Wednesday, December 31, 2014

31st December, 2014 Goodbyes

Soon be time to say goodbye to 2014 and a poignant goodbye to friend Jan this morning at a Celebration of her life. She arrived in style in a flower bedecked whicker coffin in a VW Camper Van having been taken up to her horses first thing. The service itself was lovely. I met Jan very early on as an IHRA when she asked me to help to train her new young horse to pick up his back feet. With the aid of a feather duster we got this all established pretty quickly. Later she came with me to a farm where we were running courses with zebra and zedonks.

On the back of the order of service it quoted R.B. Cunningham Graham...
"God forbid that I should go to any heaven in which there are no horses."

Just a few weeks before Christmas two of the most iconic ponies on the New Forest were quietly put to sleep on their home ground. I had know and befriended them 13 years ago when I moved to Woodgreen and I shall miss their golden presence. I hope Jan will look after them for us.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

30th December, 2014 Complete Agreement

Time to take Roger Red and his owner out on the Forest this morning. He's another pony where we are dealing with napping issues when he is being ridden out on his own. We had done some work in the school before so that I could set S up with some useful techniques and could therefore be outside his zone of influence once we were out - otherwise we could think the problem was solved when in fact all he was doing was following me. These pictures were taken at quite a distance.

"Wow. Great breakthrough. No problem at mounting block, then on Forest where I got him to go where I wanted with initial twists and turns and nut clicks. Thanks a billion" SH 1.1.15
"Roger good riding again today. We rode up the road a bit and also at gorse bushes. And a dream to mount again." SH 2.1.15
The key with a pony that naps is not to try to force him forwards in a straight line - he is well practised at resisting that and will just stand still and take whatever pressure of leg is used. In his mind there is a brick wall in front of him and he cannot go forward. More gung-ho riders might try hitting him with a stick and although this can work, it's only any good if you can live with and ride through the consequences - a horse that might react not by going forward but by going up or bucking.

Instead S identified a target which she could aim at - a gorse bush, a tree or a telegraph pole not very far away - and worked on moving Roger's feet to the left and right by taking her rein to her thigh and holding it there until he moved. This freed up his front feet and started to get him on the move towards the chosen target. Once the target was reached he was rewarded with a clickered halt.

Dealing with napping behaviour can be hard work and emotional too. In general horses start to nap when they lose confidence, encounter pain or just don't want to go out on their own - and of couse it is completely instinctive for them to not want to go out alone. They start to develop strategies for avoiding going forwards and these can escalate the more they are pushed. Their reactions can then engender fear or irritation in the rider and those emotions, that change in energy, serves to reinforce everything the horse believes about going out alone. In a sense both the horse and the rider are then in complete agreement at least internally even if the rider still wants to go out and about. The horse's awkwardness starts to erode the rider's confidence and puts a psychological barrier in the way of going out for a ride. Often the rider will find reasons not to go (and I am not criticising them! You will know that I decided I was not going to have this debate with Theoden and settled for riding him with other horses).

When all of this is in place, and the horse has been practising and perfecting its strategies for sometime, both the rider and the horse become embroiled in the behaviour itself and the initial reasons for the horse not wanting to go out may have disappeared and been replaced by all of this stuff instead. Going riding just feels like a battle.

The only way for someone who is not gung-ho to work on this is to have fairly low expectations and to do everything incrementally, perhaps using the techniques I have described above. Short circular rides, leading on the way out if necessary and then riding home, can all help to begin with as can going out and about on the lead rein or long lines. Meanwhile going out riding with other horses can provide a respite.

Part of Kestrel's early training has been to get him going out and about independently with people either at his head, at his side, or behind. Today we met up with his owner Yvonne and I was able to enjoy watching her work with him.

Monday, December 29, 2014

29th December, 2014 Breaking the Ice

What a bay day. We were greeted by these two Forest mares as we arrived at the fields. Tracey and Julie went out on Theoden and Petra with Bella in tow.

When they got back they backed Bella and she was ridden around the round pen for the first time. Bella is rising four in the New Year and ready to start some basic ridden work.

Nettles has had a couple of months off while his teeth sorted themselves out. We're just waiting for one wolf tooth to settle down and so he was ridden in the Dually rather than the bitted bridle. We took the precaution of treating him as a starter so that we can make sure we haven't missed anything out.

This afternoon's bay horse, Kitty, has only recently moved to the Forest and has some misgivings about the wild animals living there. We started with some groundwork out on the Forest, meeting up with some donkeys and also asking her to walk through mud and water. I had to break the ice on it first.

Next we tacked her up and her owner rode her out on to the Forest so that we could work on the same issues under saddle.

