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Toby's Diary

Toby arrived Easter Sunday to begin a course of further education with us. We are documenting his progress with a daily training diary.

My ride on Toby after his graduation

Today I rode Toby – the first time since he arrived at Avril’s on Easter Sunday. The rain was torrential as I drove down and I admit I was a little apprehensive and wished it was a clear, sunny day.

I brought Toby in from the field – he always was and still is so easy to catch and lead. I almost didn’t recognize him though; he looked so smart and fit but also every previous sign of worry I’d seen on his face was gone. I couldn’t stop looking at him.
I tacked up Toby in his stable whilst he stood still and calm. He is now totally respectful of my space and a delight to handle.

Avril and I set out in our macs and went straight up what I immediately recognized from Toby’s diary as the ‘spooky, over grown bridleway’. Toby glanced left and right but without worry. After a reminder from Avril I kept his head straight and asked for a more forward walk. Once we reached the road we trotted to the forest and kept on trotting! I loved Toby’s new trot. The one I remember was flat and heavy on the forehand. I always found it a struggle to keep my balance and he felt as if he was running on without brakes. The bit used to feel a ton weight with his head leaning so hard on it. Toby’s trot is now so comfortable and springy. I rode with a much longer rein than I used to but to my surprise, found I still had control and brakes.

We trotted down a steep hill – in balance. I told Avril I didn’t trot down steep hills but she said Toby did. I sighed inwardly but off we went and I felt such a sense of achievement after! I just did as Avril said; legs long, head up and let Toby do the rest. We then had to navigate through some huge forest machinery lifting tree trunks onto a giant lorry. I admit I hesitated a bit but not Toby. He walked through the middle of the operation with barely a glance.

On the way home Avril had Toby and I do some circling work so I could see how easily I could move his shoulders. In fact he’s surprisingly light and flexible in many ways. As we rode back though the spooky bridleway, I realized there had been no snorting and huffing from Toby which had continued throughout my previous rides.

By the end of the ride I felt quite exhilarated and loved Toby for his active ride which felt so safe. Back at the yard, Avril took him over a jump (I don’t do jumping – only inadvertently!) and he looked so proud of himself. He’s now a real riding horse and he felt like one.

6th April 10

Toby has settled with us remarkably well, he integrated with the others straightaway, and they have totally accepted him. So no issues there. His mum Teresa kindly gave us details of his background which you can see once we've uploaded the video.

He spent yesterday hanging out in the mud paddock, long enough for him to grow brown stockings and drag his magnificent tail through the worst of the ground. We brought him in this morning along with his new friends, and if you didn't know, you would think he had followed the routine for years.

I lunged him first, only briefly, so I could observe anything he wanted to show me. It was obvious he has been lunged previously, as he trotted around with a willing step. He doesn't have established rhythm, and isn't familiar with voice commands, but we can help him with that in the weeks ahead.

After some preminary ground work with manners and boundaries, I mounted and off we went to the village. There was a big bonfire alight on our drive, and I wondered what he would think of it. He didn't give it the slightest attention, which surprised me. We walked out purposefully down the lane, and then, whoops, we saw a rabbit!

No wonder he's not so fond of a flock of sheep. On our left were four black ewes which Toby hadn't seen. I asked him to ride up the recessed drive to have a look at them after he'd eyeballed and stopped dead with the bunny. He went up nonchalently until he clocked the sheep, and then it was quickly backwards out again. He repeated this manoevre three times before I persuaded him to stand at the gate by giving him a couple of good swipes with the stick.

Once we'd sort of settled there, I thought it would be a good idea to actually go into the field with the sheep. I dismounted and led him in, then I remounted while he ogled the sheep. The field is tiny, more like a big garden, so he was fairly close to them no matter what they did.

He stood there staring at them, and they huddled together staring back at us. I asked him to walk towards them to get them moving. They have to be the most synchronised bunch of ewes, they move as one, and they're very fast. Poor Toby didn't know which way to go as they hurtled round the garden. He was especially peturbed when they were galloping away behind him.

I let Toby make the decision to stand or ponce about, which I don't think he's used to. Because I didn't take up the reins and just sat there, it gave him a new perspective on sheep. He began to relax a bit and walk around sensibly while the sheep continued circling at speed. Everything was going well until they went over a big pile of pebbles trying to put more distance between us.

They are no ordinary brand of sheep with fat woolly bodies that slow them down, they are the mercedes of the ovine world. They shot up the mound like rockets, with a collective clattering, testing Toby's resolve to the limit while I continued to sit on him as if this is an every day occurrence. Indeed it will be until he's completely unfazed by them altogether.

Since he was quite nervous at the sound of pebbles being scrunched, I thought we'd walk up and down the mound too. He found this quite difficult initially, starting off with good intent, then feeling overwhelmed. One of his coping mechanisms is going into reverse, but it didn't take long for him to realise he could do it, and he's still alive!

It will take too long to describe the rest of the ride, but I will try and include the highlights over several updates. Toby is a sweet obliging little fellow, and like most of his coloured brethren, mostly level-headed. He certainly has something to think about through the night, and tomorrow we will do the same again.

7th April 10

Toby ws first at the gate to come in this morning, greeting me with a little neigh which was endearing. He seems very much at home, and still getting on well with the others. I want to mention this again because it's such a good indicator of a horse psychologically. Social skills are just as important among horses as they are for people.

I heard there were two blood lorries parked at the village hall, so I though it worth riding over to join the donors on horseback. Toby didn't seem to mind until I asked him to walk alongside them in close proximity. He likes to arc out past parked cars; this is so common as to be predictable. Nearly every horse we work with initially wants to maintain a space of around 2 metres.

There was a nice gap between the last lorry and a parked car, so I asked Toby to walk into it and stand. I've discovered he's not happy standing still for very long, he gets fidgety and starts tossing his head up and down. I know why he does this and I'll come back to this later because it's a common problem for many owners. Anyway, he thought this a highly irregular and potentially life-threatening request, and quickly activated one of his favourite responses in such situations, with a speedy reverse out into the car park.

My hands stayed relaxed and the reins were quite long to make sure I wasn't contributing to this in any way. When he felt he'd made enough distance he stopped. So I asked him to walk in and stand again. He made another marchy exit, I kept off his mouth, and when he'd finished going backwards, we did the whole thing again another couple of times.

A certain amount of judgment is needed because too much repetition creates stress until the horse has a sufficient level of understanding. Since Toby doesn't have nearly enough at the moment, even a small try is to be encouraged and put to one side to be built on another day. Also, I was a bit concerned about the parked car, I could foresee him scratching its glossy blue paintwork.

I think it's helpful to describe Toby's character, so the reader can get a feel for how he sees life. He's a willing little fellow, a hard worker with an earnest approach to nearly everything. When he's feeling comfortable with what's going on, he gets on with it using his jaunty little step, but it doesn't take much to rock his boat, and confusion turns things around for him quite rapidly. I know he's been labelled green, but that's not how I would describe him. I would say uneducated is a better word. Every day throughout the land cobs like Toby are sold as quiet enough for a novice, well schooled, and good in every way, when in fact there are massive gaps in their education which prevent them from giving excellent service to their owners.

When Toby understands what he's supposed to do, he's very keen to comply. His difficulty is that he mostly doesn't know what that is. That's why we believe Foundation Training is so important, especially for the leisure horse.

On the way home we went into a driveway to allow a car to pass, and Toby was shocked to discover a cat had wandered over and was looking at us. He very much wanted to move away, becoming increasingly twitchy. The cat sought sanctuary by jumping up onto a tall post. Such a small incident but a big one from Toby's perspective. I'd say at this stage he doesn't like cats, but strangely I find many horses view cats more susupiciously than dogs. Perhaps they have an energy which is unnerving.

There was quite a way to go before we reached our drive, so I though I'd just rustle some bushes with my schooling whip to gauge Toby's reaction. Well, he nearly died. This is a good example of his fear levels beyond his comfort zone. There is a direct correlation between an active flight response and horses' acceptance of crackling undergrowth. In their minds, sounds like these mean a predator could be about to strike.

I want to build up trust with Toby. Up until now he hasn't had enough direction in his life, or been drip fed exposure to new and strange things. There are lots of adventures ahead for both of us.

8th April 10

The dynamics in the field changed overnight, and Toby, although the first to come in again, was scared going through the gate, and restless in his box. This was because two extra gelding have joined the herd. One of them is Toby's friend who travelled down with him but remained in his stable as he is terrified of evereything and too nervous to be caught. We wanted to address his trust issues first, otherwise I could foresee much of my day taken up trying to get hold of him.

It only needs something as small as this to upset the apple cart, and having an awareness of emotions from the horses' perspective allows us to understand why things happen as they do. Toby was delighted to see his friend, who completely ignored him and danced about with his tail in the air, and then proceeded to mount any mare that would have him.

The other horse, who we've nicknamed Dave, an inoffensive TBx Irish Draft, got bullied by everyone, and feeling sorry for him we've moved him elsewhere this evening. In view of Toby's outlook, I thought I would lunge him first in the top field. It's sufficiently high with a sweeping panoramic view to give any insecure horse agrophobia once the realisation sets in that they're all alone.

Toby was a good boy, and happy to follow me up. When we were in the right position, I asked him to walk on. He got a bit confused and thought he was free, so off he trotted merrily towards the stables. He seemed so surprised to feel a lead asking him to come round. He made a few half-hearted attempts to rejoin the group, and then realised this was work.

We have a lovely bank which is great for all kinds of training, and Toby got to know it quite well, leaping off the ends in great style, and giving an enormous spring to jump back up. After lunch we tacked up to go for our ride. He is getting more mannerly, and stands still even with the door open until asked to come out.

Toby tells me he doesn't mind sheep any more, well not fast black ones anyway. They raced around like before, only this time he barely looked at them even when they were galloping behind him. He walked up to the gate and stood while I unclasped it without a thought of reversing. What a difference.

I don't know if he's done gates before, but if not, he likes all the manoevres to open and close them. Then again, I'm discovering that Toby learns things at lightening speed, so maybe he hasn't. He felt more forward today, and I can feel his confidence soaring, in fact he showed me he's actually quite grand, and put on his best step to prove it.

I'm running out of space again, and there is much more detail I can't include, but just to say he is lapping up the training, and mostly remembers everything from the day before. We do loads of circling, standing, changes of direction etc. to improve his steering and make him more aware that he has four legs that can move independently of each other. Toby loves it all, so much so, that on the way home he practically dragged me to the sheep's field, and stood by the gate. He didn't need words to say he wanted to show me what he could do. Clever little fellow.

9th April 10

I spent some time today on boundaries and ground manners. I'm also keen to show Toby that he doesn't have to move his head around in halt. A good opportunity to try and explain why this happens. Lots of horses wave their heads up and down, pull against the reins, and toss or shake their heads, but mostly the underlying cause is the same.

First we need to rule out dental problems, an ill-fitting bridle, or flies. Genuine head shakers have something different going on, so this doesn't apply to them. Nearly all bitting and head tossing is caused by the rider, or more accurately, the rider's hands and the way they're used, whether giving aids or not.

In Toby's case he is showing me that even though he has stopped, the contact hasn't. He moves his head about to try and get relief. All we have to do is ask the horse to halt and let off the pressure when he does. If we think about it, we give an aid, the horse responds, and we should answer by relaxing the rein.

I can hear you saying, "Ah, but if I do that, my horse just walks off, he won't stand unless I keep hold of the reins". That's probably true, and that's why I'm teaching Toby to stand so he can take responsibility for showing me he's doing it, and I reward him by having little or no rein. This seemingly simple but vital part of riding is actually the basis for pretty much everything else, and worth every bit of effort.

11th April 10

We filmed some elements of Toby's training, and you can watch part of this on the video at the top of the page. Hopefully it will help show that even though he finds it difficult to stand quietly at times, he's getting the idea with very little rein. There's a great clip where we're in the field with the black ewes when some ducks decide to come down towards us. For some reason they make a bee line for Toby, and a couple of them decide to fly right at him.

You can imagine his reaction, but it was ok because I knew what was coming and I was ready to quietly deal with it. The whole thing was so hilarious, Annie and I laughted so much I could barely sit straight. I have to say, Toby is a most enthusiastic and willing student. When I get the time to upload it, you can see a bit of this as well as we enjoy a little canter up the drive.

12th April 10

Here we are on Monday, the start of a new week for Toby, although I feel the last one never ended. I was constantly at the computer trying to put various videos together. The wind was very strong and blew all day, so I thought I would start working Toby from the hightest point of the fields. They do give a tremendous feeling of space, and any insecurities soon burst to the surface.

Toby likes to lead his handler rather than being led. He's a bit like a child who stands for a minute and looks around at something of interest to focus on, and then tows whoever is in charge to investigate. He does this with the best intention, and it's never his fault. Afterall, if no one has put boundaries in place for him, he can't be expected to know he's stepped out of line.

I lunged him by the mound so he would have to climb up and down in trot while keeping on a curve. His rhythm has improved overall, but he can't keep it coming down the slope yet. He was very good throughout even with the wind roaring in our ears. He did call out a couple of times, which shows a bit of worry about being there alone. With time and confidence he will no longer feel the need to shout for his friends.

Toby has one great advantage over many horses, especially those from Ireland, and that is he isn't in the least afraid of humans. Horses' fear issues can generally be summarised as follows: Fear of people, fear of objects, fear of sounds, fear of where they're putting their feet, and fear of situations. Some horses have combination fears, or fears for everything. Toby mostly has fear of situations, with a fear of sounds to a lesser degree.

Horses who are frightened of humans tend to be frightened of everything else as well because they feel they can't trust anything. To get back to Toby, he feels comfortable within himself most of the time, but if something changes, (situation) he feels he can't deal with it, and has a crisis of confidence. It's my job to help him manage different sounds and environments successfully.

Toby likes to invade personal space, and every time I move, he moves too. He even moves when I'm not, happy in the knowledge that I'll follow him. Even when he stands, he moves. He puts his head first one way and then the other depending on where the handler is. He likes to push his head into my chest to make me move, which gives him the excuse to do something.

All this is done in the best possible taste becauseToby has an exceptionally biddable temperament with a heart of gold, and with sufficient exposure to new locations, I'm sure he will do just fine. We focused on a different way of leading today. I felt like a male member of the middle east as I walked in front with Toby three paces behind. I would stop suddenly without looking behind me, while silently signalling him to do the same. He never missed, which shows how well he is tuning in, whereas in the first days of his arrival, he would walk past me until he'd used up all the rope.

13th April 10

The wind seemed stronger today, which was a test for Toby because everything was moving and creaking. Great curtains of dust blew towards us as we rode down the drive. We went as far as the bridle path with another horse, who turned off while we rode to the village. I wanted to see how Toby felt about separation. He didn't appear to mind.

We were heading for the cross roads when he saw a horse coming towards him. Apparently he gets anxious when he meets others, so I was interested to see his reaction. Toby has quite a repetoire of sounds that vary from a soft nicker, to a shriek, and a crescendo that starts deep inside his tummy, and finishes at his mouth. He opens it wide like a speaker or sub-woofer.

He gave a powerful call to the horse, who took absolutely no notice, and apart from wiggling this way and that to try and turn round and follow, he didn't put up any resistance. He was generally less settled due to the battering wind, and there was plenty to see as well.

The gas board dug two big holes either side of the road. They put the usual barriers round each hole, with blue arrow signs, which flapped from time to time. On top of that there was a cable stretched across the road, all of which Toby was asked to navigate. This was certainly out of his comfort zone, and he wasn't keen to go forward. Of course he had to, so then he wanted to rush through the gap. We went back and fo rth until he was more relaxed. After each effort I asked him to stand, which he finds difficult unless there's nothing going on.

He has a set format at these times. First he turns his head, then he tries to move from one shoulder to the other, and if this doesn't work, he tosses his head, and if this still doesn't work, he goes into reverse. I'm most careful not to keep pressure on his mouth because as I've said before, if a horse really wants to go but can't, there is only one thing to do, and that's to rear.

In the majority of cases, rearing is initially caused by the rider blocking forward movement. Horses also use rearing in order not to go forward, as in an evasion. I'm not suggesting Toby shows any such inclination, but some horses can be inadvertently taught to do this.

Next up it was a mini digger in a garden with lots of swaying plastic covering a pile of bricks. I'm not sure how Toby feels about machinery, he certainly eyeballs the quad bike at the yard, but since the digger was about to start working, I thought we'd hang around and watch. Toby agreed and stood quietly enough until the engine fired up and a cloud of blue exhaust smoke wound it's way straight for his legs.

Toby didn't think this was a safe place to be at all, and shot backwards. I asked him to go back to his original position, but by then the digger was ready to empty it's load into a skip. To do this the driver had to rattle a lever which made the bucket jerk backwards and forwards. Toby really didn't like the noise, and wanted to hurry away.

