Tag Archives: Horse Training

Horse Story: Molly

Make me walk, make me talk, do whatever you please
I can act like a star, I can trot round trees
Come jumping, riding friend, let us do it again,
Hit the course, fool around, let’s go party
You can touch, you can play, if you say, “I’m always yours.”
You can touch, you can play, if you say, “I’m always yours.”

Come on, Barbie, let’s go party!

I’m a Barbie horse in the Barbie world
Leap over cross stick, it’s fantastic!
You can brush my hair, and groom me everywhere
Imagination, life is your creation

(From Barbie Girl, 1997, Original composers Soren Rasted,
Claus Norreen, Rene Dif, Lene Nystrom)

Yes, Molly is our Barbie Pony – a beautiful 14 hand American Golden Palomino with a flowing blonde mane and tail. She is what every little girl dreams a pony should be. That being said, our Molly is a handful.

This is Sunshine’s third Molly. The first Molly was here in the late 1980s (along with Dolly and Polly – “The Ollies”). The second one was a Burghley Horse I adopted in 2016. That Mollie was chestnut New Forest with a big jump. This Molly is also a Burghley Horse I adopted in September 2019. She also has a big jump.

It must be something about the name as we have had some issues with this Molly, similar but different to the previous one. This Molly is lovely to handle on the ground and to groom. Molly likes being in a lead rein class but looses her mind in an upper level group lesson. It came to a head in December of 2019 when she took one of our best riders all over the field in an insane panic that included bucking, rearing and bolting. This had gone beyond bad behaviour and was fast becoming a dangerous situation.

I am not one to just pass my problems on to someone else. For a horse to behave that way there must be a reason. She was not like that when she first came to Sunshine so what was causing the change.

On our Hunt For Santa, 2019

Yes, I like a good mystery. I started by looking at her body. Was there a physical issue such as bad feet or previously undetected muscle injury?1 I found none so I moved on to her teeth. A previous mare, Tuscany, had behaved very similarly when I first started working with her and her problem turned out to be a Wolf’s Tooth. So I asked Simon to stick a thumb in her mouth and rub along the gap. He pulled his finger out quick and declared, “There’s something bloody sharp in there!”.

So having my answer, my next step was to call the Vet, Dr Laura, and have the tooth extracted. We all believed this was going to be a simple process that would take less than an hour and could be done on the same day that Annie was sedated for the farrier (yes, Annie has to be sleepy or dopey [any of the dwarves will do except Grumpy!] so that her feet can be attended to). I arranged for our Apprentices to be here to watch, learn and assist. I remember that Tuscany’s extraction took 45 minutes followed by 6 weeks of healing. It was good plan. The only problem was I didn’t discuss it with Molly first.

So Dr Laura arrived and sedated the mares. She began working and it wasn’t going to plan. The tooth wouldn’t budge. Molly woke up. Annie’s feet get done while Molly was re-sedated. Tooth refusing any movement. Molly wakes up again. Molly re-sedated again. After 3 hours, Dr Laura, now exhausted and frustrated, finally was able to get that tooth out. The Apprentices had already gone home and those who remained, including Molly, looked like they had been through the battle of their life. And to top it all off, the tooth, although sharp, wasn’t very big.

I don’t think I’m putting mildly when I say that Molly was a bit peeved with us. Her jaw hurt and now she wasn’t eating very well. If you came near her, the ears went back and she would plant herself at the back of the stable. It was probably a good thing that the Handlers weren’t there the day of the extraction because Molly refused to have anything to do with anyone who had been present. It was the Handlers who loved her into accepting the yard staff again.

Because the whole Wolf’s Tooth incident was so traumatic, I was reticent to put a metal bit back into her mouth. When it was tried, Molly became very agitated and I do believe it was because she was frightened by phantom pain. The level of memory is as varied as the horse, but one thing all horses remember is pain and who or what caused it. To make riding pleasurable again for Molly, I decided to start her on a Doctor Carter Bitless Bridle. This bridle works by having crossed leather thongs under the horses chin which will draw the head to the left or right as they are attached to the reins. We purchased this bridle originally for Rosie, but since Rosie isn’t ridden the bridle was only gathering dust. At first Molly didn’t know what to make of it, but soon she was happy with it. Her saddle became the next issue.

