Saturday, June 30, 2012

30th June, 2012 IH Garden Party

Great to see and hear Wil Robinson with his jazz band at the IH garden party. Wil ran the London Marathon  for the IH Charity of the Year, HorseWorld earlier this year and today played for the new IH Charity of the Year, Shy Lowen.

Another opportunity for me to dress up and wear my new shoes with their laces made of ribbons.

Not even the combined forces of me, IHRA Rosie, Hannah, Jessica the vet, Sue, little Jessica and Clare could find any of the answers on the quiz. Telling that I could remember that Princess Anne rode Doublet in the 1974 Olympics but couldn't say who was on the British Team this year.

In the meantime, Kelly's horses Pie and Harry took the opportunity to socialise with Eli's cob, Hovis.

Friday, June 29, 2012

29th June, 2012 Yes chef!!

I went to meet a super little mare called Minx today. She is half Warmblood and half Connemara. She took a real interest in everything we did including drawing a diagram in the sand and she gave a little squeal when she was touched by the feather duster although she accepted it readily enough on both sides of her body. She should be ready to be ridden very soon since her owner (a chef) has covered most of her early education.

One continuing theme over the last few appointments I have had has been the need for owner's to relax their jaw in order to help the horse to relax. If you imagine that you are speaking French this becomes a lot easier (if done in the right accent!). Otherwise you can think about dropping your tongue into the base of your mouth and that does the trick too.

"Had a great day with Minx today done some long reining which went so well and some practice of the things we covered when you came to see us. I also rode her up and down the yard with no lead moving off my leg which was the most amazing feeling ever! I aim to do some more desensitising with her next week (with the umbrella and plastic sheeting) Would I be able to book another session with you as I think it has helped us both so much, and I would love to continue this progress."KS

29th July, 2012 And now for something completely different...

Since it was David's birthday yesterday I made him have the day off and I bought him a croissant and a pain au chocolat for breakfast before taking him out for the day. I almost had an incident with a huge Cadbury's Cream Egg until I realised that it was in fact a car at the Beaulieu National Motor Museum. The orange was probably healthier.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

27th June, 2012 Cultural Differences

Today I was trying to explain to a client why her pony thought it was acceptable to occasionally bite, to mutually groom her and to take hold of his lead rein. Now, she is in the rocket industry and frequently goes out to the Middle East to do business. There can't be a much greater cultural difference in the human world between a white English woman and a United Arab Emirates man (except perhaps a Saudi male) and their cultural beliefs about what is and isn't acceptable in terms of gender and roles. Nevertheless, both parties are able to use their diplomacy, nous and business sense to set aside those differences so that they can successfully do business together without offending each other.

In horsey culture it IS quite acceptable to bite, to mutually groom and to take hold of things with your teeth whereas in our human culture, unless you are, er, into that kind of thing, it isn't. We are in the fortunate position of being able to impose a lot of our culture on our horses but should always be aware that we are culturally different.

This afternoon it was off to see Annie again and to see what progress she had made over the last month. She is now leading really well and likes to match her owner pace for pace. Altogether a much more relaxed and confident partnership. We started on some desensitisation work which will hopefully reduce her fear of humans even further.

27th June, 2012 Made My Day

Quite apart from having lovely clients today and two super grey horses to work with, my day has been made by this email that I received this morning. It also kept me going through my 7 1/2 mile bike ride and 6 mile run. I was going to go swimming tonight but finally ran out of steam.

"I really want to tell you how much I I look forward to your blog. I 'stayed sane' during over ten years at a boarding school during my childhood through my riding, and I'm sure I was more attached to my beloved pony than to anyone else!  I've got in touch with that again reading your daily activities. I also want to say how much I admire your determination and success getting fit and losing weight - you are a real inspiration.
I'm so glad you are enjoying your riding with Theoden. What a buzz you must have got out of today's ride!"
Virginia (from New Zealand) add to that, I have just received this email from Sarah T-E whose pony was one of the ones we worked with at the Dartmoor pony Training Centre last year when Sarah was also one of our students.

