Thursday, 31 December 2009

Three steps forward and two back...

Billy Boy grazes up the lane on a nice loose (and long) lead rope.
He's getting good at yielding to pressure and is OK with cars moving slowly past him.
There are a couple of issues though. BB was very unsettled a few days ago when out on the lead and would not lower his head to graze; the next day was no better and Paul had to retrieve his navy fleece from the wash. BB was absolutely fine as soon as Paul appeared in the usual attire. We have seen this before with traumatised ponies and it is something to be aware of; hopefully BB will gradually become used to Paul wearing other clothing but we will stick to dark colours.
The other problem is that BB has become worse, not better, at having his headcollar on, sometimes needing an hour of patient work before he can accept it. Paul is experimenting now with leaving it on and putting another on over the top.
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Hard Times

During the snowy weather Billy Boy discovered the seeds on the bird table, and managed to get a few stuck to his tongue at each stretch! I think it was really awkward for him but he was very persistent. I had to go upstairs to get a good picture of him.

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Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Happy Christmas everybody

Serious ice at the other end of our lane prevented our volunteers from reaching us today and also claimed a victim who was bringing us a Christmas present - he had to walk the rest of the way and Paul went back to tow him out.

We couldn't do the manure - impossible to a) walk over the frozen ruts b) find the heaps c) detach them from the frozen ground. Paul rigged up a hose feed to the trough to save us bucketing water to the field.

Yesterday afternoon Bobby started coughing again after months cough-free. This is his asthmatic condition. I think it was triggered by the hay and the very dry cold air as the temperature dropped. We medicated him and gave him soaked hay (which froze of course). This morning he is better; but we are back to soaking all hay. Humidity is high today and he is breathing easier.

We'd like to say Happy Christmas to all our friends, helpers, pony sponsors and anyone interested in our Project - hope you all have a peaceful Christmas and a good 2010.

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Monday, 21 December 2009


A sprinkling of snow today, which on top of the frost and ice was treacherous. We had a job to find the manure heaps out in the field! The ponies were all looking a bit peeved so they had hay this morning as well as this afternoon.

Paul spent his Billy Boy sessions intensifying the grooming and especially the touching of BB's legs to which you can see BB saying 'Oi! Geroff!' and 'What are you doing?'

I touched Mousey today as she walked past me. I have been making the gap smaller between me and the door, as she goes into the pen for her breakfast. It was the lightest brush of her fur; she may have sped up slightly. It's no big deal because Paul can groom her (but not touch her head yet) still, it's another person making contact.

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Saturday, 19 December 2009

Chilly outings

Brrrr... it's cold. We were chiselling the heaps off the field this morning! Good news is, Paul's back's much better and we have been able to fetch a trailer-load of hay so we are well stocked up for a bit. (Thanks Jenny and Ted)

Billy Boy has been out for his first walk, on the lead, up the lane. He enjoyed browsing along the grassy edges; this is a bit of a test as we have had some ponies who are so fearful of humans that they cannot lower their heads to graze when on the lead; they feel very vulnerable in the close presence of a predator the like of whom has hurt them in the past.

He jumped away a couple of times when startled but every time is an opportunity for Paul to reinforce BB's understanding of pressure and release. The long rope allows this 'jump space' and Paul's experience, strength and leather gloves mean that he can hold on for BB to realise that all is well, and comfortable, when he comes back close.

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Thursday, 17 December 2009

Leading Billy Boy

I thought we had rejoiced too soon when I found out that Billy Boy's neck strap had come off in the night. However, Paul managed to get it back on and the headcollar has been on and off several times today.

As we expected, the progress now is quicker. This afternoon Paul led Billy Boy out of his stable into the yard for the first time. The leading was faltering at first, but BB is beginning to understand the concept of yielding to pressure and after a few minutes was coming along nicely.

We fully expect that he may test us and make a bid for freedom; Paul has an extra long rope and good gloves to give himself the best chance of holding BB, should this happen.

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Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Optimism justified!

Well just look at that - Billy Boy has a headcollar on. I knew Paul was trying to get this far as he has been disappearing very often to have another little session. I didn't go to watch as BB is still more relaxed when it's just Paul and him.

BB has been here 7 weeks. He is an Exmoor stallion - branded, semi-feral, and until he came to us, unhandleable and very frightened of humans.

Paul says "I did some work with him with a rope on the neck strap, (which BB had on overnight after it was put on yesterday) doing gentle pressure and release. Then I felt that I could try the headcollar. The fact that he allowed me to touch his forehead last night seemed promising. I put the noseband over his muzzle, took it off again, put it on again - he didn't mind. I still had the rope on the neck strap so if he backed away I could still do 'p and r' to get him back close. I used my left hand on the headpiece of the headcollar to put it up behind his ear and over his neck. He wasn't very keen, backed away and it fell off his nose twice but the 3rd time he accepted it. I feel as if he knew it was inevitable. He is worried about hands on top of his neck, on his crest. Anyway we go with whatever's offered and I have put headcollars on for the first time in many different ways and even inside out".

