Thursday, October 31, 2013

31st October, 2013 Praying for Rain?

In the old days, just after Theoden had well and truly bucked me off, I used to pray for rain whenever I was due to ride him. It meant I could justify not riding him and put off the adrenalin rush and anxiety I felt. It wasn't really a case of losing my nerve but of realising its limits. These days it may be Theoden who prays for rain as he is being ridden for 8 to 10 hours every week. We've got a series of regular riders for Petra including Charly and my landlord, Anthony. Anthony isn't quite ready for people to know that an ex-Verderer and a Commoner is riding around the New Forest on a Western Saddle with a woman who is into Equine Rights!

I'm also trying to keep Theoden going out and about with other horses. Today we met up with Theresa and Sally, with their horses Beau (and Sampson in tow) and Anna. We had a great ride all around Ringwood Forest. 

31st October, 2013 Trick or Treat?

Last night it was off to the Monty Roberts demonstration at Crofton Manor. Monty is as popular as ever and the event was sold out. Many people had never seen him before and it's good to know that he is reaching a new audience all the time. I always think that Monty is the Full Monty in that everything he does is done full on. Last night was no exception with five horses making significant progress in their training. The starter, an amazing coloured horse called Jazz, had obviously been well handled by her owner and she worked like a dream accepting long lines, her first saddle and then her first rider without a murmur. She was no slouch either - half Thoroughbred, half Warmblood, she had the capacity to be extremely athletic and if she had said no, it would have been dramatic.

The second horse, a Connemara called Connor, is apparently frightened of his own shadow especially when out hacking. He ended his session being ridden around by Jake with flags aloft, plastic bags all around him and going over a large tarpaulin. Monty emphasised that there was still a lot of work to do and a long way to go but all do-able.

The third horse was an ex-showjumper called Sidney that didn't want to stand still for mounting. As well as solving that problem, this 17 hand agile horse, that had been kept as a stallion for most of his life, was a willing partner for War Veteran Paul who did a very touching Join-Up with him. It was as if Sidney could see into Paul's soul as the two met in the middle and then Sidney tried to follow him out of the pen.

The final two horses were both non-loaders. My starring role was to take Sev into the arena. A task for which I was almost late!

Sev and the other horse, also called Monty, were soon loading although Monty, the horse, was not even keen to go into his stable beforehand. It's easy to describe these horses as stubborn but there has always been a reason for the behaviour to start and labels like this can just set up a battle.

As always it was great to see my friends, colleagues and clients past and present. I was inundated with questions at the break so didn't have chance to say a proper hello to lots of them. So, if you were there and we didn't get the chance to speak, hello!

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

30th October, 2013 What is a Recommended Associate?

A Recommended Associate of Intelligent Horsemanship is someone who is Recommended by founder, Kelly Marks to work with other people's horses. The road to becoming an RA is well travelled but many people complete part of the route but never finally complete it. As holders of the Monty Roberts Preliminary Certificate in Horsemanship they can say that they have completed all of the Intelligent Horsemanship Courses and even been examined in them but this does not make them a Recommended Associate. Recommended Associates have been thoroughly assessed well beyond the examination stage to make sure that they are fit to represent Intelligent Horsemanship as an organisation. 

If your trainer purports to use Intelligent Horsemanship techniques ASK them whether they are actually a Recommended Associate. It is a sad fact that unscrupulous trainers may seek to give the impression that they are an RA when they are not, simply by omitting this critical fact. 

Recommended Associates are taught, examined, experienced, APPROVED, evaluated and insured. 

How does someone become a Recommended Associate?

Stage One - By completing all of the Intelligent Horsemanship Courses namely:
The five day Practical Foundation Course
Horse Psychology
Feeding and Nutrition
The Horse as an Athlete Course
Handling the Young Foal
Stud Practice

Stage Two
Providing video evidence of work completed including Join Up and loading work
Completing an assessed Horse Psychology project
Five day assessment and examination (practical and theory)

At this stage, successful candidates are awarded the Monty Roberts' Preliminary Certificate in Horsemanship 

Potential RAs must then complete two intermediate courses:
Leading and Loading the Less easy Horse
Handling the Untouched Horse

and complete 10 to 15 case studies within a set period of one to three years. These are full assessed and the candidate may be asked to complete further work/ assessments as required. Ultimately, RAs have to represent the ethos and values of the organisation. 

