Tag Archives: Horse ownership

Horse Story: Pure Magie

In so many ways, she is the face of Sunshine Riding. She is both a Schoolmaster and a source of unending frustration. She is protective and liberating. She is both kind and challenging. She is Pure Magic.

For any adult or teenage rider, Magic is their first choice. She is a 16 year old, 15/2hh black Shires x Dales lady. Obviously trained for dressage as a young horse, Magic has also taught so many riders how to jump and jump well. The real challenge is when you leave the saddle of Magic and then jump on the likes of Stan, you quickly find out how much she took care of you.

I first saw Magic in a picture many years ago on a google listing. I felt a bit sorry for her because she was standing in a field un-groomed and covered in dirt. She looked like she hadn’t been worked in a while. It was not a complementary photo. She was a young horse and it looked like there was a big personality. Upon meeting her in person, Magic proved to be more than that.

One thing you might notice about Magic now and Magic 7 years ago is her mane. When I arrived at Sunshine, Magic’s mane was “hogged”. This means it was cut or clipped close to the top of her neck. The original purpose of this is so that the horse’s mane doesn’t interfere with their tack, especially if they are wearing a pulling collar. Magic doesn’t pull. The reason that was given to me for hogging the mane was that it would be easier to groom her because she has a thick a mane. I was not impressed.

24 December 2013

So Magic’s incredible mane became one of the items on the list of “Things I Am Changing” when I fully took over. I can understand the rush of the grooming when a riding school is busy and that hogging a thick mane can make life easier. However, Sunshine was not so busy that her mane could not be attended to properly. Over the last 7 years, Magic has had a trim as needed and her mane has been thinned a few times, but it has been allowed to grow to its full glory – and what a glory it is! She is a walking, trotting, hair-flicking shampoo ad.

Another thing that came to light with consistent deep groomings is that Magic is actually a black-on-black dapple. This is not a common feature. It is technically known as The Leopard Complex where dark or darker spots appear on the horse’s coat. It is a genetic trait and you are probably most familiar with it when I say Appaloosa. Magic is a True Black horse, which is uncommon but not rare, and that means she does not bleach out in the sun to a chocolate brown (like Henry and Dottie). Her spots show most in the summer when her coat is at its thinnest, and they form a blanket across her hind quarters. It is beautiful to see and marks out her paces stunningly.

Magic does have gorgeous feathers as well. I don’t really know why when a horse’s lower leg is covered in long fur it is said to have feathers, but they do call it that. Feathers are common in Northern European equines and is more than likely an environmental mutation to keep the animal’s legs warm in deep snow or mud. It is commonly found on draught type horses. Magic has them as does Annie (Irish Cob) and Pasha (Dartmoor), while Charlie (Ardennes) has them on his back legs but not his front. All of these are “hearty breeds” which can stand being outside in the cold of winter without a rug (I rug anyway because I truly hate the mud they find!).

As beautiful as feathers are, horses with them are prone to an insect infestation called Feather Mites. Magic gets them. It is very hard to get rid of the mites, which bite and cause itching and possible infections. Imagine having a mosquito bite and your only way of relief is pounding your feet so that your fur will relieve the itch. There are several ways to deal with mites. One way (which I consider rather drastic) is to cut all the feathers off – no feathers, no feather mites (we are considering this with Annie as her feathers are a complete mess anyway). Another way is to wash the feathers in a specially made, store bought mite killing shampoo. If the mites are very bad, then the Vet can prescribe a medical shampoo, but it costs a bomb. The last way, and the way we deal with mites at Sunshine, is to have an injection which affects the horse’s skin and causes the mites to die. This treatment method was originally created for cattle, and I remember when it was first made available to horses about a decade ago. As it is a cattle treatment, you do have to sign a consent form, but I have never had trouble with the Mite Jab on any of my horses. Yes, Magic is due one this year and from the amount of hoof stomping in both her stable and under saddle (not a nice feeling!), it will be done sooner rather than later.

As you can see I am a lover of grooming Magic. She is a beautiful horse who loves her beauty treatments. The sad thing that happened in Magic’s life is the contraction of canker. Canker is a permanent infectious process that causes a chronic hypertrophy (i.e., enlargement or increase) of the horn-producing tissues of the equine hoof. The disease generally originates in the frog, but if left untreated, it can spread to the adjacent sole, bars, and hoof wall. It is seen commonly in draft breeds, but it can occur in any breed of horse. One or multiple feet can be affected at the same time, but it tends to affect the hind limbs more frequently. Canker appears like Thrush, another common bacterial hoof ailment, but its treatment is very different and must be overseen by a Vet in conjunction with a farrier. Thrush is often the result of wet conditions and poor hoof care (something I am a real unpleasant person about if I spot it), but Canker can appear even if the horse has perfect hoof care. There is a study out currently regarding the presence of the bovine papillomavirus and the development of Canker. Let us hope this leads to a cure.

Magic had spent the summer and autumn of 2013 (I was a livery then at Sunshine) being treated by the usual Thrush remedies and her previous owner refused to bring the Vet in when nothing worked. I was told in May of 2014 to consider putting Magic down because this disease was not curable, would be expensive and require a lot of care. I refused to do it because I will not end someone’s life because they require a bit more management than someone else. Therefore we are very quick to act on any sign of Canker flare-up, Magic has been able to work properly and compete for the last 7 years with barely any interruption. So this disease is manageable. It is true that this past autumn Magic had a serious flare-up in both of her hind limbs. It has taken 5 months to sort, but she is now good and healthy. The only real problem is the mental scars from the pain and discomfort. Because her frogs were nearly destroyed (they have since regrown), when one goes to pick out her feet, Magic lashes out fast with the hoof. I will tell you that Magic’s kicks hurt. A LOT.

So how does one deal with equine psychological issues? The same way you would if it was your child. You show patience, care and most importantly time and love. Will Magic get over it? In time and as long as we keep a constant eye on her feet. She is now healthy, so our next real step is to get her back in shape again.

Box rest, like bed rest, is no friend to an athlete. Magic gained weight. A lot of weight to the point she was obese – which didn’t help her feet. Magic topped out at nearly 680 kilograms (she normally weighs in at 560 kg). When we came to put her saddle on, it sat on top like an ornament. She was Therewell Pony (google it for some laughs). So we started walking her because this was the best and safest exercise we could give her. Yes, we did manage her feeds, but she is a hearty horse and does not really loose weight in the winter. When we had our Annual Inspection, we did explain it all to the Vet who was very understanding of what had happened and what we were doing. He agreed she needed to loose a lot of weight but in a sensible manner. Magic learned to walk miles and soon the saddle did fit. Next was a lot of groundwork to rebuild her Top Line – these are all the muscles of her back so that she can support herself and a rider. I won’t say it is 100% there yet, but she is getting a lot closer. She is still a bit round, but she is also now strong enough for lessons and hacks. Jumping will be very limited due to both her fitness and her feet.

One last thing about Magic is that she is one of our 3 Disabled Rider horses – Crystal and Pasha are the other 2. Magic knows instantly when she has a rider who needs extra support mentally, physically or emotionally. Magic will protect them but yet let them develop as riders in their own right. One of Magic’s greatest days happened in the Summer of 2018 when she gave a rider of 30 years her first canter – something this rider was told she would never be able to do. The Rider cried, the Instructor cried, I cried – all for joy, while Magic looked like a proud Mama. She had taught her rider well. This is a gift very few can every give another.

