Wednesday, November 29, 2017

29th November, 2017 Hay Day

On our way to collect the hay this morning we saw a bit of wildlife and also Pie, who later came round for lunch. I'm keen to keep a close eye on him this winter and encourage him to call in whenever he is close-by. He's eighteen now and living in the Forest can be hard work for older bodies.

Juma is also benefitting from being in although I sometimes catch Nelly mouthing the words "Wean him!" at me. She's having plenty of food to make it easier to eat for two. It also means that I can put a head-collar on him every few days and use a gentle pressure on the scarf around his neck to ask him to move with me. This is happening very gradually and without any resistance. It's a nice way to work.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

22nd November, 2017 Don't Look if You're Squeamish!

A bit of a bloody day in all senses of the word. Tracey and I felt very virtuous and organised as we waited to open various gates for our vet and had the horses lined up in the right order for their individual examinations. In an orange box in the shed we had already collected and labelled poo samples ready for their worm counts back at the surgery, and I'd even remembered the spare paint for Honour's plinth for Amy to take back. So far so good.

Credit: Russell Sach

The main purpose of the visit was to follow-up on Petra's recent introspectiveness and rotundness by getting her tested for Cushing's Disease and any other metabolic problem. Since my Jack (cresty neck, peachy bottom but protruding ribs) and Théoden are of a similar age they were due to be tested too. In the meantime Bella was being checked to see why she might not be gaining weight on exactly the same grass.

Credit: Russell Sach
When the other Jack started to chew on Amy's Landrover I chose to put him in another field, still next to the other horses, but this didn't find favour with him. He proceeded to break through two fences, which coupled with the howling wind, wound up all the other horses waiting their turn to see the vet. Chaos ensued and it was rather distracting when holding one horse while it was having its heart-rate monitored (inevitably racing!) while the other horses tore around the field wrecking the grass.

Credit: Tracey Parnell
Still, Amy is always game for a laugh, and we ended the day with her retrieving the roundworms that Juma had expelled following his first wormer out of the poo-pile.

Credit: Tracey Parnell

Sometimes I wonder why I like horses at all.

Monday, November 20, 2017

20th November, 2017 Group Hugs

We've noticed when working with Leo that he is more worried about life when there are more people around. As far as he is concerned, one person is a person, two or more is an ambush. When looking at some of the shenanigans that go on at various sales up and down the country, you do wonder if that's what he might have been through. In any event, we decided to work with him as a group, playing 'steal the pony' in order to help him over this and to get a better view of people.

As we were close by I took Julie up to the top of Magdalen Hill Down for lunch and to see the animals.

The view on the way out had not been so good with twenty bags of plant waste, fertiliser containers, and plastic gloves had been dumped on the Forest. I have reported this to NFDC this morning.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

18th November, 2017 Highlights

While we're having work done on the house I only have access to David's wind-up, snail-pace, laptop which I could cheerfully throw out of the window. Not only that but we have no furniture in the living room and so I am kneeling on the floor with the laptop on the lowest window sill.

I have spent most of the week outdoors, either with the horses, or helping out at the Woodgreen Community Shop where, on my knees again, I've enjoyed renewing all of their chalk boards. Quite often I get comments on my artwork from passers-by: "Have you been watching Blue Planet  II" or "Mecca is the other way!"

Carole from the shop marketing team goes cold turkey
The highlight of my week was quietly putting a headcollar on Juma as well as teaching him to lead with a scarf around his neck. We've done so little but this calm approach, using the scarf first, works so well.

What do you reckon Peechay?

The following day the three ponies moved back to Fritham. Peechay travelled on his own and was very easy to load. Soon he will anticipate new grass with every journey and be even more eager. We took Nelly and Juma round to the barn to load them in a more enclosed area. Juma enjoyed the walk...or should I say gallop, with his tail kinked over his back like a red squirrel.

Back at the fields they were all made welcome and settled down together in their separate fields.

Thursday saw another session with Watson and Nikki who now need to move on to recall and other technical dog things. Watson ambled around several wild ponies on the lead without going after them but it was a different matter later when he met sheep.