We spent some time there trying to stand and relax, but we were holding up traffic, so I had to call it a day. I feel it was successful because until Toby is comfortable in unusual situations such as these, he won't cope elsewhere. He's a good boy really, and doesn't kick up too much fuss, but enough to unnerve the average rider.

On our way home I dragged my whip across every bit of hedge I could find. He's getting better, but still doesn't like crisp dry beech leaves, or undergrowth moving around his legs. I lean over him and gently thrash my stick around the ground, and with time he will completely accept it. This may seem unimportant, but I believe it's a safety feature. Horses that run away seemingly without a reason, may be doing so because of something rustling down by their legs.

14th April 10

I'm looking at how much I've written about Toby, and wondering if it's too long. I try to condense information, but there is only so much to to leave out.

I took Toby down the bridle path at the end of our drive for the first time. It's narrow, dark, and spooky with a steep hill to walk down. It's also guaranteed to have flocks of pigeons thrashing about in the branches. There's a straight path at the bottom, and I asked Toby to trot. He was certainly up for it, and sort of bounded into it. The trot felt quite strong and forward, which is no bad thing, but his paces do need rebalancing, and we're working on it.

He was quite snorty the whole way up to the road at the end, indicationg a rise in his adrenaline. At the top there is a field of Herdwick sheep for him to look at. He wasn't really bothered now that he's been introduced to the black ewes, even though a lot of horses doen't like the look of these because they're two toned in colour.

When I feel he's ready I will ride him amongst a big flock of sheep that permanently graze at the top of the lane. We headed for the village, and on the way was a long beech hedge packed with last year's leaves. I took my schooling whip and dragged it along as we went.

Toby was really nervous of the sound, and it got so bad for him, he felt he couldn't cope any longer, and tried his best to run away down the hill. Although I only had the reins in one hand, I didn't let him, and he did a great impression of his version of passage. I was quite impressed!

At the end of the hedge we turned round so I could do it all over again. He was still very nervous, and at the end I turned him round and back down he went with the sound of dried leaves following him. Up and down we went until he realised he wasn't going to die.

The gas board were still working on their excavations, but this time Toby was much more confident passing through the gap. When we arrived at the house with the mini digger, it had gone, but in it's place was a cement mixer with a churning drum full of concrete.

Toby really didn't like this, and his body language was telling me that if he had to go past, he wanted to go on the opposite side of the road. That would have been a cop out, so I put him in semi shoulder in and demanded he to past in a straight line. If a horse is looking at something on the left for instance, it's not helpful to turn their head towards that which they don't like. What tends to happen is the horse falls away on the right shoulder even though the head is turned to the left, and they do the banana. It's far better to ask for a slight bend to the right with a very firm right leg which blocks movement away from the object.

We repeated the movement several times until I was satisfied with Toby's straightness, and then I asked him to stand and watch. He thought that was simply too dangerous, and did his usual tittering about, backing up, swinging his quarters about, and almost walking up and down on the spot.

A group of residents gathered to watch the display, and Toby did a good job of entertaining them, until eventually his worry subsided, and he stood still. My goal with all this is to help Toby understand that he doesn't have to concern himself with situations that look different or unusual. Through drip feeding him exposure in this way, I can build his confidenc and trust in both of us.

I was going to carry on writing about horses learning through association, but it might be best to leave that for another day in case the reader never gets to the end.

15th April 10

We went down the bridle path again today, and there wasn't a sniff of a snort. Toby accepted the stick running through the Beech hedge well enough, and tried to keep in a straight line to the top. It's one of those paths that produces the same result in every horse. They all fall out to the left towards the open field rather than keeping to the hedge. They probably feel safer doing this.

The Herdwick sheep were gathered in front of the gate as we reached them, and one of the mummies brought her twin lambs over to see us. Toby seemed fascinated, he could have stood there all day.

The local council sent a tarmac team to repair the pot holes on our road, so I took Toby to meet the gang. In the distance I noticed a balloon bobbing around in the hedge. I thought this will be interesting, because I find horses are generally wary of this type of thing. It's a downhill road that stretches out before us, and I asked Toby to trot because I knew he would have the tendency to go faster to keep his balance, and I wanted to work on improving this. Maintaining the same rhythm whatever the gradient is very much part of the training.

Toby didn't give the balloon a second glance, a good example of him not generally being fearful of objects. We reached the road works and a distinct smell of tar filled the air. Horses have acute sense of smell, and Toby was testing the air in order to make sense of it. He didn't mind the lorry, but he wasn't sure about the repair on the road. It was black and glistened in the sun. He also knew it hadn't been there on any previous occasion; he was very suspicious.

Horses are more aware of contrasts than sometimes we realise, which is why they look very hard at manhole covers, oil slicks, and different colours on the ground etc.

A man was grappling with one of those walk-behind steam rollers, producing a thunderous noise and making the whole road vibrate. Nobody noticed us walking towards them, and I was planning to persuade Toby to negotiate this considerable machine on the narrow lane, when we were spotted. He killed the engine, waiting for us to come by, while secretly believing we wouldn't be able to. You could just see it in his face.

Toby showed them all what a good boy he is, even though he did sidle by more than walk straight. The minute he was past I turned him round to go back again. A workman wanted to stop and talk. He asked questions like "What breed is he?", "Isn't he lovely?", and "Why are you going up and down?" This gave Toby an opportunity to get acquainted with all their equipment. He's now getting brave enough to put his muzzle out like an exploratory probe.

I was very pleased to see him aiming for the body of the steam roller, on which the man had placed his hand. Just as Toby was about to make contact, the man whipped his hand back with a jerk as if he'd been stung. This made Toby jump, and he didn't want to have another go. The man had mis-read the situation, and thought Toby was going to bite him! I've always thought that men aren't as brave as they'd like us to believe.

There must have been a party because there were more balloons at the cross roads. Toby wasn't particularly noticing them, but I thought we wouldn't waste an opportunity, and asked him to go right up to them. He walked up willingly, until he realised that the pair of them were twirling like cantherine wheels in the wind. He got a bit closer and his head started bobbing up and down while the balloons were spinning on their strings.

He inched his nose out to sniff them, and recoiled like it was an electric fence. This went on for a few minutes, with some backing up included, until he gathered his courage and gave them a good prod. Now I was worried because I though if he tries to eat them they'll pop, and then he'll be put off balloon for life. I couldn't risk it, so off we went and continued our ride.

16th April 10

Toby was rather lethargic today. His fitness levels are low, and I think the daily riding is taking its toll on his stamina.

We went down the lane to meet the tarmac gang from the opposite direction to yesterday. One of them had a large metal sign slung over his back. Even to me it was a strange sight, and we were behind him. Ten yards in front of him was Annie on Lily on their way home. Lily, a four year old, only has a few months riding experience, and she was naturally disturbed by this effigy confronting her.

At times like this the rider must sit very still and quiet, with all emotion wrapped up, while the horse is undecided whether to face it or turn and run. Annie sat there not even appearing to notice anything, so Lily decided to stay put, brave trusting girl that she is. If she'd tried to swing round, Annie would see it coming, and made sure her head was straight.

Toby had no such dilemma, although his challenge lay just ahead. The lorry was parked with barely two foot of room to pass, and before that was the steam roller vibrating away. At first I thought it's too narrow, but if Lily had got through, then so should we. I didn't want them to stop the machine but they wanted to be helpful so they did.

Toby really didn't want to go through the gap, and I could feel his confusion with all their tools strewn on the grass. He'd have to step over or round them, including a disc cutter, to navigate his way through. He could feel my determination, and being the type of horse he is, he didn't put up much resistance, so we did it.

Overcoming situations like this are very confidence boosting. Although he doesn't like to broadcast his emotions, I know Toby was secretly impressed with himself.

The digger was no longer there, and the cement mixer was silent, but the skip was full of rubble. I wanted Toby to walk straight up to it, sniff it, and stand still. Simple. Not for Toby. Being a hero twice in one day was too much to ask. He did put his nose on some broken bricks, and backed away smartly.

We went forward, back, forward, tittered, tried to swing round, back, forward, toss head, open mouth to evade bit, and when all else failed, it was bring on the finale of the banana. No horse can physically represent this fruit with such accuracy as Toby, and I admire him for it.

After this minor display of resistance, Toby did stand still. I stroked his neck and praised him. I don't want to give the impression that he is difficult, nervous, or stubborn, in fact he is the sweetest little fellow to work with. He only needs to be shown the way, and he's more than willing to comply. He isn't responsible for the gaps in his education, which on the surface can appear to be issues. Like many of his kind, he's very trainable and open to work with, he just needs things explained so he can make sense of it all.

We walked home on a long rein, and Toby can spend the weekend in equine reflection on his busy week.

19th April 10

Toby has recovered his energy levels today, although he does get quite hot underneath all the fur. I'm so tempted to get the mane comb out and thin his mane. I feel I can't see what he's thinking. It's like all that hair slows down energy exchange, but I'm not sure Teresa would agree to it.

Toby was the first to get ridden mainly because Monday is bin day, and I wanted him to see what goes on. The roads are filled with bags, bins, and boxes in various colours. This changes the situation from his perspective because it looks different from normal days.

He's so funny, now his confidence is growing, he wants to sniff everything. He wants to "own" it. Geldings are usually better at doing this than mares. Toby wants to satisfy himself that it's not going to jump out and get him. So he goes up to the bags and tentatively stretches his neck out, and breathes stream of hot breath over them. Of course the plastic responds by crackling and moving which makes him flinch and quiver.

I let him have as much rein as he wants providing he doesn't try and turn round. Giving a horse their head really does help build confidence and trust. It's nearly impossible for horses to swing round without first turning their head, although the sharper sorts do it by lifting the forehand and swinging their body round in one. Toby's not at all sharp, and where his head goes, his body more or less follows.

A good example of this is the duck encounter. They flew at him, but I made sure he couldn't turn his head, so he wasn't able to run away, and my reins didn't need to be particularly short to do this.

Toby sniffed and snorted his way round the village, and in between I worked with his mouth. It isn't hard, it's unrefined, and he's somewhat protective of it, which we find is true for the majority of horses.

Tomorrow I want to devote a whole entry to mouths and bitting. It's one of the most crucial parts of training (or lack of it), so I feel it's worthwhile.

I saw the bin lorry doing the rounds, and I was tempted to introduce Toby to it. After debating with myself, I decided it wasn't in his best interests today. I want to increase his confidence rather than shatter it. They pour buckets of bottles into it, and the noise of breaking glass is deafening. He will meet and ride past it at close quarters when I feel the time is right.

Every time I ride Toby, I'm building his future performance through introducing him to the unusual and the unexpected. He is learning to go wherever he's asked in a quiet and sensible manner, even if it looks dodgy or a bad idea to him. At any time I might ask him to just simply stand. I mean stand like a statue, and a relaxed one, without tossing his head or getting ready to march off.

Today for the first time he didn't feel the need to call for help or toss his head, and he was mostly happy to stand for much longer periods of time. This is his demonstration for starting to trust what I ask him to do. He's beginning to rely on me to conduct affairs. We're beginning to form a positive relationship, which we must have in order for Teresa to enjoy one with him.

20th April 10

As I rode Toby today, I was mentally running through the best way to describe one of the great mysteries of horsemanship, that is bitting and the mouth. His mouth, and the way he accepts the bit (or doesn't), is not uncommon. However, putting such concepts into words is more difficult for me than making the mouth in the first place.

If asked, most riders might think the bit tells the horse to stop, slow down, or give direction. At a very basic level, this is true, although Toby struggled to respond to even this effectively. This is because his mouth isn't "activated", and he is ony beginning to understand the refinement and possibilities available. There are many subtle nuances which riders can transmit via the reins. Toby's mouth is coming more "alive" with every ride.

When freshly broken horses first wear a bit, they don't have a mouth. We know this is true because you can't get any steering or brakes to start with until the horse learns the connection between what the rider wants and what he's feeling through the reins.

The horse's mouth is like a musical instrument, it requires a degree of "feel" to extract the right "tune" out of it. If just we draw our hands back to stop, most horses simply lean forward to try and get relief from the pressure in their mouths. Toby does this, and when he gets determined, he can feel strong and unresponsive.

His mouth appears hard, so we might think of using a stronger bit to be effective. It's important to realise the bit is only ever a cue, which the horse can choose to ignore in times of stress or crisis. Horses run away and learn a range of evasion tactics, while the rider is pulling away to no avail.

Actually Toby's mouth and response times have improved out of all recognition. He realises he can get relief from pressure by doing something other than running through the bridle. To teach him this, I use the reins in combination rather than both at the same time, and I use my fingers and wrists in conjunction with my body to guide him to the preferred outcome.

All horses love and respond to this magnificenlty, they love it, and so does Toby. Now I only have to think walk, and he comes straight down from trot with little or no hand. The moment I feel him coming back to me, I release. This is his reward; we're communicating with each other on an invisible level. What I mean is the outcome is visible, but the means to it isn't.

When I want him to stop, rather than pull the reins back, I soften my wrists while turning them towards him and away, one hand at a time, in a sort of vibration. He shows me he understands by softening his jaw and standing. I show him I appreciate his co-operation by releasing the reins. This is the magic dialogue between horse and rider. It's not dependent on strength or a stronger bit, but a technique that can be universally applied to all but the most damaged.

Once we understand how we can "play" the mouth, we need never pull on the reins again except in an emergency. Then the effect is maximised because it's rarely used, and the horse sees this as a big statement requiring an immediate answer.

Toby is learning a whole new reportoire of responses through his mouth and the reins against or away from his neck. Movements such as half-halt, stop, stand, turn, curve, bend, straighten, shoulder in, out, up, stretch, down a transition, up a transition, pay attention, soften, lateral and longitudinal flexion.

A truly educated horse will understand and comply to all or most of this to the best of their ability. It has nothing to do with pulling the head in, making them go on the bit, adding drop nosebands, or using running reins. It's all done with the way we send messages through the reins to the horse's mouth.

Toby, like all horses, is listening. When things aren't happening, it's usually because they're responding to the wrong signal. I sometimes imagine horses everywhere hitting the right notes with their riders, and when I do, I can almost hear the chorus. It's a wonderful tune.

21st April 10

I think there was something in the air, and Toby was fresh! I haven't known him to be like this before today. He snorted his way down the bridle path, and kept it going even when we reached the road. He was definitely looking for trouble. Any old excuse to spook and shift sideways.

He made the kind of churning sound peculiar to geldings, which we used to be told meant the sheath needed cleaning. I've never met anyone who has performed this personal task, even though we all know the theory of how to do it. Anyway, decades later I've realised it's got nothing to do with hormonal secretions, it's a sign of tension.

Toby was tense with anticipation about something, anything would do like a bird in the hedge, or a crackling branch. After a bit of a stiff trot he sobered up and was more his usual self.

Most people aren't aware that when cobs get fresh they get wimpy, and want to turn round and go home. They temporarily lose their will to go forrward, or they over do it and try to rush off. This was what Toby was like, given half the chance he would stop dead one minute and want to be gone the next. He was like an alternating current with me as the equaliser working to calm erratic movement.

Toby doesn't stay energised for long, he's not one of those bottomless sorts, and he did settle down nicely. But underneath I could feel he was still somewhat switched on. All horses have days like this, and it's really important to keep them focused while avoiding challenging areas unless you want to see what they are capable of.

The best way to do this is to keep them trotting, preferably up a steep hill. Make sure their head is absolutely straight and the rest of the body is as well. This is where a stick is useful. Not for punishment but to make sure they are going forward in a straight line. Spooky behaviour always involves loads of wiggling around.

We sneaked into a forbidden field for a bit of a canter on the way home. I wanted Toby to strike off in right canter. He doesn't like this lead, and he needs a bit of encouragement to take it. Since we weren't on a circle, I introduced plan B. With both reins in one hand and the stick in my left to give his quarters a stripe as the canter aid. This is quite effective because the near hind has to be the first to go to get desired lead. It worked first time. I could feel Toby hoping something would show up so he could have an excuse to shy.

He's normally very good and canters along merrily as if on a mission. He found what he was looking for and that was a bush in a different colour. Because he isn't sharp of too quick thinking, he gives a bit of notice of his intention. He was most surprised to find I was one step ahead of him. I blocked his shoulder so he couldn't make a dive into the middle of the field. I did this by having a very firm lower leg with the heel well down pressed strongly against him. My rein was equally firm against his neck on the same side.

Being thus thwarted, Toby was happy to come back to walk and plod home. I'm sure he will be his usual self tomorrow.

22nd April 10

We went somewhere new today. We rode to the village green and went up the side of the hill to the top, and continued along as far as it went. Toby puffed with the effort of trotting uphill, but it is steep and we trotted nearly all the way to reach it.

