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Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Change of Plans.

I've called off the purchase of my PRE mare. I found out that she had a history of twin pregnancies and that she hadn't been scanned early enough to rule out twins this time. The vet told me that he was unlikely to be able to tell if she was carrying two foals at this late stage, even with a scan, and if she was they were very unlikely to survive until full term and very likely to be born weak and die at or soon after birth if they did.

I knew that twin foals were bad news but I hadn't appreciated just how great a risk they pose to the mare's chances of survival as well. It was a useful lesson to learn and if I or any of my liveries ever breed foals again I will definitely opt for early scanning (16-18 days) and preferably several more scans after that.

I very much hope, for the mare's sake, that she's not carrying twins. As far as making a decision about what I should do was concerned I did what I always do and asked myself what I'd advise someone else to do in this position. The answer was obvious - walk away, at speed, from the inevitable months of worry, possibly ending in tragedy and much expense. Breeding's a worrying enough undertaking without this added and unnecessary risk factor thrown in!

I am SO grateful to the vet. I nearly didn't bother with having her vetted as, being the eternal optimist, I still always assume that everything will turn out alright in the end and I'm very lucky in that mostly it does! I will definitely always go for a vetting in future - he was worth his weight in gold!!! Another useful lesson learnt!

Jack had colic tonight. It was mild and we walked it off together quite quickly but it served to remind me that I shouldn't take my lovely ponies for granted and should make the most of them.

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Progress and a New Challenge.

I'm getting brilliant feedback from Heidi's owner. I've been doing a lot more targeting with her, getting her to walk alongside me with her head next to me (using the target in my hand) stop when I stop and back up when I circle the target under her chin towards her chest.

For the last two days, instead of shooting off ahead, she has apparently walked quietly up the track to her paddock with her nose just touching her owner's hand. Her owner told me that this has re-established her emotional connection to Heidi, who she said much as she wouldn't part with her for fear of what would happen to her, she was frightened of her and didn't 'like' her anymore (she'd started referring to her as 'The Devil Pony!). Now she's feeling safe with her and affectionate towards her again - RESULT!!!!!!

Last night I also began working with a young TB mare who lives here. Her name is Cali and she came from a racing yard. She never made it as far as the race track because of an injury in training. She is very quiet, easy and laid back for her age and breed except for the fact that she is VERY cold-backed. Her owner, for whom this is her first horse, has had her re-backed by a Natural Horsemanship trainer (male and, if I'm honest, a little rough for my liking, especially for such a sensitive mare, although very clear and dis-passionate). She has come back here still very, very tense about being girthed up and her owner finds that difficult to cope with without getting very, very tense herself (very understandably - 16hands of pent up, potentially explosive tension is not nice to be around!!!).

My mission, and I have chosen to accept it, is to see if clicker training can make her relax and change her attitude to being saddled.

Last night I just spent a few minutes getting her acquainted with the clicker and a target. I loved working with her - she is very polite, gentle and sensitive. She was fine with the clicker to begin with but then decided that she didn't like the noise and became wary of touching the target as the annoying noise happened whenever she did. This tickled me and I quickly switched to using a tongue click which she approved of! Thinking about it I don't blame her as it is an annoying sound but I will go back to it later as I want her to be tolerant and accepting of harmless nuisances.

I was very pleased with our initial session together and look forward to doing a lot more with her and I'll get some photos later.

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Heidi Session 3 and 4.

I'm getting very positive feedback from Heidi's owner about the change in her behaviour already, despite horrendous weather conditions today which would usually have made her very difficult to lead. I'm a bit surprised that she's improving so quickly but my main focus has been on changing her attitude towards people and making interacting with me easy and fun for her, and it seems to be working.

After spending another evening repeating the games we played in the first session I went back to targeting last night with unqualified success. Heidi enthusiastically sniffed and then mouthed the target every time and her eye (I did put 'eyes' to begin with!) lit up every time she heard the click so she's definitely worked out what it means.

In the stable I got her to follow me forward and backwards following the target, turn her head right around to her girth area to touch it, touch it when I held it between her front legs and when I dropped it on the floor. On her blind side I rattled it gently (I'm using a large pink and yellow plastic dog bone which rattles slightly for some reason) and she did seem to follow the noise to touch it - either that or the smell, or both. In any case it wasn't too much of a problem.

Tonight I let her out loose in the yard and we played the same games there. She concentrated really well and never left me, even with other people coming and going and horses watching over doors. I make a point, as well as giving her each treat away from my body, with her head straight in front of her, of offering it fairly low down and with her head in an 'on the bit' position, to encourage good posture and a confident yet submissive stance.

So far Heidi has been a little star and couldn't be more co-operative or sensible. Her owner says she is more polite and she feels safer around her already, which is brilliant!

One interesting and rather poignant observation I've made is that she often seems to try and 'look' at the target with her empty eye socket. I'm told that she does this with lots of things. Considering she's been without that eye for at least the last two and a half years I guess it just goes to prove that old habits really do die hard!

Monday, 2 January 2012

Heidi, Donkeys, Dougal and New Years Eve.

Happy New Year everyone and I hope you all have a brilliant 2012!!!

Heidi as promised, and her friend and owner's other horse, Hetty.





The donkeys in their number 2 paddock and Dougal out with his best friend Tom and his friend, my old pony Russell. I'll have to get some photos of Dougal and Tom playing together - they are so cute!