By definition, until someone is formally recommended by Kelly Marks and Intelligent Horsemanship they are NOT a Recommended Associate. 

It's also worth noting that learning never stops and that the more years someone has been an RA, the more experience they will have. Horses are the greatest teachers of all and every single one of them is different. 

Monday, October 28, 2013

28th October, 2013 Tap Dancing

I have stuck my head above the parapet again and complained to Horse and Rider about an article in their November edition on loading. I don't know how it has evolved that people who rely in a scientific framework and justification for their training of horses then reach the conclusion that they can use the most damaging form of negative reinforcement. In the article the horse is trained to come forward whenever he is tapped with a whip. This is used with increasing pressure if he refuses which I think turns the three letter word tap into the three letter word hit. It sickens me that a horse can be hit when he is scared or anxious and therefore forced not to overcome his fear but to override it. More importantly it creates a really dangerous situation.

This is what I have said:

Solving Loading Problems – Blinded by Science?
(Page 62 H & R November 2013)

As a trainer of horses I was absolutely dismayed to read the article on solving loading problems which featured in the latest edition of H and R magazine.

The techniques described put both horse and handler in danger. My own experience is that frightened horses that have been hit, however lightly, to get them to go into a trailer become more dangerous, not less. To be in a confined space with such a horse, or behind it trying to put up a breech bar, is just waiting for an accident to happen.

Most horses with loading issues refuse to load or stay on the trailer due to worry or fear. The way to train them to load calmly is to create positive experiences, not confirm their fears by adding further pain. To advocate tapping with a whip with increasing pressure where needed as a good way to ‘curb you horse’s loading anxiety’ is actually guaranteed to increase that anxiety.

Furthermore, putting sustained pressure on a horse’s bit is liable to make the horse rear, with the handler only a reins’ length away. The writer advises not to let go even if the horse is rearing and admits that this is not a sensible approach for everyone. I would argue it is not a sensible approach for anyone.

I was particularly appalled to read hitting his head was described as the horse self-training not to do it again. This is not true because in fact the horse is more likely to bang his head a second time. It is also dangerous from a physical and mental point of view.

Whilst I accept that your magazine endeavours to represent a wide range of training techniques, I find it extremely worrying that anyone would be encouraged to try out these methods and disheartening that training has apparently gone back to the dark ages.

Yours sincerely,

Sarah Weston

Recommended Associate of Intelligent Horsemanship

Yesterday I went out to a little non-loading pony. She was super but she has never had a good experience of being loaded. As she stood looking at the trailer she kept lifting her back legs up and kicking out. This bizarre behaviour stems from being hit from behind to go in. Bit by bit we got her so that she was loading on and off very calmly with a combination of very gentle pressure and release and clickered treats. Everything was fine until she was approached from behind and felt the intention change. I make a habit of befriending the pony's hindquarters when they are in a trailer in order to persuade them that nothing bad is going to happen at their back end. I give them a lovely rub on the bottom and scratch the dock of their tail. If they accept this I move away again. In T's case as with most, I made sure that I was standing to one side while I did it because there was a real risk that she might kick me. She didn't and we progressed to using a swimming woggle as a pretend back bar so that she could learn that it wasn't going to do her any harm. We ended the session with her standing quietly in the trailer with the front and back bars in place and me talking soothingly to her at one end and her owner clicking and treating at the front. Fantastic progress and trust building from the pony that had apparently only walked backwards at the sight of the trailer during previous attempts to load her.

As for the head hitting, I have now lost count of the number of horses that throw their heads up at the entrance to a trailer as if greeting an old friend. It's a clear sign that they have hit their heads on a previous occasion and it's as if it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. In the article the horse is wearing a bridle, which if it a single jointed snaffle will really hurt if the horse is pulled forwards. 

Well, negative reinforcement has clearly not worked with me because I am not keeping my head down on this one! 

28th October, 2013 Amazoning Handling

These are just a few of the comments on the Amazon feedback page and it seems that my parcel handling skills are not too bad either....

The book is available through Amazon or direct from me at

In a couple of weeks, weather permitting, I will be filmed with Kelly Marks by Horse and Country TV handling a semi-feral New Forest foal called Lark. She is still out on the Forest at the moment with her mother, Mouse, and we just have to hope that the agister can find her in time. Mouse is friendly but I am told that the foal is pretty flighty. The good news is that the agister is going to bring them in gently and Lark will not be abruptly weaned as Mouse is coming in with her. Cross your fingers and hooves that we can find them and that it doesn't rain on filming day. We are also working with a pig phobic horse called Lily. 

