Friday, 9 November 2012

A Happy Heart. A Free Spirit. A Flying... Lead Change!

   October was a very busy month for me, as you can tell from the lack of blog posts! The horses therefor have practically had a month off, bar the odd play that I made time for in order to correct some... attitude that they were developing. Im used to leading 2 together at liberty and having a 3rd follow, and for the first time I was unable to lead 2 horses together at liberty, boundires were becoming a little blurred and instead of co operating they were basically scewing up their faces and poking their tounge out at me "Noo, so nuur!". It has only been this week that I have began playing with them and riding again, and thankfully after just the one play session all ponies are back to their superstar selves.

   Prior to his month off Shinobi's progress was just sky rocketing and it appeared that he had reached a whole new stage in his developement and we were starting to really uncover and expose a completely different horse, in a good way! I was slightly worried that it would take some time to reach this stage again after such a long time off, I could nt have been more wrong and i have never been more happy to be so wrong!

   My plan of action was to base this session on rebuilding some boundries as he had become more dominant and this attitude didnt allow for much co operation. I dont mind my horses being dominant if that is who they are, what I do mind is when it goes beyond the point of them sharing their opinion on something iv asked and reaches the point where they no longer do what I ask because they feel incharge. What i mean by this is, for example,
 When we're doing a figure of 8, I dont mind that when I push them through the middle they toss their head, or pull a face, because they are just expressing the way they feel about it, my goal in this instance is to change their attitude so as they want to do it, and they enjoy this. With out the feedback of a tossing head or pulled face I would nt know that this area needs to be worked on. Its okay in the respect that he is just expressing himself. He is still acting like a partner
   If when I push them through the middle of the figure of 8 they do not yield, because the more dominant one does nt yield then I do mind, that not not okay, this behaviour needs to be addressed. Its not wrong, because he is again expressing how he feels but its not a suitable behaviour for a partnership. He isnt being my partner.
   The majority of my horses are dominant and its not my goal to take it away and make them subserviant, its a part of who they are, instead its my goal to get them to want to follow me and not work against me, and by the end of the 4 weeks my horses were'nt working with me.

   So with the above plan in mind i clipped the lead rope on the halter, focusing my attention on lots of mind games, lots of reverse psychology, lots of less sooner, long phase ones and quick phase 4's, lots of driving and little drawing him towards me, have independant feet ie concentrate on moving his feet not mine. Im ready for this...

   No i wasnt! And i could nt have been more happy!

   Yes we had a little attitude but thats a Left Brain perogative but we no "Why should I's" "You cant make me!" "Whats in it for me" "NO!" we had no "Too much pressure, please stop" "Im hiding now" "I wish i was invisiable" "I cant" instead we have "Zooooooom!" "Ye Hah!" "I want to canter this way, now this way" "Im bored of walking... im trotting" "Yes!"

   His confidence has reached such a high that it has spilled over into enthusiasm and its been in the past couple of months that he has really began to express this enthusiasm. Its the newest change in him so far and i think it is the most prefound change iv witness during our Parelli journey. This new stage in our journey has opened up a whole world of new doors and possibilities to explore.

   I decided to channel this motivavtion and energy into something productive and thought id shift the focus of the session to building on the foundation of jumping, ie focus on getting him more comfortable with going over things.
   He used to have huge confidence issues with his feet and was always reluctant, and would often get quite stressed, about putting his feet on things, or walking through barrels etc but in the past few months we have actually done a our first ever ridden jumps, so this idea i kind of wanted to build on.

   I lowered his head (the cue i give that indicates its okay to eat) and walked away to go and re arrange some poles, once he had relaised i had gone i heard him walk over and begin to follow me, no getting any closer he began to trot after me and took the most direct route to where i was which just so happened to be acrosss the trampoline. Another nail in the coffin that was confidence issues with feet. Trotting, at liberty, over the trampoline, by himself, his idea!

   Things were going well with the figure of 8's so i thought we'd stick to this and incorporate the poles. Doing a figure of 8 meant that he couldn't negogiate his way round to aviod them like he can and does on the circle, he had to go over them and not only that but he was having to go over then at funny angles and change his striding. The focus became less about the pole and more about maintaining the pattern inspite of them and before long he was doing this beautifully. He was lengthening and shortening his stride, going over at funny angels, sometimes stumbling on one but guess what...
   In the words of Linda Parelli "It wasnt about the...... pole. It was about where he was going and how he was going to get their, the poles weren't the focus just something that had to be considered"

   Becuase he had picked this up so well i thought i would up the anti and raise the poles, only ever so slightly but this would now begin to cause Shinobi to have to lift his feet higher and build his confidence in negotiating something more difficult.
   We did this at the trot and he did it perfectly, the poles were so low that he didnt have to jump over them just lift his feet up. His trot became more enthusiastic and so i asked for the canter knowing full well what this could mean. The canter would set him up for an actual jump, if he had the confidence and willingness to negotaiate the poles at the canter then he would jump through the middle resulting in a flying lead change. His first ever flying lead change. This rested on him maintaining the canter and jumping the centre, the two things have moven to be Shinobi's biggest troubles.


   So proud of my handsome boy! Proud that today he accomplished another 'first' but more proud becuase in order to achieve it he had to over come the 2 biggest things that have held him back, his confidence to go forwards and his confidence to go over things. Shinobi is just blossoming and once again demonstrated his dramatic change from a horse that had a broken heart and a broken spirit, that used to hide behind his eyes, never engaged, and never expressed himself to a horse that is so confident and enthusiastic, so much so that he wants to run and play and express himself.

   I feel that today also saw a progression in our relationship. Cuddles and physical affection has never been welcomed by Shinobi, infact he used to see this as another form of pressure and it would trigger alot of his introverted, defensive behaviours. A meaningful reward to him would be either letting him eat, just standing quietly with him or scratching his hind fetlocks but today, for the first time ever, he actually rested his head on my shoulder and tucked his nose under my arm and head in my chest. Our first cuddle.

A short video clip of me and Shinobi playing today. Its the very first few minuets, iv literally just clipped the halter on so what you see is how he was feeling today, its all him!
Its nothing fancy. Its much better than that. It demonstartes the change in him. No longer a horse that never engaged, that had a broken heart and broken spirit, that hid behind those eyes, now he is enthusiastic, confident, motivated, engaging and expresses himsel. No longer a shut down, cant move RBI.

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

A Special Moment With A Special Girl

   When I arrived at the horses it was a perfect Autumn afternoon. As I drove up the drive way i was welcomed by a beautiful sight. A beautiful sight I only get see for a few weeks out of the year and one that I had been eagerly awaiting for 12 months. The wood that wraps around our fields were turning the most smouldering shades of oranges and reds, set against the contrast of the clear blue sky it was a view to fulfil every definition of the word beautiful. It was a welcoming and enticing place, one that just ignites a spark for adventure.
   Standing tall and strong, there was also something enchanting about this place, magical almost. It had about it an essence of tranquillity and stillness. Powerful yet gentle. A perfect metaphor for the horses who live there.

   I was missing some one on one quality time with my girly. We had nt been out riding together or played together since before my trip to Lincolnshire a couple of weeks ago. On this perfect Autumn afternoon it seemed the perfect opportunity to go for a ride together.
   Blaze always changes shape this time of year and so her saddle just kind of perches on top of her. I gladly swopped it for the bareback pad. There is nothing quite like riding bareback. Jeans on fur. Feeling your horse move underneath you gives you a much stronger sense of closeness and unity you just dont get when riding in a saddle.

