Tag: communication

Don’t Be a Screaming Sue

Open the gate, open the gate!!!!

No-one stopped in their tracks, conversations were not interrupted, tea drinking did not cease mid sip either. By now everyone was accustomed to Screaming Sue and her daily routine of turning out her horse. Sue’s somewhat unconventional method of taking Bargy Boris (BB) to pasture always started in the stable, albeit with less volume, but still clearly audible.

During those moments it was clear Sue’s nickname was entirely inappropriate considering what we could ascertain from Sue’s rather guttural grunts and groans. During the rugging process which took around 35 minutes, a more apt name would have been Squashed Sue. Offers of help had ceased long ago because apparently Sue could handle BB’s rambunctious personality, and no-one but her would cope. The main event however always started when the stable door was opened. This was always BB’s cue to announce his existence to the world. The door would fly open so hard it would hit the outside of the stable wall and shake the entire block. Buckets, grooming kits and various yard equipment would either be scattered or shattered.

His large chest would quite literally sweep Sue to one side with the power of a tsunami. With head held high one would question whether Sue was holding the rope or swinging from it. It was always at this moment that Sue needed a volunteer. Not help you understand, Sue didn’t need help, but a volunteer. Everyone knew the routine by then, and one of us would scurry off ahead of Sue and the 4 legged tsunami to go and stand by the field gate. I say scurry because no-one in their right mind would trust Sue to hold onto that horse behind you. Trying to run forward while simultaneously checking behind to ensure BB wasn’t about to bulldoze over you was no easy task.

The victim, or volunteer would barely make it to the gate before Squashed Sue rapidly evolved into Screaming Sue. BB would soon give up on walking and break into trot. It would be at this point also that Sue would start screaming Don’t you dare! which was quite lost on BB, and in fact the entire yard. It was apparent that BB actually did dare, considering this same routine had been played out for almost 14 months. It had occurred to me that if Sue should ever want a powerful trot in the arena the only aid she would need would be her voice, and shouting Don’t you dare!

Sue, who would now be running/swinging alongside her horse would already be reaching up to undo the head collar. The head collar and rope would come clattering to the floor with a hapless screaming Sue doing her best not to trip over it. BB would be free and almost at full gallop during the last 10 meters to the gate. The woeful volunteer would have that gate wide open while standing on the post and rail just to ensure their own safety. They would invariably get splattered in mud as a galloping bulldozing tsunami would pass them at near on 25 mph.

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While this tale of Screaming Sue and Bargy Boris may seem fantastical, fictional or at best farcical I have more than once seen this ‘method’ used when turning out a horse. I have a theory that some owners do not accept help because they are unaware they need help. The situation and their horse’s actions become so familiar to them they become almost blind to the issue.

But in my view this situation was nothing less than downright dangerous. Anything or anyone could have crossed BB’s path during that last 10 metres and the outcome would no doubt be catastrophic.

The horse was actually only doing what he has been trained to do. In his eyes this is merely how the human turns him out. It’s part of his daily routine and in some respects BB is doing exactly what is expected of him. Horses like to comply, they feel comfortable when they understand what the human is trying to communicate to them. They are very easy to train, so be very aware of what exactly you are training them. There is absolutely no legitimate reason why BB could not walk to the gate in a calm, safe manner. Well, there’s one reason – Sue. Yet the issue is nothing to do with turnout.

When an advert reads easy to do in all ways take note, and consider if your horse is also the same. Mild inconveniences to downright dangerous behaviour should not be accepted or tolerated. Many behaviours are not down to his personality, a horse may be rambunctious but he can be trained not to be when with the handler. Issues may develop slowly through fear, anxiety or miscommunication, but that’s the time to seek help, before the problem becomes huge. It’s not a failing to ask or accept help and advice, it’s an opportunity to expand your knowledge which in turn will give you a fantastic partnership with your horse.

Little Girls Own Chilled Out Ponies

I had a moment of confuzzlement recently. Reading equine body language does not come from watching several horse videos or from owning horses for many years. It comes from watching domestic and wild horses in person, online, studying images and experiencing a million moments on yards and often, observing how humans respond to horses, and vice versa. It takes all those things, and over a lifetime.