Sunday, October 27, 2013

27th October, 2013 We'll Huff and We'll Puff

I have to confess to feeling uneasy when it's really windy like this. The horses are out in the field but the wild pigs have put themselves to bed in my barn! Something not quite right about that....

Saturday, October 26, 2013

26th October, 2013 Spotty Lottie II

Worked with me second Spotty Lottie of the year today - what are the chances of that? Except that this Spotty Lottie was only spotty because she had a measle-y rug! Working with her rider, J, we were looking at the factors that lay behind her setting her neck and how we could counteract that. The behaviour itself stems from instinctive behaviour wanting to go back to the herd reinforced by the fact that it has worked. A change of saddle meant that J was more secure and could then offer more clarity about where she wanted her pony to go. We used techniques that have been useful to me with Theoden, including taking my hand to a fixed point to ask for a turn, asking Lottie always to end on soft, counting the rhythm of a pace and then speeding it up and slowing it down, and doing a body audit to spot any tension. In this I act as a 'trailer' for the Amanda Barton 'film' and I am only too happy when my clients graduate to lessons with her.

Friday, October 25, 2013

25th October, 2013 Lateral Thinking

We took our maiden voyage today with Theoden leading out his little concubine, Indiana. Things got a little interesting when she tried to bite him and wanted to eat the bracken but on the whole she's got it. Our lesson on lateral work with Amanda Barton yesterday is already paying dividends with Theoden offering to move North West to make more room for her. Thinking of all the directions you can go in with a horse as being points on a compass is a really useful analogy. We're all in search of our True North.

25th October, 2013 Show of Force

 The police were out on the B3078 this morning highlighting the number of animal accidents on the Forest this year. They are obliged to wear hi-viz so I doubt anyone was actually caught for speeding unless they were also driving with their eyes closed. There were also big signs in each direction. However, by 2 p.m. they had gone, taking their signs with them. Shame really because most of the accidents happen in the evening....

Thursday, October 24, 2013

24th October, 2013 Clipped Tones

So, a grand total of about half an hour's preparation over the last few days ensured that Theoden stood quietly to be clipped for the very first time. In fact he seemed to enjoy it. So what is it that makes clipping such an unpleasant experience for so many horses and leads to them being restrained, twitched and sedated over and over again. Could it be the attitude of mind with which they are seemingly engaged in battle, a determination to get the whole body done in one go,  clippers that are running too hot or aren't sharp enough or just lack of any preparation?  Theoden is generally quick enough to say if he doesn't like something or thinks that he hasn't been asked nicely.

It was great to be working with Sheila Reed again, not only an expert clipper but an IHRA in her own right working from her farm base near Cheltenham. She also runs regular Horse Agility competitions and practices craniosacral therapy on horses.

Petra also stood beautifully to be clipped for what was only the second clip of her life. I have explained to Charly that a go-faster stripe does not mean that he can go any faster.

Sheila brought this charming little dog with her who sat like an angel while we worked. We then took her for a well deserved walk around our favourite inclosure and reminisced about all the ponies we have worked with in there.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

23rd October, 2013 Absolutely Buzzing

One of the best and cheapest bit of kit I have in my car is a little massager that I bought at a garage. Just £3.99 it has prepared many horses for clipping. Yesterday I started work with Theoden who is due to have a light clip tomorrow. I used clickered treats to reward him for approaching and touching the massager which vibrates and then allowing it to touch him while he was loose and out in the open. When I called him today he came up the field trotting and then allowed me to touch him anywhere I liked with the massager switched on.

Earlier in the day I did some similar work with Zack. He was quite suspicious of the massager at first but eventually allowed me to touch him on the cheek and under the jaw. Again he was loose, first of all in the stable and then out in the school. It's lovely when a horse has complete choice over whether he joins in with a session and chooses to do so.

We ended the session by asking Zack to move sideways from the ground. This lateral work is really useful for teaching a horse to be less into-pressure and also helps them to build up their pectoral muscles. Zack caught on very quickly and was soon moving sideways along a pole.

Just time to go out for a ride on Lorraine's son's pony, Paddy. He's a lovely fellow and a really nice ride.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

22nd October, 2013 Horse Scene

I've written an article about weaning foals for Horse Scene magazine. This is a good quality FREE magazine available at saddlery shops. This month's edition should be available very soon.

