Wednesday, February 29, 2012

29th February, 2012 Once every four years

It's been four years since I last saw Lesley and her daughter, Natalie. Great then to see them today and to work with Natalie and Snoopy. Snoopy, went through the desensitisation exercises as if he had read a book on it. We were watched closely by the horses in the field next door.

This session was observed both my work experience student and also by a lady who took up one of my RA days. She wrote: "Just a note to thank you very much indeed for having me with you last Wednesday.  I found the time so interesting and informative.  It also gave me a lot of confidence about some of my thoughts and ideas (and that’s always nice!)." RLB

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

28th February, 2012 Red light district

Theoden went on our first outing today, taking in the roadworks at the junction in Fritham and a bit of traffic too before heading off into the woods where I got on and rode him. Although he was anxious about leaving Petra, he settled down to his work and did what he was asked willingly. I am hoping that once he learns that he always goes back to her he will be less concerned about going out.

Monday, February 27, 2012

27th February, 2012 Grandpa, Pye

My lovely Grandpa, Pye, passed away at midnight last night. He was 96. I saw him shortly before the end, tucked up in bed in a side room at the hospital with his favourite dressing gown on. He looked cosy and peaceful. I don't think he knew it was me that was there but he held my hand pretty tight all the same. I have been fortunate to have had a wonderful set of grandparents, sadly all gone now. Pye was in the farming industry for most of his life and helped to feed my enthusiasm for horses and other farm animals. In particular I made friends with Solomon the donkey and Ferdinand the Hereford bull in his company. He kept fit all the way through his life through his work, walking the Malvern Hills and looking after his allotment.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

26th February, 2012 Hey-la my boyfriends's back!

The sweet reunion of Petra and Theoden after 8 months today. The longer he stayed at Jim's the more I decided I wanted done with him before he came home. I'm looking forward to starting work with him tomorrow - just a bit of long reining to take off any stiffness after the journey and then our first ride on Tuesday morning. Petra is as pleased to see him as I was and they soon settled together to share the same section of hay.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

25th February, 2012 The Invisible Lead

In the latest annual report of the Commoners'  Defence Association, mention is made of the increase on the Forest of dog attacks on ponies and other livestock. Of course it is not illegal for a dog to be off the lead on the Forest but it is illegal for them not to be under proper control or to worry livestock. In the last two days I have had encounters with two dogs harassing animals - yesterday a Lurcher puppy that was running around in circles barking at a cow and then a Shetland pony. Fortunately neither animal decided to run away or the situation could have become more serious. The owner, who tells me that he was trying to put the dog on a lead (this after his wife had called me a stupid bitch; surely a compliment from a dog owner) was making no impact on the dog at all since it had gone deaf in its excitement. Today a Collie type dog chased all of the ponies that had called in on me for their lunch. It's bad enough when the Forest ponies are being chased but what about when the foals are around or a ridden horse? Last year the Horse and Hound reported on some very serious incidents of riders being chased and attacked by dogs and the injuries that the horses and riders sustained.

I really really love dogs, but like horses they do need to be trained in order to be safe. Domestication is actually the process of taking the dog out of the dog or the horse out of the horse or at least those parts that it isn't safe to keep. Dog owners need to recognise that their dog is a predator just as horse owners need to understand that their horse is a prey animal. If they buy or breed a dog which is by it's very nature a hunter (and most of them are) they need to train the dog to come back to them no matter how exciting it finds the animals it meets. They need to be more fascinating than anything that the dog encounters - so shouting at a dog or being angry is absolutely pointless, why would you want to go back to someone in that frame of mind? Shouting at a barking dog is insane - it just says to the dog, you're right, because I am barking too!! Clicker training works extremely well with dogs and some tasty morsel can be offered every time the dog comes back to command. Practised in a safe environment and then tested in incremental stages, the dog can be trained to come back each time, every time it is asked to. It shouldn't be left to chance.

If a dog is frightened of horses that can also cause it to bark at them. In those circumstances the owner needs to make sure they don't join in emotionally - either by being cross or being overly reassuring.