"Suki goes from strength to strength, she is very special, and I'm keen for as many people as possible to see what a feral foal can become with the help of your techniques. We try not to do too much with her, but she's very brave and always keen to spend time with me and the children. My daughter can't wait for her to be four. Sounds like your lovely Theoden has turned the corner, very exciting for you? Every time you feel down just think of all the souls, equine and human, that you've touched for the better. The local farmer who sold my friend Suzie her foal, who was untouched until 18 months, thought she'd never get near her, he was very impressed, and he's very traditional chap. The two people who look after her horses have also read your book after seeing her transformation. The ripple spreads, brilliant. Thank you again, you've certainly changed my life for the better, keep up the good work, hopefully see you soon." ST-E

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

26th June, 2012 Now who's smiling?

I've just returned from a wonderful ride out on the Forest on Fritham Plain on Theoden. It's the first time that I have felt that there was no training element and it's wonderful to feel his trust grow in me whilst mine grows in him. We had Linda with us on Rye, who is also coming along wonderfully, and both of our two green orange boys seemed happy and relaxed. All the work I have done moving Theoden step by step over and alongside poles and laterally paid off as opening gates from his back was really easy and it also means that we can wend our way through trees when he is just that bit too tall to follow the normal path.  He really listens and seems to appreciate the two way conversation. If they changed the law I think I would marry him.

Monday, June 25, 2012

25th June, 2012 Spanish Eyes

This happy face belongs to Liz after our loading session with Diego today. Diego came all the way from Spain in a horse box and decided he didn't want to repeat the experience. He has never been loaded into a trailer so we worked as if he needed to be taught how to load. Step by step and piece by piece we got him walking into the trailer without and then with the partition until he was happy wandering in and out and having all the bars and ramps put up around him. He's a bit of an engineer and likes to know how everything works.  Lovely calm horse.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

24th June, 2012 Hot topic!

It's great that over 10,000 people have already signed the petition for the abolition of multiple branding of ponies. I've signed it too because I think the petition reflects exactly my reasoning which I have expressed on this blog some years ago. HOWEVER the comments made by people signing up to the petition reveal an amazing level of misinformation and misunderstanding that could undermine the petition itself. For example some people seem to believe that New Forest ponies are not branded at all and identified simply by tail marking, others believe that ear tagging or freeze branding would be less cruel and others believe that the technology already exists (microchips) that mean that ponies can be readily identified.

I'd like to put a few facts forward and then ask you to make a considered decision about signing the petition which is available here:

At present it is not illegal to hot brand semi-feral ponies in England and Wales. It was banned in Scotland some time ago. Why the discrepancy? The main reason is that there are no mixed herds of semi-feral ponies living in Scotland

Why brand at all? Whilst all foals now have to be microchipped, those microchips cannot be read by a microchip reader from more than a metre away. Thus it is impossible for someone without a microchip reader or without being within one metre of a wild pony with a microchip reader to be able to readily identify it. Accordingly if an owner of a pony within a mixed herd, or someone taxed with overseeing their welfare such as an agister, wants to positively identify their pony then they would need to drift in (i.e. round up) a large group of ponies, possibly in foal or with a foal at foot, every time they wanted to identify one pony. This has its own welfare implications as round ups are physically exerting for the ponies - the ponies don't want to come in!  Being rounded up on frequent occasions is not good for the mental welfare of the ponies either.

The technology may already exist to provide better microchips that can be read from further away but if so no one has offered one yet. As usual there is no money on offer for further research into such a device. The ponies in themselves may not be all that valuable but as a vital conservation tool in the management of the flora and fauna of our national parks they are extremely valuable.

It is important to be able to identify ponies readily in order to protect them if they are ill or their condition is dropping back and to prevent them being stolen or inadvertently incorporated into the wrong Commoner's herd. The Commoner is at least entitled to the same protection of his ponies as the owner of a domesticated horse who could opt for freeze-branding.

Freeze-branding is not pain free and in some cases horses experience extreme discomfort whilst the freeze brands are applied. Each individual freeze-brand (and there are usually three or four) has to be applied for 30 seconds. This is just not feasible with semi-feral foals where they would have to be kept still for a total of a minute and a half. With hot branding it is the need to manhandle them that is at least as mentally harmful as the branding itself and grappling with them to keep them still for so much longer would be extremely harmful. In any event they would still move around too much for the brand to be applied cleanly and not smudge - for this very reason putting them in a crush would not solve the problem at all.

Microchipping itself is not pain free either but the Government has insisted that it is done. Once again it leads to forceful handling of the foal in order to keep it still but it can also be achieved very easily in a crush as is routinely done at the sales.

