Friday, December 28, 2012

28th December, 2012 Jenny's Point

Here's the video of Jenny's Point to Point. She needs windscreen wipers but what a ride! Point to Point 2012 Novice Race

Thursday, December 27, 2012

27th December, 2012 Go on, Go on!

Back to work today starting with little Cassie who needs to go to the vets tomorrow to have her teeth treated. She has never been a good loader apparently and I am told that it took four hours to load her on a previous occasion. Today we set the panels up and had a little practice for an hour. Cassie went in less than five minutes and we rewarded her with feed every time she went in. By the end of the session she was happily eating her feed at the top of the ramp and she stood quietly with the ramp done up. Hopefully it won't take very long to load her in the morning and she will have a good journey. The track she has to go along is pretty bumpy but I know her owner's husband will drive like an angel (or he will become one!!)

(P.s. 28th December - Happy to report that Cassie loaded without hesitation at 7.15 this morning and then again when coming home from the vets. Always worth practising with low adrenalin levels before a journey is required.)

Later I went over to Quob to work with Benji who now belongs to Hilary, the lady who has spent so much time taking him from wild to ridden in the last year. Benji seems totally unfazed about having a rider on his back but his favourite pace seems to be halt. Rather than using a whip, we have been working with visual and audible cues to ask him to move forward promptly.

"Thank you so much again. Who would  have thought that I'd be riding the untouchable pony I met, almost a year ago to the day... and it would never have happened without you." HP

(P.s. 28th December "I took advantage of the empty, freshly harrowed indoor school. Wow... he did some thinking last night and I hardly needed the rope! We went all around, both ways, in walk and had a few trots and a couple of bucks and squeals!"HP

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

26th December, 2012 Point to Point

The rain held off for the actual running of the New Forest Point to Point today. This is the only authentic point to point in the country in that the riders ride across country from one point to another, without knowing the course until the actual day. I was pleased to have been involved in some small way with five of the ponies running today including Jenny's pony Joe. Jenny did such a great job of getting him and herself fit, forgoing a decent Christmas dinner yesterday.

Selling programmes before the start of the races.

Winner of the Children's Race (10 to 13 year olds).... all smiles

Duke, winner of the Children's Race (14 to 16 year olds) in a very tactical finish - I started Duke for his owners a good few years ago. I was always very fond of him despite the fact that he squashed my foot on one occasion!

Randalls Marshmellow - did some groundwork and long reining work with him some years ago when he was with a previous owner.

Finishing the last part of the race on foot, Rushmoor Waterfall (aka Oliver) came in to me for preparation for starting and loading.

And then our lovely Jenny and Joe. They came fifth in their first point to point and seem to have had the time of their lives...

What do you mean I'm not tall enough to be a racehorse?

Sunday, December 23, 2012

23rd December, 2012 Merry Christmas

I'd like to wish all of my clients past and present, a very Happy Christmas and all the readers of this blog too.  I've been sent this lovely picture of an Exmoor Pony called Flapjack by Melanie. Although he doesn't look too sure of the tinsel, just two weeks before he was totally un-handled and of course he is a boy!

23rd December, 2012 What's the Point?

An expedition with Jenny today who is preparing for the New Forest point to point which takes place on Boxing Day. These races which are only open to pure-bred and part-bred New Forest ponies and their riders are variously 1 1/2 to 3 miles long depending on the class. All the riders know before the date is the vague vicinity of the finishing point but they are only shown where the starting point is when they are taken to it on the morning. This means that there is an area of almost 30 square miles with which a rider needs to be familiar - or take their luck on the day! Today we explored just one of the potential routes it might take.

 There are no jumps en route but the terrain can be very rough and is pretty wet at the moment. It could be through the woods, over the plain, under the railway bridges and the underpasses.

Lunch at the pub where we met Santa Claus and saw that he had his own designated parking spot.

Sadly, on the way home we say a young pony that had been killed by a car in the last day. There have been 11 ponies killed on the B3078 Cadnam to Fordingbridge Road since last Christmas, much better than the 49 killed on the same road last year, but still unacceptable.

Friday, December 21, 2012

21st December, 2012 Confirmation

Most people are familiar with the four stages of competence which are illustrated in the chart below. Take learning to ride for instance, before you start, ignorance is bliss and it can seem that there is nothing to it. However, the first riding lesson usually highlights just how much there is to learn - indeed many people give up right at that stage because they think they'll never do it or they have a nasty experience and come off. As time goes by and the student has more lessons they move from conscious incompetence to conscious competence although most people recognise these days that they will always need (and hopefully want) to learn more. As it gets easier they slip into unconscious competence and this is the stage at which it is easy to forget just how hard it was to learn. As time continues to go by people tend to learn bad habits or their body doesn't function as it use to and therefore they may slip into unconscious incompetence all over again.

