Monday, October 31, 2016

31st October, 2016 Very Happy Halloween

Nothing to lift a misty morning more than a few nuts with b├ęchamel sauce, double cream and vanilla frosting. The pigs were very pleased to see me.

The alpaca was not so sure. He hasn't quite got over the 'jet-lag' caused by the clocks going back over the weekend.

If you're going to be a turkey, then this is the place to be one, especially at this time of year. This one will see his way through to the New Year and well beyond.

The new alpacas have settled in well and are learning about meal times. They may be put off by the sheep but they have seen off Lloyd the llama.

After the three of us rode out on the horses, it's time to exercise the camels. Martine and Charlotte set off at a trot...

...up the glorious avenue of trees.

Next it's my turn to ride Temojin, and fortunately I have batons of carrot in my pocket...

...we hacked along the river...

...and gazed down the valley. Temojin wasn't interested in pooh-sticks, he just wanted to eat the tree.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

29th October, 2016 Reality Checks

Somewhere in the great ocean between optimism and pessimism there is realism. Quite often it's my job to assess just how likely it is that someone will succeed with their horse in getting over some problem or riding them in the future. It's impossible to tell over the phone or internet, even though you may have some hefty clues, because really you need to see the horse and the owner together and to learn more about the history of the horse and the skills of the owner. Even then, it is impossible to tell from a momentary glance and if the horse doesn't exhibit the behaviour during early visits, all you can do is wend your way through the important stages of training and wait to see if there is a blip. I don't believe that everything is possible but I do believe that time, patience, and technique can take things a long way. The best the owner can do is to settle down, keep calm and wait. Careful, consistent and clear practice following a fairly straight course will usually pay off.

Today I was asked to assess two horses for two clients in different parts of the county. The first, Vanessa, has a lovely light cob on loan with a view to buy. Dottie can sometimes be difficult to catch and can be spooky. She is inclined to get cross when she is confused. Vanessa has taken it back to basics and wanted me to check her groundwork before we move on.

After a little hesitation about being caught, and seeming rather aloof, Dottie settled down to work really nicely...

...and proved to be affectionate and amenable.

She proved to be responsive and attentive...

...and careful.

We finished the session by taking her out for a walk where we practised counted stops and the only thing that worried her were a couple of gaudy golfers. To be honest, gaudy golfers worry me.

The second had an exquisite Welsh Cob, Leo. Unfortunately Welsh Cobs are notorious for being sharp and so it had proved with Leo. He had been taken to the Monty Roberts' demo at Merrist Wood on Wednesday evening to see whether he would be suitable as a starter.

For those that have never attended a demo as a helper, the afternoon assessment of horses is very short and sweet. All of the potential candidates are checked by a Chartered Veterinary Physiotherapist and then assessed in the round pen to see how well they fulfill the remit for the evening. Monty sits outside the round pen while an assistant asks the horse to do a few short tasks in the round pen. In the case of a starter this generally consists of a Join-Up, checking how they react to one long rein, and to the presence of a carrier bag on a stick. No work is carried out to train the horse. Having seen the video of the assessment itself it was clear to me that Leo was not ready to be started and indeed that proved to be Monty's assessment too. Leo appeared to be frightened of a stranger, frightened of the rein going behind him, and far too worried about the bag on a stick which was only just brought into the pen. Leo was not chosen for the demo and instead returned home at the end of the evening at least having had the experience of travelling away from home and staying in a nice stable! It was  suggested that his owner, Melissa contacted me.

In between a lot of discussion the owner and I did some work with Leo and both concluded that although he is not frightened of 'things' (he copes extremely well with traffic, the local shoot, and even a show) he is very frightened of 'people' and 'people with things'. This represents the gap between his groundwork and the preparation that has been done for ridden work.

I was very pleased to graduate onto Leo's list of people who can probably be trusted...

...and he let go of a lot of tension throughout the session.

But a woman with a rainbow coloured guinea pig on a stick is not to be trusted at least for a while...

...although, thinking about it... could be rather nice.

The whole point of this exercise, beyond teaching Leo that individual things may not be that frightening, is to teach him how to deal with his fear. If we can persuade him that whenever he is frightened all he needs to do is wait and the humans will sort it out, there is less chance of him bolting. He may turn out to be fine with a rider but what if someone approaches him when he has a rider on board?

Friday, October 28, 2016

28th October, 2016 Irksome

As a international journalist, Hazel (Southam) is used to being thwarted in her efforts to get to a story and to needing a 'fixer' at all times. This morning we were both thwarted by Henrietta who refused to go into the trailer and stay there. For me, I was just delighted that at one stage she backed out, pressing against me with her hindquarters, and chose not to kick. I shall however, give her another go and then come up with a plan B.

Fortunately Jack doesn't mind going without her and was met with a disgruntled neigh-bray when he got back.

Puffin, on the other hand, has excelled herself, loading to go and to come back, with her owner today. Sarah was able to enjoy a relaxing ride with friends.

Just a reminder that Hazel's book, My Year with a Horse, is available from all good book shops and makes a lovely Christmas present...