Watching show jumping is border-line ruined for me now. I see the slightest slip of a hand accidentally jab a horse in the mouth. Unbalanced crooked landings and unintentional leg aids in which horses are forced to learn between whether it means something or nothing…horses are clever like that. I see swishing tails, and not the sort you see that lazily batters a fly away on a July afternoon. But tails that have a left to right snapping motion, add that to the tightly pinned ears and I read pain. I see mouths that open, and heads held high. I see horses that are willing to jump but ask the rider to release the reign just a fraction more.

Continue reading “Little Girls Own Chilled Out Ponies”

Too windy To Ride?

I raised my chin to look directly above me, the tall birch trees were swaying in synchronised unity. A million leaves being rattled by the wind had the sound not unlike a fast moving river moving over boulders. I admonished myself for having the stupidity to ride my horse through the large copse of trees on such a gusty day. But I had been ambling along oblivious to both the weather and where the track led. Furthermore the track had forked before the wood, so I had indeed the option of riding around it, missing it entirely. But no, I had been riding along like Dolly Daydream and it hadn’t occurred to me branches, even trees may fall on such a gusty day. Well, not until I saw how much the birch trees were swaying. Even the crows had the sense to leave long before the stupid human turned up. We should probably get out of this wood I muttered to my horse. My horse, who was also taking part in this Dolly Daydream episode, was gently chewing on her bit while gazing down the track. I don’t know what I was thinking, well, evidently nothing. It occurs to me now ‘thinking nothing’ is not such a bad thing sometimes. It really hadn’t dawned on me it might be dangerous to hack on such a windy day, and for good reason, nothing eventful happened.

While the reader of my birch tree memoir may assume I was riding a chilled out, bomb-proof equine, you couldn’t be more wrong. My horse, at times (too many times) can actually be a head-strong, dominant, cantankerous nutcase that has a talent for moving from 0 mph to 35 mph in 0.3 seconds. I have a lot to thank this horse for, as I was quite literally forced to educate myself in the ways of the equine. I have ridden in all sorts of dire weather, even thunder and lightning. Obviously riding in lightning isn’t advisable, and neither was it my intention. I have a large amount of respect (and fear) for random bolts of electrical discharge with a temperature of 53,540 degrees Fahrenheit coursing through my body. I just occasionally get caught out, that’s all.

Horse Lightning

So what’s going on with my horse, that at times, has a brain resembling a washing machine on spin cycle?

I unwittingly trained my horse to find comfort when hacking in all types of weather. I didn’t have the knowledge or understanding at the time to realise what I was doing. But nevertheless was accomplishing beneficial training for both rider and horse. It is usual for me to cool off a horse by leaving the school and going for a gentle hack. I have never found any interest in riding or leading a horse on a loose reign after a session in an arena, because quite frankly it’s boring. These cooling off sessions consist of asking a minimal amount of instructions. I need to cool off as well, so apart from pointing my horse in the correct direction and using the tiniest amount of leg, she is actually under no pressure to do anything other than just amble along. So no matter what the weather is doing, my horse would rather have a stress free amble than be in the arena working.

Off course setting out on a long hack where I may trot, jump, or canter, and need her focus while doing so, and particularly when using roads, will in her mind be work. But for all those times she has found comfort during the cooling down sessions she has also been prepared to both accept and ignore the weather.

Birch Trees

The concept of your horse finding comfort opens the mind to endless possibilities. If your horse naps at a particular place, or a certain distance from the yard then ask for work just about anywhere else, apart from that place. If your horse naps toward the yard, by all means go back to the yard, and work your horse. He will soon start to think twice about wanting to return to the place of work. Horses can often refuse to enter an arena, and we have all seen that spectacle at shows! Even my own horse went through a phase of rearing at the arena door. There is no need for all the shouting, kicking and the general hullabaloo that can occur. Do some work in the arena, then another day go in the arena and ask very little of your horse. Just occasionally, if he’s lucky he might find something good to eat in there, trust me he will remember. This is why I dislike routine which I often write about. The horse will be more compliant if he can find comfort in all sorts of situations and environments whether he is working or not.

Do not assume your horse will be a nightmare to ride on a windy day. Further more if you already have a horse that has proven to be a nightmare on a windy day, start slow and try to analyse what you were doing before, during and after the hack. Training with patience and understanding will produce a horse you can enjoy even on those gustier days.

