Saturday, October 31, 2009

31st October, 2009 Cup winning in Kenya

Festooned with ribbons, this is Spotty, a pony I did a little work with in Kenya. An Ethiopian pony, at that stage he was still terrified of his saddle and being mounted despite the fact that he was being ridden. You can see that he has had his ears cut in his previous life and was probably beaten too. I taught Simon, his syce, how to desensitise him to new things and then left them to it. The pony was off to pony club camp the very next week and this is the result.

Two more loaders to finish this week. The first, a Thoroughbred I was meeting for the first time, was probably the most frightened I have ever met. Normally calm and amenable, he took one look at the trailer before producing copious quantities of loose droppings and shaking from head to foot. His owners have been told that he has only ever been in a horsebox but I strongly suspect that somewhere along the line he has encountered a trailer and there has been some sort of incident. Of course we will never know. I have advised the owners that it may take quite a bit of training to get him to the stage where he is really relaxed and moreover safe in the trailer. We ended that particular session with him walking in and out with no partition in place and he being able to at least breathe while he was in there. The owners now have to decide which way to go. With no absolute guarantee that he will get there, they may opt to stick with a lorry (and to buy lottery tickets). Today I have visited a lady that has done just that - she could see that her mare just wasn't going to cope with the back bar and ramp being closed without an enormous panic and the risk of a big accident - yet again, she is buying lottery tickets for her dream horsebox and in the meantime she will hire one when she needs one.

There are no magic wands in this job even though one session can make a profound difference (and sometimes be the complete answer).

Thursday, October 29, 2009

29th October, 2009 I have a secret......

I have been dying to tell you that Cello has found a fantastic home. He will be going to live with Stevie, who is 11 and an absolute delight. They met for the first time today and were perfect together straight away. Stevie, who is mildly autistic, is gentle and kind and very very bright. I am sure they will have a very special bond. Wendy, his Mum, is a very experienced horse woman and utterly committed to non-violence in a pony's training.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

28th October, 2009 E-mail of the day

"Just a quick snap or two to show just how helpful my ponies can be. John was laying hardcore in the gateways yesterday and trying to flatten them with a big Victorian roller. Gingernut spotted him and decided to lend a hand!" Carol

28th October, 2009 You want me to do what?!

Jenny and I had some fun this afternoon. Razzledazzle was introduced to the brolly and the tarpaulin. He spends just a little time considering things and then says okay. Jack, on the other hand, couldn't quite believe his eyes or his ears when I asked him to go over the tarpaulin. But it's blue and it's crinkly he seemed to be saying. With clicker, everything has to be voluntary so it was great to see him pause, make a decision and then go for it.

28th October, 2009 Loaded.....

This morning it was off down to Wimborne to load a Thoroughbred mare called India who was coming home from her loan home. When she moved there in the first place, she wouldn't load and had to be ridden the 25 miles from one place to the other. Given that we didn't have the time or the facilities for a full training session, it was a matter of loading her this morning and making time for some further training on another occasion. Nevertheless, it was really important to be as calm and organised as possible and to make sure it was as good an experience as it could be. It was great to see India standing like the Queen of the Castle at the top of the ramp just before it was closed up. She apparently travelled well and I received this e-mail from her owner this evening:
"Hi Sarah, thank you so much for your work with India this morning. She unloaded like a pro!! I will definitely recommend you to all my friends."

28th October, 2009 Like a rainbow...

Sailed across the sea by Wightlink on Monday to work with Floyd and Wouter. Good to know that Floyd hasn’t bitten anyone since my last visit. As well as doing some groundwork with him and ridden work with Wouter, I was invited to watch Floyd discriminate between grey and coloured squares. Carol ran this as a full experiment in 2007 to try to discover which colours horses can “see”. Floyd is rewarded for picking out the coloured board from a selection of different shades of grey. He picked out blue very easily but struggled with magenta. Carol points out that there is a world of difference between a range of colours that we lump together as say, blue, and Floyds ability to pick out the colour amongst the grey varies with the different shades within the same colour. Carol has also given me a full set of the results so if anyone is interested in what she did and how she did it, you can contact me in the first instance. She's promised to try it out on Jack next year.

"We really appreciate the thoughtfulness and care you put into your work with horses and their humans." CO 28.10.09

Sunday, October 25, 2009

25th october, 2009 News link re:hot branding

For what it's worth, I think that it is ANY poor handling that traumatises these foals.