Horses like humans change shape every season. It is all based on diet and exercise, and for horses, their stress levels. Horses loose weight when they are stressed (I wish this was true for humans – I’d be a size 0!). I think we can all agree that the tooth caused a lot of stress for Molly. Her saddle wasn’t fitting and was slipping every-which-way-come-Sunday. A saddle which seemed to fit her through the back and shoulders had been found, but it required a special 5-point harness. It was also a touch long. Molly was now very fussy and knew that if she said something I would sort it.

So what did Molly say? Molly said, “I hate my saddle, so change it!” by bolting off with Amy, who has been riding fizzy, crazy horses since I first met her 5 years ago. Amy thought Flo was amazing good fun and only giggled when Starsky tried to buck her off. Amy controlled Molly and brought her back to me and we had a good look at the saddle (I didn’t fit this one). I could see was sitting on the croup and poking her lower back. This meant it was too long – she needed at 16 inch saddle not a 17 inch saddle. If the saddle was pulled forward to not interfere with her back, it was too close on her shoulder which meant she could not move her front legs freely. It was also rather heavy.

We took Molly back to the yard and began the Hunt For A New Saddle. Now I remembered I had fit her with a brown saddle in the autumn and the current, non-fitting one was black. I told Simon I wanted a 16 inch brown saddle and he gave me a look that was a mix of sarcasm and despair. It was 6 or 7 saddles later that we found it. The next day, Amy rode Molly in our menage with the new saddle. It was clear that Molly was much happier and was transitioning up and down with what could be called horsey glee. Yeah! Problem solved. Or was it?

So this week (yes this coronavirus lockdown week) Lauren was trotting our Barbie Pony and she told us that she did not like her 5-point harness. It was the done in the usual method, but Lauren is an amazing rider (I’m very fortunate to have so many in my life) and she was able to sort her out. Looking at how the harness was fitting, it was rubbing on her shoulder and Molly is particular. So we found a gel-pad to add some grip and took the harness off. We also discovered that Molly was very built up and strong on her left side but not so much on her right. This had been hidden from view by the harness. So we are now working her on her right rein to get some muscular balance.

Today Huw rode Molly in the grass school. She looked the happiest I had seen her since Burghley. Her saddle and bridle fit and don’t hurt or rub. She is working on exercises that challenge her but not wear her out. She now has the confidence to know that we care a lot about her and will give her what she needs to be both comfortable and to develop into the jumper she wants to be. Now that Molly has the tack and the health to jump, she is content to take on the challenge and have fun doing it. It takes time for a new horse to both settle into a new home and routine, and to settle into the tack it will need to do what it wants to do.

I am glad that Molly is here. She is a lovely lady with a positive attitude. There is much to worry about with our lockdown, but it has given us the time to work with our horses, check and change what needs to be, and make sure they are still happy with the work we ask them to do. Molly will be a real asset for us this year and for years to come because we have taken the time to listen to her. She may be a Barbie-girl, but she is an honest one.

This post would not be possible without the many wonderful riders who are taking the time to train Molly and skill of Chris Cole Photography who manages to catch just about everything.  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: Pandora

We all probably know the story of Pandora. She was the first human woman created by Hephaestus on the instructions of Zeus to punish mankind for stealing fire from the gods. She was endowed by the gods with beauty, grace, talent, knowledge…and a box. We know that Pandora was told to never open the box. Temptation proved too much for her and she did open it, and out of the box came all the evils which plague man. At the bottom, almost unseen, unnoticed, was Hope. And it was with Pandora that hope was released into the world.

So how does this Greek myth tie into our Pandora?

Pandora is a soft eyed, 16 hand, grey freckled cob. She is beautiful, graceful, talented, gentle and innocent. Pandora, also known simply as Dora, is 14 years old. Dora brought with her, not in box but in her heart, a gift of hope.

When Dora arrived at Sunshine I was looking for another strong but gentle jumper. I had seen pictures and video of her jumping and I thought she looked like a good fit. We had just retired Tink to a new home in a field of very deep grass. I knew that Tink was happy so I had space to bring a new girl in. Dora came from up north near Doncaster. I had been told that her previous owner had been injured (not a riding accident) and was also pregnant, so riding was out for a long time. The owner was hoping that Dora would have a chance to develop as she was still a young horse. As with everything, Dora arrived with her own ideas.

Once Dora had settled, we began working with her. As to be expected, she was a complete mess upon arrival. It was clear that she had just come out of a very muddy field! It took several days and as many baths to get her grey again. It was a bit of a surprise to find out that Dora was not keen on being tied up. How were we supposed to groom her when each time we secured her to a tie-up point she would back up and start shying? Being sensible about the situation meant that one Handler would hold Dora and another would groom her. Dora was fine about this and has come to love her grooming time. She now can be properly tie-up, but we must never leave her alone that way on the yard.

