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We are part way through a Companion Animal Practitioner Training Clinic here at Tilley Farm and we are all enjoying the glorious weather that has finally arrived. The horses are shedding and enjoying as much time as possible grazing in the sunshine without their rugs.
We are also busy fund raising for a dog rescue organisation and are auctioning an item of Tony’s memorabilia from Ghost Rider, Spirit of Vengeance. The bid is already over £700.00 and I am tempted to raid his wardrobe to raise more money for equine and canine welfare organisations!
I have been also been off on my travels again and spent another day at Hounds for Heroes. I thoroughly enjoy every moment I spend with the inspiring team. Allen Parton is an incredible man and I am lucky that I have the opportunity to meet such extraordinary people through my work.
The applications for the work that I do are endless. Whether I am working with a rescue dog that grabs the lead, a horse that spooks and bucks, young dogs in training that will go on to change the lives of people when they are partnered with them as assistance dogs, sniffer dogs, or competition horses that are inconsistent in their performance and unable to reach their full potential, the ethos is always the same.
Good body awareness is paramount for all the animals, whether they will be a winner in the show ring or on the track, or become the champion of someone’s heart.
When handling is fine tuned and body balance is the best that nature will allow, the impossible can become possible, the possible can become easy, and what is easy has the ability to become both effortless and elegant.
If your horse is exhibiting any unwanted behaviour, practice looking for all the postural changes that may be contributing to aberrant behaviour. Remember that saddles need to be checked as frequently as possible but particularly when there are seasonal changes such as the transition from winter to spring. The work you are asking your horse to do may be different, fresh grass is coming through, and as horse’s shed, you will be able to notice any muscle imbalance more easily. Small tiny changes may be occurring that could lead to a greater problem further down the line. Look for the early warning signs that something is amiss. I have learnt that the devil is most definitely in the detail.
My dear old boy Toto has been receiving veterinary treatment and physiotherapy for his arthritis. He has been lame and whilst he is often stiff after resting in his stable, there have obviously been more changes taking place. My great vet x-rayed Toto’s right fore and out of interest we also x-rayed Toto’s knees. My beloved horse is now 26 and was diagnosed with arthritis when he was eight years old. He has led a full and happy life but age is now catching up with him. I will ensure he gets the best help possible and whilst he is bright and happy I will continue to support him in any way I can.
My great friend Maria Johnston, who is a vet physio, has been to visit Toto. Toto loved the treatment and dozed off which is good sign that he was responding well. Maria also brought me some of her great canine groundwork equipment that she has developed with a show jump manufacturer and I can’t wait for the rest of my order to arrive. I am hoping that together, they can make a larger set for horses!
I teach dogs, and horses, to walk over, stand on and back off low level see saws. It has so many practical applications. It can help to improve core strength and balance and this great exercise can help to address loading issues that plaque many horses and their owners. My equine see- saw is wooden and cannot be moved so I am keen to explore the possibility of something being constructed that is easier to manoeuvre. I will of course keep you posted if together we are able to come up with a good, solid, functional design.
I have been desperately trying to catch up with my clients that have been patiently waiting for one to one sessions. I have seen a variety of dogs and horses including a lovely competition horse whose behaviour has deteriorated in the school. Again, the schooling issues are linked to postural changes that have taken place and although the horse is a dream out hacking, the rider has been asking more of the horse in the school, which has triggered some rather explosive responses. The responses are the same whether the horse is ridden or working on the lunge. The session was great, with plenty of areas of over developed and under developed muscles in the horse’s body to work on that are contributing to the difficulties that the horse is having when asked to work more consistently in an outline. We finished the session by working in hand in the arena without any unwanted behaviours arising what so ever and the horse was able to flex evenly both left and right which he hadn’t been able to do when we started the session in the stable.
If your horse is struggling in the school it may be that the surface is too deep but it is more commonly linked to poor balance, restriction in the neck and back, or pain in the body including in the hocks. Although hacking can of course be used to advance the education of the horse, it is likely that more lateral work and more collection will take place when in the school and this can be a major factor in horses that struggle or even lose focus as a high proportion of horses struggle to lengthen evenly through both sides of their body, lengthen the top line and engage the hindquarters.
There is a common postural pattern that I see in horses that buck. They generally carry tension through the lumbar region and upper part of the neck and the majority are also girthy. Tension around the girth area can be another trigger for volatile behaviour and this is usually accompanied by muscle loss behind the shoulders and a dip on the top line just in front of the withers. The beauty is that all of this can often be easily addressed and time spent in the saddle can be educational and beneficial as opposed to simply battling to control a behaviour that can obviously put both horse and rider at serious risk.
The owner of the horse that had the accident has emailed me and the horse is recovering well. I will go back to see them once the horse has fully healed to assist once the horse is back under saddle. Fortunately the horse doesn’t appear to have sustained any significant injuries but the memory of the event, plus the reason why the accident happened in the first place, will require some on- going support.