Paul has removed the headcollar for the night. Billy Boy still has the neck strap on.

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Tuesday, 15 December 2009

We're cautiously optimistic...

Great news today - Billy Boy is now wearing a neck strap. Paul has been working up to this very gradually, bunching it up in his hand whilst stroking him, and letting BB look at it and touch it. In the picture you can hardly see it - you might be able to see the buckle just under his throat.

Paul has been able to put the slightest pressure on the strap (with his hand) and encourage BB to yield to it. This is a very positive step on the way to a full headcollar and the first means of introducing BB to physical pressure instigated by his handler and the understanding of a yielding response to it. Because he was only using his hand on the strap Paul made no attempt to restrain BB if he backed away. He was also able, whilst holding it, to touch BBs face between his eyes.

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Monday, 14 December 2009

Frodo antics

Sorry, blog fans, didn't realise it had been so long since the last one. Still extra busy so that Paul doesn't aggravate his bad back and thankfully the weather has been good which makes it easier to pick the manure up out in the field.

I got over there this morning and saw that Frodo was down in the wood. Little monkey he is - we guessed it was him as we'd seen evidence on the other side of the electric fence. He pretty much takes no notice of it at this time of year; his coat is so thick he does a quick limbo and he's through. I called out to him to ask him what he thought he was doing but left him there while I worked away with bucket, trowel and barrow. Sometime later I saw him come back and pop through the fence to rejoin the others. It's a wonder they don't go too. We probably need another energiser on the fence or a new battery or something.

Paul has been able to resume his work with Billy Boy and Mousey. Mousey moves past us only a few inches away but it's because she knows we won't attempt to touch her while she does. Paul does a little contact work with her each day.

He was in the stable with BB yesterday, smoothing and scratching, he can do his nearside now. BB turned so that Paul could do his rump - Paul almost behind him at this point - something startled BB and he jumped away, bottom tucked in. Then he came back. Paul can stroke down his front legs now as well.

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Thursday, 10 December 2009

Thanks everyone

It's been a strange week with Paul out of action because of his back - it's getting better now. We are so grateful to our lovely volunteers who have put in extra hours to help with the ponies - poo picking, mucking out, picking up stuff from the feed merchants and even fetching bales of hay for us (and messing up your smart car Margaret in the process! )

It was busy this morning with everyone here but at coffee time it became apparent that there was a conspiracy to surprise me with a fantastic birthday cake! The cake decorations are getting more and more ambitious but Gill excelled herself with this one - our kitchen table and chairs in miniature, and on the table a phone, specs, my diary, pencil, flowers etc. and even the laptop showing a picture from our website, and our Rayburn with saucepan on the hob. All made of odds and ends and scraps. Oh, and the dog looking on. SO clever!! and the lemon cake is delicious. And guess what? Gill opens her oven to see how her cakes are getting on! She even changes the shelves! I thought that was an absolute no-no! Anyway I have written down her instructions to see if I can make one the same.

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Pannier Market - our stall

The fund raising at South Molton's Late Night Christmas Shopping went really well last Saturday evening. It's always well attended and we had a good position about halfway along the Pannier Market building. I had to come back home much earlier than expected to meet visitors but our volunteer ladies soon had the stall expertly and attractively set up as usual and they had a busy and profitable evening. Paul went along later with some friends to assist in the clearing up and then everyone came back for a cup of tea. Many thanks to the ladies, and all the friends.

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Tuesday, 8 December 2009


Last Sunday Billy Boy spotted Paul in the yard and came right up to him - looking at this picture it might seem strange that we still can't headcollar this very nervous Exmoor stallion yet. He asked for a back scratch and Paul obliged. As you can see in the lower picture Paul had his hand just over the top onto BB's bad side and was talking on the phone at the same time.

Paul has begun to introduce the headcollar by laying it on top of BB's feed bowl so that he has to put his nose in it or move it around to get the food.

We now have an unexpected and very annoying hold up in the rehabilitation of Billy Boy and Mousey as Paul has hurt his back. It just happens sometimes - this time whilst picking up manure. Hopefully, rest will bring it right. It is really hard going when one of us is incapacitated and the rain doesn't help - I have never known such a long spell of wet weather.

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Thursday, 3 December 2009

Fund raising

Well, we have been getting ready for our fund-raising stall in the Pannier Market at South Molton's Late Night Christmas Shopping tomorrow night. The ladies have made lots of marmalade and jam to sell and we have Gill's lovely greetings cards as well as a great Tombola which is usually really popular.

We'll take books too - people like to have a browse. It's a really good evening out as they have live music and dancing in the Square, stilt walkers, fairground rides,and a Craft Fair.

I've been out cutting bits of our twisted willow, red and yellow dogwood twigs and ivy trails all of which sell for decoration. Frodo spotted me coming through their field with the greenery and made a beeline for me, attracting the attention of the other 6 ponies and I had to jump up and down a bit so as not to be mugged for it.