 

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Modified by author

Aggression Doesn’t Always Mean Dangerous

Over the years I have more than once, blamed a groom for forgetting to bolt the stable door when finding my horse loose on the yard. Then one day I witnessed my mare jumping out of her stable! Well that’s putting it more mildly than what really happened when my horse escaped. Continue reading “Aggression Doesn’t Always Mean Dangerous”

Raising Our Foals Fairly

The majority of foals, certainly in my experience here in the UK, are spending their first few months alone with the mother. Although I am aware of reputable horse breeders that turn out a number of foals and mums together to live amiably as a herd. Yet I have seen many individual horse owners segregate the mother and baby until weaning. Then between  4 and 6 months the foal is usually separated from the mother and put into a herd of horses.

Continue reading “Raising Our Foals Fairly”

Winter Grumpiness? Food Is Not The Answer!

Every single one of the horses caught my attention, in terms of equine behaviour there was a lot to observe. Most of the behaviour was instigated by a human walking through the gate that led to the paddocks. All 7 horses whinnied and most of them ran to their own fence-lines. Being early December the grass was almost depleted, snow and a few hard frosts will ensure the paddocks will soon be decimated. The horses were overly spooky, they only needed a very minor excuse to take flight while kicking up their heels. One of the horses was continually walking the fence line, creating a track that had turned to mud. Those very worn muddy tracks appear in every field, at every yard every winter. Instinct is telling the horse to move on to pastures new, but being restricted by fencing, the legs continue to walk a journey that leads to nowhere. The behaviour in all these animals is driven by a lack of food, they are either hungry or are aware resources are becoming scarce.

On yards all over England this time of year liveries will be complaining their horses are rude, impatient, even feisty. People find themselves frantically clutching lead-ropes while their horse drags them either to the field, or to the stable. Others are dreading having to deal with several kicking, spooky horses at a very muddy gateway while trying to retrieve their own horse out of the field. The majority of these owners will understand that their horse is feeling hungry. The majority of these owners will also very likely do something about the situation, by giving the horse more food.

This is a mistake. Continue reading “Winter Grumpiness? Food Is Not The Answer!”

Why Your Horse Could Kick You

When somebody is about to walk behind my horse and they ask Does your horse kick? I always feel a bit tongue tied. Obviously I would like to say no, but in truth all horses kick. Although I am almost certain my mare wont (this time) because I am aware she has seen the person approach her. If she’s not eating, stressed, frightened, in-pain, half asleep, or being eaten by flies, then yes, I am almost certain sure she will not kick you on this occasion.

Horses have taught me many valuable lessons over the years, even the painful lessons have been important as these are the ones that have kept me safe. The speed, accuracy and power of a kick is something to behold. I was kicked twice in a fraction of a second 2 inches above my left knee cap many years ago, the dent in my leg will be there permanently. I regard this as physical reminder of my stupidity. Continue reading “Why Your Horse Could Kick You”

The Singers and the Losers

It had been a great party with too much booze, lots of music, great company and karaoke. The next morning when I visited the yard where the party had been held a friend of mine said that was a great night, but oh my gosh you can’t sing! She’s wasn’t lying, I can’t hit a single note and am completely tone deaf.

Does that mean I shouldn’t sing? Continue reading “The Singers and the Losers”

The Equine Mind Map

The stable had been prepared for the new livery with a thick bed of fresh straw and a hay net hung in the corner. The horse came off the lorry and walked into the barn filled with anxiety, he was head-high with flaring nostrils and eyes as round as dinner plates. Even after a good 45 minutes the horse was still extremely anxious. The once neat bed of straw was tossed to the side of the stable walls as the horse frantically circled the stable, the circuit was only broken when he rushed to the stable door to whinny and rear. Sweat made his bay coat glisten as steam started to rise from him. Continue reading “The Equine Mind Map”

The Bolt: Part 2

When out hacking through the countryside or along roads my mare will display anxiety when approaching and passing horse paddocks. If these horses are just standing around grazing she will become head-high and attempt to focus on the herd. I can feel her attention has shifted from me and I’ve become a mere passenger. Continue reading “The Bolt: Part 2”