Friday, March 31, 2017

31st March, 2017 Thank God It's Friday

I must confess that I wasn't looking forward to today all that much. A poor night's sleep followed by a long-term non-loader, and another, particularly nervous horse, didn't fill me with enthusiasm. In fact it has been a fabulous day. The owner of the two horses had done all of her homework without going off on a frolic of her own, so she hadn't practised the non-loader's 'no', but had worked on the nervous horse's little self-esteem. She's also good at agreeing where the best stopping point is for the session, wanting the ideal moment for the horse rather than the ideal result for herself.

Dom, who is new to this orientation of transport, got as far as having the front ramp down, and waiting, without rushing for the front bar (complete with Bar Buffer) to be taken down before calmly leaving the trailer.

Odey met the feather duster and learned how to give things a chance, and breathed well throughout the session instead of holding his breath as he did last time. And Georgie has now got a deep firm touch which she demonstrated by almost squeezing my hand to death when we shook hands at the start!

A beautiful view of Salisbury from the farm.

A sublime afternoon also, taking Jack and Jack-Jack out into the inclosure for another walk and daring to take them both off the lead rein. The really enjoyed themselves and we only took hold of them again when we saw the Forestry Commission truck and thought there might be forest works going on. Instead the vehicle contained the lovely, and wonderfully named, Sandy Shore, who is the Forest Keeper for the area and also a commoner. We had a delightful chat - I could talk with her all day - before wending our way back round and to home again.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

3Oth March, 2017 Tie Dye

Hackney cross Welsh Section, C, Elijah, has a difficult start to life, arriving with his owner as an extremely frightened semi-feral. Over the years she has built up his trust but recently had a major set back when he was tied up to have his feet trimmed and began to fight with the farrier. Today we began to rebuild his confidence by introducing clicker training for having his feet picked up and picked out.

There is no 'has to' when it comes to horses and so we might think that a horse 'has to' accept being tied up, but they know no such thing; for Elijah this was just too much pressure and containment.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

29th March, 2017 The Fritham Nine

Nine on nine acres this morning as we waited for Guy the farrier to come and assess and trim the full collection. Only Pie is out of sight in these photos. Having spent the night in, Nelly and Blue went back out onto the Forest as soon as their feet had been done. Typically, Nelly needed no work, and Blue just needed excessive flair taken off; we don't worry too much most of the time because if it grows then presumably she needs it, and of course she isn't a riding pony.

Jack didn't need any work but Guy took the opportunity to make friends with him and picked up each of his feet very easily.

Jack-Jack had his less than annual trim - he rarely needs much doing.

Pleased that our spare field got harrowed last night before the rain came down and can now recover from a particularly torrid winter. Normally we poo-pick all year round but with my injury we had to give up for three months. We'll have to see what the worm count tells us about this!

Spent the afternoon having a good giggle with Donna and Liz, and their horses Spirit, Jaine, and Dusky.

29th March, 2017 Breath of Fresh Air

Jack and Jack-Jack went out for a breath of fresh air. Jack took it all in his stride and was as good as gold. Jack Jack is always as good as gold!

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

28th March, 2017 Monday Cob

For the second Monday in a row I was moving a coloured cob. This time it was Jack who is coming to live with us to be part of our collection, along with his owner, Lorraine. For the last few months he has been living next to an incredibly busy road which has been excellent for getting him used to traffic but is no place for a young horse to be taking his first few independent walks. This field is also close to the airport with a go-kart track about to be opened at the weekend. You can hardly hear yourself think and every few weeks the horses have to be moved out of their fields, across this awful road, to make way for parking for sports events.

His arrival had been eagerly awaited it seems and he made friends with all of his new field-mates very quickly before settling down to eat. My Jack is now to be known as Jack-Jack, as they will be sharing a field.

Monday, March 27, 2017

27th March, 2017 Jesus Saves!

