Tag Archives: Horse History

Horse Story: Miss Dottie

Some people, adults actually, wonder why I call Dottie “Miss Dottie”. I suppose the reason why is because she reminds me of a lady I met when I was very young, Miz Ellie. Now that is “Miz” not Miss or Mrs, but Miz.

The summer of 1970 was a Golden Summer for me. I know that is trite, a trope, but it is true. We all have one Golden Summer of our childhood that we all remember.

Easter Egg Hunt 2018

That Summer of 70 (unlike the song) was filled with sunshine, hot days, warm nights, swimming lessons, trips to my grandparents lake house and a trip to my other grandparents lake house. It was 3 months of bliss. The best thing that happened was I made a friend.

My parents decided that they were going to extend our house. My father hired a man from Louisiana named Mr Beaubarre to oversee this building project. This was quite unusual for where I lived because Mr Beaubarre was black. When I was introduced to Mr Beaubarre I could not say his name properly because I was both not Creole and six. I called him Mr Blueberry. Oddly he liked that and said I was to always call him that.

Mr Blueberry had a son who he called Junior who came to work with him. I never knew what Junior’s real name was but he was simply called Blueberry, which he also laughed and liked. He was also six. We spent that summer exploring the woods together, playing in the building sand, climbing trees, riding bikes and having a great time. Blueberry and I had a lot of fun and caused more mischief than my mother really deserved.

As with all building projects, it came to an end. Mr Blueberry said that the winter was too cold for them. They returned to Louisiana and I never saw them again. It has been 48 years and I still wonder what happened to my friend Blueberry. I do hope he had a happy youth and is still laughing and loving like he did in 1970.

Now Blueberry had a grandmother, Miz Ellie. She wasn’t a particularly large lady, about the size of my mother (which I now realise as an adult means she was actually very small, probably 5’2”, which is kinda big when you are 6). Miz Ellie came everyday with Mr Blueberry and Blueberry’s lunch. She would arrive at 12 noon in a shining dark blue car (don’t ask makes and models – remember I was 6!). Miz Ellie was immaculately dressed including hat and gloves. We had a table on our patio and Miz Ellie would set out lunch and they would eat – knives and forks and everything (my Mom gave me a bologna sandwich on a paper plate!)

I learned very fast that Miz Ellie was not a lady to meddle with. If I was being silly or cheeky, her face was would become hard and she would raise her thin eyebrows. A shiver would go down my spine and I would adjust my behaviour immediately. The one time I was rude, Miz Ellie looked at me and said, “I am surprised that such a fine young lady would have such an ugly mouth.” I was devastated. She also mentioned it to my mother. I was grounded for two days. I never did it again. Blueberry told me I was lucky that I wasn’t her grandchild because she was wicked with a switch.

Miz Ellie taught me many things that summer and I still (when I remember) abide by them today. She taught me that being a lady doesn’t mean that you have to have a pedigree from the finest houses, but to behave in a way that brings honour to people and God. She was a wonderful person and I know that Blueberry loved her deeply.

So why does Dottie remind me of Miz Ellie? Because they are cut from the same cloth as it were. Dottie is the oldest horse at Sunshine. This year she will be celebrating her 28th birthday. She loves children and tries to teach them things that are more than just riding. She likes to be groomed and loves to be made to look good. She is polite, but does know her own mind. She will tell you off if you are doing something wrong.

From the passport records, Dottie came to Sunshine 20 years ago. She was originally called Dusky, but that was changed at some point. Almost everyone who knew Dottie years back, know her a Dottie.

Dottie is a Welsh A pony from Wales. Like Miz Ellie, her linage is not great or famous. It is a pretty good bet that she came from Pit Pony stock. Wales had over 70,000 pit ponies in service before World War I and they finally stopped using ponies in 1979 when the last two came up. Pit ponies did not have a life, to be honest. They were often bred, born and died in the mines.

Halloween Fancy Dress 2018

They were expected to carry up to 3 tons of ore up to the surface or to the surface elevators each week. They had little to no veterinary care. Most of them did not see their 9th birthday. They were tools and treated as such.

When pit ponies came to the surface they had another problem. Most of them were blinded by the light. They had only known darkness and their eyes could not adjust to the brightness of day. Due to this, many were put down because who wanted a blind pony. The rescue societies started after World War I. They put pressure on the government to stop the use of pit ponies, but they were only mildly successful. What really changed was the development and implementation of machinery. Machinery didn’t need fed. Machinery didn’t need sleep. Machinery didn’t have “do-gooders” causing problems. The rescue societies did save thousands of ponies and did see that proper care regulations were put in place.

It was the 20th Century which created the Riding School. The small ponies which previously used for work became used for leisure. The children’s riding pony became very popular with the Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret Rose. Riding became an activity that the middle class could take part in. A very big social change for Britain.