He was back to his usual self, which is why I felt this would be good for him. I felt he could mentally handle any challenges it might throw up. It's an interesting route because firstly there's the hill with steep banks either side which unseasoned horses find off putting. Then there's a windy woody track with low branches. Lots of lying on the neck to get by, after which it opens out into a massive corn field.

We have to keep to the side until the harvest, but that's not easy because of the adverse camber. The sides are wooded with lots of birds fluttering in and out as well as rabbits and their attempts to burrow just where a horse wants to place his feet.

Toby took it all more of less in his stride, but he did need me to be forward thinking and to ride with a degree of determination. We didn't dawdle, we were swinging along in a nice loose trot, but Toby tends to go long and out of balance after a while. I can feel it, and also hear it because he forges. This is the sound of the hind toes catching the heels of the front shoes.

He didn't like all the fallen wood laying beside the track. The twisted shapes and dead leaves can look menacing from a horse's persective. I didn't give him a chance to waiver or hesitate. My legs were on and we were jolly well going to go, and in a straight line past everything.

Toby responds very well to firm direction, it gives him confidence. He began to blossom as the ride progressed. He felt more engaged in achieving our little goals, and enjoying it. The delightful thing about him is he is so unspoilt in all the key areas which really matter. He's like a sponge, absorbing it all and retaining it.

We did a lot standing still to admire the stunning views. I think he was glad of the chance to stop because he was tired. Coming back down is a bit like going down the side of a mountain, it's very steep. I make sure whoever I'm riding has brakes because without them we're doomed.

It was a great opportunity for Toby to pick his way without rushing, stumbling, or leaning on my hands. It's quite hard to begin while he learns to put more of his weight towards his quarters so that his forehand doesn't drag him down, increasing his momentum.

We saw Annie on the road ahead of us, and I was interested to see his reaction. There wasn't one. He didn't seem bothered one way or another. She was circling round in front of a pile of rubble recently delivered so her horse could get better acquainted. We caught her up, and interestingly, Toby wouldn't walk on. He was in front but refused to move. I had to use my whip; he thought he needed a lead to go past it. That's just insecurity, and we got rid of it pretty swiftly.

When we got back to the yard, the farmer had delivered some haylage in square bales with green wrapping. Toby has just about got used to round bales with black wrapping, and he was very concerned about the replacements. Even worse, some of the wrapping had unwound and was waving in the wind. Dangerous.

He reluctantly stepped up to them blowing and snorting. Each time he gathered his courage to sniff them, bits of plastic would whip up, and he'd jump backwards. Annie's horse, a TB x Irish Draft, equally unfamiliar with this sort of thing, was busy ripping into the other bale, totally unconcerned. You would think it it would be the other way round.

Cobs have strong genetic instincts for survival, sometimes they're more fearful and suspicious than their finer cousins. This was confirmed when I asked Toby to walk between two bales. The gap was very narrow and uninviting, and Toby didn't think it was possible. However, he did do it, but when he felt the loose plastic against his legs, he shot into the air and came down again five yards later.

Annie thought she ought to do this with Dave, as we've nicknamed him, too. He went through with little or no hesitation, and only did a small start when he felt the plastic. We both repeated the exercise a couple more times, and Toby has improved, but is still jumpy. Dave on the other hand couldn't care less about it.

Toby is a very good boy who wants to trust, and in a minute he will be like an old pro with all this stuff. I said to Annie it was a pity we didn't have the video camera because there were a few impressive moments!

There will be no diary tomorrow as I can't be here to ride him. Annie is going to have that honour, which I'm sure they will both enjoy. I seemed to have added a substantial entry this evening, which I hope will compensate.

26th April 10

Toby isn't keen on pigs. We found this out yesterday when Alison and I went out on Lily and Toby. Two little pigs are living in a small wood next to the ferocious Rottweiler and his friends.

It's lovely to see them free range like this, but they can be difficult to see because they blend in well with the undergrowth. Toby knew they were there, he could smell them, but Lily didn't care, she's been brought up with pigs.

Toby doesn't exactly shake with fear, but his sides heave as if he's run a race. He stood staring at them with as much of his weight as he could bear on his hindlegs to give hiim a head start should he feel the need to twirl round and leg it.

While he was in this state of indecision, a door was thrown open, and all the dogs flung themselves into the yard barking like mad. They rushed to the fence across the pebble driveway, making vast crunching sounds as they went. It was so sudden and unexpected that Toby didn't know which way to jump.

It wasn't the best introduction to pigs, so we abandoned the idea and rode to the forest. We had a lovely relaxed time in there, and suprisingly it was completely empty. We looked out for the pigs on our way home, but they were curled up asleep under a bush. So sweet.

Today we did the same route alone. Toby got the arome de pig way off, I could feel him tensing and backing off somewhat. There was no sign of them as we trotted to the forest. When we rode in, there were a couple of big dogs. I though they were Irish Wolfhounds but apparently they are Italian Spinozas (not sure of the spelling). I found this out by chatting to the owners. Doing this is good for all horses, and it gave Toby the chance to get slightly acquainted with them.

Someone has made a tiny jumping lane to the side out of branches and fir. I thought we might as well trot over them, but Toby thought it better to jump. He was so nice and balanced, I've harboured ideas of loading him up and taking him to the local show. I might actually do it, I think it will benefit him in many ways.

The pigs were out by the time we rode home, and we were able to do some really productive work there. As well as being nervous, Toby was fascintated by them. They were rooting around by the fence, and he wanted to get closer. There was a raised flower bed between us and the pigs, and before I could stop him, he'd climbed up on the bed to get a better look.

I felt slightly hot with embarrassment, did a quick check to see if anyone was around, and made a hasty exit. I brought Toby to the fence on the lane, and I have to say, he's a great impressionist, and when the pigs heard him grunting and blowing, they came rushing over making identical noises. A real dialogue was going on. Becaue they're so small, he had to put his head right down to reach them. They thrust their little snouts throught the netting while Toby blew streams of compressed air at them, with both sides seeing who could grunt and oink the loudest. I tell you it was so funny, you couldn't make it up.

The pigs lost interest first and went off to scratch themselves on some tree trunks. Toby set off at a march for home, and I had the distinct impression he felt victorious, he was certainly pleased with himself. The good thing is, these pigs are going to grow, and Toby can meet them regularly as they increase in size, by which time he should be pig-proof.

27th April 10

I found out two things today. All the turkeys at the farm are dead, and Toby likes climbing up and onto ledges and banks.

Yesterday's ride seemd to have worn Toby out because he could hardly put one foot in front of another, so I decided to take him on a new route. It's short but packed with things to contend with like turkeys. They were immense specimens who would erect all their feathers and parade about making fierce gobbling sounds. Most horses found them deeply intimidating, and perfect for Toby to look at.

There is a grass bank so narrow only slimmer horses can walk along it without slipping off either onto the road, or worse, down into a ditch big enough to fit a horse in. I looked at it with longing and asked Toby to scale the ridge on the approach. He was happy to oblige, and we found ourselves negotiating an extreme ivy infested slope leading down to the trench.

The bank has a couple of trenches dug across it to allow water to flow into the ditch. They're quite deep, one is lined with curb stones, making it look spooky as well. Toby needed to hop over the trenches and keep in a dead straight line in order to remain on the bank. It might sound simple, but in fact it's quite a tall order for all but the brave and the well schooled.

I was so pleased with the way Toby worked out what to do. It would have been easy for him to simply evade the situation by falling on to his shoulder by three inches, and he would be back on the road. Toby thinks like a mountain goat, he knows where his feet are, and he's certainly up for it.

We heard the last turkey died this morning, so we were only a few hours too late. They had an incinerator going in the barn to cremate the bones. I didn't think we'd take a look. Instead it was plan B because there's a bunch of horses grazing beside the lane, all of whom are guaranteed to run around at the sight of a strange horse.

Those horses hadn't seen anything so exciting as a little hairy cob for months, and they took off up the field like rockets, bucking and farting. Toby forgot his tiredness and morphed into a high stepping animal with an uber elevated trot. The power and suspension was awesome, and I was completely captivated by the feeling it gave me. Up the hill we went as if on air, while my mind had difficulty accepting that Toby was capable of producing movement of this quality.

All to soon we were at the top. A locked gate ahead of us meant we had to retrace our steps down the hill. I made Toby stand quietly for a while before setting off, because the puropose of all this was Toby's acceptance of the situation rather than adrenaline fuelled fantasy dressage.

The horses weren't doing much while Toby walked, so I asked him to trot. His hooves make a lot of noise so they probably thought we were a herd. Anyway it did the trick because they all started up again. Toby had a lot going on with them on one side while behind him he could hear our terrier tearing along to catch up. He didn't like the sound and his head wobbled about with his ears pinned back straining to identify the cause.

His trot got stronger and faster, he was leaning on my hands, and he didn't want to slow down. I had to insist and make him listen. We turned round to do it all again. The horses were straining their necks over the fence to get a sniff of Toby. He was equally keen to smell them. I wouldn't let him because he is learning that they and their antics are none of his business.

Letting them sniff each other leads to an instant if temporary connection whereby the ridden horse mimics those that are free. I make it quite plain that when we are out, we focus on what's ahead of us rather than anything going on around us. Horses learn to pay attention and become less dependant on others.

We rode up and down several times until the horses lost interest and went off to graze. Toby's blood was slightly up and he didn't want to stand while I explained to a neighbour what we were doing. He did his usual, head tossing, stepping backwards, and moving sideways. I kept re-positioning him but he wasn't in the right frame of mind to co-operate, but he'll get there.

28th April 10

We thought Toby looked a bit dishevelled so we set to pulling his mane and putting it in bunches as well as removing most of his shedding coat. Afterall, he had an important assigment to look forward to. I was taking him to meet the sheep.

It's a sizeable herd of around forty or fifty ewes with a lost looking ram in a big field where you ride uphill or downhill but never on the level. A single track bridle path lead us to the gate, which has stock netting on either side. Toby doesn't like the sound of the the whip being dragged along it. The water trough in the fence line makes an interesting addition to this route.

Horses invariably baulk at the trough. Toby made it plain that if he had to go past, it would be on his terms, which were to do the creeping banana along the fence on the other side.

We went up and down a few times until he walked by totally straight. We opened the gate at the end easily enough, but found closing it again more difficult. He had to align himself alongside it so I could loop the rope to the latch. He would put his neck and shoulders where I asked, but his quarters kept swinging in. I pressed my leg to move them over in line with the rest of him, but he would move into the pressure instead of away from it.

They often do this if they feel nervous or unsure, it's not stubborness, and the rider needs to show discretion and patience. Too often riders want to hurry or get flustered which puts all but the most stoic off the idea of doing gates.

With all the manoevering Toby hadn't noticed the sheep. When we finally turned to face the field he got a shock. We rode towards them in walk. I could feel his tension as we got nearer, and when they turned to move away from him, he got scared too and wanted to run somewhere.

I think Toby found it hard to adjust to the size of the flock, so I moved him around the field in trot keeping a comfortable distance from them. Toby didn't know whether to be excited by the big space, pretend he was being pursued by sheep, or both. Actually he had plenty to think about just keeping his balance trotting down the hill. It is quite steep and he found himself tripping a lot, simply because the gradient put him even more in the forehand, and his forelegs weren't weren't keeping up with the his shoulders sufficiently.

He also finds it really hard to bend his neck and soften the corners of his mouth. It's easier for him to go round in one piece as it were, which makes him feel stiff and awkward. He won't be like this much longer, he won't know himself once he gets articulated.

I will show him how to bend through the jaw, the throat, the neck, the shoulders, the body, and the hindleg. He will know articulation at least in walk and trot. Toby started to settle, he realised what hard work it is trotting and cantering up those hills, and making sure he didn't fall over coming down them. He was ready to ride among the sheep.

We took it slowly and gently, walking between them with a little trot here and there. He's not quite ready for ranch duties, but it's a start. He thought it wasn't worth the effort to react if they ran away, so we stood for a while surrounded by sheep before going home.

I wanted give him a shower to remove the sweat which we filmed and is now on the website. Apparently he's not too co-operative, so I thought it would be good to show how we do it. He surrendered to the process remarkably quickly once he worked out what he had to do. He understands boundaries now, although earlier he did shove me with his head when I was off guard and I fell into the nettles, but despite this we have a very good relationship.

29th April 10

Poor Toby. He injured himself last night in the paddock. The vet thinks he got down to roll too close to the fence and got his legs caught. Luckily his wounds are superficial, but severe enough to prevent him being ridden. Annie, a great veterinary nurse, carefully cleansed the cuts on his leg and the gash on his side ahead of the vet's arrival. She was so thorough that there was nothing left to do after examining him except to leave instructions for his medication.

Toby is being cared for and comforted in his stable and loving it. We will walk him out in hand daily to help relieve the stiffness and get the circulation going. His diary is on hold until he recovers.

24th May 10

At last Toby has healed sufficiently to resume his training. I lunged him first, mainly to make sure there was no impact from the girth on his wound. We tend to always lunge after such a long break, but this wouldn't apply in Toby's case as I know he is very dependable and wouldn't mind the rider just jumping on.

I was surprised and impressed with how well he went. I've only lunged him a few times and noted how fast and flat his paces were. This time was different. He held rhythm very well, he wasn't running away from the whip, and the tempo was just right.

It was all looking good, so I mounted and off we went. We often find a training break helps by giving the horse a chance to process the work mentally. The work we do is quite intensive in it's own way, and although unpressured, we are on their case so to speak.

However, Toby went out as if it was the first time he had ever done so. He was put off from the start because Monday is bin day, and the usual selection of plastic sacks were awaiting collection. He really didn't like the look of ours, despite previously meeting them and circulating around them from every direction.

It's hard to tell with Toby, but I had the feeling he may have been fresh, afterall we have been hard feeding him on top of non-stop haylage to build him up. He has certainly put on weight. It's a little known fact that fresh cobs are spooky rides and often prefer to go in cowardly mode.

Toby was certainly like this, so I expect his energy levels were responsible for most of his stop/start behaviour despite the day being so hot. We stopped to talk to a village resident. Toby made no effort to walk away, and instead constantly shook his head up and down even though the reins were so long they were baggy.

Actions like this tell me he has reverted to a former level. He isn't sufficiently established so that a training break makes no difference to his performance. This will all change for him further down the line.

As a result of today's ride, I've invented a whole new lexicon to describe Toby. I can't say his gaits were always smooth or regular, or that he was tuned in, except to imagined fears. He is one of those horses who continually tries to look around, especially to the left. He really doesn't see the point of keeping his head in line with the direction he is travelling in.

I know that in a day or two he will settle in to the routine again, and he is very sweet with all his little ways, all shown without an ounce of ill-intent. He somehow can't help himself at times.

Car doors closing made him shudder, people in gardens made him jump, and you would think he has never seen a wheelie bin. He wasn't in the least keen to stand, so we spent some time refreshing his memory. He has various mild evasions, actions, and habits designed to make the rider give in and let him get go on.

It's not a question of being heavy handed, more about consistent reinforcement of that which is asked. During all this I invented a vocabulary to describe his actions: He likes to use his nose a lot. I've given it the term "nasalation" to describe his sniff, snort, pant, and blow routine.

He hasn't developed a still head carriage yet, so the phrase "heading off" comes to mind because he likes to toss and turn while making shapes with his mouth I've termed the "gape" and the "zip", depending on whether it's wide open or clamped shut. He is quite protective of his mouth and doesn't trust the rider's hand, but he will do further down the line.

And lastly there is the rest of his body which he can swing around like a rope. I think of this as his machinations as he backs up, sidles, scrapes, does the banana, and today I saw the crescent moon.

During the weeks of Toby's recovery, I have been giving him much thought. I feel he is a deeply sensitive little fellow who is easily stressed and hides it well. He is particularly anxious to do the right thing, but feels some situations are beyond his coping. This manifests as spookiness, not wanting to stand, or load etc. I'm looking forward to helping him build his confidence in all these important areas.

25th May 10

I can confirm that Toby is terrified of cows. I will get back to this after describing his day in the village which threw up one challenge after another for him.

We were standing at the cross roads waiting for a car when Toby started backing up and trying to twist his head round. At first I couldn't see what the matter was, and then I saw it. A small bouquet of flowers placed anonymously in remembrance for someone special on the ground about fifty feet away, its cellophane wrapping moving in the wind.

Toby thought this was the most dangerous thing he'd ever seen, but he didn't know the half of it, there were even bigger dramas ahead. Naturally I couldn't just ride on, I had to ask him to get closer and take a look. He tried many different evasive combinations rather than go up to it, innocuous as it was.

The main thing for him was a new object appearing in a familiar place. After much encouragement he did gather his courage and semi rushed through the gap between the flowers and the park bench. We circled round endlessly first on one rein and then another until his stride was even and unhurried.

