All natural horse care in the west of Ireland

Positive Pony Power
Tuesday, 05 May 2009

Polly, Magpie and me went along to the Positive Pony Power course at the weekend just gone with Vanessa Bee. The venue was the ISPCA, NAC (National Animal Centre), Keenagh, Co Longford. img_0126_2r.jpg

Polly and Magpie have not left home in the last couple of years so it was going to be interesting to see their how they would load into a trailer and their reactions to being away from home and the other two herd members; Harley and Baby.

I borrowed a trailer and a friend of mine offered to drive it to and from the centre for the course.

Friday evening I loaded my car with everything I might need on the course including a collar and hames that I bought on eBay a few weeks ago. I was bringing my car as well as there were 3 other people attending the same course from my area.

Bringing the car also meant that I could come home in the evenings to see to Harley and Baby. My friend who was bringing the horses would leave the trailer at the centre.

I got up at 6.30am on Saturday morning to make sure all the horses were fed and to load up any last minutes items I may have forgotten the previous evening.

My friend arrived with his jeep to hook up to the trailer at about 7.15am. Once the trailer was hooked up Polly and Magpie were loaded without any hesitation or incident. I was midly surprised as neither had been near a trailer in over 2 years.

The trailer I borrowed was an Ifor Williams 510 which is really bright and roomy which I think made it easier for the horses.

We set off at 7.30am. Four of us in a car followed by the jeep and trailer.

We arrived at the NAC at appx 8.45am. The horses were unloaded and put in stables. I would have preferred to put them out in a paddock but the weather has been so wet the last couple of weeks that all the paddocks were water-logged.

I settled them both in stables with haynets and water and went off to the classroom for the first part of the course.

Magpie settled very quickly. Polly was calling and did not settle very well at all. She was constantly calling and kicking at the stable door. This surprised me as Polly just does. I did not expect too much of a reaction from her to the strange environment. On the other hand I expected Magpie to kick up a bit of a fuss being separated from Harley. She did not appear bothered at all and was checking everything out over her stable door.

I do the courses because I am a NH/PH addict. I have already completed 5 of the Positive Horsemanship courses which is about 50% of the courses that Vanessa runs.

This course was the ideal opportunity for me to see if either or both girls would be suitable to use as Pony Power and be able to help me out around our yard.

Our sand arena doubles as a winter paddock and gets very compacted during the winter due to the constant use. I had given some thought to purchasing a quad with a harrow or a petrol tiller so that I could maintain it and loosen it up for the Spring.

Last summer we had messed about with Polly and a pallet with some nails hammered into it to see if she would pull it. We did not have the right equipment for the job, just a bridle and a roller, but as she took to it like a duck to water so I decided I might just get some secondhand equipment and have a go.

I managed to get a collar and hames from eBay and a neighbour of mine made a flat pin harrow on a frame for me that could be connected to the hames by chains.

Day 1

After introductions, the mornng was spent finding out what each individual wanted from the course and covering the basic skills required and what we hoped to achieve this weekend.

Just before lunch, we went out to the yard to meet and get to know the horses we would be working with.

In addition to Polly and Magpie we had 2 shetland ponies from the centre who are awaiting rehoming and Sally with her yearling colt foal, Conan from Irish Sally Garden. Sally and Conan were on the course with their owner Dan who hopes that Sally will one day be abe to help them on their small holding.

During this session Sally was brought out by Dan to see how she led. After a few minutes of worrying about her foal Sally settled down and walked with Dan. During this little exercise it transpired that Sally was frightened of ropes being swung around close to her. I was asked to hold Sally's lead rope while Vanessa played with ropes near her to desensitise her to the ropes and to reassure her that the ropes would not hurt her.

We then brought Magpie to demonstrate how to ask a horse to walk with you. We walked around the yard for a while and then I threw ropes over her and around her legs. I have done a lot of work with Magpie so she has no issues with the ropes.

Vanessa then put a driving harness on Magpie to show everyone how it looked on a horse and how to adjust it to fit.

We broke for lunch at this stage.

After lunch we all caught up with our horses and went out to a small paddock to practise leading. A few 'toys' were thrown into the paddock for us to play with; Yellow Plastic Trays, Poles, Tyres, Plastic Sheets and a Ball. We were all told to play with our horses and the toys and practise walking, stopping, changing direction and walking backwards.

After an hour we put our horses back in the stables and went back to the classroom for a coffee

We were then split into 2 groups and given a driving harness each and 4 chairs. We were to imagine the chairs were our horse and to put the harness on. Both groups were reasonably successful. Vanessa pointed out any areas where we went wrong and told us how to do it properly and why to do it a certain way.

That concluded our lessons for today.

Day 2

After a quick debrief of the plans for the day we went off to catch up with our horses.

