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?