   Wondering along amongst the sea of orange and gold i had dropped my reins a long time ago. There was no need for them. We turned up the hill and the yard friend I was with wanted to trot and canter in order to try out her new hoof boots.
"Sure, i cant grantee that we'll join you though"
   I was quite happy leaving Blaze to set the pace if she wanted to keep walking or if she wanted to zoom off it was okay, I thought we'd just see how we'd go.
   I asked for the trot and she quite happily obliged, still with no reins and no saddle I enjoyed feeling her work beneath me. Melting into her powerful stride as she swung her shoulders, really working from them and propelling her legs out. Her trot had been admired by many and is somewhat of her trademark. She'll trot along side my friends arabs in the canter with great ease. It's such a sensational feeling, all that power just surging you forwards yet graceful and effortless too.
   I asked for the canter and much to my surprise the beats changed to 3 and we were cantering. I wasn't surprised that she responded, what i asked she'd try her best to do but lately when i had asked for the canter it was given a little half heartidly, like she'd rather by cruising across the ground in her usual monster trot.  But this canter was lovely, she hopped into it with such enthusiasm and she was more than happy to maintain the gait up the hill.
   Still with no reins I just let my hands hang at my sides and enjoyed our canter. Without the saddle i could feel my body flexing and moving with hers, in harmony. Blurs of oranges and reds gliding past us. Perfect.

   We returned home. I untacked her. Blaze and the older boys ate their tea. I turned them back out into their summer paddock for the night and walked the length of the field to put the mini's in their piggy pen. Blaze watched my every move from the other side of the field.
   "Decided to go on a little adventure Darla!?"
   She had squirmed her way, as mini's do, behind the shelter so as i was faffing around trying to fix it Blaze and the boys had made her way across the field to see what i was doing.
   Once fixed I joined them at the water trough then began to head back to the gate and go home. They all followed and I found myself indulging in herd life. I sat in the floor and scratched Shinobi's leg. Piggles by this point and wondered off but Blaze was stood over me. We sat like this for a while, Blaze towing over me half asleep and Shinobi pulling the most bizarre itchy faces as I scratched his feathers.
Blaze lowered her head and so with one hand i was stroking her face and with the other I tended to Nobster.
   I thought it might be quite nice to mount Shinobi as i have nt ridden him for a while either. I'll often mouth the horses bareback and bridleless in the field as just another way of spending undemanding time with them. I never ask anything just enjoy sitting up there and allowing them to carry me where they fancy. I went over to the tyre and stood on it with, again, all 3 following me only Shinobi still wanted his feet scratched his feet so was stood to far forwards for me to mount. Oh well.
   I remained stood on the tyre and Blaze came and stood by my side, she bent her neck round and placed her head against my chest and here we stood a while. She lowered her head down and pressed her head against my knee's, something she has always done and so ran my hands over her neck.
   Piggles came and pushed her on the bum with his nose and she let out a big squeak and tail swish to show her disapproval but she refused to move away and never walked beyond my touch. She came and stood on my other side. I gave her a massage over her back and her hindquaters and she stood perfectly still. Time seemed to stand still. It was just me and my girl.

   I came down off the tyre and once again headed for the gate to go home. Still, Blaze stayed by my side and we walked together. I draped my arm over her neck and she lowered her head then once again she bent her neck round me and stopped me from walking. Her head pressed against my chest I began to stroke her face in the way iv learnt she likes best after our 9 years together. Her eyes began to close as my fingers gently ran over her forehead and over her cheekbones.
   Resting my face against hers. Her fur felt so soft against my cheeks, cheeks that normally ran with anger and sadness now felt warm and softness, it was nice, it was comforting, it felt safe. I looked up and stared into her big brown doe eyes and got lost. As I stared into her eyes she stared right back into mine and right then I knew. I knew that she knew exactly how I felt and I knew she felt exactly the same way.

   Never a box that needs to be ticked on the Levels Pathways. Never a manoeuvre to be executed. Never a jump to be higher Nor a gallop to be quicker. It wasn't anything that could be achieved by isolating and perfecting, learning and practising, it was moment achieved by giving your heart, giving it freely and wholey. A moment both perfect and profound.

   I love my very special girly like a love I have never felt, I never knew I had and no one else has ever felt from me before.

Monday, 15 October 2012

When My Painted Pony Let It Go

   With the subtlest of gestures fuelled with intensity i sent Shinobi to the left out on the circle and then after just a few steps I disengaged him.
"Wow Shinobi, steady you wild beasty! Dont go mad!" 
A typical humorous attitude needed when playing with a "Why should I" Left Brain Introvert. Ask them to do less that what they are offering. Ask them to do it sooner.
   His face bursting with curiosity, questions and attention. The tension builds in my body and is mirrored in the Irish Cob stood attentively in front of me. What could i possible ask next? I point my finger and BOING! With a buck and squeal Shinobi pings off like a iddy biddy baby foal bouncing in the spring grass.
   What a beautiful send and with a giggle and the slightest bend of my neck he trotted to my feet and rewarded himself immediately for his strenuous extroverted outburst with copious mouthfuls of grass. Starved the poor boy *Rolls eyes*.

   The ability to turn my horses idea into my idea and play along with their games has opened up a whole new world to me and a whole new level of possibilities with my horses. No amount of lunge whip cracking, verbal encouragement, or bribing could make this type of horse want to bounce and dance and most importantly, cant make this kind of horse engage with you.

   A family from across the street had asked to come and watch me play with the horses. Their teenage son is a keen horse rider and huge horse lover and has has great success in lessons at our local RDA school (Riding for the Disabled Association).
   They met the herd and asked if I minded them watching me playing with Shinobi for a little while. Normally, when I'm being watched I get incredibly nervous, I put a ridiculous amount of pressure on myself, and everything just has to go perfect...
   Everything has to go perfect. That statement and its implications is an entire world away from the philosophies and practice of Natural Horsemanship! 
   Thing go to pot, I cant control my energy, my body language is all wrong, i can not connect with the horse, feel and timing is all wrong and its like my mind just freezes and it I'm unable to take in what my horse is telling me and subsequently all savvy goes out of the window.

Pat Parelli's definition of Savvy- "Knowing, when to be, why to be, what to be, knowing what to do when you get there and most importantly knowing when to stop doing what your doing" 

   But this was different, because my neighbours were unfamiliar with Natural Horsemanship i didnt feel any pressure to "preform" and be perfect. I knew that whilst they watched they would nt be thinking to themselves "That was wrong, i wouldn't have done that, me and my horse can do that much better, oh my god she is awful!" This is what runs through my head when any horsey people watch me, my two closest friends, who happen to be horsey too, included.

   Despite the fact that mine and Shinobi's playtime had been put interrupted whilst we all went to meet the rest of the herd when we returned to him (still in the same place stuffing his face) we were both still feeling pretty great and it didnt take long to establish some interest and some try. 
    I unclipped the lead rope from his halter and we were at Liberty. He was free! Free as a bird to gallop and spin and buck and rear and fly across the open field... maybe after his belly was full thought because he was now eating... again!