Pure Magic is just that – amazing, cheeky, funny, frustrating, joyful, talented, a bit of an exhibitionist, a competitor, a woman of love.

Mirror Image with Annie

She is the Alpha Mare and acts as Auntie and Godmother of June (it’s so funny to see June get confused as to who her mother is sometimes!).

Winner Christmas Show 19 as 12 Days of Christmas

She runs her herd with a calm but definite demeanour. She loves her competitions and is a regular winner at whatever she decides she doing. In Magic’s mind, “If it is worth doing, then do it right”. I love riding her and she has brought even me back from the despair of never riding again.

Knowing the love of Magic makes you a very special person. Magic, like Charlie and June, will spend all her days with me at Sunshine. This is her forever home and she is one of my Forever Ponies.

Thank You to “Auntie” Chris Cole who loves Magic almost as much as she does photography. Yes she is our baby.

Horse Story: Charlie

I can’t believe it has been a decade since I adopted Charlie. I remember the day I met him. We were at Greenacres in Harpenden. I had just returned for a trip to the USA when I was told that two horses had arrived and perhaps I would like to look at them. There was a mare named Star and a rather sad looking boy named Cassius. I rode the mare but I just didn’t click with her. She was young and narrow and I felt too big on her (and we are talking about my thin days here). Cassius was in a box stall at the back of a side barn. I went and looked him over. Again, it didn’t look promising.

I agreed to have a ride on Cassius. I was greatly surprised at how good it felt. He, unlike the mare Star, was interested and willing to do what I asked. Best of all, it felt like I was riding an easy-chair! I was asked if would I take him. I said I’d think about it. The next day I went to spend time with him with no one around. I felt drawn to him. He wanted to give someone his love. It was after a half an hour of talking with him I looked him in the eye and said, “Your name isn’t Cassius, is it?” He shook his huge head no. “You’re a Charlie, aren’t you?” And he rubbed his face down my chest and pinned me to the wall (not in a mean way) giving me all the horsey-love he could. I knew his real name therefore I was “obligated” to adopt him, but I wasn’t going to be pushed into a decision even by this big boy.

It was a few days later that Beowulf came down with me, and we asked if Wulf could ride him. I knew that my 11 year old was grossly over-horsed, but I also knew my 11 year old would grow and, if I did get a horse, it would have to be for me also. Wulf got on Charlie and you could also most hear the “click” in the air. Wulf walked, trotted and cantered that horse like he had been doing it for years. His teacher at the time, James, put a cross pole up for him and the pair sailed over it like champions. James put it as an upright. They flew over it again without touching it and then rode on to another jump which had been left up after James’s brother’s training session. It was a metre high. I shouted out, “Wulf! What are you doing?” as the pair bore down on it with Wulf’s heels kicking for the jump.

They launched and flew not only over the pole but the wing. It was 150cm. They landed as if it was nothing and cantered on as smooth as silk, Wulf in complete control.

I looked at James, who was flabbergasted, and nodded. I adopted Charlie that day. Never again would he be Cassius. He was Charles D’Argent – Charlie Gold.

Living with Charlie has not been easy. Things I didn’t know at the time but have since found out: Charlie was a stallion until a month before I adopted him and he has 3 children; Charlie is a rare breed and NEVER should have been gelded; Charlie eats for London; Charlie has the most expensive tack ever and his size is almost impossible to find. Also, Charlie had never really been on the bit until he was mine.

At the time of the adoption, I had worked on and off with horses for 40 years. I knew what I was doing and how to get things done. So it came as a complete surprise that I could not get a bit in his mouth. It was awful. I was viciously criticised by “The Ladies” at Greenacres for purchasing a horse I could not handle. I couldn’t understand why he was behaving this way until I found out they had been using a chiffney on him (a very cruel bit used to control horses). The chiffney went away but the mental damage had been done. I ended up contacting Wulf’s teacher in the USA, Mr Charlie Carrel of Colts Unlimited, and asking for help. Charlie gave me advice with bitting and it worked almost immediately. To this day, I have not had trouble getting a bit in his mouth (unless he’s being cheeky!).

I also had the fun of being chewed out by “The Ladies” because Charlie kept trying to mount their mares. “What kind of horse do you have?!” What could I say? I was rapidly learning that there was a whole lot more to Charlie that I was expecting. One lady was thrilled that Charlie was so forward with her mare, and she was hoping that there would be beautiful babies. I was unsure of what to say again, but I did get the Yard Manager to check one more time to see if Charlie was still a stallion. I also went home and read up on stallions and geldings. Apparently if a stallion has been to the mares and is gelded afterwards, it doesn’t matter. He is still mentally a stallion. Yep, Charlie is a stallion – ask him and he’ll tell you.

I wanted find out more about Draught horses as I never had worked with one before. In October of that year, I went to Horse Of The Year (HOYS) in Birmingham. I saw that the Draught Horse Society had a booth there, so I visited. I talked with them about Charlie and showed them his pictures. A lovely lady, who was also The Director, said that she thought he was a beautiful boy, but he was not a Draught Horse. I said, “But his passport….” and she assured me that whoever created it was not clear what they are doing. She sent me on to The Ardennes Society. I went there and talked with them. They took one look at Charlie’s pictures and claimed him as one of theirs. They then did a search and found him – and his 3 children. This confirmed his “mounting issues”. They were furious that he had been gelded because he is/was a stallion in a rare breed. I swore I would take care of him forever and that they would have no further fear for him. I must admit that when he went to shows, we would be regularly approached regarding using him to stud. It was sad to say that he “no longer had the equipment”.

Because I thought Charlie needed more schooling and education than I could give him at the time, Charlie was put on the school at Greenacres. Several of our riders at Sunshine remember Charlie from his days there. Charlie also was ridden in both mine and Beowulf’s lessons. In spite of being told that Charlie should be pulling a plough, Beowulf and Charlie developed together and were soon moving from Show Jumping to Cross Country. Beowulf was 13 years old when he and Charlie did their course together. I was both terrified and bursting with pride. They have not looked back.

Charlie has moved with us from stable to stable over the years. He has always ended up Head of the Herd, Master of the Yard. I am not sure if it because he is so big – 17/3 Hands and 750 kg – or if it because he is confident in who he is and that he is so thoroughly loved. This love was frighteningly tested in 2015 when the vet detected a heart murmur and said that Charlie was no long fit for competition or school work. He could be ridden but only as personal riding horse. Beowulf was devastated. His first true equine love was in a bad way. Then we had the night when Charlie could not breathe and we thought we were going to loose him. We were able to get his airways open and it quickly became a hunt to find what allergen had caused this reaction and further damage to his heart. I went through ever bit of food he ever ate, every type of hay or haylage, every type of bedding, looking for the answer.

It was a Wednesday and the boys were at their French lesson. I was still searching through all the veterinary texts to find a clue. I nearly flicked past the article. It was entitled, “Garlic isn’t always good for horses”. That seemed insane because horses and garlic are part and parcel. I read the article anyway. It stated that for a small minority of horses, usually very large in stature, a garlic allergy can cause constricted airways, cardio stress and uneven heart beats, extreme mood swings (I will tell you now that there is nothing as terrifying as being on Charlie when he having one of those!), and metabolic issues (your horse is fat, no morbidly obese, even with 6 days a week of exercise). I sat there feeling like a lead weight had been taken off of me. I had found the answer.