Before we got going Vanessa tried the Collar and Hames that I brought with me on Polly. It seemed a good fit. Vanessa advised that I should also use a driving saddle with the Collar. It would help keep the tracers in place when working with Polly.

We then got Magpie out and she had the driving harness put on again. Vanessa then proceeded to tie a variety of objects to the tracers for Magpie to pull around. We tried just heavy leather straps, chains and a tyre with chain attached. At all times the objects were only attached by baleing twine so if anything went wrong the object could be disconnected very quickly. 

Magpie was working in her bitless bridle as this is what she wears normally when we are out on the road.

This demonstration was to show how to accustom the horse to different objects moving along behind them. Start small and build up. We took the harness off Magpie and put her back in her stable.

Dan brought Sally out of her stable to see how she was today. Dan led her around. Vanessa was going to try a rope around her girth area to see if she might be ready to wear a harness. 

Sally still seemed a little nervous about the rope but she soon settled. As Vanessa reached under Sally's belly to grab the other end of the rope Sally attempted a cow kick at her.

She was obviously not ready to wear a girth around her belly. Vanessa brought out the 'hand on a stick' and played with Sally aound her sensitive areas until she was more comfortable.

During this time Sally was walking around with the rope draped over her back and the clip dragging on the ground making a jangling noise. This was  not bothering her at all as she was more concerned about the hand on a stick.

Eventually Sally got used to the hand on the stick but it was agreed that Sally would need a lot more time and handling by Dan before attempting to put a harness on her. Although a quick learner Sally seemed to be finding these learning sessions very tiring, so she was put back into her stable for a rest.

Us humans were then paired up and given a pair of long reins. We took it in turns to be the horse to judge for ourselves what it feels like to be driven from behind. It was quite amazing to feel how little movement it took from the driver on the reins to get the feel for what direction the horse was supposed to be going in.

Following this we caught up with our horses and took them out to play in the paddock again with the toys. In addition to walk were were asked to see if we could manouvre ours horse backwards in a straight line and sideways. When using a horse with heavy machinery, etc.. we may need to move them into position either backwards or sideways, or both as the machinery may be too heavy to bring to the horse so this would be good practise.

In this session Magpie was being particularly difficult. I couldn't understand what the problem was? I just assumed it might be the strange environment or the fact that she was being kept in a stable when she was so used to being outside 99% of the time. At the end of the session Vanessa happened to remark that she had never seen this side of Magpie and maybe it might have something to do with the bridle? I hadn't given that a thought but made a mental note to remember to use her rope halter after lunch to see if it made a difference.

After lunimg_0145_3r.jpgch we were separated into 2 groups and given a bunch of materials and tasks to complete in 45 minutes.

Group 1, had Polly and had to use here as a pack pony which they completed successfully in around 20 minutes!! From what I could see they had a Bare Back Pad, A bit of canvass with hooks on, 2 Haynets and 2 feed bags stuffed with rubbish.

Group 2, had Magpie (and me) and out task was to imagine one of our party had broken a leg and we had to make a sled for the horse to pull the injured person to safety. We had a couple of long poles (from thin, young trees), a tarpaulin, an iron bar, a small hand held saw, a pocket knife, lots of baleing twine and a driving harness. Our first attempt at the sled was not very good and out patient was bumped around a bit when we tried to pull the sled. The second attempt was much better so we dediced then to harness Magpie and to attach the sled. img_0165_2r.jpg

We put our patient in the sled and pulled her a few 'bumpy' feet. Magpie was not phased at all by all the fussing and pulling she was asked to do. We ran of of time to make any adjustments to our sled which was far from perfect. Vanessa stepped in at this stage and pointed out where we could have been more efficient making the sled and where we could better attach the sled to the horse.

It was the end of the day and we all went back to the classroom to reflect on what we had learnt from the course and to receive our certificates for completing the course.

What did I learn? 

1. I do not know my horses as well as I thought I did. Polly surprised me by being so unsettled away from our small herd and at the same time Magpie surprised me by how she took it all in her stride.

2. Polly in particular does not like being stabled

3. My horses travel well. I had not taken them away from home before as I was not sure how they would react. 

4. They both could be suitable for pulling work

5. You dont need to purchase expensive equipment to do this work. We had worked with a webbing harness, baleing twine, saddle pad, rope halters and tarpaulin, etc..

6. Lightbulb moment for me happened the following morning: Rope Halter = Work time to Magpie. The only time she was really not listening to me when I was asking her to do things was when she was wearing her bridle. She behaved like a willing partner when she had her rope halter on. On Vanessa's suggestion we are going to try riding out in her rope halter just to see if it makes a difference. Magpie has been quite nappy recently out on a hack so we will have a go with the rope halter and see what happens.

7. I will ever stop learning

 
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