Dora’s jumping became something I began suspect wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. Dora can jump (unlike Rosie), but she didn’t enjoy it. When it comes to jumping, it is a discipline that both the horse and the rider have to love to do. A horse who doesn’t want to jump will frustrate the Rider with the result being an over use of the whip. A Rider who isn’t confident with their jumping will find themselves in a possibly dangerous situation as their horse will take control. Something a potentially dangerous should not be left to a creature who has a brain the size of a clementine. Dora was fine jumping if she had a very confident Rider who know what to do and could lead her safely over the fences. If there was any sign of trouble, Dora would always run out to her right (I learned that rather shockingly as I was on the wrong side of a jump once. Only Once.) This tendency was not the best for a riding school. As she was 12 years old that that time, I wasn’t sure I could bring her on fully to enjoy jumping as I had riders to train at the same time. Major dilemma.

It wasn’t long before Tuscany was retired for the riding school and went to live is a big green field nearby. When Tuscany left, I knew I had an opening for a dressage mare. I had noted that Dora was naturally very flexible through her shoulders and forelimbs. Dora was (an still is) as happy moving sideways as she was going forwards. Dora also seemed to understand how to bend properly through a 20 meter circle with very little training. Her upwards and downwards transitions between the paces was easy. Most importantly her ears perked up and went forward when she was brought into a jump free arena for a flatwork lesson.

This is where Dora becomes Pandora and brings hope. I began to seriously introduce and train Dora in flatwork and dressage in Summer 2018. In the beginning both she and her riders were a touch green. You can practice and practice your Test, know it inside and out, but it in the heat of competition that your depth of knowledge and experience is honed. If I, or any other rider, got on Tuscany and felt a bit nervous, Tuscany would say, “Don’t worry. I got this.” It was comforting to know that she would do that …. right up to the moment she would slip from one Test into a completely different one. That kind of equine confidence comes with lots of work and experience. Dora has been learning that. What were once unprepared moves in the heat of the moment have become smooth changes of gears. What was once a frightening mass of humanity have become her adoring fans. What were once 5th and 6th place rosettes have become 1st and 2nd.

Another wonderful thing for her is that she rarely sees or experiences a whip. Because she is willing to do the work, there is no need for force the issue. She is now happy to do Lead Rein and Beginner lessons as much as her private Dressage Coaching. She has learned how to help people who are just starting out gain confidence and love riding. Her gentle nature means there little to fear from her when learning how to steer and balance for a trot. Dora has learned how to hack out and enjoy it. She hasn’t to date made it to the pub, but it is on her schedule for this summer. Again, because it will be fun, she will not fear it and in turn, neither will her rider. However the rider does need to be aware that she will try to take a grass snack for two on the ride.

All this praise does not mean she doesn’t have her cheeky side. She is one of the few horses that comes with a perfect internal clock. If the rider asks in Dora’s presence how long their lesson is and we teachers answer, “half hour” or “30 minutes”, you can count that Dora will be heading down the centre line to a finish halt at that point exactly. If we say, “oh, you have 45 minutes today” or “this is for an hour”, again Dora will finish exactly at that point. Don’t try to sneak another move in. She won’t have it. What she will do is start to canter the arena in a fit of pique. Not a lot of fun if the rider isn’t that accomplished. And as I said, Dora can go sideways as easy as forward, so one can quickly learn how to sit a half pass if Dora is in a mood. Dora also still refuses to go over poles even if they are lying on the ground. This is not a fear issue, but now very much a “mare issue”. Dora will be learning her groundwork poles- end of sentence. So there are times when the horse that looks like an angel can be a right little devil!

As for moods, our Dora is quiet one. She can be shy and doesn’t actually like a lot of people around her (unless she is doing a show and then she likes to be a Queen). If she is feeling unsure or crowded, Dora will hid to the back of her box with a very worried expression on her face. Dora is very sensitive to loud noises, so during firework season (now September through January!) it is important that one of her favourite people are up here and with her. A comforting hand on her face or neck does wonders and she relaxes. Dora also is a mothering auntie to June. She was profoundly affected by June’s birth as she was next door when it happened. Dora has tried and occasionally been successful with caring for June. As June gets older and bigger, I am sure they will have a good relationship.