So what has Dottie done since she came to Sunshine? Dottie has taught over a thousand children to ride. Dottie has worked with disabled children. Dottie has competed in both show jumping and dressage. Dottie loves to hack and still takes part in them. Dottie has told us in no uncertain terms that she is not about to retire.

We have tried to retire Dottie because she is an elderly horse. If she was a human she would be 87 years old. Okay, not as old as Queen Elizabeth who still rode at 89 years old, but still a good age to stop! Except she won’t. Dottie also has a disease called Cushings Syndrome. This affects her legs and feet and can cause laminitis (which will kill her), her ability to control her weight, her ability to shed her coat. This last one means that she regularly gets a full clip – we call it her spa day. She is patient and appreciates it.

The laminitis is my biggest concern. A horse is only as good as its feet. Now you know how much care has been expended with Magic’s feet, and we are always on the watch regarding Dottie’s. Dottie had a bout of laminitis in 2018 and it nearly killed her. I had not “officially” had her diagnosed for Cushings because it was just obvious she had it. The previous manager, Becca, had done a fantastic job keeping Dottie sound and I simply followed what she had been doing. Becca had warned me that under no circumstances should Dottie have any sugar. She was very clear that sugar meant a one-way trip to the Rainbow Bridge. I listened and did as I was told. Some how, in some way, some one gave Dottie sugar. The Nightmare Began.

We caught the laminitis very quickly.

With Huw, 2015

I saw she was standing oddly and then could barely walk. We immediately began icing down her feet and legs with cold water. I called the Vet and Dr Laura was out within the hour. We created a deep soft bed for her and began praying. Dr Laura provided the various medications needed and did take a blood sample for the Cushings Test. There was not much more we could do but keep cooling her feet every hour and make her comfortable. This went on for 7 days. Dr. Laura returned and although there had been no improvement, there was no further deterioration. It was decided that we would give it another week, and if there was no improvement, then I would make the dreaded call.

Carnival 2015

I called a meeting of the Staff and Handlers. I told them what had happened and what was going to happen if Dottie did not improve. It was not a pleasant morning as shock and tears filled the yard. The potential loss of Dottie because of a polo mint taught them an important lesson. Never feed a horse anything without permission. I still do not know who fed her the sugar, and I don’t want to know because I believe whoever did it has punished themselves more than I could have ever devised.

June Showing 2019

Dottie turned the corner on day 12. She began to perk up and I cried with relief. Dottie was seen by Dr Laura on Day 14 and she confirmed that Dottie was improving. Dottie spent the next 4 months on box rest. She was loved and cared for and observed constantly.

As The Dragon, St George’s Day Show 2019

We received word from Dr Laura 3 months after the attack of laminitis regarding the Cushings Test. Dottie had scored 908. She should not have had above 60. The question was, “How is she alive?” Dottie is tough. So we started her on new medicine which in 6 months lowered her protein count to 274 and a year later she was at 149. I haven’t had her tested this year because of the lockdown, but when we are free and open, we will give her another test. She is now looking as good as she did in 2017 when she was younger, stronger and healthier.

So Dottie has had a life of ups and downs – rather like Miz Ellie. I don’t think I would have wanted to a black woman in America in the mid-twentieth century. I am pleased that Miz Ellie got to see the Civil Rights Movement and the improvement of situation for black people in America. Miz Ellie was tough but she was kind and loving as well. Dottie is tough, kind and loving. Both of these ladies has been a honour to have in my life and I am sure they would have been good friends.

This post would not have been possible without the help from Chris Cole Photography, Shaanon West Photography, and all the riders of Sunshine who have over the years loved this beautiful lady.  Thank you very much.

Horse Story: Crystal

“Who am I riding today? Can I ride Crystal?”
“I wanna ride Crystal today. Can I?”
“What do you mean I can’t ride Crystal today. She’s totally the best!”

These are the phrases I hear at least 6 days a week.

“All right! I got Crystal!”
“I’m jumping today and I have Crystal? YES!”
“Crystal is so lovely. I want to take her home.”

These are also the phrases I hear at least 6 days a day.

Highland Crystal is our 14/1hh Highland pony. Like her name, she is a grey horse with patches of dark skin that show through. Because of these dark skin patches and in spite of her pure white coat, she is still a grey and not a rare white horse who has a double Dominant White gene (horse genetics are fun). She is 14 years old with the wisdom of someone far older. It is usual to give the title Schoolmaster to someone so young, but she is a definite contender for the title. There is not much she hasn’t done and done very well, and she will both teach and protect riders ensuring they continue to ride and develop. She doesn’t suffer fools gladly, but will tolerate and help those who need her the most. She may be the best thing to come out of Scotland since whiskey.

