Monday, September 28, 2009

28th September, 2009 Chapel Girl

Petra was a little bit put out yesterday to be asked to work on a Sunday - what with her being a chapel girl and all. However, she looked very fetching in her maroon sports boots. I was very please to be able to do a long-reining session with Jacqui who has come all the way over from Tanzania. Needless to say, she has other things to attend to while she is here and hadn't just come to see Petra.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

26th September, 2009 Quick, quick, slow

Just a quick blog for the weekend. Today a seven hour clinic for seven people and seven horses. This is Summer demonstrating the three methods of desensitisation with three different people. As she can be a very spooky pony, I thought she did fantastically.

"A big thank you for a great day. I hope that everybody enjoyed it and learnt from it, I certainly did. It would be nice to give it another go sometime. It’s invaluable experience for us and the ponies to switch handlers don’t you think? " ME 27.9.09

"Thank you so much for the photos, the girls will be thrilled, they thoroughly enjoyed their day... needless to say, that M then set about building poles and tarpaulins and Remy had some work to do before supper!" KWC 27.9.09

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

23rd September, 2009 Myths and assumptions

I go to a lot of yards where my client may be the only person interested in natural horsemanship type techniques. They find themselves under a lot of pressure to go with the majority and to justify what they do. I can't really understand what the objection is when all I am adding in is a set of ground rules on the ground and all I am taking away is the use of the whip as a punishment. I think this reveals a basic misunderstanding about what I do - if you've read just a little of this blog you'll know that I am not interested in lots of circle work or rope swinging, I'm not into dominance or submission or lots of head flexing. All I want to do is use techniques which are logical to the horse. I am not served well by the natural horsemanship label which conjures up vivid images of horses being twirled around at the end of a rope or having a rope twirled around over their heads.

This is also why I set up The Herd so that people could be aware of others who are practising IH techniques in their area. It's a quiet group with no cliqueyness.

The groundwork I do serves one purpose and one purpose only and that is to establish my leadership so that the horse can afford to relax. I don't want to make the horse sharp or worried. I only have three basic rules in any event - don't invade my space, don't overtake me and don't assault me.

The other myth is that people who do natural horsemanship don't ride their horses. I do whenever I've got time and I have been doing some fun stuff with Chancer. He now backs up between barrells over the blue carpet for instance. I am very tempted to go off and get some full Western training with him next year. I wonder if David will mind? In the meantime, it has been six months since I ordered Petra's Western saddle and it still hasn't arrived. I could cancel but then i would have to start again at the beginning.

Ridden problems represent about one fifth of the work I do. Bolting horses and spooky horses are the most common. With the first I look at pain, equipment, fear, habit and riding style to see if we can interrupt the cycle. Bolting is probably one of the most dangerous behaviours and the most scarey. With spooky horses it does often help to get on the floor and to do some serious incremental desensitisation before getting back on board. Once on board it can be repeated.

23rd September, 2009 Freezebranding

Jenny had her pony, Twinkle, freeze branded today. This involved the application of six seperate brands for 30 seconds each. Twinkle coped very well helped by the efforts of Jenny, me and Sheila in desensitising her as far as possible in advance. Sheila and Jenny had worked on the clipping aspect as one of Sheila's case studies and Jenny and I had introduced Twinkle to clicker for umcomfortable procedures. Well worth it I think to avoid the possible use of a twitch on a pony that is known to have been very reactive to pain.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

22nd September, 2009 Money for new rope

We are now making our own 12' ropes which are of superior quality. Made from 14mm yacht rope, they feature a good strong clip. Priced at £20 each (plus postage and packaging) they can be obtained direct from me.

22nd September, 2009 Me and Miss Jones

Tamie has been coming along to my demos for a couple of years now and has been unfailingly helpful and cheerful. I had taken to calling her Tamie Why-not because she always seems so positive. It was great to be able to go out today and work with her and her new (first) pony, Oliver. It seems that all that watching and listening that she has done has paid off as much of the groundwork is instinctive to her. Here you can see her demonstrating not just a smile, but a smile in the line and her pony right by her side.

