground - warmth and work really help - but having ridden and performance problems caused by saddle fit and previous careers. I really welcomed the opportunity I had to chat to Arlene, a local instructor, Andre, a showjumper and Tony and Jackie who breed polo ponies and run a polo string. Whilst I have reservations about polo as a sport, it was good to hear that they don't get on their ponies until they are four and they are not expected to compete until they are six at the earliest. We have been looked after very well by Cathy, who has kept us busy with horses and stayed at Caroline's house and then Andre's where the scenery (Mount Meru) is just spectacular.

We have already been down to Lake Manyara for a couple of days and we are off there again tomorrow for a couple of days rest before we trek back up to Nairobi. Of course the wild animals in the National Parks are breath taking. Last night we went to visit a couple who have an orphaned giraffe and he was just beautiful.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

18th July, 2009 14 bumps along the road

Having gone to bed at 8 p.m. last night, I woke at 4.40 a.m. to be presented with 12 red roses from David for our wedding anniversary. Naivasha is famous for its flower farms and coincidentally the flowers that I was given for Valentine's day, bought from Marks and Spencers, would have come from exactly the same farm.
This morning we went fourteen speed bumps along the road to meet up with Lel who flew us over to her farm on the other side of the Lake where we worked with two of her horses including Murphy, the one in the photo. Lel is a dressage trainer and I was worried that there wouldn't be anything I could show her but just like every single person we have worked with in Kenya, she was really open minded and receptive. We had a lovely morning before being flown home again.

18th July, 2009 Aardvark never killed anyone

Yesterday we had quite a long session with Fiona and her delightful children that she seems to have had in alphabetical order - Annabelle, Cameron and Dominic. Fiona's horses are an absolute credit to her and her head syce Anthony - gleaming with health and good grooming. These horses didn't have the tell tale signs of the racing industry - muscle atrophy and high withers - and have had carefully fitted and placed saddles ever since. This coupled with good nutrition means that they look very well indeed. Fortunately there were still some gaps that I could fill and we worked on groundwork, especially for the youngsters, and some desensitisation too.
We spent some six hours working with various horses including Storm and came home in need of a drink and a bar of chocolate. These are readily available down at The Fisherman's Bar on the lake edge where Val, the owner, tries to keep the hippos and the tourists apart. We are still waiting for our first sighting but enjoyed the antics of the vervet and colobus monkeys instead.
(Val would like me to say - FISHERMAN'S BAR - ring 0735 333038!!)
As the first leg of our trip is coming to a close, I feel more able to summarise the most "popular" issues for horses in Kenya. The shortage of good saddles makes life very difficult especially when there is a 110% tax on importation. Nevertheless, a poorly fitting saddle is a complete block to asking a horse to get over any ridden behavioural issues and to working correctly. In the long term, horses that are forced to endure a badly fitting saddle can only learn that being ridden hurts and then devise ways to make this plain or ways to avoid the pain; many horses here carry their heads high and hollow their backs.
The long term solution goes beyond awareness - someone needs to set up a sponsorship scheme whereby a team (s) of Kenyans can go to England to be trained in saddle making and saddle fitting and needs to include remedial saddlery and restoration of saddles. There are lots of good old English saddles here but they are lumpy, hard and falling apart. Some corrective numnahs and risers would help to a limited extent whilst horse's backs are recovering.
There is also a dearth of good bombproof ponies here. Children are mounted either on former racehorses and polo ponies, many of which have been hammered or on semi-feral ponies. In both cases there are gaps in the education of the horses - retraining in the case of the former and desneitisation in the case of the latter. Whilst children aren't subjected to the totally paranoid health and safety precautions we have in England, it is a shame if they lose their confidence through being over-horsed. The IH methods I have been demonstrating here could really help in this area and it was good to see that Jo was so far along the line. Her little Ethiopian ponies were fast becoming quiet and reliable.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

16th July, 2009 Feeling Harty

This morning we were off to see Donna, whose house must have one of the best views in Kenya with the lake at the front and the hills at the back. Her horse, Tandinera, who bears an uncanny resemblance to Petra Perkins, is coming back in to work after an 18 month gap. We were able to go through how we would approach a restarter and indeed, Donna got one her for the first time while we were there - it was hard to get her to get back off again.
Later we had a tri-lingual lunch with Donna and her extended family including her Italian in-laws and her baby girl, Daniella. Donna has a pet hartebeest and two warthogs that come and go as they please. The hartebeest, which spends much of its time admiring it's reflection in the windows, is an effective as it doesn't like strangers!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