Incidentally I think people shout at dogs and horses to let other people know that they are trying to do something about a situation. As a method of training, on the whole it doesn't work although it may momentarily take the animal's attention.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

22nd February, 2012 Belgian Truffles

Today was asked to go and meet a client's new horse. Basil, as he is now known, has worked in a riding school for a number of years. Originally from Belgium, he is a good solid chap physically and temperamentally and his claim to fame is that he was ridden by Matt Baker on Countryfile when he rode out with one of the New Forest agisters. His only fault (if it can really be called one) is that he has a tendency to put his ears back around new people. I think this is attributable to ambivalence about being approached - like many horses that suffer the attention of lots of different people he has probably been patted and petted in ways that he didn't really appreciate; he has also been hand fed and of course horses naturally put their ears back when they are taking food from each other. Fortunately he takes it no further and it is hoped that once he can trust people to touch him in a way that he likes, and now that no-one is hand feeding him, he will be able to relax a bit more. Other than that he is perfect and everything that this particular owner needs. For a big horse (and he wears a Blue Dually!) he has a very pretty face.

I'm going back on Saturday to lead him out. He is a fast striding horse so I think it will come under the heading of a brisk walk.

Monday, February 20, 2012

20th February, 2012 Elevenses

Went on tour with the camera yesterday and spotted lots of pretty ponies including a couple of posh ones out playing in the sun. The last two are gypsy ponies at Lockerley where I am pleased to say they had water. The one at the bottom was very friendly and allowed me to give him a good rub. It must be tempting to be very defensive when your life consists of a circle.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

18th February, 2012 Escape to the Country

Yesterday it was off to meet ex-police horse Burgoyne. Burgoyne was in the Met. for 8 years until he was medically retired. During that time he would have lived in with no turnout and all of his exercise was out on the streets of London. He hasn't adapted to life in the country and a more natural lifestyle quite as well as you would hope. Like a lot of horses that have a significant change in their lifestyle and ownership he has formed an extremely strong bond with the first horse that he meets, in his case an Arabian mare.

It is important to give horses time to settle in their new environment but they can be helped to feel secure with some very basic groundwork and consistent handling. Burgoyne settled with us very quickly yesterday and seemed a lot more relaxed by the end of the session.

Similarly today I went to work with a lovely Welsh Cob called Rose. She is used to moving her new owner around and leading her wherever she wants to and has also been very worried in her new environment. By taking control, we were able to help her to feel much more secure.

Interestingly, both of these horses were separated from their mothers at a very early age. Burgoyne was hand reared and Rose was weaned at three months. Makes you wonder if it is a significant factor in them being very worried about being alone.

"I really enjoyed meeting you.  I found our session with Rose both informative and thoroughly enjoyable.  I have been putting everything you showed me into action today and so far so good." CC

Thursday, February 16, 2012

16th February, 2012 Refreshing Change

My website has been updated and can be found at  As well as the usual advice about behavioural problems and the steps you can take to solve them, there is a page explaining what to expect from a visit. It's also much easier to buy my book, duallys and ropes through the website using Paypal. On the contact page there is a Visit Request Form as well as general enquiries form which all come straight through to me.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

15th February, 2012 In which Hilary is already three quarters of the way up Everest

Late this afternoon I went off to see Hilary who has been working with a three year old wild New Forest pony guided by my book, No Fear, No Force. He's quite a sharp pony and apparently used to try to climb the walls when people went into the barn. Now he is really pleased to see Hilary and comes straight over. She's done a great job with him and today we moved things forward quite literally by starting his leading work and leg handling. He is still very much in touch with colt behaviour and wants to kneel down and bite if you touch his front leg with the feather duster and to lash out with his hind legs (instinctive, automatic behaviour). However, by the end of the session he was keeping his feet down and accepting touch and being rewarded with a lovely rub on his chest which seems to be his favourite place. We don't know much about his history other than that his Granddad is Knightsway Billy Boy, Nelly's sire. At some stage he has been gelded and he has been through Beaulieu Road Sales yard.