There are many mean jokes about grey horses. Sunshine’s Pandora defies them all. She is clean, kind, gentle and loving. She wants children and adults to have a good time when they are with her. Her expressive and caring face says it all. Pandora gives hope and love to all in her orbit and in exchange we hope that she knows how much we love and value her. She is a gift to us.

This post would not have been possible without the beautiful photos from Chris Cole Photography.  Thanks Chris!

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: Henry

The first weekend of September is very important to the teachers at Sunshine. It is “Burghley Weekend”. From the Wednesday before to the Sunday, Stamford England and Marquis of Exeter host the Burghley Horse Trials. It is a 5-star international event that features the top eventers from all over the world. It is an amazing experience that I thoroughly recommend to anyone who is an equine lover. You will see some of the very best dressage, cross-country and show jumping. Henry is a “Burghley Horse”… just not the type you might be thinking of right now.

I, Kimberly, have a small addiction which I really don’t know if I will ever be able to kick. It starts in August of every year with me saying that there is simply no way I will buy a horse before I go to Burghley. The Sunshine Staff vacillates between, “That is right. You will not be getting one as we do not have space for another horse.” and “Yeah, right. You really believe that you will not be buying a horse this year? I’ll believe it when I see it.” Currently, six years on, there are far more staff members in the second camp than in the first. In fact, they are now placing orders for the type of horse I am to buy. I don’t go looking. The horse finds me.

Drumcoe Henry is one of these very special “Burghley Horses”. Henry is the second of our Burghley Bros. Donny, who now belongs to one of our former teachers, was the first. Five years ago, 4 days before the horse trials, I received a call from Fiona, now our Senior Teacher but then was working for a horse dealer. She told me that she had just had the most lovely 13 hand, 5 year old pony arrive and that he would make a lovely replacement for Smartie who I was retiring that year. I went down and looked him over. He was exactly what Fiona had said. He was a lovely, young and a bit unsure but a very willing boy. We agreed a price and time for me to collect. It was the morning of Burghley when I adopted him and he came to Sunshine.

And the fun began.

Burghley was great fun and Henry, who was in quarantine, caused the yard no problems. When I got home he was ready to come out of quarantine. He was lovely on the lunge and eager to go. I did note that he had a ‘dishy leg’. This means that one of Henry’s legs goes out more sideways that front-to-back. I spoke with the Farrier and asked what could be done, and in his professional opinion it was too late to do much as Henry was 5, soon to be 6 years old. Proper training was our only recourse so that the dish didn’t become worse and that his transition from walk to trot would be smoother and more manageable. We were also told that his transitions were awful because he used to be a trotter – in other words, a gypsy cart horse.

I took Henry to an autumn pony ride at a local school. There we/I met a man who declared himself to be an Irish Jockey. He looked Henry over with a very keen eye. He asked me what I though (note “what I thought” not “what is”) Henry’s breed was. I said that he was a Cob. The man shook his head sadly (I now recognise that as well) and said that “this boy is a Trekhanner”. This jockey went on to tell me that Henry was 3 years old and would, due to the size of his shoulder blades and the length of his cannon bone, grow to 15/1. Now you must realise that I was not about to take this man seriously. I mean, really now, how many Irish Jockeys does one meet at a local school pony ride? I have spent years ruing the fact I did not ask him more.

I felt from that point onwards that Henry believed that he had the support of a fellow Irishman, a jockey I never saw again, and began to grow. Yes, Henry is Irish with an Irish Horse Society passport. (Maybe I do have thing Irish horses? We do have several….) It was right before Christmas when Shannon came into the office and announced that ‘Baby Baby Henry’s’ rug no longer fit. I went out to his stable with her and was greeted with a very smug face from Henry. Shannon was right. Suddenly the rug was too short on the bum and tight across the shoulders. Obviously we got him another rug and I went into denial. After all, what did a random Irishman know?

This pattern started and went on for over a year. Henry kept growing. Shannon was in 40 shades of love with Henry, so every movement, every trip, every slight change was documented. She spent a lot of time with him and I am grateful for that.

