Tuesday, October 30, 2012

30th October, 2012 Girls and their ponies!

What is it about girls and their ponies? The connection between them can overcome such adversity and hurdles. This morning I went to see an 11 year old girl with her 11 year old pony. She hasn't had him very long but generally they get on famously. He's given her so much confidence in her riding. On the ground he is normally polite but I was asked if I could stop him pulling away from her to get to grass or his field mates. Once more the 'motorbike' hand, the 'smile in the line' and re-directing his energy were all really useful especially when coupled with her quiet determination and good timing. What I really liked is that she already has a set of decent principles about how she treats her pony and she sometimes finds the kicking and hitting she sees in some places quite hard to bear. It's so important isn't it to give a child the right messages about violence and consent?

Tonight it was off to see Hilary, who although quite a bit older, still has the biggest soft spot for Benji, the pony she has taken from being totally wild to being backed today.

"I'm usually pretty good at putting words together but I'm struggling to work out what to write about tonight.
Thank you so much... I'm still feeling overwhelmed by what happened, I never expected to achieve so much with him, and it's down to your book, advice and skill in knowing what he and I were ready to tackle.
It's difficult to put into words the feeling of sitting on him for the first time- joy and awe but also calm and trust between the three of us." HP

"K and I enjoyed meeting you and got so much out of the session with you. Very big smiles from K afterwards although she was pretty tired towards the end (lots of concentrating). Consistency is going to be the key, and we will both have to really work at that, but I think we are both clear about how to go on with him, so I'm feeling optimistic! These notes are great and will help us lots I'm sure."LC

Monday, October 29, 2012

29th October, 2012 Trike Training

With Hilary in tow, it was off to Wiltshire this morning to see Lou, Nile and Yeshe again. I worked first of all with Lou who has been worried about people touching her ears. By using a deep flat touch and going away as soon as she is still and committed to being still, she got a lot better really quickly.

 Lou and Nile, both breeds with a reputation for intelligence, started off long reining calmly and responsively as if they had done it many times before instead of just the once. Both owners were able to take over from me after just a little warm-up and worked really well with their respective horses. There will be an article about long-reining in the first edition of the IH Magazine in 2013.

This afternoon my job was to work with Yeshe and his owner to get him used to her trike, which is an adaptation of her wheelchair, and then to get him leading happily at her side. He was an angel and soon got the hang of it and it was a joy to watch them pootle off down the byway.

We now need to find someone kind and knowledgeable to make some further adaptations to her trike so that the lead rein can't accidentally get caught between the back brake and the handlebar or wrap itself around D. Come on engineers, let me know if you would be willing to help with this.

"Thanks Sarah, fabulous day, M's confidence improved simply from ear work. Lovely to see C and Nile so relaxed together. Yeshe amazes me, he just gets better & better all the time.....sometimes we have to figure stuff out together but he's soooo willing to try stuff & see what works. My coordination isn't good between very fine stuff and big movements so often drop stuff, fumble with rug n halter but he just waits.Perfect clicker pony! Mum is now very excited about riding again with you there to start with. As ever thank you so much for getting everyone back on the positive path:-)" D

Sunday, October 28, 2012

28th October, 2012 Great! South Run - Lest I Forget

I'm just a little bit pleased and proud of my achievement in the 10 mile Great South Run today especially as there was no horse involved. I did think I had come fourth in my age group and gender until I realised that they had put me in the 80 to 120 age group by mistake or guesswork.! Still, there were 19,000 people slower than me although some of them were carrying full breathing apparatus (might have some benefits) and wearing full fire service uniform. It was great reading other runner's backs to see who they were running for - lots of Nans and Dads, but lots of witty an  poignant ones - "A Size 10"; "A pint of Guiness" and "A Stranger" - and of course many charities were represented. I was running for my Nan who succumbed to Alzheimer's and also to put money into the research account "Lest I forget..." in the future.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

27th October, 2012 A Bit of a Problem

Years ago, when I had only just started as an RA, I went out to see a bay Arab x New Forest that had started to have a problem having her bridle on. She had been good before and this was a sudden change in her behaviour. It took a bit of courage, because I knew it would involve the owner in some expense which could turn out to be unnecessary, to say that I thought she ought to have the vet out to quite literally to have the horse's head examined. In that case the reaction was as the bridle went over her ears and yet she was fine about having her ears handled otherwise. The owner trusted me and the vet diagnosed a neurological problem which was fortunately treatable and ultimately covered by her insurance policy.

