Wednesday, March 30, 2011

30th March, 2011 Time and Trust

It has been almost two years since anyone has worked on loading with Rafargo. At that time he was very nervous about going on board and even more worried about backing out. He had only recently arrived from Spain - a long old journey in a horse box - and didn't know his new owners all that well. The trust that has built up since then and the work they have done on the ground and ridden, asking him to soften, has paid huge dividends. On Monday he was going in and out of the trailer very carefully and was much more relaxed about the whole thing. Yesterday I started trailer training with Missy too. When she arrived with her new owner she was literally all over the place but has since settled and seems to know that she has landed on her feet. She has turned into a really nice mare, affectionate and willing. I doubt that anyone has ever taught her to load properly and suspect it has always been a battle. Yesterday we made a good start -simply asking her to go in and out a few times before ending the session.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

26th March, 2011 Back to College

Julie, Jenny and I set off early this morning for Bicton College where I was doing a short demo in aid of the Mare and Foal Sanctuary. I worked with two horses that I had had no contact with before the event. The first, Gypsy (top) is sometimes difficult to catch and the second, Herbie, can be bargey. Both were brilliant and allowed me to demonstrate big concepts and little tips. On the way home we called in on Tabitha and George where Magic and Merlin have made excellent progress in the last year or so. Today it was time to introduce Merlin to a surcingle and the preparation exercises for long reining. He is a sensitive soul and it was essential to take everything just one small step at a time.

"...we were so pleased at how Merlin responded and Magic seems like he has done it all his life, great ponies!" TT

26th March, 2011 FHARTS Charity

Hopefully it won't be long before the Friends of the Hampshire Animal Rescue Team Charity is set up. Jenny and I went down to the fire station to finalise the aims and objectives for the charity yesterday. The forms should be submitted to the Charity Commission soon. A talented graphic designed called Andy White is working on a logo for us. The fund got a good boost (£650) last night from friends who attended a talk by Jim Green at Godshill Village Hall following on from the rescue of Mischief the New Forest Pony from a swimming pool.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

24th March, 2011 The eyes have it

I was amazingly privileged today to witness an operation at the Royal Veterinary College. The horse concerned had recurrent uveitis and this clever procedure involves inserting a slow releasing pill into the surface of the eye; the pill supresses the autoimmune system in a very specific location. It was fascinating to watch. As I happened to have my camera with me, the professor in charge of the operation asked me to take a close up. I was at the college with Jim Green who was giving a talk on Animal Rescue to the fifth year veterinary students as part of their elective subjects.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

23rd March, 2011 This is no ordinary life

Yesterday Guilda was introduced to a saddle for the first time before being ridden in the round pen on and then off the lead rein. Beau was ridden all the way around the field and then unclipped too. It was fabulous to actually watch him switch his left ear off to me and give them both to Jenny - he was concentrating so hard. These are wonderful moments. Our experiment in starting ponies just one a week or even once a fortnight in Guilda's case, is going extremely well. In a few weeks I have got two starters coming in - Freddie and Puck - and they will be on the three day week with two sessions of groundwork in between. It will be good to be able to compare.

"What an amazing day. There is so much to be said about kindness and understanding of animals. It's taken you and Jenny no time all to get to the saddling up stage. The confidence that Guilda has is a real credit to you both. Can't wait for the next lesson. x" K.G. (Guilda's owner)

Life is never mundane. Today the chiropractor is coming to check that Chancer and Theoden are ready for more work. Tomorrow I am off to the Royal Veterinary College with Jim the Fireman and back to the fire station on Friday to finalise the objectives for the charity. Saturday I am off to Bicton to do a demo with horses I have never met or even talked about and on the way back I'm going to see Magic and Merlin, the Bodmin moor ponies that we halter trained last year. Two loaders and a Teddy at the beginning of next week and then off to Mallorca to see Xanthe and her mules!!

23rd March, 2011 Trading Places

Last year I drafted a blog about tack shops and how miserable and rude some of the staff can be in them. Having been brought up by shop-keepers (my grandparents had a really old fashioned ironmongery with bits and bobs hung from the ceiling, every type of screw and nail you could think of and sold loose putty) I was taught that the customer knows best. Despite five o'clock foot ache, me and my Mum were not allowed to stop and we had to be unfailingly polite to the customers . So, it was a great surprise to be so well looked after in Aivly's on Monday. One member of staff helped me to re-jig my worming programme taking into account my horses' different needs and another spent well over an hour fitting me with a new riding hat. Aivly's is a pretty posh shop these days with loads of stuff that I can't afford and luckily don't need and you all know that I'm a very scruffy RA! Times are tight for everyone and even the most successful shop needs to make sure it keeps its customers - people are very quick to switch to the internet if they can't face the hassle of going to a shop. I shall be going back to Aivly's more often.