It has been hailing on and off today and I took pity on Frodo and brought him in for the night. He gets pushed around a bit although Paul puts hay out in many piles to avoid squabbles.

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Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Both Billy Boy and Mousey have seemed to increase in confidence today. Mousey, seen by a weekly visitor who remarked that she didn't move away (as she would have done last week) when approached from outside the pen. I can stand very close to her as she moves from the stable to the pen but I know that if I attempted to touch her as she went past she would still panic.

Billy Boy (loose in the yard) actually approached one of our volunteers who was holding a piece of freshly-picked hogweed; I don't think it was intended for him but it was a good opportunity to confirm that humans will not hurt him. He took a piece and moved away.

Two new techniques with him since the last blog; Paul reaches over the stable door to get to BB's nearside - it works. Secondly, when it's time for him to come back in from the yard BB has a little feed waiting in his stable, today it was with a headcollar arranged on the bowl so that he can familiarise himself with it as he woofles about for the feed.

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Sunday, 29 November 2009


Billy Boy is getting more used to Paul's hand being on his nearside but it is still always with Paul standing on the offside. Paul has today used the plastic curry comb on him; BB was fine with it; it probably doesn't feel as if it would close on him as a hand might. He relaxed into the rhythmical movement of it and Paul did his chest, shoulders, neck, half way along BB's mane and along his back, both sides, as much as he could reach.

At one point BB made a mistake with his head, bringing it over to Paul's left so that for a moment he saw Paul on his nearside, but he (BB) quickly moved back. Didn't panic though.

I think it's 5 weeks tomorrow for this traumatised stallion but we now feel as if we are getting somewhere. He clearly enjoyed the grooming and is more careful about reciprocating, quite polite in fact. It's a bit odd doing all this when he can't be headcollared but you have to go with whatever is accepted.

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Friday, 27 November 2009

Itchy ponies

Billy Boy will now allow Paul to scratch his chest and the right side of his neck and withers whilst in the pen as well as in the stable. Always with Paul positioned in front of him or just to the right of BB's head. Today Paul even managed both hands at once, separated and scratching at the base of BB's neck. When this is happening BB has his head past Paul's right shoulder, top lip stuck out. He has realised that Paul has a use.

Paul says: "He comes to me now, to have it done. I'm trying to get on his other (left) side. I feel that once I get there we'll be able to move on".

At the moment as soon as BB feels a hand getting too far around his throat to his left, he backs up to remove the contact. Therefore, Paul is using an advance and retreat technique.
The aim is to get BB to trust Paul enough to allow him to put on a headcollar. It is quite likely that the only time he has had one on before it was forced on prior to his inspection and branding.

Today we put Frodo in the pen with Mousey. She was very pleased to see him and they immediately groomed each other vigorously. In fact she would hardly let him stop; he wanted to eat her hay but she positioned herself in front of it and demanded more grooming!

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Thursday, 26 November 2009

More rain

Frequent heavy showers today; it's turned cold too. All the ponies came in for a while which gives them a break from the weather and some handling practice.

Last week Gypsy Dan did not come in with the others - he found the gale force wind and some local vehicle noise too much to cope with. Today, between the showers it was calm by the field gate, which is the only place as yet where we can headcollar him, and he volunteered himself for catching even with another pony still out in the field - I think it might be the first time that's happened. So maybe he is still progressing, having been with us for 5 years now.

They all had a small feed and some hay; Dan was wormed as he missed out last week. We have seen very few worms this time and I have a suspicion that they were all wormed naturally by the excessive and varied herbage that they went onto a couple of weeks ago as we had found a couple of (dead) roundworm since then.

I cut about 8" off the end of Bobby's tail - it was trailing on the ground all mud-draggled and he won't need it now 'til the summer.

Frodo is staying in tonight. He gets a lot of chivvying about because he is bottom of the pecking order so I thought he should have a rest from it.

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Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Coming out

After spending 4 weeks in his pen and stable, we let Billy Boy out today. The yard is secure but we added a tape above the main gate and waited until we had volunteers here, just in case.

As always little Frodo was chosen as companion; he and BB have shared hay and have previously been able to reach each other's necks so we hoped there wouldn't be any fighting.

Frodo is so non-confrontational with other horses and is completely confident with us. He knows where the sedge grows and immediately went to eat it. In the picture, Billy Boy is just having a look to see what Frodo has got, and immediately put his ears back a little. Frodo respectfully moved down the border to browse on something else. They were only out about 20 minutes.

To get him back Paul led Frodo into an adjacent stable; BB followed, and us volunteers closed him down gently into his own stable where a small feed was waiting.

In the stable Paul can scratch/stroke/rub BB's chest, shoulders and neck. BB is a strong and sturdy Exmoor stallion and actually comes disconcertingly close for this. Paul is reluctant to send him back - it is a very fine line to draw when you are trying to encourage a frightened pony towards you.