At least one of the signatories to the petition has stated that the ponies could be ear-tagged as with cows. This would be a terrible thing to do to ponies. It must be incredibly painful to calves but once again deemed to be necessary by the Government (it's all because of the food chain and nothing to do with welfare). Horses seem to be even more sensitive in their ears and ear-tagging would cause immense and prolonged pain. Not only that, but the ear tags rip out for a pastime and semi-feral ponies frequently engage in mutual grooming and play fighting as well as inhabiting areas where there are trees with spiky branches everywhere. Thank goodness ear nothing (cutting out shapes) in ponies' ears has been outlawed for some time.

This brings us round to multiple branding. Here in the New Forest ponies are rarely branded twice unless a particular Commoner insists on a second brand. The normal brand is put on the saddle area so that if the pony were ever to be domesticated and ridden it would be hidden. I can only assume that is why the odd Commoner asks for a second brand be placed on the shoulder. In my view this is never necessary and is the equivalent of highlighting who the pony belongs to as a sort of designer label. The only other reason why a pony would be branded twice would be if changed hands. In those circumstances the Verderers insist on the pony being re-branded so that it is clear as to whom the pony belongs so that they can be traced if there are welfare issues.

To people who say we can't wait for that technology and must just ban branding altogether I would just ask that you come and find my plain bay mare amongst all the other plain bay mares without being able to read her brand, or because she is actually friendly, calling her name. Many Commoners have far more ponies, 100's more ponies, than I've got.

On Exmoor the ponies are branded as many as three times. The first brand is their individual number, the second is often a herd symbol and the third a Diamond shape which is meant to indicate that they are eligible for registration having been inspected and found to fit the breed standard. To me the second brand is a conceit, another designer 'status' label. The eligibility brand has invited a great deal of controversy since ponies that are subsequently found to be ineligible for registration have already been branded and ponies that are found to be eligible after the first inspection and branding have to go through the whole process again. These second and third brands can never be deemed necessary.

NO BRAND can ever be justified unless the ponies are destined to be kept out in mixed herds. If the ponies are intended to domesticated or to be sold into domestication then it is not necessary and can only be a matter of an owner's pride.

It is this multiple branding on Exmoor that has brought matters to a head, along with some of the poor branding practices particularly on Exmoor and Dartmoor. I am well aware that if multiple branding is banned and a derogation system applied so that people with semi-feral ponies kept in mixed herds have to apply to be able to brand their pony with one brand, then I along with other New Forest commoners will be the last bastion of people who will be permitted to brand their ponies. It will be our heads that will be above the parapet. However, I don't see that as a reason to justify this multiple-branding. If people don't see when the writing is on the wall and react accordingly, that's their problem. Accordingly, if anyone really knows of some technology that is available to be able to readily trace and identify my wild New Forest ponies I will be the first to try it even if it costs more than my ponies. We can only hope that in the future the pressure to find this technology (and the need to protect the Forest with our ponies) will warrant the development of such technology at whatever cost.

Just for the sake of completeness I'd like to briefly describe the normal practice of branding as carried out in the New Forest and how it differs from the practice on Exmoor. On the Forest branding tends to be carried out by one of the five agisters or by one of a small group of Commoners who are extremely well practised in branding the ponies. The brand is heated up on an open and hot fire so that it is at the optimum temperature. The pony is usually pushed up against the fence in the drift pen, next to its mother and without a head restraint. The area to be branded is trimmed with scissors and the brand is applied for approximately three seconds. The foal is then released. Many don't appear to react at all but I don't deny that it is painful at the time and that it continues to be painful afterwards. Nevertheless it is applied quickly and efficiently and manhandling is kept to an absolute minimum. Occasionally the handlers do twist the pony's tail or an ear in order to keep the pony still and in the case of the ear in the mistaken belief that this provides temporary pain relief. In my experience this can cause ponies that are later domesticated to be ear shy on one side and although it may lead to the release of endorphins, it does so through creating pain in the first place. Just remember though that many vets still apply nose twitches as a matter of routine for exactly the same reasons - the very same vets that it is being suggested should be present whenever a pony is branded.Both practices should stop.

On Exmoor the scenario is very different as foals are often completely separated from their mothers to be inspected (which includes lifting the feet) and then branded with three separate brands. In order to do this they have a halter forced on to them and they are tied up to something solid. Inevitably they go into pressure, fighting the rope and often pull backwards until they can hardly breath - these are not self releasing halters. This makes them still enough to be branded and then they are released. By the last brand they are full aware of what is coming and are absolutely petrified. This coupled with the forceful application of the halter is the absolute undoing of the ponies mentally in my view and is what leads to them being so difficult to train and to their reputation as tricky ponies. I have said it over and over again that a pony that has had a headcollar forced on it is at least ten times more difficult to halter train than one which has never experienced a headcollar at all.