Toby's break has produced unexpected benefits. He has what we call a "grown up trot". This deluxe version of the inferior green clip clop is balanced, comfortable, and the gateway for seamless upward and downward transitions. You can ask for more, the half halt, or micro collection and flexion without impeding tempo and rhythm.

The seeds for this were being planted from day one of his training and are now bearing fruit. It's the same with his mouth, all of a sudden it's gone as soft as butter. We've turned a corner, and what a difference a day makes. Sometimes the horse needs not to be ridden in order for the information to be processed, and the muscles to re-arrange themselves in sympathy to the commands of the rider.

So far so good until he saw the litter bin. It had an orange plastic bin liner which had inverted itself by the wind. It stuck up like a chimney stack, swaying around making crackling sounds. This was too much for Toby. He wanted to swing round, run away, or a combination of everything. Of course I didn't let him do any of this, but he wasn't at all happy. After going up and down numerous times, he finally started to relax. The acid test in these situations is to stand beside the object of fear, which took several attempts. You can only insist to a certain point, beyond which even the average horse will learn to rear.

It's best to let him walk forward before tension builds too much, and then re-present him from the other direction until he gives up. We did this several times and then he stood still. Suddenly I could sense him saying, "Oh for goodness sake, it's only a piece of plastic". And at that moment he walked up the pavement himself and dared to stick his nose on it. Isn't that amazing!

I am doing plastic work with him at the stables, but we must remember that this is a different sort of plastic! Toby's nose resembles a probe more than a muzzle, as he extends his moustache and upper lip beyond the line of his lower one. It's so comical to watch it protrude as a sensor.

He felt justifiably proud of himself after this, and if he were a person, he would have swaggered down the road. He was still bouyant as we approached a sort of truck stacked with garden trimmings. His new found self belief took a dive as he bananered past. As usual, we went back and forward getting closer each time. The tail gate was down and made a creaking sound as it flapped in the wind which he didn't like.

I thought we'd seen it all as we headed for home. Our return was punctuated with regular halts to discourage head tossing, and progress was slow. As we walked over the cross roads I could see the cows up by the fence at the bottom of the hill which Toby hadn't noticed.

The caramel cows have only recently been turned out so he wasn't expecting to see them. Teresa had said that he is getting better with them, and I was interested to see just how much. Well, all I can say is I dread to think what he was like before then.

He is beyond frightened, he's scared stiff of them. He even lifted his front feet off the ground in a desperate attempt to remove himself. I could feel his heart thumping under my left leg, you know then they're really scared.

At times like this the rider must remain resolute and unfussed, making no further impact on the situation. If the leader gets fearful the plot is lost. It's never easy to deal with truly shocked spookiness, but luckily Toby isn't super sharp like a blood horse.

I wanted him to actually sniff the cows, but every time he got near they would charge off and he would twirl with fright. Every so often a car would go past and I took him into a drive opposite. This made it even worse for him because now he had his back to them. He couldn't get away because there was a five bar gate in front, and it got so bad I didn't trust him not to jump over it from a stand still.

We walked small circles until the road was clear and then it was back to the cows again. It took so long to get to a place where he had some acceptance of them that I missed lunch. There's another herd at the farm, but we won't go there due to the open space until he sobers up.

Poor Toby, it's not his fault and I'm sure he will be more relaxed around them soon.

26th May 2010

Toby likes dried nettles. They are full of iron and he must need it. I will gather some more for him since he enjoys them so much.

I was very excited that Lisa was bringing Chatty in the trailer to see us, and we planned to ride out together. However, our schedules didn't coincide, and sadly I didn't get to see either of them. She rode off complete with map and was gone for hours and had a brilliant time, but our riding programme got a bit of out synch as a result. Tilly, the young Haffie needed a reliable escort for heavier traffic duty, and Toby got the job.

Although Toby is good with all traffic, he isn't very reliable yet at keeping strictly in a straight line if he sees something he doesn't like the look of. However, he has turned a corner as a result of having time out, and I felt he was up to the responsibility.

We are very careful about taking horses on the main road because they need to be able to pass objects and take strange situations in their stride without deviating, or worse, going into the middle of the road. To be a lead horse they have to be rock steady because the horse behind completely relies on them to do the right thing, and if they start messing around, it's very unsettling.

It was a tall order for Toby to fulfill, but he did it beautifully, I was so proud of him, and he was mostly proud of himself.

The main reason he coped so well was because he has made the important connection between an aid given by the hand, backed up by the leg, and the simultaneous release of pressure when he complies. In other words, he understands now what I want. He doesn't feel as insecure or stressed by a command.

Another plus for him is the quicker he gets the picture, the softer the command. I've said previously that Toby learns very quickly, and now he is beginning to put the pieces together in his mind. The picture is less confusing and he finds a lot of reassurance in getting it right.

Since it was his first time in the High Street, Toby did have a lot to look at and a few wobbly moments where he wanted to revert to former behavioural patterns. He found things on the pavement or in gateways potentially dangerous to navigate. He also had a bit of an aversion to ground covering flowers, especially the monochromes awash with white blooms.

I used every inch of road as a training opportunity, spending a large part of the time riding on the pavement. This meant he had to pass really close to brightly painted gates, brilliantly coloured flowers, sandwich boards, and white painted concrete flower beds. I asked him to walk right past the corner shop with all its non food items displayed outside. I made him pass the coffee shop with its tables and chairs. He even walked under the colonial verandah at the hair dressers. He had to walk between the red phone box and a bus stop, and the piece de resistance, he made it into the bus shelter and stood still, if only briefly.

Ok, Tobys didn't quite have Chatty's dexterity, but he did it, which says a lot about his trust levels. This sort of work makes horse's confidence levels soar, and I could feel Toby smiling behind his magnificent moustache.

Up until now, when Toby wanted to shy, usually at something on the left, he would lean heavily on his right shoulder and place his hindquarters way out to the right. He still does this when he's convinced something isn't safe, like clumps of flowers, especially those hanging off walls.

Throughout our ride I would encourage Toby to stick his entire head in colourful foliage. We rode by endless houses with half his face dragging amongst the leaves and flowers. Luckily nothing was prickly and now Toby truly believes anything botanical is either edible or deliciously scented.

The caramel cows were waiting for us at the cross roads on the way home. We rode over to see them. Lily has had her own battle with cattle but no longer finds them even interesting. Toby did a massive sideways leap rather than get closer. When he realised Lily wasn't taking any notice he thought maybe he could take a closer look.

After a while I got him to put his head and neck over the fence without having a panic attack. He stretched out and the cow did the same. He extended his nose fully until it resembled a pink tapir's, and they blew breath at each other. Then the cow backed away a moment before contact. Toby was surprised at this, and felt braver straightaway. He looked at Lily who was so relaxed she was resting a hindleg, and thought he'd like to do it again.

I turned him away and now the cows were behind him. Yesterday he absolutely couldn't cope once his back was to them and here he was imitating Lily standing still. I think this is a very positive result. I feel sure he will be cow proof very soon.

27th May 10

The tarmac gang were back today, drilling hard at the end of the drive when I was taking Toby out. They cut the engines on the machinery to be helpful even though I wanted everything running, but there was still loads of equipment littered around.

Toby is at the stage now where he will go up to things he's wary of and sniff them. Repairs were put on hold while he investigated their bits and pieces. After he'd satisfied himself that all was ok, he walked past the lorry laden with steaming tar.

I couldn't see the caramel cows so I chose the long route to the farm to see if we could meet those instead. We started trotting and I must say Toby has improved so much in this pace. On and on we went, nice and straight, Toby isn't wavering, still keeping straight, past the the new drive with road cones and stripey tape that wasn't there last time.... straight, straight, straight.

True straightness is very hard to achieve for both horse and rider, and when it is, you have the horse. You feel it, and you know there is nowhere else to go except straight. No shying, no arcing out, until you lose it. Then you work to reclaim it. It's a position of power where you and your horse are working together during those moments or minutes of straightness. I can't say enough about it given the chance.

Toby was suitable tired by the time we reached the top and less likely to look for trouble. I kept him trotting through an open gate into a private bridle path that goes between electrically fenced fields on one side, and a dark rhodedendron hedge on the other. Every horse I've ever ridden finds this area spooky because they sense the electric current and feel threatened by the bushes.

There are two gates to open and close which is great practice for Toby. This is where the voice training is invaluable. For instance when closing the gate, just as I lean forward to hook it shut, Toby gets impatient to move on. I tell him to "stand" and he does! He waits while I fiddle and then I ask him to "come round", so he turns on his haunches and off we go, nice and calmly with little or no rein required.

We rode down to the flock of sheep, some grazing and others lying down. This time Toby didn't mind riding right through the middle of them. Neither did he mind them springing up to get out of his way. He has really improved and it's only his second or third visit.

What has improved even more than this is trust. Toby is now beginning to believe in me and trust my judgment. If I say it's ok, he is less likely to think otherwise and do his various manouevres.

It's a great responsibility to have a horse's trust placed in you, and it has to be earned. You can't force it, demand it, buy it, or bribe them to get it. And you must be ever watchful not to abuse it, break it, or use it inappropriately.

There is still much to be done and it can dip in and out quite easily, just like the cow drama. Toby wasn't prepared to consider going anywhere near them, but even that changed when he thought maybe he could sniff noses.

There were no cows in next field only sheep. It's a long bank field, and Toby has never previously seen livestock in it, and due to it's angled side, it gave the illusion of the sheep being much bigger. He wasn't sure, I could feel he thought he should be worried, but at the same time he wasn't really. He found himself in a dilemma because he wanted to stand and stare at them, and at the same time he wanted to march off.

In the end curiosity got the better of him and we spent some time counting sheep. I thought it would be nice to trot over a small log pile on the way home to round things off. Luckily I always hold a little bit of mane with young or green horses because their jumping is largely unpredictable. Toby soared straight up in the air like a stag and came down almost in the same place. I really wasn't expecting a lift off like that, but at least he didn't get jabbed in the mouth and I managed to get off his back with split second timing so he didn't get bumped either, which can knock their confidence.

28th May 10

Well! And what a day we’ve had! This morning’s ride included the farm where I noticed the cows are there amongst the sheep, so I thought I’d take Toby down after lunch to meet them.

We trotted along nice and sensibly to the bridleway. There were a group of farm workers leaning over a gate chatting on one side and a big black steer on the other. I knew he was there but Toby hadn’t noticed him. And then he did. It was a complete emergency stop with his front legs splayed out as he slipped on the gravel.

I was pleased the men were there because Toby loves people and I thought it would give him reassurance. He tried to back away and swing round, anything rather than approach the cow. After much cajoling he did enter the bridleway and stood nervously staring. He even stretched his neck over the wire inviting a sniffing session. He looks like a bull to me, I can see the necessary equipment, but the men denied that he was. Anyway, he and Toby exchanged some heavy breathing; Toby moved backwards rapidly and did two of his amazingly loud snorts. They come out under such enormous pressure and volume, I swear he could launch a missile.

There were a few smaller calves further up the hill gazing at us, and curious creatures that they are, they started to trot slowly down towards us. This was too much for Toby, and he was clearly going to do something stupid. I was in a potentially dangerous situation as the bridle path is very narrow and fenced with barbed wire on either side. I’ve been caught up in this fence a few times over the years whilst riding, and it’s not pleasant.

I could feel Toby wasn’t going to just titter around, he was going to throw a massive eppie scoppie at the calves coming towards him down the hill. I turned him towards the farm and the men in the interests of safety. Now the calves were behind him. He simply lost the plot and blind bolted. When horses do this they lose all sense of self preservation and will go through and over anything. Ten men couldn’t stop them, or any bit or bridle. He kept going for what seemed like ages because the cows thought this was terrific fun and were chasing him from the other side of the fence.

At last I got a pull on him and turned him round. I haven’t taught him the one rein stop yet, and I so wish I had. We circled first one way and then another, but he wouldn’t settle. I took him back again, and the men were still there, all highly delighted at such entertainment. They congratulated me for staying with such an impressive display and asked what I was going to do now.

I very much wanted to present him to the cows again, but they’d high-tailed it to another part of the field. I dismounted and thought if the cows won’t come to see us, I’ll take Toby to meet the cows. I lead him through the gate convinced that with me on the ground he would feel less threatened around them. I have to admit to being a bit wary in case the black one was a bull; I’m not too keen on bulls.

We found them standing under a tree. As soon as Toby saw them he started pulling back and trying to swing away. I had a rein in each hand in order to better manage him. He cantered around me first one way, and when I blocked him, he spun and cantered the other. This went on for about ten minutes. I was struggling to keep my grip on the side of a hill on uneven ground and I was tiring by now. Toby kept a relentless show at the end of the reins. It was like something out of a cowboy movie. Finally it was over as he cannoned into me, knocked me flying, and shot off to the gate with the cattle galloping behind him thinking, great another game.

He jumped clean over a five bar gate and was gone. I followed him as best I could for a couple of miles, but it’s a huge estate of over a thousand acres, and he could have been anywhere. Realising this was stupid I retraced my steps all the way back to the farm, picked up the saddle, and carried it home. It felt like such a long way. I was hot, thirsty, and so disappointed that it had come to this.

I gathered two fit teenagers who specialise in cross country running and we started the search and rescue for Toby. It wasn’t long before my mobile rang. A horsey neighbour had collected him and was waiting for us. Toby has cut his foreleg above the knee. It’s not deep, kind of like he’s scraped the skin off. I think he probably caught it going over the gate. Other than that he’s fine.

It’s quite clear that Toby isn’t just frightened of cattle, he’s phobic around them. He will need a dedicated de-sensitising programme rather than the normal acclimatising. His reactions are so extreme he is a danger to himself not to mention the rider. His confidence will have taken a knock which is a shame, and I’m going to use the weekend to think of where I can take him to reduce his trauma towards cows.

31st May 10

Most of the UK may have been hiding indoors on a sunless Bank Holiday, but it was horses as usual for us. I brought Toby in to his box to look at his war wounds, and they were fine, barely noticeable really.

After reflecting on the situation over the weekend, I have come up with a plan which I think will be a good way forward. I contacted a local lady from the British Llama Society, and she has agreed to us taking Toby to meet her small herd, and even better, allowing me to lunge him amongst them. This is a fantastic opportunity for him to face his fears of livestock.

We haven't decided on a day because I want to make sure he will go in the trailer willingly first, and that's at the top of the to do list. I would imagine he will be more terrified of camelids than cattle, but we shall see.

I was doing some work on another horse with an umbrella, and I thought this would also be good for Toby. His fear of cows is very deep, and an umbrella isn't quite in the same league, but nevertheless most horses find them frightening. I did a test run, and I wasn't surprised to see his reaction. He was ready to hurl himself round the box if I kept showing it to him.

I took him out into the yard and started the desensitising programme for umbrellas. Of course this type of work can then translate to other areas of mental fragility once coping mechanisms are in place.

I started by asking him to bend his head and neck towards me. This has a double benefit as it's the first step in teaching the one rein stop and is also the friendly or safe zone. Toby took a while to understand what I wanted, and he's still not particularly adept at it, but after a couple of sessions that will change.

We filmed the whole sequence because I felt his diary followers might like to see some training in action. Toby was quite nervous of it to start with, but by the end he was willing to wear the umbrella as a hat. We start with a small green version that has two white ears before graduating to the golf edition. I was pleased with the way he worked through it all to acceptance, which bodes well for his future.

I firmly believe he will get to that place where he can let go of his terror of cows. It will take that bit longer, but our Foundation Training has proved itself to be successful for a wide range of issues and behavioural habits, and we don't feel it will fail Toby is this critical area.

I will add the video to his page as soon as I can put it together.

1st June 10

I did some more work with the umbrella in Toby's stable this morning. At first it was as if he'd never seen one before, but he settled quickly and remembered what we were doing yesterday. He's particularly sensitive around his rear end in comparison to others. I'm tempted to put the breaking crupper on him, but perhaps he isn't that bad.

I brought him out and found about a half section on haylage plastic to be creative with. I crackled it, stamped on it, threw it round his quarters, and finally led Toby up the drive dragging it beside him. He didn't like that, but with perseverance he was much better.

I made sure to do it from both sides as horses don't cross information from one side of their brain to the other. I mounted him and as we were walking off I spotted the plastic which I'd draped over the trailer. I leant down and picked up a corner, then | asked Toby to walk forward while I carried the plastic which is so large it still drapes along the ground even from a height.

Understandably he was more nervous this time, and since the object is to de-sensitize him, not to make him run away, we didn't go far before turning back. Toby thought that was ok, so we walked some small circles left and right, accomanied by a huge green plastic drape.