BB doesn't trust Paul yet but he more than tolerates him. We are somewhat depressed at the slow progress - however, he couldn't be touched or even approached 4 weeks ago.

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Saturday, 21 November 2009

Mutilating procedures

I just need to point out that although the emotive issue is 'hot branding' we would include ear cutting and ear tagging as practices that we want to see banned.

The hot branding of agricultural animals is already banned in the UK.

The British Equine Veterinary Association, the British Veterinary Association and the Federation of Veterinarians in Europe are unanimous in their condemnation of hot branding and say it is 'unacceptable'.

Most certainly the worst cases appear to be Exmoor semi-feral foals who often suffer inappropriate handling immediately prior to, and during, the application of at least 3 hot brands.
(see link below)

Microchipping is now compulsory (as from July 2009) and we know that this could be achieved for semi-feral foals with a minimum of human contact OR by prior sympathetic handling.

It is really encouraging that people are beginning to think about and question WHY branding happens. We continually hear that the branding is for the welfare of the ponies but in reality we see it causing welfare issues, not resolving them. We’ve heard all the reasons why but the arguments just don’t stand up in practice or theory – branding isn’t necessary for any Exmoor ponies – whether they are semi-feral (“wild”) or domesticated. It’s become a tradition for breeders on Exmoor and it’s great that in other parts of the country, people are questioning that tradition and seeing that micro-chipping alone is an effective means of identification.

If you own ponies – wild or domesticated, you are expected to be responsible for their welfare. In our work over the last 7 years we have had to develop ways to work with and rehabilitate semi feral ponies…including branded, registered Exmoor ponies and many ear-cut ponies. We have two ponies here at the moment who cannot yet be handled…they are typical of many of the other ponies we have helped - they have been so frightened by their experiences of people that we have to put a lot of care and attention into rehabilitating them. It’s really frustrating - what these ponies have been through is completely unnecessary. The problem doesn’t go away for them, or us, with the passing of October.

If anyone would like to come and see what it's all about they are very welcome to visit us. Pleaase contact us via the comments link below or from our website.

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Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Touching Billy Boy

This is the first picture of Paul touching Billy Boy. I was worried about attempting to take one as Billy doesn't cope easily yet with extra people in the vicinity of his stable when Paul is working with him. There is an inevitable 'beep' from the camera but I was able to position myself so as to shield Billy's eyes from the flash.

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Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Handling semi feral "wild" ponies

BBC footage from 00.00/2.22 secs
EPS pony handling - this foal is clearly distressed and even screams as it is pushed over and hoisted up by its tail to be pinned against the barrier.

Our alternative - this is our semi feral pony Misty having her routine check up. She never goes anywhere near people out on the reserve but because of our methods, she can be checked over and have her feet trimmed, all with the least possible stress to her.
The above pictures clearly demonstrate the advantages of sympathetic handling for 'wild' ponies.
Dr. Bill Wilson MSP is tackling the hot branding issue in Scotland. Last week in Parliament he raised the issue of the hot branding of Exmoor ponies and is hopeful that the practice will be banned, in Scotland at least.
The handling is an equally important issue which also needs addressing.

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Monday, 16 November 2009

Gypsy Dan

Since I just mentioned Gypsy Dan I thought you might like to see a very recent picture of him having his feet trimmed. Five years ago Dan was as frightened of us as Billy Boy is now, but he can now cope with this routine stuff as long as we are quiet and careful. Dan would never approach anyone out in the field he is still much too wary for that. He is now on our sponsorship list as a pony who is unlikely to find a home because he will never be confident enough to be a ridden or driven.

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Billy Boy again

Billy has today coped with Paul's attentions whilst I was mucking out in the adjacent stable. I was trying not to make sudden noises. Paul stroked BB's face and rubbed his chest. This is really good progress.

Later they did another session. BB seemed very settled to the stroking at a particular position in the stable - across the back corner. We see this sort of thing a lot with previously traumatised ponies where they become comfortable with a manoeuvre as long as it is performed as a sort of ritual where they feel comfortable, for instance we can only headcollar Gypsy Dan just inside the field gate on the right!

Paul moved back towards the door and BB, responding as to advance and retreat, stepped towards him. As Paul turned to face him BB suddenly semed anxious - his ears flattened and his head went up, with a confrontational posture towards Paul who instinctively raised his arms. BB retreated to his comfort zone and the session continued as before. Ending on a positive note as always Paul realised that he had forgotten to remove Billy's haynet prior to working with him. It hangs just inside the door so BB, suddenly finding himself next to it, may well have been protecting his food.

Or maybe not! who knows? We're always theorising about things....

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Successful commenting!

Thanks for the message Anne! - you'll have to email us please - see our website.

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Sunday, 15 November 2009

Silly Billy

We came into the yard today to find that Billy had got himself stuck in the narrow part of his pen. He had been scratching his bottom on the window ledge and had inadvertently put his nose through the wire opposite at the same time, and since he is slightly longer than the gap is wide, he couldn't figure out how to get out again. Paul was approaching to help him but that was enough to give Billy the impetus to throw his head up a little and out he came with a bit of a clang.