Crystal’s breed is the Highland Pony. This is one of the 3 native breeds to the Scottish highlands and islands – the others being the Shetland and the Eriskay. They are a hearty breed with a double coat of long and short hairs (such fun in the moulting season!), ranging from 13 hands to 14/2 hands high. They are strong enough in the shoulder to plough and strong enough in the hind to jump. They are known for their gentle, calm nature which makes them an ideal riding pony. There are only about 5500 pure Highlands and we are very lucky to have one living with us at Sunshine. Although there is a breeding programme and many Highlands are crossed with other breeds such as a thoroughbred to make eventing horses, Highlands are classed at Level 4 “At Risk” by the Rare Breeds Survival Trust. If you have read George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire (Game of Thrones), you will know about the horses used up by the wall – they are called Garrons. Garrons actually exist and are a type of Highland pony. Crystal IS a garron – tall, strong, balanced and dedicated Highland pony. (FYI, the only dragon at Sunshine is me.)

Crystal is a perfect example of her breed. She is loyal, dependable and trustworthy. She is has an intelligence about her and she will also tell you her opinion. Now as many of you may remember, Crystal was attacked when she first came to Sunshine in 2016. She was in her own field because she had not been integrated into the herd. The individuals who did this burned her face with cigarettes, also beat and kicked her side viciously. The attack made both local and national news and vet bills were in thousands of pounds. Crystal was featured in Horse and Hound and her case was cited for stricter punishment for people who abuse animals, especially horses. Despite the loving care she constantly receives from everyone at Sunshine, Crystal has not forgotten and is very wary of people now. Because I was not able to protect her, Crystal now believes she must protect herself. She doesn’t bite, but she will nip if she doesn’t like what you are doing. Yet, she will protect her riders with every fibre of her being.

Crystal’s desire to make sure her riders are safe is what makes her the most popular horse at Sunshine. She is as ideal to teach the first time jumper as much as the Intermediate level jumper (she’s a touch small for the Advanced Class as I don’t want her jumping over 1 metre). Crystal is very aware of the speed and approach she must take to a jump with the consideration of the skill the rider possesses. Working with her is like have a team-teaching experience. This is not say that people haven’t fallen off Crystal, but it is a very rare occurrence. If a rider has lost their confidence in riding, then Crystal (providing they aren’t over 5’6” tall) is my first call. In 2019 at the Early Summer Show we introduced Working Hunter jumping to Sunshine. Our hunters, Ben and Tango, were very happy to have the natural type fences, yet Crystal, who to my knowledge has never been on a hunt, took one look at the new challenges and was all in. She took to Working Hunter like a duck to water and won the first rosette ever offered at Sunshine in that discipline. Maybe it was her hunting heritage or deep love for a new challenge, either way she repeated her victory again in the June Jump 2019 in both Working Hunter and Show Jumping.

Crystal, I am sorry to admit, does not like flat work and dressage as much as jumping. Jumping is fun for her, but flat work is just that: work. Because she is not so in love with this discipline, she will make the rider ask for every move absolutely correctly. In her opinion, if you can’t ask properly then she doesn’t have to do it. That being said, this does mean our riders will have learned all the proper technique necessary which makes them very good dressage riders. Crystal has regularly competed in our dressage competitions as well as with Interdressage where she has always won a rosette – just not red…yet.

For all of Crystal’s dislike of flat work, when she sees a disabled rider Crystal becomes their best friend. She has lots of patience and care for them. If an abled-bodied rider was shouting and kicking, Crystal would very clearly tell them off (she has one of sternest ‘Mare Faces’ I have ever seen!). Yet, for our riders who have Tourette or Spastic forms of autism, Crystal will calmly accept the situation and try to help them enjoy both their ride and their learning. She has taken her riders from a petting situation to independence in canter. Crystal wants all her riders to be winners.

Speaking of being a winner, Crystal has made is possible for nearly everyone who has ridden her in a show a chance at a Red Rosette. Crystal has a very wide competitive streak. She knows when she is in a competition – whether it be in-hand, dressage or show jumping. She has been introduced to cross country but it is only just above flat work on her list of things she doesn’t like. We will continue to work with her on this discipline and we shall see what happens. The 2018 Show season was just as impressive as her 2019 season when Crystal and her rider Caitlin won the 2018 Accumulator Cup (we didn’t have Cross Country until 2019). As expected, Crystal won In-Hand and Show Jumping, but her Dressage was a touch weak. It was an amazing day for an amazing pony. Crystal hasn’t forgotten she won – ask her and she’ll tell you all about it.

Crystal not only shows well in proper In-Hand Showing, but she is the wonder pony for Fancy Dress Showing. Crystal can be dressed, painted, coloured as anything in the universe and she is happy with it. Crystal has shown as everything from a Space Ship to a Santa’s Reindeer, from St George’s Horse to a Christmas Present. What she finds important is that that she in involved. She is also happy to ride around the neighbourhood in her costume as well.