15th July, 2009 Rhino saw us

Yesterday it was off to Oserian to meet Katie and her two grooms Geoffrey and Joseph and to look at two of the horses, Celtic and Beacon. Once again saddle fit was high on the agenda and we also looked at leadership and long reining. Beacon has an interesting skin complaint, similar to sarcoids and whilst one vet has said that it was incurable, another has suggested that aloe vera and avocado oil might help. So far so good as the number of lesions are reducing dramatically.

Afterwards we went for lunch at Chui Lodge which is very impressive and the food was absolutely gorgeous. We were then very privileged to be allowed into the rhino sanctuary, some 25,000 acres of bush land entirely dedicated to conserving the wildlife and especially the rhino. From 6 in 1997, they now have an extended family of 16.

This morning it was back to Sanctuary Farm to work with more Ethiopian ponies including one called (somewhat inevitably) Spotty, and to do some desensitisation work.

Monday, July 13, 2009

13th July, 2009 Naivasha Lake

This morning it was off to work with Debbie and Henry and her horses at Sanctuary Farm. Such a peaceful place with wildlife grazing the fields - it's like working in a safari park. We started off with groundwork and long lining and this evening Em had a lesson with her pony, Mac.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

12th July, 2009 Starry, starry night...

It's difficult to describe just how heavenly it is to go to bed (on a very comfy mattress) under the African stars. We didn't try to count them but woke up every few hours to take a good look at the sky and check out whether there were any wild animals wandering around. This followed by a bucket shower and an enormous breakfast ended our stay at Loisaba.

On the way back to Naivasha, David sat in the back with Debbie's two children and I learned that his favourite colour was red, his favourite farm animal a cow and that his favourite wild animal was a leopard.

Back at Debbie's, Dorian accepted being touched within a minute or so and then really enjoyed being rubbed along his back and neck. It seems that he has remembered everythinhg from that one short session he had before we left.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

11th July, 2009 Loisaba highlights

Top to bottom: School photo; Simon backing Federer for the first time; Simon's Join-Up; Fumbi and Jo with the brolly; Lightning and the feather duster.

11th July, 2009 Safari

This is our last day at Loisaba. We got up at 5.30 a.m. again so that we could go for a long horse ride and were rewarded with elephants, zebra, gazelle, oryx and a cheetah. Suprisingly, the horses weren't at all worried by this last one! It is very difficult to take pictures of wildlife whilst on the move and I have lots of pictures of the sky and the ground - good practice for tonight when we are staying in one of the star beds. Adam, the head syce, is a great rider and looked really cool with a radio in one hand and his reins in the other.

It's going to be difficult to say goodbye.

Friday, July 10, 2009

10th July, 2009 Drop the Dead Zebra!

So, I had this great idea to demonstrate the anatomy of the horse using a zebra skeleton that we had seen out on the plain - no need, Debbie and Jo are both Art Graduates and used dead bodies to understand the structure of the creatures they paint and the syces all butcher their own meat. Having gone out riding at 6 this morning (I didn't know there were two in one day) David and I were allowed to take the truck out on our own and went on safari for three hours. We visited the dead zebra for a quick anatomy lesson and, as if that wasn't exciting enough, ..... sorry need to go and look at a leopard....where was I, if that wasn't exciting enough, we also went to see the hippo and a very pretty lizard, two klipspringers (can now build an ark) and tonight there were two kudu in the garden - one standing under the parasol by the swimming pool and the other pruning the trees. This was our second antelope incident of the day as Tommy, Jo's pet one-horned Thompson's gazelle had thought it was hilarious to chase the long reins while we were working with Lightning, one of the Ethiopian ponies.

Lightning has made massive progress since we first met him - he has a sore back at present, caused partly by oxpeckers stabbing him in the back (!) and possibly from past treatment. We taught him clicker training so that he could do stretches every day and now Cheka is using the feather duster and clicker treats to fetch him in from the plain where he grazes during the day. Previously he was very reticent about being caught at all.