It didn't seem to adversely affect the work with him He can't accept Paul's hand on him in the pen yet but he was good again in the stable, and enjoyed having his chest rubbed.

I have now discovered that if you 'comment' and want to put a name but not a URL you have to sometimes ignore the 'can't do it message' and tell it to post again.

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I know people have been trying to 'comment' and it is easier now - I've been practising and have inadvertantly left a nonsensical comment! You can be 'anonymous' if you wish or put any name for yourself by choosing 'name/URL'.

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Saturday, 14 November 2009

A breakthrough with Billy Boy

Well we did the poo picking (2 days x 7 ponies) - the wind was so strong that it caught me a couple of times - made me laugh actually! then came driving and stinging rain; I was thinking how many other people would have been out doing the same thing. The ponies had a good old run round with the wind under their tails.

Paul was in with Billy Boy, in the stable, just before dusk. The wind had dropped and it was quiet - I was there but BB was too aware of that so I made myself scarce. All the best bits happen when I'm not looking! Paul was sitting on the stool doing carrots when I left. He then decided to have a go with the hand stick with carrot wedged between the fingers, which BB took, being used to this from the real hand. Then Paul used the long cane to touch him, and that was OK and even liked (BB is pretty itchy at the moment.) Although they were in a relatively small space BB made no attempt to bite, threaten or swing his rump round. Back to the hand stick and the usual method of gradually inching one's hand along it until one is touching the pony, and continuing the rythymic scratching all the time. Billy Boy clearly enjoyed it and tried to reciprocate on the hayrack, being still too frightened to turn his head onto Paul.

Paul was elated to have made proper and accepted contact; just hope we can continue to make progress.

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Friday, 13 November 2009

Wild weather

We didn't manage to get the manure picked up today before it rained and then we had to go out and then had visitors so there will be two days worth tomorrow.
The wind is now up to gale force, howling in the chimney and gusting so hard that the door blows open if it's not bolted.
The 5 ponies in the big field will be glad of their new bit and are probably all at the sheltered bottom end next to the wood. The little paddock is pretty miserable in bad weather so Frodo and Rocky are in for the night and settled down now with their hay.
Paul worked with Billy Boy in the stable - a smaller space than the pen so correspondingly more dangerous if BB should feel trapped. Anyway they did the carrots with both hands at once and the scratching under the chin, all OK.

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Thursday, 12 November 2009

Mousey - a little setback

One of our volunteers told me that she had tried, whilst offering beech leaves through the pen wire, to get the dock stalk out of Mousey's forelock (I must say my heart sank at this point) and that Mousey had jumped back. It was so innocently and helpfully meant, but I knew that this would be a setback.
About ten minutes later Paul went in to work with Mousey, unaware of what had happened. He offered her a twig of beech leaves but she ignored him. After a minute or two he was saying 'that's funny she was alright last night'. We then told him what had happened. Paul switched offerings to hogweed, which Mousey took very cautiously, neck outstretched. Then he did some neck stroking, which was OK. He could get to the back edge of her cheek, and her throat.

We talked about it over coffee - it is a hard lesson for someone who is so dedicated to doing her best for these ponies, but what a good thing that our volunteers tell us what's happening so that we can work out reasons for what we see.

Mousey saw the twig of leaves, and the human hand, and felt the snag as the dock was touched all simultaneously, and she associates it immediately with touches long ago and grabs, restraint and the cutting of her ears.

Paul said it's the trust thing; you are on a knife edge all the time; you have to work so hard for everything you get. We are trying to confirm to Mousey that we will never hurt her.
The temptation to touch a frightened pony can be quite strong if it is just the other side of a pen or stable door, and within reach. Never be tempted!

On the Billy Boy front, during the sessions today Paul worked up to scratching under his chin (BB's, I mean!)

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Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Billy Boy - slight progress - and Mousey

Yesterday Paul sat in Billy Boy's pen, offering him carrots. Little bits, so that he would have to nuzzle at Paul's hand to get it. When the carrots had all gone, Paul continued to sit there.

Billy Boy was clearly irritated that there was suddenly nothing in the hand. He reached forward and looked several times, with ears back a little on approach (not too seriously) and then went to walk past Paul who immediately blocked him with a raised hand. BB tried this again, and again he was blocked. He then accepted the situation, backed off, licked and chewed a bit and settled to wait - I felt that his demeanor had changed. Paul waited a minute and then came out. It was definitely a session playing 'mind games' and we felt that it was positive.
Today, Paul did the carrots again, two handed, and was able to stroke the side of BB's muzzle briefly as he took them.
Mousey went out on the 'lawn' today. She came in with her forelock decorated with dead dock stalks - goodness knows when we'll be able to get them out. Also, she has discovered a good scratching place on the low branches of the apple tree so there is now a patch of churned up mud beneath it where she has been swaying backwards and forwards.
She now copes with touching the hand that offers food without panicking.