Yesterday I went out to a horse I have worked with before and although I knew that she has not been educated as to how she should respond to the bit, she has always accepted it into her mouth readily enough. Over the past couple of weeks with the owner, and then the owner and a helper, she has become progressively worse about having the bit in her mouth. The owner has had a vet out twice to look at her teeth before this happened and apart from routine treatment at the beginning has been told that all is well. The bit itself had not changed although she is now trying another one and the only changes in the horse's life are that she is being ridden more and she has moved to new fields. The only other vaguely significant thing is that the horse in now tacked up in a stable rather than outside and this gives her the opportunity to shove her head over the door to keep her head away from the owner and the bridle. However, when this fails she is quite determined to barge through the owner or to shake her head so violently that she dislodges the owner's hands and the bridle once she has the bridle anywhere near her nose.

Faced with such behaviour, it was clear to me that this wasn't going to be a simple matter of desensitising her and showing her that we could be really gentle with the bridle. I felt that the only inroad we might make would be if we were to introduce a clickered treat for even the smallest sign of stillness. This worked well for asking her to tolerate hands and the bridle on her face and gave her a good reason for staying with me, however, the bit was clearly so abhorrent to her that she continued to shake her head violently when the bit was in her mouth and she was too busy doing that to be able to really hear the click or to take a treat. If this was my horse I think I would be getting a second opinion from another vet or dental technician to make sure there wasn't anything sinister going on in her mouth and this is what the owner will do. Once more it may be an unnecessary expense but unless we rule it out, how will we know? The owner is going to give the clicker a go for a few more sessions but unless there is a marked improvement then the vet will be the next step.

1st November: "After your visit the following day we rode and I decided to put the bridle on with the jointed bit first before I did any thing and she stood fine and accepted it with no problem." PP

27th October, 2012 Brilliant Benji

Do you remember the three year old wild new Forest pony I went to see that hadn't been out of his pen for something like three months. The young woman who had taken over looking after him was keen to get him halter trained so that she could start working with his feet and so that he could at last go out in the field. That day we turned him out in the indoor school and he had a real hooley around it until he had got rid of loads of energy. The amazing news is that today he has been to his first show, wearing a rung and travelling in the trailer and was extremely well behaved.

"He was great- loaded, travelled, stood and munched hay.If I'd wanted more it would have been a bit more perkiness in the ring! He was sixth- which was also last but I don't mind at all. The judge described him as a 'work in progress'- if only he knew how much progress has already happened!" HP

Thursday, October 25, 2012

25th October, 2012 Home time

The summer grazing has sustained the New Forest ponies for much longer this year and Nelly and Blue have hardly been home at all. In fact, they are both fat. Today I spotted them by the water trough at Fritham so encouraged them to come back with me so that I could bring them in and check them over thoroughly. Nelly is going to go to a field in Brockenhurst with Indiana for a couple of months so that Sally can spend more time with Indiana close to her home.

These three are not mine!

25th October, 2012 Herd Dynamics

On the way home I saw this little lot circling and wheeling in a field in the valley. It was wonderful to watch their herd dynamics.I got the impression that a new pony had just been turned out in the field and the smallest one of them all had decided that it was his job to keep the newcomer away from his herd. Watching horses interacting with each other I find it hard to understand how people can stand having their horses on their own.

25th October, 2012 Let's get the Party Started?

One of my occasional visits to see Maverick this morning, this time to assess whether he is ready to be started. Recently he took fright when a jockey tried to mount him for the very first time and his owner is keen to do as much homework as she can before she probably sends him to one of the other IHRAs to be started. With limited facilities and an athletic horse (see below) it is important that he is in the right place with the right rider. With groundwork and long reining under his belt we looked at some desensitisation work and found that he is still worried about seeing something out of both eyes at the same time and things passing through his blind spot. Whilst it is tempting to miss this work out, it is an important part of his education since his rider will not be able to sit like a statue whenever she is on board and what would happen if someone passed something to her? Although Maverick is wearing a Dually, no pressure is put on him if he feels he wants to move away but the stimulus stays with him until he chooses to stand still.

Once again I have been using clicker to enhance this work so that if Maverick stood, committed to standing and softened in some way - perhaps licking and chewing. lowering his head or looking calmly at the bags - not only does the bag move away but he hears a click and is given a treat. Since horses will not give up their safety for food, it's a good guide as to just how worried he is and it just helps him to try and to have positive reinforcement for his work. I am also careful to look out for conflict - if the horse gets angry during work with clicker then it is often a sign that there is too great a difference between what he wants (the food) and what he doesn't want (the bags close to him). 