25th October, 2009 Photos from Chagford Sale

To see all the pictures I took at Chagford sales go to:

Click on slideshow

Here are some of the relevant sections of The Welfare of Horses at Markets (and Other Places of Sale) Order 1990:

5.—(1) No person shall permit an unfit horse to be exposed for sale in a market.

6.—(1) No person shall cause or permit any injury or unnecessary suffering to a horse in a market. (2) Without prejudice to the generality of paragraph (1) above, it shall be the duty of any person in charge of a horse in a market to ensure that the horse is not, or is not likely to be, caused injury or unnecessary suffering by reason of—
(c) the horse being hit or prodded by any instrument or other thing;
or (e) any other cause.

7. _ (3) No person shall separate a foal from its dam while—
(a) they are awaiting removal from the market after being exposed for sale;

9.—(1) No person shall use excessive force to control any horse in a market.

(2) No person shall use in a market—
(a) any instrument which is capable of inflicting an electric shock to control any horse; or
(b) any stick, crop, whip, goad or other instrument or thing to hit or prod any horse. (3) No person shall drive, ride or lead any horse over any ground or floor, the nature or condition of which is likely to cause the horse to slip or fall.

10.—(1) No person shall knowingly obstruct any horse which is being driven or led through any part of a market. (2) No person shall wantonly or unreasonably annoy any horse in a market.

Penning and separation of horses 11.—(1) It shall be the duty of a market operator to ensure that no horse is kept in a pen which is unsuitable for the size of that horse. (2) Without prejudice to the generality of paragraph (1) above, it shall be the duty of a market operator or other person for the time being in charge of any horse to ensure that, within the market—
(a) when horses are penned—
(i) they are kept in separate pens from animals of another species;
(ii) they are distributed within the pens, having regard to differences in age and size, so as to avoid unnecessary suffering to them;
(iii) any fractious horse is kept in a separate pen from other horses; and
(iv) they are not kept in pens which are overcrowded;
(b) adequate provision is made to prevent horses—
(i) escaping from the market, and
(ii) coming into contact with any aggressive or fractious animals in the market;
(c) a horse of one of the following descriptions is not kept in the same undivided pen as any other horse—
(i) a stallion;
(ii) a cryptorchid or rig;
(iii) a mare heavily in foal;
(iv) a mare with foal at foot; or
(v) a horse whose hind feet are shod;
(d) an unsecured horse is not kept in the same undivided pen as any horse which is secured;
(e) a horse which is not penned shall be—
(i) effectively separated from any other horse or other animal, and
(ii) secured by the head (except where it has not been halter broken) unless it is being driven, ridden or led. (4) For the purposes of paragraph (2) above, a "fractious horse" and a "fractious animal" is a horse or other animal which is likely to cause injury to other horses or animals.

Feeding and watering of horses 12.—(1) It shall be the duty of the person in charge of a horse to ensure that the horse is provided with an adequate quantity of wholesome water as often as is necessary to prevent it suffering from thirst.

Duties of market authorities 15. It shall be the duty of a market authority to ensure that—
(a) all passageways and sale rings in the market and all pens in which horses are kept are—
(i) constructed and maintained in a manner which is not likely to cause injury or unnecessary suffering to horses; and
(ii) free from any sharp edges or projections with which horses may come into contact;
(b) an adequate supply of wholesome water is available for horses;
(c) any fixed ramps used for the loading or unloading of horses into or out of vehicles have—
(i) anti-slip surfaces; and
(ii) side railings or some other means of protection designed and constructed so as to prevent a horse from falling off them;
(d) adequate facilities in the form of troughs, buckets, drinking bowls or other drinking devices are available for watering horses; and
(e) any covered accommodation in the market in which horses are kept is capable of being adequately ventilated.

25th October, 2009 Intelligent Yard

"Oh no, is that a lorry?" D-horse watches the lorry pull up from the top end of the school.

Yesterday I went to a yard where it seemed that a good percentage of the owners were open minded and interested in all things "natural". I wish I could find a better description than that - psychology-based horsemanship sounds so lumpy but that's what it is. Throughout the day different people wandered down to watch what we were doing and to lend a hand. I worked with the owners of two non-loaders and their horses, one of which was the spit of Petra P. The first was a 28 year old who had gone on strike after some really helpful person (where do these people come from and why do they think it's okay to get involved?) came up behind him and walloped him with a piece of pipe. His owner wants to be able to take him to the vets in an emergency and to enter the odd veteran class during the summer. We don't know the full history of the Welsh Cob, but she was inclined to run backwards when she saw anyone come up behind her - usually a sign of a horse having been hit to get them on to trailer or lorry; how that's supposed to make them easier to load in the future I don't know but I suspect people are just happy to get the horse shut in and don't care about the long term consequences. How does the horse know that the hitting will stop once they are in the box? No wonder they don't want to get trapped again. In any event, we worked slowly and steadily with her and by the end she was going in very calmly and we were able to put up all the bars without her panicking or running backwards at all. Both would benefit from another session and a lot of very quiet practise before going anywhere. In the meantime I got a telephone call to say that the mare from the day before had loaded again and was far less stressed - no sweating and no twirling around. And then, this morning:

"HUGE progress. kept lorry an extra day so could do some stuff this am. She came to door of school to be caught today when I parked lorry by door and was curious about lorry. She went straight in with no effort a few times. She was eating in lorry after short time and I tied her up ok and then shut partition without any problem. Left ramp down. Thought I had done wrong thing at first and she broke out in sweat and started to steam and piaffed a bit and was not happy but I stuck with it and didn't get anxious myself and then she got interested in what was going on around her and distracted herself from her anxiety and got interested in the food and then realised she wasn't worried and was in a lorry and got worried again but in a short time she was calm eyed and eating and not sweating. She did several out breaths to let the tension out. At that point I opened partition but left her in lorry and she settled again with partition open and she ate some more and I walked her out. She was very calm and went straight back in again ok . Let her go to roll and she stayed hanging out by door sniffing lorry and watching what I was doing. Let her eat rest of food and she still stayed by door. The only time she moved off was when i actually started the lorry so need to desensitise to the engine running. but she came straight back after a canter round school and had her head over school doors watching. Walked back to stable calm as a anything. BIG change and so fast. Thank you so much for your help. I hate her to be unhappy and it is so great to see her overcoming her fears and limits and feeling like I am helping rather than hindering. always happy to give you a testimonial if you ever need one. You work miracles." HR (owner of D-horse)

My other client yesterday, Anna, has a Dales mare who like a lot of black horses seems to be very sensitive in her skin. Anna has seen and read about a lot of trainers like Richard Maxwell and Mark Rashid so we had a splendid time just tightening up her groundwork so that it was even clearer and her pony could afford to relax completely.

It was a long day for me (ten hours all round) but very rewarding. Nice horses, nice people. Perfect.

"Anna and Ebby here, and I just wanted to say thankyou for our session yesterday - it was brilliant to get an expert's eye on what I've been doing, and to find that it was mostly all good!! Later in the evening I brought Ebby back in to the yard to go over a few things, and as soon as I caught her I moved her backwards, forwards, then up the field and she caught on straight away that she was to be right next to me so I could see her hairy head!....Sorry about the essay - my brain is swimming with horsey theory, which I love!" AM

Friday, October 23, 2009

23rd October, 2009 Steaming

I got up at 5.15 a.m. this morning to go to work with a mare that sweats to the point of steaming when she even sees a horsebox pull up near her. By the end of the session she was going on and off a lot more easily and prepared to stand still on board for a few minutes at a time. Hopefully she will get a lot more practice before she is expected to go anywhere again.

Cello is absolutely fine and his operation couldn't have gone better. Amy did a great job. I can't believe how resilient these ponies are and he is such a nice pony now. I hope to reveal some news about him very soon.

As I left the fields tonight, the roe buck was in full flow. He has a harem of about 40 does with him so. He is so utterly distracted that I can get really close to observe them all.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

21st October, 2009 Highland Water

This morning I went out to a mare that has taken control of the tap in the stable block. It would be funny if she wasn't so successful. We've come up with some solutions (ha!) and hopefully the problem will be solved soon.
Razzledazzle had his first long reining session and took to it like the proverbial duck. He was so light and responsive straight away you'd thnk he had read a book. Tomorrow he will graduate to the paddock. I am not looking forward to tomorrow as Cello is due to be gelded and this will be the first unpleasant thing that has ever happened to him.

21st october, 2009 Things we discussed, demonstrated and did

Awake at 7 this morning, I was thinking over the things that Jim and I discussed, demonstrated and did and it went something like this:

Key concepts - pressure and release (also finding a release before the horse finds his own)
prey and predator
Into pressure response
Memories as pictures (actually a video with sound and smell)