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Monday, 9 November 2009

High jinks on the new grass

We gave Frodo a couple of hours in the 'new' field yesterday. He has been confined to the little paddock for a couple of years because it seems to be the only place he can't escape from. The ponies all know each other from chatting over the fence, but there has to be a real good run round and a sort out of the pecking order once they're in together. Frodo wasn't too bothered by the chase and Muddy's attempts to send him away, and he got his own back with several thuds on Muddy's chest before going. They all settled down (interestingly) into pairs, now that there were 6 - Frodo with Jeremy, Muddy and Basil, and older boys Bobby and Dan together.
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Saturday, 7 November 2009


Our rescue hamster visited the kitchen table recently (whatever next!) and I took this really sweet picture after we gave him half a digestive biscuit. Had to share it with the blog fans.....

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Pastures new

A better day weatherwise with some warm sunny spells between the showers. We decided to move the electric fence to give the 5 ponies in the big field all the pasture that has been denied them since April. Paul has gradually accustomed them to it over the past fortnight by moving the fence a few inches every day.

It is a wonderful mixture of grasses and herbs and we arranged the new fenceline in such a way as to enclose some scrubby willow and oak for scratching or browsing on. First of all we had to move the ponies into the little paddock - Paul tempted them in with some hay. All except Bobby - he only came out of there a week ago and is well aware that it is a 'starvation' paddock and not worth revisiting! So he stayed out, unaware that we had all the outside fence down, and moved over to graze the new bit.

We had to join some tape up to get enough for two lines all round. Vikki and Sam went up to let the ponies back in (they had been watching us carefully). They came out of the gate so fast! Muddy in the lead, closely followed by Jeremy, with Basil and Dan behind. It was a flat out gallop to the new grass with a slight pause at the point where the fence had been, just to check.

It will be difficult to find the manure now and to pick it up out of the long grass. However we probably won't need to feed hay in there for some time yet, maybe not until after Christmas.
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Friday, 6 November 2009

More Billy and Mousey

Paul sat under the shelter today (steady rain) with tempting greenery held for Billy Boy in such a way that he would have to get touched on the side of his muzzle or under his chin as he took it. BB had taken some bits as normal but suddenly as he leaned in to get more he lunged forward, ears back, teeth bared. Paul raised one hand from his sitting position, fingers spread - BB backed off. It happened again, just the same, a moment later. But after that things returned to 'normal' and the session was finished, as always, on a positive note.

It's quite depressing and neither of us can imagine at the moment that it might be possible to approach Billy Boy and headcollar him. There's no quick fix for this - Billy Boy is expecting us to hurt him and we have to prove to him that we won't. It is not necessary for him to be like this; it's caused by ignorance; if a pony like this has a problem requiring veterinary assistance the chances are that it will simply be shot. It's lucky for Billy that he is now owned by someone who understands this issue - we hope we can help him for them.

Mousey is more accepting of a hand scratching under her throat and will brush her muzzle against our fingers now without panicking. Also she's not so bothered about people near her left hand side. So, small steps.

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Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Wet ponies

Billy Boy and Mousey have both done well today. We had frequent heavy showers so they were confined to pen and stable. Neither of them are handleable yet so they can't go out in either paddock - Mousey usually spends some time on our lawn but it just couldn't have coped with her today. Because we had more people here today what with volunteers and visitors both ponies had a lot of attention and Billy Boy became quite blase (I tried to put an accent on the e and it wouldn't let me!!) about people walking past him, hands coming in with leaves and all the other 7 ponies coming into the yard.
Talking of which, they were so desperate to come in (because of the rain) and Jeremy couldn't decide whether to eat his lunch first or have a roll, and he went to take a mouthful of lunch and changed his mind, rolled quickly on the tarmac, remembered about the food, took a mouthful, rolled again and this went on for about 6 rolls, all accomplished on the lead and interspersed with nibbles and a great deal of tail swishing - don't worry he didn't have colic! just a very wet back.

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Mousey's ears

Mousey is now taking food from our hands whilst we are close to her, inside the stable. We are gradually introducing contact with her muzzle by having part of the offering hand in the way of the food, which is a variety of relished greenery - sedge, grass, dandelion, hazel, hogweed, ash leaves etc.

She has to become used to two hands at her head and we should be able to work up to this as well using the same method.

You may be able to see her poor ears in this picture. The right ear has had the top cut off and the left one has a plastic tag in it. Undoubtedly
this, and the handling she experienced at the time of the procedure, is the cause of her fear.
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Monday, 2 November 2009

Billy has been testing the boundaries today. He tried a little rear-end threat on Paul and got a 'send away' in return - (have to be very careful with dominating body language on frightened ponies because you can overdo it and frighten them too much at this early stage) - then later he tried a head bite on a volunteer who was allowing him a sniff of her hat. She sent him back too. Both times he came back more mannerly.
Paul sat in the pen with a loosely-held handful of grass. Billy had a think about it, then stretched to take some. He progressed to daring to pull at it when it was held more tightly. He also had a good sniff at Paul's head, and tested it with his teeth. Like they do to each other; not an agressive bite.
We are trying to build Billy's confidence but there must be boundaries. He's a stallion, and his experiences of humans in the past have not been good as he has been through the inspection and branding process.