The leopard is just below the lodge tonight.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

8th July Mind, Body and Soul

The more I see here, the more I like. Jo has a quiet, relaxed, casual attitude around her horses which makes it easy for them to become the same. The syces are also very quiet and gentle and indeed affectionate to the horses and they must think that they have died and gone to heaven. They are groomed every day and washed down so that they receive some relief from the heat and the insects. Save for the latest arrivals, they are all good and sensible weight. Although some of them are ridden by tourists, they are treated with respect; ridden with a loose rein and not galloped around.

The Ethiopian ponies were in a very poor state when they arrived. One was actually eaten by hyenas en route. They were covered in ticks which when they were removed took lumps of hair off them. All have recently received a clean bill of health and are well on their way to recovery. Blackie, one of the older ones is now being ridden and this morning we took turns to long rein him in the boma. The little filly I have been working with allowed us to touch all of her left hand side last night and then allowed herself to be caught in the yard this morning. She is already leading very well - foot handling for her tonight.

Last night we were treated to a visit from a genet, an exquisite cat like creature with gorgeous markings and this morning we met a pride of lions on the way back from the farm. I promise to get some photos on here as soon as I can.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

7th July, 2009 Pomoja!

It's important that I make sure that the work I do is relevant out here. I have an audience made up of three distinct sets of people - the owners of the horses who have already thoroughly embraced this kind of horsemanship, interested guests and visitors, and then the grooms and syces who have are being asked to continue in this same way in order to achieve some consistency of approach. The horses themselves are divided into two camps - ex-racehorses that have been there and done that, and then some native and formerly semi-feral ponies from places like Ethiopia and Somalia. The established horses are generally quiet and accepting as they are in regular work, get fed according to their needs and it's pretty warm out here most of the time. The semi-ferals have been roughly treated in the past - for example, Federer was branded with a hot iron on his face and is pretty worried about having his head touched. Others have dubious conformation and it remains to be seen whether this corrects itself when they put on weight and muscle. Therefore, none of the horses are particularly pushy and groundwork isn't needed for control. However, it's a great way of establishing leadership so that they can afford to relax whenever they are with humans.

Strictly, I am not allowed to teach Join-Up but, having gone through the basic groundwork exercises in the first session, I gave a demonstration of Join-Up so that my participants could see whether they had been heading in the right direction with their own Join-Ups learned from a book. Afterwards they demonstrated the way that they do Join-Up so that we could compare and contrast and it was great to see horses like Fumbi (Dusty in English), Yellow Bill and Blackie joining up with their various trainers. If I have over stepped the line somewhere then I hope I shall be forgiven on the basis that I have only made brief comments about changes they might make and I am hopeful that some of my students will arrive on my doorstep in England on their way through to the Kelly courses. I know I would love to see them again.

Yesterday evening I gave a demonstration of the wild pony handling technique on a young Ethiopian filly called Silver. She came round really quickly and allowed me into her right side to put the headcollar on with relative ease. Having taken about 45 minutes to achieve this three times in that session, she took just 10 minutes to be touched and then have her headcollar on this morning and amazingly allowed me to lead her out to her inclosure.

This morning we covered desensitisation techniques and some of the ponies should be eligible for the Olympic team given the height at which they originally cleared the tarpaulin rather than putting a foot on it. Having had no rain here for three years, not many of them had met an umbrella either! There is a limit to how much they can be asked to get used to things when there are real predators a round. During the night too, elephants got into the main yard and stirred them all up for some time.

On the wildlife front, we saw large numbers of dikdik on the way back to the Lodge and a reticulated giraffe. At lunch, 30 or so elephants were relaxing in the waterhole below our room. This one private lodge is larger than the whole of the New Forest and has a huge variety of wildlife including lions, leopard and cheetah. Tom and Jo, who are staunch conservationists also breed pedigree Boran cattle and have a herd of breeding camels. During our off duty time we are being thoroughly spoiled as the accomodation is beautiful and the food is wonderful. The company is great too and we have had a great laugh with Alastair and Kit in the evenings (I know Alastair will be disappointed if I don't mention him!!).