If Gymkhana is your thing, then Crystal is your horse. She is a great games pony — I suppose it is that “I have to win” spirit she has. She is able to bend around cones as if she was made of rubber, yet she will also be the easiest pony to lead if the rider is insecure and needs some support. What is important to her is that her rider has fun and thinks they are a winner.

Crystal also loves to hack out – especially to the pub (don’t we all?). Crystal is used by our smaller adults on our Pub Rides which follow the bridle paths from here to Lilley and back. She has also participated on our Halloween Spooky Hack (a ride in the dark) and our Faux Hunts at New Year.

Hunt for Santa

She is ideal for the first-time hacker because of her “I’ll take care of you” attitude, but she will also give an experienced rider a fun, full-on canter hack if that’s what you want. Crystal does not like being the point horse (the one in front on a hack) and is happy to placed middle to back of the ride. She can keep up with the big horses, but just doesn’t like to set the pace.

Crystal isn’t interested in leading the Herd of Mares. She is happy to leave that to Magic. She would prefer to be allowed to eat in peace and trot when she wants. That being said, she does not like to be left behind if the mares want to change fields (or escape to the Golf Club car park). She was only mildly curious about June’s birth and hasn’t expressed any more interest in the year that June has been alive. Perhaps it is her Scottish nature that makes her a bit taciturn. That being said, she has no problem showing her fellow Scot, Bella, a pair hooves when necessary.

I suppose you can now see why Crystal is such a popular pony. She is the first request of all our young riders be they wanting a riding lesson or a pony for camp. Her Pony Ride patience is matchless and she pretty much does qualify as “Bomb Proof”. What does Crystal want most of all? To have someone to talk to who is happy to tell her what a pretty girl she is. And Crystal is a beauty in mind, body and soul.

This post would not have been possible without the help from Chris Cole Photography, Shaanon West Photography and the riders at Sunshine.  Thanks y’all!

Horse Story: Ben

It was St Patrick’s Day last week, and Ben typifies an Irish gentleman. He is charming, interested in what your are doing, and a trifle bit silly. He reminds me of my late father-in-law. He was a lovely man from Dublin who was all these things. Dad, who was “fond of the ponies” and banned by the family to bet on the Grand National (long story – ask me personally), would have loved Ben as Ben is the full deal – an Irish Sport Horse.

The breed Irish Sport Horse, or ISH for short, was created in the 1920s. There was an original Irish Hunter type that was popular from the 1860s onwards, but it was more of an agricultural horse than a competitive show horse. The purpose of breeding the ISH was to make a strong, powerful but elegant Dressage (yes, dressage) competitor which could also be used as a hunting horse. I have looked but can’t find the name of the original breeder, but an ISH was born from a cross of an Irish Draught and an Irish Thoroughbred (yes, think of a Dora type and Tango having a child). In the 1990s there was a variant with an European Warmblood added into the mix (so now we are talking Tango and Tuscany – which will end with Charlie killing Tango as Tuscany was “his” mare). The point was to make create a horse that had so much scope it could do anything and come home for cuddles.

The breed is amazing. For 22 out of the last 24 years,

Oliver Townend & Ballaghmore Class, Burghley Horse trials 2018

if you were looking for a top stud, then you would have an ISH. When it comes to winning, they are what you want. Jonelle Price’s Classic Moet and Oliver Townend’s Ballaghmor Class

Jonelle Price & Classic Moet at Badminton Horse Trials, 2018

are two examples of the very best eventers in the world both having won at least 1 of the coveted 5* Eventing crowns. Cruising and Clover Hill were amazing showjumpers

Trevor Coyle & Cruising at Horse of The Year, 1999

with many, many cups and trophies and a World Championship or two. They are now the top sires for the breed. The Olympics are filled with ISHs as are the world’s hunting courses.

Clover Hill in 1996 — the father of winners

Although the Stud Book is held in Dublin, the breed now is found all over the world.


So Ben has a lot to live up to. And he does. Ben is our current Sunshine Accumulator Cup holder. The Accumulator is a One Day Event where the horses compete in all the major disciplines: In-Hand, Dressage, Show Jumping, and Cross Country.

Ben, 2019 winner of The Accumulator Cup with the 2018 winner.

The purpose is to show the full scope of what a horse can do. Each section is judged according to that discipline’s rules, horses and riders are ranked, and the combination with the most overall points wins. Last July Ben cruised through the various events – well almost. Like anyone, Ben had lots to learn. One area he was not too confident about was Cross Country. Ben, being the gentleman that he is, didn’t think it was right to jump fences from field to field as we had previously told him not to. It took a lot of determination to get him to jump Fence 12 which he eventually did, but he came in 5th in the Cross Country. It was a good thing that he won the Dressage and Showing and came in 2nd in Showjumping!