"Thank you so much for coming too. I'm not sure who learned more, him or me!" HP

"Today was good, I thought I should repeat what you did yesterday to see if I could do it on my own! We went for a 'walk' round his pen a few times (which he seems happily settled back into) and did feather duster on his legs. I also ran my hands down both front legs- feet on the ground :-)" HP 16.2.12

Monday, February 13, 2012

13th February, 2002 Monday Morning Musings

To see this in higher resolution just click on it.
Once more there is a how does IH differ from Parelli thread on the IHDG. Quite apart from the fact that Parelli DOES involve violence to horses through the use of the clip, the rope and the stick on the face and body of the horse, there is a qualitative difference to the body language/ cues that are used on the horse. Ironically, for something that calls itself 'Natural Horsemanship', Parelli uses the most non-natural cues of all; they came from the circus. The same can be said of the proponents of whip tapping which include Andrew McLean. The cues used stand in isolation from the body language of the horse and the body language of the human, unless you are someone who goes around pointing fingers or swinging ropes around other people! The only way we can get as near as we can to being natural is to use gestures and movements that are as close to that of the horse as possible and match closely our intent and energy. Just because we have a better understanding of the psychology of the horse and employ concepts such as pressure and release in the work that we do, it doesn't make what we actually do 'natural'. That's why I am ambivalent about the term 'natural' and prefer the word 'intelligent' or 'logical'. 

When you are seduced by the word natural, you may expect the horse to do it naturally and it is him that pays if he does not. The above chart is a Monday morning musing and it struck me that the further away we get from instinctive/ natural and the more we rely on artificial cues, the more we have to rely on 'incentives' to ask the horse to do what we want him to do. The choice then is whether those incentives are positive or negative/punishing, i.e. whether we turn to the carrot or the stick or a combination of the two. Using food can feel time consuming and binary and, unless you are completely committed and disciplined it can seem very hard to do. Using a stick seems to used far more readily (and that is a psychology project in itself) to humans and stems from a feeling that the horse ought to know what we are asking it to do and is is being deliberately stubborn.

The ideal then would be to ask the horse only to do what is instinctive? Well, that involves biting, kicking, bucking, rearing and fighting over food. In fact, we are always asking horses to not be horses. However, it would seem that the best way to ask is to use body language that can be easily interpreted and is logical to the horse. If we want the horse to understand more complex cues, that are not natural, we need to teach them slowly and patiently -incrementally!

Let's take the example of lunging. In traditional horsemanship, the handler stands opposite the horses girth, facing the ribs with the line out to the horse's head and a lunging whip behind. Is this the body language of Equus? Well no, because the direction of the intent is at the horse's ribs which he can only move outwards to a limited extent. The handler's body is not telling the horse to move forwards because it is not facing the horse's head and shoulders or driving from behind. Accordingly the handler has to rely on the movement of the whip and possibly a tap from behind to ask the horse to go forward which may be coupled with the voice command for the pace that he wants. The poor horse has conflicting advice!

Shift that then to 'single line' work, not a euphemism for lunging because the work becomes entirely different. If the handler uses appropriate body language, i.e. steps out at 45 degrees, turns and looks the horse in the eye and uses the hand to ask the horse not to come in, then the horse will move off far more readily. The handler can control the speed by dropping his eyes down the horse's body, lowering his energy and intent. Far more natural and more easily interpreted by the horse. The handler continues to move with the horse. 

However, in some 'natural horsemanship' systems, the horse is expected to continue moving at the same gait, at the same speed and in the same direction with no further communication with the handler until he is told otherwise. This to me is the equivalent of putting the phone down on someone. The horse learns to switch off and go on to automatic pilot and in fact communication has ended.

I think I shall get on my bike and go and see my horses....

Sunday, February 12, 2012

12th February, 2012 Can you see me?