I also used clicker to ask him to park his lovely body next to the mounting block. 

It was also lovely to see dear Peechay, who looks more and more like his mother, Nelly. He has got a slightly finer face but the same HUGE ears.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

24th October, 2012 Quantock Titch

Recently I have been contacted by Dee who bought a 4 ½ month old Quantock Hill Pony at the Quantock Hill Pony Fair. She bought a copy of No Fear, No Force and later contacted me to ask  whether an over-handled foal would turn into a bargey horse. She went on to say, "He is fine to catch and get the halter on in the stable, both undoing the halter and laying it on his back like you suggest in the book, but slightly less relaxed if I put it on over his nose, but in the field the grass has much more allure."

I replied that, "He will only become bargy if he is over-handled without any boundaries - so as soon as he is pretty confident, start to get some rules in. Yes, it will do him good to be with other horses so that they can set some boundaries too and you don't become the entertainment committee, but there is nothing wrong with handling him if you are consistent and fair. Obviously don't over-pet or give him attention on demand.

If you want to give him food in the field for catching him then try hand feeding a small amount of food but making a click before you give him any food. I think he's probably not ready to be caught in a bigger area yet and you might just need to slow down a bit. In time it just won't be an issue - you'll know when he is ready - if there was somewhere in between sizes that would be even better."

Today I got this email from her:

Thanks so much for that advice about the smaller field.  I spent two sessions in the stable sort of clicker training him with his food to put his nose in the head-collar and I repeated this several times when he was turned out in the courtyard in front of the stables, and then again today in the bigger field and he is now perfectly alright with having his head-collar on. Phew! 

Titch has been out for a walk each day for the last five days now. We were passed by a bin wagon with its flashing orange lights kindly turned off, but Titch didn’t even look up from munching!  Totally not bothered! We went to a nearby house-build today and he touched all sorts of new things with his nose and walked over some plastic that I then dragged home with us. All was taken in his stride. He is REALLY showing up my grown-up horse!"

I am always happy to give an after sales service for my book. If you would like to read more about Titch go to Dee's blog - http://quantockhillpony.blogspot.co.uk/

24th October, 2012 Get Lost!

I quipped to my riding companion yesterday that we should go out and get lost. I didn't really mean it but we did it anyway. When we met the first road it took me a little while to work out where we were and since it was being used as a diversion by people off a more major road we thought we would head back the same way as we had come. No chance! So we got lost again and ended up, appropriately at Nomansland. Fortunately I do know my way home from there!

The map says that we only did 6 1/2 miles but it doesn't take account of us going round and round the Mulberry Bushes. Since it took us 2 1/2 hours, I thought the horses would be very tired to day but in fact they were on good form and this time Karen and I all around King's Garn Inclosure and the Bramshaw Golf Course before coming up through Long Beech. We are so fortunate to have so much off road riding.

24th October, 2012 Equal Rights!

Riding on the Isle of Wight made me think a lot about the issue of rights, something I last considered when I was a law student. Everyone has rights and it's only when people's rights rub up against each other that the friction and debate arises. There is a fabulous network of bridleways on the Isle of Wight but many of them are rendered unusable because they are criss-crossed by busy roads where drivers are too impatient or too ignorant to slow down and give riders the room they need. Other rights of way are shared with cyclists and walkers who are often with dogs and some are very intolerant of each other. My IOW best friend Annie has a wonderful way of dealing with this, she says "Oh, it's too nice a day to be arguing, you go on and enjoy the rest of your day!"

My landlord calls me the Equine Rights Lady, because I believe that horse's have rights too. Once again there can be places where their rights seem to rub up against our rights and we have to decide whose take precedence. Napping is a prime example, the horse believes that it has a right to stay within it's comfort zone at the field or with its companion and we believe we have the right to go out for a nice ride. The art is to persuade the horse that he has the right to go migrating instead.

This leads me to the subject of ageism to our horses. Please never judge what a horse is capable of or should be doing by his actual age. Instead, work out what he knows and what  gaps there are in his education and start from there. A year in the field, or skating over issues, does not amount to an education, and there are so many young horses that are wearing older suits. Don't be taken in by their disguise; have a look what's really underneath.