Ben has come a long way from when he was brought to us by Ade for training. Ade loves his boy (and he should as Ben is loveable), but Ben really didn’t have the kind of training that made him a viable riding horse. I would go as far as to say that Ben’s early training was sketchy at best. Ben is a very right sided horse and it took a lot of patience and, quite frankly, courage to get him to work on his left. If you tried, and Ade did, but weren’t an excellent rider like Fiona, then you were placed “without prejudice” on the floor. So Fiona, Beowulf and myself had some work cut out for us.

Fiona used Ben’s natural love for hacking as her starting point. She rode him out regularly until he began to trust her and listen to what she was trying to tell him. Beowulf and I worked Ben in the ring with lots, and lots, and lots more, flatwork. There was no point in teaching Ben to jump until Ben knew which foot went where. It didn’t take long – about 10 weeks, and Ben was much more balanced and able to use both sides of his body (his left is still the weak and sticky side). He also learned that throwing people off because the work was hard wasn’t going to cut it. Ade came, had a ride and was thrilled. He could safely ride his boy without fear. But Ade wanted more and Ben has been here since. Ade saw Ben’s potential. This 17/2 hh chestnut could take county, if not the country, by storm.

So we started teaching Ben proper jumping. As I have said on other Horse Stories, horses will jump naturally, but there is nothing natural about show jumping or cross country. In each case the horse has to learn what the fence is, how to approach and jump the fence, and how not to run off like a looney after the fence. The horse has to learn to trust the rider, have confidence that he/she knows what they are doing, and that this can be fun. Fun is the important part because if they aren’t having fun, then you will have a dirt encrusted experience when they say no.

Ben likes jumping (thank God). Ben is also bright but silly. He has learned the different fence types with ease and is happy to go over them. Ben’s problem is listening. It has been 3 years of working with him and he still doesn’t always listen. This is why we tend to use him only in the upper level lessons. Remember his breed is inherently strong, so the rider has to have the confidence and the seat to deal with this. Once you have him listening he is amazing. Until then, technique is your best friend.

So who is riding Ben now? We have Samantha, who won the Accumulator Cup with him, and she is both a riding instructor and a fireman (yeah, our own Fireman Sam), Beowulf,

Ben out with Lauren on our Annual Faux Hunt, December 2019

Fiona occasionally, and our Intermediate riders Caitlin, Lauren, Freya, Keira and Carl (Ade took the winter off). Ben’s riders have no illusions about him and his strength and speed, but they also know that this horse will make them into not just riders, but horsemen and women.

So what is Ben’s future now? We want to start taking him out to competitions. He has been to Bury Farm and did very well coming home with a rosette for a Clear Round.

Ben needing his hourly love from one of riders.

We would like to take him hunting and maybe a few other One Day Events (ODE) in the area. We would like to really bring him on as an Eventer because that will show the full scope of Ben’s big talent. Ade is in favour of this providing he doesn’t have to do the riding. It is great to have an owner so positive and involved in the training. Samantha has the competition partner she’s dreamed of and can’t wait to get out there. However, the first thing we need to teach him in to travel politely – he does like to kick the trailer something fierce. That is not good for either hoof or trailer side wall. Ah, with Ben there is always something more to learn.

Ben is Number 3 in the herd of The Big Boys. He is happy there and doesn’t challenge for a higher place. He tends to play with the other big ginger, Tango, and occasionally his stable brother Stan. It is a bit frightening to see these Big Boys start haring around as the rumbling sound from the ground is physical! You can count that if they start to rear up, Charlie will appear to calm things down. He likes a well behaved herd and Ben respects Charlie’s judgement (Tango can be a bit iffy on that front but knows where the line is).


We all believe that Ben has a big future and he is still a young horse. I personally like working with him because he is smart and willing. We still have that cross country to sort out. Guess I know what I’m doing this weekend. Come on, Ben. It’s show jumping only different!


This post is made possible with the help from Chris Cole Photography, Miss C Lake, Miss U Afridi, and Miss E Silk. Thanks y’all.

Horse Story: Bella

A refrain from a very well known musical goes,

How do you solve a problem like Maria?
How do you catch a cloud and pin it down?
How do you find a word that means Maria?
A flibbertijibbet! A will-o’-the wisp! A clown!

That pretty much sums up our Bella. A 11/2 piebald Shetland pony who should have been named Maria. Actually, her real name is Amethyst due to the amazing colour of her eyes. She is both loving and a handful at the same time.

Bella came to us as gift from one of our former riders. There was a change of circumstances and a loss of interest in this young rider’s life and her Mum felt that Bella would be happier in a place where there were people who would be happy to care for her constantly. We collected Bella out of her well kept field. And that is what Bella’s story is about – coming from a field into a riding school.