In January of 2016 we had our Vet Inspection. If you have read Pasha’s Story, then this will sound familiar. Our Inspection Vet, Mr McFairlaine, came and was inspecting our horses. He came to Henry and asked me how old this horse was and what was his duties. I said that Henry was 6 and was a general school horse. “Come again? You say he is six?” said the sceptical Scotsman.
“Yes.” I swallowed, “But I was told by an alleged Irish jockey that he was rather younger.”
“You should have listened. This horse is just turned 4. Come here and let me show you his teeth.” Needless to say I complied in a rather embarrassed fashion. I knew he was under 7 because the hook that forms at that age hadn’t appeared. What I didn’t know was the size of the black spots on the bottom front teeth also can help tell you how old a horse is. What had his previous owners done?

Now I was also beside myself because I have no problems jumping and teaching jumping to a horse who is 5 years old. His back is developed and his muscles are strong. His legs are more permanently developed and any growth would be minimal. He is more mentally composed. As I said previously, Henry began a growth spurt that seemed to have to no end, which means his training was going to have to change immediately. A lot more lunge and flatwork with a lot less jumping.

I did speak with the Farrier again regarding what could be done for Henry’s dishy-ness as he was not the age I thought he was. The Farrier assured me that nothing could be done as it would have had to been done in the first 18 months. It would waste my money to have any type of remedial shoe as it would accomplish nothing. So we kept working on the flatwork.

Henry has been star. In the summer of 2015 he competed in his first dressage show. He was willing and sharp. He wanted to win. He did our inaugural June Jump in the 50cm Class and came 3rd. What I noticed at that show, which unlike lessons where I have more control over what the rider does, was that Henry ran at the jumps rather than set himself up to jump calmly. This was an age thing but also something I knew I had to help him with.

So we starting working with Henry on lots of ground poles. It was a cross between desensitising him to them and building his balance. Unfortunately 2016 wasn’t a good year due to a serious injury on my part, so Henry’s training along with everyone else’s was set back until I returned in 2017. I am grateful that my lovely staff were able to keep things ticking over, but they were young and not so sure about what they should be doing.

I was able to watch Henry in the spring of 2017 and saw that he had grown more. He was now 14/3 and much more powerful. His transitions were still erratic – it wasn’t so much popping into trot as being thrown into it. His transition to canter was him zooming up to almost galloping. It was clear that he had to learn the different paces and know he could use them to balance himself and have confidence in what he was doing. It is important that your horse knows his skills as much as you know yours. An unconfident horse is actually a dangerous one because you don’t know if he trusts you or what he is about to do. Henry’s run-outs were the cause of a lot of accident reports, but fortunately no one was seriously hurt.

I starting using Henry’s schoolwork as a way to train him. He was and is used in our Lead Rein and Beginner Classes where we teach new riders how to ride in walk and trot. Because he is on a lead rein held by a Handler, he is not able to rush his work and has become more confident at working in a slower pace. He is relaxed in walk and (almost) has a smooth transition to trot. He is also used in our Upper Novice, Intermediate Classes and Advanced Private Lessons. Here is where we teach both Henry and his rider about proper jumping technique, collection and extension in the paces, softer hands with stronger legs. Henry has been loving this work. It is also where we teach the rider to have real awareness of their horse.

Henry is a sensitive soul. He worries a lot. He wants to do well and when he kicks a pole it hurts him more mentally than physically. He thinks that dropping a pole will mean that we are angry with him and won’t love him. Now you may say, how can you tell this? The answer lies in his carriage – his eyes enlarge, his head goes up, his back hollows out and he runs in fear. It takes a lot of confidence as a rider to halt him and “talk him down”. Give him the love that let’s him know that a dropped pole isn’t the end of the world. It is just something that happens. Henry’s fear is simply an age thing, but we don’t need it to become an ingrained response. Because we want the best from him, we do have to use the best, most confident riders we have when he is not on a lead rein. By using this method with him, throughout 2019 Henry blossomed into the second most requested horse on the yard.

Henry is now 15/1 (that Irish jockey was so right on so many things!) and he is OFFICIALLY 8 years old. He still performs in dressage through the Novice Tests, but will always be marked down for his dishing. He now confidently jumps to 85cm and will be working towards 95cm this summer. He will be going out this year to local competitions as his training now has him confident in what he is doing, and positive in outlook and action. Henry is a brilliant hacking horse and loves his pub rides. He is a beautiful horse that is lovely is body and temperament. Baby Baby Henry is now a Big Boy Henry, but he still loves to play with his friends (which does get him into trouble with me on occasion!). If you ask, then he is willing.

I’m so glad that I go to The Burghley Horse Trials if it means I get a Henry in my life.

This post would not be possible without the photos from Chris Cole Photography.  Thank you Chris!

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.