One of the most terrifying experiences of my life was driving around Kenya where drivers of massive lorries and coaches, placed their faith in God and drove like four year olds with a Scaletrix set. Many of these vehicles gaily display enormous banners in the window, obscuring the driver's view, or hand-painted on their sides, "Jesus Saves!". Well I think you have to give Jesus half a chance. We were lucky to have our hire car only slightly squashed when we braked and swerved to avoid a donkey cart which had exited a side road at a gallop, and were hit up the backside by a driver who had been driving too close behind us.

This child's expression says it all
Similarly, in India, drivers are protected by a garland of marigolds which takes the place of a safety-belt.

What do you do to protect you and your horse?

Saturday, March 25, 2017

26th March, 2017 The Donut Run

Donut went out for his longest walk yesterday morning and was unfazed by all of the hazards en route.

Donkeys sunbathing behind the hedge...

...and a truly worrying sign for a boy that has not missed too many meals.

He and Wendy made a very contented pair, wandering off into the distance on their own at the end. He is now ready to be ridden again.

Back at the fields the New Forest ponies had come home to see if there was a cuppa going...

...that tummy looks as if it might be an extra mouth to feed eventually.
Quote of the week: Me: I think Nelly may well be pregnant, Wendy (a different one): How did that happen? Me: Do you really need me to explain...?

The two equines that represent the beginning and the end of my career share their thoughts.

25th March, 2017 Catching Up

Once again, my general notes, this time on catching. More often than not I will use clicker training as a long term solution for a horse that is difficult to catch.

Catching problems

When working with a horse that is difficult to catch you really do need to have the time to follow it through. Each time you give up trying to catch a horse that doesn’t want to be caught you teach him that his behaviour works and if you try for a long time and then give up you can build up his stamina too. Getting cross never helps – quiet persistence is usually the answer.

 It’s really important to approach you horse as if you have all the time in the world with soft body language and your eyes not directed straight at his. It’s better to go in a casual and wiggly, relaxed line rather than at a fast walk in a direct line. Having said that, it’s not a good idea to creep about like a stalking predator either; if you act like a predator the horse will act like prey (and leave!). If the horse walks away from you then you need to stay with him and try to aim for where you think the horse is going; mirroring the actions of the horse. If the horse stops then you need to stop too and reward no matter how far away you are. This is his first offer to be caught. Drop your body language, turn your body your eyes away – you might even walk away. You need to reward the horse for even the merest suggestion that he might be caught. If the horse walks away or starts to graze then you walk towards him again and continue in the same way. Most horses will offer to be caught after a short while but you must be prepared for the long haul.

It’s only in rare circumstances that I would push the horse to go faster or even do a Join-Up – most of the time just sticking with them works. If the horse gallops off to the other end of the field I’ll walk down there too. If there are other horses that are interfering by influencing your horse then you might want to ask if they can be taken out but otherwise I would just ignore them – quite often they will co-operate with you because they can see that you are focused on one particular animal.

For a really determined horse (particularly one in a big field), you need to be able to get the horse into a smaller secure section and then work in the same way. It might be worth using a smaller paddock for a while until the horse is being caught consistently.

 I will do what works with a horse and if a little handful of food gets your horse to be more inclined to be caught then I would use it – you can always preface it with a click as in clicker training so that he never expects food without hearing a click first.

Horses that hate having a headcollar on

If I have a pony that is worried about having a head collar on then I might put one head collar on over another and then put it on and take it off over and over and over again until the pony feels relaxed about it. It’s also worth considering whether clicker training would help to create a pleasant association with the headcollar.

Friday, March 24, 2017

24th March, 2017 Plain Sailing

Over to the Isle if Wight yesterday where Mollie, who is now four, had her saddle and bridle and rider on for the very first time. She really wasn't fazed at all. Plenty of preparation, and the occasional visit from me, over the last three years, means that nothing bothers her much at all. Monty even rode side-saddle.

In the afternoon Jane showed me Pie's exercises (set by Chartered Veterinary Physiotherapist Natalie Baker), and we worked on using target training in order to ask him to stretch further. Jane will be able to extend this over the next few weeks...

Afterwards we took him out for some exercise...