   "Dum Dee Dum Dee Dah" would describe well the feel of which i so nonchalantly wandered round towards his hindquarters whilst he continued to eat. We were no longer connected via a rope, savvy was the only tool i had to use. 
   My body still slow but now tense and with intent, the feel had changed and instead of "Dum Dee Dum Dee Dah" I 'sneaked' along to the jaws music (not a feel used for a Right Brain horse obviously but sneaky sneaky captured a Left Brain Introverts mind b-e-a-uuuu-tifully.) Not wanting to loose his cool and give it away that i had actually caught his attention Shinobi's inside eye was not one me and he was looking at me out of the corner of his eye....
 "Dun, Dun, Dun, Dun, Dun, Dun,"
   Then he swung his bum round and looked at me, his face a huge question mark.
"Heeeeey, what are you doing?"
   Now i had caught his attention we could have some play time and we did. We had such a beautiful and fun play at Liberty. Pat Parelli says "Take off the halter and there is only one thing left. The truth" and the truth was the Shinobi wanted to be by my side, he wanted to engage, he wanted to please.

   In an open 2.5 acre field full of fresh green grass, a mouth watering haven compared to the now bare field Shinobi was in at the moment, no ropes, no fences, just freedom, freedom to choose, Shinobi trotted circles around me whilst i stood still, leg cocked. 
Its such a wonderful feeling to be bonded to your horse with something far stronger than any piece of rope.
   We did some really lovely figure of 8's, he followed my suggestions around the cones so easily and our draw was heavenly. To watch his expression change to that of enthusiasm and joy when he gets the chance to come back to me just makes me melt and go all gooey inside. I cantered and he cantered by my side. Together.


In case your wondering what a horse on a trampoline looks like!
   When i arrived one afternoon it became apparent that all the work... play we had done in regard to the confidence Shinobi has over his feet was paying off and everyday he improved. I entered the field to find Shinobi stood on the trampoline! When i first introduced this new toy Shinobi was adamant that his tootsies were going nowhere near the Shinobi hoof eating monster! But his confidence with it was growing constantly and we were now at the point that if i asked him to go over it at a walk or a trot, Online or at Liberty he would confidently and willingly but never before had it been his own idea to go and stand on it, until today. Clever boy. Proud human.


   The idea of playing with your horse before you ride is to ensure that your horse is rideable. That they are Confident. That they are Obedient. That they are Willing. That they are Calm. That they are Trusting. Obviously the time required to get your horse looking like this depends on alot. The horses Horseinality, their spirit, the environment, your savvy etc Some horses take 5 minuets some horse take 50 minuets and sometimes you may have to accept that on that particular day you might not reach the riding part.
My handsome boy wearing his beautiful saddle.
   The time needed to prepare Shinobi for a ride has plummeted since i began riding him (We played online for a long time as Shinobi was such an extreme Right Brain Introvert that he could nt be ridden. We had lots to resolve on the ground first!) I used to spend an hour sometimes 2 playing with him on the ground just achieve a dozen steps at the walk back in the early days. Today i got on him and in the 2 minuets it took us to walk to the tack room i was confident i had a rideable horse.
   I pulled off the dust sheet to reveal a cowgirls dream. My beautiful, hand tooled Western Ranch Roper Saddle. Angels sing and a beam of light appears over it every time I uncover it. It is beautiful. A beautiful saddle for a handsome horse.
   Saddling used to be another no go zone for Shinobi. He'd bite and kick and squeal as i did up the cinch and the more I learnt the more i noticed that Shinobi would go Right Brain Introvert about the saddle long before I popped it on him. Now it is a far less anxious and stressful experience. Sometimes I saddle him, sometimes i dont, sometimes ill just play with him online whilst saddled and not ride and sometimes ill ride with no saddle. Helping him to realise that the saddle is nothing, its just a thing that is sometimes there and sometimes not.
   I hung the saddle over the banister in all its Wild Wild West glory, the anthropromorphist in me slightly disheartened that Shinobi didnt share my love and obsession for it. He simply sniffed it with a kind of "Uuuh. Thats not edible. Uuuh" look and resumed eating his hay.
   Popped it on, cinched it up. Happy Days. We went for a trail ride in the woods under clear skys. The fun and curiosity began to grow in Shinobi and he'd begin to trot. Weaving between trees and jumping over the ditch, ribbons of light coming through the tree's, like something out of a movie.

   To be riding a horse that once was so untrusting and intolerant of people and what people were capable of that his only way to escape it all was to hide behind his one brown eye and one blue eye, a horse that would hide so deep inside himself that when you got on him he could not. Could not. not would not. Move his feet, and now he just wants to run here and run there and jump this, is just... well firstly something that i find hard to believe no matter how many times we've cantered through fields i still find it difficult to believe that the change in him is real and not just a dream, but it is also just such a magical sensation to be able to actually go somewhere, anywhere with your horse and they say Yes!
   When we returned from out trail ride in the woods me and Shinobi were still in that "Let go THERE!" frame of mind. We continued past the tack room and up the field at a trot and walked all the way down the drive to the huge 6ish acre field at the bottom for a canter. This field had inhabited by the world renowned, pouncing, frightening, Shinobi eating hay bales. But being the brave brave horsey that Shinobi is he held it together as we walked past it through the gate and then he realised that it was just a normal hay bale and went and rubbed his head on it.
 Phew! That was a close one aye Shinobi! 
   We had a couple of really beautiful, flowing, controlled canters. I just lifted my energy and he popped into a canter. The slack in the reins flapping to his stride as i held the very end of them. I looked on over Hereford City with the woods stood in all its breath taking beauty behind me but the most beautiful thing there, by far, was the sight of my once bitter, and broken hearted pony letting it all go.

Monday, 24 September 2012

Darla . Things Were How They Should Be

   Last week i played with Darla for the first time since her illness.
Softer Expression
   Prior to her illness it had been a long while since i had played with her. The only chances i got to interact with her was when she was having her feet trimmed by the podiatrist or when id lead her by her chin at tea time into the mini's pen, which she is brilliant at (at first she was uncatchable, now she'll allow me to lead her at liberty. Super mini!) When i did play with her it was less like play and more "taking the time it takes to get the fly gel on!". Once or twice a week i would oil them up with fly repellent and it would usually take me half and hour/ 40 minuets of approach and retreat retreat RETREAT till Darla could stand still, accepting and relaxed, until finally 30 minuets became 20 minuets, and 20 minuets became 10 minuets, despite the improvement it was still a tolerable affair and  so for a long time being haltered didn't follow anything particularly enjoyable or fun. I think because of this I had began to notice that Darla was once again becoming slightly introverted about the halter. She'd wrinkle her nose and had that Right Brain Introvert starry eyes expression, an expression that, overall, i was seeing her do less and less of, thankfully!
   We began the play session in the usual way. She caught me! Ahhhhhhhhhhhh. I will never again take that for granted! Up until this point i had never had a pony with catching issues. The boys once they saw me standing at the gate would come over and stick their noses in the halter, or if not then WAHOO time for a game!...
 ...Id only have to sneakily walk round to their zone 5 and their heads would shoot up and their bums would swing round and they'd face me. Now standing in neutral, I'm all "Duh duh duh, I'm not doing annnnything, duh, duh" They give me that intrigued, puzzled look like "Whaaat are you up to?". When they lowered their heads to resume eating id only have to tilt my head to look at their hind quarters and they'd pop their heads back up and come striding over to me "Now i know you are up to something!" Blaze if ever she did run away, would always run back to me again, it was always just a game!
   When we got Darla home i turned her loose in the 2.5 acre field and could nt catch her again! We worked on it for a week and after that week i could play the same catching game until she too would come over and catch me! Haltering was an issue all by itself and it too took me a week and again lots of approach and retreat until she could remain relaxed and be excepting of it. Prior to that when ever she saw the halter she would run off again!
   We got the whole process really nice, she'd catch me really quickly and she too would bring her head to me and lower her nose into the halter. Unfortunately circumstance were beginning to make this an experienced to be tolerated rather than enjoyed. And i think having 24 hours of being haltered purely to have a vet stick his hand up her bottom or to have an injection (7 in total) really changed her idea about the halter.