I wanted to ride to the farm and retrace some of our fateful steps from last Friday. As we neared the trouble spot, Toby was noticeably tense and backward thinking. He needed a huge dose of direction to keep him on track. I was also asking him for extreme bends as we went, in preparation for the one rein stop.

We filmed the introduction to this on the ground yesterday, which will be added to his page in due course. As I was levering away I realised why I hadn't done it before, and that's because he doesn't have two sides to his mouth yet. This means I don't get much of a reaction when I ask him to turn his head and neck, unless we're standing still.

We made it to the end of the lane, and being a dead end, we turned round to come back. He was much more inclined to walk out this time, so more work on disengaging the hind leg, which is fundamental to the one rein stop. The cows were invisible but Toby could smell them, and it put him on edge. The nearer we got to the "spot", the more he was on his toes. That high step and march pace I now know can be a precursor to something much more sinister.

It's strange how long it takes to really know a horse. For a while now we've thought that Toby is a worrier and prone to internalising stress. I'm sure that's accurate especially after watching how he struggled today.

Everything on the lane was dangerous today, even a chicken. He was ready to take a sprint when he saw a big Czech hound patrolling the area, and where he used to settle immediately with circling, this time it augmented his agitation. We spent some time going back and forth, up and down, and round and round.

He really wasn't tuning in at all, in fact he was getting more wound up. I thought it counterproductive to stay, so it was past the dreaded field we went. I could feel Toby's tension and fear, and I was quite relieved no livestock were visible, as I was almost certain Toby wasn't in the right mental place for any encounter.

When we reached our drive, I turned round and took him all the way back again. I rode him as far down as I thought sensible, made him stand for a minute, not an easy task, and repeated as necessary until at length he wavered a little and sort of relaxed.

By the time we got back to the stables, Toby was dripping with sweat, and it wasn't due to lots of trotting and cantering; he was sweating with fear. Poor Toby. Despite this I felt we finished on a positive note by more or less re-enacting last Friday's scene without the cows and at a much more sedate pace.

2nd June 10

I took Toby to the village for a non-confrontational ride. He set out feeling like he could hardly put one foot in front of another because he was totally relaxed. This lasted for a while actually, and compared to his recent experiences, the village felt a safe place for him to be.

He felt much more supple and bendy through his neck, which is the direct result of yesterday's regime. I reminded him of the one rein stop periodically. He hasn't really got the hang of this yet, which is surprising because he does learn quickly. When I ask him to bring his head round he sort of does, and by that I mean he tries his best, but he doesn't necessarily stop, he sort of travels sideways away from the pressure.

I feel it's his way of evading the task, but nevemind, he'll get it together soon. We crossed the High Street to the back of the village where we have to pass the burned out factory. Big piles of rusty blackened metal are heaped up beside the road. Not at all inviting, and all enclosed with high wire mesh panels.

I took my long whip and dragged it along the wire which made a horrid rattling sound. Toby really didn't like it, making his familiar movements to show how frightened he is. Toby has two main manifestations for this. One is the power walk, and if you were sitting on him you would know exactly what I mean, and the other is the half-crouch where he bends his legs and dips his middle. He did both at the sound of clanging metal.

He even tried to do a mini sprint, but not wanting to encourage the flee response, I kept the whip still, and he reverted to normal. We went up and down that line of wire so many times even the neighbours came out to see what was going on. Toby promptly presented them with a massive dropping, and one, quicker off the mark than the others, grabbed his spade from the flower bed and scooped the lot up in one go, and ran off with his prize to the garage.

They wanted to ask questions. "What were we doing?" Why were we doing it?" And " Look at his huge moustache!" I felt duty bound to stand and chat. We were right by a skip and two of those giant builders bags. It wasn't so long ago that Toby was very much against having anything to do with either of them, but now he is happy to dip his nose in the bags, and takes no notice of the skip.

After patiently explaining what we were doing, we set off for the long track. It's a useful piece of terrain as it goes uphill with trees either side and bits of machinery parked along the fence, just visible through the branches. Horses can find this a bit spooky. I usually turn round at the top and retrace our steps making use of the downhill gradient.

We repeat the going up, standing, turning, going down, and stop at the bottom several times as it's very beneficial for their balance and their mind. I'm teaching Toby voice commands, and when he hears "Whoa", he can stop more or less in his tracks. This is quite a feat, especially cantering downhill. He really needs his hocks underneath him in order to listen to the cue, respond accurately and stop suddenly.

It takes a while to really get to know a horse inside out, and I feel I'm almost there with Toby. He has three visibly distinct modes. Shut down, relaxed, and adrenalised. Unsurprisingly he functions best in relaxed mode. The other two are synonymous with worry, and you wouldn't necessarily be aware of these different states unless you knew him really well.

He stands like a lamb now to have a shower, and was perfectly behaved for the farrier. These, and others that I've described, are firm indicators of how much progress we've made.

3rd June 10

I don't necessarily plan our route in advance, and there we were ambling down the drive in the sunshine while I thought over what would be best for Toby today. We stepped down the new ultra steep bank we've cleared onto the lane, where I noticed a large cardboard box had been squased flat by a passing vehicle.

I wanted Toby to walk over it, and had I not introduced him to wading through crumpled plastic tarpaulins, we might have had a bit of a battle. He did a peer and a snort but stepped on it without jumping off at the noise it made. All good so far.

Near the end of the lane were two dogs sitting quietly in the garden. For some reason Toby took exception to them, although I'm sure he's seen them before, he sees dogs nearly every ride. We rode on until we reached the neighbour with an outdoor school who has two dogs.

They caught my attention because they were barking. I thought it would be good to take Toby in to see them and ride around the school at the same time. We got inside the gates and the dogs were rushing around barking their heads off, providing Toby with a bit of a challenge. He seemed fine so we carried on to the school.

As we rode round it did cross my mind that I really wouldn't want to part company with Toby in there because it was like a giant litter tray, completely covered with dog poo. I won't be picking his feet out for a few days.

Toby found the school quite unsettling, and I'm not surprised because nearly every horse is the same. It might be the position, or just the fact that the damn dogs keep racing around barking. Three overweight sheep live next door, along with a lonely goose, so there was plenty for Toby to see. The sheep had succumbed to the heat and were lying flat out which he thought strange, but he can more or less cope with sheep now.

Toby seemed to have resigned himself to being followed and harrassed by the dogs, and after an initial small panic, was more interested in seeing what he could shy at over the rails. He actually found it all frightening, and I really had to work at keeping him straight and steady.

I do hope the owner isn't reading this, but one of the dogs is just the sort Cesar Millan is called in to deal with. I reckoned if Toby could cope with her, he will be set up for the future. One of her main activities among horses, apart from chasing them, is to pretend she's lost interest and wander off to the yard. She stands there watching, and just as you ride past the gate with your back to her, she runs at you fierce as you like. Poor Toby found this hard to deal with, and poor me, because I knew what was coming, and each time he would jump with a big spook.

All good things come to an end, and eventually the dog tired of that game because Toby no longer bothered to react. It was no fun for her anymore. He found the silence spooky, so he swapped his attention to objects, and started jumping inwards, or stopping dead as if he'd only just noticed something.

All normal green stuff we see with horses lacking confidence, so I kept him going. And going. And going. He was running on adrenaline and I thought I'd never get to the bottom of him. I ran through a few sequences of the one rein stop, had a couple of canters on either rein, and was just about to call it a day when I noticed the dogs coming back.

They'd obviously hatched a plan between them with greater entertainment value. Instead of their usual route to attack, they went to the other side where there is a grassy bank, and hid. I knew what they were up to, and had to admire their cunning. I knew Toby was going to freak a bit with this one, but I didn't let it show, and kept going.

He had no idea they were there, and as he passed, they pounced. Working as a unit they hurled themselves at his side barking for all they were worth. Toby's reaction was to shoot off down the other end of the school. There's a five bar gate there, and I know what he can do with those. I put the one rein stop into action before he got away from me, and he answered. He stopped. I was very pleased because this is still quite new for him.

I continued to ride him until I felt he was as settled as he was going to be, and dismounted to open the gate. Toby wouldn't stand still, he kept pushing me, and as I opened the gate, he tried to rush through. He isn't normally like this, and it showed me that underneath he is quite upset.

On the way home Toby was on high alert. It was like we were riding to the meet or something. His walk was very fast, too fast, and every so often he'd jog. He would come back to walk as soon as I tweaked the rein, but that's not the point. He was in a state of excitement or more likely, worry.

As we neared our drive, I felt his sides deflate as he took a deep breath or sigh, and instantly relaxed. He plodded the rest of the way, the old Toby was back. I do feel he is a particularly sensitive horse who can get anxious for what we would consider no apparent reason. At the moment he needs a firm but fair rider he can depend on. I am expanding his comfort zone by degrees, but when he is out of it, he feels exceptionally vulnerable.

4th June 10

I was pleased with Toby today, and felt he went really well. I rode him to the village green. It’s only our second visit, and my aim was to continue the work we were doing yesterday.

I felt he was quite relaxed walking down the lane, and was surprised when he jumped suddenly at a pigeon flapping in a tree. This was the first time he has ever done this in a straight line. I remember well the day Chatty got to the same place. It’s a small thing but such a milestone, a good indicator of progress.

The green was empty with few distractions as we rode round. I am still of the opinion that Toby is too forward in these situations for the comfort of his owner. I also feel this isn’t the real Toby, and he is manifesting some kind of inner worry. I’ve known so many similar horses, and without exception they find a more harmonious way of going with sympathetic riding.

At the moment he is to off the leg for his level of schooling. He thinks this is expected of him, possibly because he has probably been ridden this way by a former owner. I kept a soft contact without trying to make him round, or the other favourite, pulling him in to the bit.

I asked him to stand periodically, which he would do briefly, before feeling the urge to walk off. We would do some more, then try to stand until eventually he thought this was actually easier than moving. That was the cue to end the session and we headed back.

Although we left the green, Toby work wasn’t finished as I was hoping the caramel cows would be lying down under their favourite tree, but they weren’t there. We arrived at the cross roads and a miniature garden ornament pretending to be a windmill was spinning its arms. We’ve passed it countless times, but today Toby thought it very dangerous. I rode him closer so he could stare at it. I turned him round but once his back was to it, he became increasingly anxious.

Horses are like that. They like to keep whatever it is in front of them, and turning round is the signal to flee. Being a prey animal means if you stand still you might get leapt on from behind. Toby thought so anyway. We repeated the process several times until he was happy. It occurred to me that he could be frightened of parts of the rider. My riding hat has a silver strip on the front that’s slightly metallic, I drummed my fingernails against it, and Toby’s head shot up as he tried to locate the sound. He twisted his neck this way and that, and tried to run away.
It was reminiscent of the cow incident, his panic button was pressed, and he just wanted to go. Very interesting. I stopped tapping as I didn’t want to fan the flames of fear, and started it up again once he calmed down. I continued to do this until it didn’t bother him.

I said I was pleased with Toby, and one of the areas of improvement is the absence of head tossing when he's asked to stand. It slipped away so quietly I've only just realised its gone. Unless he's anxious, he will stand fairly patiently until asked to go on. It's clear to me now that all the backing up, pawiing the ground, and sideways stuff is his way of telling me he doesn't like where he is, he wants to get away.

All the way along the drive Toby was jawning away, releasing the adrenaline he was storing, and it was nice to see. Toby is a master of under as well as over statement, which is unusual, and I'm getting so much better at reading them.

7th June 10

I've found a field with eleven young aberdeen angus locally that our very generous farmer has said we can put Toby into. I plan to box him and another cow proof horse to spend some time in their field. We could take a picnic, and we'll definitely take the camcorder.

We rode to the forest today, trotting all the way. Toby didn't feel the least bit tired by the time we got there, he is getting fitter, which might account for it. On one of the long firebreaks I noticed a large dog streaking across the track ahead. Toby hadn't seen it, but I have to be aware of everything, yet react to nothing.

I considered turning off to avoid possibly meeting the dog if he retraced his steps, but thought it would be productive training to continue. Suddenly Toby heard a lot of thrashing about in the woods which always upsets him, and then the dog came bursting out just in front of us. Toby's first thought was to turn and run, but I managed to keep him facing the dog. I could feel how very scared he was underneath me. The dog's main purpose was to find his owner rather than bark and chase us, and away he went.

Although Toby could just about handle it, I think it would have been a different story with say, two or more, especially if they'd run behind him. Anyway, we were fine and continued our ride without incident, while I regularly ran through the drill of one reins stops.

I was delighted to see the piggies oinking and rooting near the road. They've been invisible for weeks. Toby pointed his moustache and poked it through the wire at two moist pink snouts. There was lots of noisy breathing from both species and squealing from the pigs. Toby seems fascinated by them rather than scared, and I would say he's ok with pigs within certain limits, which is really encouraging.

He was quite marchy all the way down the lane, although he was quite willing to stop and stand. His trot felt nicely forward, but I would have been happier had he felt steadier. We turned to enter the bridleway that takes us home, and I thought this will be interesting because there's a new and bigger hen run which some of the horses find threatening and hard to deal with.

They've made it out of a red mesh type material, which doesn't sound that bad, but horses routinely find this bridleway spooky, so perhaps the two together are a bad combination. Toby thought so anyway. He didn't do much until we were nearly past it, when he heard a scuffle in the bushes. It could have been the hens scraping about, or a pheasant as there's so many of them.

All the now familiar signs were there. The high steps, elevated head carriage, and quarters turned sideways. Toby was winding up for the off, and as I know, this happens with lightening speed. As we were going down quite a steep hill, I didn't fancy the idea. I was much quicker this time and quickly implemented the one rein stop.

He responded straighaway, and with his head round by my foot, he couldn't run off. I straightened him to continue and he went right back to having the intention to go. I held it all together and avoided a repetition of the cow drama, but it is strange that a bunch of hens can produce such an extreme reaction in Toby.

I turned him round and retraced our steps back up the hill so Toby could have another chance to improve, but he wasn't having any of it, and it was pretty much the same. I will take him back there tomorrow and try and work through it some more.

Once we hit the drive Toby slowed down to a plod of a walk and was much more relaxed. I think he runs on adrenaline a lot of the time. He's not alone, many horses appear sharp or too goey under saddle because they find it difficult to let go and simply go relax into the ride.

8th June 10

I felt very positive tacking up Toby fresh from a rare visit to the hairdresser. We trotted to the forest again, and there were the piggies up against the fence line beside the lane. Toby didn’t notice them because they haven’t been so prominent before. Suddenly he saw them and stopped dead. I asked him to go forward and I could feel him bulging underneath me. It got to a point where it all felt too much, and he did one on those sideways plunge and swing round actions horses do as an evasion.

I didn’t let him, but he gave it a good go. I brought him round to face them. He went up and did the nostril and snout routine. I asked him to walk on but when he realised the pigs were beside and behind him, he began to panic. He is genuinely terrified and I have to have an understanding of how he feels, while at the same time being quietly dominant in order to push the training forward.

The ferocious Rottweiler was there to further ignite Toby’s fear. He loves crashing about on the pebbles and throwing himself at the fence as we pass. Poor Toby had all this going on behind him, his ears were spinning like tops trying to work out which kind of noise to be frightened of first.

All the signs of the cow drama were there, but this time I was more prepared with the one rein stop and voice aids. The trouble is, you can’t ride your horse as if he’s going to do the worst, otherwise you end up with a tense and anxious animal. You have to trust the horse to a degree, whether or not it’s deserved. Now that I know what the triggers are for Toby, I can put solutions in place.

We spent ages going up and down while Toby wrestled with his inner fear daemons. His flight response was on high alert, but we kept it together, and when the pigs wandered off it was time to sign out. It was a bit of an anticlimax, I’d been totally living the moment, and suddenly we were on our own. Even the Rottweiler had given up and was lying flat out on the stones.

I decided to continue to the forest. As we entered, I noticed two dogs with their owners, one of them was free and making the most of it. After yesterday’s encounter with the big brown dog, I was a bit undecided whether to take the other track or not, especially after what we’d just been through. But I knew if Toby is to make progress, we do have to confront these things, and so we followed the dogs. The loose black one was running around in the woods somewhere, and I don’t think Toby had seen him. The owners told me he was used to horses, which is a help, and I told them I’d elected to come this way so that my horse could get used to loose dogs. The lady in that case she’d whistle him up. By this time we were in front of them, and I had no idea that the blast she gave would sound like one of those distress signals used in sinking ships. The black dog burst out of the undergrowth with amazing synchronicity, so Toby had two very different but unsettling noises behind him to deal with.

The amazing thing is, he didn’t react. I was so surprised I just sat there as we turned down a track to the right. Just as we were going round, the loose dog streaked straight past us. He was going so fast he looked like he only had one leg, the others blurred into the rest of his body. Another amazing thing, Toby stood still, without the tension that seems so part of his nature at times. This is a FIRST, and a landmark for him. This means there is a shift in his thinking, and a significant change in the way he normally reacts. I know that once I have this first sign, it’s the beginning of a new mindset.