The point of all this, however, isn't just to remind myself and everyone else of this learning process, it was more to see how it might apply to the behaviour of horses. A lot, if not all of a horse's natural behaviour is unconscious, instinctive, unthinking behaviour. They just do it and they are just being a horse. Sometimes there might be an element of choice about how to react such as when a predator is so close that fight seems a better option than flight. It's when we are working with horses and asking them to make conscious decision that we need to be careful. On the whole we want them to choose the quieter, less reactive, less prey-like response - we want them to choose to stay with us when they are frightened, we want them to keep all four feet on the ground when they are not confident about going forward or they feel threatened in some way. Once a horse has reached the conscious level where he was the choice to do something instinctive or, the complete opposite, i.e. something that is counter-intuitive to him, we need to help him to make the right decision by making it easy. By asking too much or saying "you must" we are more likely to engage with his instinctive behaviour and to thereby reinforce it. Reinforce it just a few times and then you have conscious instinctive, where the horse choose to do the prey-like thing. Once that works, it becomes confirmed and the horse slips into unconscious but confirmed instinctive behaviour. In other works, he doesn't have to thing any more, it's just automatic whenever he is in trouble.

All horses know how to bolt - it's simply fleeing from a predator. When we work with a horse we need to offer him another choice and show him that it is much easier to stay with us when he is frightened. If a horse is punished in some way for being frightened then he is more likely to leave. That behaviour will give him an immediate and significant release from the pressure of being frightened and if it happens more than once it will be reinforced. Sometimes once is enough to confirm the behaviour but three times seems to be the magic number. So, if you horse has bolted at the sight of say, pigs, it is important not to say "Right! Well we'll go back and do that again!" because your prophecy may well come true.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

19th December, 2012 Fuel saving device

With non-stop rain all day, it seemed unfair to ask Theoden to go out in it and Jenny and my plans to go to Rockbourne went by the board. Only one thing for it, plenty of hay and 'just for something to do' I decided to run up to the horses' field and back instead of taking the car. My knees and hips are not impressed but I did this 14 mile run across country in 2 hours and 38 minutes with a 6 minute break to throw the hay to the horses.

Monday, December 17, 2012

17th December, 2012 Hotlips!

Today we were working with Hotlips (I kid you not, but she is known as Hattie) and her Mum Katie who is about five years old. Both live semi-feral on the Forest and their respective owners wanted to be able to be able to handle them just a little in order to make life easier if they needed to get them in. Katie is a quiet little mare, whose mother was always handle-able, but the filly was altogether more flighty. She has been living in the paddock for two months but so far hasn't allowed anyone to touch her, nor will she take food from the hand.

The copybook No Fear, No Force technique worked very quickly indeed and we ended today's morning session able to make a mock head collar around her head with the soft scarf. Next time we should be able to put her head collar on very easily.

Katie was an ideal candidate for clicker training since it meant that her owner could use the click as a 'secret signal' to ask Katie to approach and then to accept her head-collar. However, she has never had a head collar on before so not only did we have to set up the association between the click and the treat but we also had to persuade her that it was fine to have her head touched and the head-collar put on.

Here you can see a potential conflict building up as Katie is sure that she would like the food but not sure she wants to be touched with the rolled up scarf, However, you can see below that she resolves that conflict in her own mind and gives me the benefit of the doubt.

Perhaps it is the clash in colour that has caused the conflict but once she realises that she can eat hay with the scarf on, she's happy again. Then it's a case of using the scarf in a figure of eight to imitate a head collar before getting the real thing.

 When we came back after lunch, she walked up to have her head collar on in the field!

Sunday, December 16, 2012

16th December, 2012 Mad Horses and English Men

...go out in the midday rain. Last time I rode Theoden out he spooked a little at a bicycle coming up behind him. Time to get David to the rescue. However, almost as soon as we had left the fields the rain came down and we were soon soaked to the skin. Theoden took to the bike immediately and despite the noise of the brakes and David falling into the mud on one occasion, he was 'connected' with it and happy to jog alongside. These pictures were taken just a few seconds before there was an almighty rumble of thunder, which sounded as if a giant tree had fallen behind us. Theoden contained himself well, just cantering forward a few paces. We all decided that discretion was the better part of valour and, once I was sure his adrenalin was down and mine too, I got off and we all walked home. For David and I that wasn't an end to it since we had cycled the eight miles to the field and needed to cycle the eight miles back. One slow-cooked stew and a hot bath later and we might feel almost human again.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