23rd March, 2011 Long time no see

Sometimes years go by after I have worked with a client and I wonder how they are getting on. It's always great to hear from people again and to be able to help them with another aspect of their horsemanship or another horse. Yesterday, Tracy came up to refresh her long reining skills before she starts off with Zena; it's been a year since I saw her. Good to see Theoden earning his keep too...
"I want to say a big thank you to you and your lovely horses. You helped me last year when I first had Zena and you have helped me again today. I feel I can now move forward with her with more confidence and enthusiasm. I will let you know how I progress with Zena. Thanks again Sarah, Petra and Theoden. Tracy x"

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

22nd March, 2011 Smelling the flowers

This is Herbie, who went for his first walk down the lane yesterday and away from the other horses. As soon as we left the gate his respiration and adrenalin levels went up and so it was important not to stretch his confidence so far that it breaks. The best approach is to think of little petals around the centre of the flower (his field) and to just take small circular walks around those. In Herbie's case we walked as far as the first tree and then back to the field and then in the opposite direction to where there were lots of daffodils growing outside a house. Back, with a quick visit to the field to bring his adrenalin levels down further and then along to the drain cover which we encouraged him to inspect, back round to the daffodils and then as far as the horses that live in the opposite side of the road. In this way we ignited his curiosity and found him wanting to go further each time. Back at the paddock we introduced him to the feather duster, umbrella and tarpaulin, and as you can see, he took them all in his stride.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

19th March, 2011 Progress

Both Alby and Teddy (who gave the kit a good inspection) have been taught to long rein this week and both have been leant over for the first time without appearing at all perturbed. In the meantime a stud-bred New Forest pony that I went to see a few weeks ago is going out and about for walks on the Forest and getting used to traffic.

Friday, March 18, 2011

18th March,2011 Roaming in the Gloaming

Chancer has been lame for a few days so it was a relief to take him out and about all sound again. Jack came along too with no clothes on. Chancer also met Katie, David's new bike.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

16th March, 2011 If you can't beat them, join them...

Petra and Theoden are inordinately fond of one another and I thought I would make the most of it. I have been training Theoden to pony off Petra and soon I will do it the other way round. In that way, I will be able to ride Petra in one direction and Theoden in the other with a brief tack change in the middle. Theoden has been ponied before so he knows to keep up without any pressure at all and he has such a soft expression. Petra isn't entirely sure that another horse should be that close so we have been working on gentle walk and trot transitions and turns so that she can see that he isn't going to suddenly change his mind and kick her.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

12th March, 2011 BBC repeats

On Thursday I went off to see two 'loaders' which included one experienced horse and one not. The one that was experienced was yet another that had previously been 'tapped' with a whip by a horse trainer in order to get her to come forward and load. (The trainer stands at the front of the horse and taps with a schooling whip on the hindquarters until the horse works out that it needs to move forwards). Once again, the net result is a horse that is no longer afraid of loading but is afraid of what happens at the bottom of the ramp. Lots of agitated kicking out and piaffing with her back feet. We told her that this was never going to happen again, used gentle pressure and release, rewarding even the tiniest move forward with a lovely neck rub and a click and treat, and there she was loading happily. Once on the lorry she was happy to stand, turn to the correct position for travelling and stand at the top of the ramp playing I'm the Queen of the Castle. The second horse simply needed to know where she was supposed to go. The lorry has a side ramp and she simply couldn't see where there was any space for her to fit. Both horses were entirely calm in the box itself and apparently travel well.
My first pony today was Teddy, a Fell. He walked through the poles, over the poles and accepted the feather duster. He followed the umbrella (beyond repair I think since Graylie molested it) and then walked over the tarpaulin. He is very careful with his feet this one. Next week we hope to introduce him to long reining.
Finally today it was off to teach Luke the association between touching a target, getting a click and a treat. He likes to carefully consider what he is being asked to do. I cheerfully commented that it was a bit like watching paint dry and then realised that he is actually a paint horse so how appropriate!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

10th March, 2011 Conservation Exmoors

While Jenny and I were out and about today, we decided to call in at Turbary Park where there are six conservation Exmoor ponies. The look extraordinarily well and their feet are in good shape. They are getting pretty friendly after three years of being in close contact with people who walk their dogs and take a breath of fresh air in the park.

10th March, 2011 The Price of Freedom

At a secret location, on a triple SI site, somewhere in my area, I was asked to meet two rather special ponies. Gromit is a New Forest stallion who has being living out on this small but wild environment right next to housing and an industrial estate for many years. He lives with a New Forest mare but they have never produced a foal and they both perform an important role in conserving this site as naturally a possible. However, Gromit's feet have grown very long and although he will let the ranger put a headcollar on him, he pulls back and either breaks or slips his halter every time the poor farrier tries to get to his feet. Although seemingly friendly, the pony is highly reactive and apt to kick when he says no. My job was to see whether he was trainable. In most circumstances it is questionable whether it is wise to train a conservation pony when there are likely to be lots of people using the site for walking their dogs or taking a breath of fresh air. The ponies can become pushy and dangerous if they are indiscriminately hand fed. However, this site is so boggy that people don't tend to go there and the ponies are already happy to be touched around their front ends. Gromit is simply being a typical wild stallion when he objects to his legs being touched - his natural, automatic instinct is to bite or fold his leg as he would with another horse. Unfortunately he couldnt be persuaded to go into the pen on this occasion so I had to see what could be done out in the open. I used advance and retreat with the feather duster and gave him a click and treat when he allowed me to touch him. In time I was able to go all the way down both of his front legs and the backs too although he did demonstrate his mighty kick on one occasion. This at least proved that progress was possible and I am hoping that I will be asked to be involved in the future. In the meantime however it is likely that he will have to be sedated or confined in order to get his feet trimmed as a matter of urgency.

