Friday, 25 February 2011

Video Re-Enactment of my Pre-Parelli Days

People have been writing to me, saying, “Marti, you are such an incompetent horse whisperer and natural horseman now, so how much worse were you before you started on the Parelli program?”

Well, much worse. When I first watched the Level 1 pack I felt all the level 1 students were far better than me. That's because they were. Their horses did not run away from them, lay their ears flat, and attack for food. Mine did all that -- and more!

Second, the horse owners who featured in Level 1 brought their own horses to the Parelli ranch. That means they had enough control to get the horse haltered and into a trailer. Wow. Impressive.

I DID put Milo in a trailer when I first got him because the man who raised him for meat, occasionally gave him hay in a trailer. So Milo was happy to get on one. However, as soon as we drove off, he reared up, threw himself over the front bar and got his legs tangled in the haynet. I was alerted to this when the noise of Milo scrambling in the trailer became louder than the honking of horns behind me. Lucky for me, I had an illegal knife hidden in my car, soI easily cut down the hay net. And Milo was small enough so the emergency services were able to lift him off the bar.

No, I can’t quite capture how grossly idiotic I was when I first got Milo, and words cannot describe. But I’ve tried to do my best in this re-enactment of Day One with my new pony.

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Buying a horse? Try the chicken test

Those selling horses will often say something along the lines of “This horse will be your best friend.” That is because many prospective buyers want a horse to be their best friend, and rather than seek psychiatric help for this condition, they search the horse classified ads for the horse of their dreams.

That’s okay if you have some experience with horses, but many people searching for their “dream horse” have no experience whatsoever. It is difficult for them to buy a horse because when it comes down to it, horses scare them. To death. One nice lady who wanted a horse to be her best friend asked me in all honesty, “Will I have to touch it?”

I told her no, not at all. Not if she bought a race horse.

“Good,” she said. “Because I am allergic to horses.”

So, I’ve come up with a unique method for assessing horses for those who want a horse to be their best friend forever, but don’t want to be too close to this new BFF. It is called The Chicken Test and you can see it in action on video below.

I think the youtube link here will give you slightly better quality.

Monday, 21 February 2011

The politics of haying

I hang haynets even though the natural world tells me they are so bad for horses’ lungs that I might as well give them Marlboroughs to smoke all night. Eating from the ground is the way horses should eat, not with their faces level with their chests. Haynets mean your horse is inhaling dust and particles of fiber. This is bad lung food.

In fact, hay is bad for them, I've been told. Unless I buy the dust-extracted organic,pesticide-free loaves that come sealed in plastic at restaurant prices -- but you have to draw a line.

I use haynets which are designed with small mesh and make the hay last a lot longer because apparently horses only sleep a few hours a day and require constant small amounts of food for their guts to function. Otherwise, you run the risk of colic.

Of course, you can overfeed the horse and then they get the sometimes fatal condition of laminitis.

Saltwater fish would be easier than these creatures, who can’t do simple stay-alive things like vomit.

So, there I am under the night sky tying hay nets low enough so that the arc of the horses’ necks tip downward to avoid the dust/particles, but not so low that a hoof will get caught, though this could happen if Millie kicks Milo, which is not unlikely. In case of this possibility, I tie the net to a piece of baling twine so that it will break off and save the horse’s leg. There are also special knots I use.

If I can do this, surely I can perform minor surgeries?

It isn’t just that the haynets require physical considerations. There is also the political implication of how I feed these horses to consider. I’ll use Milo as an example.

Milo is a dominant, competitive little pony who wants more than anything to move from his current position as number 3 in the herd to at least number 2. For those of you who have studied drama and know that a good playwrite always considers what every character "wants" in a scene, let me put it this way: Milo wants power. He's a power-hungry little shetland cross who will do whatever it takes to move into a position of authority so that he can punish those below him.

When I come down to the barn and join the herd, he is alerted to the possibility that a power shift might take place at any moment. He knows he must at least maintain his position as third to my fourth, and he works hard in that direction.

So, while I think I am being a nice owner and giving my horse some hay, Milo sees it much differently. He is convinced that the reason I have brought him hay is because of the power of his “draw”. He draws me with his cute ears and friendly face and I bring the hay.

He then angles his shoulder to push me out and, once I’ve tied the haynet and turned around, he is certain he has “won” the food from me. This may seem a small matter, but it is small only to you and me and the rest of the human race. To Milo, it is everything. For a moment there, he is sure he is moving up in ranks and will soon be made General Of The Herd.