There are many things that a riding school has to take into consideration when they get a new pony. One of these is what the pony has done and what its potential for the future is. Anther consideration is how the pony lived and was treated. In no way was Bella treated badly – in fact, she may have been overly spoiled, which has its own set of problems. The last consideration we have to make is what the breed of the pony is as that comes with a genetic temperament and coat depth.

Bella is Shetland. Shetlands are amazing small ponies from the north of Scotland. If you know anything about Scottish weather, then you know that cold, wet and windy pretty much sums it up. I lived in Caithness for a while and I will tell you that you can add DARK when it is December and January. These study little ponies are made to live outside in this type of weather. This means that their coat is what we call a double coat – a mixture of both long and short thick hairs. This will keep the pony dry and warm. Shetlands also have a thick layer of body fat for the same reason.  Bella lived in a field for several years happy and warm without a rug. Riding schools use rugs to keep ponies dry and clean so they are always ready for their next ride. Rugs were new to Bella.

Shetlands come is various heights from very small at just 28 inches to rather tall like Bella. The one thing they all have in common is their speed. They are Usain Bolt of the equine world. To keep warm they like to run. And they are very, very good at it. Bella has this ability and a very cheeky nature, so trying to bring her in from a bit of muddy field is task no member of Sunshine eagerly signs up for. She can canter from the top of the Working Field to the bottom of Old Mares Field in 10 seconds. Poor Huw runs from field to field in about a minute. She is having fun and he is not. Once she has run this track a half dozen times, then she is happy to come in. Getting the energy out of a Shetland is vital in order to either school the pony or use the pony in classes. Because of this, Team Sunshine now lunges her daily and she is much happier and easier to work with.

Another aspect of Shetlands is their curiosity. Bella was not a stable dweller until she came to Sunshine. She lived in a field and could see everything. Bella must know what is going on. We have had to lower the top of her door because she took to standing on her hind legs with her front legs on the bottom brace of her door so she could see over. She even once tried to jump her door. This was rather scary! She will also explore every area of the field when she is out before she will settle to graze. She is our “gossip girl”. Once she knows everything, then she will be calm and relaxed. Until the moment Huw has to bring her in.

Shetlands are physically strong. Their purpose was to help carry things for farmers such as bales of wool or baskets of coal. I’ve seen them on beaches to help draw in fishing nets. They are perfect for pulling small carts or carriages that carry several adults. This strength can make a Shetland a real asset, but for a riding school it can also cause problems. A horse that is strong enough to pull a cart with the same number of people as in the Lead Rein Class, can be hard for a Handler to control. The Handler could be dragged or pulled into areas where they don’t want to be. The Shetland’s strength could frighten small children who are just beginning their equine experience. So it is important that a Shetland Lead Rein pony is well trained and understands its job. A Shetland can work in a riding school for up to 20 years, but the first few are the most challenging. Bella has worked with children but she is now learning what it means to work in a group, and this is very new to her. At Sunshine we aren’t just training riders, but we are training horses as well.

So understanding the breed is very important when choosing or accepting a new pony. We knew with Bella that she had worked with children prior to coming to Sunshine. I suppose I should mention that Bella is only 7 years old, so she is still rather young and will probably live to 30. Because Bella is very small, she will only have the youngest of riders so she will not be expected to jump. It would be nice if she could do some dressage, but having a 7 year-old child doing dressage is a bit of an ask!

Bella is adorable. As previously stated, her almost purple eyes gave her the name Amethyst. This, coupled with her signature slow blink, creates a mesmerising effect.

Her Red Ribbon reminds us that she does not like people close behind her

Bella loves attention and will give kisses over her door if she recognises you. When she loves you, her affection knows no end. I don’t know about you, but I often get June and Bella confused, possibly because of their black and white colourings and heights (however June is growing fast). But more on that later. With this said, Bella is utterly adorable….until moulting season.

Moulting season is an interesting time for all the horses on our yard. It happens typically around late spring but can be as early as March. While any horse moulting can be annoying for the staff, Bella takes it to a new level, as she transforms her stable to the inside of a vacuum cleaner. The loss of her double coat means there is fur and hair everywhere including the ceiling. Because Bella lived outside in the field, she was never clipped and naturally lost her coat. Because she did not learn about clipping as a young horse, she refuses to allow us to clip her now.  The one most affected by this is our poor farrier who ends up wearing as much fur as Bella when he is trimming her hooves (Bella doesn’t wear shoes). Bella loves having her nails done!

Bella is actually a big mare in disguise. She loves to hang around with Magic and Annie. This of course makes things a touch more visually complicated as Magic and Annie look alike and so does Bella and June. Who’s the Mummy and who’s the baby?! Bella tries to be the Dominant Beta Mare, so she can be Magic’s right-hand lady. This irritates Dora who thinks that is her position. Little do they know that Magic couldn’t care in the slightest. Because Bella is very smart, she out-thinks many of the smaller mares and likes to herd them around the field. Yes, she is a bit of a bossy-boots.