22nd October, 2013 So What?

Our foray into having a night life reached the pinnacle of Solsbury Hill last night. I have been Peter Gabriel's greatest fan for more than half my life.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

20th October, 2013 Money for New Rope

If you haven't a good belly laugh for a while, go and see these guys. Take your incontinence pads and tissues! Sold out at the Bramshaw Village Hall last night and everyone in stitches. I won't tell you the plot - they've lost it!!


"If the Queen could Knight them each or something, it would be a good idea" Tim O'Brien

Saturday, October 19, 2013

19th October, 2013 Sweet and Sour

Some fabulous work this morning from Coco who is now happily trotting on the long lines and just needs to find a softer halt. I was particularly pleased that his owner was able to take over from me.

"Really enjoyed the lesson today and so pleased with Coco's progress." CT

This afternoon's pony, Mimer, is an Irish Gypsy type cob who was weaned from his mother when he was just two months old. With hindsight this was not ideal but his new owner wants to do everything she can to make sure there are no long lasting effects. Many foals that are weaned before they have really learned all they can from their mothers and then may not have been socialised with other horses can become aggressive. Mimer certainly has a grumpy side but with some consistent and understandable ground rules he seemed much happier, leading nicely on a relaxed line without biting and fretting. It was great to see him switch from having his ears back a lot of the time to having them forward most of the time. In particular we worked on taking away all of the things that make him want to bite - confusion, being held too tight, playing with his nose and over-vigorous rubbing. With more freedom and a deeper slower touch as a reward he was soon looking to find those things.

"Thank you so much for yesterday and for the info.You have given me plenty to get on with and think about which is exactly what I needed. I found the short time we spent together very insightful and look forward to meeting with you again." BB

19th October, 2013 How Accomodating

Just organising my accommodation for the West Country Equine Fair and thought that I would be forced to spend the night in the awful Travelodge beside the M5. I contacted a local farm B and B on the off chance that they might just have a room available, thinking that it would be a long shot. Bear in mind that my emails all go off with details of this blog in the signature and this is the reply that I got!

"Thank you very much for your enquiry – and for encouraging me to sit here ‘wasting’ time, have just had a look at your lovely website – absolutely delicious, it’s not often I have the luxury of ‘time wasting’, but, oh, what a treat to read your blogs and look at the lovely photos! Yes, I do have a room available....." 

Morning Christine! Get on with some work.....!

Friday, October 18, 2013

18th October, 2013 Gone Adrift

I spotted the girls just in time to divert them from the drift this morning. This was one of the last drifts of the season but as the trailers clattered up the road and people gathered at the drift pens, the wild ponies could sense something in the atmosphere and were starting to swirl and mill about. Blue was not all that impressed about being brought in since she has been nannying someone else's yearling filly and of course she has nothing to fear from the drift itself - one quick haircut and she would have been out again. Still, I'd prefer her not to be chased about for no reason.

It seemed prudent to stay in with the riding horses as well so we set up a short course for them to negotiate with Indiana and Nettles in tow. Charly has a harder job on his hands than me as Petra and Nettles would quite like to kick each other or run away from one another and it must be like working with two rotating magnets.

Afterwards we both succumbed to the temptation to have a little sit on Nettles who feels very comfortable and relaxed. 

18th October, 2013 Queenie-O, Queenie-O

Yesterday's excursion took me to see Queenie, yet another lovely polite and responsive Irish horse that up until she had to go on box rest had not put a foot wrong. As with many horses, a prolonged period of box rest (in this case three months) seems to have affected her confidence - it makes you wonder if they become institutionalised, agoraphobic or just fully paid up members of the flat earth society when they can't exercise their to need to migrate. We just went back to the very basics, asking her to walk right by her owner's side, her head at her owner's shoulder and not in front and not behind. We then asked her to mirror movement and straight away she was happy to reflect posture and speed and was only too happy to have someone slightly more in charge.

A real into-pressure response showing that Queenie has not been taught how to move her front end away when asked. Look at the angle of lean! Marc Marquez would be pleased with that!
We realised that she was more jumpy about noise than she had been before her injury particularly breaking twigs. It is unfortunate that electric fencing can reinforce this fear too. We took her out into her local woods for a walk and at first just stood breaking twigs next to her and then walked alongside doing the same. In time both she (and her owner!) stopped jumping every time a twig cracked.