I immediately (as in throw his dinner out and make fresh with NO GARLIC) changed his meals. Trying to explain to grooms and caretakers that Charlie is allergic to garlic has been difficult over the years, but now no one argues with me. It took Charlie 3 years to recover from what had happened to him. Today he does have some residual breathing issues but they are treated with over the counter antihistamines. His heart has become regular in an odd way, but the pattern is regular. His weight is now proper and he looks good.

Due to my accident I can no longer ride Charlie. It isn’t that I’m scared or don’t have what it takes, it is just that I can’t dismount. It is too long of a way down for my left leg (Magic is almost too tall for me!), so Charlie has a new second rider (I was always second). Garry helps train him, hacks him out, and is using him for medieval mounted archery. Charlie doesn’t mind having a fully armoured knight on his back! Also since the start of the lockdown at the end of March, Charlie has been back in the jumping ring. He can currently do a course of 7 at 40cm and that is getting higher by the day and fitness level. He is also happily doing his dressage – something he doesn’t mind but doesn’t find as interesting as time spent with poles. Beowulf, Garry and with me coaching means that Charlie is returning the horse he was before his illnesses.

Charlie will be celebrating his 16th birthday on 18 July this year. He is not old, but he is no longer young either; however, Charlie is the Godfather of our herd here at Sunshine. He will protect the newbies to the herd and he will care for those who aren’t doing so well. He will put anyone in their place if they fail to show respect. He will play (for a bit of time) with the youngsters and graze with his brothers. He is still The Boss and will be so for a long time.

There are not words to explain how much Charlie means to my family and how deeply he is loved. He is my son as much as my two human boys. Charlie is truly part of my personal family and will never leave us.

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: Tango

On Friday the 13th of April 2007 Chestnut Colt 13 was born. I wasn’t there. I don’t know much about the early years of this Irish Thoroughbred except he had a tough beginning. I know that he was born on a racing yard – this alone is a situation that makes early life for any horse hard. A bit like his owner (Beowulf), Chestnut Colt 13 has an American mother and an Irish father. His bloodlines are excellent (the horse that is) and Chestnut Colt 13 should have been an amazing racer. But he wasn’t.

When Chestnut Colt 13 was nearly 3 years old someone decided that a racing career was not his future and sold him on to an eventing yard. CC13 stayed there for 2 years before he was sold on due to his eyes (more on this later). He was deemed talented enough and fast enough but the eyes were considered to be a possible deterrent for a professional, high level show horse. But they were wrong.

When he was 6 he came to Sunshine. Because he is bright (and I do mean bright!) orange, he is called Tango.  When I met him, Tango was a very unhappy horse. He was being used in the school for adult Lead Rein and Beginner classes which he very clearly hated. He was known for biting and kicking. One took their chances when it came to hanging up his hay net. My first summer of working with him was the most challenging times I had ever had with a horse.

The summer of 2014 I taught Tango how to jump properly. Jumping properly is not just getting from Point A to Point B over Obstacle C. It is about rhythm and balance and confidence. Everything that Tango had lost, if he ever had it at all. All the while of doing this, Tango fought like a demon anything I tried. By August I had decided that I was going to sell him. He needed a home where people would put him first and he would not be shared around. Unfortunately Tango’s reputation preceded him and there was not a single serious offer for him.

As I sat in slight despair as to what to do with Tango in January 2015, it came to me that maybe there was a reason he was still at Sunshine. Perhaps I was the one who was to save him and give him the chance he had been denied all his life. I walked down to his stable and looked at him hard. Tango glared at me with his ears pinned back to his head, teeth at the ready. I stood a sensible distance away and asked him, “Do you really want to be a great horse?” He snorted and twitched his ears forward and back in a flash. “Are you going to continue to fight me tooth and nail?” He swished his tail and “air chomped” at me. “Well, that behaviour is just going to have to stop. We can do this or you will die.” I walked away.

I went into the office and Simon walked in – that man may have some eye issues but his hearing is unbelievable. “Are you actually going to call Courtney’s?” “No,” I replied. It was at that moment the “Love Offensive” was born. I was going love that stubborn, stupid Irishman into being a great horse. “I’m taking him out of the school and giving him to Beowulf.” Simon nodded and muttered something about how this was going to be interesting.

So it started: The Love Offensive. The key to this is to not respond to any provocation from the horse with anger or violence. Starting with an air of bored indifference when working with animal rather than trying to push love on them was important. Someone who doesn’t trust you isn’t going to accept that emotion from you. They have built high walls around themselves for protection and you are not going to get through them until they let you. This is the same for horses and it is for humans. This doesn’t mean that you don’t talk to them and treat them civilly, but that you don’t try to buy or force an emotion.

Now I will say that this was hard going. In March Tango bit Wulf so hard on his ribs that Tango’s teeth went through both the jacket and shirt. This resulted in a trip to the hospital, gauze, some sort of fake skin plaster and a jolly good tetanus jab. Wulf wasn’t so sure that he wanted this horse, but he, like his mother, isn’t one to give up quickly. So we carried on. Tango repeated this behaviour to Wulf’s girlfriend at the time 2 months later. It was like he was trying to push us away so that he wouldn’t fall in love. Tango did not want to get hurt and was going to make sure he wasn’t. He had never met the McGuinness Resolve.

We continued with our efforts. We found a muzzle for him so we could be safe when grooming him. So he took to kicking. We took to 2 man grooming where one would hold a foot up and the other would do the brushing. It took a couple of weeks, but Tango learned that we were not intimidated and he was going to lose. We knew we had won when he picked his leg up for us when we came to groom him. It took several more months before he realised that he wouldn’t have to wear the muzzle if he would let us groom him without incident. Five years on and Tango now gets the hump if we don’t groom him!

Once we could groom him well, we then started on serious education. When I say we, I mean Beowulf, Tango and myself. Wulf and I would spend half an hour with Tango 3 times a week working on a rotation of general schooling with poles, dressage, and jumping. Tango began to love these sessions because they were mentally challenging to him and he received the praise and acceptance he so desperately wanted but never seemed to get. In 2015 Tango went from jumping 50cm to jumping 80cm, from never doing a dressage test to working at upper Preliminary/lower Novice test, from fighting the hand and leg to working in an outline. He also was happy to accept praise from me in the arena. Today, Tango jumps confidently at 110cm, rides a wicked cross-country country course, and will be tackling Elementary level dressage. I do see a 130cm jump in his future (oh God! The height! Gulp!).

The year 2016 was a bit of a blot on the page due to my accident and everything in the yard went on a holding pattern. When I came back in 2017, the first lesson I taught was with Tango and Wulf. I was surprised by the level of calm Tango showed. He knew I was not right and he did not act up.

Two of Tango’s Riders at Bury Farm International: Kat and Beowulf.

For the last 3 years, we have been able to work with him, educate him, take him on long show journeys, and win, win, win. For a horse who was not supposed to be able to do anything, it must have been a surprise to be affiliated for his 12th birthday. He was again Chestnut Colt 13 with a big future.

