Friday, 30 December 2016

You can't do that, it's dangerous!

Yesterday we did something that is apparently very dangerous. We went for a hack and as soon as we got off the main road and started trotting, Sky started shaking her head up and down as usual. We have come to the conclusion that she doesn't like the feel of the bridle moving around on her head, even her specially made soft leather sidepull. So Ali took it off, and we did the rest of the ride with her just in the neck rope.

Sky is much happier like this it would seem. The head tossing stopped. We went up into the woods and decided to see what would happen if we went for a canter. It was very civilised and she didn't even feel the need to race with Damson. The neck rope was fine for stopping and no innocent passing hikers were run over.

Sky strode out, sniffed the path at times, looked around, nibbled the grass a time or two, but didn't brace her neck, didn't do her giraffe impression and generally seemed more relaxed then usual. I love this picture:
There is something very special about having the trust of a horse like this. I hope I can have the same with Tari when I start riding her. Ali also did her first Interdressage test bridleless this month and she got 77.5 % in spite of a few occasions when Sky made her opinion very clear that she didn't really want to be doing some of this stuff.....
......but then, when did she ever not do that? It's why we love her ;-)

Saturday, 10 December 2016

Searching for calm

Today it has been raining, A lot. Almost biblically in fact. Making us wish for a return to last weekend's freezing cold but dry days.....but never mind, we thought, we now have an indoor school at the yard, we can do some work with the horses and stay dry!

However, when we went to get the girls, they apparently had other ideas. I was expecting a certain amount of distraction due to the usual Saturday ritual of attempting to shoot the bountiful number of pheasants up in the woods behind the horses' field that seems to amuse the locals. I don't know how many they actually shoot, but they sure use a lot of ammunition during the attempt, it's just like being back in France Sky in particular was already somewhat on alert.

But they came trotting (well, sliding sideways at the trot, the field isn't exactly flat) down to the gate and walked along with us down to the yard, snorting at puddles and random bits of plastic, as is Sky's wont. It's not really Tari's won't however, and she seemed more worried about life than usual. Then we got to the Waterfall of Doom, where a gap in the guttering along the side of the school roof meant some water was falling from the hole and making a scary noise. This was simply not to be contemplated unless from the far end of the leadrope with much more and much  louder snorting. Not even peppermint horse treats would induce Tari to approach this monstrosity.....well alright, she got a bit closer but it's truly amazing how far her chunky little neck stretches out when she wants the treat but doesn't want to get any closer to something ;-)

Ah well, we thought, at least they haven't run away, but the general unease meant that we gave up on any idea of in hand or ridden work so we just decided to turn them out in the school and see what happened.

Running about, more snorting, pawing at the sand, a bit more running, generally ending up by the gate and not at all keen to be anywhere away from me and Ali. So we stuck with it, wandered about with them and bit by bit they calmed down enough for a few scratches and a bit of yawning.
So I suppose it was half an hour of what a friend of mine calls "nothing happens horsemanship". But by the end they were calm enough for me to be able to take them back to the field just in their neckstraps. In the rain.......

Sunday, 13 November 2016

A shiny new sand school!!

Sun came out today, went for a hack (I rode Sky!), then had a play in the new school that's just been built at our livery yard, such luxury!!

Tari wasn't sure about the step up into the school at first but soon got the hang of it.....

Ali's been riding her with both reins and neckstrap, she's getting the hang of it all now, even managed a bit of steering without her bridle

Obviously hard work though :wink:  :lol: 

She's done so well today, she's gradually getting the hang of steering etc, and she's interested in everything. We've been doing a little bit at a time and giving her plenty of thinking time, and she picks things up well, not as quickly as Kinna or Fina, but she gets there :-D 

Sky started out on full, tense alert (after all, we'd changed things!!) but once she'd got back to the school and got used to being in there, she settled enough to do some nice calm work.

 The sand is really hard going at the moment as it'll need time to settle, so we'll be doing slow work for a while.....Interdressage Baroque test should be just the thing :-)

Tuesday, 1 November 2016

Skyfaxa or Shadowfax?

Continuing our little and often approach with Sky seems to be doing the trick. Ali has been doing a little bit of work with her a few times a week and we have now progressed to totally bridleless riding. We've done plenty just at walk to start with, and as there's nothing on her head to brace against, she seems to be more relaxed......

Then yesterday we decided to try a trot and see if things changed. Usually, any increase in pace brings with it an increase in stress and anxiety, and fairly often a tendency to bog off, but this time, she was really listening.....even when she got a bit distracted by the dog!

So we will continue to build on this, as long as the weather allows (still no sign of the indoor school being finished). Ali says Sky seems more relaxed and attentive with nothing on her head. And Ali must be pleased, she even broke into a smile :-)

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

How to have a Happy Horse

I have just finished reading a fabulous little book called “The Happy Horse”. I really wish it were available as a print book rather than the ebook which is the only format you can buy (at the moment) since there is more than one person I know who would really benefit from reading it. Written by Tania Kindersley up in the wilds of Scotland where she lives (and from the sound of it, where I’d like to live!), it is partly a collection of stories, reminiscent of Mark Rashid’s books, and partly a “how to” book.