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Sunday, 1 November 2009

Billy, Mousey and Frodo

We used the new pen for Mousey this morning while I mucked her out. She was quite comfortable in it, in fact she seems more relaxed than a week ago. Paul says she is not being disgusted anymore when he holds out his hand for her to sniff!

Billy Boy and Frodo ate hay from the same net, and had a bit of a chat and a nibble at each other. No squealing or snapping. In the picture, Billy is dithering about coming to the haynet; Frodo is already there and calmly eating, despite the presence of the 'dreaded human'. To Billy, it feels safer in the pen space outside. Anyway he did come - he watched me stroking Frodo's mane - this will not mean we are allowed to touch his! but he will be positively affected by Frodo's calm energy; Frodo is completely comfortable in his surroundings and with us. A little breakthrough - Billy took leaves from Paul with him INSIDE the stable.

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Saturday, 31 October 2009

...a bit more room for Billy Boy

Looks as if Billy Boy might be a long job so we have made him a pen to come out to. He was a bit jumpy at first but settled down to eat hay. He also took grass and dogwood leaves through the wire from one of our young volunteers who appeared only about 2' high to Billy as she was sitting on the ground.

This pen will help to accustom him to all the sights and sounds of the yard. I also hope to put a companion in with him and will introduce Frodo through the bars tomorrow. It will be interesting to see Frodo's reaction; he is 7, but a very small gelding - 10.1hh. and lowest in our pecking order, whereas Billy is a 12.2 hh stallion. If that works I think Billy will draw some confidence from him.

Thursday, 29 October 2009

A really busy day with everybody, it seems, wanting to talk to us. We took Frodo out in his new red cart; only just up the road but he was very good and nearly crossed his feet properly when we turned round to come back.

Jeremy took matters into his own hooves and managed to get into the grass beyond the electric fence; don't know if he's jumping or limbo-ing.

Billy Boy has a strong aversion to men; we've seen it before but it's really obvious with him and it puts Paul at such a disadvantage as he is the first contact for a rehab case like this. He padded up today, just in case, when he went in to work with him. Billy will take some sedge leaves or hazel from us, only offered over the door, but not from Paul! It's very sad. Normally offering food is not part of the process but it can't hurt.

It just brings it home to us what a serious situation it would be for Billy Boy if he was out on the moor and needed medical attention.

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Hot Branding

We now know that the reason for the BBC not showing previous video footage of a branding session was because it was considered unacceptable for breakfast viewing.

I have been interviewed today along with Rex Milton, President of the Exmoor Pony Society, and that interview is being shown today on the BBC News channel.

One never gets a chance to say all that one wants to, but it is keeping the issue current.

Hot Branding

We've just watched the BBC Breakfast programme and are very disappointed with the report. We actually covered all the arguments about hot branding, had an emotionally damaged branded Exmoor stallion here who was filmed; we did not describe ourselves as an animal rights group and we suggested ways forward for the moorland ponies and their handlers.

The BBC Spotlight piece that was recorded last week is still available online and gives more evidence of a branding session. See link below or copy and paste the link into your web browser.

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Billy Boy

This is a picture of our newest rehab. project, Billy Boy. He's an Exmoor stallion, and is very scared of people. A lovely looking chap though. He is already responding to advance and retreat methods.

BBC Breakfast TV

There will be more on the hot branding issue on BBC Breakfast television, probably tomorrow morning. We have been interviewed again. I think it will be one of those items that they repeat at intervals during the programme.

Conservation Grazing

I thought I would copy this piece to the blogger as it might be of interest. It's about two of our 'conservation grazing' ponies.

Misty and Star have been doing a really good job conservation grazing for the Devon Wildlife Trust. The ponies are visually checked daily by a DWT warden. These two little Exmoor cross mares are semi wild – they have done basic and limited handling so they can be headcollared to have any general maintenance done (using our particular methods) but so that they would not willingly come up to anyone – the trauma of ear notching means that they are much too wary of people to volunteer themselves for any kind of interaction.

In December 2008 it was time for the girls to have their six monthly check up – to have their feet trimmed and a general check over to decide if they are still OK to stay on the site. As usual for these occasions, a band of volunteers came to help drift the ponies in to be checked. The key to getting a successful outcome to these occasions is preparation! On site, the first step was to create a safe enclosure for the ponies to be drifted into. Some round pen panels make a simple mobile handling unit. The access to the site is via an old banked track which makes a perfect channel for the ponies to move along and we decided that a 5 bar gate that had been installed along this lane would be the perfect location for the enclosure as it could form one side of it. A gate of panels was set up and left open for the ponies to go into the pen but arranged so it was easy to close when the time was right. Another DWT warden was there to help with the drifting (round up) as well as the DWT “lookerer” who was hoping to get to see the ponies at much closer quarters than usual.

