Saturday, 29 September 2012

Topsy's Progress - Week 4

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Here's a couple of videos of Topsy from today that really show how she is progressing.  She is being turned out without a headcollar now - I didn't make it back from the field in time to film Paul headcollaring her, but here is the second phase of that - clipping on the lead rope.  You can see how much progress she has made - you can see that Topsy is even choosing to follow Paul before he clips the rope on.  There's actually an alley there along the side of the house (which isn't visible/obvious in the video) and she could have walked off back up towards the grass if she wanted to...but she didn't...she went towards a human.  Her past experiences of people had caused her to learn to avoid people at all costs...and now she is learning to trust a human for the first time in her life.  Paul is helping her to overcome her fears, and Topsy's comfort zones are slowly increasing.

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This video shows Topsy having her headcollar taken off in the stable.  She's accepting of Paul doing this now.  She's not 100% comfortable with people around her yet and you can see the anxiety...but also notice her "licking and chewing" at the end of the video.  Before, she was too frightened to express like this.


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Saturday, 22 September 2012

Topsy's Progressing Well

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Here's a short video of Topsy to show how she's progressing...no sound on this video...but as you can see, Paul is now able to stroke Topsy on her forehead.  You can see that Topsy has "Trauma Trigger" areas on her nose - just a small reaction can be seen in the video.  Her strong reactions to being touched on certain areas of her nose lead us to believe that she has been grabbed around her nose at some point.

The video also shows how Topsy likes to be stroked under the chin.

Paul is pointing to explain that he's been finding that Topsy's left side is her worst/least comfortable side to work on.  We have found that Topsy has lots of different Trauma Triggers in different areas, which is why she is a particularly tricky case.

Tufty's been continuing to progress too...she's had her hooves trimmed this week, and her tail washed to try to ease her sweet-itch.  The ponies' winter coats are growing quickly now - here's a photo of Tufty's branded area, and as you can see, the brand mark is not visible at all...
 ...and finally, a photo of the girls out grazing together...where do they find that mud to roll in?!!

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Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Topsy Makes Good Progress

Topsy has had a really good few days and is really progressing through her fear of ropes - she might not be 100% with them yet...but she is improving every day.

When you are dealing with these extreme fears and phobias, part of the challenge is having to "think outside the box", or adapting, or developing techniques that we know work as a whole.  All our techniques are based on horse body language, instincts and psychology...but fear/trauma is a very strong thing and will always take over until we can prove that we are trustworthy, and particularly that we are trustworthy enough to help the pony with an extreme fear.


To be able to help a pony (which is already trusting us) with an extreme fear, first we have to establish what the cause of the problem is in order to help them...so this is what Paul has been doing with Topsy.  He needs to break the problem down into smaller elements.  For instance, Paul has to establish whether Topsy's rope fear is actually about having the clip attached to the headcollar...or is it the noise of the clip attaching...or an association of having a person holding the rope and being too close to her...or is it the feeling of the rope touching her...or something else altogether?  This is what we are looking for in a practical sense, but...of course, for Topsy the fear is not as simple as that - it's not necessarily the touch of the rope that she's scared of...but for her, the touch of the rope triggers a flashback memory of a painful/life threatening event (such as having bits cut out of her ears, or hot irons applied to her skin) which she now associates with being touched with the rope.  She may associate that when a rope touches her on a particular area of her body (e.g her leg), something terrible will happen.  Of course, the human that caused the problem in the first place probably didn't even noticed that the rope was touching Topsy's leg when they notched/branded her...but to Topsy this was her association of the events...and this is now a "trauma trigger".

If we can show Topsy that ropes in another scenario are OK, then we can start to progress and eventually get to the stage that we can address her traumas and she will not panic.   Trust is the key to this though.

For us, the difference between the reactions of a previously untouched wild pony and the reactions of a traumatised pony are hugely different and only years of experience of handling both types of pony allows us to develop an understanding of different levels of worry, fear, trauma and how they manifest...and more importantly it helps us to develop an understanding of how these problems could have been avoided in the first place.

One of the great things is that Topsy is now able to communicate to Paul when she wants a particular type of interaction, such as being stroked under the chin - at the moment, she is finding this comforting, and asks Paul to interact with her in this way.  This is always a big step for a traumatised pony and shows that Topsy is making good progress in her rehabilitation.