Now in the beginning I talked about Tango’s eyes. Tango has a condition called Hanging Grapes in his left eye. This is where the Corpora Nigra collapses downwards occluding part of the lens. I was told by the vet that Tango had in 2014 a 25% occlusion and that it was going to get worse. I was told that Tango would probably lose all useful vision in that eye by the time he was 13. Well, Tango is a wonder horse and somehow he reversed part of that. Today he has about a 15% – 17% vision blockage. I will tell you now that he can certainly see the jumps – the higher the better!

I am not going to lie to you and say that Tango is reformed and utterly trustworthy. He still has his moments. He will still try it on with Wulf and he will lose. Most of his misbehaviour now is from him feeling ignored. He knows that he is the centre of Beowulf’s riding world and he wants to have every moment of it. He now accepts love and can cautiously give it. Tango has a very limited number of riders: 3 to be exact. I am not one of them. I am his trainer and as such he respects me. He knows I never gave up on him and I never will.

Charlie, What IS he doing?

Tango’s best mate is Charlie and Tango serves as Charlie’s Lieutenant in the herd. The two have shared a cross moment, and Tango has lost every time, so he has given up and accepts that he is Number 2 (if this was Star Trek he’d be Number 1). Tango serves as one of the lead horses when the Handlers do a Formation Ride because if his leadership. He has even learned from Charlie to politely eat a doughnut from me (I’ve just been told he also likes cupcakes – thanks Wulf!).

I am not sure which one of us found our pot of gold – Chestnut Colt 13 or me. He is now living the life he deserved. I now have a son who has a horse to take him places. Together they are dynamite and I could not be more proud. This 17 hand 2 Irishman proved that the Love Offensive works and creates miracles where none could possible have been seen.

This post would not be possible without the help and beautiful photos from Chris Cole Photography, the many Sunshine Handlers and an overly proud Dad.  Thanks Y’all!

Horse Story: Stan The Man

“Hi! My name is Stan! I’m Adam’s friend! I’m a 10 year old Painted Cob!”
Thank you Stan.
“I like to run really fast!”
Thank you Stan.
“And I like to play with my friend Henry!”
Stan….
“And I…”
STANLEY!

Yes, life with a lively young horse is both challenging and fun. As Stan has told you, he is a 10 year old Painted Cob with a personality as big as he is. Stan is the smallest of our Big Boys, coming in at 17 hands. What is a “Painted Cob” you say? It’s a white or cream body covered in red or brown splotches. Stan is a very handsome red. He looks a lot more Jackson Pollock than Vincent Van Gough however.

Stan came to us to join his “brother”, Ben, who is also one of the Big Boys. Stan had visited Sunshine in 2018 when he competed at our annual one day event, The Accumulator. He was one of our top finalists having competed in all areas: In-Hand, Dressage, Show Jumping. Stan has a big future in front of him, but he will need a lot more training to achieve it.

Stan, like all young horses, has more energy than he knows what to do with. This is great when you have a big course of jumps or a long, intricate dressage test, but for day to day living this energy can get him in trouble (He thinks of walking through closed doors as an optional way of entering and exiting his stable). If you think of Stan like any other teenager, then you know what hi-jinks he can get up to. Stan’s energy has made him an ideal field companion to Henry, who is also a young horse with more energy than sense. The two of them like to play together in a somewhat rough and tumble way which can include rearing and bucking. Now Charlie, who is the father figure of the herd, often finds himself having to separate and discipline these youngsters. And don’t think he won’t do it!

Because at Sunshine we don’t like to train horses using whips, it means that a good education can take a bit longer. We believe is using positive reinforcement rather than negative. So when Stan is introduced to something new, we expect him to panic and refuse. We don’t tell him off, but we keep the exercise simple until he relaxes and feels confident, then we make it a touch harder. It has taken some time, but Stan has learned to trust us and knows that we have his best interest at heart. When Stan has learned a jump type or a dressage pattern we give him lots of praise and love. Because he likes how that feels, he wants to do more.

So this summer our goal with Stan is to have him compete calmly and competently at the upper levels of Novice in dressage and to be happy jumping 75cm. So what do we mean by calmly and competently? Obviously I mean that Stan should not be frightened by the movements and changes in pace during dressage. That he knows what he is doing and is enjoying showing off how beautiful he is. When Stan is relaxed, he is a stunner with his paces! His balance and head carriage is exactly what the pictures in my dressage books show a horse should be. The natural suppleness that comes with youth (of all creatures and species including humans) shows both his power and his ability to bend with ease in all paces. And Stan does like to show off how good he is!

When Stan is learning to jump – yes horses have to learn how just as much as their riders, it is important that he learn to use his head as much as his powerful back legs and topline (trans: his back). He needs to learn to not rush at a jump – which he does in his excitement — but learn to come in balanced and collected, then jump with a strong rounded head and shoulders which will help him land without injury. This takes time. It is also important that he learns all the different types of jumps there are: cross poles, uprights, oxers, spreads, liverpools, doubles, triples and fillers. This is just for show jumping! And then there is cross country which has logs and fences and ditches and trakehners and steps and tyres and water. Oh my! So much to learn! Did I mention also all the flowers, plants and colour? All of this can confuse, worry and spook a young horse like Stan.

So Beowulf and Ana are busy working with Stan and me on all of these things. Stan is learning and he is learning that it can all be super fun. We, as humans, have to be careful that we don’t over work him. It is important that he does get his play time. Part of Stan’s play time is to go out with Ben on hacks on our local bridleways. Again, he gets super excited and has been known to canter sideways. This is great if you will be riding upper, professional level dressage, but not the best on a day when you want to just a hop-and-a-trot over the hills. I am glad that he has all this energy, but he does need to learn to channel it sensibly!

Why do I keep going on about being sensible? Remember that Stan is a cob, and a big one at that. I mentioned in Callie’s Story briefly about cobs. There is a specific Welsh Cob breed, but the beloved, all-around wonder horse known as a cob is a bit of mixed history. Apparently, it is more about body type and temperament than actual breeding. A cob is known for being even mannered and patient. They are also known for having a strong shoulder with a bit of a chunky body with heavily muscled legs. Well, this sums Stan up to a tee! Cobs have been used for everything from personal riding horses, to pulling carriages to pulling a plough. All this pulling because of their shoulder strength means that when they are a riding horse, the rider must have the confidence to use all the aids as necessary, especially the leg! So this is why Stan’s strength is both a blessing but, if not trained properly, a curse.

Stan’s cobby temperament means that he is lover of kisses. He loves affections and is quick to give it to like-minded gentle souls. He also is a clown. He pulls some of the funniest faces I have ever seen. Anyone can see what is on Stan’s mind because it is all over his face – from love me now, turn me out Now, feed me NOW! Stan has been know to grab my hood (it is winter currently) and pull me back to him so that he can tell me something. Sometimes this is fine (and a touch cute) and other times it is annoying because it is driven by his youthful impatience (and an unending desire for hay).

We feel very lucky to have Stan living with us. He is a delightful young man who will become a very lovely gentleman over the next few years. Stan’s story is only beginning. Keep watching to see where he is going and what he will achieve. All with a twinkle in his eye!

This post would not be possible without the help from Chris Cole Photography and Mr A Yori.  Thanks Chris and Adam!

Horse Story: Callie

There was time in 2018 at Sunshine when we had 4 New Forest horses on the yard – Jester (25), Donny (17), Mollie (18) and Callie (10). The yard was busy with these fiery, friendly and clever equines. Jester and Donny were the ultimate escape artists while Mollie proved what it meant to be a talented jumper and a ginger mare. The princess was Callie. Of this quartet of mayhem, only Callie remains because she was the youngest when the rest went to retire.

Callie’s registered name with the New Forest Horse Society is Hazelhill Candyfloss. She was born in the New Forest and came out in the sales when she was 4. Prior to coming to Sunshine, Callie had 2 previous owners (so says a passport that was not kept as updated as it should have been. I really believe she was passed parcel to post.). There was much debate as to what we at Sunshine were going to call her as she would answer to a variety of names. I wanted to call her Candy because it was close to her passport name, but my son Huw was insistent that she was a Callie. After much debate and remonstrations, he won and this pretty ginger pony is our Callie.

Callie is 12/2 and as I said ginger – chestnut if you are being particular, with matching mane and tail. She is not as fine boned as Rosie, which is probably why she is far happier with riders who not only do flat work but jump as well. From a distance in summer they can be hard to tell a part. Because of their size and temperament, they have their own field called the Nursery.

In the beginning, Callie and Rosie didn’t get along (you wouldn’t believe that now!). There were some serious fights between them. Both girls are what are called Native Breeds – horses who originated or were specifically bred in the British Isles. There are 15 Native Breeds: Exmoor, Dartmoor (Pasha), Fell and Dales (½ Magic), Shire (other ½ Magic), Cleveland Bay, English Thoroughbred (Benji), Hackney, Welsh Mountain (Dottie [Class A], Rosie [Class B] Harley [Class A]), Welsh Cob, Connemara, Suffolk Punch (wish I had one of these!), Clydesdale (hold my beer while I dream), Eriskay, Highland (Crystal) and Shetland (Bella). Charlie, Tango, Henry, Molly and Ben are ‘foreign breeds’, while Annie, Dora and Stan are Cobs – the most difficult of all breeds to pinpoint. Don’t even start asking about June! A cob could be a Welsh Cob base with a mix of all sorts. It is more of a body and temperament type than an exact breed. There are no studbooks for Cobs unlike the rest of those listed. Annie and June (possibly) are supposedly Irish Cobs which actually means they come from the Gypsy Vanner stock which is a cross between any coloured type horse and a Shire or a Clydesdale. The Gypsy Vanner now has a Studbook but I doubt you will be able to find any listing for Annie or June’s sire.

So back to Callie. Callie’s New Forest linage is very proud. New Forests are not the largest of equines with most being ponies between 12 and 14 hands. At one point before the rise of the English Thoroughbred, these were the racers because they are so fast and nimble. If you every rode or have watched any of our New Forests, then you know they can canter on a whim at a speed that can cause your eyes to water. Callie can keep up with some of our fastest horses who are 3-5 Hands (12 to 20 inches) bigger than she is. This being said, Callie is a lady and will only really take off if you ask her to. It is this natural desire to behave which makes her so perfect not only for a riding school in general, but allows her to be able to participate in lessons from Lead Rein to Intermediate.

It is time that I deal with ‘The Elephant In The Room’ , or more particularly, The Hope Of Sunshine. As many of you know, I have a real soft spot for things that are broken – be it human or equine. We have special programmes for humans who have had a rough go of it or have a disability that limits their life experience. To me and the Sunshine Staff, riding is for everyone and we do our best to give that wonderful gift to all who come here. This is the same for horses.

It breaks my heart that there are people out in the world who think of animals as a disposable entity. I grew up and been around animals all my life – from cows and chickens to cats, dogs and horses. My father and mother taught me to respect animals going to the abattoir as much as those who sleep on my bed. Life, long or short, is precious and a gift. As an adult I still carry that with me. So when I purchase an animal, be it feline, canine or equine, I know my responsibility to them and will, to the best of my ability, meet those requirements.

Yes, Sunshine has many horses who have had a bad start in life. True, they are less expensive to adopt, but they require a lot of love and patience. Callie had a bad start. I know that her previous owner did love her to bits, but I also know that she could not deal with issues that Callie presented. When Callie arrived at Sunshine she was desperately shy and head shy. These are two separate things. Her personality shyness is still with us. She has bonded to a few special people who she really trusts and can relax around. These people can do anything with her and she enjoys the games that she is part of. It’s when she is calm and happy that her true personality comes out and we see what a funny pony she is!

Being Head Shy is a different cup of tea. Somewhere along the line of her story, Callie was beaten about her head and face. This is not talk but confirmed by our Vet, Dr Laura. There is a lump on her nose that is a healed break. How it happened I could not tell you. What I can tell you is that for the first 3 months of Callie’s life here, we fought tooth and nail to get a bridle on her. She would back up and rear. Her eyes would show the whites and roll back in her head. It was so bad that she actually fell over backwards once. She hid at the back of her stable and even reared when her dinner was presented. We are talking about a seriously terrified and traumatised pony. As I said, I don’t know who was mean to her, but they better hope I never find out!

So what did we do? We put Callie on our ‘Love Offensive’ (I really need to trademark this phrase!). We have loved this pony to good mental health. How did we do this? Firstly by going slowly. Working with a traumatised horse is like working with a traumatised child. You are going to have to introduce things at a speed they can accept. Using force because it is convenient for you will only end in disaster. You also have to accept that there will be good days and bad days – just like us. There are days when you can groom, saddle up and go with minimum of fuss. Then there are the bad days. Still.

The plan for Callie’s recovery started with a soft, loose head collar that could be buckled behind her ears and not slid over her ears. Moving slowly and giving lots of love and encouragement as you did it made it possible for us to get it on and for her to go to the fields. The second step was using something called T-Touch (I was told that this was also used on a Canadian TV show about horses!). T-Touch is the gentle massaging of the horse’s face beginning half way between the left ear and the left eye, slowly using a circular motion work down the side of the face and around to the nose. Aaron must have spent the better part of an hour every day doing this with her. I did it with her when Aaron was busy. Rachel I think still does it. After 2 months of this, Callie relaxed and let people touch her face and put a bridle on.

Simon also starting putting Callie’s bridle on by loosing the cheek piece. This made it possible to get it over her ears without her being afraid that we would grab her ear and twist(another fear she has). Once the bridle was on, we would tighten all the parts up and she was ready to go. When Callie is having a bad day, we still do this. She appreciates that we listen to her and do what she needs so that all of us win, and Callie’s Bad Day becomes a Callie Good Day.

Because Callie knows she is respected at Sunshine, she has been able to blossom as an individual. She participates doing In-Hand Classes and is part of Anita Nancollas’s Horse Angels. She is busy teaching young riders how to safely ride, hack out and jump. She can do Dressage and will do Cross Country (as long as it is low). She likes to compete in Fancy Dress Showing Shows and well as Showing In-Hand properly. Because we (especially Rachel) love Callie so deeply, Callie has overcome most of her fear and trauma.

Callie is our ultimate success story of how every person is valuable; how every person can become more than what was originally deemed their potential. Callie is what Sunshine is really all about: Love & Possibilities.

This post was made possible by the photos from Chris Cole Photography, Miss R King, and Miss I Afridi.  Thank you Ladies!

Horse Story: Rosie

I have a pony named Treflan Pert. We don’t call her Treffie or Pertie or any another combination of her passport name. To us she is Rosie. Rosie is a very pretty girl who came to us 2 years ago. Rosie is registered with the Welsh Pony and Cob Society as she is a Welsh Section B pony. She is 12/2 in height, a leathered bay in colour, and has some of the finest legs I have every seen – and when I say finest, I mean skinny. Rosie’s story is one of understanding and love over fear and pain.

I adopted Rosie from a reputable horse dealer. I was told that she was a “plug and play pony”. I was guaranteed she would fit for the school as soon as she was out of quarantine. I don’t think he ever discussed this plan of action with this 12 year old pony! When Rosie arrived she was very underweight and bony. The thing that caught my heart was the gentleness of her eyes. She asked me quietly to please be kind to her and give her a chance. I could tell immediately that this pony was not going to be ready for the school in 14 days – or even 14 weeks.

I will admit that I did contact the dealer and let him know that what he sold me was not what he had promised. I was furious about that. He told me that because she was a “dirt cheap pony” he was not about to give me a refund no matter what the law said. I sat back and thought, ‘what am I going to do now?’

At this point, Rosie was a pretty face with a body covered in sarcoids. She had huge one on the side of her mouth, another between her front legs, one on her chest, and her back legs were more sarcoids that fur. She refused the bridle and bit. She refused the saddle. My only option was to try to make some lemonade from this lemon. I started by having the vet remove the sarcoid on her mouth and the one between her legs. We started feeding her properly and she slowly calmed and accepted our presence and touch. It took 6 weeks for the treated sarcoids to fall off. It was a long month and a half.

For those of you who don’t know what a sarcoid is, it is a tumour like growth. Like all tumours the base condition is hard to determine. Some sarcoids are cancerous and cause the horse a shorted life-span. Some sarcoids are from the papilomavirus which cause warts in both animals and humans. In any case, these warts are very sensitive to the touch and bleed easily. What and how horses develop sarcoids and their various treatments are the source of endless web articles and feeds from both veterinarians and horse owners the world over. Beyond having the sarcoids mentioned removed using the rubber band technique and doing lots of reading about sarcoids, I can honestly say I really did nothing. The information presented was often contradictory and there were numerous claims that all/most the treatments had no real definitive results. So I did Nothing but love this pony.

We noticed after about 7 months of caring for Rosie that her sarcoids began to fall off. Rosie was now calmer than when she arrived. She was very handleable and stopped rearing up in fear. She loved a good groom and was very pleasant round children. So we tried to ride her again. I asked for volunteers and 2 of my most experienced Senior Handlers stepped up. It went to well on the first ride. Rosie was nervous but she eventually calmed so that we could walk several laps of our natural arena on both reins. Yeah! We did it again a few days later and Rosie wasn’t as accepting as she was the first time. I figured this was because she knew what was going on and she was being a ‘moody mare’. The third time we worked her, Rosie put the Handler on the ground with a God-Almighty buck. No one was impressed. So we backed up in our training to working her on the lunge and in-hand.

In between trying to back Rosie, we kept using Rosie for In-Hand work. She was a natural. She was happy to walk, trot and even a few times canter in-hand. So when she threw a different experienced Handler on the ground during another backing session, I understood and accepted what Rosie was saying. She was telling me that she would be happy to do anything I ask as long as it didn’t require someone on her back. I also found one last sarcoid buried deep in her coat on the girth line. Every time we tightened the girth, it would inflame and hurt. I also now believe that the psychological damage from that pain is too ingrained for her to overcome it. So in-hand it is.

Sunshine is a bit different from most riding schools as we believe that we are training people, young and old, to be able to handle and work with all types of horses in all types of disciplines. Some folks love jumping while others adore dressage. Some people love to do hacking and others want to do in-hand. Some riders like to do all of it. In-hand work is often seen as ‘the red-headed step-child’ of the riding world. It is looked down on and those involved are quietly pitied. Those who compete will tell you that it is hard work and not just making the horse walk prettily. So at Sunshine we teach In-Hand Riding (a bit of an oxymoron there!)

Being able to control a horse confidently on the ground, having it move through the paces and the figures means that you as the Handler is both knowledgeable and fit. Leading the horse properly with a long lead from under the chin takes practice. Being confident to walk next to the shoulder (and stay there!) requires building trust and understanding between you and the horse. Asking the horse to transition confidently up and down through the paces while your steps match theirs is the real challenge. I remember trying to get my steps to match Charlie’s. I was doing a rather bounding, bouncing run while he trotted. Let’s not go into the disaster of what happened with his canter! Needless to say, this is all very physical training and you as the Handler must also know all the figures and how to do them properly. You must be physically fit and, if you are a lady, be able to run in a skirt. Rosie, unlike anyone else on the yard, is a natural at In-Hand and makes her Handler look great!

Rosie loves a good groom. She will happily stand for hours while people brush and pamper her. She likes to watch and occasionally comment on how one is doing. She loves little people and gives them the gentlest of eyes as the child comes for the first time to not only meet her but any pony ever. Because she gives off calm vibes, the child (or adult for that matter) relaxes and enjoys the experience as much as she does. Rosie is very much a girly-girl and her colour would be Pink! if she spoke English. Her reddish-brown fur is thick now and very soft to the touch, so our little riders think she is a big soft toy. She may be happiest when she is being groomed for a show and her mane and tail are being plaited.

Rosie loves to compete. She likes to show off how pretty she is. Unfortunately her sarcoids have left her scarred so we won’t take her out to other local shows because they won’t understand and will mark her down for them. Rosie is judged for her partnership with her Handler, her smooth paces, her compliance and her conformation. It is shame that surface scars will stop her from bigger areas of Showing, but our Rosie actually makes her biggest mark in helping people heal, develop and learn.

Rosie works with our Special Clients. Sunshine has and hosts sessions for individuals who have or suffer from emotional and/or educational issues. We don’t do expressed horse therapy as we are not qualified and licensed for that, but we do work with these adults and children who find relaxation and calmness that comes with being around horses. All equines have the innate ability to cause humans to release dopamine, the feel good hormone. Dopamine is what gives humans the sensation of pleasure, happiness and well being. There is much talk in the mainstream media about young people’s dependence on social media acclaim because each ‘like’ does give a release of dopamine. With equines one not only gets to give the love, but receives it back in a very real and physical way. With our Special Clients, they don’t always want to ride. Some have fear factors which need to be overcome slowly and confidence to be built in themselves. Some have physical barriers which makes it so they can’t ride. Some have educational language barriers which prevent them from riding. In all cases, they benefit from working with Rosie.

Rosie’s love and in-hand work have helped numerous people of all ages enjoy working with and developing both a skill and a relationship with equines. The number of times I felt frustrated by the fact I didn’t see Rosie “earning her keep” now embarrasses me. Rosie is at the heart of a new programme that Sunshine has with the local group Horse Angels. This programme, lead by Anita Nancollas, will be working with our local schools to provide equine outreach to the more deprived areas of Luton. This is a real chance for our town’s young people to develop, become more confident, forward looking and personally balanced in their life. What Rosie and 2 of her friends will give the children of Luton is great: the possibility of a better future because these kids can.

So when you go to say the County Show and you see people doing In-Hand Showing, don’t think that they are not full blooded equestrians. I would bet that most of these people, I mean horses, are unsung heroes with amazing partners, I mean the humans, who do an awful lot on the quiet for their community. Rosie is a vital and beloved part of the Sunshine Team, and how she “earns her keep” could teach several of our jumpers a thing our two!

This post would not be possible without the wonderful photos from Chris Cole Photography and from Miss R King.

Horse Story: Annie

Hello! My name is Annie. It could be Betty. Actually, it could have been Siobhan for all I know. But here at Sunshine I am Annie. Annie Of The Floating Trot. Mother Annie. The Mirror of Magic.

I was offered for sale when I was living in Ireland. Fiona saw my advertisement on the internet and she sent it on to Kimberly. I was hiding a little surprise when that photo was taken. Yes, I am young at 6 years old, but I do have a big heart that was looking for a forever home where I would be loved and cared for as I always dreamed I would be.

After much fussing about, I arrived at Sunshine on December 2. It was a horrible night. I had spent the day locked in the blasted horse box with a few other horses. I didn’t have rug and I didn’t have much hay. I had been travelled from hither and yon and across the sea. It was dark and wet and I was exhausted. My arrival had caught Kimberly and the staff on the hop. She had expected me three days later on the 5th. She also didn’t expect me at 9 at night.

I must say that Kimberly didn’t sound too thrilled about me at first. She was quite cross that my passport said my name was Betty not Annie. The Irishman who brought me said that he expected being paid and that if she didn’t take me, then he was tying me to a fence and leaving me. I was so scared that she was going to be mean and just abandon me. But she said she wanted to see me and if I looked like Annie, then she would take me. The man had to unload two other horses, both bone tired, before he could get me. I came off as meek and mild as I could so she would take me and give me and my surprise a home.

Kimberly said she would have to walk me into the light as the road I was unloaded on was black as pitch. As she brought me on to the yard, I could hear him reloading the other horses. Now Kimberly has a man named Andrew. I could tell he knew naught about horses but he was on my side. He held my lead rope and kept telling his wife that I was good horse and keep me. I prayed while Kimberly checked me over as best she could in the scant light she had. She then turned to Driver Man and said she would accept me. I had never been so relieved in my life. She hadn’t seen my surprise.

Now I do suspect that seeing my surprise would have been a bit difficult. I was bedraggled as could be. I had been taken straight from field and loaded on that lorry. My feathers were loaded with mud and my mane hadn’t seen a brush in Lord knows how long. Yet, here she was taking my photo and telling the world that I had arrived. Now while I am being photographed like a fashion model, Kimberly’s boys, Beowulf (isn’t that a lovely name) and Huw (I wonder if that is short for Cúchulainn?), set about tearing a stable for me – emptying out jump wings, and tools, and wood. Kimberly was shouting at them to hurry as weather was going to give me a bath before morning if they didn’t hurry. It look less than a turn in the field and I had a warm, clean bed to call me own. I had a lovely pile of hay and peace and quiet.

The next morning I was greeted by the Yard Man, Simon. Kimberly had been speaking to him last night and I didn’t know what to think. She was sure he was going to be angry. I was worrying again. As it turned out, he is really a rather lovely chappie. He talked to me quietly and gave me some of best food I had had for a while. After breakfast I saw all the residents as they went out to the field. I really wanted to join them, but Simon said I had to stay in until Kimberly and the vet looked me over. I knew now that my surprise was going to be out.

Kimberly came down about an hour later. She spoke to me nicely, but I was so worried that I gave her my “mare face”. I didn’t want her to see my surprise, but she had noticed. She called the vet, Dr Laura, and told her a bit of my sad story. Dr. Laura was out about an hour later.

I was very unsettled when I saw Dr. Laura. I just couldn’t stand still and there was simply no way she was going to get near to nether regions. If I could keep her from looking there, then I knew that Kimberly would not turn me away because of my condition. Dr Laura, I must say, is a very persistent woman however. She did look me over everywhere and there was little I could do so I did throw a foot or two, but she was not to be deterred. Kimberly then asked the thing I dreaded, “Laura, is it possible that Annie is pregnant?”

I stood in shocked fear. She knew.

Dr Laura ran a hand down my side and my belly. She listened to my belly. She poked and prodded. Dr Laura then decided (God Bless Her!) that I had had a foal recently and only just stopped nursing. Now that was true. I had and my body told that story clear as glass. What she didn’t know was there had been lad afterwards. Kimberly accepted Dr Laura’s words and they decided that I was as big as I was because I was out of shape from being both pregnant and out of work. They decided I was to be exercised and some muscle built after I came out of quarantine.

Now I know that some humans like to lie in their bed all day. I know of some fine equines who can stand to be in their stall all day and night, only to come out to race or jump. I, personally, find that type of life to be wasted. I like my freedom – fresh air and green grass. I told Kimberly and Simon the only way I could. I broke out regularly. Now to be honest it was early in the morning when I did it. I did like to say hello to Andrew and he would say hello back. He would then tell Kimberly. Other days I would greet Simon as he came in. Simon would sigh and ask me what I thought I was doing. I thought it was obvious, but then I am Irish.

It was a week short of a month when I was allowed out to the field. It was heaven. I ran and trotted and loved the sun on my back. Then I put my head down and devoured that lovely sweet green grass. The thing that shocked me was when I came back in from the field, I was suddenly in a stable half the size I had previously. I was not impressed and I told them. Next morning I greeted Simon at the gate. He looked a wee bit peeved.

Later that morning I had a real surprise. Kimberly fit me with a saddle and a bridle. I hadn’t worn tack for the better part of 2 years. Oddly, it felt quite lovely. I was taken into the menage where Simon gentle patted me and then slowly mounted. I was calm about this because he had not raged at me for breaking my door that morning. We had a nice walk around the arena and I enjoyed it. I did wonder, however, how long this was going to last as my surprise would be growing every day.

Kimberly, Simon, Beowulf, Huw and lots of the other staff, Miss Fiona included, rode me and exercised me. I could tell I was getting stronger. My back felt good and my legs felt powerful. It had been about 2 months since I last saw Dr Laura when she came back to see me. She was here to give me my second injection for flu. I was pleased to have it because I knew my surprise would benefit from it. Then Kimberly had to ask again. “Laura, we keep working her and she looks like she’s getting fit, but she still getting fat. Are you sure she’s not pregnant?” Again, Dr Laura looked me over and said it was just the process of getting fit from having a foal. Don’t worry and keep working for a top line. I’d been second time lucky.

So I spent the spring getting strong – even had a canter or two, which was actually difficult as my surprise was definitely making things hard. Simon was being lovely but he was bloody insistent about picking my feet. I’d let him do the fronts but there was no way I was letting anyone near the rear. I had too much to protect. The farrier came and I properly scared him off. He said he was not going near me until I had been taught some proper manners.

It was June 9. I knew it was coming. I was very unsettled and walking my box trying to find a way to deal with the pain. I would stop every time someone came close, but Emily caught me a couple of times. I wondered if she’d say anything to Kimberly, but she didn’t. I was led out to my lesson and I really wanted to do it, but half way through I knew I couldn’t. I gently laid down with plenty of time for the rider (such a lovely lad he is too!) could pop off. I rolled over to ease the discomfort and saw Kimberly’s eyes the size of saucers. Apparently I had squired her with milk. Her first words were to call Simon.