Happy Darla in her purple halter
   Haltering was therefor the first focus point of the session. Did lots of approach and retreat. First holding it still and allowing her to approach it and investigate. Drawing the halter away from her until her confidence became curiosity and she actually began to follow it. Friendly game round the neck with it, placing it on and then immediately dropping off again on to the floor. She became tense when i put it on but confident and curious when it fell to the floor and every time she lowered her head to sniff it. We repeated until once again i could halter her up and she remained relaxed, accepting and willing.
   Then we started friendly game and it was really good. Throwing the stick and string in the air used to make her go all bracey, she would throw her head in the air with wide eyes but she remained relaxed and almost disinterested in it even when i threw it over her back. Fabulous!
   We progressed this friendly game in to a driving game and whilst walking backwards and drawing her towards me instead of swinging the stick and string from side to side, whilst in neutral, asking for relaxation i came out of neutral, shook the stick very gently on the left then the right (phase 1) driving  her nose so as to make a "Weave Pattern." She did this really well and was responding rather than reacting, even when i had to go to phase 3 to stop her from walking through the stick! I asked her to do the same thing only walking over the tail of the 22ft line, a driving and friendly game. She started off by stopping and biting the rope, a Right Brain Introvert response, so i just stood in neutral and waited and observed, when she was done we started again and she did this exercise beautifully.

   We progressed on to game 4, and again she did this beautifully, backing up and drawing towards me in a straight line, responding not reacting so pretty quickly we moved on to game 5, the circling game.
   The send was find but she had some trouble with the allow, she couldn't maintain gate and kept coming back to me after only half a circle, i accepted this the frist couple of times and from then on resent her back out on the circle. Half a circle was obviously her comfort zone so every time she continued for a little more i disengaged and rewarded. I rewarded for 3/4 or a circle then a whole one ect until she could remain walking and trotting on the circle until i disengaged her.

"Make and teach no assumptions" Parelli Principle number... 2, i believe.

Curious about the camera
   I went from circling game back to friendly game and Darla assumed that that i using the stick to ask her to move her feet again, in which direction she wasn't so sure, she threw her head up, braced. Hmm how interesting so we played with games 1, 4 and 5 until she quite assuming.
   She was really having to engage the left side of her brain and think about what it was i was asking. She was having to pay attention to my body language, was i in neutral or not? She was having to pay attention to energy, was i using the stick with energy and asking her to move, or was it friendly?
   Aware that variety might blow her mind we took it nice and slow, firstly just playing game 5 then game 1 when i drew her in. Then built it up to yoyoing her out and instead of sending her left or right on the circle we played friendly game, then yoyed her some more, the friendly etc the better we got the more variety i used. I observed not the only the confidence build but also some question and curiosity "What was i going to ask for next?"and as time went on she even began to ask me questions. Being asked a question by your horse is always such a brilliant and heart warming thing, the fact that they are actually engaging with you mentally really turns the session into conversations rather than an hour of "I say, you do". When it becomes a conversation your horse then starts to share idea's, he feels free to express himself knowing that what he has to say wont be marked as right or wrong and in turn the relationship really begins to grow. This is especially great coming from a Right Brain Introvert, as normally they re mind is frozen and when they do look at you its normally because they need more guidance, not because they want to know what we're gunna do next!
   She picked it up really fast and quite assuming and starting thinking.

Things were how they should be. My little girl was here. Learning, asking, living, just how it should be.
It was here my thoughts began to turn to what could have happned and what is now. I looked at Darla and thought about all that would have been lost had she have not made it through the night like the vets  predicted....
 Darla. She isn't a name. A mini. A mare. A Right Brain Introvert. Darla isn't just the sum of her parts. She is a heart and thoughts, feelings and perspectives, fears and dreams, a friend and a teacher. It dawned on me what truely would have been lost. Not one horse is the same, not one horse has the same lessons to teach, the same perspectives on things. Not only would i have lost everythign that Darla has to give but I would have lost the one and only of her kind. Darla.

   Things had gone so great that we ended the session there we spent about 15 minuets undemanding time together. Undemanding time- it does exactly was it says on the tin! Spending time with your horse not demanding anything from them. A great relationship builder. Just you and your horse, hanging out together like pasture mates. I picked her some grass and just sat with her. I unhaltered her and she remained with me. Some great feedback on how she felt the session went i guess!
   I love spending undemanding time with my horses, and i confess i don't do a great deal of it now. I love just being with them. Observing them. Watching their mane flutter in the wind, the sun bouncing off their coat, the world reflected in their eyes.
Undemanding Time Together

To do; Spend more undemanding time with the horses 
It was something i did a great deal of when i first began studying natural horsemanship and i think it played a huge part in why my mine a Piggles liberty developed so much and so quickly. We never did any exercised on line to prepare for Liberty. When we had undemanding time together liberty play just started happening!

Sunday, 23 September 2012

Poisitve, Progressive and Natural in the Canter

   Me and Piggles continue to progress with our Freestyle stuff and in the last few weeks i have really focused on our canter... When i say "Really focused" what i really mean is focus as much as i know how to, focus has never been one of my strong points. Whilst my attention can span to the ends of the known universe my focus tends to wonder. I start focusing on one thing then end up focusing so much i kind of pick it apart, focus on the details and end up metaphorically wondering off down a completely different avenue in the huge manopolis that is Natural Horsemanship! So as a result of my focus this would probably be our third or forth Freestyle session on cantering.
Piggles bracing in the canter
   The canter was always such an emotional gait for Piggles. He would often rush into it, braced, tense, and would resemble more of a headless chicken than a cantering pony, a few times he actually bronced so much that both the stirrup leathers came pinging off the saddle! We worked on this on the ground first and soon enough he began to find relaxtion in the canter, his transitions were smooth, calm and willing. I can now come out of neutral point in which ever direction it is that he is circling and he just kind of melts into the canter like its nothing, head nice and low, his strides are balanced and rhythmical, he can now bend on the circle rather bracing his ribs and tipping his nose to the outside.
Now when i ask him to canter he just oozes that "Ahhhhhhhh" feeling, that same kind of Zen feeling you get after your first slurp of coffee at the end of a long and busy day.
Piggles learning to find relaxation in the canter Online

