Two different equines

One thing that became very clear to me last winter was that Ben and Cloud do not co-exist ideally on my track system. Cloud’s rate of eating impacts on Ben. Ben’s slower rate, punctuated by rests, does not fit with Cloud’s non-stop and rapid eating. The result has been that Cloud became overweight (far too overweight) and Ben became underweight and looked bad. His coat looked dull, his bones showed and for the first time he looked old.

Having the use of the field this summer reversed this for Ben. Ben’s coat gleamed, his top-line improved (I was also riding most days which I am sure helped) and he gained weight. Cloud’s weight held until the second half of August, when increased grass growth told its tale and he became very round again.

Since coming back, my ad lib experiment has not worked. I have abandoned it a couple of weeks ago. Cloud also got mild laminitis due to the flush of Autumn growth and I have had to face the obvious: they are two different animals and need to be treated as such.

I do not understand this insistence some proponents of track system/paddock paradise have for ad lib feeding. The most I have been able to stretch this for Cloud has been three weeks. I was told (on the facebook paddock paradise group) that it can take six months for a horse to self-regulate. How can this be right? How can this be the right thing to do to a pony like Cloud? I certainly have not been prepared to take this risk.

Feeding ad lib hay worked for Ben and Rosie. Ben set the pace of eating and resting. He may have looked a bit too well-covered but I was not worried for his health. Now Cloud sets the pace.

I do not know Cloud’s breeding, but that he is a native type is obvious, in both character and make-up. He responds so very differently to Ben, for instance, when it comes to loading. Ben, you could say, is more “trainable”. For Cloud, it was clear that he was prepared to resist in every possible manner and a different way to reach him had to be found. I have found Hempfling’s writing on “The Origin” very helpful in helping me understand Cloud. And as regards his make-up, well I wonder about insulin resistance, I wonder also whether he could be leptin resistant which (if I understand correctly) would make him unable to self-regulate. And even if neither of these apply (the test for IR resistance is very expensive so I am holding off for now) I cannot see how a native type, whose ancestors lived on sparse forage over rough ground, could thrive on ad lib forage 24/7.

This morning, I let Ben into grass and spread Cloud’s hay around the track so that he circled Ben moving from small pile to small pile again and again as he foraged for the last remaining wisps. I am still working it out. I have been reluctant to abandon my system which worked so well for Ben and Rosie, where both could share everything day and night. But my big realisation has been that they are two quite different equines and I have to treat them as such. “Keeping it natural” is not quite so easy for this pair.



Filed under ad lib hay experiment, health, track system

A pony and a trailer

This summer daughter made full use of the field and how Cloud woke up! It was a joy to see him switch on to jumping and change from a reluctant, can I run out approach to an easy, rhythmical jumper with a wide awake look on his face. It is as if he realised that he is no longer being kicked around a riding school by a variety of riders but ridden by his girl with joy, energy and enthusiasm and those same qualities seemed to awake in him.

So next inevitable step – pony club. Now daughter is not competitive and we both agree that a competitive agenda would not suit Cloud. (Does it suit any horse?) But daughter wants pony companions of her age and they are to be found in the local pony club on a Friday night. And Cloud could certainly do with the exercise. To get there means Cloud going into the dreaded trailer.

I spent time – quite a lot of time – last winter getting Cloud used to the trailer because I guess that it is associated for him with many painful separations. And I succeeded, to a point. Between us we could persuade him into the trailer. The day we bought Cloud, he hated going into the trailer, leaving his companions. And who knows what pain many separations have had for Cloud, this pony from Lithuania, by way of England (three moves there), to a small riding school in Ireland, to us?

First pony club night was last Friday night and Cloud entered the trailer with the help of a carrot. Once in he usually travels well but this time he didn’t and arrived having sweated quite heavily and not touched his haynet. In the class he was lame and so left shortly after it began. The instructor thought it was his shoulder. Maybe he had injured it travelling? (He is walking well again now but on Wednesday a Masterson Method practitioner is coming to give him a treatment.)

Cloud would not enter the trailer to go home. He pulled away from us, three times, to charge to a couple of girls on their ponies in the large, flood lit car park. Result, one small girl in tears, one mortified daughter, one panicked pony and one very helpless me. I had to enlist the help of two Dads because I was not strong enough to hold poor Cloud. They, thankfully, were tactful with him and, using a rope behind him, he was basically pushed into the trailer.