Sunday, July 5, 2009

5th July, 2009 Loisaba Lodge, Kenya

Having flown overnight to Kenya, we met Debbie, the lady that has organised this whole trip for us and drove out to her home in Naivasha. With her collection of five dogs, a cat called Ping-Pong, two donkeys, a horse and a pony, we felt at home immediately and she made us feel very welcome. We went out for a ride at 4 p.m. with David on a ex-racehorse called Hot Spice and me on a horse that turned out to be an entire called Euphoria - as Debbie's horse is called Happy, you could say we had a good range of emotions! It was fabulous to be riding straight out into the bush with zebra one side and giraffe in the distance on the other and going right down to Lake Naivasha which is in the Great Rift Valley. Later I started work with one of her donkeys, called Dorian, who was rescued by the KSPCA. This little soul lives with the grotesque scars of some violent treatment including having half of his ear cut off, back sores and branding to his neck as well as having cateracts in both of his eyes. It is hoped that these will prove to be treatable but, understandably, he hasn't voluntarily allowed himself to be touched by humans for quite some time and it is doubtful whether he has ever felt a kind hand. Using exactly the same techniques as described in No Fear, No Force with the addition of a drop of lavendar oil on the feather duster, I was able to touch him first with that and then with my own hand and for the first time he didn't hyperventilate or shaken incontrollably. Indeed, in time he seemed to be enjoying it. The idea is that when we get back from Loisaba, where we are now, we will work with him again and use the lavendar oil as a reassuring signal that nothing has changed.

The next day we travelled up to Loisaba Lodge which is literally off the beaten track for some good two hours. The journey was interupted when our lead vehicle broke down twice and had to be towed most of the way. David had the exciting experience of being towed at speeds in excess of 100kms per hour on a 15 foot tow rope whilst I got to see two extremely rare Aardwolf. No time for any work when we eventually got back to the Farm. The view and the accomodation were so impressive (awesome as the Americans would say) and again we were greeted with nothing but kindness by Jo and Tom who run the farm and lodge.

We began work with some of Jo's 21 horses this morning and introduced Jo, Debbie, Cheka and four of Jo's staff (Adam, Simon, Paul and Moses) to the way I approach the work I do with horses. This starts with looking at the physical before covering groundwork, desensitisation, establishing pace and direction and then looking at ridden work. Saddle fitting is a major issue in Kenya, given that there are very few good saddles available in the first place and that many horses have extensive muscle atrophy from their early racing days. The tendency is to use old English leather saddles or to import Wintecs which all tend to be narrow fit to mirror the shape of apparently high withers. We talked about ways that these muscles could be encouraged to repair but it's hard to know how to get round the issue of old and lumpy flocking. Someone could make a killing out here if they were to set up a good saddlery company and then to encourage people to think about back shape. Many of the horses are also very assymetrical having raced in one direction only.

On the way back from the Farm to the Lodge, we met a herd of 30 elephant including two calves of less than two weeks old. Photos will follow.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

1st July, 2009 Last post?

I shall try to add a bit from Kenya whenever I can get near a computer - if only let my Mum know I am still alive!

In the meantime, if you have a horse emergency then please contact one of the Recommended Associates listed on the Intelligent Horsemanship website at or ring the office on 01488 71300

Unsigned copies of No Fear, No Force are available from the British Horse Society website under books and on the New Forest Equine Directory under Gift Shop. If you would like a signed copy of the book then I shall be back on 31st July and should be able to send one out then.

I received a lovely letter from Hazel this morning:

"I also mentioned that I have a Welsh x fell mare, Tilly, who has unfortunately had a very traumatic past before I bought her last September, and who consequently is extremely nervous, especially about having her head handled. Well I have been using your scarf method with her to try and get her used to things around her head and ears and I am pleased to report that she has responded well so far. She is certianly a lot easier to get a headcollar on after working with the scarf. She is of course still very wary when I do go to put the headcollar on, but the best bit is that for the first time ever, I have been able to touch her ears without her going into a major although Tilly is actually 12 years old, your foal handling methods are coming in extremely helpful with her.

Your book in itself is a lovely book and one I woudl highly recommend to anyone who has an interest in horses, and for me and Tilly it is also a really useful book too."

Enclosed with the letter was a photograph of Tilly snuggled up to Hazel "A photo I never thought I would see - I'm actually managing to give Till a hug without her panicking"