28th October, 2016 Hit and Run

Photo credit: Audrey Scott-Hopkins
Please help the Verderers to find the hit and run driver of the vehicle which collided with a New Forest pony some time last night 27th/28th October. The driver has not reported the accident in which a bay mare called Brock Brocade was left with two broken back legs.

She was found this morning by a passing commoner who lives locally to Burley Road in Brockenhurst where the incident occurred. She immediately called the Agister who humanely despatched the mare. It is evident that the poor animal was left in agony by the side of the road all night. We would very much like to trace the driver responsible for this callous act. There is no excuse for leaving an animal to suffer in the way this pony did.

No vehicle parts have been found at the scene which leaves us to suspect that it may have been a larger vehicle, possibly an HGV, which hit the pony

The Verderers' Hit and Run Reward Scheme will pay up to £1,000 for information which leads to the successful conviction of the driver.

If anyone has any information that may lead us to identify the driver please come forward. We are happy for an informant to receive their reward whilst remaining anonymous. Please, if you can identify this driver, either ring the Verderers’ Office on 023 8028 2052 or the Police on 101. The Police reference number for this incident is 194 of 28/10/16

Thank you.
Sue Westwood
Clerk to the Verderers of the New Forest
The Queen’s House
SO43 7NH

Owner James Young said, " 'This was such a sad and upsetting end to the life of our lovely mare. She had been enjoying retirement back with our Forest run herd and had returned to her roots having been bred and born on the Forest. She had enjoyed a successful showing career as a brood mare winning the Forest bred championships at both the Breed Show and New Forest Show. When we decided not to breed from her any longer we thought she would be happiest back with her relations and she enjoyed her freedom and friends for the last two years.

As long standing commoners we accept that road fatalities do occur but it is completely unacceptable for someone to know they have hit an animal and leave it in agony without informing the police that an accident has occurred. I very much hope that someone will come forward as a result of this horrible incident." 

Thursday, October 27, 2016

27th October, 2016 Fatalistic

At the beginning of October, the tally had reached 82 animal casualties on the Forest as a result of road traffic collisions, many of them hit and run. As the nights have drawn in, there have been a further 10 including 6 deaths.  Earlier in the year I suggested that it was time there was a proper protest, drawing attention to the death toll and the anger that people feel about it. I had the support of over 350 people but was shouted down by two commoners who accused me of being misguided and undermining the efforts of the 'proper authorities.' The proper authorities, many of which are members of the Animal Accident Reduction Group are doing a great job in their own way, setting up police speed checks, changing signs and issuing posters like the one above. But they have to work diplomatically and slowly and by consensus and rely on the local press to pick up what is not a very interesting story, given that it is repeated over and over again. It may be in the Lymington Times but it is never in The Times or, more importantly, the press and social media that reaches every day people who cross the Forest.

My suggestion was a protest with one person wearing hi-viz standing in every place where an animal had been hit by a car for one day - preferably at dawn and at dusk. There needs to be a really great video done that goes viral on Facebook rather than limiting itself to the New Forest Roads Campaign page which doesn't reach commuters.

We constantly hear that most of the animals are hit by locals. I doubt that very much. Most are hit by people who live on the very periphery of the Forest and see the Forest as a bloody inconvenience to be negotiated on their way to and from work. I'm sick of it, we're all sick of it, but there seems to be very little we can do. We need to do something, preferably shocking, to change attitudes. 'Hitting people in their pockets' (by fining them for speeding) is not actually working.

I found my little group today, and their friend Exmoor, and was able to replace their hi-viz collars which seem to have gone missing this summer.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

26th October, 2016 Hoogle

I have to confess to feeling a little grumpy this morning. Late cancellations, even for good reasons, can cripple a small business which relies on just one or two concrete appointments a day and provides a high quality, connected, and thoughtful service rather than just listing one appointment after another with no aftercare. Self-employed people have to cover everything themselves, from equipment to transport, to insurance, and have to think carefully about holidays and even sick leave! As it is I end up effectively paying for rain, a horse being ill, an owner being ill, their family being ill, or just coinciding with a forgotten dental appointment, whenever it is too late for me to offer the appointment to be anyone else.

Godshill mule - found some salt or an interesting shaped rock

Mules are always good for the soul though...

Henrietta and Jack waiting for some attention

I was cheered up a lot by Whifflegig and his owner this afternoon. She would be the first to admit that she should have taken my advice and asked me to come with the panels to his first endurance ride. However, by the time the ride came round, he had been loading consistently at home, with and then without the panels, and all around the yard and fields; she was feeling pretty optimistic. Unfortunately, Whifflegig proved that horses don't make the same links between training in one place and training in another, and she ended up riding him home when he would not load.

A horse's brain seems to work like Google, put slightly different terms into the search engine and you get a completely different set of results. Thus "loading + home" brings up a happy website with Whifflegig cleverly marching in and out of the horsebox, but "loading+away+tired+hungry" brings up a miserable looking website instead. We can change that just as we did for loading at home.
The good news is that we haven't blown it. At home today Whifflegig loaded in and out of the horsebox, with no fuss at all.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

25th October, 2016 Keep Up the GOOD Work

Keep up the good work

More than any other form of training, loading is something that needs to be practised over and over again if you are going to solve your loading problem in the long term. Not only does this get the horse into the routine of walking on each time, every time, it enables you to keep your own adrenalin down. For both of you it needs to become very boring and ordinary.