What I think happened was that Cloud, for some reason, panicked while travelling. Once arrived, he settled into the class very quickly. He is used to being in a class of ponies and this must have felt like his herd and he must have felt safe. Due to being lame, he had to leave this new found herd and come into the shadowy, flood lit car park. No wonder he panicked and ran to what ponies he could see.

But I have never felt so helpless. Quite clearly, under stress, he had no strong connection with me. He is also one very strong pony.

So I have spent the last two days practising loading with Cloud. If he cannot do it very easily at home, he will never do it away. The first day he was clearly very stressed but finally, after about two hours, he made a kind of panic bound into the trailer, where he was praised, fed and backed out again. I asked him to do this twice more. He did so, but he was clearly not happy about it. He was difficult. He could stand, seemingly quietly, and suddenly choose to pull strongly away. I was using a lunge rope so he learnt that he could not succeed in getting fully away. But I was not happy with this approach. It felt that he was coming in because he was compelled to do so and that did not sit well with me. Yet, I was quite determined that he needed to learn to load into the trailer. At the end of this day I felt nearly as helpless as I had on Friday night.

So I tried again the following day. He seemed far less stressed. He stood at the bottom of the ramp and seemed to clearly want to go in, but be unable to. It was quiet, with a low, grey sky and a Sunday afternoon stillness all around. I felt quiet and I felt his willingness, but nothing I could do would bring him further than putting his two front feet on the ramp. If I upped the pressure, he retreated. He did not respond to me whether I walked beside him, drove him from behind or went in front.

Time passed. I felt exasperation rise. I went up to him and, my mind occupied with thoughts of exasperation and helplessness, I took his head in my hands. Not knowing what I was doing, I found myself lowering his head into me. He sunk his head into my chest. I held it there in a hug. He sunk it lower into my belly and stayed there. I felt deep sadness.   ‘Why Cloud, are you crying?’ I do not know what passed between us but something very profound seemed to take place. Then I said, ‘Come on, let’s do it together.’ And, with a loose lead rope, I ran up the ramp and he trotted up beside me to be fed treats, praised and backed down again. And we repeated this, a run up the ramp, Cloud matching my energy, all signs of stress gone, again and again. I called daughter out and she ran up with him. One time, he went to back out and she asked him to come forward again and he did.

We will do this again, and again.  We will make short journeys, and then longer ones.  I think we’re on our way.

I do not really know quite how Cloud released his stress. My mind strives to grasp what happened so that I can do it again. But it did not happen at the level of my conscious mind. It happened, maybe, in that field of which Rumi speaks. It certainly had nothing to do with technique.

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing there is a field. I will meet you there.

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Keep it simple

I blame You Tube. There are so many attractive videos out there – dancing with horses, playing with horses, riding horses bareback and so on. And I wish – and in those wishes I wish for a different horse to Ben. Because Ben tells me to ‘keep it simple. Find me a well-fitting saddle and take me on long rides. And if you want to add in a jump or two I’ll do that too. Just stop making things complicated.’

Saddle fit reared its ugly head again. I had doubts over my lovely Stubben in terms of giving Ben sufficient freedom of shoulder movement. So I researched and trialled a saddle made by a company that specialises in native ponies and cobs and found one that fits well and has a much straighter cut.

Here is the field we had use of for July and August. Ben and Cloud shared it with some calves and, for a few days, some sheep and it is almost too well grazed but I was glad of it, as was daughter, who dragged in jump poles and thought I should jump too.




Ben liked to see me in the field and would leave his grazing to come up to me and walk with me, his head at my shoulder, all round the field.  Sometimes I would stop or change direction or weave complicated patterns and he would stick with me, head at my shoulder all the time.  That was our version of dancing together.  And it was good.

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Hedgerow time of year

The other morning I created a track within a track. The part of the track that runs up the steep hill on the west side is separated from the grass by a thick hedge of mainly hawthorn, brambles and wild rose. September’s harvest is looking particularly bountiful on the grass side of this hedge.


So I created a temporary lane from one opening of the track to another running along this hedge. I kept the top and bottom parts wider.


There is some grass and far too many buttercups. They seemed to proliferate after our long wet winter last year. Ben came when I called. He knew I was doing something interesting. Cloud was more suspicious. But in they came and cropped the grass. It will be a while before they get to the hedgerow. But the grass is sparse. This part of our paddock is my favourite part – an oak and a hazel tree grow there amongst a scattering of hawthorn and ash. The ground drains well and limestone is close beneath the surface.