Tip of the day, if your horse won't go forwards and plants their feet move them to the left and right with the reins rather than pushing them forwards in a straight line.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

27th December, 2014 Right Hand People

It's great to be able to involve Tracey in more and more of the practical side of my job and she's certainly an excellent right hand woman.

Kestrel was an angel today and is much less jumpy than he used to be. I always allow horses to stop and look if they feel the need to and then they can move on with curiosity rather than fear. Today he thought there might be a crocodile in the water and a buffalo on the horizon.

Trotting off home. He's not worried about people running up behind him.

Then it was time for some more thoughts about left hand, right hand. Manoeuvring a horse in a rear facing vehicle isn't always easy if you are used to doing everything with your right hand and leading your horse from his left side. Today we worked on loading Lenki from his right, turning to face his rear and then backing him up with the right hand in order to close the partition with the left. Confused yet? It's worth analysing a routine like this.

Friday, December 26, 2014

26th December, 2014 Wagons Roll

Don't worry, we are not using child labour next year. No, it's worse than that! This lovely new gadget goes on the back of Barbara's mobility scooter so that she can take an active role in poo-picking. It even has a tipper.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

24th December, 2014 The Night Before Christmas...

...and the Forest girls are still not coming home for hay. They've earned their keep this year as conservation ponies with a payment coming in from the Verderers' Grazing Scheme which should about cover their Marking Fees, worming, and feed, but not their foot trimming and teeth rasping. It's been a good year for all of the ponies in terms of weather and grass.

Monday, December 22, 2014

22nd December, 2014 Merry Christmas

I'd like to wish all my friends, clients and blog readers, equine and otherwise, a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

I am back at work on Saturday 27th December with two of our favourites and then all through the following week including a day at The London New Year's Day Parade. Watch this space!

22nd December, 2014 Mixed Messages

I read recently that it was hard to spot New Forest ponies amongst all the Shetlands and Coloured Cobs out on the Forest. I have to say that person probably wasn't looking very hard because there are plenty of New Forest ponies about. It's a good thing that there are less foals but there are plenty of mares. I did wonder if it was because of how bright and obvious the cobs are at Telegraph Hill. This little group have been out for two or three years now and, far from being dumped, are owned by a Commoner who makes sure that they all have their neck collars on. They've adapted well to life on the Forest and know how to huddle up behind a gorse bush on a windy day.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

20th December, 2014 Deck the Halls with Bows of Ollie

Preparing for a lesson with R and her pony, Ollie, this morning. We familiarised Ollie with all of the obstacles on foot before she climbed on board and then used them for target practice!

Ollie wasn't too sure about the tinsel so I spent a little time getting him used to it before decorating him ready for Christmas.

R and I talked about how she can ask Ollie to do his best active walk and how to steer him around the corners.

Calling out an obstacles and a pace by which to get there helps to get riders to focus on where they want to go and how they want to get there rather than thinking about boring concepts like right and left.

After that we took Dylan out for his first walk outside the premises since he arrived with Dawn. He was excellent with all of the Panic Saturday traffic.

He was happy to walk by our sides and to leave all of the other horses behind although he did quite take to this donkey until it tried to kiss him.

Back through the woods and past the pathworks on the way home again. A motorbike has just gone by and Dylan was completely unfazed.

The hope is that in the future Dawn will be able to ride out with R on Ollie.

"A great session again I think! I was really pleased we had the chance to take Dylan out because it was something that I'd been wanting to do for a couple of weeks. He behaved as I thought (or hoped!) he would, but it was good to have you there for reassurance.
Ruby's lesson was great - so many things that are obvious when you know how! You've given us lots of ideas for obstacles etc, which will hopefully improve her steering, and also help with her processing skills." DB

Friday, December 19, 2014

19th December, 2014 Precious Cargo

A sequence of photos that we wondered if we would ever see but today Lenki went for his first journey in his owner's new horsebox. Although he wasn't completely calm, he travelled well and balanced himself beautifully - Rosy drove like an angel. She learned to drive in California during a fuel shortage and so is accustomed to driving for economy. The rules seem to apply here too as there were no sudden changes in speed, she drove steadily around roundabouts and anticipated stopping at all give way signs. Hopefully in this way we will continue to reassure Lenki that he is in safe hands.

"Oh Sarah- I am so thrilled with today.  We could not be doing this without you- thank you...x" RMcV 

Kestrel had a Christmas themed walk today going out short-reining in tinsel and jingle bells.

Our sessions with him wouldn't be complete without trying out a few things on Ollie too.

Tracey and I were treated to a posh box of chocolates each and my note said:
"To Aunty Sarah. Thanks for opening the world to me - Happy Christmas, Love Kestrel"