Wednesday, November 30, 2011

30th November, 2011 Team Works

Tilly's idea of how to pick up her back feet when requested bore a striking resemblance to the 'frock wafting' that goes on on Strictly Come Dancing. One session with the clicker, a bit of team work practice by her owner Susi and her husband and we were ready for the Matt the farrier to trim her feet just one week later. One of the things with Arab horses is that they tend to take over and say, "I know, I know..." before they really do know how to do something. By showing her what we wanted incrementally, and only rewarding that, she got a lot less wafty. Like my own farrier, Guy, Matt is a real find and I am so pleased that Guy doesn't mind me two-timing him. GOOD and KIND farriers are like gold dust.

Monday, November 28, 2011

28th November, 2011 The Story of Old MacDonald

This little piggy

Met a horse called Sparkle

Who whispered in his ear

 Today a small but kindly gang of us went down to Longdown Activity Centre where we were fortunate to be allowed to run a small experiment. Amanda brought two of her horses - Hugs a laid back Icelandic pony and Sparkle a four year old Crabbet Arabian destined for the world of endurance. Sparkle has not met pigs before. I brought the round pen with me and made it into a large square opposite the paddock where Longdown turns out its pigs. Ably assisted by Julie and Hannah, and most essentially Jodie from the farm, we introduced Hugs and Sparkle to various farm animals starting off with a little piglet.

A running foot - reserving the right to leave if things get too hairy.
 The idea is to work without drama. Easy to think with a confident, curious horse like Sparkle that she isn't in the least bit worried but she had the occasional running foot (also see the picture of the ducks) and liked to stay close to Hugs. Once she was relaxed we let out approximately 40 pigs into the paddock opposite and allowed the horses to observe them.
The farm's own Shire horse looked on.

The pigs were very lively and came out in quite a rush,

This one was particularly beautiful

Hugs and Sparkle watch the pigs cavaroting.
The horses stayed close to the top part of the pen, closest to the pigs, and watched them closely. They would take mouthfuls of hay and then watch again. Sparkle licked and chewed from time to time and huffed down her nose - but getting no reaction from Hugs she grew more and more relaxed. So we decided to take them even closer with Hugs in the lead. We would stop from time to time but moved on again so that Sparkle could lose any energy that built up. We always walked between the horses and the pigs no matter which direction we were going in.

Hugs particularly liked the orange ones

Sparkle liked them all
Then we went and got some goats for them to look at before going on an excursion to look at the ducks, alpacas and some more pigs.

I think I need a goat in my life

Two Hugs for this goat

The ducks weren't too sure of the horses either...

...but the alpaca wanted a close up view.

Just before the end we took Sparkle back to see the pigs where she walked up and down completely relaxed.
The pigs are actually on the left hand side of this picture.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

26th November, 2011 Good news day

Not only did Monty the Appaloosa have his headcollar on yesterday (see update on post 19th November) but Melanie put a headcollar on her Exmoor foal too. She looks very pretty in pink and all done with the NFNF technique that Melanie practised on my course this time last year. Over in Ireland Catherine is giving it a go with a sturdy but shy foal that she has got:

" Yay book came today!! SO excited! and I only got time at lunch to read the first few pages but the predator/prey explanation hit home. Obviously I knew about it all before but never had it explained in that way. Any time I have been around Willow the wild foal I have been careful about my body language, where I look etc, and I had him coming right up to me and sniffing me etc, but it was the hand.  Today I kept my hand in a fist inside my sleeve and he did his usual sniffing my outstretched arm etc, and I built up from that by retreating when he did as I had been and eventually keeping my hand in a fist but outside my sleeve i was able to rub his chin and underneath his jaw......!!!!!!! Just a knuckle first, then I stopped and just left my arm there and he LEANED INTO IT!! and I scratched him for a second more and he liked it! So then I noticed he raised his head a millimeter and I felt his heart quicken so I slowly took my arm away and went about my business before he moved or pulled back, and he followed me!!!  I was so thrilled, I had the eyes, I had the breathing the body language etc, but I hadn't thought about my claw!! 3 pages in and we have progress ha! So delighted!!!! I am going to keep a Willow diary!" CR

and the next day, on Facebook:  "RESULT!! willow has decided I can touch him! Got to scratch all the sides and underneath his head and from ears to withers all along the top half of his neck. I knew once he let me once he'd like a good scratch!! Yay!! Wild foal is a bit less wild this evening!!"

