I’m writing this as I put my feet up for my Christmas break, but I’d rather still be at work than battling the shops in a last minute rush to buy Christmas presents! Having said that, we’ve just taken delivery of a huge, stunning painting of my horse, Diesel, by Katie Hough that we had commissioned (pictured below). It has captured him perfectly and may just mean I don’t have to splash out too much on other presents!
Most of the horses on training have now gone home including some racehorses from Jim and Pippa Boyle, who also do much for the Retraining of Racehorses organisation in the south east. I first met them when they had a tricky colt that has since gone on to race. I am now involved in starting quite a few of their youngsters as they believe that if they get a little more education from the outset, they will have better prospects of becoming riding horses after their racing careers. Having grown up in Australia with homebred thoroughbreds and a racing-mad father, I feel very at home with these horses and if they weren’t destined for the track, I’d be quite happy to keep them myself.
Speaking of getting the foundations right for their future careers, I have been working with a couple of foals that have had very different experiences in their short lives. I am often asked: “how much, and what, should I be doing with my foal/yearling?” I am a firm believer in handling them enough so that they are quiet around humans and able to be tied up, trimmed, seen by the vet and loaded if necessary. However, I also caution against too much handling or petting as they can very quickly become overconfident and disrespectful, which can lead to many problems down the track. Foals are very cute, but not when they decide to turn around and kick or bite you!
Although both of these foals had been unhandled, one has been around humans on a farm, whereas the other has been in a herd that had been running wild in north Kent. He has been rescued by the charity, Happy Endings Rescue, who I have been working with to rehabilitate these horses that would otherwise be put down. After some initial wariness, the first foal became easy to handle very quickly. The second one is a much tougher proposition. At the moment it is a case of just being around him and letting him see us interacting with the other horses before we try and handle him at all. He has got to the point where he is showing a little curiosity and giving the grooms a sniff when they feed and water him. When a horse shows curiosity rather than flight, it is the first step towards confidence.
At this time of year, it is always good to look back on the year at both the highlights and to learn from any difficult times. Aside from working with all the fabulous horses and people that have come to me during 2015, my highlights would have to include launching my online training program Your Horsemanship, demonstrating at the BHS Welfare Conference and Your Horse Live, and being player-coach for the UK at the Polocrosse World Cup in South Africa.
After nearly 20 years in the business, I am still learning so much; not just about training horses, but about myself and how others tick too. As always, there are horses that have been a challenge and some that in hindsight I would have approached differently, but they are all part of the learning process and the experiences stored away for future use. Although I have a real desire to “fix” horses with problems, particularly when the horse and rider’s safety is compromised, I have come to realise that there are so many factors to take into consideration. So one of my resolutions for 2016 is to take a deep breath in these situations, take a step back and accept that all I can do is offer my help and advice.
My other plans for 2016 are all really exciting. I am continuing to develop the yard and have just put in a pre-planning application for an indoor school. I have got a lot more planned for Your Horsemanship and once Annie is back riding from her knee injury, I am looking to travel abroad a bit more to conduct clinics and demonstrations. As for horses, I have a very exciting prospect for polocrosse, but I’m also on the lookout to buy some dressage prospects; yes, I may have to pull on a pair of breeches in the near future!
Anyway, now its time for me to hibernate and watch Christmas films with the kids… I hope you all have a very Happy Christmas and New Year!