Having come from the field into the riding school, Bella has progressed well. She does have her moments and is very clear about not liking Pasha. This is okay since we know about it and will try to keep the two of them apart. We all have people we don’t like to work with. We have also had to introduce a new saddle to Bella as some of the riders are too big for the child saddle she came with. Bella, again, is not too pleased with this new clothing (such a fashionista!) and we are hoping to find her the perfect saddle soon. In the meantime, we are back to small riders using the child’s saddle. So far we have not really worked to teach Bella to canter as Shetlands can be that touch fast, as I mentioned.

In conclusion, Bella can be both cuddly and dominate, loving and scary, fast and cheeky all at the same time. Bella is a high school mean-girl in the body of an 11/2 pony. But we love her that way.

This post has been made possible with the help of Chris Cole Photography.  Thank you Chris!

Beautiful Jim Key — The Power of Love

I started this story as a way of telling the tale of Beowulf’s Tango. I have always believed that the best way to teach and train a horse is by using love and patience. I have known for many decades that horses are very special and intelligent creatures who want to please and do their best for their riders. I believe that horses who are rude and mean are only that way because they have had many, many bad experiences and they are responding to that fear. This is where we started with Tango, but this is also where I learned about an amazing horse called Beautiful Jim Key.

Beautiful Jim was born in 1889 in Shelbyville, Tennessee, USA. He was “owned” by Dr. William Key, who himself was an amazing man. Dr. Bill, as he became known, was born in 1833 as a slave to the Key family of Shelbyville, a small town outside of Nashville. As a small boy, Bill showed amazing promise intellectually and his master, Mr Key, was moved to take the boy into his family and educate him properly. This was both almost unknown and illegal as the law forbade slaves from having any form education beyond what was taught as part of a religious training.

When the American Civil War broke out in 1860, Bill joined the Confederate Army to protect his “brothers”, the white children of Mr. Key who he loved and in return was loved by them. Bill also worked as part of the Underground Railroad, helping fleeing slaves through blockade that divided North from South. Eventually Bill was caught by the northern Union Army and was charged with Treason. Somehow, not really known, Bill avoided the customary hanging and became the unit’s cook. In the evenings he would play cards with the soldiers – and he became very good.

When the war ended in 1865 Bill returned to the family plantation. He was shocked to see it in such bad order, but using the money he had won in his card games, Bill with the help of his brothers was able to repurchase the home. The family worked together to rebuild the land, creating a breeding centre and racetrack. During this time Bill became Dr Bill as he studied animal health and welfare. He also developed Keystone Liniment, a wide ranging rub for strained muscles and swollen joints that was good for both animal and human alike. It was a success and provided him a good income.

Dr Bill’s breeding programme had also produced fine, winning race horses. Dr Bill was well liked and highly respected, so it came a complete surprise that he would purchase Lauretta, a lovely Arab horse that came from a circus for $40. She was broken, neglected, underweight and of seemingly no real value, but Dr Bill saw something, “intelligent in her eye”. He took her home and cared for her carefully. When Lauretta was strong and healthy, Dr Bill breed her with his friend’s Hambletonian. At the time it seemed unfortunate, but Lauretta gave birth to an odd shaped, sickly foal who it seems she rejected and Dr Bill named Jim. Dr Bill was advised to put this foal out of his misery, but Dr Bill saw some “intelligence in his eye”. This horse would become the most intelligent horse the world had ever seen and was an intrigal part of the Humane Society.

Jim bonded with Dr Bill and his family. Dr Bill’s wife noted that the young foal was able to answer her question of whether or not he wanted an apple by nodding his head. He began to show responses like those of Dr. Bill’s young children and, in due course, even earned himself a blanket to sleep on in their house. It would be this way for the rest of this Bay stallion’s life. When Jim began to exhibit his quirky behaviour, Dr Bill thought it would be fun to teach him some tricks. Jim quickly mastered laying down and rolling over on command – later this would be his response to people when they asked him “silly” questions. He could also fetch, hand over objects, and after 7 years of gentle training, Jim could spell, add and subtract, do post office filing, make change, recognise bible verses, and answer random questions. Jim also liked to flirt with older women, which made him very popular when he began to tour with Dr Bill.

It was common to sell products such as Keystone Liniment by going to the various county fairs and shows. Jim did not like to be separated from Dr Bill for any length of time, so Dr Bill began to bring him along. Jim, who was now a very handsome, tall and strong horse, was to be Dr Bill’s assistant, but it was not long before Jim stole the show. Dr Bill would ask Jim to answer questions, which he did, but soon Dr Bill opened it up to the audience. Jim would answer questions as long as he was given a treat of an apple or piece of carrot.