Thursday, November 24, 2011

24th November, 2011 A funny view of things

At long last I have plucked up the courage to take Petra and Jack out on my own. I'm heavily reliant on Petra not reacting if Jack decided to gallop past her. As it was it was all fine and as you can see, they were both very attentive.

24th November, 2011 People look and some of them see

Arab showing (I'm not commenting on this specific horse!)
There's a well used phrase, "People look but they don't see", which describes how people can observe something but not really see what is actually happening or understand the means by which something may have been achieved. Horses can be trained to do amazing things but the methods used to get them there either before or during an event, can be good or bad. With the great tolerance for bad practices even in public, you wonder what has gone on at home; horses hit or wearing mean gadgets, schooled using violent or abusive techniques both in the warm up arenas and even in the ring. Fantastic then to see that at long last, Princess Alia Al Hussein, a governor of the Arab Horse Society, is reported in today's Horse and Hound as castigating handlers for abusing horses. My friend Jenny went to Poland this summer and was absolutely dismayed at what she saw at an Arab Show there where the horses were gorgeous but the handling was not. It's a sad fact that horses look extremely beautiful when they are frightened - all of their flags flying - we have to recognise what we are really seeing and stop supporting events where this is the case.

If you can bring yourself to watch what happens:

From C: "Oh my goodness, just read your BLOG without my glasses and was horrified to read handlers being "castrated" for mishandling their horses . . . glasses on and all was revealed "castigated"  . . . mind you, some may deserve the former interpretation . ...Cheery pip"

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

22nd November, 2011 Double Vision

Head high doesn't necessarily mean that she is afraid, it just helps her to see what is behind and above her. Her bottom lip is a little tight here

Seeing things out of both eyes. Riva wasn't worried by this.

Double vision - the bags are seemingly in two places at once

The brolly was easy. She could chase that!

 At the second session with Riva, she didn't even bat an eyelid as the bags on a stick came out of the shed and allowed them to touch her body straight away. This meant we could go straight off to the school where she is known to be livelier and particularly spooky in the far left corner. I introduced clicker into the equation as she is so polite about food and this really helped her to start making choices about whether she stayed or left. We were careful not to introduce to many dimensions at once so if the bags were up high we wouldn't waft them about and if we were making bird noises we wouldn't take it too close but over time we could nearer, higher and more wafty. Far from being switched off, Riva was interested and chose to stay to see what we might think of next.

Riva was slightly more worried about seeing things out of her right eye than her left and more worried if something crossed over from one eye to the other. To add to that, there is a long mirror at the bottom of the school so sometimes she could see two of everything. 

The overall question has to be whether it is worth trying to desensitise a dressage horse to sudden movement when people want them to be sharp and athletic.I think it is definitely worth it as the horse can concentrate on its movements without being tense and worried about what might fly out of the hedge or make a sudden noise. Of course it is essential that there is a consistency in how things are used - it is no good using the bags on a stick to desensitise her if they were also to be used to ask her to move on - and then you have to ask yourself about the movement and role of the lunge whip (personally I would say take them to the skip). If every time something swings towards her it means MOVE, is it fair to ask her not to move if something else moves suddenly towards her? This incidentally is my whole beef with Parelli where the same 'carrot stick' is used to sensitise and desensitise.

Monday, November 21, 2011

21st November, 2011 This makes me wild...

An email from one of my frients (that's a nice friend who is also a client):

"I love hearing about how yours are doing on your blog.. your little foal is so adorable.  Its just so lovely to see the photos and how brave he is and chilled out about whatever you ask him. The yard I'm on has got some wild New Forest foals. I just have to cringe and walk away at their 'handling ways'. Its the tying them up to a brick wall because they're having a complete melt down at you being its stable and telling them off for being frightened babies technique. I just cannot stand and watch. I have had to learn to to keep my mouth shut though."

 When I know just how much pleasure can be got from taming a wild foal in the sensible, reasonable, successful and gentle way, it makes me wonder just what people get out of making it into a battle like this.