   Now we are ready to tackle it undersaddle. Usualy when we went for a canter, whether it was my idea or his he would always buck. The only thing up for debate would be how big they were and how many he'd do. Sometimes he would buck every stride, one time i actually felt like i was in a Rodeo, the 13hh fat Welsh Pony class, of course! Or he would only buck the once. Sometimes they really pinged me out of the saddle, other times they were the most pathetic little back leg flicks, i imagine the child equivalent being when they scruntch up their face and poke their tounge out at you, there were bucks that had that kind of feel to them. 
   The first thing that needed to be worked on, in true Natural Horsemanship style, was ME! I needed to learn how to correctly ask for the canter. Sound easy? Piggles is a super sensitive little chap and is just such a pal when it comes to giving feed back- he can be very honest and very critical. If i didnt ask the question right my answer was always "Buck!". There is no doubt just how much, given the chance, horses can teach us humans.
   I went back to basics, i talk the talk when helping out a friend of mine with her stirrupless riding now it was time to walk the walk. So we started with a simple "Stick to the rail" pattern at the trot. I peddled my feet, rolled my shoulders and mirrored his forquaters with my forearms and kept at it untill i had zero brace. Only when i stopped bracing could i then effectively use my body to direct and ask for transitions, becuase kicking or big squeezes dont work for Piggles those manovers always get marked with grade BUCK! Soon enough the trot was looking great and now i was in a position where i could work on the canter. 
  • Balance Point? Check!
  • Zero Brace? Check... ish
  • Focus Point slightly higher? Check
  • Energy Up? Check
  • Cantering in my body? Check... ish
...annnnnd....  No canter. Hmmm...
Try again
...annnnnd.... Buck. Hmmm

   So turns out it is darn hard asking for a transition up without bracing, and when your bracing its really hard to canter in your body. Think of it like this, the whole idea of Fluidity is to do in your body what you want your horse to do in his, so if i want Piggles to canter, then i have to canter. Simples. 
   ...Well instead of asking for the canter i braced and so guess what Piggles did and didnt do... 
yuhu, no canter just a fast bracey trot. Hmmm how interesting.
   I kept at it untill finaly, i lifed my energy, cantered in my body whilst staying 100% relaxed, and the difference i felt in me was just unbelieveable. I felt so so.. natural, it just felt so right. It felt safe, connected and effortless and low and behold Piggles popped into a canter without bucking! Now if i could get canter transitions to feel like that for Piggles then he will be saying "YES!" before i have even asked the question!
   Over the next few sessions we built on that and since then we have nt had. One. Single. Buck! Now how about that for feedback!
A lovely relaxed canter

   In out last session things were going so well that we ended up doing a series of halt-walk-trot-canter transitions and back down again, doing just 6 strides of each gait before the transions, all for which i didnt touch the reins! I was able to communicate just using my energy and body. Now when ever we transitioned up into the canter it took more like 9 strides but i wasnt too fussed with that! For now i was still working on the basics so i felt like Piggles was giving far more than i deserved at this point.

   Todays session wasnt quite so spectacular, and left me slightly confused. I confess that this is entirely my fault as i neglected my first and forth responsibility. 
  • Dont Act Like a Predator, act like a Partner. I went into the Freestyle session shaping our focus around his horseinality, like i always do. How was i going to achieve our goal of continueing to progress with the canter, what are the do's and dont's, what do i need to be mindful of, what are the best stratagise to use. Basicaly how can i taylor this session to Piggles and his needs. However i was very focused on the outcomes i wanted to achieve by the end of this session, i was so focused on progressing with the canter that i became far too direct line. Direct line thinking is the action of a Predator, not a Partner.
  • Think like a Horse-Man. Like i said, i was mindful of Piggles horseinality and chose patterns and stratagiese to suit it but i failed to play with the horse that showed up. Piggles was particulalry Intorverted today and had far more Woah than Go. So focused on cantering i didnt address this issue first. Do you know how much more difficult it is to try and work on canter with a horse that has more Woah than Go!? I was no longer thinking like a Horse-Man, i was being direct and not applying my knowledge and savvy. I needed to put my idea of cantering on hold for a second and first help Piggles become more motivated but i didnt.
"When the student is ready the teacher will appear"
   Aslong as i learn from todays experience then it wont have been a non progressive, negative session. Pat always says that "when the student is ready the teacher will appear" and today it seemed that i didnt need a lesson in cantering i needed a lesson in always putting my principles first and a lesson in being in charge of my goals and my horse in charge of the timeline. Piggles gave me a lesson in this today, for which i am thankful for. Tomorrow is a new day and i can head into out session a better horsewoman than when we headed into our session today.
   Todays session i said left me confused, this is why...
   Becuase of my neglect of responsibility one and four our transitions began a little slugish and becuase i continued to not fulfil these responsibilities and got too direct line Piggles then began to rush into the canter. He was begining to anticipate the transition and so everytime we went round a corner or i asked for a canter he braced and trotted faster, i, too, was also begining to brace by this point so things just started going a little pear shaped. 
   I paused and gathered my thoughts and finally i began to fullfill my responsibilities and Piggles needs. He is now beginging to rush through the corners anticipating the transition so i decided that everytime we went through a corner i would ask for a transition down into the walk, i would ask him to do the exact opposite of what he was excpecting and actualy retreat to something he has more confidence with and can do well. We trotted down the straights and walked through the corners and soon enough he became much more relaxed and we were begining to find a nice balance between Woah and Go.
   Now i asked that he maintained the trot in the corners, he still sped up in the corners a little so i decided to trot him in a 10m circle in the corner untill he relaxed and what happened next i wasnt quite ready for and am still trying to work out why it happened...

... I tunred Piggles of the track to begin our circle, after about a third of the circle (just as we began to face the track and join it again) Piggles, without any instruction from me, began to canter. Only this canter was unlike any canter i have ever ridden... ever. It was so so so SO slow and relaxed, we were still going at the same "slow trot" speed but he was actually cantering, the transition was so quiet, so soft and smooth i barely noticed it. He did about 2 or 3 strides and i brought him back down to the trot and began the circle again and in the exact same place he did the exact same thing, again i brought him down to the walk, we repeated his 5 times and every time he did the exact same thing, on the last circle i didnt ask him to come back to the trot just to see for how long he would maintian this lovely canter, he did about 7 strides and then i asked for the trot again.
   The thing that is confusing me is this;
The canter itself and where did it come from? Like i said i have never ridden a canter like that. It was super slow, relaxed, smooth and quiet yet had some impulsion. I dont understand how a canter like that could have proceeded our rushed transitions, it felt like the canter of an experience horse, one that was mentally, emotionally and mentally balanced and at the time i was working on relaxing Piggles. It just doesn't fit! Perhaps i completely misread the situation and Piggles was already mentaly, emotionaly and physicaly balance. Looking back on the video footage i must confess, whilst cantering Piggles looked a great deal calmer than what i remembered him to me. Oh joy, i just answered my question with another question. Dont you just love horsemanship!

Here is a very short video of mine and Piggles session tonight

Saturday, 22 September 2012

Piggles first trip to The Callow

   On Auguest 31st me and Piggles came one step closer to achieving our goal of one day hitting the Endurance Pleasure Ride and Social Ride scene and we took our first trip to The Callow together.
   The Callow is a bridleway about a 20 minute drive away from where we are, I came across it back in 2004 when i used to board Blaze at the Hereford Equestrain Centre in Grafton. Its such a great ride that no matter where me and Ann Maire have moved to we have always boxed the horses back there when ever we fancy a change of scenery when riding.

Me and Piggles ready to begin our first ride together at the Callow
 ...To put his mile stone in context here is the background info on our ridden journey so far...
   We bought Piggles back in August 2007, and 10 days later myself, Piggles and Blaze were involved in a car crash. We were towing them in the trailer and due to the impatience and ignorance of some 20 year old Sebastian Vettle wanna be the trailer flipped on to its roof, Piggles fell on top of Blaze and then they both we catapaulted through the roof and across the road.
   Thankfully the injuries Piggles sustained were n't too serious, he suffered a lot of soft tissue damage and some cuts to his face and legs but most the damage he sustained in the accident was mentally, not physically.