The author, after a 30 year break from “horsing” (I love that word!), decided to go out and buy herself a Thoroughbred mare. When she got the mare home, rather than being able to just hop on and start riding, she discovered that her horse was not at all happy, and demonstrated this with a dazzling array of behaviour such as bucking, spooking and leaping about. But rather than label the horse “dangerous” or “naughty”, her new owner set about Googling how to make her horse happy. The results of her discoveries and her experiences are all detailed in the book.

I found myself nodding a lot whilst reading it, and often exclaiming (to my fairly bored family) “Exactly! More people need to realise this!” and so on. I think that we have made many of the same discoveries about horsing over the years. And there is some stuff in there that perhaps we haven’t realised yet, so much food for thought and perhaps some things to try with our horses, especially Sky, who seems to have a lot in common with the author’s red mare…….

There are quotes like this, which I could have written myself, and it’s something I often say to people who ask for my help.
“I am constantly amazed by how many people really do think that they can force a half-ton flight animal to do anything. They reach for the strong bits and the sharp spurs; they wrangle and wrestle and shout. They get out their whip. This does not work, but people go on thinking that somehow, if they get tough enough, it will work.”

And this, which pretty much sums up us “fluffy bunnies”:
"You may find that it is not the things you do with your horse that are hard, so much as the way people look at you as you do these things. If you choose not to walk with the crowd, the crowd can get a bit shifty and restless and cross. Some of that crowd may not want to think about herd behaviour; they would much rather get out their strong bits and their standing martingales and their side reins........then you might have to take a lot of deep breaths, count to a blinding smile, and bugger on regardless.”

Over the years we have had so much criticism from fellow horse owners, both online and in real life. I can totally understand why some people can end up doing what is seen as “normal,” even if they’re not convinced it’s best for their horse, just to avoid such criticism. There are some nasty bullies out there. There are people who have criticised this blog because of the views I express about how to do what I feel is the best for my horses. You can’t please everyone, or even anyone sometimes. So it is refreshing to read something like this book and realise that there are people out there who have taken the time, done the research, disagreed with the “experts”, tried different things and found a method that works for them (and more importantly, for their horses) too.

So we shall continue to bugger on regardless, continue to ignore the negative comments and continue to learn as much as we can about how to make our horses happy. If you want to do that too, get a copy of this book. Your horse will thank you for it :-)

Saturday, 8 October 2016

The girls get back to work.....

We've had a few months of not doing a lot with our horses, largely due to much running around helping people with horseback archery training and events (more on that here). But recently we've picked things up again, so here are a few photos.....

With Sky, we have gone right back to basics and just started doing ten minutes or so a day asking her to move around a bit, bending, backing up, with as little rein use as possible, to stop her bracing her neck. In fact, sometimes we dispense with a bridle all together.

Tari too has made some progress, especially with that  scary plastic stuff.

And today, she went for her first hack with no lead rein, and was very good for our friend Nicola, with only a couple of discussions about stopping and trying to eat......

Friday, 9 September 2016

New bridle

Check it out, our friend Cécile has made a fantastic new sidepull for Gandalf, I love it!

More of her work here:

Thursday, 18 August 2016

Tari's progress

Oops, haven't posted for a while, we've been busy with boring things like exams and work. But now it's the summer holidays we've had a bit more time to get things done with the horses.

The first part of the holidays was spent out in France, and we got a fair bit of mounted archery done, more on that on the archery blog

Since our return, we been concentrating on getting some stuff done with Tari. We have found all sorts of things to entertain her, such as an old mattress left lying around....

She's had a saddle on, and then someone on her back and this really hasn't bothered her at all.....

If you're wondering about the new hairstyle, it's an attempt to keep her a bit cooler along her neck whilst still having some fly whisks. Hopefully cuts down on the dreadlocks too.......

The only thing we've discovered she's really not happy about is a white plastic bag, even when it contains carrots......hopefully Gandalf's example will win her over!

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Why do people get so angry?

Over the years, this blog has had some fairly extreme reactions - often from people in the real world getting offended by what I have to say. Usually because of posts questioning the "traditional" way of doing something.

Someone once had a real go at me after reading this blog post . Apparently it was a personal attack on the way they kept their horses. And I am not alone, I have just today read this blog where a fellow advocate of keeping horses barefoot was accused of spreading "blasphemy". Any mention of things like riding barefoot or bitless usually gets people writing unpleasant comments on social media, and the name calling starts. "Fluffy bunny" is my favourite so far.....

But all we fluffy bunnies are doing is trying to make the lives of our horses as pleasant as we can. Trouble is, the horse kept in a lovely clean, dry stable most of his time, wearing a nice new rug, with regular schooling sessions with an expensive trainer and frequent excursions to a show in shiny new tack with his mane all pulled, whiskers trimmed and mouth strapped shut is having what his owner presumably thinks is the best life possible too. And these owners can't entertain for one second the idea that they might be wrong. That they might not understand their precious horse, they might be missing all the times he is trying to communicate with them, that they might be causing his lameness or colic or ulcers with unnecessary shoeing or limited turnout or unnatural feeding regimes.

