Thursday, February 28, 2013

28th February, 2013 Working and worming

This last couple of days we have been taking Jessica somewhere new. The first time we took her, her respiration rate and adrenalin went way up again but today she was much calmer and seems to have realised that the world is a bigger place than she ever knew. Although she was born on the Forest, she has been nowhere since she was weaned as a foal. I think she had become a paid up member of the flat earth society and we have to do what we can to increase the size of her internal map. Here she's being ridden on the Open Forest and just down from the road.

Back at the fields it was worming time and I don't suppose she thought this was much a reward for her efforts - especially as it made her feed taste funny afterwards. Jessica is on a Worm Count programme for much of the year but has to have an annual treatment for tapeworm (something that a worm count will not pick up).

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

27th February, 2013 Making a Scene

Pages 16 to 18 my article on loading myths.

27th February, 2013 Call the Horse Trainer

I had the bright idea of cycling around my appointments today. That's eight miles up to Fritham where I worked with Jessica and then eleven to Somerley where I worked with Sampson before returning home. 29 miles in total. Not quite the same size as the Manor of Poplar! Jack tried to help me with my lunch and loves blueberries.

Our home phone is down and I usually have my mobile telephone on silent just in case it rings or vibrates at an inopportune moment while we are working with a young horse. The best way to contact me over the next week is by email. After that we will be incommunicado while we are away although we have someone staying at the house (only any use if the home phone is up and running). I have appointments available from the beginning of April.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

26th February, 2013 Oceans of Potions

Lucky girl Jessica had a visit from Caroline today to work with some essential oils and herbs to see if there were any that she would choose. She didn't show much interest or reaction at first but then took a real liking to rose absolute, dandelion root and yarrow. She yawned her little head off and then fell asleep on her feet.

Monday, February 25, 2013

25th February, 2013 Gadgetry

A new working week for Jessica and today she and Charly have been for a circuit of the woods on their own and consolidating their trot work. The aim is progress without drama all of the time.

We pride ourselves on not working with gadgets such as flash nosebands and draw reins but one should never say never. Jessica has a great habit of dropping her head straight to the floor to crop the marsh grass which leaves Charly feeling as if he is on a cliff edge looking down. To counter this I have fitted extremely loose side reins which attach to the Dually - far from a device to force her into an outline. She has transitioned to the bit really easily too. 

I made Charly walk home so that I could ride Jessica back to the fields.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

24th February, 2013 Running all over the place

Woke up and dashed up to the farm this morning having remembered that I had not shut the gate into the barn where I had put down some wood pellets yesterday. I had visions of Jack helping himself to them before starting on the full bags in the corner. Fortunately all was well with him...and the ten fallow deer all helping themselves to my grass (what grass?!)

On the way back I was reminded, if I needed to be, that I was running the 10k Heartbreaker Race at 10.30 a.m. Both Hilary and I got round in about an hour - not bad considering that it is uphill and cross-country much of the way.

Later we did more work with Benji. Plaques in his ear mean that he can be extremely ear-shy so I showed Hilary how she can go about seducing his ears using massage techniques. Like many horses he really liked having his ears rotated clockwise and anti-clockwise once he trusted me to hold them rather than poke at them.

Out on the Forest he investigated a scary log and spent some time pollarding the holly tree above it. He then had his first trot off the lead rein.

"Thank you so much for the last 4 days. Despite the cold I  have enjoyed myself so much and I'm sure Ginger and Benji have too. I've learned such a lot by seeing you work with Jessica, Coco, Rose and Brandee, and Benji has made the big progress that occurs each time you work with him." HP

and 25.2.13: "Benji enjoyed some ear work tonight- so relaxed his nose nearly touched the floor!!"

and 3.3.13 "Both ponies were weighed last Wednesday as there was a BHS meeting which included a visiting weigh bridge. I was really pleased for 2 reasons, first they both walked on and stood without question- I'm sure doing your bridge and see saw will have helped. Even better though was when the yard manager told all the BHS people what Benji was like when he first arrived and how they couldn't do anything with him. This was totally unprompted as I had said nothing about him and they seemed suitably impressed."

Saturday, February 23, 2013

23rd February, 2013 Softness is a thing called Comfort

Benji went off the lead rein today and pootled off on his own (well, actually Hilary went with him). Hilary and I talked about the GENTLE one rein stop that can come in so handy if a pony can't find his halt. Instead of pulling on both reins, which can result in an into-pressure response and not being able to stop at all, gently turning the pony with your hand supported on your thigh helps him to find his stop as he walks any excess energy off and realises that he is going nowhere. This is not the same as using an emergency one rein stop which can cause the horse a lot of pain in his neck. There is nothing sharp or abrupt about it. Hilary practised this and within three goes his halt was established.

Next it was time to take Jessica out and today we were short-reining. Hilary had the chance to work with her before I made the transition of her reins from the Dually to the bit. I'd switched from the little Neue Schule bit into a Myler Low Port Comfort Snaffle (4 1/2") with which she seemed much more comfortable and now it was time to ask her to engage with the bit for the first time. This is done very gently - asking her to lower her head and relax her jaw when she feels a little pressure on the bit. Jessica reacted very well and was soon offering a little head drop every time she felt the bit. I then short-reined her home off the bit.