You move the horse, the horse doesn't move you
Give attention (affection) when you want to not when the horse demands it
Answer the horse's question, not his decision
Leadership as proof that you are "there" for the horse - the difference between alpha leadership and passive leadership
Keeping body language back with you not at the horse
The difference between behaviour you want to keep and behaviour you don't
If in doubt, halve the pressure
Catching technique - acknowledging their first offer
Use of the Dually
Asking for a horse's attention
The use of a "motorbike" hand and core stability - v- open hand and knots
Leading technique - "smile in the line"; brain in your hand and using your peripheral vision
Use of angles and eye contact
The horse's neck as an adrenalin graph
Does the beginning of negative reinforcement punish the status quo?
Use of clicker - how it works and sometimes doesn't
Horse probably needs prior clicker trainig for it to be useful in an emergency
Loading - use of pressure and release; too much pressure releases endorphins causing the horse to plant
The running foot
Using touch and move away technique to desensitise to new equipment - in this case a yellow forward assist strop that Petra thought looked a bit alarming (and yet accepted with three touch and move aways). Within two minutes she had it around her tummy and between her front legs without a murmur.

"Wow, did we do all that yesterday??!!!
Thanks again Sarah, had a good time and feel more confident now, still lots to learn though!" JG

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

20th October, 2009 Log fires and electric blankets

Yes, it appears to be that time of year again. Still, yesterday I had a lovely day with my own horses catching up with their news. I spent time with Jack and Cello desensitising them to a syringe so that they will cope better with a real injection on Thursday when poor Cello is due to be gelded and Jack is having his second tetanus injection. I also started work on Razzledazzle who has come in for pre-starting. Having checked out his groundwork, I took him for walk in the forest to start to expand his comfort zone and get him enjoying himself.

Today he went out again in the company of Jim The Fireman who had come over to get some hands on horsework. As he says, he usually only meets horses on the worst day of their life when they are trapped in some muddy ditch or stuck in a gate. Raz coped with all natural obstacles out on the Forest and was very well behaved. I then asked Jim to mock inject Jack in exchange for a click and a treat (for Jack not Jim) before going on to do some useful loading practice with Chancer and Petra. For Chancer we used the standard Dually halter and for Petra we used the forward assist strops and it became clear that we both rely on pressure and release. Hampshire Animal Rescue Service are very hot on their horse psychology but hopefully I have added one or two useful techniques to their repertoire.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

17th October, 2009 Dartmoor Part II: Fabric and feather-dusters

17th October, 2009 Pointless?

Pictures from Chagford Sales

There's been a small miracle been going on in a cosy barn at the end of a track at the bottom of the moor in Widecombe, where 18 freshly weaned and frightened foals have been transformed into confident little bodies. It's traditional and convenient to abruptly wean foals here and at the sales, there were foals that looked as if they were under four months old being sold off for ten guineas.

Only three of the foals that we had had been through the sales and predictably they were the most challenging to work with through no fault of their own. They were frightened of hands. The rest were brought direct from the breeders.

I was frankly blessed to have the students that I did, all horsey and many of them highly experienced. My team of tutors were fantastic too enabling me to offer one to one training for everyone; all of us give our time for free. By the end of day one, we had worked quietly with three sets of ponies and all of them were accepting first touch – initially with the feather duster (telescopic no less and only £1.75 each from The Red Bazaar in Okehampton) and then with hands – all the way from base camp one at the withers to base camp two on their bottoms and then up their necks and down their faces. Our one yearling, Courage, was very enthusiastic about having his hair done and Claire, who had bought Dreamer through the sales was able to remove the first of the three lot stickers that had been glued to her pony's back.

Day two saw calm and soft-eyed ponies gently ambling down to the pens where we worked with them in batches of six, introducing their first head collar perhaps after desensitising their face with a soft scarf. Bearing in mind that by now each pony had a maximum of three hour's training, half of them were now being taught to lead by moving them around very gently within their pens. Even Dreamer was accepting a hand all the way down her neck and up to her ears.

With the exception of Dreamer, Boo and Hope, all of the ponies are for sale from their breeder or available for re-homing from the DPTC. The dark ponies, little bays and blacks, are the most typey of the Dartmoors and yet at the sales many are at risk of being unsold and therefore at risk of going for meat or being shot at home. This year they are more at risk than ever. The fashion for coloured ponies appears to be on the wane too and some of those go unsold too or end up in the hands of dealers. The biggest trend is for spotted ponies and they were fetching the most money at the sales although even then one Appaloosa stallion didn't meet his reserve.

