Monday, November 30, 2015

30th November, 2015 Blowing a Muley

The Godshill mule was sheltering behind the cricket pavilion this morning trying not to lose her ears in the gale. I am having an unofficial week off with only two more days to go before I set off for Prague and the BARTA Animal Rescue Conference.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

29th November, 2015 Dis-ease

A recent Facebook post by an acclaimed horse trainer in Australia, suggested that as humans we tend to chase symptoms when it comes to our horses, rather than looking for the underlying cause. He gave a number of examples, including a horse baulking at being loaded when in fact it does not lead well and said:
“If our horse shies a lot on the trail, we try to desensitize it to different objects and situations because we think the shying is the result of fear of different objects. We don’t always see a lack of focus as the cause of the shying. We practice desensitization and ignore the poor focus.”
I have a great deal of admiration for this trainer and agree with him on most things. I think what has happened is that the word “desensitisation”, a scientific sounding word, has become a crude label or shorthand for a training technique which should be so much more than that. Desensitisation involves both the human and the horse and is not about just asking the horse to become inured to something he doesn’t like. It should be a conversation between horse and handler about how they are going to approach things that might worry the horse.

As a trainer I have to work with the handler/rider and the horse. I like to work very gradually and incrementally, not only to show the horse that there is nothing to be afraid of but that he can be rely on his owner to help him. Only then can he relax, trust, and abandon his prey instincts. The handler/rider learns how to keep their adrenalin low by critical things like breathing and not going with the horse’s emotions; keeping their voice low and slow or saying nothing at all.
Both the human and the horse learn to generalise this training, so that they can both predict what each other will do when faced with a new and novel item. In this way we can address both the symptoms and the underlying dis-ease.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

28th November, 2015 Putting Our Feet Down

In none of the following pictures do you get a real idea of the potential for things to go wrong. Both Stewie (top) and Tia (bottom) had the potential to be dangerous if things weren't handled carefully. Stewie, normally a generous and amenable pony, has an aversion to being clipped and rears, strikes out, and kicks out at the clippers and the person holding them. Tia is a young and lively Warmblood, currently on box rest following a serious injury to her shoulder. Effectively 'plugged in to the mains' every day, little wonder that she has an excess of acrobatic energy every time she is walked out. In both cases we much preferred each horse to keep their feet on the floor!

Stewie showed us just how tuned in to the noise from clippers - here I am actually using a massager which emits a very low but similar noise. His owner, Kate, has used clicker training with him before so I thought I would connect the sound of the massager being turned on with the reward of a click and a treat.

It didn't take Figgy the dog long to realise that there might be food available.

You may just about be able to see the slight pull down of Stewie's lower eyelid - a sign that he might be prepared to confront the thing worrying him.

However, with a predictable pattern of clicking and rewarding, he began to accept the massager on his neck, at first switched off and soon switched on.

It's important to be careful going over more bony areas such as the shoulder but soon I had negotiated my way along to his back...

...and then his bottom.

The next step was to develop a way that we could change the sensation of the clippers when we eventually use them. This requires two people, one rubbing the neck with a deep flat touch just in front of the clippers (massager at this stage)

To finish, and on both sides, I began to make clipping motions along his coat in the opposite direction to the lay of the hair. This seemed to be a good note on which to end. Not one rear, strike out or kick.

All credit for this calm little scene to Imy, who at 15 has so much horse sense. On her left hand side there are two lively mares and their foals, and on the left an Arabian stallion. Occasionally Tia does explode with energy but she keeps her feet well away from Imy who uses clear body language to make sure that she does so. However, most of the time she contains herself as best as she can, and is definitely 'with' Imy. Imy introduced clicker training herself in order to keep Tia's attention and it is working really well. I couldn't improve upon this and could only reassure Imy that she is doing a thoroughly great job. I cannot complain about the use of a bridle for leading and schooling in this situation - if needs must, they must - but as soon as Imy felt she was safe enough she has the option of switching to a Dually.