   After the accident, it was a very long time till i could ride Piggles again, when i finally was able to i didnt very often becuase it was no longer a very relaxed and enjoyable experience. On the ground Piggles became very spooky and very bolshy. Doing simple daily chores were harder than before becuase he was so flighty and would just run through you, not only that but he was becoming intolerant of people. His behaviour got more extreme and it got to the point where Piggles was having to be sedated in order to recieve treatement from the physio and he was being fed calmers everyday in order to try and calm his behaviour.
   What i didnt realise untill a long time later was that these events knocked my confidence too, in my ability to be a leader and in my confidence and competence as a rider.
Parelli Celebration NEC 2008
   One year later, August 2008 and i found Parelli, my savinng grace! I went to the Parelli Celebration at the NEC Arena, Birmingaham, i had no idea what Parelli was or did other than their ethos was one that based communication on naturual principles, but looking back im not sure that i even 100% knew what that meant. Well, by the end of the weekend i was amazed at what i saw and with my new carrot stick, rope halter and 12 ft line in hand i was excited and eager to get to grips with this "Horseinality stuff" and start playing the 7 games. Blaze was still injured and this was back in the day when i wasnt overrun with horses so that just left Piggles, and the rest is history.

   Being a Right Brain Introvert i dont like to leave my comfort zone and my comfort zone soon became the on the ground Savvies, i enjoyed playing with Piggles both online and at liberty and it wasnt long before our skills on the ground surpassed our skills in the saddle. At one point we were doing some level 4 liberty stuff but i had yet to ride him in a simple level 1 figure of 8 pattern.
   When ever i did attempt to ride i would immediately fill with anxiety. I think this was for a number of reasons;
Liberty Circles to the left

  •     After the accident i was not in control when in the saddle, he was very spooky and if the horse in front trotted off Piggles would tank off to catch up and i couldn't stop him, i wasn't in control, where as when i play with Piggles on the ground i am in control, i am in control on a level that i never knew possible, to the point where we could be in a 2.5 acre field, we were at liberty (there was no halter or ropes attatching him to me, he was loose and free to do and choose as he pleased) and i could canter and he would canter, i stopped and he would slide to a halt, if i pointed left he'd trot circles round me to the left and if a tilted my head he would disengage and trot to my feet.
  • Fear of the unknown. Because i never rode Piggle i didnt know how he would react to things, take for example Blaze, i'v had her since 2004 and we've clocked up god knows how many hours and miles, iv ridden her in pretty much every situation possible and so i know exactly what she is going to do, i know when she is going to do it and why etc, this gives me huge amounts of confidence as i know that what ever she does i can handle it and i will still be in control. 
  • Being a little pony Piggles can be extremely sharp and quick, compared to Shinobi, my 15h Irish Gyspy Cob, who is so much bigger and so his movement are bigger and slower too. Piggles can jump sideways and spin round in less that half a second and not only this but being a 13 hh pony his strides are so short that he is a very bouncy pony to ride. All these things make it harder to maintain balance when riding him and add to the feeling of being out of control and incompetant.
  • When ever we played on the ground it was just so wonderful. Everything was fluid and effortless and relaxed, the harmony between us was just the best feeling in the world. He was so willing and chrasmatic and he would try his little heart out to please me. I felt such closeness when ever we played on the ground. When i tried to have a ridden session because we were starting from the very begining we didnt have that same harmonious closeness. Things were nt so fluid and effortless and amazing. If ever i did get brave enough to try and progress and work on harder things i would always be met with resistance, usualy in the form of a buck!
  We went away to Shropshire for a 3 day riding clinic which just made everything worse. Our instructor was a NH instructor and incorporated lots of different NH approaches including Parelli, there is no doubt that he was a great horseman and a great teacher but not for a Right Barined Introvert. Yes me and Piggles accomplished a great deal over the 3 days by the end i was about ready to explode. Instead of coming away motivated, inspired and equipt with the tools to progress i was upset, disheartened, afraid, angry, and put off riding all together. So i hung up my stirrups for a very long time and stayed on the ground. 

Learning to relax whilst on Piggles
   One year later, now summer 2010 mine and Piggle ground work was just fabulous and our relationship was going from strength to strength, i also had begun working with Shinobi my at the time unrideable, unleadable extreme Left Brain/ Right Brain Introvert, Blaze was in better health and so i was riding her a great deal more and i was also doing a little bit here and there with Ebony. The desire to begin ridden work with Piggles grew all by itself, like a natural progression from the online work we had done and i think because i was now working with Shinobi (and quiet sucessfully) my confidence in myself as a horsewoman was begining to grow. This fear i had was holding me back and i was finaly ready to face it move forward. 
   To begin with my freestyle sessions consisted soley of finding confidence. On days where i felt up to it after my online session i would get on Piggles and my aim was just to find confidence and relaxation. When i finaly exhaled with that "Ahhhhhh" Zen feeling i got off and that was our ridden session done (Piggles thought he was in heaven!) 
   Pretty soon i reached the stage where i could walk up to Piggles in the field, without a halter or bareback pad on, completely bridleless, jump on and confidently and calmly sit up there, even when he walked around i didnt panic and could stay 100% relaxed. Everything just snowballed from there on!
   Yes we had our worse and better days, worse being `piggles would buck every time i asked for something and better days involved us actually achieveing some fun and harmony. We progressed so much. I progressed so much, in savvy, confidence and ability (oh yeah if i have nt mentioned already, i didnt ride with a saddle or a bridle or a bit. I ride in a halter and in a bareback pad!)

   In the summer of 2010 i did what i thought was the undoable (for me anyway) 
I rode Piggle, bridleless! Completely bridleless!
We did transitions up and down, halt, walk, trot, canter, sideways. We did sliding stops and we even did out first ever jump!
 All Bridleless!
Extreme Friendly Game Bridleless

      There was no deneying all the progress we had made and now the next step was to conquor hacking out! Piggles would always go Right Brain out on hacks so along side ridding him round the field at home i took him on some online hacks around the woods that back onto our land. An online hack basicaly means going for a hack only im on the ground too instead of riding. I took Piggles on the 22ft line and encouraged him to go and explore. If i simply led him he wouldn't learn or grow becuase i would be going through all of his threshold first, he needed to learn to lead. 

   I used to stand on the track and id ask him to go up the banks, amoungst the tree's ect building his self confidence and his confidence in his environments. I took him down to the stream and we spent so many hot summer afternoon playing in the water. 
  My confidence had grown and so now i was able to be the leader Piggles needed and i could then help him grown in confidence too.
   Unfortunately for the majority of 2011 i was ill and so my horsemanship took a backseat and the horses became field ornaments...
   But this summer i was able to start working with them again and i was determined to continue progressing with mine and Piggles freestyle work. We focused on hacking our rather riding in the fields and he became such a super star! He would hack out alone or in company and be 100% confident and relaxed. If we went out with friends and they trotted off he was happy to walk behind instead of running off to catch up, he had the confidence to go through and past scary things and as time went on these scary things and places became few and far between. Dogs, bicycles, cars, gun shots, tree felling machinary, Piggles took it all in his stride. The perfect happy hacker!
   I was ready, Piggles was ready. It was time for the next step. The stepping stone between hacking out in the woods at home and actually going to a public social ride. I was taking him away to the callow! What makes this such a great stepping stone is that Piggles is traveling to and hacking round a new environment but there wont be loads of other horses, people and lorries like at a social ride. 