As with dogs, it is unlikely that explosive behaviours in horses are something that came out of the blue, even though it can sometimes appear to be that way. There are often many small triggers and these add up over time, sometimes in quick succession over a matter of days.
I have worked with three dogs that lead grab over the last few weeks and although this is not a huge problem on it’s own, as a more appropriate behaviour can be taught, it is often linked to tension in the neck. Unless the reason for the behaviour is addressed the behaviour can escalate and the dog may start to grab the handlers arm and clothing which is a behaviour that is non-negotiable as far as I am concerned. Dog teeth and human flesh or clothing do not go together – not even in a game. However, care and understanding is required when working with behaviours such as this as punishing a dog will only serve to suppress the behaviour (often only in the short term) and not address the cause. Every dog that I have worked with over the years that has displayed this behaviour had concerns about contact on the neck. Once this was recognised, and addressed, the behaviours have completely diminished and in many cases, disappeared altogether without the need to retrain a more appropriate behaviour.
This is the same for horses. Many schooling issues and concerns stem from tension somewhere in the horse’s body, and like dogs, these problems can be addressed once the understanding and awareness is in place. In cases where the animal reaches a plateau, further veterinary investigation is usually required and many animals that I see change show a marked change in demeanour and attitude to life once appropriate pain relief is in place.
It’s been a whirlwind of teaching and giving presentations and, as always, I have met more wonderful people as I have been teaching at two animal welfare centres. I gave a talk on Monday evening in Herts, then spent two days working with two different charities.
At the end of the second full day’s teaching, I went to visit a friend who has privately owned horses on her yard. Within moments of arriving, my friend called me to help with a horse that had gone up and over in the school. Both horse and rider were naturally in a state of shock. The horse was glazed in the eyes and was in some degree of discomfort. Ear Work and slow gentle body work over the horse’s back quickly helped the horse to settle which was also reassuring for the owner.
I have included Ear Work before in a previous blog but as it is so useful I am putting it in here as well. If you are handling a horse that is in pain or has had a fright, start slowly stroking the ears one at a time whilst you are waiting for the vet if veterinary attention is required. Support the nose band of the head collar with one hand ensuring that you only lightly rest your fingers on the nose band. If you grip the nose band you will not be able to let go if the horse throws up its head. Stroke the opposite ear with the other hand in slow, rhythmical slides. Then switch hands and repeat this movement on the other ear. Stop doing the Ear Work when the vet is checking the horse’s vital signs.
Slow slides on the ears can lower heart rate and respiration. It is not only useful for reducing shock, but can be a great way of helping tired horses recover more quickly after exercise, settling a lively horse (if it is safe to handle them), helping a horse recover from sedation, warming up a cold or wet horse, and helping a horse to eat if it is off it’s food. It is also beneficial for horses that may be suffering from colic but again, stop stroking the ears once the vet has arrived. Many horses that dislike being caught and/or bridled are often ear shy, so Ear Work can also address these concerns although it is likely that you may have to start Ear Work by standing to one side of the horse and using other body TTouches on the neck first. When ever I am teaching, this is one of the techniques that I cover, as it has so many useful and practical applications.
It has been another extra-ordinary and thought provoking week. Tony and I went back up to Wood Green Animal Shelter to attend a two day seminar with Jim Crosby. Jim is a dog bite investigator in the US whose expertise has been called on many times when human fatalities occur due to dog attacks.
People from many areas of the dog world were in attendance, including those involved in Section 1 of the Dangerous Dogs Act. In my opinion there aren’t (or certainly shouldn’t be) two ‘sides’ as I would hope that all involved are working towards gaining a better understanding of (and therefore furthering education), when it comes to dog behaviour. It was good to meet up and talk with people involved in all aspects of assessing, training and handling dogs.
Jim is an incredible man and Tony and I thoroughly enjoyed spending time with him and his family. Several friends also attended the seminar and although at times the information was distressing, it was a very important seminar that highlighted the need for thorough investigation when human fatalities occur.
Sharing our lives with dogs can be enriching and rewarding and the strong bonds that develop between humans and canines are well known. In some cases however, there is a disconnection that occurs and some people forget that dogs are animals with their own feelings, thoughts, needs, drives and desires. I recently asked a group of people whether they would ever allow anyone without any knowledge of handling horses to interact unsupervised with their horses. Not one horse owner said that they would, yet this happens on a daily basis with dogs.
I do not know of any horse owner that would shut a child in a stable with a horse whilst they go off to complete the stable duties, yet this also happens routinely with dogs and children in the home. Half of children under ten will be bitten by a dog. This is a horrifying and avoidable statistic.
I spent the end of the week in Suffolk with Miss Cookie Dough and am heading back to Bath this evening as Tony and I will be on the BBC Bristol Radio show tomorrow morning. I have a day with my family and will be packing my bags once more as I am teaching in Surrey and Herts next week.