Thursday, January 31, 2013

31st January, 2013 Throwing caution to the wind

Despite gale force winds, Jessica worked really well today, coming up to be caught as soon as I entered the round pen. We did some basic groundwork and then a session of desensitisation so that I could try and work out if there was any pattern to the things that worry her and the things that don't. As you can see, she was absolutely cool about the carrier bags on a stick even though they were very noisy indeed. She really wasn't bothered about them and this must be good news when we are looking towards putting a rider on her.

She was more cautious about approaching the poles and the wooden bridge, causing me to wonder if it is about keeping her feet safe. She plucked up the courage to jump over the poles and then began to slow down and eventually walk over them really calmly. By the end of the session she was eating pony nuts off the bridge and allowing me to stand on it next to her rubbing her back on both sides.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

30th January, 2013 Sampson's School Trip

Sampson's education continues apace but we have to be very careful not to do too much too young as he has only just turned one. He is becoming very confident on his walks out and we allow him to investigate everything without turning him into a tourist. This weekly expedition keeps him ticking over and he seems to enjoy it especially as his field companions are all much older than him and probably quite boring!

30th January, 2013 Jessica's first day at school

Jessica's first session was spent persuading her that she should come through the school gates since she didn't want to be caught. Some of this is no doubt due to the strange and exciting environment but it can't all be attributed to that since she has been doing the same at home when her owner has been trying to catch her over the last week or so.  When I was pootling around the field earlier, she came trotting up to me twice for a love and a rub and it was only when I reappeared with the head-collar that she decided she wanted to play truant. It's easy to think of this as some sort of game but I think it is actually an indication of their state of mind, an ambivalence about the head-collar and rope, or of being with people.

Having enticed her into the round pen with some hay and feed, I used advance and retreat, coupled with clicker, to persuade her to be caught and spent the rest of the session just practising that. I think it was Mark Rashid that said you need to deal with what you have got on the day and that's exactly what we did.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

29th January, 2013 Mary, Mary

Excuse the view! Mary Mary, is in her thirties and yet still pretty wild. She's been living out her retirement off the Forest with her daughter Lily and gets Meals on Wheels and lots of love. Fortunately she doesn't need her feet done very often but today she was in trouble with a suspected abscess in her foot. No good calling the vet until we saw what she would let us do. I've been able to catch her in the past but have not handled her feet. Today, remarkably she allowed me to lead her out of the field, pick out her hoof, soak in a bucket of hot salty water, before attaching a poultice and a bandage. The vet has now been organised to come very shortly and I'll be there to catch her again and to keep her calm. I used clicker to persuade her to have her head-collar on and then a nice feed while she had her foot cleaned.

Monday, January 28, 2013

27th January, 2013 Your Horse and Horse Scene

I've got a two page article in the latest edition of Your Horse Magazine (March edition) and another one coming up in Horse Scene Magazine on loading myths. The article in You Horse was in answer to specific questions from readers about their horses so called bad habits. I started off by saying that horses don't have bad habits....whoops! Both articles were a lot of fun to write and mean that my pen isn't redundant.

27th January, 2013 Jessica's travels...

Began today with her learning how to load. Once she realised that the ramp was solid and safe, she was fine, wandering in and out as asked. By lowering my own head, I was able to ask her to lower hers as she came down the ramp and this resulted in her taking it more slowly.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

26th January, 2013 Square five

It's been five weeks since we have been able to do any work with Coco and Rose as it always seems to be raining or snowing on Saturdays. This weekend we started work again and wondered whether we would be all the way back to square one. Far from it, both horses were able to continue from where we left off. Once the conditions outside the field have improved we should be able to start taking them out again.

Just the week before:

Thursday, January 24, 2013

24th January, 2013 The Exmost Pony

This little colt lives outside my fields with his Mum and his Auntie Blue. He looks so much like an Exmoor Pony in his colouring although he is a pure-bred New Forest pony. I gave him a lovely rub with the feather duster over the fence the other day and he seemed to appreciate it. I think he appreciates the food even more.

24th January, 2013 Test Card

Here is the equivalent of the Test Card, pictures of ponies eating hay! Most of my appointments recently have been postponed due to the weather. I'm so glad that I don't have a stable yard with a queue of horses in needing to be worked! Although I do have overheads, they are limited and I'm not obliged to work whatever the weather. The horses are all pretty low maintenance although they're eating a massive quantity of hay each day. I'm also feeding a dozen ponies out on the Forest including my own three.

Lovely Nelly-Noo sharing her pile of hay with one of the Forest youngsters.

Pie's girlfriend, Orange Girl and Pie himself. Pie is convinced that he is invisible in the snow and insists on neighing his head off when I arrive just to make sure that I know he is there. It brings in other ponies from far and wide and costs me a fortune!

Monday, January 21, 2013

21st January, 2013 Food Obsession

It's not astonishing that horses should be food obsessed - it's natural. It's more astonishing when they aren't. Horses have evolved to see food as an absolute priority, essential for their survival and usually in very short supply. You look at how driven the wildebeest are to go and find nitrogen rich grass on the plains of Africa - they throw themselves down steep banks and into crocodile infested waters to get to food. Horses have to be as tenacious as that.

Whilst food might not be in short supply for a particular horse, they haven't evolved to the extent that they feel they can rely on that, although some get more relaxed about it. Put a few shortages into the equation, add in a bit of occasional exciting sugary food, intermittent food, or competition from other horses then you are back to what you have always had. A horse that NEEDS to be food obsessed. Add in owners that inadvertently reinforce unwanted behaviour around food - supply on demand, basically being a free vending machine, then you get a horse that is apparently more food obsessed but actually all he's doing is pressing buttons!

Ultimately what I am saying is that behaviour that looks like food obsession is normal and not an obsession at all. Horses that are pushy around food, i.e., they bang the door or nudge into you are not obsessed or greedy, they've been taught to do it by humans.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

19th January, 2012 Contain the excitement

It's not been a very interesting week in horse terms. Sorry.

We took Sampson out for a walk on Wednesday and worked on establishing where his yeses and his maybes are. For a very young horse he does mighty well. He starts off as a yes, then there's a little maybe as he reaches the end of the other horses' magnetic field and that is quickly followed by another yes and then you can see that he starts thinking maybe again. These are the places that Theresa and I want to work - not engaging with his no - and so we turn for home again at an opportune moment, before setting off on another one of the tracks. Fortunately one of these has a circular bit at the end and with the others, we just make sure that we don't turn back in the same place each time. After three tours of the same tracks, he is going further each time and building up his own little map. In this way we contain his excitement and don't engage with any 'no' or give him the opportunity to practice it.

Other than that, the most exciting thing has been visiting my horses in the snow. For them the food is the most exciting thing. This morning (listen, I'm trying my best here!) it was off to the feed shop first...

Then off for a bit of ice skating in the car...

 This little girl was standing sentry at the Forest gate...

The queue for hay included some we hadn't met before.

Jack is always pleased to see us...

And on the way back out we gave the sentry and her friend a few piles of hay too...

Monday, January 14, 2013

14th January, 2013 Back on the Brandee

It's been almost eighteen months since I last saw Brandee and for a good long time her owners were able to catch her and handle her and let the farrier do her feet. However, during the last six months she has regressed and of course the more urgently she was needed, the more she resisted being caught. Horses are so good at sensing a strong intent but they don't always know what the intention is. Brandee will stand for a moment to let you work with her, clearly frightened, and then bursts out of the corner at speed - this explosive movement has been working for her in that it has put her owners of catching her and meant that they walked away. Since she doesn't kick or run through people, I chose to not take any notice of it but to simply and gently herd her back into the corner and begin again using the feather duster, and later a scarf, to touch her body.

You'd think after seven years Brandee but would be able to put the past behind her and trust her loving owners but something happened to this pony that was so bad that she was pushed over the brink and I doubt she will ever be a friendly and relaxed pony. Her owner made a great observation that during the summer she seems much calmer but in the winter when the weather is windy and horrible and the fields are much more open because they have dropped their leaves, she can't let her guard down even for a moment. Luckily the No Fear, No Force technique still works and by going back to the very basics I was able to catch her seven times in the space of an hour. I'm going to have another session with her soon and then be there on the next occasion that the farrier comes. After that we'll be able to get the owners back on to the job.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

13th January, 2013 Rough 'n' Tumble

Today I embarked on the 10 mile Rough 'n' Tumble race with some trepidation. Not only would I be able to do it but would I be injured on the way?

11 o'clock start and already I'm not at the front....can you see me. Don't look 'cos I can't!

Ah, there I am. Loving every minute of it even though there was some really thick and slippery mud and some very steep hills both up and down....

There's a reason why it's called the Rough 'n' Tumble.

Coming through the finish after 2 hours and 3 minutes and I seem to be all in one piece, although just to make sure, I do my stretches leaning on the St. John's Ambulance vehicle.

All that for a (rather beautiful) medal and a large helping of cake. Competitors are not allowed to go until all the cake has gone!

Saturday, January 12, 2013

12th January, 2013 It's only natural

David Attenborough's fantastic programme about Africa highlights yet again how little we really know and understand about the life and motivations of animals. The camera men and women were amazed to see the normally solitary rhinos meeting at night to share the water hole and each other's breath. People were shocked to see the brutal fight between the two giraffes which left one of them unconscious, seemingly dead on the floor, until he rose, gracefully capitulated and moved away.

I think we don't know the half of it with horses either and we seem to be constantly surprised when they want to engage in what is natural horse behaviour. The 'into-pressure' response is innate in horses - if you press them, their instinct is to squash you and they have to be taught to do otherwise. In some horses this is much stronger than others, especially colts - whether through nature or reinforcement - and it can be stronger on one side of the body than the other.

Yesterday I went out to a young horse who reacts by wanting to squash whenever anyone pushes against him even lightly and for him it has been working beautifully - postponing what the owner wants to do, controlling the situation he is in and getting the attention he demands. When pulled to come forward, to stop or to back up, his instinctive reaction is to stand up on his hind legs and waft his feet at people and he means it. Inconvenient behaviour, even dangerous behaviour but all completely natural and instinctive. He doesn't even think before he does it.

His natural behaviour has been reinforced because it works and because it has created a cycle of more pressure and therefore a greater reaction. In time it has escalated more and more. The thin Parelli halter that he wears hasn't helped in these circumstances because it has added a greater degree of discomfort at the poll which activates that upward into-pressure response.

I had to be pretty cautious about where I began, and I certainly wasn't going to go straight for the main goal of leading him past his lady friend and down to the stables. The most incremental step I could think of was to work him in his own field, where his own field mate was happy to leave us alone, and then to ask very small questions in the most subtle way that I could. At first he would rear if I even put the tiniest pressure on the halter or even looked at his bottom to ask him to turn his hindquarters away. I answered that by staying well away from his body so that he couldn't strike me or come at me with his left shoulder - this is the biggest advert for a 12' rope that I know of! In this position I used strong body language and swished the rope against my own jacket so that he wouldn't be tempted to come into this no man's land between us and might feel that it was better to have his feet on the floor. Neither the body language or the rope was aimed at him, it was simply keeping that space between us free.  As soon as he was down and committed to staying down, I would go up to him to give him a lovely rub and ask the question lightly again. This worked within three goes and slowly but surely he began to listen, to think and to make a choice between the big behaviour which led to me going ballistic, albeit at a distance, and the small behaviour which led to me giving him the nicest rub he had ever had. It's a wonderful Mark Rashid phrase - "if in doubt, halve the pressure". By showing him that I was going to be utterly fair, utterly polite and yet very clear, I was able to get him to start listening rather than metaphorically shoving his hooves in his ears and singing "La,la,la,la, la!"

The owner took over from me and we were able to extend the work by moving into an area just outside the field where he was nearer to his lady friend but still ask for his attention and co-operation. The owner is going to continue to practice over the next few days to see what the overall result will be.

Domination is a rude word these days and I am told that leadership is simply a euphemism for domination, no matter what a trainer's intention may be. For me leadership is about trying to establish co-operation between a horse and a handler but with the handler making the decisions about where to go and how to get there.

"S was much better last night.  I went back to put his rug on, used the Dually (fitted perfectly) to hold him, and he stood like a little angel, didn't try to bite me, or the rug etc, didn't try to walk off, just stood nice and quietly.  He got a bit too close to K as I was putting hers on, so I just tapped on my jacket a couple of times and he gave up and stood there and watched!  Was very impressed! I feel much happier now that I have some tips for the rearing. I am going to do some work with him tomorrow..." KM

Thursday, January 10, 2013

9th January, 2013 A Different Angle

I worked with this truly lovely mare yesterday who has just become a little bit sticky about loading. The original problem we think was with the travelling itself but her owners have been out and got this roomy trailer and she seems much happier about being in it. The key seemed to be the use of angles to ask her not to plant her feet at the bottom of the ramp and very soon she was going on easily, doubly rewarded by the release of subtle pressure and a clickered treat. She was so clever with her feet - really careful and once she knew we were going to be the same, she was very amenable. With practice, she should be set up for the rest of the year and beyond.

This is really the time of year to start addressing any loading problems so that there is no rush to prepare for the first event. Even more so this year as I am going to be away for most of March and won't be able to work with any horses during that time. With the house and horses being looked after, I shall be in the rainforest of Guyana!

Email received 14.1.13: "Thank you so much for coming up and helping us, it was amazing to watch and learn from you. I already feel more of a bond forming between me and Mia using the ground work techniques you showed me. Mia is good and we've had one practice session in the school last Friday where she walked straight in on the first go!"BS

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

8th January, 2013 The Definition of Gorgeous

Indiana with her new family. I've got a feeling she's going to be getting pink kit! It's one young man against all of those girls...

8th January, 2013 Farrier Day

With the field so waterlogged, I made use of the inclosure with its concrete pad as a smithy this morning.

Guy gets on with Petra's feet, while Olly, his dog builds his own log pile.

Theoden calmly eating hay while he waits for his turn. We had lots of visitors coming to see what we were doing. Indiana and Jack were pleased to see us when we got back.