"Thanks for another super day. We achieved a lot seeing that only one pony could do outside training. I was so pleased with Mollie who behaved brilliantly in having her bridle and saddle on for the first time without any bother. She certainly enjoyed the attention and having something to do as box rest is becoming very boring !! Pie learnt the target training very quickly and it will be a good way to encourage his bending. He seemed to feeling very well in himself about working. And Mairi watched quietly. Thank you so much. We will work on the targets and look forward to seeing you again soon. Thanks to Tracey as well."
After a long day it was time to feed my own horses and to see my visitors.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

23rd March, 2017 Leading Question

This is one area where Intelligent Horsemanship is definitely different from the BHS. If your horse is being prepared for showing then it may contradict what you will need to do in the ring. I believe that the position in which to lead a horse is with its head at my shoulder and not the other way round. Horses lead in two positions – in front (generally a mare) and from behind, i.e. driving (stallions). By standing at the shoulder we are neither one thing nor the other – we’re actually in the foal position. Some natural horsemanship techniques demand that the horse walk behind the handler – I have two concerns about this. First of all the horse can switch off and go to sleep and if he suddenly starts he can run straight through you, and, some horses start to dominate from behind putting their ears back and taking up a driving position. With the horse at your side you can keep him in your peripheral vision and see what he’s doing and keep up a constant dialogue between you.  I also use a “motorbike hand”, i.e. my hand palm downwards. 

This gentleman could afford to relax his arm right down. If the horse pulls away from him for any reason then his hand will tell him and react accordingly. It's as if your brain is in your hand.


Wednesday, March 22, 2017

22nd March, 2017 Backwards and Forwards

Establishing your body space and asking your horse to stand still

If you start by establishing your body space you can often get the horse’s attention and also bring down his adrenalin levels. All the horse needs to do is to stand still. You need to position yourself directly in front and facing the horse with about an arm’s length to his nose (putting your fingers on his noseband as you step back will help with this) and then ask him to maintain this distance. Facing the horse means everything towards the horse – your shoulders, your eyes, and your tummy. Keeping your hands down will prevent you from fussing with his face and stop you inviting him to touch you. Maintaining eye contact with the horse often helps to keep him where he is but eventually you should be able to completely relax.

If the horse moves forward into your body space then he should be promptly asked to step back out again. For some horses it will simply be a matter of taking a determined step towards them, for others you may need to make your body language bigger.

Once the horse accepts that he should just stand still and do nothing, he will often relax and the “adrenalin graph” of his neck will often drop dramatically. When you relax and breathe deeply, even yawn, you will help him to relax even further.

This is the most important thing to establish with the horse and forms the cornerstone of your future relationship. The horse learns that when you are around he can completely relax and let you take the leadership role. He doesn’t need to worry about a thing.

From here, you can also teach a horse to “ground tie” with his lead rope on the floor.

Moving forwards and backwards – the step by step approach

By asking a horse to step forwards or backwards just one step at a time, the horse will learn to listen and should be easier to handle at gates and during loading.  Backing up is also incredibly useful in ridden training and by teaching them on the ground first you will make the ridden work much easier.

To ask for a step forward I remain facing the horse but look at his feet rather than his eyes. I need to now when he is about to step forward so that I can make sure I release with my rope and give him a cue to stop moving forwards. The first thing to do is to step back out of his space without any pressure in the lead rein. If the horse moves forward to this visual cue then he has no pressure on his head at all. However, if he doesn’t come forward I apply a gentle and easing pressure on the halter (using my ring finger only) until he steps forward. At this point I “conduct the orchestra” by raising my hands gently to ask him to stop. If the horse gets it right he will get a lovely rub and a “good boy”.

To ask the horse to step backwards I also like to give a visual cue first – I will step next to the horse, looking at the foot that I want to move. If the horse doesn’t step back then I will gently slap my rope against my coat three times and if he still doesn’t move, more assertively three times. If he still doesn’t move then I apply pressure to the halter. Some people prefer to press the horse’s chest. In any event, the aim is to ask the horse to become lighter and to respond to the slightest cue or body language. If the horse gets it right he gets a lovely rub and a “good boy”.