Donkeys in their stables this evening




And some of my most treasured inanimate possessions - my bridle collection which now includes 2 Portuguese bridles, 1 Spanish complete with mosquero, and a blingy Western bridle, and my new but already much worn and muddy Devil's Horsemens jacket, bought at their Christmas Panto on 30th December. The panto was brilliant and it was lovely to catch up with Rosie again, who had taken Tinker and Casper there for the week's performances.



A link to a clip of the panto:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SClB2UWHMl8&feature=share

And on New Years Eve we went to London to see 'We Will Rock You' (we both love Queen) and stayed to see the fireworks on the Embankment afterwards. Unfortunately we couldn't get close enough to see much as there were too many buildings in the way and getting home afterwards was a nightmare - I've never seen so many people in my life!!! We got to bed at 4.15am but it was definitely on of those life experiences not to be missed if at all possible!! It was also amazing and reassuring how good natured almost all of those hundreds of thousands of people seemed to stay in spite of all the frustrations of being so hemmed in and the presence of copious amounts of alcohol!
Photos of The Embankment at midnight on New Years Eve.


Sunday, 1 January 2012

Working with a Pony with One Eye.

I've been asked to help with one of my liveries' horses as her owner is getting increasingly scared of her and another livery who handles her regularly is struggling to manage her now. I think she's going to be very interesting to work with and I really enjoyed my first session with her tonight, so I'll document how we get on.

Heidi is a 14.1 rather cobby rising 6yo who we were told came off The New Forest originally. She came here with the Fell Ponies I bought 2 years ago, from the same dealer's yard. We don't know how or when she lost her eye but it's obvious that it was professionally removed and the opening very neatly stitched up.

She had just had a foal weaned from her when she came here and was in very poor condition. She was well halter trained but unbacked and her feet and legs hadn't been handled much. She was very quiet and easy to catch and lead.

As she rapidly improved in condition with her new owner her true personality gradually came to light and she got more and more dominant with other horses and feisty in general. Dogs are particularly at risk around her but she's never been aggressive towards people although she has nipped her owner on occasion.

Last summer a quite experienced and very lightweight friend of her owner decided to back her and had great plans for her. I wasn't especially happy about the odd session I saw but, typically for me, I didn't want to upset anyone or be thought to be interfering so decided it was none of my business and looked the other way, hoping for the best.

My biggest concern was that practically all I ever saw in preparation for backing was Heidi being encouraged to gallop flat out, mostly over jumps, on the end of a lunge rein in the school. I couldn't see how this was going to prepare her to be sensible and quiet when she was backed and ridden on a lunge rein in the same place.

I now feel very guilty because when she was backed, although she was no problem when led with a rider on top, almost as soon as she was let out on the lunge rein she exploded and her rider had a very bad fall and unfortunately had to be taken to hospital by ambulance with a punctured lung, from which she still hasn't fully recovered.

Since then Heidi hasn't been worked at all and has become increasingly difficult to deal with. She tries to gallop off when being led and rears and throws tantrums when restrained from doing so. She's been especially difficult in the high winds we've had lately and I had to rescue the person trying to lead her in the other day.

I picked up an electric fencing stake and held it in front of Heidi to stop her trying to charge off and indicate the boundaries of the space between the stake, me and the fence that I required her to stay within. It had the added bonus of focusing her attention and getting her head lower, as she instinctively concentrated on the unfamiliar and slightly scary white object, and she led in like a lamb!

I had the first ever clicker session with her in her stable tonight and began with introducing her to targeting. This went very well to begin with but then she began to get worried and suspicious of the target. This may be because, as she's usually so bold, I wasn't careful enough about taking the target away slowly and tactfully after the click. Whatever the reason I decided to change tactics to make sure the rest of the session was successful and enjoyable for her.

I swapped to clicking her for moving backwards away from me as I stepped into her space, which she was very quick to respond to. This has the bonus of being submissive behaviour which is definitely to be hugely encouraged with a feisty pony like Heidi!

I then alternated between clicking her for stepping forward towards me when I moved away from her, then backing up when I moved towards her, beginning a little dance together, with loads of strokes and "good girl"s along with the treats.

When this got too easy I waited until her weight was placed towards the front leg on her blind side and moved to the shoulder on her eye side and asked her to step over with her front foot, crossing it in front of the other foot to stand momentarily cross legged. If she was slow to respond I tickled her leg to get her to lift her foot and crossed it over myself, then clicked her. She was incredibly co-operative about this and I got the impression that she was thoroughly engrossed in, and entertained by, trying to work out what was going on!

After a total of about 25mins I made a big fuss of her, clicked her for letting me give her a hug and a kiss on the nose, and left her for the night. A very successful and enjoyable first session for both of us! Although she's been here for some time I really don't know her as a 'person' at all and I'm really looking forward to getting to know her properly and thoroughly, as you do quite rapidly when clicker training. Finding ways of communicating from her blind side is going to be very interesting too.

My aim at the moment, and all I've been asked to do, is to try to get her more co-operative and manageable to deal with on the ground. I probably won't offer to do more than that as my days of having a go at re-backing other people's disasters are long gone and I don't bounce like I used to but if Heidi gives me the confidence in her to do so, then you never know!!!

I'll take some photos of her tomorrow.

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I am a clicker training addict and there is no cure - thank goodness!!!