And this I suppose is what makes them so cross. They need to feel that they are right in what they are doing, so we must be wrong. Maybe at the back of their mind there is a niggling doubt that there could be something in what we're saying but they'd rather not acknowledge it, so it's easier to get cross and have a go at someone than to question their own knowledge.

But getting people to question things is one of the reasons I started this blog. And among all the nasty comments and negative reactions, if there is just one person, somewhere, who reads it and starts thinking that maybe they could change some aspect of their horse's life to allow him time to be a horse just a little more, then it's worth it. So I shall continue......

Friday, 29 April 2016

Rock crunching

When we went out in the woods the other day we noticed some big piles of gravel had appeared. Presumably they're going to spread it on the paths to make them more vehicle-friendly in the winter. It's not little smooth, round gravel like you get in posh gardens, it's big uneven, lumpy shapes, calcaire they call it in France.

So naturally we decided to see what the horses would make of it. Going up and down slopes is good training for TREC and all that. Not to mention good practise for just riding out and about.

Well, they just walked up and down it, no problems. Sky might have wonky feet that don't look like a lot of people think they should, but she has no problem taking them and the rest of herself over this sort of terrain.

Who needs shoes anyway? :-)

Thursday, 21 April 2016

Great British traditions?

Today is the Queen’s 90th birthday. Naturally this means extensive coverage in the media. This morning I was listening to Radio 4 in the car on the way to work and part of this coverage included a reporter going to the barracks at Hyde Park to have a look at the preparations the Household Cavalry is having to do for various birthday parades.

And it made for depressing listening, for me at least. The reporter, Roya Nikkah, was happily describing some of the things the soldiers were doing to get their equine charges ready to go out in public. One soldier was whitening his charge’s socks with chalk so they’d look “immaculate”. Not such a problem, maybe, unless the chalk ends up irritating the skin, probably not so likely. But then she went on to explain that he was also shaving off the horse’s whiskers on its muzzle, to make it “look smart”. The Queen, we were then told, being such a lover of horses, has a keen eye and always scrutinises the horses on parade to ensure that they are turned out looking their best. But should looks be more important than well-being?

Those of you who are regular readers will no doubt know that a horse’s whiskers are as important to him as a cat’s. Would we trim off a cat’s whiskers to make him look smart too? Horses need their whiskers to feel for things under their noses where due to the position of their eyes, they can’t see. But then, as these horses are doubtless shut in their stables for the vast majority of their time, would they ever get the chance to explore the world around them with their delicate whiskers?

The report then went on to talk to one of the Household Cavalry’s 14 farriers. He proudly related how well they look after the horses’ feet, shoeing them regularly as they’re trying to “minimise concussion”. Quite how nailing a piece of iron to the bottom of a horse’s hoof before it goes out on the roads around London would minimise concussion has never been adequately explained to me. Wouldn’t the horses be better off barefoot, which has worked so well for institutions such as the Houston Mounted Police Force in America?

But no, we’re British of course, and therefore bound by rigid tradition. Tradition that also dictates just how much metalwork needs to be on the head (and more accurately, in the mouth) of a Cavalry Black. Have you ever seen them on parade without a large amount of head tossing? I have been told that the amount of kit a soldier must wear and the rigidity of some of it makes for a very uncomfortable parade duty. But at least these men have chosen to be there. Their horses haven’t. But then as so often in the equine world, the horse’s side of the story just isn't taken into consideration…….

So when you watch all those immaculately turned out horses on parade for the Queen over the next few days, spare a thought for them. Kept, like racehorses, in an unnatural way for an equine, using traditional methods, in traditional tack (this regiment dates back to the Restoration, I believe) I wonder just how happy and healthy they are? I don’t know about you, but thinking of things from the horses’ point of view will definitely lessen my enjoyment of those birthday celebrations.

Monday, 4 April 2016

Back to France for more training......

Been busy with horseback archery again during these school holidays, we spent 5 days in France at a young archers youth training camp, with our friends at Domaine de Gauchoux near Limoges.

It was fab. Everyone there is just so laid back about everything. Over here people would have been aghast at such things as dogs running loose and horses left unattached to graze after they'd finished their runs. But there were no issues or injuries. I sometimes wonder if the people who worry too much about safety are more likely to have accidents as they're too uptight and it transmits to the horses? Anyway, Alan le Gall who owns the place was not fazed one bit when after 10 minutes of riding a new horse, Ali asked if she could take the bridle off and ride in a rope headcollar.......

Ditto with me and Saltimbanque, a big horsie who'd never encountered archery before. I offered to do a bit of work with getting him used to it all and Alan just said here he is, off you go and left me to it. Didn't realise until later that no one but Alan rides him as when he arrived 2 years ago he was such a nervous wreck he didn't want anyone making him worse......

We stayed in a yurt, which was so much more warm and comfortable that we thought it's be. Beautifully decorated inside......

And how about this for a view?

Although on the first night, I was awoken to the sound of galloping hooves and was half way out of bed before I realised it couldn't be mine escaping.  Next morning over breakfast I found out a couple of the other coaches had had the same reaction......

Anyway, full report on the archery blog here: