Sunday, October 30, 2011

A Reunion

During the colder months of 2010, student Steph and I went to help a thoroughbred (ex-racehorse) brood mare and her foal, a gangling, scared, wide-eyed creature whose prey animal instincts were so strong that crashing headlong into a gate was preferable to being near a human.

The mum wasn't much more confident either, and this is why we guessed she was wearing an ill-fitting old leather headstall, that looked like it had been part of her head for some time. The pair tore around that muddy, sodden paddock, fear written all over them, as we stood quietly, waiting for them to relax. It took awhile, with lots of approach and retreat, for the trembling mare to accept our approach, (and I removed the headstall) though her terrified offspring hung behind her, head high, tail high, poised for instant flight at the slightest attempt for us to come close to her.

You may have followed the subsequent story of how we came to trust and know each other on my Facebook pages; it was a slow and emotional journey for all of us over the next few weeks ... the gentle but skeptical mare discovering that not all humans are the same, and for the young filly, learning how to trust and place her confidence in me. I named her Crystal, for her fragile nature. Over the next few weeks we built our relationship, and the young Crystal was ready to meet the barefoot professional, be immunised and dewormed - all which went comfortably and smoothly for everyone. I went back over the summer, taking other students with me, to boost her confidence with other people and to rekindle our friendship. She would come when I called her name, and stand at the fence watching me when I left, and I hated to admit it, but I had become hopelessly attached to her!

So, the months went by and this past week when I went to see her, I stood at the gate like I'd done before, and called her name. It was a beautiful moment when she raised her head from her grazing, 100 metres from where I stood, and came galloping across the expanse of bright green grass, her friend Pegasus alongside her. Delighted, I climbed the gate, and moved toward them, and then when they were almost upon me, I turned and ran away from them, and they followed me, the three of us sprinting back down the paddock, they bucking and me running as fast as my gumboots would allow over the wet soggy ground! What fun it is to be reunited with your friends!

I stopped, and they did too, walking over to sniff and greet me. After a few minutes, it was like old times, and as I ran my hands over their strong young bodies, I couldn't believe how much the fillies had grown. Crystal now a 2 year old and Pegasus a 4 year old (my story about her another time). We played the games of Horsemanship with Heart and I trimmed Crystal's front hooves (so overdue I didn't want to wait for the trimmer's visit) and we hung out a while, just walking about giving scratches and standing close.

When our time was up, I reluctantly left them standing at the gate after I had said my goodbyes, and they whinnied at me as I waved one more time from the car. Every day, in every way, daily in my career, I am reminded that it's all about The Relationship! And the Crystals and Pegasus' of the world are just two of the reasons I love my job!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Do horses and ponies like to do cool stuff?

Coming up next month is our Mini and Pony Agility Clinic - a totally fun day of learning and games, all designed to develop a better bond with the little guys and their humans!
Which raises the question: do you think minis, ponies and horses like to play games with obstacles?

The operative word here is 'play' and 'games' .... like children, I find that most horses (by varying degrees) do in fact join in when presented with stuff to play with, as long as things are presented to them in a light hearted, kind, patient and sensitive way!

If the whole thing is approached as 'work' and a 'must make them do it' frame of mind, instead of a 'let's play' attitude, then a human could mistakenly think that their horse isn't playful, and doesn't want to participate!

Something we all need to remember when teaching something like standing on a log, for instance, as mini Gypsy is doing (above) is the invisible tattoo that is on every horses' forehead ... WIIFM! It simply stands for 'What's In It For Me?' and will shape your whole approach, if you pay attention to it!

So how long did it take for me to help little Gypsy to 'get it'? No more than a few minutes - but be warned, it can take the human a bit longer to figure out how to 'ask' and get a positive response and a 'try'. And then, when the horse does try, relax, give a scratch and a small treat, and maybe even lots of praise!

Tips for training fun tricks: keep it short, fun and simple. Reward lots and often. Leave 'em wanting more! Don't confuse them with voice cues at first (which may be YOUR way of learning, not theirs) instead use your ground skills to move them around gently and quietly. Use Approach and Retreat. Start with something easy and build confidence. Once they've 'got it' realise that the repetitions (after 3x) are for the human! LOL

Back to the question of whether horses do in fact 'enjoy' obstacles and the challenge of mental and physical games, well, we have only to observe them in the paddock if we leave stuff out there for them! Some like balls, others like gumboots, some prefer your ropes, your jacket, your hoof trimming tools! Horses are curious and playful (once they feel safe and comfortable) so go ahead, put on your party hat and have a go with the party games! But, um, be careful, your horse might try to pull it off your head!

For more information on the Mini & Pony Agility Day and other clinics, click here.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Awesome Clinic!

Last Saturday's horsemanship clinic at Bethanga up in the northernmost reaches of Victoria, right on the NSW border, was fantastic. The group was fun, light-hearted, enthusiastic and attentive - and the horses were awesome as usual!

Right away I could see how much everyone loved their horse, and how keen they all were to learn about 'being natural' with their horses! Student Steph came along to help with everything, and at the end of the day, we left feeling tired but so happy that the clinic has been such a success, with big positive changes in all the horses and smiling humans!

Biggest Ah-Ha's of the day were about reading the horse's body language, using breathing to control energy, directing focus to relax or engage the horse, and being able to move all the horses around with just a Feather! At the start of the day, no one believed we would be able to do that, and by the afternoon, that's just what everyone was doing! Awesome!

'I'll be back'! and can't wait! I love my 'job'! Thanks everyone!

Am back in the office setting clinic dates for the coming months in between getting my new website up and running! Have a look at the dates here!