Make sure you are familiar with all the fixtures and fittings in your horsebox or trailer so that you can move things and fasten things without fumbling. Always, always, always, fasten things properly, even when practising, so that something cannot come undone or drop down suddenly and set you training back.

Always, always, always, wear the right kit, put any usual safety wear on your horse, and work in a safe place. Don’t take additional risks just because you are only practising

Take the hint!

If I have made suggestions about changes to your horsebox or trailer please consider them seriously and get any work carried out that you can. Your horse may notice the changes but not know that it is to his benefit so make sure you practice after any changes have been made.

At home you need to practise in the same place and in exactly the same way for a few sessions before attempting to load in a different place. If you get into trouble get in touch with me sooner rather than later; if we had to use panels for your session then it might be better to have another practise with the panels in place. It is much better to engage with your horse’s ‘yes’ or ‘maybe’ rather than allow him to practise his no.

By the same token don’t give up too soon; this form of training only works if you use it and use it well – if you allow other people to intervene and try out their suggestions you may find that they are quick to punish the horse, and can undo any progress that we have made. 

Continue to practice at home, perhaps changing the positon of the horse box, as often as you can – it’s always worth practising once a month even if you think your horse is pretty reliable; it will alert you to any problems.

Don't push your luck

Try not to travel to anything serious within the first fortnight or longer after a training session with me. Instead think about taking your horse on a circular trip back to home or somewhere close to home so that if the worst came to the worst you could ride home. Alternatively I can meet you at my own yard or a different venue so that we have panels with which to load your horse if he refuses to load. Lots of horses decline to road away from home even when they load well at home and it is important that their training is generalised. Take a feed for you horse with you. 

It is absolutely critical that whoever drives your vehicle drives as if they are chauffeuring your horse – poor driving will undermine your training. 

Loading and travelling are a test of the trust your horse has in you, and the vehicle he is travelling in. If you rush things, lose patience, or change your approach for the worst, the horse will lose that trust. If the horse has a poor experience then that trust is damaged. Think of it as like an investment, it takes a long time to build up it up and it can take a very short time to lose it again.

25th October, 2016 Extra-Curricular Activities

"It's a shame you're not here tomorrow," I heard yesterday, "You could take some photos of our new arrivals." So obviously we needed two photographers...

The camels wondered what was in the box...

...and the new alpacas couldn't quite believe their eyes either.

Soon, all of the female alpacas were making friends but can you see the males craning their necks over the fence behind?

But of course we were really here for the camels...

...and they thought we were there for them. Hadn't we seen that the buckets were quite, quite, empty?

Monday, October 24, 2016

24th October, 2016 That Monday Morning Feeling

I was going to call this blog Monday Morning Disease because I think I am becoming rather addicted to the camels and all of their lovely camelid, equine and ovine friends. There are not many days when I fly out of bed, hop into the car, and even don a pair of decent jodhpurs to ride in!

It's all really thanks to Martine (and her friend Sheri who put me in touch) that I have been given such a treat, and trusted with the breakfast arrangements for the animals as well as going out riding on and with the camels.

Arizona, on the right, is a safe set of hooves, on which to enjoy the near and distant scenery...

...and she doesn't mind being in the middle of a Polo Pony sandwich either.

This morning we were out with Martine's employer, as well as Charlotte, Temojin and Therese and Loopy, the grey ex-racehorse.

Temojin is extraordinarily handsome...

...and Therese is beautiful too - especially when she closes her nose against desert storms.

Can you really eat these Therese? Watch me now!

So what do I know about camels now?

They express themselves quite subtly with their eyes, their ears and less subtly with grumbling, frothing, and spitting if really annoyed. It is likely that they communicate with each other more than we will ever know, by a grumbling at a lower frequency than we can hear. The can also kick and bite with varying degrees of accuracy and intent. They don’t seem to be so different to horses but seem to be more responsive and sensitive. You can't mess with a camel!
They seem to be very intelligent and can spot ‘problems’ a mile off or more – you may miss the signs of a problem but they will express it through changing sides, turning round, veering off, or ‘bounding’ – rather than bucking or rearing. Therese worries about hedges in particular but then deals with millions of people in the centre of London, and tanks following her around the arena at Olympia.
They are capable of great sensitivity and responsiveness – to all of the aids used with horses. Camels can do dressage.
I haven’t sussed whether they have an into-pressure response yet – I am told that they don’t pull back when they are tied. They lead very nicely but sometimes spot some tasty food and try to pull away – they can be strong!
They seem to be extremely loyal – they know who and what they like and don’t like – can be possessive over people and horses.
They get up back legs first and in a series of almost hinged motions.
Most camels lie down when transported, even on very short and very long journeys – Therese does not.
Although they can cope with most types of terrain, they don’t fare well on slippery or very sloping surfaces.
They like a variety of food but not always the same as each other – for example beech nuts, nettles, horse treats etc. They don't have bad breath!