E-mail "Thank you so much for coming out and seeing Oliver and me. I was so surprised how he took it all in his stride and amazed that he CAN stand still !! I'm am so grateful for your guidance and advice and to be told that im on the right track. The world is our oyster. He is such a little darling and is transformed from when he first arrived but with hours of grooming and having our daily chats we seem to be getting somewhere with visable results. The IH way is the way for us in our long and happy journey. Who would have though little old me (who has waited patiently for this experience for nearly 15 years) would be shivering after coming in from the cold after spending hours at the yard. I'm currently on cloud nine and am so proud of him and glad to have him."

Monday, September 21, 2009

21st September, 2009 Mutual Appreciation Society

I have the good fortune to be surrounded by people I can really trust these days and whose work I really admire. Kate Boe (pictured above) is a McTimoney-Corley practitioner who not only does good bodywork but knows how to be round horses too. Fortunately for me, she also approves of the way I work and recently we have been working with her cob, Blue, overcoming a couple of confidence issues including large traffic.

E-mail 26.9.09: "Just a quick update- Today I hacked Blue out on the roads, with Mum on foot. We came across rattley trailers, groups of cyclists and motorbikes, she coped very well and even stood still in a layby whilst a trailer past us and got very excited chasing it away!!"

I have immense admiration also for Amanda Barton whose ridden sessions and confidence work has already made a huge difference to me and to other people I know. I really care about what she thinks of me and was chuffed (!) to receive this in an e-mail from her:

"I would wholeheartedly recommend you to help with ground work to any of my current or future clients. Without exception I think people are getting an enormous amount out of the work they do with you and I am seeing examples all the time of where they have a really clear idea of what they need to be doing and have the tools to make a difference and feel more confidence about the situation."

Vets and a farriers need to be judged on the work they do with your horse's physique and feet but their attitude and approach can make a massive difference to how your horse copes with what they do. Amy Reynolds (the vet) and Guy Reynolds (the farrier) who are incidentally married to one another, are both great around horses and do nothing to make things harder for the horse. I really feel I can talk to them too and explain why I do what I do.

What a team - now, if we could all get out to Africa..........

You may have spotted that I have changed farriers again. It is likely that Petra and Chancer will have to go back to wearing shoes at some stage when their work levels really increase. Both of them seem to really struggle with the gravel on the Forest and I am doubtful whether any amount of careful transitioning could make it any easier for them. It's hard enough for any horse in a country where we have a wide variation in climate and moisture levels. I hear too many stories of horses struggling for 18 months to two years and never really being right without shoes. Don't get me wrong, if barefoot suits your horse and his welfare is paramount, I envy you the ability to keep him that way.

You may have also spotted that Sheila hasn't gone into business with me after all. She has gone and fallen in love with (an admittedly lovely bloke) from Gloucestershire and I expect she'll want to go and live with him eventually with his farm and his cows. Sheila has now done all her case studies and will soon be able to ask to be a Recommended Associate.

21st September, 2009 Another day at the sea side

It was off to Weymouth on Saturday where Julie and I worked with Ziggy and Danny, both youngsters. Ziggy is a solid bodied and solid natured horse and pretty bombproof. Danny is a character and has been leading (literally) his owner a merry dance. By the end of the session they were at least dancing in unison! It is so easy to be overly benevolent with young horses that you've bred or bought when they were tiny. They still need some ground rules - and they certainly need leadership.
On Friday I worked with a fifteen year old cob who was doing a similar thing.
"Thank you so much for Fri. I really feel that I am more in control now I know what we were both doing wrong. I practiced leading again tonight, asking him to move over with the pressure on his hip and he tried once to kick out and I managed to react appropriately, not crumble into a heap as usual. I was very proud of myself but not as proud as I was of C when I managed, after desensitising for a short period until he was happy and consistant I, relatively effortlessly, put 1 front boot on and off twice and he just stood there!!! Amazing. I know tomorrows another day but baby steps... "
E-mail 29.9.09: "Connor has been such a good boy. His leading has been fab."