One of the downsides of treating horses like stock is that they become more and more difficult to handle over time rather than staying the same as cows may do. Like it or not, horses are not stock animals; they are more sensitive and reactive.

Using ponies for conservation grazing definitely has its pros, cons and ethical dilemmas. Mike Graper (2005) says: "My philosophy is that 'wild' horses get to live and die like wild horses, and tame horses get to see veterinarians; it is up to the owner to make conditions safe for the horse and for the vet". For conservation organisations it isn't as simple as that, whilst they can live in hope that the ponies will never need a vet or a farrier, one day a pony will need medical assistance or to be put down and the eyes of the public are upon them, especially on these small sites. People grow fond of the ponies and are more alert to their disappearance or neglect than they would be with cows or sheep where (most) people accept that they go off for slaughter. For this reason, Exmoor ponies make fantastic conservation animals as they rarely get into trouble with their feet but they are often so wild that medical treatment for ailments such as colic are almost impossible and sedation/anaesthesia is terribly risky. New Forest and Dartmoor Hill Ponies are also excellent conservation animals but more likely to become over friendly and far more likely to need attention for their feet.

The value of ponies as conservation animals has long been recognised. These unpaid employees do an amazing job and avoid the need for mechanical farming techniques on environmentally sensitive pieces of land.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

6th March, 2011 This is London Calling...Part I

It's been three years since I last worked with Nina. At that time she needed my help with Graylie her four year old Forest-bred New Forest pony who was really frightened of being around people at all. That weekend we got him accepting the headcollar easily for the first time. Since then, she has done some cracking work with him and her now five year old Quarter Horse, Pep. This weekend we looked at lots of little issues and bits of work including standing in the wash room and leg handling for both of them. Pep seems to feel quite vulnerable in the wash room (possibly because he thinks 'wash room' is a command - see top photo!!) and we spent some time walking him through, asking him to stand absolutely still for an instant and then leading him away again. We then lengthened the time for which he was asked to stand incrementally and then made sure that he was committed to standing still before he was taken forward again. It didn't take him long to become much more relaxed. Graylie has developed a strategy of determinedly putting his back feet back down one they have been picked up and that has been working well for him. We used the walking stick, which can be padded, to lift the foot up and hold it for a little while before gently putting it back down again. This saves the handler's back during the training stages and is less risky than using a rope. In the final photograph of this set, Graylie is accepting the approach and touch of an electric toothbrush as pre-preparation for clipping. As he has never had a battle with clippers or being twitched, he had few qualms about this.
The countryside where Nina keeps her horses only a few miles out of London is very pretty and the horses are used to trains and...eagles!! She lives just next to Greenwich, where the Olympic Equestrian events will be taking place, in a flat that is just as quiet as our house and yet is only two minutes walk away from the tube where she can get to central London in no time at all. I was rather envious of the Nepalese, Italian, Thai, Indian and Chinese restaurants that are all within walking distance.

6th March, 2011 This is London Calling...Part II

These photos prove that Graylie is in fact a very brave pony and curious about everything.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

2nd March, 2011 Animal Rescue Team Talk

Tickets £5 adults £3 children (inc nibbles)
For further details contact Sara Boyd 01425 650360

2nd March, 2011 Ably Alby

It won't be long until Alby's horsebox is ready and so today we worked on asking him to tread on different surfaces in preparation for the ramp. He's a horse that is very aware of where his feet are and very conscious of keeping them safe. We built up from just stepping over a log, to a rolled up piece of carpet, an unrolled up piece of carpet and then the tarpaulin.

2nd March, 2011 Of Gods and Mortals

Having stalled in my training efforts in the middle of January, I have started work again with my own horses and have come to the conclusion that it would be easier to just rough them off at the beginning mid-November to the end of February every year. All they want to do is eat anyway. It does mean that I have to start at the beginning again but it doesn't take long to get field-fit horses going. A month of walking out and long reining will easily get us to the point where they can be ridden. Theoden and Chancer aren't young horses but they haven't done a lot in their lives so they are both pretty green. I will need to convince them that the world hasn't turned flat in their absence and gradually increase their comfort zones.

I was discussing this with a friend on Monday and whilst we can have admiration for people who manage to keep their horses fit throughout the winter, getting up at first light to ride before work and riding two more in the evening, I'm just not up to that and I don't want to be made to feel guilty. No-one can actually make anyone feel anything but there are those of us who are susceptible to a bit of guilt and it is a useless emotion. I read somewhere that only the good feel guilty.

All of the horses have come out of the winter well including the New Forest ponies. There are seven turning up at the 'drop-in' centre every day, all pregnant by the same stallion, so the spring should be fun. Mussels seems not to have faltered once since he had his pockets picked and if we cannot find a home for him, he will be going out on to the Forest in a month or so.