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Saturday, 15 September 2012

The Trials of Traumatised Ponies


Tufty is progressing at a very fast rate now - she is starting to have a variety of people handle her, and she can now do all the basics required of a pony, including having her feet picked up.  Although we might have to do some things with her in a set way at the moment, she will gradually progress to being headcollared in different ways, and become accustomed to the different ways that people do things.  As you can see from this photo, she is improving in bodily condition too.

Topsy is potentially the most traumatised pony we've had for rehabilitation, which, after having had Mousey is really saying something!  Ponies can express fear in different ways - either outwardly (e.g where they might run in panic etc) or inwardly (where they might freeze or mentally shut down).  Usually, headcollaring is a major step forward with a pony and their progress, but with Topsy, one of the problems we have discovered is that she has an extreme fear of ropes.  She doesn't run off when she has the rope attached, but expresses her trauma inwardly.  Even though we know a lead rope isn't going to hurt her, or cause her pain, Topsy cannot see this.  Her trauma which she associates with ropes is so strong it completely overrides any attempt for "logical" reasoning - her memory of something that happened, or perceived to happen, is so strong she can't see through it.  Of course, we don't know what the original event was with ropes that caused Topsy to react like this, and we need to try to find a way to help her.  We have had other ponies before that have been scared of ropes, but not to the extreme degree of Topsy's trauma.

Seeing ponies with trauma is very frustrating to watch and to have to deal with.  We know through experience that the trauma that Topsy (...and other ponies that have been ruined), experience and have to live with is totally unnecessary.  As wild youngsters,  with the right handling techniques, they could have learnt all their basic skills without trauma in just a weekend...

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Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Nicola and Katie Come To Visit


Thank you to Nicola and Katie for sending through this photo from their visit last weekend.  They had been fostering Topsy and Tufty, but had only ever been able to interact with them from a distance.  Last weekend, Nicola and Katie came to see how the girls are progressing with their rehabilitation.  As you can see here, Tufty was very happy to enjoy some of the lovely carrot and apple that Nicola and Katie had brought for the ponies!

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Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Tufty Meets Our Local MP


Here's a photo of Tufty with Faye, Paul, and Neil Parish - our local MP who came to visit us last Friday.  Mr Parish came to see our work and particularly our specialist handling techniques.  As you can see, Tufty has progressed really well, and was happy to be stroked.

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Saturday, 8 September 2012

A Big Day for Topsy


Today was a big day for Topsy as she has been headcollared for the first time!  Looking back at the video, I should make it clear that we take her headcollar off before the end of the day - in the video, it sounds as if the pony will take it off by the end of the day, and obviously that is not the idea at all!

Topsy needed much more time to get accustomed to people and particular techniques before she could be headcollared.  It takes much time and experience to learn, progress and perfect these techniques - ponies with these sorts of mutilations can have strong trauma, and triggers, that can cause them to remember/re-live past scary/painful events in their past.  This trauma is a huge setback for ponies and, as in the case of Topsy and Tufty, has caused them to be unhandleable for a very long period of time.  Topsy has taken a huge step forward today in her beginnings to start trusting people for the first time.

Paul says that it has been noticeable with Topsy how she finds groups of people quite stressful - she is also very wary of men, which is fairly common with traumatised ponies as it tends to be men who inflict the mutilations upon them.

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Topsy and Tufty in the Yard


Here's Tufty enjoying some grass out in the yard.  As you can see, she is being led out now.  Topsy is progressing more slowly, so she is coming out "loose" in the yard to have a break and eat grass.  The set-up here means that the ponies have short sessions and plenty of breaks so things aren't too overwhelming for them.

Monday, 3 September 2012

Topsy and Tufty's Progress - Day 2


Within 24 hours of arriving, the ponies have settled in well - Tufty the older mare has been headcollared and has enjoyed being brushed...but Topsy is much more frightened and her progress will be much slower.

Sunday, 2 September 2012

Topsy and Tufty - New Arrivals today



Two new ponies have arrived with us today for specialist handling and rehabilitation.  These two mares, named Topsy and Tufty, originally came from Bodmin Moor - both are ear notched and branded.  They were seized from the Moor 13 years ago and are still unhandled.