15th December, 2012 Horses are capacitors

capacitor (originally known as condenser) is an electrical component used to store energy in an electric field

When there is a potential difference (voltage) across the conductors, a static electric field develops across the dielectric, causing positive charge to collect on one plate and negative charge on the other plate. Energy is stored in the electrostatic field. 
I often think that horses are capacitors. Put them in a stable at night, give them highly calorific, sugary food, or worry them in some way and they will store energy for a little while before it bursts out of them in an energy spike. How that expresses itself will depend on the horse. If your horse's behaviour has suddenly changed this winter have a think about what has changed and what may have put that extra energy in - is it more hours in the stable or a sudden change of diet? Something as simple as haylage rather than hay?

 This morning I went to work with Coco again. She has been ridden regularly for weeks now and she has been absolutely fine, already going out on the Forest without a lead-rein. This morning, for 'no apparent reason', she started bucking as soon as she moved forward from the mounting block. Poor S hit the deck but fortunately the ground was soft and she was wearing a hat and body protector. We went back a few stages, long reining for a second time and then leaning over before S got on board for a second time. We took the precaution of taking just a few steps in a small circle before going in a straight line. All was well this time and we were able to go out for a short while on the Forest. The good news is that Coco was not frightened by S landing on the floor (some horses are terrified the first time this happens) and she recovered her equilibrium really easily. The only factor that has changed recently was the introduction of haylage as supplemental feed. So not for no apparent reason perhaps at all!

When you think of the effect that a small pill can have in preventing disease and changing body chemicals, it should come as no surprise I suppose that a change in diet can have a dramatic effect on a horse's temperament and energy levels. Needless to say, S is ringing the hay man this afternoon!

Friday, December 14, 2012

14th December, 2012 Will he grow out of it?

Courtesy Jo Monck and HorseWorld
I am frequently asked whether a young horse will grow out of his behaviour. The answer is mostly no, although his behaviour might slow down as he mellows. Without guidance and training, no young animals will change their behaviour if it is working for them. It's only if there is a body clock, a biological metamorphosis, that switches off, that behaviour would automatically stop or fade. It's useful to look at the cause of a behaviour. If it is instinctive, automatic, unthinking horse behaviour then it will carry on unless the horse is trained not to do it - this includes, moving things around, biting and kicking. Behaviour caused by pain is unlikely to stop unless the pain goes away or recedes. Behaviour taught by humans - such as barging, invading space, kicking at stable doors, and nibbling, will all continue while they are not corrected and continue to work for the horse. The training or correction doesn't have to be horrible and should be focussed on showing the horse the right thing to do rather than punishing him after he has done the 'wrong' thing. Consistency and timing form a vital part of this.

Accordingly, I would advocate insisting on basic ground rules and boundaries with all young horses. They must not invade space, move me (other than emotionally!), overtake me, bite or kick.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

8th December, 2012 Stunning Steyning

Jenny and I were off at dawn this morning to meet up with Kate and six other IH students for our IH workshop which included handling work with Kate's two New Forest foals bought through Beaulieu Road Sales just over a week ago. The foals, Sunny and Excalibur, had cost her just 28 guineas in total and yet they are well grown, sturdy colts with good breeding. Since she got them they have proved to be calm ponies and therefore they were great for teaching the No Fear, No Force technique right through from start to finish in just two short sessions.

Newlands Farm Sunny

Backley Excalibur

Older New forest pony, Sky, who can sometimes be funny about being caught.

Foot handling practice.

"It was a fantastic day, I really enjoyed it & learnt lots. It was lovely to meet everyone & the weather really could not have been more perfect! Thanks Kafee for arranging it all & to your daughter for making us a lovely lunch & for the chocolate cake." Helen

"Thank you so much to Kate, Sarah and Jenny for organising it:)" Sophie

I asked everyone for their key learning point:

"Mine was squeezing the tendon to ask the pony to lift his foot, instead of hauling on the feathers."KS
"For me it was understanding how horses have to think about what we are asking them to do & how this goes against their natural instincts. It was nice watching the foals working this out. I was also surprised how my energy went up when Excalibur pulled against the pressure of the scarf rather than towards it (my natural response wanted to pull back!). A learning point for me was to keep my energy down & remember to release the pressure as soon as we got it right!" HM

"I think seriously, the importance of the right kind of touch - oh, and how to put a headcollar on without needing to flick it over their head!" SJ

"I need to remember not to hold my breath like a predator! Also some clever little things, like the non-flicky way to put on a head collar and the trick of pawing the ground with your own foot to stop your pony pawing the ground." LN

"How to go about putting the first headcollar on from their back."MP