21st September, 2009 Warmbloods

I have some sweeping generalisations to make about warmblood horses. It seems to me that many of them will take a lot of stick, quite literally, and like a pressure cooker, only go bang at the end when the pressure put on them really is too great. This is especially true of the warmbloods bred on the continent and intensively prepared for the auctions. Being big, athletic horses, they tend to be confined a lot and contained in their ridden work. No turn out and no hacking out.

The ones I have met, usually those that have gone bang, appear to be 11.2 ponies in a 17 hand suit. Taking them back to the basics and spending time consolidating each step, seems to be the best approach. I tend to treat everything I meet as if it is a New Forest pony anyway. It seems a good standard of temperament and energy to me!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

17th September, 2009 Odd angles

Having loaded Pete to go up to Hartsop to complete his training, it was back to my own horses to check they were upright. I managed to catch this sunbathing donkey before experimenting with my favourite view of Chancer.
This evening we got the dressing up box out so that Ludo could try a few things on. He wore a rug for the first time, then a saddle with stirrups dangling. After a short session of long reining he wore sports boots for the first time and practised his moon-walking. Sadly, no photos of that!

17th September, 2009 Caster Semenya

The controversy surrounding the true gender of Caster Semenya, the South African athlete, has prompted me to write about a horse/pony that I saw last year. I have promised the owner that I will never reveal the identity of the horse - so don't ask. Could have been a horse; could have been a pony, but I shall call it a horse. Anyway, I was working with her and noticed that she was quite nibbly, like a colt. During a break I noticed that she didn't have the normal configuration under her tail - she had a normal vagina but at it's base there was a tiny penis. I couldn't make sense of what I was seeing so I said something along the lines of " your horse alright on the bottom department?". "Ah", they replied, "you noticed". Further discussion revealed that she was a hermaphrodite. Because her external genitalia were overwhelmingly female and she also had mammary tissue, her owners had assumed that she was a mare but her behaviour and later, tests, revealed that she was in fact a he.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

16th September, 2009 Blackberry picking

This donkey foal was out black berry picking this afternoon.
Another successful session with Boris and his owner Maisie. He has now been introduced to the partition, bars and ramp and is much happier to be in the trailer than he was. Maisie has practised, practised and practised some more over the last few weeks and today's session was pretty textbook. More practising ahead before he goes out for a journey in it.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

15th September, 2009 We don't do early mornings.......

.....Jack and I! I don't know who was the most bleary eyed when I arrived this morning. I had to get the horses into the small paddocks and pens away from the hedgecutter. Cello amused himself by burgling the shed and Chancer just looked at the girls going by out on the Forest.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

12th September, 2009 As Nice as Pie?

The end of a really pleasant week, with really pleasant owners, where I have had my hands on 9 ponies other than my own, mainly doing groundwork but with the odd bit of long lining and one loader. Tosca, the horse at the top, proved to be really responsive and a complete contrast to his owner's other horse who must be the most laid back horse I have ever met. Next down, Ruffles, is a 16 month old New Forester and the lady in the photo has been none too keen to touch horses before this. Matrix, photo 3, is also a New Forest pony. He was introduced to long reining today and after a little worry about the reins going behind him, he accepted direction nicely and carried his head long and low; just what we wanted. Jack has made his way onto this post again as today he coped with and went under this flappy thing for a click and a treat.
"I just wanted to thank you for coming out last Friday 11th September to work with my horses, it was such fun!! It was so amazing that within half an hour of working with them I saw more about their characters than I had before, and it makes me even more determined to continue with Tosca, because I could see what a worried switched on sweetie he really is and anything scarey he does has been man made (I think and hope?!) !! Thanks again Sarah it was lovely meeting you, not only are you brilliant with horses, you're very funny too!" TL
"Ruffles has been a little angel since your visit, have managed to catch him every time I wanted to & he even left his hay the other day to join me & have a game of follow the leader, he would follow but not get in my space then when I stopped he would stop next to me (but not go past me) for a lovely body rub!"