Yesterday was a very special afternoon as I spent a couple of hours with Reserve Manager, Jayne Chapman who works for Butterfly Conservation and manages several sites including Magdalen Hill Down where we met. Here the rare breed cows, sheep and Exmoor Ponies circulate through various habitats where butterflies thrive. It's a truly peaceful place and as the sun dropped in the sky created a beautiful backdrop to the ponies who were grazing on top of bronze aged burial mounds while traffic was at a standstill on the M3.

News too of wonderful New Forest fillies, Fritham Zelda and Fritham Zoe who are currently with Mark Broadbent having their initial driving training. Zoe is already being driven out on the roads, and Zelda is working through her staged training. They must fit in very well with Mark's black warmbloods. Wendy was kind enough to say, "Mark has been blown away by their maturity, due in no small part to all the fantastic preparation work that you have done with them. They are firm favourites in a stable full of fantastic horses, and grow ever more confident every day. I'm extremely grateful for the time and skill that you have invested in them."

Sunday, November 12, 2017

12th November, 2017 Donkey Work

A last fling running a handling course with Blackberry and Willow over two days. Unless I find a Commoner or two who can grant me a regular supply of semi-feral youngsters to be trained by students, ideally in batches of four, there is no point in me renewing my insurance. I'm happy to have them at my yard for a few weeks at a time, sending trained ones home in time for the sales or whatever their owner needs. I don't charge for the training of the ponies so if you know of anyone who would be interested then let them, and me, know.

Blackberry and Willow are recent acquisitions of a former client of mine and have only been off the Forest for the last three weeks. The colt foal, Willow, was quite friendly at his head end and enjoyed a good scratch but was wary of anyone wandering along his body any further. His mother, Blackberry, would take food from the hand, probably being a veteran highwaywoman on the Forest as many donkeys are, but was scared of people and wary of their intentions. Once in the stable, she headed for the back wall to begin with and showed a lot of white around her eye.

The sounds of me apparently unwrapping something as I extended the feather duster with a long pole and some sticky tape brought both of them over to investigate. I'm not a picnic nicker but I'm a picnic nicker's mate.

As usual I carry out an early kick test to ascertain the likely reaction to being touched with the feather duster. Donkeys, like mules (as I know to my cost), have a multi-directional and unerringly accurate kick.

Blackberry showed no real propensity to kick and so it was over to students Ben, Sari, and Amanda to do the rest of the work. Ben and Sari have two mules - Marty, and Xato who came over from my friend Xanthe in Mallorca. Amanda is a veteran of the Magic course last summer. Nevertheless there is always something to learn and I broke the course down into stages both for them and for the donkeys who needed regular breaks to eat, drink and relax.

We were soon working from base camp one at the bottom to base camp two at the withers...

...and base camp three just behind the ears.

It was time then to get closer with our own bodies and to touch with the hand. The quality of touch is critical throughout...

After lunch we introduced clickered treats. The donkeys showed their real intelligence, rapidly making the association between a click and a treat and understanding the three click pattern. We started to touch them with the rolled up scarf and began to drape it over their necks.

The first scarf was too long and Blackberry was very worried about it... we found a shorter one which was much more acceptable.

The scarf was used to teach her to lead using only the softest pressure and imagining the movement that we wanted...

...she seemed happy to follow even without the scarf.

Willow was fine with the scarf too.

Using a medium length scarf (thank goodness I have such a good collection) we created a figure of eight around Blackberry's face to imitate the head-collar.

Starting again today one of my students dropped out through illness which left me and Emma doing one to one tuition all day.

This entailed revising all of the work that I had done the day before both for Emma's benefit and the donkeys who needed some consolidation.

Blackberry, who is underweight because of feeding her foal, and sore from life in general, was exceedingly grateful for Emma's massaging skills. She leant into Emma's hand and manoeuvred herself around when she wanted to be rubbed somewhere else.

Back to the scarf work and there was no hesitation today...

...the figure of eight was easy...

and leading even easier.

Time to move on to the first head-collar. We suspect that Blackberry has had a head-forced on to her before so by taking our time and putting it on in stages we were able to avoid any fear.

This head collar was too big so we found another one.

Having led from the neck, leading from the head-collar was a doddle.

While Blackberry had another rest, we worked with Willow...

...a figure-of-eight head collar...

...followed by the real thing.

We ended the day leading Blackberry outside for the first time.