The best method I’ve come across so far in dealing with his behaviour of pushing me out is to swing a “savvy string” (a thin bit of rope) around my head propeller-style so that if he “comes into my space” as they say in the horse world, he “walks into the pressure” (gets thwacked in face by string). Okay, fine, But YOU try tying a haynet by the light of a dull bulb while making like a helicopter in the face of Milo at ten o’clock at night in the rain.

It takes “savvy”, which is one of the things the Parelli program teaches me, or tries to teach me. Failing to maintain my position as leader to Milo will have implications the next day when riding. If he’s pushed me away from the haynet (in his eyes) all manner of hell and damnation may follow.

Which is why “just going out to feed the horses" is never a simple thing. I'd like to point out, too, that the NEW red haynet featured in this photo has been cunningly bitten through by Milo, who has no truck with slow-drip feeding and wishes to gorge himself.

Polite and passive persistence in the proper position

The rain continues and the field gets more poached and sodden. Near the barn, we are down to a newly unearthed layer of this planets surface, above which the mud floats like oatmeal.

So why don’t the horses do what ought to be “natural” and seek higher ground? After all, we have two nice hills, the shelter of an oak tree, and temperatures comfortable at 5 degrees celsius.

“We don’t buy this 24hour turn-out idea,” they say to me. “Although,you can drive us down to the New Forest and release us into the wild. We’d go for that.”

They follow Pat Parelli’s advice of practicing “polite and passive persistence in the proper position”, and by 10pm I can’t stand it anymore. I leave my warm house, my tea and my Maltesers, to bring them into the yard.

The two ponies share a cement corral with access into a box stable, but Monty goes into his own box stall to protect him from Millie, who believes he needs a snappier departure when she tells him to move, which she does frequently.

If you want lessons in how to get a quick send, take notice of how
Millie throws her energy, then her “mean face”, then her whole body with teeth forward when asking for the “Circling game”. It is a lesson in cowboy magic. If she were “working the program” as a parelli student, she would have long since graduated her Level 4 and probably be close to an instructorship. She often sends Milo flying then looks at me as if to say, "This is how its done!"

Sunday, 20 February 2011

Marti, Millie, Milo, Monty

In the middle of winter I sometimes wonder why we left our old house with its rose trellis and victorian conservatory to move further out of London in order to have horses in the garden.

I say “garden” but what I mean is a pasture that by mid-february is knee deep in clay based soil so sodden that the fence posts rot and lean, and the horses themselves come to smell more like marine life than animals who are meant to roam prairies across America or mountains in nearby Wales.  
It is hard to describe what a shetland cross cob pony with three inches of coat looks like after a roll in Berkshire clay, but if you hear of sitings of the the Loch Ness monster in the home counties, that would be my pony, Milo.

Milo was rescued more or less off a meat wagon by a kind-hearted woman who probably instantly regretted it. I bought him as a project that apparently never ends.
Millie is the more attractive of my horses, a black welsh cob mare with a bald (white) face and two startling blue eyes. My neighbours, many of which have never ventured further than the local Sainsbury’s, sometimes comment on the eyes. One told me that horses with “wall eyes” never go blind. Another told me that only witchcraft produces such colouring. I think it was just the misfortune of a speculative breeder, who sold on the filly as soon as she was weaned, lest she got pregnant by a wandering stallion and produced more horses with bizarre facial features. In the 17th century she would have been burned at the stake. 
By the way, I did not name either of these horses and it is only a coincidence
that they sound like a pair of french poodles. What is worse than having a gelding named Milo and  mare named Millie? Having additionally an older, “retired” horse named Monty. Again, this has nothing to do with any decision on my part. It is my fate to have horses that sound like siamese triplets who share a single brain. 

Being named Marti just adds extra alliterative comedy. Oh, wouldn't Shakespeare have a ball.
Monty is a mellow, gentlemanly 15.3hand cob, but the other two are fiercely competitive. It is constant jockeying for position in my household. When the two ponies are not trying to one-up me, they are trying to one-up each other. Milo bites Millie on the mane and she attacks him. He is perfectly willing to argue and comes right back for more. British natives must be like the terriers of the horse world and I am trying to get them to behave. 
So, here is my blog about them, about “natural” horsemanship, about the 8 principles and the 4 savvies and the 7 games and my 2 horrendously behaved native ponies. Also about me, now officially a middle-aged horse owner.