29. The (Purple) Princess and the Pea

Blog 29 – “The (Purple) Princess and the Pea”

I said that I would go on to write more about Dr Debbie Carley, so here goes.  Also within the loan contract for Wackie was to feed him only grass, hay and Thunderbrook food and supplements, which I did.  Since Guy I had re-thought my feeding regime, fed forage only and was fairly happy.  Anna had had difficulty keeping condition on Filly and that was no longer an issue, she had transitioned to barefoot really easily and was happy in her work.  But Filly did exhibit certain behaviours that made me question whether I was getting it right. She would perform a peculiar “cat stretch” when groomed or girthed and would blow out for girthing.  In spite of regular bodywork (which she resented) she had on-going sacroiliac (SI) issues and was markedly asymmetrical.  

So I called Debbie who asked me lots of questions about Filly’s behaviour and way of going, I also told her that Filly had been turned out when she was very young in a recently fertilised field and suffered nitrate poisoning and Debbie suspected “leaky gut syndrome”.  Having had Mac suffer his terrible fate I was keen to follow her advice for Filly and while I am not saying Mac would still be with us had I found Debbie sooner I do often wonder.

In recent months Filly's digestive issues finally seem 100% resolved.  I continue to use Thunderbrook feed, with which I am very happy with but thanks to research by my friends Jacqui and Andy Sharland I now use Ron Fields holistic herbal remedies for both Filly and Lola and am delighted with the results. 

Filly and I in the fog and bareback
Filly always revelled in her work and has a work ethic and attitude second to none. However during the first couple of years of training with P.K. I felt her trademark “sparkle” was slightly less evident.  I mentioned this to P.K. but as far as he was concerned she was progressing and I was worrying about nothing.  It dawned on me though that this gradual change in her attitude went with alongside the “progression” perceived by P.K.  Every time she learned and understood something new, once consolidated she was asked to move on to the next, more challenging thing.  To start with I think she enjoyed this and was motivated by it, but less so over time.  P.K. is clear that the rider should, “Ask a lot, but not for long” and give the horse frequent breaks within each training session and I took advantage of those breaks to click and reinforce, but it wasn’t enough to keep her sparkle.

Filly running to her toys box in the arena at Ashen E.C.
This realisation was the first time I questioned whether I had made the right decision in training with P.K. but I was gaining so much from it rather than leave at that stage I asked myself the question Chris had suggested I ask myself way back when with Guy, “What would I advise a client?”  It was clear that I needed to be more creative, mix it up and make the training more fun.  Filly is a “moving” horse and never really found standing and taking a break very reinforcing so instead I asked myself, “What is she reinforced by?”  After she had tried especially hard I might ask her to do something I knew that she found super easy, or I might jump off and play chase with her or play at liberty.  We revisited Alex’s foundation lessons of “stand on a mat” and “targeting” and I would click and reinforce those simple “fun” behaviours at a high rate.  Her twinkle soon returned and remains to this day (she’s 22 now).

I think P.K’s mind-set was analogous with a teacher “rewarding” their pupil for having done an excellent piece of work by setting them a more challenging piece of work next time.  Of course some pupils are going to be motivated by that, but others are going to experience the opposite feelings.  I once had a teacher who was so delighted with a story that I had written he “rewarded” me by excitedly inviting me to read it out in front of the class.  Now, I understand that his intentions came from a good place but I really didn’t want to and I never wrote another story again…

I invite you to let your horses teach you what they find reinforcing and then use those activities as a way of growing the bond and maintaining and building motivation.

Next time "Lion Heart" published 18th May.

For those searching online for more “instructional” resources than offered in these blogs please make use of my video downloads www.ashenec.co.uk

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