Thursday, September 10, 2009

10th September, 2009 Fire! Fire! (again)

After I'd had my hair done this morning (it was a coincidence honestly) it was time to go off to the Fire Station at Lyndhurst to help with the Animal Rescue Team's practical exercise. This time Jennypenny was trapped underneath her horse with her foot caught in the stirrup. Fortunately she was rescued and so was her (plastic) horse. I almost fell over however when she said to the course leader in front of his colleagues, "So next week Jim, do you want me on top or underneath?".

Another lovely session with Jack tonight. His learning seems to be rapidly expanding in all directions like the strands of a cobweb.

10th September, 2009 Definitions

In a week that celebrates the anniversary of Samuel Johnson who was born in Lichfield, just like me but a bit brainier, I have been thinking about the meaning of words (and life).

One critic of IH recently used the word suppression to describe what she thought she saw happening with horses being trained. She felt that it was important for horses to be able to express themselves. So do I. However there are times when it is important for them and the people around them not to be able to express their feelings in a way that might be dangerous to them or their owners. For example box rest - if a horse has to be confined for good medical reasons then his health is going to be dependent on him remaining calm and quiet (that's why it is called rest) and the emphasis has to be on keeping him quietly amused and to redirecting his energy to something else rather than "training" although there still have to be clear boundaries. It may be appropriate to provide him with a mirror, or a treat ball or a calm companion next door or an extension to his stable made of round pen panels so that he can stand outside for some of the time. During the transition from box rest to full turn out, it may again be appropriate to restrict his freedom of movement so that he can't get up to full speed, or to keep him seperately from other horses or even to sedate.

The leadership exercises I do with horses are not about supression either. I'm not sure horses are altogether happy when they feel the need to fling themselves around, to walk through people or fidget endlessly. This tells me that the horse is anxious, doesn't know how to control his feelings and feels alone. By consistently providing clear boundaries we can prove that we are worthy and reliable leaders and the horse can therefore afford to relax. To me a relaxed and quiet horse isn't supressed, he is just relaxed. I have seen horses that have shut down and gone somewhere else in their heads and it is a completely different look and feel.

When Tim Adams, the vet was visiting Chancer last time, he used the word compliance and I asked him what I meant. He said that the horses that recovered the best were likely to be those where the client had complied with the vet's recommendations. I'd love to do a survey to see to what extent client compliance influences the chances of success with behavioural issues. The most outstanding changes do seem to happen when an owner applies techniques consistently and regularly. Quality and quantity work well together.

A couple of ethical issues have arisen lately too. If I know a farrier that has hit a horse between the ears with a rasp, should I tell someone who is contemplating having them to do their horse? If I keep meeting horses that are farrier phobic and the same name comes up again, should I say anything? If someone has just bought a brand new saddle and had it fitted properly but I can clearly see that it doesn't, how much should I press the issue? It's tricky because if I don't say anything and the horse gets abused by the farrier or the horse gets sore from it's saddle, the owner would be rightly disappointed with me. Most of the time I can get round it by saying who I do recommend or those that I have only heard good things about A. Person and so on.

For starting horses, there are only a few people that I can recommend and all of them are Recommended Associates; these are the only people I know that I trust not to hit a horse. It's all too easy to turn a blind eye to what happens to your horse when it is being trained by someone else and to hope that the end will justify the means. I take in the odd, quieter starter but acknowledge that I can't deal with any horse that is too big, athletic or tricky and therefore have to refer clients to people who are further away and possibly more expensive than more local trainers. IH is easy until it becomes inconvenient or expensive.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

9th September, 2009 Sea view

It was off to see Melanie this morning. Since I last saw her she has counted all her horses and thinks she has eleven and two more in utero. They have the very best view in England, straight down to the sea at Swanage. Today we worked with her two yearling Dales colts - as different as chalk and cheese but both a lot blacker. Both of them reacted well to her new sense of leadership and we had a very pleasant session.