They got me up and took my tack off. Kimberly assured the parents watching that I wasn’t pregnant and that she would call the vet. I could tell she wasn’t feeling like she was telling the truth. After the lesson Kimberly came and looked me over. She asked me if I was hiding something, but I couldn’t tell her I had been lying the last 6 months. Kimberly wanted to call the vet out but Simon appealed to her financial reasoning. Kimberly said she would have Dr Laura out first thing in the morning. I’ve never heard her sound so worried and concerned.

It was long hard night. I kept walking and I couldn’t really settle. Kimberly did come down around 9 to have a look at me, but I stood quiet for her. She did promise me a Dr Laura visit in the morning. I did try to wait but at dawn it was just too much. I laid down and gave my secret life. I must confess that I gave birth to biggest baby every.

I will never forget Simon’s face when he came to give me breakfast. He stood there looking for a good minute before he got out his phone. I knew he was calling Kimberly. I was a praying that she would happy for me. Simon slipped in and cleared up my mess and talked nicely to me. Kimberly arrived about 5 minutes later. I tried to hide my girl but I knew I had to show her my secret. Kimberly was shocked at first and then she fell in love. Once I knew she didn’t hate me or blame me for being a bad girl, I let the little one suckle. Kimberly looked so happy and relieved. She then started making some phone calls and taking pictures.

It was like was six month earlier. Beowulf and Huw arrived and were clearing the big stable. Jump wings and poles were used to make a chute to the new stable. The baby began to shiver and Simon put a rug over her. Miss Fiona arrived and so did Dr. Laura, so they decided it was time to move my baby and me to the Big Stable. I was so worried about what they were doing with my child that I could barely walk a line. I had to keep turning to make sure they were doing it right and the child was safe. Would you then believe that they were expecting me to walk into the Big Stable with my baby still behind? Simon gave me a God-Almighty-Pull while telling me to get out of the way for the foal. I walked through the door and my child followed. We were safe in the Big Stable.

Dr Laura looked my child over and said she was fine lass. I was asked by Kimberly if it was agreeable that we name her June Storm. I thought it was grand name since it was June and rain seems to be present at every big change in my life. As the day progressed, lots of members of staff came and told me what a clever girl I was and how beautiful my child was. I felt a bit silly for worrying so much that they would reject me because of my baby.

It has now been 7 months, soon on to 8. June will be is a big as her Pa. She is a lively girl and I do have to say that I am now very happy that she is weaned and living in her own stable next to me. As our doors are next to each other, I can stick my head over and see her when she needs me. We do cuddle when we can in the field and it does make me proud to see her trotting and cantering like a champion. I have heard Beowulf say that he is going to train her to be a champion eventer to which Kimberly says that no weight will be on her until she 4. They care about her as much as I do.

I am just back to work now. Kimberly talks to me and makes sure that I know how much Kimberly values me as a person. I know that I am in my forever home and it makes me happy. June is my last baby ever. I have a future in front of me that many of equine friends would envy. My days and nights, no matter what the weather, are longer stormy, but very safe and secure.

Don’t Feed The Trolls: Social Media & Horses

I tried for years to avoid social media. I was concerned about the amount of time Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, or Instagram would eat into my already overcrowded schedule. Then one day I wanted to communicate easily with my brother in the States, so Facebook became my method of choice. I then branched out to Twitter as it was the platform that my husband was using. Over time (we are talking years now) and several marketing conventions, I finally broke and set up both a YouTube channel and an Instagram account. All of my sites have 1 thing in common: Horses.

I’m not alone in my obsession…uh, work. All the social media platforms are filled with animals. Humans love their animals. Dogs and cats have the lion’s share (pardon the pun) with dogs filling a whopping 44% of the animals on Instagram and cats racing in at 36% [source: reddit via google big search]. Horses come in at 18%. Now that might not sound like much but if you consider that only 3.5 million people in the UK own horses and in the neighbourhood of 50 million world wide, it is clear that we love photographing our “babies”.

I do use my accounts for showing what we are doing at Sunshine. It is much easier to show a picture of a young lady jumping safely and successfully that to discuss it. Also the photos provide a way of showing the development in a rider. Last year’s 50cm rider is now this year’s 85cm rider. It also shows off the quality of the horses I have. I want to be able to show the world how much we love our horses and this is the easiest way. It also gives prospective customers a clearer idea of what to expect when the come to my yard. Yes, all the bunf the marketing gurus said – okay, they were right and I was wrong to fight it so long!

BUT

And it is very big but…. There are people who live their lives in such a way as to make your life difficult. These people are called Trolls.

I am happy to admit or agree to the principal that everyone has their own opinion. Freedom of speech and thought is very important to me. I don’t mind a robust exchange of ideas so long as the information presented is factual, relevant and not intentionally degrading. I do not know all there is to know about horses in spite of being involved with them for 50 years. I am still learning. I spend much of my free time learning new ideas and techniques in care, training and nutrition. Yes, I take this all very seriously because they, my horses, depend on me not to screw up. If someone has a new idea or technique, I will happily look it over and judge it on merit and against my experience. If it is good, then I will use it. If not, then it is quietly discarded.

Trolls don’t work this way. They want to hurt you.

My first real experience with Trolls when when I posted some pictures of one of my horses who had been abused in a field when I wasn’t there. She had cigarette burns to her face and corners of her eyes. She had been kicked and beaten. I had the Vet out and after months of treatment, I am happy to say she is physically fine. Mentally and emotionally, she has never been the same. My purpose was to let local owners know there was psychopath in the area and to keep any eye on their horses.

It did not take long for the Trolls to appear. I was first told that the burns were due to headcollar rubbing (on the corners of the eyes?). I was told I was shit because I didn’t watch over my horse. I was told that my Vet was crap and didn’t know what she was looking at. I needed to get a new Vet. I was made to feel I should not have a horse, much less a riding school. It was all so very painful and for what reason? It was not to help those in the area who could be at risk. It was not to help the police investiagation (which was successful!) It was not to offer aid, support or help to either the horse or me. It was to hurt someone and make themselves feel better. How very sad.

I do worry when I have posted pictures on the various platforms. I worry when our riders do it. I am big and mean and confident and can deal with Trolls. I really don’t want them to have to. I have seen posts of less than photographically perfect jumps and moves. Why would someone post that? Because they were proud of what they did. They had been able to do something they had never done before. On the odd occasion, they post it to say, “please don’t do this!”  But by and large it is to celebrate a special moment in their life.

We don’t know these folks. We don’t their history. Is there an injury that’s been overcome? Is there an educational issue? Is there a disability issue? We don’t know and probably will never know, unless we go to meet them and talk with them. Trolls don’t care. Trolls don’t want to care.

So what do we do when we are being trolled? Ignore them. My eldest son always says, “Don’t feed the trolls. They need your emotion to survive.” He’s right. It would be great to just be able to delete their posts, but that is not always possible. The thing to remember is that trolls are quickly and easily spotted. Don’t engage as if you do, you then give them a larger platform from which to operate.

Also don’t swear at Trolls. You end up looking bad. When someone says a blind, 1 legged monkey could have jumped the fence better than you, do NOT respond by calling them a stupid ba*tch. Ignore them or thank them for their kind opinion. Taking the moral high ground is really hard, but it is the right thing to do. If you engage in a slanging match, more people will remember that you took a troll seriously and ended up looking bad, than just letting the comment die in cyberspace.

Three things to remember:
1. Pictures tell their own stories
2. People are brighter than you think
3. NEVER FEED THE TROLLS!!!

See you soon and Keep Riding!
Kimberly