   Took Piggles to the Callow and he was a super star! He hadnt been loaded into a lorry or traveled in over 2 years but he did it all like a professional. When we got there he was so calm and relaxed whilst i tacked him up. Out on the ride he went through all the scary things first (we went with Ann Maire and her youngster) He led for the most part. I could not have wished it to have gone any better. He was calm, confident, willing and responsive every step of the way and i was so proud! Some of you may be thinking "Well it took you long enough!" Yes your right it did take a couple of years thats becuase we took the time to do it right! I took the time and worked from the foundation up. Its not about the fact that i rode Piggles around the Callow, its about the fact that becuase of all the hard work we had done online and riding at home me and my horse were truely prepared, he handled the situation like an angel. He was 100% calm, relaxed, willing, responsive and obiediant. I did the whole thing in a halter. I didnt need to strap his mouth shut with a flash or tie his head down with a martingale or pull on a bit to get him to stop. 
   I took the time it took to do it right and Oh Boy! Did i reap the benifits!

   At one point on the ride i even dropped my reins and whilst riding through open fields i was doing walk to trot back down to walk transition using energy! Thats not me being big headed! Thats me demonstaring why building a strong foundation and relationship with my horses is so important to me.

(Slight typo in the video. Its supposed to say "Undersaddle" not "Unsaddle")



Friday, 21 September 2012

Knock, Knock, Knocking on Heavans Door

  My time off from blogging has at times been far from rosey. In fact in my time away iv been faced with one of the most trumatic, stressfull and heart breaking situations many horse owners are face with. On Wednesday September 5th at approx 10:30pm i was told by the vet that i was going to have to say my goodbyes to Darla and have her put to sleep...

   Monday September the 3rd, 4 am my alarm goes off. I hear you ask what on earth would get me up at that ungodly hour? My babies of course! My boyfriend wanted me to travel down to Canterbury with him that day to go and check out his new place (he is currantly a student at Kent Uni). He wanted to go for 3 days but i put my foot down "I CANT leave the horses!" So he settled for 2 days but wanted to leave at 6am to aviod traffic which meant at 4:30 am i was at the yard feeding the herd they're breakfast! Everyone was fine and i had asked a friend of mine to check on them at lunch time also, she reported back and still everyone was fine.                                       

Chasing the sun down the motor way.
   Tuesday September 4th, 9pm. After a 3 and a half drive we were finaly back in Hereford and me and my boyfriend go straight to the horses. Its pitch black, i stand at the gate and call them all and all come over waiting to be fed... except Darla. Being a more timid and skeptical horse and not being particularly food orientated at first i didnt think anything of it, it kind of made sense that she would avoid flashing torches and beaming car headlights.
   I fed the 5 that were waiting and supervised the greedy lot whilst my boyfriend when off into the field with Darla's feed bucket to go and feed her where ever she may be. He could nt find her. We switched and he baby sat the 5 whilst i went looking for Darla and i found her in the furthest corner away, stood in the corner, all sweat up, not wanting her tea.
   This was not normal, she always eats her tea. The horses had finished their tea and were running around biting one another over who got to lick the bowls and despite all that she didnt stir or flinch. I checked her gut sounds and they were fine, she had no swellings, tenederness, cuts, bruises, she was hydrated, her gums were pink, no discharge from her nostrils, her temprature was normal, i asked her to walk to check for lameness and she volentarily trotted off, all the 'vet checks' were fine, she should be fine but she wasnt. I know her and she wasnt. I stood with her a while deliberating what to do and by this point the other horses had joined me. Piggles and Shinobi chased her out of the corner and round in a big circle, teeth baring.
"Ah! They've been chasing the poor girl around! Thats why she is tiered and thats why she is all sweaty!"
   It just seemed to fit. It was nearly 10 pm now which meant they had nt had any food bar the field of short grass that they are on all day, when the boys get hungry they get grumpy and its normal for them to pick on the mini's when they are feeling particularly moody. This explained why she seemed so tiered and why she was sweaty, because she isnt a very food orientated horse i just assumed she was too tiered to eat. So we let her be and we went home. BUT i set my alarm for 6am so i could go check on her in the morning, first thing.

   That night i couldn't sleep, i was so worried about her, something just didnt seem right. Then i started having the craziest idea's which just worried me even more. When we bought Darla a year ago she had been covered by the stallion for 3 months so the stud was convinced that she was in foal. Darla is far too small to be examined in the usual way so the only way to get her pregnancy tested is with a blood test. Darla is a Right Brain Intorvert, apprehensive and intolerant of people and i was outraged at the vets attitude towards her that i told him stop and leave (he didnt get the blood test). Lets just say never before has a vets actions towards my horses ever brought me to tears. Darla had improved up untill that point but understandebly she began to feel threatened by humans again so i made the decision there and then to not put her through it at the detrement of our relationship and her mental and emotional health. If she is in foal then when she has the foal id rather that she was as mentally and emotionaly balanced as i could help her become and i want our relationship to be the strongest it can be if i have any hope in being able to handle and work with both her and the foal. Its no good having a horse whom i know is pregnant and when she drops the foal does nt trust me or any other human. As it turns out she wasnt pregnant but my mind had gone awol and i was lay awake thinking the worst...
"Oh no! Darla was in foal after all, she has foaled whilst i have been away. One of the geldings would have for sure trampled it and it would have been too dark for me too see. Darla has foaled and the foal is either dead or dying"

   Wednesday September 5th. My alarm was set for 6 am and at 5 am i finaly fell asleep... At 8:30 i woke up. AHHH! I threw on a pair of jeans and drove like a mad woman to the yard... Darla was still in the same place i had left her last night. I ran over to her and tried to get her in the stable only now she didnt want to move and she had been scouring really badly. Something was definately wrong. I finaly got her stabled and called my friend, explaining what had happened and i wanted her opinion. Whilst she was on her way, i checked for gut sounds, on the left thet were fine but on the right they were quieter which at the time i didnt think anything of. Her temprature was still normal but she looked so drained and tiered.
   When my friend arrived she agreed that she didnt look right either but she also could nt pin point what was wrong, the only new symptom was slowed breathing, it was now 8 over a minuet. I called the vet and in the 10 minuets between calling the vet and the vet arriving Darla got considerably worse. Her breathing became more laboured, she was trying to go down and her stomach began spasaming. It was at this point i thought it was a case os spasmodic colic. The vet arrived and was also slightly confused becuase her symptoms were not the "Textbook" symptoms of any one illness, they were kind of bits of one and one of another. So far her symptoms were
  • Laboured breathing
  • Spasaming abdomon
  • Really bad scouring
  • Quiet gut sounds on the right
  • Wanting to lie down
  • A worringly high resting heart rate of 80+ (their resting pulse should nt be higher than 40!)
   Darla was given a huge does of Buscapan and Penacilin for her gut and we were told that if we didnt see any improvement in an hour or two to phone again.... Darla's condition continued to worsen and we called the vet for a second time. 
  • Her breathing had worsened and was now getting faster
  • She was lying down flat on her side then sitting up on her stirnum but NOT rolling
  • Her abdamon was continuing to spasum
  • The gut sounds on the right were getting quieter
  • Her breathing was so laboured we could no longer hear her heat beat under it
   The vet confirmed that Darla was a very very sick pony but he was just as confused as the first vet as to what it was as again none of her symptoms fitted one particular illness. He diagnosed that Darla's laboured breathing was due to fluid on her lungs and so this was of the greatest importance and ergency. He didnt have enough of the drugs he needed on him so had to drive back to the surgery. Before he left i asked
"What happens if the drugs dont work? What if the drugs dont get rid of the fluid on her lungs?"
He told me we would have to put her down before she drowned then he drove off. My 5 year old baby faces either drowning or euthinasia. I cried and begged her not to leave me.
   The second vet had been called into surgery so a third vet came out under the previous vets instruction to dehyrate Darla with a drug in the hope it would get the fluid off her lungs, this was the 5th lot of injections she had had so far today and she had taken each one like an angel. A pony of Darla's size would usualy be given a dose of 2ml, or sometimes 2.5ml as an absolute maximum... Darla was given a dose of 5ml! By this point her breathing was painfully erratic. I tried to count her breaths over a minuet but i stopped when i got to the high 50's and still had 15 odd seconds left. Her symptoms continued to get worse and this third vet much like the 2 prior was confused as to what the problem was, but disagreed with the previous vets and thought her laboured breathing was actually her way of dealing with pain, much like when a woman pants when in labour, which was a more optimistic diagnosis i guess. All we knew was that Darla was gravely ill. He administered the drugs, gave me a sympethetic look and told me 
"Im sorry but she is well and truely in the lap of the Gods. Only time will tell"

