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.