We didn’t have time to check out the chickens, but since Toby walked sensibly past their red mesh run, it didn’t matter. I’m so pleased he has turned a corner. We’re by no means out of the woods, and Toby is very black and white in his responses. He's either ok, or he isn't, so this represents a significant improvement.

9th June 10

I took Toby on a really long ride, well out of his comfort zone. While we trotted endlessly up and down hills, I recalled how tired he got, lacking stamina for a sustained hack. He is definitely feeling stronger now. I also recalled how much he shied at every day stuff. He doesn’t do that now. In fact I would say that apart from the livestock issue, Toby has made great progress and feels much more established. Just then a rabbit hopped by and he jumped within his stride; little animals can still catch him out.

To be fair to him, the majority of our horses feel wobbly and uncertain on this route to begin with, and I wasn’t expecting a flawless performance. He didn’t give me one, but he wasn’t too bad. The worst bit for him was unexpectedly coming upon an enormous concrete pipe blocking up the entrance to a field. It was so big you could sail a boat inside it, and Toby was scared stiff. This pipe is guaranteed to give any rider a run for their money, and it presents the same challenge on the first encounter every time.

It has the surprise element too because it stays hidden until the horse is level with it, and the shock is usually very great. We were trotting at the time, Toby stopped dead and tried to swing round to the left all at the same time, but I didn’t let him. He refused to go forward, and I just want to make clear this isn’t napping, it’s fright. I encouraged him to go on, and then he wanted to run past it as quickly as possible.

I didn’t let him do that either. In fact I asked him to stop once it was behind us, but Toby thought it was coming after him and did his stress strut. I turned him round to come back and meet the monster. There was lots of blowing, heavy breathing, and ducking in and out, while he gathered the courage to sniff it. It must have smelled bad; I could tell by the way he kept trying to avert his face. I rode him back and forth past it first in walk and then in trot, made him stand beside it, and with it behind him until he did everything in a straight line and sensibly.

Toby is like a bloodhound, I used to think he had a breathing problem of some kind, but I’ve realised it’s his way of testing the atmosphere. Bats do it with radar, and Toby does it with smell. I think he can even taste it. There were various things throughout the ride that he felt he couldn’t pass without a wide berth. This is no longer allowed, and he knows very well what the rein against his neck means. He was made to repeat everything back and forth until he went by satisfactorily.

He was getting pretty tired by the time we made our way back through the forest, I knew he was longing to walk, but I made him keep going, I wanted him to be at the bottom of his energy levels in case we met the pigs. And we did. They were conveniently rooting around by the fence. Toby didn’t seem to mind them and marched up quite confidently to sniff the proffered snouts. I turned him back the way we came because I knew it would be easier for him to stand with them behind him if he wasn’t facing downhill towards home. He finds it really difficult to cope with anything out of his range of vision. He absolutely feels the pigs are out to get him. I turned him back the other way, we walked past them easily, but as soon as I asked him to stand he became increasingly anxious.

He was walking sideways, but the road is so narrow he soon hit the bank. He was so focused on the pigs he didn’t notice until his legs collapsed on one side and we found ourselves more or less sitting on the road. We were there a long time while I used every possible tactic to help him over this hurdle. He was so full of fear with them behind him that even the slightest sound made him panic.

I rode him up and down in trot ceaselessly until finally he would keep straight or stand still without speeding up or having a hissy fit. I’ve got some great plans to help him overcome his fear of movement behind him which I’m looking forward to.

10th June 10

I mounted Toby in a brisk wind today. Everything was moving, especially the plastic on the haylage bales. A couple of layers were detached and waving around like flags on a pole. Toby is much improved, he will go straight up and sniff everything as well as stand beside flapping plastic. He’ll walk over it without fear when it makes a crunching sound or gets caught up in his feet. However, he can’t bear to have sound or movement behind him, especially in his blind spot.

We spent ages at those bales. I can hit them with a whip while he stands, he didn’t even object when the strands of plastic blew into his face. That’s how brave he is becoming, a real change from the scared horse who wouldn’t walk past them closer than a metre. I really wanted him to stand relaxed as he listened to the flapping sound. He found this so difficult, tension was oozing from every pore, and all we had done was turn ninety degrees.

As I knew he couldn’t really go anywhere, I let him shoot forward when he couldn’t bear it any longer. He found the lack of restraint to his liking, and gradually the time between standing still and getting away lengthened. We did so many circles, stops, turns, whip banging, and walking over piled up tarpaulins that Toby finally realised he was still alive and not under attack. He actually stood relaxed while bits of plastic wrapping twirled and danced in the wind. Result. Toby has turned a corner.

I took him to the village green as I didn’t want to overload him with constant challenges. He needs time to digest everything; he has had a pretty full on week. I also wanted to see if he was more relaxed this time. At the entrance to the green a rusty roller was tucked away beside the fence. Just in case anyone mistook it for a footpath, it was surrounded by stripey work in progress tape, put together in a hurry so that the various knotted lengths had ends that billowed in and out like streamers.

As we know, horses hate new things appearing in a familiar place, and Toby couldn’t reconcile what he saw with what he knew it normally looked like. It became a big issue for him, and his fear, always willing to flood his system, reappeared. We spent a bit of time checking out the danger factor, but I wanted to get on and do some schooling.

Toby was much better this time. His trot felt more balanced because he has more control over his body, and he was definitely less worried about what I was going to ask him to do. Horses, especially cobs, who have experienced pressure in a school feel like this. It can be easy to mistake this kind of forwardness for true impulsion. If you are alert, you can feel the difference. One feels hurried, either in front or behind the leg, while the other feels soft and yielding because the horse is “on” the leg.

On the way out we had a bit of session with the roller. Step on involved walking past it in a dead straight line from either direction with a brief halt at either end. Step two was to do the same thing in trot without rushing or stopping. Step three was to stand for a decent length of time directly in front of it from either end without reacting to the sound of the wind playing through the tape.
Toby achieved a 100% mark of success after a few trial runs, and I couldn’t have been happier. He is still at the stage where he doesn’t trust me, the rider, to make the right decision for his safety. Exercises like these are so helpful in helping him gain confidence in himself and trust in me. He was a very good boy.

11th June 10

Today Toby felt like a normal horse. He hasn’t felt like that before, and by that I don’t mean he was abnormal, but I more or less had to make some kind of correction throughout the ride. I took him to the forest again to round off the week, and although there wasn’t much going on, Toby doesn’t need an excuse to find something to react to even when it’s empty.

I think the piggies have gone to market, but the Rottweiler still thrashes around by the gate every time a horse goes by. Toby stood perfectly still while all this was going on without turning a hair, even when he had his back to him. He isn’t fresh which helps keep things in perspective. Everything is magnified in horses’ minds when they feel energised, and diminished when they feel a bit tired.

We trotted along a straight stretch of road with open fields on either side full of horses. Some of them like to join us by trotting or cantering along the fence line. Toby has always been unconcerned about what other horses are doing, which is a real bonus. He kept to his pace and it wasn’t difficult to keep him looking straight ahead.

The large concrete pipe lives on this road, and I wondered how Toby would feel about it this time. We were still trotting as we approached it, and Toby passed by with only a minimal flinch. I was so pleased. It was quite funny; I could feel how hard he was concentrating. He was going to do his very best not to move even an inch to one side.

We trotted through the forest with Toby diligently going through the biggest of puddles without wavering. He stops dead to the voice now in canter, and the one rein stop is getting even more refined. We were both having fun and enjoying ourselves. It’s like a light has gone on inside Toby’s head, he has a much better understanding of what is expected of him.

Training horses is like working on a giant invisible jigsaw. The rider patiently crafts all the different pieces (training elements), and assembles them one at a time with the horse’s co-operation, until finally it all slots together. Sometimes it can seem as if you’re peddling backwards. The path to the well educated horse isn’t linear, more like a spiral that can go up as well as down. I feel his confidence in the process is growing to the point where he will cope that bit better when he comes face to face with a cow. I’ve worked Toby hard all week; he deserves a couple of days off where he can use the time to reflect on his experiences.

14th June 10

There was a lot of heavy plant in the yard when I brought Toby in, and he didn’t really know what to make of it. The low loader caught my eye. A good training opportunity presented itself if he would step on to it and stand. Apart from looking scary, the base was entirely metal so when Toby put his hoof on it, there was a loud clanging sound. A bit off-putting for him, but he did have a go. Although he wasn’t too sure, he stood still to have this moment recorded by the camera


For our ride, I decided to take Toby up the bridlepath at the village green. It goes quite a long way through a narrow wood, and then comes out alongside some very big fields. There were a few fallen tree trunks and branches which had been sawn to reveal a different colour face to the rest of the wood. These make most horses shy, especially now as they are partially obscured by grass.

We trotted all the way, and as we approached a bit of a tunnel between the trees, I asked for canter. Toby likes cantering, and set off willingly until he noticed the strange logs in funny colours lying each side of the path. I gave him a bit of a kick to keep him going, and he went one side of the path to avoid the log to the left, and then out again to keep away from the one to the right, all done while maintaining the canter rhythm. I took him back twice more until he was happy to keep it straight.

The path goes down quite a hill after that, and at the bottom is a field with shaggy sheep. I took Toby alongside them, and some came trotting over for a closer look. Toby didn’t like them moving behind him, and started to strut. There was an opening ahead directly onto a main road, and I was concerned that if he went, we’d cause an accident.

I turned him back round, but he found it difficult because he didn’t want to go into the barley. The path we were on was so narrow, he got his tail caught in the barb wire fence, and it made a loud pinging noise as he pulled it away which didn’t help.

Although we were in a vulnerable position, I didn’t want to leave the situation before he had a bit more exposure. We walked up and down a few time, standing here and there, and then repeated it in trot. When I felt he had done it proficiently, we retraced our steps.

Toby was a bit marchy on the way back, so I knew he wasn’t tired. We did a lot of steady trotting to the brow of the hill. It’s quite steep and uneven, and we don’t take horses here without being sure of their brakes. There was a lone dog ahead of us looking for his owner. Toby is usually good with them now, but whether it was the stance or the stillness I’m not sure, but he took exception to it. Luckily the owner soon appeared out of the undergrowth and Toby immediately relaxed.

I was glad about that as I have been chased to the bottom more than once in the past, and it’s really not nice going flat to the boards down such a steep incline. When we got to the cross roads, Toby could see the cows, they weren’t close, and we stopped to have a look.

I could feel him stiffen, and he became increasingly agitated. I couldn’t understand why since there was nothing much going on. He pranced about quite unsettled really, and then a lady with a dog who had been sitting motionless on the park bench rose up. Toby jumped out of his skin, and then I realised what the matter was. He’d associated the person and the dog with the cattle.

He was alright after that, and we made our way home. When we got to the yard, it was full of the sound of machinery. Toby didn’t like, although the others we had ridden throughout the day didn’t seem to care. I took him round to meet each machine and to climb over a sizeable pile of chalk. He didn’t want to stand beside the dumper, or look at the contents, but with a bit of persuasion he gave in.

As soon as we entered the stable block, Toby let out a loud neigh, so unlike him, as if to say, “Help, anyone, it’s horrible out there.” I expect by tomorrow he will be more used to the activity.

toby 1

15th June 10

We were surrounded by an angry hostile wind all day, and since the village holds few terrors for Toby now, but he’s not yet ready to cope with the elements in far-flung locations, I decided to be creative with a giant blue plastic bag. I asked our photographer daughter to take a couple of pics, and she took so many lovely shots I couldn’t decide which to select. In the end I wanted them all, and put them together in a little video.

Toby isn’t keen on plastic or the sound it makes, and he’s also frightened of things that flap, especially behind him. I thought this would be so good for him as it would address several fears in one go. You have to time this sort of thing correctly otherwise it can traumatise the horse if introduced too early in training.

Of course he didn’t like it at all, and ran around frantically on the end of the lunge. He couldn’t get rid of it no matter how hard he tried. He didn’t really do much, no panic attack or losing his self control. One of the main reasons is he’s ready mentally to deal with something as threatening as this.
The plastic was dragging on the ground at first, and from time to time he trod on it, and it got tangled in his back feet. That made him jump around a bit, but even that he got used to. By the time he went on the left rein, he was going very steadily. So nice to see. I brought him in and retied the sack on to his saddle. It draped across his back a bit, and then filled with air, making it go round like a sail. Poor Toby, he didn’t know whether to run, stop, or turn in towards me.

I feel there were gaps when he was started, and doing this with him helps fill them. When we finished we rode to the village. As we trotted along, I couldn’t see the caramel cows anywhere. With a bit of luck that meant they were in their favourite place under the tree beside the hedge. And they were. I saw them before Toby, and I brought him back to walk because I thought there would be a violent reaction if I didn’t.

I was stunned to discover Toby didn't mind them that much. In fact he would have kept trotting past within a couple of metres of them. They were lying down too. Horses can find this a strange position, especially as one of them looked to be laying right under the fence. For a moment I didn't know what to do, it was so unexpected.

First of all we walked a sixty metre stretch up and down, keeping tight to the verge. Then we stopped to say hello. Toby was keen to sniff noses, but sadly couldn't reach, they were too low. Then we trotted the same distance again and again until he barely looked at them. Afterwards we stood for ages while he snacked on a selection of grasses and leaves. He made little attempt to move away, and would stand in any position.

Incredible. His behaviour was so different, I might as well have been on a different horse. On that ride, if asked, I would have said this horse doesn't have a problem with cows. The main reason for the sudden turn around in Toby is that after the plastic work, walking on to lowloaders, and being made to face up to noisy machinery, cows didn't seem so frightening in comparison. The blue builder's bag worked its magic, and removed some of Toby's fear, and all in one day.

16th June 10

The wind blew all around us again today, it’s so tiring, not to mention that you can’t relax because of the noise. The undergrowth and bushes crackled, and the boughs creaked, making it hard for the horses to concentrate as well as distinguish sounds within sounds.

I took the builder’s bag and some baler twine, which I attached to the saddle D rings via the loops. Having thus secured the front, I brought the rest of it over Toby’s quarters, and pulled his tail through the slit he made in it yesterday when he trod on it. Half of him was successfully encased in plastic; he looked like some kind of faux jousting horse.

He was pillared in the passageway with two lead ropes either side of his bridle while I dressed him. I kept a watchful eye on his body language. I didn’t want him to freak, burst out of his restraints, and be gone with his colourful backend disappearing down the drive. I was confident that wasn’t going to happen, and it didn’t, but it’s best to be aware.

I attached the lunge line and gently moved him back a couple of steps so he could get the feel of it. Toby was wary, so I turned him round carefully first one way then the other, until I was sure he was ok. Then I tried to lunge him. Toby wouldn’t do more than tiny circles, so unlike him, he wanted to come in to me because he felt safer that way. I reassured him and at the same time drove him out with the end of the whip. The bag filled with air nicely, making ripping sounds as Toby struggled to trot round with this strange passenger on his back. Actually, he was very good, and better than yesterday.

Not content with this, when we got back to the stables, I got out the football supporter’s rattle and circled it. It makes a series of continuous loud clicks which every horse hates, including Toby. He thought this was much worse than being wrapped in plastic, and I was careful not to overwhelm him to start with.

In order for Toby to accept it without a fuss, I needed to introduce it to him in a way he could cope with so he could keep his fear at a manageable level, and make that all important positive association. I did this by encouraging him to sniff it. He wasn’t keen, I think he thought it would give him an electric shock, and I gave him a nut even with the slightest contact. He had to work for a nut by physically touching it, otherwise it’s not a reward, it’s a treat, which doesn’t have the same outcome.

He was a bit slow on the uptake, probably because I haven’t done as much of this type of work with him as Chatty for instance. I think of it as fast-track clicker training. We were making progress, so I started to move around him, rotating the rattle at different points around his body. There’s a definite sequence to follow in order to mark the desired behaviour, and there isn’t the space to describe it here, but we will cover it in the courses for more experienced ground workers.

Before I put the rattle away, I walked to the other end of the stable block in silence, turned round and walked back down twirling the rattle like a good ‘un. Horses really don’t like loud noises approaching them from behind, especially when they can’t turn round to take a look. I was very pleased with Toby, he dealt with calmly enough after a few goes. As I got nearer, all he was interested in was trying to see how soon I’d reach his head so he could have his nut.

There’s a broken fence panel on the lane, partially obscured by foliage, which creaks and groans eerily even in a slight wind. Nearly every horse finds the noise disturbing. I think it’s because it doesn’t follow a pattern, and sometimes the noise is so slight a horse needs to incline its head to catch the sound. Some try to scuttle past, none like to stop, but today Toby stood like a statue right next to it despite the whole hedge heaving in the wind. I know this is a direct result of what we did earlier. The rattle and the plastic force him, in the nicest possible way, to confront his fears, and come out the other side with greater confidence.