It helps to be aware of the “into pressure” reaction when asking a horse to move by using pressure on his body. A horse’s natural instinct when they feel a push against their skin is to push forward; they have to learn to do the opposite for humans.

Moving the hindquarters

To move the hindquarters, I start at the horses head and move to his shoulder. Here I give the horse a lovely rub at the withers in order to establish a “neutral position”. This is important when it is time to mount the horse as you don’t him to move his hindquarters away the moment you walk down the side of his body. With a slack line I then walk along the length of his body before stepping out so that I am opposite the horse’s bottom and facing it with my eyes, shoulders and tummy.  The more accurate your body language, the better the response that you tend to get and frequently the horse will step away immediately and bring his head round to you with no further pressure. This exercise can also be done by applying thumb pressure to the horse’s bottom until he moves over but be aware of the instinctive into-pressure response.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

21st March, 2017 Thoroughly Grounded

The groundwork that I do with a horse is intended just to set up a few little rules that make life easier for the horse and the handler and enable both to relax, and just 'be' together. There is nothing overly complicated or designed to do anything other than that, i.e. it is not about exercising the horse, making the horse ultra responsive, or supple. Asking these few questions may give me an idea of whether a horse is stiff or troubled.

Here is the continuation from my general notes about training:

Sometimes groundwork can appear to be irrelevant to training, especially when you are dealing with a ridden problem. However, a lot of ridden problems stem from a misunderstanding about signals and body language, lack of consistency and most of all, a lack of trust and leadership. All of the groundwork exercises I use, simple as they may be are excellent for building up a relationship based on trust and leadership.
Horses control each other and establish the herd order by moving each other around – sometimes quite quickly; sometimes very subtly. In the same way, if we move our horse around that makes us the leader but if the horse is moving us around then it is the leader. Most horses don’t want to be the leader – it’s a very hard job involving responsibility for the security and direction of the herd. In the wild it means the difference between life and death. As a horse’s leader you need to control his speed, direction and destination. Once you are the leader your horse can afford to relax.

Some horsemanship techniques take the accuracy of the groundwork exercises to the nth degree. I do think it’s important to remember that the aim of the groundwork exercises here is to establish leadership rather than to become an end in themselves and endless repetition of groundwork games can lead to boredom, frustration and a horse that switches off or escalates its behaviour.  I prefer to be a passive leader (a good friend) rather than an alpha mare or a dominant leader in order to get a horse to want to follow me anywhere and will only use the groundwork exercises where I need to establish or re-establish my leadership. The rest just gets incorporated into my every day work with the horse and becomes an instinctive way of working with horses. Again, my aim is to be using body language rather than a system of cues.

I do full Join-Up from time to time with horses but quite often they are already pretty joined-up or the facilities are simply not available. I have found that the groundwork exercises can be just as effective if done well. There are some horses where Join-Up is not appropriate – those that are not sound, are known to be very aggressive, bottle fed horses and untouched horses particularly semi-ferals. I might for instance Join-Up for a horse that has learned to switch off to anything but cues or a horse with persistent catching issues. Join-Up cannot cure a horse of all his issues but can be a useful tool in opening up communication and building a bond with the horse.

It is sensible to do all of the groundwork exercises from both sides of the horse as they don’t transfer much information from one side to the other and can be more worried about something happening on one side than the other. The main reason why we tend to do everything on the left of a horse is because of the sword. Most of our horsemanship comes from the military and the sword tended to be carried in the right hand and withdrawn from the left. Everyone was right handed in the military whether they liked it or not.  It was important not to stab your horse when drawing your sword so he was kept on your right.

Whilst I do not prescribe to the view that there is always a strict hierarchy in a herd, I do believe that there is always a hierarchy in any given moment of time or set of circumstances which may alter as horses are added or taken away, or a new set of circumstances arises. That hierarchy may even be circular at times.