Now Jim wasn’t the only horse on this circuit. There was also Clever Hans, who was owned by a German teacher named Helmut von Oston. Hans could answer what seemed like random questions, but it was actually a response from the body language of his trainer. A reporter from the Post Standard Newspaper was determined to prove that Jim was the same. The reporter was taken to Jim and Dr Bill waited outside. The reporter asked Jim questions and Jim refused to answer. When Dr Bill came back in and was told that Jim was a fraud, Dr Bill asked Jim why he was being so difficult. Jim spelled out “FRUITLESS”. Jim didn’t work for free. If you wanted answers, then you gave him fruit. The reporter was stunned and wrote up the experience declaring that Beautiful Jim was no fraud.

In 1894 Beautiful Jim was invited to the Tennessee Centennial Exposition where he performed in the Negro Hall in front of 7,000 people nightly. Although this was a hall reserved for black people, Beautiful Jim was such a draw that it was opened to everyone of all

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colours and he crowning moment was when he met United States President McKinley. Jim answered McKinley’s questions and told him what he though about politics. President McKinley said of the experience, “This was the greatest object lesson of the power of kindness.”

After the Exposition, Promoter (what we would call a Manager now) Albert R. Rodgers learned about Beautiful Jim. He contacted Dr Bill and promised to make them stars. He was as good as his word and the trio earned millions – in 1900 that was no mean feat. Beautiful Jim was valued at $100,000. In 1903 he had his largest audience of 22,000 people at a single performance in Kansas City. He had become the biggest box office draw from 1900 to 1905, and was a Head Liner at the 1904 St Louis World’s Fair. In 1906 Beautiful Jim and Dr Bill retired from the road. Beautiful Jim was suffering from the onset of arthritis and Dr Bill was now 73 years old.

Beautiful Jim was more than a performer. He was also the subject of close scrutiny. Because Jim’s intelligence was so pronounced, he was studied by various medical bodies including the Harvard Board. After serious investigation it was decided that Jim did his “tricks” because he was very educated and they felt it was on par with that of a 10 year old child. They were amazed that Dr Bill never used violence or harsh treatment to teach Jim anything. By using love and trust, Jim was willing to submerge his head in a bucket of water and retrieve a quarter (a US coin about 2.5cm in diameter). Horses don’t hold their breath and stick their nose in the water!

Jim was also a major part of the Humane Movement. Once the organisation had decided that Beautiful Jim was no hoax, but a lovingly trained horse, the MSPCA Head George Angel supported Beautiful Jim’s endorsement. At it’s high point, there were over 1 million members of the Jim Key Band of Mercy. The children involved would take the Jim Key Pledge and “promise to be kind to animals”. This is an amazing thing as people in 1900 did not see horses as anything beyond a useful tool to be used and discarded when their usefulness had been completed. The Jim Key Band was able to raise $700 to purchase a horse ambulance in Boston for sick animals. The first of it’s kind. People began to want horses trained with love.

Beautiful Jim did have a best friend and body guard named Monk. He was a smallish terrier type dog who protected his friend fiercely. If you wanted to see Jim, then you had to be approved by Monk. Not even Dr Bill had the final say on that front! Monk can be see in many pictures taken of Jim sitting on Jim’s back. Jim would kneel down so that Monk could jump up on him. The two were inseparatable.

Dr Bill died in 1909 at the age of 76. Monk and Jim died in 1912, when Jim was 23 years old. An amazing age for a horse in that period. Their lives together gave us today a wonderful opportunity. They began the serious study into horse intelligence and that study continues to this day. The use of positive reinforcement and supported behaviour have become the best and correct way to train.

Today’s Beautiful Jim is Lukas, a 16/2 thoroughbred ex-racer who suffered massive tendon damage from his racing days. When he was 9 he came to his current owner after being passed from pillar to post, and by using positive reinforcement and patience, he is now the holder of the title of The World’s Most Intelligent Horse. His story can be found on YouTube.

So how does this relate to Tango? When we took on Tango at 7 years old he was an angry, frustrated and difficult horse. He kicked and bit and put many people into A&E (emergency room). It was a conscious decision that we were going to put him on the LOVE OFFENSIVE. I was going to love this beast into the best horse he could be. It has been 5 years now and Tango is an affiliated Show Jumper with a future to look forward to. He is happy. He loves what he does. He loves his people. Yes, there are days when he is a bit tetchy, but then we all have them. Because of love, patience, playful training, Tango has become an excellent horse and part of our family. He will never be a Beautiful Jim or a Lukas, but he has become and is still becoming the best horse he can be.

“The greatest object lesson of the power of kindness” and Love.

For further reading:
Beautiful Jim Key by MimReves
The Biography of Beautiful Jim Key by David Hoffman.
Beautiful Jim Key is about to become a major motion picture starring Morgan Freeman as Dr Bill.