17th June 10

I rang the rattle as soon as Toby was eating peacefully in his stable. Apart from an initial startled look, he was much better, although he couldn’t bring himself to eat and listen to the dreadful noise at the same time. Apart from that, he has made the connection between it and a reward, which makes things easier for both of us.

I took him out into the yard on a headcollar. I wanted to line him up beside the low loader because yesterday he was quite evasive, running through the my restraining hand, and making for the nearest gate. We ride by it every day, he’s walked onto it several times, and yet in hand he tried to lean his shoulder into me and his back end as well. In the end I had to resort to a bridle to remind him he couldn’t just walk through me or push me out the way.

Today, he gave a bit of an upward thrust with his head, and other than that he did as I asked. Yesterday I had great trouble making him stand still beyond the end of the trailer. He tried every twist and turn he could think of to avoid just standing. He doesn’t do it mounted, but I need to be able to place him where I want him on the ground without all the fuss.

I mounted him with the rattle in my pocket, then took it out and spun it. This was only the second time I’ve done it on a horse, and I was interested to note his reaction. I felt I had prepared him adequately beforehand, as my aim was to continue de-sensitising him to weird sounds rather than causing a drama. I’m glad to say he was very accepting, and when I brought my arm down by my side, he could see it out the corner of his eye, and brought his head round so I could give him a nut. That gesture showed me he understood what was happening.

We accompanied Lily to the forest, and throughout the ride I randomly swung the rattle round and round at all paces. Fortunately Lily, who had no prior introduction, couldn’t care less, which says a lot for her too since she’s only five. The ride was uneventful, which was nice. The main reason for going together was to practise cantering in company for Lily. I eased Toby into a steady canter, his stride is longer than hers, and soon the gap between us widened. We were going slightly uphill, and I could feel Toby tiring, and before he could think of dropping back to trot, I said “Whoa”. I’m quite definite when I say it, and the result is quick, he stops dead. Poor Lily didn’t hear the command and rode into the back of him. It was all quite gentle, if a bit sudden, and no harm was done.

We were nearly home when I had the idea I would take out the rattle to one of the horses nearby. As I anticipated, he was quite shocked. He swung his head about, snorted, and made little jump-like movements on the spot. The interesting part though was Toby’s reaction. In an instant he became unsettled, merging with the other horse’s fear. I know when Toby’s upset because he wants to keep his legs moving. He was anxious to get away, and was slightly on edge all the way back. He even gave a violent shy at an elderberry bush. He hasn’t done that for a while.

Up to that point, Toby had been perfectly behaved, clearly demonstrating how some horses pick up and copy other’s behaviour. That’s why it’s so important to choose an appropriate partner when riding in company.

18th June 10

We didn’t do any fancy stuff today; instead we went on a ride along the bridlepath over the hill at the village green. I wanted to see how he would be with the sheep after all the desensitising I’d done with him.

I’ve found something new about Toby; I know when he’s unsettled he won’t keep his feet still, but not what a push on ride his is when he’s relaxed. Now that he is able to go into that place, he can show me his true nature, whereas before he more or less operated on a level of anxiety so that he appeared livelier than he really is.
He was lovely and steady, trotting all the way to the green, up the steep hill, and all along the path beside the big field of barley. He didn’t do more than quiver at the dead branches with their funny colours, and cantered so nicely up the little tunnel of trees, barely looking at the fallen logs on either side.

We walked further on down towards the road, and it is here that a great panoramic vista opens up which horses can find difficult. They can see shapes moving about in the distance, and they’re never sure what they are. Not only that, but these shapes move about pushing even stranger shapes. We are overlooking the golf course with the players and their golf buggies. It all depends on the horse; sometimes if you let them stand and stare, they get all excited by the watching. It’s a good policy to keep this sort distracted by making them pay attention to picking their way down the hill. For others, and Toby seems to be one of them, they like to stand for ages to satisfy their curiosity.

At the very bottom is the little sheep field. We’ve been here before, but today there was something about these sheep that Toby didn’t like. Maybe to him they are different sheep. I could feel him tensing up. He stopped quite a few yards from them, and was reluctant to walk on. Not a good sign. He didn’t do anything really, but you could feel how primed his body was, especially when he had his back or side to them. Since they were all sitting down, they weren’t exactly threatening, but perhaps they were to Toby. I have to be a bit careful because of the busy road close by which he could easily run into if he panicked. I walked up and down many times, and he did feel less tense, but not that much. This is disappointing because I felt we had progressed beyond that.

I will try and set up a meeting for him with the two overweight indolent ewes next to the excitable dogs next week. That should help ease his prejudice. On the way back we did some voice aids for walk to canter and canter to halt along the woody bridlepath. It’s important to have structure if you’re cantering towards home, especially stopping and starting, which tends to wind up even the quietest horse. I offset any yearnings to get home quickly by turning round and doing the same exercise in the reverse direction. Once horses know they are going to have to do this several times, it begins to seem like work, and thoughts of excitement soon disappear.

Toby is a really honest little fellow, and when he finally realises it's ok to share his life with other creatures, he will be fine. Due to his background, he'd rather spend time with noisy lorries than sweet little lambs. How strange is that!

21st June 10

I don’t think Toby liked what we did today one bit. I tied a long piece of baler twine onto the loop of a builder’s bag, attached it to the saddle, and lunged him. I wanted him to truly accept something dragging on the ground behind him from a distance away. As he went round, it tracked him diligently about two metres behind him. Sometimes it would twist a bit and veer round more to the side, and it was altogether frightening for him.

I have done a lot of plastic work with him, perhaps more than most, but he still finds it really hard. He didn’t panic on a circle, but he certainly wasn’t relaxed either. He would get used to it on one rein, and then get scared all over again when we changed it. I spent ages changing direction back and forth. Although he doesn’t like the noise, it’s the movement he can’t cope with. By the time we finished, he was wet with sweat, not from effort so much as worry.

I walked him up and down in straight lines with the bag attached, turning this way and that, until I felt he was as composed as he was going to be. Then I mounted him with the string in one hand, and we rode to the village with the “enemy” bumping along behind. We were a very strange sight, and everyone we passed stopped to stare or ask questions.

Toby began to realise that when he stopped, so did the bag, whereas the faster he went the more it pursued him. He wanted to stand so he could get a bit of peace and quiet while I patiently answered questions. We were doing really well until a slight breeze entered the bag making it sail silently past us. Toby was far more frightened of it in this position. This was a real threat! He stopped but the bag didn’t. It must have thought it was too dull being pulled along behind, and decided to do a series of low jumps across the road.

I was prepared for something like this; I could simply drop the string if it all got too much. It began to look like I would have to because Toby was increasingly agitated, and all I wanted was the bag to deflate and lie down. Fortunately it did, and there we were, horse and rider on one side of the road, with a string going across it to a big white sack on the other. Luckily not a single car came by, and rather than dismount to put everything back in position, I started to reel it in towards us. This was too much for Toby, and I had to abandon that idea. I wasn’t going to give up, and still holding the string, I made him walk to the bag and step on it.

He cleverly evaded actually walking on it by moving his shoulder this way and that. Now the cars were coming, and I still wasn’t going to give up. So with the traffic doing a detour round us, me and Toby were each trying to work out how to get our own way. Of course I had to win, and he was gracious in his defeat, carefully placing each leg down as he crossed the bag.

Now the bag was nearer, I tried again to reel it in with more success. I even lifted it up and draped it round in front of me. For the rest of the ride I would swap the string from hand to hand so Toby got used to it from both sides. We circled too, while the bag lay in the middle as we walked round. Toby didn’t like that either.

Guess what we will be doing for the rest of the week? Yes, more of the same until Toby is totally switched off to all of it.

22nd July 10

Toby was so much better with the big white bag today. He hardly needed lunging, and he wasn’t particularly worried when we changed direction either. We rode off down the drive towing the bag behind us as we did yesterday. Although he was slightly wary, it was a vast improvement on yesterday.

I took him a bit further into the village since he seemed more confident. I was able to swop hands as we went, which meant the bag changed sides as well. All good stuff.

It’s interesting to listen to the sound because it changes depending on the surface. Toby hears it too, and sometimes stiffens or rushes forward a bit when we walk over gravel, or even different types of tarmac. If it goes into a pothole there’s a momentary silence and then the swishing, dragging noise returns. Toby doesn’t like silence followed by a sound, so I carefully introduced a pause and pull effect. This was a bit of a test, but after a while he began to get used to it.

It’s easy to forget how far we’ve come, and what a triumph this is for him. Plastic in any shape other than a bucket filled him with fear, and now he goes along with a big lump of it trailing behind him. We did some fancy stuff today too, like reeling it in towards him with the string, casting it out again like a fishing line, and carrying it out to one side like a small aircraft’s wing. We can do a lot of this in trot too. We walked in endless circles, first one way, and then the other, so he could get used to seeing the bag trace its own little circle on the inside. I thought we looked like a giant organic compass going around.

Toby’s a funny fellow. It can seem as if he’s ok with something, and then he gets revved up about it, and in this case it’s the bag; I bring it in front of him and make him walk over it. I’m not sure why this settles him, but it works. Perhaps he feels he “owns it”. I feel a bit like a puppeteer as I try to juggle the reins, the string, and the whip, without getting tangled up. My dexterity must have improved a lot as I negotiate Toby into all sorts of positions with the bag.

We are still receiving comments and stares. One driver stopped his car to enquire whether we were ok, and another wanted to know whether I was leaving home since it looked like I’d packed my bags. (I was carrying it at the time). A neighbour came out to tell me he was going to bring me a red wine stirrup cup in honour of my patience with Toby. Who knows what offers I’ll get tomorrow!

I asked another neighbour whether she’d got her pigs yet. She’s not having them this year, but she invited us into her tiny paddock to mingle with her sheep. I readily agreed, and rode off to get Annie to film it. I won’t describe how it went as you will be able to see for yourself. Toby wasn’t very happy to find himself among so many sheep and chickens, but he wasn’t too bad. You can’t really tell from watching, but there was a lot of tension in him, and he really needs to be bombarded with different animals around him until he forgets that he ever found them threatening.

A last note on the English flags which seem to be everywhere at the moment. Apparently they are causing accidents to horses on the road. Our village is awash with them. They festoon windows and doorways, and bunches of them flutter from cars. Fortunately all our horses are totally oblivious to them, including Toby. We filmed him standing underneath a huge flag on a pole in the sheep garden, and he didn’t even notice it. I’m sure the training has been very helpful with this.

23rd June 10

We did something different today. Toby had a responsible position as escort for one of our other horses, who was being ridden by a lovely lady lacking a bit of confidence. Although we didn’t attempt anything daring, and kept it steady, the lead horse has to be totally dependable throughout. Horses feed off each other’s nerves easily; the atmosphere can soon become strained and loaded with tension.

In controlled non-threatening situations, Toby is very dependable. It was a good exercise for him in many ways, like walking or trotting beside another horse. He’s ok if they keep in a straight line, but you know how they are, they can wander, which makes him nervous. He thinks he’s going to be kicked or bitten, and stops. This is easily remedied with practice, and is merely another skill he needs to learn. In fact he was behind for a large part of the ride, giving me the opportunity to regulate his proximity to the horse in front.

This is important, because horses learn to stick to the one in front like glue without any encouragement. Then they get anxious if gaps appear between them. The best way round this is to have a level of independence. Toby’s quite good about this, but left to his own devices, he automatically trots as soon as the one in front does. Most riders are unaware of the association they are helping to build for the future by asking for trot or canter merely following the one in front.

It might seem like detail, but if you like to feel you are in control of the horse’s pace and speed, you need to set the rules from the beginning. Today, when we were behind, I didn’t allow Toby to trot unless asked. He thought this strange, but soon got the idea, and was happy enough to see the one in front trotting away for some fifty or sixty yards before he was allowed to break pace. His trot was stronger than if he’d been alone, indicating his desire to catch up. With practice this will all but disappear, but for some, it’s a real problem. Horses that jog, pull, and go sideways, demonstrate how easy it is to become competitive.

Teaching horses the right way to be compliant in company is a process, and we believe an important one. Due to Toby’s early upbringing, which I understand was a bit solitary, he’s not particularly clingy, which is a bonus. Of course he could have suffered from increased separation anxiety, requiring a different strategy. I’ve ridden him in company so little because there’s a huge amount to do in other areas, but towards the end of his training, we will run through the programme. I’ve a feeling he’s one of those who gets upset if his companion starts mucking around, but we shall see.

I reached for the umbrella as I was turning him out. I lead him in a headcollar and rope, opening and shutting it, swinging it around, you name it, Toby was largely unfazed. All the previous behaviour seen in the video was gone. I let him go in the paddock, still holding the umbrella up. He stood completely free until a couple of horses who are at the beginning of their training caught sight of it. They came shooting up, skidded to a halt before wheeling around and running off. Toby didn’t think standing there was such a good idea and wandered off. I have to keep reminding myself that it wasn’t long ago that I couldn’t even rustle branches with my stick or clothing without Toby trying to rush away, and here he is now, king of the builder’s bag!

24th June 10

There is no diary today as I am so busy preparing for tomorrow's course. Annie rode Toby and said he is lovely, which of course he is, but hardly surprising as she loves them all! If I can get it finished, I will add a link to the Toby and the Sheep video we took recently. I will be back on Monday.

28th June 10

Since Toby dislikes things behind him, I thought it would be interesting to see what he made of the Pessoa. This is a piece of equipment full of ropes and pulleys attached to a roller, which encourages the horse to move from behind. The important piece is the part which goes round the hind legs, and sits above the hocks, in the groove at the back of the second thigh.

Toby must have seen it was different, and wanted to give it a good sniff first. Once he’d rummaged it with his nose, I put it on his back. It’s a bit like a Chinese puzzle, and no matter how carefully you take it off, once you try and put it on again, it mysteriously contorts so that none of the bits are in the right place. I took his tail and lifted it to pull it through. Well! Toby nearly sat down, and his quarters sunk as he tried to shoot forward. I’m not really surprised as I feel there’s some unresolved history with his rear end.

I took my time and eventually got everything in place. I walked him up to the fields for a bit of a lunge. I could sense he wasn’t going to do anything like tear around or throw his back legs in the air at every stride as some of them do once they feel the pressure behind them. Luckily that’s not Toby’s style. Instead he tends to internalise things. It takes a heightened awareness to notice his small demonstrations of unease. One of his favourites is not standing still, and true to form, he kept walking round me in tiny circles while I tried to get the clips on the right place. It was so hot that after a few circuits on either rein, Toby was dripping like a sponge, and I called it a day as he wasn’t taking any notice of anything, just going round with a resigned expression on his face.

I thought we would go along the bridlepath at the top of the green to see how he felt about the sheep after last week’s reintroduction. I think the heat was too much for humans and animals, there was no sign of life anywhere, and certainly no sheep. I wasn’t sure whether Toby was worried or fresh, and it is hard to tell because his behaviour is exactly the same. He was twitching a lot at birds and snorting at rubbish bins. When we were trotting off road, he had the tendency to surge. This is a strange feeling, and anyone who has experienced it will know what I mean.

When we got back down to the green, Toby still seemed full of running. I had already realised he wasn’t anxious, just fresh. I thought we might use some of it up by cantering straightaway. When he’s energised, he has a lovely canter, and I was enjoying it so much. We spiralled the circles inwards using the outside rein and leg, with some impressive ninety degree turns. Change the rein, walk to canter, and repeat. He takes to this kind of thing like a duck to water, and as were going round, I thought I bet he can do a flying change; he’s going so well and feels so balanced.

I brought the right rein into his neck while giving a bit of a kick with my right leg, shifted my seat out at the same time as an extra cue, and hey presto, we were leading with the left lead in one. Very impressive. Despite the heat, Toby performed really well, and without the worry that he previously suffered from.

On the walk home, we spent a bit of time at the new road works. They’ve dug a fresh trench enclosed by red and white plastic barriers. Triangular warning signs were dotted around, some in red, and others in blue. Toby is very good now with this kind of thing, but I wanted him to be even better. I wanted him to go up to them and sniff them, and stand still while a banged them with the metal end of my whip. Before the work with the footballer’s rattle and the low loader, it would have been too much to expect of him. He’s so much better now. He’s still a bit wary, and I have to give him confidence, but a real improvement all round.