21st November, 2011 Is Monday your dustbin day?

I am just about to go off to do some more work with Riva, the horse that is frightened of birds. It's got me thinking (and not in relation to this particular horse or owner) why dealing with a horses spookiness seems to be one of the hardest things for people to do. I came up with a list of reasons and you may have more.

1. The horse should just get used to things over time
2. If our relationship is good enough, the horse will trust me
3. I don't know how to deal with it when my horse spooks at things
4. It frightens me when my horse spooks at things
5. I don't want to deliberately frighten my horse
6. I don't believe this IH stuff works
7. People look at me funny when I do this IH stuff and they tell me this IH stuff doesn't work
8. Underneath I haven't really got the patience to deal with this
9. I haven't got the time for this

Take the example of a horse that is frightened of black plastic bags. You might think because you always ride out on a Monday, and Monday is dustbin day, that the horse should get used to them - after all he sees them 104 times a year. But he doesn't. The refuse collectors don't come on bank holidays or at Christmas and so there are only, say, 42 Mondays a year when there are bags left on the street. Well, you might say, that's 84 times a year when the horse sees the bags - once on the way out and once on the way back. Since horses don't pass much information from one side to the other thought, that's really only 42 times for the left eye and 42 times for the right. You could, instead, introduce him to black plastic bags at home, 100 times a session, 4 days a week.

Trust will most certainly help - especially if the horse can trust that you know how to act when he is afraid and that you aren't going to join in with his fear by being afraid or punishing him for being afraid. You might think it's stupid to be frightened of a plastic bag but he certainly doesn't, because he's a horse, and his job is to be wary of things that weren't there yesterday, things that are changing shape and are about to eat him!

There are only three methods needed to help a horse with spookiness and once you've got them, you've got them and you only need to apply them to the specific thing to be able to address this fear. Knowing how to deal with his reactions means that you can be more confident and then he can trust you even more.

It isn't unethical to ask a horse to address his fears providing you are there to help and to control the situation and that everything is done systematically and incrementally. Repetition is the key rather than rapid progression - although that is usually what you get. The more you introduce your horse to in a safe environment before expanding his comfort zone and doing in other places, the less spooky the horse will be.

As for people looking at you funny - you get used to it after a while. I'm the one who introduced horses to umbrellas in Kenya where it hadn't rained for four years and, if it had we'd have danced naked in it never mind put up a brolly!

Hopefully photos of Riva later...

Saturday, November 19, 2011

19th November, 2011 It's easier to leave than to be left behind

Dedicated to Caroline R. Thanks so much.

Monty asks me my name and where I'm from

Accepting something over his nose

K is well padded and so is his stable

Redirecting his energy

R, the subject of his affections

An emotional day, first visiting Monty, an Appaloosa cob cross and then Kya, an Arabian. Monty was bought through Beaulieu Road Sales and has been terrified of people and of being touched. His owner has done a fabulous job of putting No Fear, No Force into effect and through clicker training started to reach his soul instead of his skin. Appaloosa, rather like Arabs, are often gifted horses but that does mean that they learn lessons from bad things as well as good things. Today we worked using clicker training techniques coupled with good old 'touch and move away' and I was able to reassure his owner that she is moving in the right direction even though it will take time. All too often people receive advice from other owners but of domesticated horses who have no idea of the needs and psychology of a 'real' horse, in touch with its fright and flight response. They seem to think that these ponies need tying up to a post and forced to accept being touched.

K is a beautiful Arabian whose favoured sport is extreme weaving. He doesn't just weave with his neck and head but with his whole body, sometimes throwing himself on the floor and banging his head against the walls. His owner, who doesn't want to just avoid the issue by never asking him to stay in a stable, has done everything she can to make life easier for him - thick bed, rubber flooring, padded bars and a great big mirror and only occasional stabling - but still he gets upset whenever his best friend is taken away even when there are other horses around. Today we worked on interrupting his script by keeping him busy with another activity and it seemed to have some effect. I suspect that this horse was weaned very early and abruptly in the first place, setting him up to be anxious about being left for the rest of his life but also that at some time his behaviour has worked and that someone has brought a horse back the instant he seemed distressed.