28th November, 2015 Home Thoughts From Abroad

Henrietta seems to have elicited a very positive response from everyone who has met her, and everyone who has heard about her. At the Isle of Wight talk she created more interest than the horses. When I put a picture of her in Facebook she typically gets 200 likes whereas a horse, or even poor old David, only get 10 or 20! I have also been sent pictures of everyone else's mule. Above is Ducan, a two year old PRE cross donkey from Andalucia.

And a neighbouring mule that apparently escapes and goes visiting.

Meanwhile, back at home, I received this email from Carla about her three Dartmoor Hill ponies that Tracey and I went to see a little while ago:
"I had to share with you as I know you will appreciate how big a deal this is for her. She was very proud of herself. I have been bringing them into the yard to play with them and she has been on the edge of going in for a few weeks. Fern & Scruff run in and out all the time in the yard (and are super comfortable going in and out of the field shelter). We have been just letting Mama wander around and she wandered into the stable. She is so cute took her ages to go in and then she kept going in and out (if horses could pinch themselves I am sure she would have done)." CD

Friday, November 27, 2015

27th November, 2015 Sky News

We were waved off this morning by this charming filly who'd obviously heard that the best hay had been delivered. I explained that Christmas hadn't come quite yet and she's have to wait for Nelly and Blue to come home to be guaranteed any spare food.

It was good to have my partner-in-crime, Tracey, back this morning as she has been caring for sick friends and relatives. Not only is she my best friend but she's also the Car Curator, the Senior Weekday Photographer, Navigation Technician, Report Transcriber and General Support Engineer.

We were off to see Catherine's new horse, Sky, who she is sharing with a lady called Jess. Having learned so much last year, she wanted me to work on a few issues that she is having with Sky and to work with Jess to make sure they were being consistent with each other.

We started with foot handling where Sky sometimes snatches her feet away. Getting your own feet really grounded and holding the foot in the optimum position can really help with this.

Like a lot of horses, Sky has an aversion to being hosed, something that often comes about because someone has insisted on just getting on with it rather than introducing things step by step. Using a watering can to trickle water on to the horse and then rubbing the same area is a good first step. The rub is the equivalent of taking the pressure away. A small section of hose can be used to desensitise to the hose-pipe itself and then the two can techniques can be combined with a trickle of water coming through a hose-pipe.

Next we worked on leading. It's the one area where IH really differs from BHS teaching and therefore a bit of a change for Jess who has completed an equine course at Sparsholt.
Horses will often postpone something they are not very sure about and Sky had learned to move her bottom away from the mounting block to make it impossible for Jess or Catherine to mount. This led to whichever one of them getting off the mounting block, gently walking her around and then representing her at the mounting block. Accordingly the strategy was working as Sky got a nice little rest as she walked around and only had to do the same thing again to earn another reprieve.

I worked on making it more restful to just stand quietly, parked, at the mounting block, and just a bit more troublesome to be moving around. Agitating the right rein and making an annoying kiss-kiss sound was contrasted with absolute peace and quiet when she was standing in the right place. A lovely rub just sealed the deal.  (Incidentally the saddle has been checked and is about to be checked again).

Time out without a rug at the end of the session. I expect she wasn't quite as white as this when she came back in to go to bed an hour later!

Sky had a very ropey start having been found by the RSPCA in a field where some of the horses had died from neglect. Sky was so poor that they considered putting her down too until a woman offered to take her on. She has done a wonderful job of bringing her back from the brink and turning her into a riding horse from a feral horse in a relatively short period of time.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

26th November, 2015 Teetering

Why would you only wear one scarf when you could wear two? With an animal that is as tactile defensive as Henrietta the scarf is a really useful ally since it does half my job for me, touching her and desensitising her as she moves. Of course I had to make sure that she was more than ready to wear one (them) otherwise I could have given her a terrible fright. As it is I think she enjoys the sensations that they create.

