Friday, 5 January 2018

Goodbye Old Friend......

I have been neglecting this blog, as the horseback archery one has been taking over somewhat, and indeed I realise I may not have time to keep two of them going, and this could well be the last post on here.

If it is, it will unfortunately not be a happy post. Because last weekend we had to say goodbye to the incomparable Gandalf. I still can't believe he's gone. After 12 years he was so much a part of our lives that it is very hard to be without him.

Last Friday Ali noticed he was looking a bit out of sorts, and was lying down, then getting up then going down again. She stayed in the field to keep an eye on him for a bit, and when he went down like he'd fallen over, she got really alarmed. We called the vet and brought him in, by this time covered in mud. He continued to lie down try to roll, get up again and clearly was in pain. The vet did all the usual treatments for colic, gave him a hefty dose of painkiller and we settled in for a vigil.

Every 20 minutes or so we got him up, took him for a walk, put him back in the stable, where he immediately laid down. Ali sat with him in the straw, I paced up and down and went to see the other horses, many of whom were in for the night as it was so wet in the fields. All the time we were waiting for the tiniest sign that this may be passing, that he would appear more comfortable and start to look for something to eat.

Alas, it was not to be. After several hours with no improvement we called the vet again. Whilst we waited, we took him for a final walk down the track to the field, where for the first (and last) time he called to the others and one of them answered him. It felt like he was saying goodbye......

The vet told us the only other option was a trip to the hospital and surgery, we did not want to put him through that with no guarantee of success. So we did the only thing we could and let him go. We stayed with him at the end, he'd been given a further dose of painkiller, enough that he started looking around for treats so we could give him a few as the last thing we could do for him.

Afterwards, we brought Sky in to say goodbye as she's the sensitive one, who'd been with him since she was six months old. We think it's important for them to know when one of them passes away, rather than just disappearing from the field never to return. Ever since she has been strangely calm, but there is definitely a sense that things have changed in the herd.

So there we are, at the age of 23, Gandalf is gone. Ali wrote this on Instagram, which I think is a lovely tribute to the horse of a lifetime.
Goodbye old friend, we love you.......

Sunday, 12 February 2017


Another excellent post from The Red Mare yesterday, who is the horse at the heart of The Happy Horse book.

It's all about people wanting a quick fix for horses with "problems" and buying gadgets or calmers to try and make them easier to work with.

"No calmer in the world will give you a bond of trust with your horse. If you do not build that bond of trust, day by slow day, there is always going to be a moment when you will find yourself in trouble."

The trust I have been building all these years with my horses has really paid off this weekend. I very rarely ride Sky. I have ridden her maybe half a dozen times in all the years we've had her. But I have done a lot of groundwork with her and general day to day interactions so she knows that I am the one who makes decisions and she also knows that if she gets scared, she can turn to me for help. She does get scared quite a lot. Yesterday she was snorting at a patch of snow on the ground because it was well, white, and it hadn't been there the day before. But I said it was OK and we went past it and it didn't jump up and eat her.

Anyway, a friend had brought her Total Contact saddle over for Ali to try. And after she'd done that, I fancied a go. So I got on Sky, she looked round at me as I was on the mounting block as if to say "Well this doesn't normally happen" but she stood still as I mounted and stood waiting for me to tell her what to do. We rode up and down the lane in walk and trot and she followed all my instructions perfectly. She was calm and relaxed, and amazingly sensitive and supple. She really is a credit to Ali.

Would she have let anyone else do that? Probably not. Our years of building up a trusting relationship really have paid off. And of course I trust her too. She was only wearing a cordeo......
In other news, I rode Tari for the first time ever today. I think she trusts me too :-)

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 :-)