23rd February, 2013 Two-Nil

As the weather turns foggy in the mornings, the ponies are grave risk of being run over on the Forest roads, especially as the Highways Agency have to put salt down every time it threatens to be icy. Over a period of just two days there have been two ponies killed or destroyed as a result of people running in to them. They are a sorry sight,  lying silently by the side of the road, with an "Agister Aware" sign tied to their bodies, surrounded by bit of the cars that have hit them. I also pity the poor agister who has to go out to these wreckage sights, often to shoot the pony to put it out of its misery.

23rd February, 2013 Sharper than a Sharp Thing

Some blogs, usually the controversial ones, take longer to come to the boil than others while I think whether I should say anything.

There are very few people who can cope with a sharp horse, either on the ground or when ridden, so why would you want to make a horse sharp? Responsive yes, sharp no. Responsive requires the horse to think and then react appropriately in a way that he has been taught whereas sharp just means that the horse reacts like a horse, like a prey animal - flight first and maybe think later.

Horses become sharp when they are confused about what they are being asked to do or frightened of the consequences of not doing anything. Take for example the practice of insisting that a horse always faces you - this is very common in many so-called natural horsemanship training systems. Unlike IH, where standing quietly with the handler is always reserved as a comfortable place, these systems use an alien cue such as rope swinging to make the horse move and turn. If the horse doesn't understand the cue then the end of the rope (which stings) is used first to touch the skin, then the muscle and then the bone, to hit the horse until he works out that he needs to move away. Often it takes the horse a long time to work this out, especially as he has a natural automatic, instinctive, non-thinking into-pressure reaction which means he absorbs the pressure and the pain because his body wants to move into it. Once he does get it - usually after he has offered all sorts of other behaviours in his repertoire - he learns to move away and move away quick.

Why would you want this other than to dominate? Why would you want a horse to always face you anyway? Some horses will go through and out of the other side of this training and learn to face without much angst, more with resignation. Others just become sharp and worried.

Add all of this to a horse that is already naturally sharp and it can be a dangerous combination - leading to behaviour like bolting. In Jessica's case, where she has had a little of this type of training in the past, it means that if you get at the wrong angle to her she panics and canters around you with her back legs so that she can get out of the way of the anticipated sting. Fortunately we have found an off button which is just a flat hand pushing against her haunch which once again activates a natural (and this time very much wanted) into-pressure response and gets her to stand still and come back down to earth. As a result she now stands still for tacking up and to be mounted. She's also more willing and able to give things a go now and you can see the cogs going round as she works out how to tackle something new. IH created the peacefulness and clicker created the imagination.

Friday, February 22, 2013

22nd February, 2013 The Day of a Thousand Layers

Pony Club started today with a bit of fitness with the Running Club at Downton. Four miles including some fast sprints around the Moot Gardens. The members of the Running Club are all so pleasant, and Tim the Manager of the Centre, as well as the Club itself, is such a pleasant young man. The sort that makes you wish you were younger!!

Next it was off to Brandee to catch her and prepare her for a visit from the new farrier, Luke Blomfield, another very pleasant young man. Unfortunately Marilyn's old farrier has let her down on three occasions and earned himself the boot. It is always a worry whether another farrier would have the degree of sympathy and skill needed to trim a pony like Brandee who is absolutely terrified of having her feet done. I'd definitely recommend Luke who is based in Sway.

Back at the fields it was time to take Benji our for another ride. Since he left the Forest as a wild three year old he has lived full time at a riding stables and he seems to be enjoying being back in his natural environment. On the way back we met my roan pony, Blue, whose real name is Perky(!). It looked like when Pinky met Perky.

 Next we did a bit of Horse Agility with Jessica and then Benji and Ginger. This is where Benji's noisier, more colourful environment has really helped, habituating him to all kinds of new and novel items whereas Jessica is new to it all. Nevertheless she is making tremendous progress, getting braver all the time and now always willing to give things a try.

Benji is like an old hand at all of this even though he is only four.

Ginger, Hilary's other pony is only six and an absolute star. She is a working livery at the riding school and does lessons, jumping, Pony Club, horse-ball, Lead-Change, as well as being a super riding horse for Hilary.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

21st February, 2013 Not to be Sniffed At

We've known since the outset that Jessica is a sensitive pony and that she is particularly affected by noise; she has lived a very sheltered existence at home.Today Charly gave a little sniff while he was riding her and this was enough to set her alarm bells ringing. She contained herself very well but it did mean that we spend the rest of the ride sniffing at her to desensitise her. We'll have to do  quite a bit of work on this over the coming couple of weeks before she goes home.

21st February, 2013 Soup Kitchen

Some interesting extra guests at the pony Soup Kitchen this morning...

When I dropped off Hilary's two ponies, I came back to find squators in the back of the trailer helping themselves to feed and hay.

Hilary, Charly and I are having a very scruffy alternative to Pony Club Camp (my old D.C. would have kittens if she could see just how scruffy!) and started off with a long hack out from which we returned unable to move out fingers and toes because we had all frozen solidly to our saddles.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

20th February, 2013 T-rot!

Jessica had her first trot under saddle today. She literally took it in her stride and seemed to enjoy it. Instead of stopping as soon as she got to me, she continued on past and Charly said she felt as if she would have gone on for ever. He says her trot is lovely. I also got on her today and the most remarkable thing is how small she is, there's very little neck in front of you!

 Later it was off to do more work with Sampson. He went into the trailer with the partition in and we were able to put all the bars in place without any reaction at all. He's a laid back soul when he's confident about what he is doing.