I have had first hand accounts of brands not being heated up properly (sometimes with a blow torch) and having to be reapplied to the same spot because they haven't worked or the ineptitude of the person branding them.

Tail marking incidentally is done on the Forest once a year with a pair of scissors and is the practice of cutting a pony's tail into a certain shape, leaving most of it long, so that the agister can tell which part of the Forest it is meant to be in and whether it's marking fees have been paid. Since there are only five shapes into which it can be cut then it is not a method of identification at all. Needless to say it also grows out pretty rapidly as would paint. The collars which some of the ponies wear are simply to show them up in the dark to reduce the risk of them being run over. The collars, which have to come away easily if the pony gets caught up, don't tend to stay on for very long.

There, that's about all I can think of for now but I hope it goes some way to explaining how this whole thing came about. I'm pretty ecstatic that brands applied for reasons of  pride and traditional reasons may shortly be banned. Why should the ponies pay for that?

p.s.! I'm not sure that it should be necessary to have a vet in attendance. Some of the vets I have seen are pretty inept and just as neanderthal at handling semi-feral ponies as other people when they feel they need to get a job done. If it simply in a supervisory capacity that's one thing but the level of supervision and intervention that I have seen at sales yards has been pretty poor so I can't see how this would greatly improve things. It would be better to ensure that the people who do the branding come from a small set of people who have proved that they are competent.

If the pain relief or perhaps sedation consists of an injection  that could go badly wrong too as semi-feral ponies are pretty wriggly and sedation can only act as a dimmer switch if adrenalin levels are low. It has to be remembered that the very purpose of a brand is actually to scar the pony for life so anything applied to the brand itself would not have to undo that.

24th June, 2012 Post holiday blues

It's been quite tricky getting myself in gear since I got back from holiday. My first session with Theoden and Amanda Barton went pretty well with him settling down to work as soon as we started so that we could continue with the theme that Mark Rashid started. I had been expecting a student to come from London for the weekend (at her request) but she cancelled at the very last minute which was a shame given that we had made plan for the weekend,  prepared her room, bought extra food and I had cancelled a road race that I would like to have taken part in. To cap it all the horse that I went out to work with yesterday afternoon has sustained an injury or fly strike to his eye and by the time I got there couldn't keep it more than half open and looked like he had a massive headache. Not fair to work with him in those circumstances particularly as we wanted to put a rider on board and it was pretty important that he could see her!

Still, I should have crunched through the gear changes enough by Monday morning to go off to Hayling Island to work with a non-loader.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

21st June, 2012 Deux Chevaux or more

On tour by MG in France, we had to stop and look at a few horses. The ones above had had a long day pulling tourists around the streets of Saumur. The ones below were being driven mad by the early morning flies. All hogged, they took refuge under each others' tails when they could.

In the Cevannes, we found this sculpture celebrating the Arabian endurance horse. Whilst I met this Comtois cross coloured horse when out running in Belesta. She didn't look as if she had missed many (any!) meals!

The black Merens horse is a native of the Ariege-Pyrenees. They are about the size of a Welsh Cob with a Friesian look about them and I am told they have a lot of character!

As we made our way along the back roads between Ax Les Thermes and Axat, and were about 1,800 metres above sea level, we found these Comtois horses living semi-feral. The stallion is third one down.

Another gorgeous Comtois stallion spotted on our way back home.

21st June, 2012 Training Humans

"Nelly, I think we've got her trained to stand on the bridge and now we just need to get her to walk along it without getting off. " "Looks like it Jack!"

Picture courtesy of Jo Monck, Minstrels on the Hill

Monday, June 4, 2012

4th June, 2012 Picture this...

Talented photographer, Jo Monck, has spent the day with me having come over from the Isle of Wight this morning. We spent the day photographing New Forest ponies and others that we found en route.

The flies were incredibly active and the ponies were struggling with them.

This will be me signing off for a couple of weeks now as I am off on holiday and we need to pack the camera!