Looking very relaxed.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

17th October, 2013 One False Move

The three coloured ponies that have been out on the Forest for some time now are pretty settled these days. Nevertheless, it would only take one pulled face from one of them to send another into the road and into the path of a car. Sadly there have been 70 animal casualties across the Forest so far this year. The drivers are on target to kill 100 just as they have done every year for years.....

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

16th October, 2013 Bingo Wings!

Off to the Little Chef, Podimore today (I know how to live) to meet up with another trio of IHRAs, Rosie, Bronwen and Jenny as well as Sarah and Kim from HorseWorld in order to plan our two demonstrations and the stand for the West Country Equine Fair which is due to take place on 7th and 8th December, 2013. Our demos take place at 9.30 a.m. and 1.30 p.m. on the Sunday. As commentator I quipped that I don't feel so comfortable without a pony under my arm and so HorseWorld are smuggling in Bingo the Shetland Pony to keep me company. He'll also be a good lead horse for HorseWorld celebrity horses Cuthbert and Dart with whom we will be demonstrating desensitisation, long reining and ridden techniques. Our stand, which will be in the Shopping Annexe, will feature the work of HorseWorld and Intelligent Horsemanship and our joint enterprise with hands on Horsemanship Courses. Come and see us. We'll give you a sweetie!

Having not had our hands on a horse for at least two hours, we all then went across the road to look round the World HorseWelfare yard at Somerton. I went here years ago when it was a racehorse yard and I was envious of it's pristine fields and immaculate fencing. They have 70 odd rescued horses at the centre now. WHW and HW (so many initials) often work together on mass rescues which sadly are needed all to often at the moment.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

15th October, 2013 Lab Report and Cat Scan

Bearing in mind Sampson's age and his need to be kept interested, we began working on the long lines in the field today but made sure there were obstacles to keep him occupied. Going over, through and round them only three times it was then out on to the tracks to give him his regular quota of migration which he seems to absolutely love.

We met up with a son of Wayland Cranberry and had a nice sociable chat before moving on again. Sampson shows little ambivalence about going on alone. Later Theresa started to built in changes of pace into trot and back again. This certainly put a spring in both of their steps. Up went Sampson's tail like a banner in the wind.

And here is a close-up of Theresa's feet so that you can see that she is actually floating!

Sunday, October 13, 2013

13th October, 2013 Show Some Emotion

Show some emotion
Put expression in your eyes
Light up when you're feeling happy
But when you're sad let the tears roll down

(Joan Armatrading)

It's amazing to think that people used to think that animals had no feelings. Indeed in some cultures and religions, that is still a wildly held view. As someone who spends far to much time with horses I know that they are in fact just a complete bundle of emotions and that those emotions wrap around each other to give the horse his strength and power; they keep him safe and ensure his survival most of the time. They work together to give him ultimate flexibility when it comes to fright, flight and fight.

When a horse is motivated by his emotions, his capacity for acting and reacting is unhindered by the need to think; he is a completely prey animal. This isn't always convenient for the humans working with him. We have three main options for dealing with those emotions - calm them down, shut them down or contain them. I'm finding a combination of clickered and non-clickered positive rewards, gentle negative reinforcement along with real logic (from the horse's point of view) works very well. I don't want to be adding more and more gadgets and simply coping with a horse's behaviour, even if in time he learns that he is okay, and I certainly don't want to run a horse around in a mindless way that doesn't make sense to him or me in order to take the energy out of him and teach him to go onto automatic pilot. 

The pictures below are of Coco (see last week's session) accepting the long reins and starting to work calmly. By good fortune he put his head down to eat as I put the second rein over his bottom and rather than prompting him to go forwards I took this marvellous opportunity to show him that the reins, without more, mean nothing. This week there were no explosive moments, although he did kick out at the reins from time to time. I'm really pleased that I have now connected with the thinking of his brain and, instead of anticipating what I want him to do, he is now walking off steadily and listening in for further instructions.

We had a field guest and a house guest last night. George and his owner, Dominic, were due to take part in the Rufus Ride (Endurance) today and needed somewhere nearby to stay. George's arrival coincided with that of the the room service team and although he is not a townie, George was agog. Fortunately he settled down with Nettles while we took Dominic home for supper.

And here's a picture of Dominic and George in full flow during the EGB Rufus Ride, riding as if William the Conqueror were after them.....