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. 


Thursday, 20 September 2012

I say Tea Time. Ponies say Play Time!

   So ponies have nt had any play time over the past 3 days and when i drove to the yard to day they all came running over to the gate. I fed them their tea and instead of wondering off to go and eat pudding (grass) they kept hanging around wanting my attention so i thought id channel this into some play. A lovely, spontantious, simple Liberty play...

Giving them the tools to discover their potential

   Well! What a bad blogger i have been, not one post for weeks and weeks! My fellow readers, i am sorry and promise to be a better blogger from now on, lol!

   So much has happened since my last post, obviously! And i am torn, to blog about each one of these amazing things in detaile would be so ridiculously time consuming and make for one J.K Rowling lengthy type read but it seems an injustice to tone down all the wonderous things that have happened.... I guess i shall have to wirte about the most brilliant parts over a few posts whilst including a brief yet equally wonderous description about the smaller, but in my eyes, equally amazing things!
   Where to start? Teaching? In my last blog i talked about a friend of mine whom had approached me wanting some lessons in Natural Horsemanship and we had just had our first lesson. I believe in total we have had 4 or 5 lessons that have incorporated both ground work and ridden work... or should i play!

   Well, i have come to learn that there is no better sight than the look on your students face when they have mastered something they have always struggled with, its a mixture of surprise, amazement and joy, and i have learnt that there is no better feeling than when your student turns to you and says "I just had the most AMAZING riding lesson, i could feel the improvement in myself and my instructor could see the improvememnt in my riding too, im so pleased, thank you sooo much for helping me!" Iv really found a love for teaching that i didnt know i had! To give someone the tools that can unlock their potential and watch them just grow grow grow is such an amazing feeling and better to watch than any Johnny Depp starring oscar winning movie.

   After the first couple of online sessions, my friend asked if i could help her with some ridden work. She was having real trouble when riding without stirrups, she said she would bounce out of the saddle an awful lot, and she would get unbalanced and would end up needing to stop.
"Sure thing! Lets see what we can do."
   Being a Parelli Student i have had it drilled into me the importance of foundation, and thats both the horses AND humans foundation. So instead of throwing her up on Piggles and getting her to go trotting round we started on the ground. Why? Well because we need to work from the foundation up! We need to make sure that you have the right energy, the right body language, the correct focus. We have to make sure that all the ingredients that we need in order to go trotting around without stirrups are up to par, otherwise how on earth can we expect ourself to do the higher level stuff if we can even do the basic's. In the words of Pat Parelli Level 4 is just Level 1 with excellence.
   So i set her and my levels horse up with a game of "Mirror Me". Its Piggles job to Mirror Sammy, mirror her body language, her gait, her energy. The importance of this game is i wanted Sammy to know what it felt like to "ask for a trot" or to "ask for a halt" i wanted her to know what she needed to do in her body to get Piggles to do it in his body. Using a point to point pattern i asked her to drive Piggles from his zone 3 from point A to point B doing simple walk to trot then back down to walk transitions. You need to lift your energy up and trot and Piggles will mirror you.