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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