I lingered to watch. They moved up and down, the narrow lane pushing them forward and the wider parts allowing Ben room to move around Cloud and come back down. It is a short strip but there was more movement along it than there would be if they had the whole paddock and more movement than on the main track.  No matter how I distribute it, they do not move in the same way for hay.  Hay just does not generate the same excitement. I wonder does it taste much more uniform. On a grass track their seems to be a regular impetus to try the next spot, maybe it will be juicier or sweeter or – some other adjective beyond my imagination, not being a grass eater.


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Filed under a year in the life, track system

This ad lib hay experiment

Hmm. I have to hold my nerve: fat pony, rapidly vanishing hay; very rapidly vanishing hay. Cloud has not been able to get into the haybarn since and they are eating from all the haynets. There is only a very little left in a couple of nets after 24 hours. My idea is to put out 24 hours worth of hay at a time. I may need more hay stations.

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Back home

Ben and Cloud are back home and I have reorganised the track. I have widened one corner and made more feeding stations:

one big haynet under the trees:


three haynets attached to this tree in the next corner (widened):


a haynet at the top of the track:


and two here near the arena where they have often been before:


I am going to experiment with providing ad lib hay and see if Cloud will start to regulate his intake. Today however, they ate hay only from the two familiar areas and then broke through the electric tape in front of the hay barn creating their own feeding station:


Cloud looked rather round. I must say, when I came home from work today and saw Cloud’s belly, I had to steel my resolve to try this ad lib experiment. I wonder how long it will take him to eat less – or will he ever? He is a pony after all.

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Full moon

Nothing gets a pony excited like food! When Cloud first came to us I was very grateful for all I had learned from Carolyn Resnick about rituals around food. He understood straight away and that made feeding times easy.

The evening after Ben and Cloud went into the field daughter and I visited to find the farmer and his son with a scoop of nuts trying to feed their calves. They were surrounded by two very excited ponies who alternated between charging the calves and crowding the farmer. We had to laugh; how well they drove off those calves – and how differently. Cloud would charge at a calf, head snaking, whole body twisting and follow that calf even after it retreated. Ben’s body language seemed more menacing as he charged the calf, head low, but then he would stop as soon as the calf had got the message. Daughter and I were able to go in there, lift our hands and both Ben and Cloud stopped and gave the farmer space. (He could not feed the calves though. We would have to have removed Ben and Cloud for that to happen.)

Yesterday evening I walked down the lane at dusk, a bucket in each hand. The lane is quite sunken and I could hear Cloud above me trotting vigorously on the other side of the hedge towards the gate. Once I was inside with the bucket he danced around, snaking his head at Ben, tossing his head at me, crowding me and, when I told him to stand, turning his back towards me. His energy was up and Carolyn Resnick rituals seemed a long way away.

So I put the bucket down, took off my jacket and defined my space. I swirled the jacket in a figure of eight in front of me, hitting it off the ground, giving myself a wide semi-circle and I repeated this again and again and again until Cloud’s dancing confined itself to outside this space. I moved back to reach the buckets and Cloud danced forward again, so I started again. I felt grounded, in rhythm, almost dancing myself as I moved my boundaries out and claimed my space. Finally Cloud responded to my hand signal and I could get the buckets and allow them their feed. And Ben? He had stood calmly outside all of this waiting for his bucket, seemingly not affected by Cloud’s energy at all.

As they ate I strode off down the field. How alive I felt, walking it seemed into the full moon that was clear now with the light of the day almost gone. When I stopped all my senses seemed switched on and I could hear, not just birds, breeze and distant traffic but, it seemed, the plants breathing, yes, even the Ragwort, and I felt part of it all.

The ponies had finished and Ben moved towards me but Cloud was obviously still excited, backing into Ben and tossing his head. He drove Ben away from me so I stood between them and he stopped and we stood all three of us and I faced Cloud then and, for once, had a moment of connection with him and I felt our differentness and I felt our sameness and we waited there together held in a silent moment of energy under that full moon.

Then it broke, they cropped the grass, I crouched down and we were once again two ponies and a human, magic gone, just being ordinary and, you know, that ordinariness is also magic enough.

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