Saturday, June 2, 2012

2nd June, 2012 Mind Your Own Business

One of the hardest things to do when sharing a field with a more dominant horse is to get you horse out safely without interference. The art is to be able to use body language on the other horses without upsetting your own horse. For the owner of the dominant horse it can be equally frustrating to find out that other people have perhaps been using a whip or shouting at your horse and, if anything, making it more aggressive. My last call of the day was to an owner who has two horses where one dominates the other and has taken to moving the mare away from the lady that rides her and then intimidating the lady too.

We worked on using effective body language to ask the larger of the two horses to stop, move away and to mind his own business, keeping it quiet and reasonable at all times but meaning it. By the middle of the short session, the lady was able to use very low key body language to stop the horse and ask him not to interfere which didn't upset the horse that she did want. In fact horses are very good at knowing which body language is meant for them and which is not.

This was in fact my second session with this horse this week. When we met on Tuesday, the owner and I had worked on catching and grooming the horse. Three days later and the owner can catch him in the field using clicker.

They say that routine is good for a horse (I don't necessarily agree) but this horse has been slowly establishing a routine that his owner had to adhere to meticulously in order to get him in to the yard, catch him and eventually brush him. This entailed persuading him to follow a bucket, allowing him a certain number of minutes to settle and eat, having his head collar on and then having more minutes before he would be brushed. Bit by bit the horse has been getting worse and the required procedure even longer. Looking at it, I could see that the horse was ambivalent about being caught and brushed and was trying to say something to the owner about the way he was being approached and touched. In fact, he wasn't just saying it, he was shouting it as loud as he could. 

It seemed to me that there was an awful lot of tickly touch going on around the horse's nose and then with various brushes. The more he fidgeted and complained, the more tentative the owner got and the more irritated the horse became - to the point where he will either leave if he isn't tied up or half rear if he is. Further investigation showed that a deep flat touch with a good hard dandy brush was what he wanted and then he stood still and became sweeter and sweeter. There is so much tickly touch going on around horses and I wonder why we do it. Certainly if someone touched me that way I would scream and probably hit them because I have sensory perception dysfunction but sure no-one can enjoy having their face meddled with and being tickled with a soft brush (don't answer that). Honestly, go up to the next person you meet and start tickling their face with your hands and while you're at it, give them a mighty big pat. No doubt we'll see one of you in court.

Email received 25th June, 2012: "C-horse is 100% better with his head collar but still not 100%, I can now bring him in from the field, albeit a little reluctantly.  Charlotte is able to get T-horse in, C-horse still gives her "black looks" but is not overly threatening.  We are working with your excellent advice and he is getting better." JS

2nd June, 2012 Patience and all the time in the world

Got up at 5.30 a.m. this morning to make sure that I had time to catch Anna before Matt the farrier turned up and to ensure that she got her feet done before I go away on holiday. It's been almost three months since I saw her last and I was absolutely delighted when she walked up to me and asked me to catch her. That has never happened before and indicates a really significant change in her attitude to people. It also meant that she had time for a grooming session and a healing session from Karen before Matt arrived. She scored ten out of ten for her behaviour with him too.

Next it was back to the Forest to work with a seven year old Thoroughbred eventer that objects to being injected by rearing and running backwards. The vet has indicated that she wants to twitch the horse the next time she comes. Within an hour of my arrival, and with front feet not even coming a millimetre off the floor in unison, this horse had been mock injected by me, M, Mum and Dad on every part of his neck and back whilst loose in the school and then in the stable in exchange for a click and a treat every time. We imitated the vet as far as we possibly could by waling directly up to the horse in an efficient manner, taking hold of the head-collar, looking him directly in the eye and pressing really hard with the needle-less syringe in both an intra-muscular and intra-venous position. With practise, which for them will include wearing something that smells of a vet (i.e. of anaesthetic) and over six months to go before the next annual vaccination is due, they should hopefully be able to convince the horse that the real thing is just a 'bad one' and carry on as normal.

Almost before I got home I received this email from S's owner: "I just want to say a huge thank you for your work with Splodge today. For me, the most amazing aspect was his reaction to you in the first few minutes of going in to his stable - with any other stranger he would have at least moved back and been wary, or even hidden in a corner while assessing your intention - his reaction told me a lot about both him and you.

I know there is no certainty that he will accept the vet next time, but at least we understand what we can do to try and help him.Many, many thanks again for today, Meg, Simon and I were incredibly impressed with your approach and understanding - you are a real breath of fresh air."SV