It was back to Jack this afternoon, touching his front hooves for the first time while they were off the ground and then asking him to jump over the barrels. He found this all rather puzzling as it was much easier to go round but once he'd got the hang he was fine. I'm wondering if he might make the Olympics - maybe not.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

9th September, 2009 Jack Spratt

With Petra and Chancer off work for one more week, I am spending any spare time that I have working (okay, playing) with Jack. He is doing really well. He can cope with being led, even with the rope swinging, and with some pressure and release but on the very odd occasion that he leaves with the lead rein, he is still very frightened of it. He can't understand why it follows him if he moves and he just stops dead and waits for me to rescue him. Perhaps he thinks its an adder. In an effort to help him through this, I have been asking him to walk over the lead rein and rewarding him for that. Today he was particularly brave, trotting over poles, going through a thin gap between barrells and walking over the carpet. Small steps, but important ones.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

5th September, 2009 Dazzled

I have been working with Razzledazzle, a 3 year old Highland pony today. All being well, he will be coming in for two weeks pre-starting work when I get back from Dartmoor in October. I have only worked with him once before and, having been turned away for three months, he remembered everything and was such a good boy today. While Rene and I worked with him, there was another horse being worked at walk, trot and canter all around him.

Yesterday I managed to leave all my long reining kit in Bath where I was working with Jani and her ex-racehorse, Lettie and carol's Exmoor, Scrumpy. I normally leave something behind but a whole box in Box is ridiculous - still, might bump into Peter Gabriel next time I go down.

E-mail from Jani (with Lettie): Thank you so much for all the very valuable teaching and information that you gave us yesterday. I think you are amazing....... It has been so helpful and the appraisal that you so efficiently sent through will help me remember what you said. I shall read learn and inwardly digest it over the next few days.

(10 days later): Lettie is doing really well. A and I have been taking her out for walks and on Sunday went for a long ride I rode the first half and then he took her onto the golf course - probably three miles and she was really good once we got away from the stable - though still stopping and going slow we are at least getting out of the stable yard better and she seems to be trusting us more. So thank you VERY MUCH you certainly made a big difference.

And from Abi: Rene enjoyed the session with Razz and has been practising all he learnt today! I am so pleased with La-La and Razz as I didn't expect them to be so good! Just goes to show you shouldn't underestimate these wonderful, intelligent animals, they really give so much once we learn to speak their language.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

3rd September, 2009 Confessions

Last day at the hospital today and I have to confess that it has been great fun. Yesterday I learned how to play volleyball and battleships but not at the same time. I have also really enjoyed the time in the Industrial Work Shop where I have been working with metal and wood. My Daddy was a carpenter and I love the smell and feel of wood.

My "pen rest" scheme was seriously compromised by the weather. Gale force winds and sideways rain meant that Petra had to be bundled into the barn and Chancer had to have his winter rug on. Petra appears to be much better - but she is on Bute. Chancer's wound is healing but very slowly. The vet is coming out this evening and we'll see what he thinks.

Last night, with wet hair and trousers, I went off to Steve Halfpenny at Quob. He seems to be a very pleasant guy and he worked in a calm and quiet way. By the end of the 2 hour session, the New Forest pony he was working with was accepting him laying over (and along!) her back. My only uneasiness is the use of a strongly swinging rope. He explained that he needs her to be able to accept changes in energy - yes, but not yet. As I have said before, I don't think it is fair to desensitize horses to things that they will be expected to be sensitive to in the future. As a lady called Ches, said to me - real gun, fake gun, real gun, fake gun - are you ever going to be relaxed about guns?

Vet visit latest: Tim was very pleased with Chancer's progress and said we could turn him out. Petra is definitely sound but will another week's pen rest just to make sure.