The sales at Chagford on the day before the course started were a nightmare with overcrowded pens of mixed ages and sexes so that in one open big coloured ponies were trying to climb over one another to get away from the handlers and in another two colts were either fighting or covering recently sold mares bringing a whole new meaning to buy one get one free. It took an age for anyone to do anything about it. The ponies were frequently hit even across their faces to move them from one pen to another or to block them down the passageways. There was no attempt to separate the terrified ponies from the general public. There was no water or hay from the ponies although I was pleased to see that in one pen, where the owner had taken a great deal of care to advertise her ponies' breeding, there was a big haynet with three ponies tucking in enthusiastically. I was also relieved to hear that some owners had put a reserve on their ponies in the hope of diverting them away from the meat man if they didn't attract enough money. I understand that the abattoirs are inundated anyway and not accepting small ponies so readily. However, one breeder said to me that she would prefer her ponies to go “in the wrong direction” than go to all these do-gooders. I was hard pressed not to tell her that in my opinion she was a do-badder. Her pen included lots of very pretty ponies and some really tiny foals. The ponies may be essential to conservation, the preservation of the breed and the continuation of a tradition but that doesn't make it right not to take responsibility for where they end up. The lovely man who loans us his barn has taken radical steps to reduce his herd and is trying to persuade the powers that be to subsidise geldings rather than just mares so that his ponies can continue to graze the moors, doing their job, but not produce an unwanted by product. Their final destination aside, there is no excuse for the rough and unsympathetic handling at the sales – ponies can be moved around very quietly if people choose to do so and stop playing at all the macho rubbish. I have to compliment the serenity of the vet who was on the receiving end of the sales ring and very accurately and quietly micro-chipping the foals as they made their way through the crush to the holding pens before going on to their next stop.

I have to draw a very firm line between being a horse trainer/RA and becoming an animal activist. It has to be better to do things form the inside rather than to attack from the outside but it is extremely difficult to look these ponies in the eye. They pay the price every time whether they head for the meat man, the dealer or people who have no idea how to train a wild pony and will simply get rid of it if they fail. Hopefully we have managed to throw 18 more starfish back into the sea and to train ten more people how to throw back even more.

Somewhat inevitably, I agreed to continue training the foals throughout the next week of my holiday and a number of the students volunteered to come back for the odd day so that we could consolidate the work we had done so far. On Thursday Boo and Hope went off to their new foster home. By then they were really tame. Dreamer was much more relaxed and had her head collar on and off. Several times I made good use of the scarf in her case and eventually put the head collar on over the top of it – the feather duster and fabric approach seems to have a very calming effect on these vulnerable foals.

The DPTC is the easiest charity I have ever worked with with no egos or separate agenda to fulfill. Their flexibility and support throughout the training weekend has been immensely helpful and I have no doubt that we will be back again next year. We're planning a five day course this time.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

1st october, 2009 Lily has grown up

Lily, one of the stars of my book, is going for walks on the Forest now with her "Dad". I once had the audacity to ask if she was for sale and he almost had a fit!

"She is brilliant to do anything with, you completely changed her - thank you!" Sue C

1st october, 2009 Good as Gold

Jack gave me a real fright yesterday. I was halfway through my lesson on Chancer (who incidentally was a star) when Jack starting rolling with increasing frequency. Fortunately we were the only ones on the emergency call out list so Tim was with us within half an hour. Whether through feeling lousy or because the clicker really does work, Jack coped extremely well with Tim being close up and personal. He had injections and a rectal examination no less and just accepted everything. I stayed up at the farm last night to keep an eye on him and had a cuddle with him every couple of hours. He was turned out this morning once I knew that things that were going in the front end were also coming out of the back end.

I have never worried about acorns up at the yard. There are so many deer and regular visits from the pannage pigs that there don't seem to be many around. However, there is a chance that Jack had eaten too many so he's now in a different field where he can't get to any. So from laminitis watch to acorn watch. It could also have been a stress reaction because despite being a New Forest pony, he hasn't encountered pigs before now and finds them very scary.

Point of interest, I did use the click while Jack was standing for the vet even though he wasn't in the least bit interested in a treat. Tim reported that Jack's heart rate went down every time I clicked.

I was cheered up this morning by this e-mail from Vicky Spearpoint who is an Equine Liaison Officer with Hampshire Police.

"Misty is good and Sampson I took him to the last Cadnum show at the weekend, I left him in his normal headcollar to start and he really played up rearing and bucking out, (good job no one was in the firing line) so I took him back to the trailer and put the Dually on him and did a bit of ground work - stopping changing direction like you showed me, sending him back etc then took him back in to the thick of it, he really switched off and took it all in his stride. Then just before I went in the ring I put his white halter on and we did 2 classes. The NF bred class and we came 6th out of 8 and then we did the under 3 NF class and we came 4th out of 8. He was superb in the ring. Could not fault him even on the trot round at the end.

Totally made up and the best 60 quid birthday money I have ever spent."