I lay with her in her stable, her head in my lap, all day

   At approx 9pm, 3 hours after her last vet visit her breathing began to return to normal and her abdamon stopped spasauming, atlast i thought, some hope! She showed these improved signs for 10 miuets or so then she urinated and they started all over again. 
   The vet came out again at 10pm, he took one look at her and his face said it all, she was still so very ill. Still baffled at what was happening the vet defied all laws of physics and managed to stick his hand up under tail in order to get a better idea of what was happening. Being such a tenny tiny 30inch pony he could only insert a third of this arm.
   The diagnosis was the worst. He felt a tight band. A twisted gut. She had coliced tuesday, twisted her gut and we were witnesing the painfull aftermath. For those less horsey a twisted gut is fatal. The horses have a bad tummy and "colic" they roll around which twists the gut. As soon as the gut is twisted the intestine gets severly damaged, an operation can repair it but the chances of survival are slim and the chances of this reoccuring are in the 90%s. 

"We need to put her out of her misery. You must understand she is very sick and id be surprised if she makes it through the night. Its cruel to keep her like this"

      I kept trying to wake myself up, this had to be a nightmare, it wasnt happening, but the pain and effort coming from my little girl everytime she struggled for a breath kept me anchored to the reality. I just stared at her, stared at her pretty little face, her big brown eyes, memorising it, trying to take in every last detail so as i never forgot. I carressed her feathers as i sat down beside her, i wanted to remember her by sight, smell, touch, i wanted to know her in everyway, a last attempt at keeping her alive through memory.

   My mum said No! We agreed on giving Darla a huge, i mean HUGE dose of pain killers so as to make her as comfortable as possible and just clung on to the hope that she would make it through the night. The vet said If, and its a big IF she makes it through the night, if she isnt jumping around her stable when i arrive in the morning, if there is no improvement then we need to put her to sleep. We agreed, he left and i burst into tears.
...I cried for 5 seconds for me and i cried the rest for Darla...
   She was just a baby, it was so unfair, cruely unfair that her life would be taken away, she is a baby. She has got so much life left to live, she has got so much potential to uncover, she has got a heart and spirit to reveal... she has a life that needs to be lived.
"Im so sorry my little girl. I should have been here for you when you needed me most"
   I felt so guilty, i should have never gone away, i should have been here for them, for her. The horses depend on us for so much that when you stop and think about it it is quite daunting and impossible to comprehend doing it right. 

   That night i made a bed out of horse rugs and settled down, Darla came a lay beside me and rested her head in my lap and i covered us both over. At first i thought she wanted to lie flat and so moved my legs out of the way but she then remained sat upright... i put my body back beside her and she flopped into my lap. I lay back also, stroking her beautiful face. 
   We were surrounded by family and rows of now empty coffee cups and we just waited. As night became late night and late night became early morning, one by one they all went home till it was just me and Darla lay together in the stable and my mum in the car. 
   It was so cold that night, i remember having to reajust the mountain of folded 5.9' rugs that i had drapped over Darla to help keep her warm. I didnt want to sleep, fearing that when i closed my eyes Darla would nt be with me when i woke up. I was nt going to leave her, not again, not ever. 

   Thursday, September 6th. 5 am and the sky was becoming lighter... it was morning...

 Darla was stood up, her breathing had improved, her spasms had improved and she was no longer wanting to lie down. I remember looking up at the sky, it was bright and clear. We had come through the darkness to find the light on the otherside. The nightmare was over. 
   Me and mum allowed ourselves to thor out and her partner arrived at 7am with a fresh flask of coffee. Darla's condition was definately not getting worse and i dared say it in fear of jinxing it but it actually appeared to be improving.

Darla turned out in the Mini pen
   I wanted to let her out of the stable and observe what she did. Yesterday she was so poorly she didnt want to move, I thought i could gage how well she was feeling by observing what she wanted to do. I haltered her up and open the door and she could nt get out quick enough!!! I took her into the mini's paddock and was nothing more than a passanger on the end of the rope to ensure she didnt do anything silly. She wondered around... and began eating!

   Whilst at the time it was everything not to burst with joy and relief i didnt want to get too ahead of myself. Darla was still incredibley weak. She had been panting like a woman in labour for over 12 hours, it was Thursaday morning and the chances are she had nt eaten anything since Monday afternoon, but it was promising. 
   The vet arrived an hour later and his jaw hit the floor when he saw Darla out in the paddok walking around and grazing. He examined her and her breathing had returned to normal, her spasams had stopped and most importantly she looked like Darla, i could she the spirit returning to her eyes. 
   The vet put his hand up her bottom again, not only could he not feel the tight band he did the night before but he also pulled out a handful of poop! Gross i know but since the awful scouring on Tuesday she had nt done anything, this just proved that her gut WAS working and that there was no twists or obstructions. I bet youd find it hard to find a horse owner that hasn't spend the night with their horse waiting for them to do a dropping! (quite a normal thing amoungst us horse owners!) He gave her a final does of Penacilin, her 7th injection in less that 24 hours!

  As the hours past she began to look more and more like the fiery little mare i had grown to love and admire. We turned Ebony and Kocoum out with her and within minuets she was bossing Kocoum around, she was definately returning to her old self! We kept a close eye of her the few days following, she was still quite quiet but thats understandable, she was gravely ill and it would knocked even the biggest horsen for six. As the days past she regained strength and i decided that she was well enough to turn out into the big field with the rest of the herd, i opened the gate and she went cantering off with Ebony and Kocoum by her side. The tears welled up in my eyes as i watched my little girl, the baby that she is, living the life that was recently so cruely nearly taken from her.

   We never did find out what was wrong with her. She was seen by 3 different vets and each one disagreed but were mutualy confused, the only thing that all 3 vets did agree on was that is wasn't Ragwort poisioning. Each vet had their theroy but thats all they were, no diagnosis.
  • Extremely bad case of gateritis with complications on the lungs
  • A twisted gut
  • Poisioning of some kind 
  • A flipped colon. The colon was now resting between the Splean and the Kidney
   The fact that Darla made a full recovery without surgery blows most of the theorys out of the water. We will never know what caused it and what was actually wrong with her. All that matters now is that she is a happy and health little pony.