E-mails received 25.11.11:

"We really enjoyed Saturday, and he has been noticeably calmer this week, or maybe I have been more determined! I have also really noticed how the uninitiated go up to him to comfort as soon as he starts weaving for his food so I have been telling people off this week, gently of course.As the horses have been out during the day and Rab is in first we have not had any extreme weaving as the situation has not arisen, but still a few moments in the stable which I have controlled quite quickly. Whilst tied up outside on Wednesday Caroline was able to walk her mare past both ways and he turned to look and swayed a bit but no leaping up and down so definite progress."

"Monty's head collar is now on! He virtually put it on himself this evening! Clicker training is a success!!!! Thank you :)" SB
Monty in his head collar

Thursday, November 17, 2011

17th November, 2011 A Weighty Issue

With 100 bales of hay in my shed delivered by Weight-Rose Direct last week, it has been tempting to start handing it out. But, as you can see from the top photo, it is still sun-bathing weather at Fritham and all Peechay needs to decide is the best position in which to sleep. With the grass still growing and green, there is certainly no need to feed Jack and Petra - if I don't use the winter against them, I'll be fighting the onset of laminitis as an Olympic event next summer. Even Chancer has a slight paunch. He and Nelly (who is still feeding Peechay) are currently in the field with longer grass so that they can stay topped up but again no hay until the really need it. Bluesy is decidedly podgy and is still out on the Forest with Brandy. Brandy, who is not my pony, is going to struggle this winter (yet again) unless I help her out - she's not a natural thriver and hasn't picked up even though her foal was taken off her abruptly at just under four months.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

13th November, 2011 Sandwiches!!

Took the bags back to the farm today and met the girls and Peechay on the way. Far from running off in the opposite direction there was an almost audible cry of "Sandwiches!" as they came trotting up towards us. It was all I could do to stop Peechay eating the bags! I am sure they thought that the tiny bit of hay I gave them was a poor substitute for tuna, sweetcorn and cake!

Saturday, November 12, 2011

12th November, 2011 Christmas Gift!!

So excited that the next IH magazine is almost ready and should be received by IH members on 1st December. As well as a free IH DVD, there is a £5 voucher for TopSpec feeds and a competition to win Heather Moffett's new book. There are articles about Caesar (the horse not the Roman), horse accomodation and how to keep your horse's attention. The magazine looks absolutely lush and once again Simon, the designer, has done an amazing job with the words and pictures I've sent him. Without the contributors though, nothing!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

10th November, 2011 Hanoverian Police Horses?

Gorgeous dressage horse Riva, surprised us all today by accepting four blowy carrier bags with very little concern. The idea had been to use it to replicate flapping birds which have spooked her before. The bags themselves were quite rustly but I work very slowly only speeding up incrementally.  After that I attempted to imitate the movement and calls of  birds! I kept expecting the Autumn Watch crew to turn up.  Riva's owner can now repeat and progress this work in various conditions and environments.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

9th November, 2011 Artistry

Hannah Steedman, who sometimes comes out to work with horses with me, has an incredible talent for recreating the true essence of a horse. She tells me that she has still got time to have commissions ready for Christmas so if you'd like a really beautiful present for yourself or someone close to you, here are her details.

Monday, November 7, 2011

7th November, 2011 Indiana Wants Me

The shortest horse reports I write are about 'good' ponies, or rather those where they have learned no bad habits or had no poor handling. Indiana seems to have had a great start to life. Forest-bred but kindly handled she has even been through the sales without any trauma. She loves being around people and learns everything very quickly. She was bred by the Gerellis - father Tony is a Verderer and son, Jonathan, the Head Agister. Today we did some very straighforward leading work, some gentle and simple groundwork and some work on foot handling. Her new owner, Sally, is thrilled to bits with her and so she should be!

Saturday, November 5, 2011

5th November, 2011 Unearthed

Just spent the last few days in Cambridge meeting up with Janet and Kay for the first time in 20 years when we all took our MBA together. I was treated to a much needed dose of culture including paintings by Vermeer and Bridget Riley but resisted the cake! Last night it was off to see Milton Jones at the Corn Market. I must confess to feeling unearthed when I am away from horses so it was good to go and say hello to the cobs in the field just outside the hotel. They were as pretty as a picture too!