Monday, October 22, 2012

22nd October, 2012 Magnetic Field

Today it was off to see Fern again and the good news is that she was absolutely fine with the long reins and later with some Army Landrovers despite her bad experience a couple of weeks ago. Today I  took her and L out for a ride up the hill and along the plain where the Army have a range. Although they were on exercises, they were only on one side of the track. Fern took all the distant firing in her stride as well and even said hello to a rather beautifully camouflaged soldier. I am always interested in how and why nappiness occurs and there were only two slight sticky points on the ride and they occurred on the way out, when Fern slowed down noticeably, and on the way back when she got noticeably faster. Both of these points were equidistant from the field and from Susie, her companion that was neighing her head off. Whether it is the calling distance or just some sort of 'magnetic field', it is remarkable that once she was beyond this area she was confident and happy. 

Taking Theoden to the Isle of Wight seemed to have taken him away from the pull of his magnetic field too and there was not a hint of nappiness the whole time we were away. However he has been so much better recently it is hard to know whether this is significant. 

"I love to watch you and Fern together, I love the way she responds to your calm direction so she understands what's being asked, and doesn't she just know when she's got it right? 
It was a long old stride out for you and Fern.You stayed so calm and as a consequence she seem to take it all in her stride." LRB

Sunday, October 21, 2012

21st October, 2012 Naturally Gifted!

"Thank you Sarah Weston for "No Fear, No Force" - despite being naturally gifted (!) Mayfly says thanks for making foal handling fun" Lesley Weston (no relation, that we know of anyway!) 

21st October, 2012 Dartmoor Hill Ponies

Normally at this time of year we would just be heading off to Widecombe to work with the wild Dartmoor Hill Pony foals.  This time however, I felt that the Dartmoor Pony Training Centre team were ready to go it alone and they have set up a week of training for the ponies were past students can go and help and keep their skills going. I am now feeling rather envious as the work is always so emotional and rewarding.

During a full course, we could only really train about twelve ponies without rushing it. It;s good to hear that Charities and non-profit organisations such as the DPTC and HOPE are re-homing 'flat-pack' ponies to people who have committed themselves to providing a home for life, gelding them when necessary and training them using kind methods. Many of the are buying copies of No Fear, No Force and doing really well with it. This is far from the scenario of ponies with poor conformation going to do-gooders with no idea of how to train them. These are hardy, tenacious and fun ponies ending up with people who know what they are taking on and know what they are doing.

Many of the farmers on Dartmoor are cutting down on the numbers of mares that they keep - remembering always that the ponies are essential to the Conservation of the National Park. The mares below were all due to be called but have found homes through the DPTC. There are still ponies that need homes though and anyone who would like to have one and has the right set up should contact one of the two charities.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

20th October, 2012 Silver Moon in Fritham?

 With fog across the Forest this morning there was an air of excitement. Was it the arrival of the Animal Rescue Team or the two Percherons, Silver and Moon, who had all come for a training course based around the horse agility obstacles?

 First catch your horse and then do some desensitisation work. Establish that you are friend not foe....

and don't worry about the British flag on a French horse. Moon is a four year old, bought in France as a yearling.

She took it all in her stride as did Fire Officer James. Other Firemen and horses were available! Petra shows the long route over the bridge and Indiana inspects the tarpaulin.

Afterwards there was just time to take Jack out for a walk with the volunteers Cat and Laura who, along with lovely Jenny and Lindy, helped all morning. I was extremely grateful to them and to Michelle and Simon for bringing their beautiful horses over. 

20th October, 2012 Flying Squirrel

This amazing picture was taken by Jo (Monck). How lucky am I to have her as a photographer for the IH magazine? The magazine is coming together again now for the Christmas Edition - 44 pages of it. It does take an incredible amount of time to put it together but we have got some fantastic articles on riding, feeding and tack-fitting for performance in this edition. Just in time to make extravagant plans for 2012. I wonder if Theoden will read it?

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

17th October, 2012 In which we join the Tufty Club

Another super day on the IOW. This morning I ran a long-reining session for Annie (my IOW best friend) and her friends. We worked with her New Forest pony, Magnus, who gave us his life story in pictures all the way through the session. Then we did a bit more with Theoden who I now know was a red squirrel in a former life.

This afternoon Jo and I went to Alvestone Mead Nature Reserve to see the red squirrels. I have been told to say that they are really wild, and that you have to be unbelievably quiet and skillful to spot them at all. The truth is that these clever little creatures come and nick the roasted monkey nuts out of the bag and will sit and gaze at you as they eat.

"Hi Sarah, Well you are already sorely missed and along with Theoden, were a complete and utter tonic! 
Thank you once again for a terrific and thought-provoking few days. I always look at Moose with refreshed eyes after spending time with you. That's it!............You're like an Equestrian Optrex!" AD - well, she would say that wouldn't she?!