The fitness regime continues with me cycling and running on alternate days. I think it is working. Weight loss has been slow but sure and I am certainly changing shape. I hope my horses will appreciate it! My idea of a treat now is a new light for my bike or a new pair of cycling gloves. 17 lbs down so far....

12th February, 2012 Hay you!

Indiana and Peechay were perplexed by their first encounter with snow and very pleased to see their local hay supplier - me! The outside ponies have been turning up regularly, anything from two to fifteen each day.

Most of my customers have been determined to brave the weather. On Thursday I met a Welsh Cob that was determined to leave you or to bite you and on Saturday, an Appaloosa pony that wanted to lick me to death. For both, the groundwork exercises set up some boundaries and the leading work helped to establish the difference between wanted and unwanted behaviour. By using a 'smile in the line' with a 'motorbike hand' you can achieve that fine balance between allowing your horse freedom of his head at the same time as asking him to keep his attention with you. In return he gives you the freedom of your arm and you give him your attention.

"You will be very pleased to hear that S stopped biting/nipping immediately.  It is quite amazing, not a nibble in sight yesterday or today. What's equally fascinating is that you appear to have trained my husband too, who is taking S's training very seriously and getting some rewarding results. " CT

"I sang 'Hey Jude' to M last night as I.... yes me and me alone, bought him in from the field. Thanks Sarah for a great lesson Friday" EH

Thursday, February 9, 2012

9th February, 2012 Day off

A day off work today so great to be able to take Jack out for a walk/ canter. Also managed to get a shot of this Exmoor Pony on my way home from Verwood.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

8th Fenruary, 2012 A little burst of pride

I received a lovely email last night about Kanuthi, Blue's first (and only) foal. He went to friends Liz and Maurice Butler where he has a home for life and is loved so much. Last summer he went off to be trained as a driving pony and immediately came second in his first driving event during New Forest Driving Week.

Monday, February 6, 2012

6th February, 2012 Getting the bit between your teeth

As more work comes in and the IH magazine deadlines loom once again, the week seems to have whizzed by. Last Tuesday I attended a meeting of the New Forest Roads Campaign Group (which has a Facebook page) to talk about how we can draw attention to the behaviour of drivers and the behaviour of the wild ponies which don't tend to mix very well. We have been told about the work of the Animal Accident Reduction Group which was initiated by the Verderers and meets with all of the relevant authorities including the Commoners' Defence Association and the police. Whilst there is no need to duplicate their work, there is a need to do something especially about some of the very worst roads which includes the B3078 from Fordingbridge to Cadnam. Film maker and wildlife photographer Simon Palmer is keen to become involved in the campaign. We have made plans for an event which will hopefully take place in October this year just before the clocks change.

I've also been to see and work with some interesting horses. One sadly is attacking people and I have had to give some pretty serious advice about that one. It's always hard to know where to draw the line but ultimately people's safety is paramount. On Saturday I went to see a more solid version of Petra, a 17 year old Welsh Cob who has competed at dressage. He's worried about being ridden out on his own even at this age and it just shows that it's a missing part of many a horse's education. So tempting to think that a horse of that age ought to do anything that you want.

Email received 5.2.12: "In the field we're implementing moving all of them around us, looking away when they offer to be caught etc, they're leading beautifully and your exercise with 'my space' worked a treat after dismounting today, no more human rubbing post (which does often try). Interesting times!" CJ

This morning it was off to see another Welsh pony, a really beautiful girl with an absolute objection to having a bit in her mouth. Whether it started because of pain or because of unsympathetic handling with the bit, she has now developed a strategy for avoiding the bit that works every time. We have started to undo that and here you can see her holding the bit in her teeth rather than going up in the air. With an incremental approach and the temporary use of a bit-less bridle for riding, she should get there.

Email received 6.2.12: "I love her to bits and was very proud of her today! I am so very pleased that I called you, you were fab with her." MM

There will be an interesting article on the merits of bit-less and bitted bridles in the very next edition of the IH magazine which is due out at the beginning of March. If you want to make sure you get your copy join IH now at

"It is the only mag I read cover to cover!" Heather Moffett