The drifting was quite a simple process – the route from the conservation site to the pen is walked and people are placed at vulnerable spots – places where the ponies might move in the wrong direction – this might be footpaths leading off somewhere else or large gaps in woodland. The idea isn’t to scare the ponies to keep them out of the spots – just having someone standing in a spot is enough to make them not go there. When the route is secure, part of the volunteer party enters the site and, at a distance, moves slowly but steadily behind the ponies, moving them in the right direction. Walking towards them at a distance is enough to move them forward – there is no shouting or arm waving or dramatic effects. It didn’t take long at all to drift the ponies once everything was set up – perhaps 10 or 15 minutes. The girls trotted out of the site and along the banked track. Cilla had decided to be in front of them, walking towards where they needed to go, but with her back turned so as not to be confrontational. Star and Misty followed Cilla up the track and into the pen - Cilla having by then climbed out over the 5 bar gate to stop any unsuspecting walkers who might be on their way down, and to just make sure the girls didn’t consider jumping out. This really shouldn’t happen (because everything should be calm) but in case of unforeseen circumstances, we didn’t want the girls heading off towards the road. Once the girls had passed the vulnerable spots along the access path, the people blocking routes steadily walked behind the girls at a distance just to block the way back. Everything is judged carefully so that the ponies are given time to be calm and to consider where they are but by having people blocking routes it helps the ponies make the right decisions on where to be. When everything was right, the gates for the enclosure were gently pulled across the path.

After allowing the girls a little time to settle, Paul and another volunteer went in and quietly headcollared the ponies. Misty and Star were in really good condition – well covered to go into the winter but not too fat. You’d almost think they had been brushed for the occasion. The girls had lots of burrs caught in their manes and so the handlers spent some time de-burring them, then Paul tended to their feet – only a tidy up was required. Both DWT wardens were absolutely amazed that all of this was possible. They admitted to us that they thought we would be spending all day trying to round up these ponies and they expected us to lose them in the woodland!! As they had never managed to get anywhere near the ponies and having never seen these methods in action before, they had thought that headcollaring, stroking and hoof rasping, all in a calm manner, would be impossible. They found the whole thing amazing and asked lots of questions. The “lookerer” even went in with the girls and was able to stroke them for the first time – something she never thought she would be able to do.

After all the checks, the girls were led back down to their site and released from their headcollars. All that was left was to dismantle the enclosure. That should be it for another six months; they’ll have another check in the summer.

Monday, 26 October 2009

The little bird died overnight. Last night it seemed fine - flying round the room. I had given it some fresh flies and it picked them up, pulled off the wings and ate them. I thought we'd saved it. Wish I'd let it out last night now. Oh well.

Mousey was reluctant to go to the lawn paddock today but Paul fetched Frodo and she was happy to follow him. Frodo comes back to call and Mousey comes too. The picture shows her following Paul out in the morning, when she's feeling co-operative.
She now has Boy in the stable next to her. He's come for handling practice but he's pretty scared of people.

Sunday, 25 October 2009

I came in after mucking out this morning and found a blue tit stuck to the fly paper in the kitchen. It had one wing totally stuck and was going mad. We managed to peel it off and tried to remove the sticky, first with surgical spirit (no good) and then with white spirit, which was working but the poor little thing was dying, whether from stress or fumes we don't know. It keeled over and I left it in the sun outside. All the years we've used fly papers, never had such a thing happen before. Maybe because it's late in the year it came in and saw a few flies handy...

Anyway, an hour later, Kayleigh came to tell me it was still alive! So we gave it some extra warmth with a hot water bottle under some towels and kept an eye on it. Another hour and it was on its feet! We gave it yet another hour to regain strength, and then carefully washed its wings with washing up liquid to remove the oil, which we could still smell. It has lost a few tail feathers. So, at the moment, it is resting in the laundry basket by the Rayburn, and has my mesh food cover over to prevent escape.

Saturday, 24 October 2009

For those who don't know, Mousey has come to us for rehabilitation; hopefully to make her less fearful and ideally so she is able to be headcollared, groomed, led about, have her feet seen to etc. - in short, so she is more user-friendly! She may then be able to be re-homed.

She will have been here 3 weeks on Tuesday.

Friday, 23 October 2009

23rd October

Been a bit busy the last couple of days but Mousey has been going out as usual to her lawn paddock. She follows Paul now and doesn't need anyone behind her. Still needs a little remote pressure from behind to get her back though, and given half a chance she makes her way into the garden as if to say 'I could stay in here...'

In the stable she will accept Paul approaching her shoulder now and doesn't present her rump - although when she did, it was totally non-threatening and just that she preferred the touching to begin there. We are some way off headcollaring. She can tolerate a hand within about 4" of her muzzle when she is eating - we are getting nearer, although I think Paul's 'advance and retreat' technique up her neck is the most likely thing to work.