Every time I have been to work with Sarah and Firdy is has been raining and windy and certainly not the sort of weather to work with the brolly unless you were especially keen to have a Mary Poppins moment. He has become so brave since we started that it was a bit of a non-event in any case.

Accordingly we started on ridden work where the lack of someone ahead of him brought his confidence down a little notch. Rather than push him to go over, round and through things, we worked on leaving him alone, with legs draped calmly around him, as soon as he showed any sign of engaging with the obstacle. Push him on as he teeters on the brink of the right decision and he starts to move backwards instead of forwards. He needs to be given a second or two (at least) to make up his own mind and build up the courage to go.

Changing the shape of the poles encouraged him to work out where he needed to place his feet.

"Thank you for today , will certainly practice, and keep repeating, and stop chatting to Fir!! Learnt a lot and really enjoy the sessions." SS

25th November, 2015 Donkey Derby

Yesterday Benny finally touched his nemesis and even shared some food with him. Hopefully he will start to look forward to his occasional meals out with his new, tentative, best friend.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

24th November, 2015 Dandelion

Cherie has a closer relationship to burdock than your average dandelion, so I gave Lindy a helping hand to get this little lot out of Cherie's tail. Cherie is a very nervous horse, always worried about people's intentions towards her, so it is a two person job. Lindy was at the front delivering clickered treats and I was at the tail end, hand combing through her tail, having coated the lot with half a bottle of baby oil. Makes the job a lot easier for all three of us.

The afternoon was spent collating documents for the BARTA Conference in Prague which is due to take place at the end of next week and printing off The Horse Transport Report which is due to be launched then.

It's taken a long time and a lot of work to put the report together but now that it is finished I'm rather pleased with it. Copies will be available after 6th December. 

Monday, November 23, 2015

23rd November, 2015 On Her Majesty's Service

After a busy weekend it was great to be able to ride my own horse out with Tracey on Bella and Pat on Petra, and also to do some work with Henrietta. She's coming along so well - or at least she thinks that I am!

Henrietta The Movie I : Rubbing her neck. I even think she likes it.

Henrietta The Movie II: Rotating her ear. I think she likes this too.

The next step was to put the scarf over her back and then her neck.

Henrietta The Movie III: Rubbing with the scarf. I really think she likes this.

...and then we were able to make a figure of eight. First fluffy headcollar...

Sunday, November 22, 2015

22nd November, 2015 Christmas Presents

Stuck for a present for your horsey friend or relative? Vouchers available to any denomination, covering anything from an hour's session to a full day including or not including fuel depending on your requirements. Vouchers can be personalised as can the training session itself. Contact me at for details.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

21st November, 2015 Arctic Turn

Hackney cross Welsh pony, Elijah, has the look of a little Indian pony with his gorgeous paint face and white tummy. He was almost feral when he came to his owner a few years ago and she has put a lot of good work into bringing him back from the brink. Nevertheless he proved not to be ready when sent away for breaking in and returned after less than three weeks having not been sat on.

My job was to assess how he is now and what can be done to get him more ready for the next time. I started right back at the beginning, checking for any holes in his education. It looks like his mate, Dave, is checking on him too. Although the leader Dave is not Dave the Brave and occasionally he instils his fear in Elijah too.

Having put a little more clarity in the leading work, Elijah was just brilliant at matching Debs stride for stride whether she walked at a fast or funereal pace.

Elijah hadn't reacted well to the use of a lunging whip while he was away and lost some of his confidence about being touched. With a pony as sensitive as this one, there is absolutely no need to use a lunging whip and I would argue that they are never a good idea. We used the feather duster to help to desensitise him to a swinging movement and also to go across his back so that he could get used to seeing things out of both eyes. Incidentally he has David Bowie eyes with one brown and one blue.

Elijah is ear shy on his right hand side and this hadn't helped when he had got into battles about having his bridle on. Rotating his ears proved to be very relaxing for him - just remember if you unscrew them you must screw them back on again.
"Was fab to meet you yesterday! I plan to work with Elijah over the next few weeks,on what you showed me,and will keep you posted on our progress.Your approach is very interesting,and obviously works!"
After a hot lunch and a hot chocolate in the cafe at Arlesford, Tracey and I headed back to the Forest to work with Ed and Sardine. Ed is very nervous pony and it was very clear that we weren't going to be work with any of our flappy kit or ask him to walk over the tarpaulin. Instead I took him right back to basics once using the feather duster as a target and using clickered treats to ask him to touch it.

Out of the depths of his fear came a little curiosity and he started to think rather than simply react, and to take steps towards rather than away from the feather duster.

After a little while we asked him to accept touch from the feather duster and, rather warily, he did.

Emily has been working on foot handling with the New Forest Pony she bought during one of our Handling the Wild Pony Courses. She seemed to be having some difficulty standing her ground when he sought to push through her when she picked up his feet. We joked that I could do it in my magic boots and so we decided to swap...

...and then she could do it!

Despite wearing two coats all day it's taken me a little while to de-frost this evening.

Friday, November 20, 2015

20th November, 2015 Fritham Whisperers

Welsh Pony Pie, who would no doubt prefer a comma before his name, is enjoying the company of his New Forest friends even if they appear to be talking about him. This is his eleventhth year out on the Forest and he seems to be going into the winter well.

20th November, 2015 Look Through Your Fingers

I can hardly bear to look at this picture and I wasn't sure I wanted to spoil my pages by putting it up, but the editors of the Horse and Hound must think that this picture is acceptable. What a strange world we live in when we love our horses enough to provide them with a crown piece that alleviates poll pressure and a spangly browband that they can't appreciate, and then we close their mouths so tight, using a crank noseband and a flash, that it digs into their skin, jams their teeth into their cheeks and prevents them from swallowing properly. I make no apologies for the picture but I hope that one day someone will apologise to this horse. This is not horsemanship, this is not dressage, this is cruelty.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

19th November, 2015 Victor-y Rolls

Another practise session with Victor this morning who had a minor glitch about being caught which was soon rectified with a slight change of style in how the scarf went over his neck, a bit more clarity with the clicking and treating, and a softer headcollar as the leather one was a bit stiff. Once he was back on track he accepted his headcollar over a dozen times with three different people.

This gorgeous pony, who is extremely well bred is available for re-homing to someone who knows what they are doing. He can be gelded before he goes. He is a two year old registered Welsh Section A Algrey Senate and is a roan. He is by the multi medal champion, Tryfel Dynamite who has won and been placed many times at The Royal Welsh Show. He is out of a very well bred mare, Rhydyfelin Saffron who has some of the oldest Coed Coch bloodlines. We need to find a good home for him. Please contact me if you would be interested.

Email 23.11.15: "Victor and i have been doing really well since your last visit.It's amazing how the timing of the clicks has completely changed everything. Today he let me put the headcollar on outside of the enclosure!"

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

18th November, 2015 Kudos to You!

Having been rained off yesterday, great kudos to today's horse owner who decided to brave the gale force winds and use that as an opportunity to work with her horse when his adrenalin was likely to be at its highest. Kudos and his field mate both come from World Horse Welfare but since arriving, Kudos appears to have been promoted beyond his ability, and is struggling with the leadership role which sometimes accentuates his instinctive reaction to things.. It's natural for horses to be worried about things they can't hear or see properly so conditions like today are a real test

I worked on proving to Kudos that at least when a human is a round he can go off duty and relax. This entailed a little more clarity when leading him, asking him to be right by my side rather than pushing me along from behind or pulling me along from in front. It also involved asking him to stand still and not to keep pushing forward just for a few seconds and later a few minutes at a time. This was then rewarded, and his energy disippated, by going for a short walk.

Soon I was able to hand him over so that his owner could practice the same things - here she is setting off as if she is going to the chocolate shop.

None of these pictures shows just how tense he can get and just how tall when he is worried.

"Thank you for your notes and your session today, definitely masses to think over..."HB