In front of us was a large parasol resplendent in England’s colours shading an egg stall. Where do people get this merchandise? Toby marched up to it as if to say, “I know what this is, it’s only an umbrella”, and punched it with his muzzle so hard I thought he would dislodge it from its stand. Given Sunday’s performance, he might be doing the owner a favour, but I managed to pull him away. As I dismounted at the yard, I saw a trail of sweat dripping onto the ground under Toby’s belly. He was in desperate need of a shower. I connected the green curly hose and sprayed him all over. He’s so good with this now, you don’t even have to hold him. Soon I will be able to do it at liberty.

I plan to get the trailer out this week and start loading practice in preparation for taking him down to the marsh where some friends have a farm with sheep and a donkey. I’ll make sure the camera is fully charged.

Apparently there's a planning application gone in to cover the village green with houses. Perhaps I should ride around it on Toby carrying a placard protesting against such an unwanted development.

20th June 10

We went to the forest with Lily today. It’s not that pleasant at this time of the year due to the horse flies. Mini swarms of them follow us, latching on to any piece of bare flesh, including ours. If we keep trotting, they don’t have the opportunity to land. It’s a bit of a hunt round or get bitten. Toby is fitter now, and doesn’t find it such hard work to keep going.

He led all the way while Lily got used to a widening gap between us, or even going briefly out of sight. I am able to swing along on him with both reins in one hand, his steering is much improved, when he lost impulsion and his head shot up. This was on the lane where the pigs live. They’re not there anymore, but Toby seemed to think they are. At one point he stopped altogether and tried to swing round to the left.

This is unusual behaviour for him now, especially as I couldn’t see anything to warrant it. I caught him with the reins in good time, and gave him a crack on the side of his bottom with the whip. Toby isn’t in the least bit frightened of it now because he doesn’t see it as punishment. Use of the stick has many facets, and the horse can only understand them if all fear of the whip is removed.

He wouldn’t have tried to turn in walk, but that’s baby behaviour. He knew what I wanted, but the worm of fear took precedent. Apart from this minor incident, we had a really lovely ride. Toby was forward, but not too much, willing and compliant with everything asked of him. He gave me a great feel, especially in canter. The plan was for him to lead so Lily could get comfortable with being behind. We’ve done this before, but you can never do too much of it in the right way, ever.

A little note on cantering behind in company: it’s important not to introduce it before the horse is completely happy trotting behind. That means not wanting to constantly catch up, or rotating the neck and ears listening to sounds from the rear. The lead horse must have an easy sensible straight line canter with good brakes. Toby qualifies for this, and canters to the voice as well. I ask him to step up a gear, and Lily is required to keep trotting until she is non-invasively given the canter aid. Choosing an uphill gradient is wise, and it’s good practise to stop and stand for a while after each session.

The aim is always to keep things calm with an everyday mentality. Lily and Toby took it all in their stride without excitement or adrenaline rushes. Our final canter was slightly downhill with each of us riding our respective sides of the track. Lily took up canter first, while Toby was happy to stay in trot until asked to canter. His balance was good, he felt light in the hand, and I knew I could come down a gear at a moment’s notice. You can’t ask for more than that at his level of training.

We were back on the lane when we heard galloping hooves behind us. We couldn’t see anything behind a tall thick conifer hedge. I wondered what Toby’s reaction would be as it wasn’t coming from his favourite position. I was pleased he didn’t seem to care particularly, and Lily wasn’t bothered either.

Part of the plastic tape marking a new driveway under construction had become detached and was wafting about in the breeze. Most horses find this off-putting, and Toby tried a bit of sidling, but responded to the opposite leg well enough to stand right beside it, once he’d given it the once over with his nose. He would have made a drama out of this before we did the work with the builder’s bag; it has made such a difference. He is definitely more accepting of noises and movement behind him.

I gave him a shower on his return. He’s so good to hose, he just stands without being held. As I was moving round him to wet the other side, he thought he’d wander off to pick at some grass. He understands the word “stand”, and that’s what he did when he heard me say it. But the funny part was he was in mid-step, and for the rest of the time stood there with a bent knee. He didn’t like to even move to straighten it!

30th June 10

Toby was right yesterday when he thought he smelled pigs. There are seven of them, babies in several colours. I was glad to be on another horse when I saw them, giving me prior warning when it came to Toby’s turn for riding. He felt more relaxed today, no freshness or excess energy to ride through. He goes down the spooky bridleway at the bottom of our drive now without snorting. I have almost forgotten that he used to do it every time.

I made him trot all the way to the pig place so he would be a bit tired, but when we got there, they weren’t visible. I knew there are a few sheep further on the lane which he hasn’t met yet, and the big concrete pipe hiding in the gateway to trot past on the way. I saw the sheep before he did, and tried to keep him trotting, but when he saw them he put the brakes on. There are four of them, all extremely fat, and prone to lying down against the stock fencing. They belong to a horsey family and are very tame. Toby thought they looked very odd, and rushed past with his head up in the air, but only for a few lengths.

I rode him back and forth several times, and encouraged him to put his neck over the wire to look at them. Once he realised what they were, more or less motionless sheep, he was fine. There didn’t seem much point in hanging around, so we continued our ride into the forest and back to where we started near the pigs.

I spoke with the lady who owns them, and she very kindly invited me into the yard so that Toby could see them. They were spread out along the bottom of the gate in an effort to escape the heat. Toby quite likes going up to them with a bit of encouragement, even craning his neck over the gate to get a sniff of them. He’s hesitant and unsure, but doesn’t say no as long as they are in front of him.

I knew the test for him would be when he turned so his quarters were to them. Toby wheeled round intent on shooting forward. I wouldn’t let him, but he wouldn’t keep still, swinging his back end out to the left. The problem was the trailer parked right beside us, and every time Toby moved backwards or sideways, he hit it with his back legs, which would upset him even more.

When this happened, I would turn him back to the pigs again to stand and stare at them. I repeated these manoeuvres endlessly until Toby finally agreed to stand without fidgeting, tossing his head, going sideways, or trying to shoot forward. There was a barn on our other side, and I used its weatherboarding to scrape my whip down it. The sound was loud, and although Toby no longer minds this kind of thing, he thought the pigs must be responsible for it, so he didn’t like it.

After a time, he got used to that as well. Meanwhile the pigs were hot and irritable lying so close together. They were squealing and grunting and falling into the wire with a pinging sound. Horses don’t like pigs’ voices, but Toby is getting used to them, in fact he was quite good about it.

He was very happy to leave, marching out purposefully heading for home. I’m pretty sure that if he were to meet pigs, sheep, or even cattle head on, he would be manageable, which is more than you can say for the majority of horses. For Toby, any livestock behind his shoulder poses a threat. However, we are making progress, and I firmly believe that sooner or later he will lose that raw fear.

Interestingly, he is also scared of stationery lorries when the engine’s running. We passed a big one today, and he didn’t want to go in a straight line past it. Just as I’d forced him to keep going, the air brakes hissed; Toby nearly jumped out of his skin. He doesn’t do that in normal traffic. I’ve come to the conclusion that his world is very black and white, and if he could choose, wouldn’t be subject to change. The good news is, once Toby has really accepted a situation or object, he’s fine with it. I don’t have to endlessly reinforce the same thing.

1st July 10

It was back to the builder’s bag today for Toby. He needs regular exposure otherwise he will become frightened of it all over again. He hadn’t forgotten what we did last week, and to make it even more worthwhile we went down the bridlepath at the end of the drive. Horses tend to find this quite a spooky route. Certainly Toby did his share of snorting in the early days. I’m not sure why this should be, except that there are some places with a different kind of atmosphere or energy which horses are sensitive to.

Dragging the bag down the bridleway makes a different noise than on roads or gravel. It tends to get caught in the undergrowth, and until I tug it free there is silence followed by a whooshing sound as it trails out the bushes. Lack of sound can be as disturbing as too much noise. It’s the same when clipping. Horses get used to the hum, and if you turn the clippers off, they invariably jump when the motor starts up again.

It’s the same when we stop. There’s no noise because the bag isn’t moving. As soon as Toby walks on, the bag makes a noise. At first he used to surge or get bunched up, but I’ve done stop and start so often he doesn’t mind anymore. He did mind the sound of breaking twigs; he wasn’t sure about that at all. You would think he would dislike the noise of the bag pursuing him down the road more than the sound of snapping sprigs, which just goes to show how particular you have to be to cover all angles.

He was a bit of an old hand going into the village. His neck reining is much more accurate now, and for the most part I can direct him with one hand. I do fancy actions with the free one which gets him used to all sorts of different movements. He’s really keen to “own” the bag now. He pushes it around vigorously with his whole face, even pawing it. This activity is part of the process of domination. Geldings are more likely to display this behaviour, and it comes from a place of confidence. Horses are shy of anything that frightens them, they wouldn’t dare to stomp on it, or try and tear it to bits.

We did a lot more trotting too, especially in circles at road junctions. This is hard to do accurately while maintaining a rhythm without a bag, and I was delighted with Toby’s performance. He’s no longer frightened when he sees the bag coming round him on a curve. We trotted along another short bridlepath full of overhanging branches. I had to lie on his neck to get under; another good test.

We didn’t go up the drive to the stables. I took Toby further up the road to where you can climb or jump up the bank. It is quite steep, but I thought it would be a good way to round off the ride. Toby sprung willingly off the road, and got a bit of a shock when he realised the bag was bouncing along behind him. Then it got stuck in a prickly bush, and as he jumped forward it pulled free. Toby found that difficult to handle, but at least he stopped when I asked.

Toby’s expression is changing, and his eye looks very different to when he arrived. It seems brighter and more open somehow. I’m keen to hear Teresa’s opinion when she comes to visit next month. We do find the Foundation Training changes them from the inside out, and Toby’s demeanour has definitely altered.

2nd July 10

Toby has some skin irritations on his legs probably due to the thickness of his feathers. We find this occurs often enough with hairy type cobs, and everything heals better once the air fully reaches their legs. He also gets very hot with his thick coat, even though it’s a summer one, so I thought it time to introduce him to the clippers. We’ve heard he’s not too keen on clipping, which is another reason we haven’t even tried before today.

If horses are funny about specific things or difficult in certain areas, they are more likely to be averse to clipping as well. There were lots of things Toby didn’t like which I’ve already written about, but he has made great strides in trust and understanding, and I felt he is mentally ready to make the leap to becoming good to clip. Hairy legged cobs can be one of the most challenging with their legs, they are very protective of them, so I didn’t attempt to reach those regions on his first day.

We set up the video camera because we fully expected a lengthy, and possibly dramatic prelude before we could begin. We follow a certain procedure with each horse unless we know they are happy to be shaved. The easiest are those who have never been clipped, and the hardest or most dangerous are those who have been forced into submission. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. Irish horses, exported during the winter months, are some of the greatest victims of rough handling. I think Toby might fall somewhere between the two, and I made sure to take it carefully.

If I think there’s going to be a problem, I start with the small quiet clippers to get them used to the noise and feel. I either use clicker training or a short cut version to help de-sensitise them. Toby already knows about this from the work we did with the umbrella. Those concepts helped him a lot when I was removing his whiskers and beard. I have to confess I mowed his moustache, leaving two little buds; incubators for new growth should Teresa go for the military look later on.

Although initially wary, Toby was incredibly good, and very accepting. Looking through the video clips, it’s all so dull because he just stands there doing nothing. Of course there was a lot behind what you see. My body language was very slow and non-threatening. I moved as little as possible, in slow motion, with soothing thoughts coming out of my mind the whole time. I only worked on his face, but that’s a very important area. How often do we hear of horses who won’t let you clip their head?

I am absolutely confident Toby is going to be fine with the rest of his body, but not necessarily his legs, for the reasons mentioned above. I’m aware it was his first session, and I never take good behaviour for granted. I know the hard work behind it. There will be a few more sessions, and when I feel he’s ready we will start at the top and work down. The fact that he allowed Annie to cut his feathers with scissors is a bonus, and of course he needs to be generally comfortable with the heavy duty clippers.

We went for a quiet relaxed ride to finish our day. I’m really pleased with Toby’s progress. He has turned so many corners, and as his confidence grows, his character is starting to shine through. Toby’s a bit of a loner, and still keeps himself somewhat separated from the others, but he has made one friend. I often see him and Tinker doing mutual grooming which is lovely. He definitely knows who I am because he makes a beeline to me every morning without fail while I poopick. He stands quietly right in front of me, and I know he’s talking, if only I could hear what he’s saying.

5th July 10

Lily left on Saturday to start grown up life with her mummy Alison, and I don’t mind admitting it was a bit of a wrench to see her go. When you spend so much time and dedication training horses for the outside world, you understandably become attached. We wish them every success for the future, and hope to stay in touch. The reason for writing this is that the highlight of the week has been a gentle ride on Lily for the young niece who is 12 yrs old. Now that she is gone, I was considering who is the best option for her replacement, and Toby got the job yesterday.

This position of responsibility involves a ride round the “small block”, along the narrow wooded bridlepath where Toby used to snort and quiver his way through. Flapping pigeons are guaranteed, and I heard afterwards that there was also a pheasant that rose up from a pile of brush right under Toby’s nose. Apparently he didn’t turn a hair. Now that’s progress.

I took him to the forest today. He is one of the few horses who can cope with being tormented by horse flies, which is just as well given his home is in the New Forest. I spend a good deal of time leaning over him this way and that swatting them. I use the schooling whip as well, waving it all around him including his head to stop them landing. The ones that stick on under the belly are hard to reach with anything else, and he’s getting used to the feel of the whip sliding around sensitive areas. He didn’t like it when it went between his back legs, or indeed on any part of any leg, but that’s much better now.

The pigs were asleep in the shade as we trotted by, and Toby couldn’t see them, but he can smell them from a long way off. It’s so good for him to get a whiff and keep trotting on. He’s getting better at this too. The ferocious Rottweiler was just as frenzied as usual despite the heat. I think he must be having some kind of joint supplement because he seems to leap even higher and moves quicker on the pebbles. This makes a greater noise, and I was very pleased that Toby would stand with his back to him without jigging about or going sideways. You know when horses don’t have true acceptance about something when you turn them away. In nature, this is the signal to run, which is why circling needs a lot of attention on the correct steps; otherwise it simply winds them up.

We have given Remi a training break. We simply don’t have enough hours in the day, and so we boxed him up to the outlying field where we have three others on the dole. Unfortunately the gate was locked, and rather than take him all the way back again, we put him in another paddock with two strange mares, and guess what else? A small herd of around ten black cows! I’ve never known the owner to run cattle before, and how fantastic is that! Luckily Remi doesn’t kick strange mares or bolt at the sight of cattle, so he’ll be fine, though I expect they are wondering where the extra horse has come from.

We can take Toby up there at any time. The fact that there are other horses there will be a great help too. In a way I’m in no hurry because there’s still loads to do. Toby has vastly improved from the emotionally fragile chap he was when he arrived, but he still very much looks to the rider for confidence. It’s the long road now to building his belief in himself and the world so he won’t need so much prompting and encouragement; he will know what it’s all about and be fully able to take Teresa on some amazing hacks.

6th July 10

We had an “incident” today with the cows. That’s probably not a strong enough word, in view of the disturbance Toby caused. Our plan was to ride through the farm with Connelly who is ultra reliable with cattle. We ran into trouble when I heard slight crackling in the undergrowth. Toby wasn’t too worried, but when he realised there were three cows looking down at him from the bank he went a bit berserk. Connelly stood there while Toby pranced and danced trying to either turn or get away. I had prepared for this by having two reins attached, but even so it was a struggle to maintain control.

I was determined Toby wouldn’t get away and set Connelly off, who was standing stock still wondering what all the fuss was about, but Toby’s extreme emotional state would be too much for any horse. I kept him in a circle to the left as this is the rein he has been taught in the one rein stop. I rode around for a bit, up and down, and then got off as soon as I could because Toby’s tension was building; it was enormous.

You can imagine the scene. Toby isn’t just frightened of cattle, he is completely phobic. I find this strange, and to us humans it seems totally irrational, and out of all proportion to the situation. After all the cows were simply standing there enjoying Toby’s performance in an otherwise dull day. He spun round and round endlessly on the end of the reins. He even decapitated the two ornamental mushrooms at the entrance to the big house. He was so wired he didn’t even notice the band of horse flies attached to his chest, which by now was dripping with sweat. I didn’t notice those glued to my arms either, and as I write this, I see I’ve been bitten to pieces.

I managed to remount but it was pointless as he was much worse when ridden. I was so focused on not letting him get away and perhaps taking Connelly with him that when the right moment presented itself I got off again. I told Annie to continue her ride as I didn’t want Connelly exposed to all this. Toby didn’t even notice his departure, he was too concerned about the cows. Sometimes he would stand briefly to face them and give out a huge trumpet sound before recommencing the endless circling. It went on and on to the point where I got so giddy the road and all its contents blurred together and I really thought I was going to faint. I can only imagine what Toby’s semi-circular canals were like.

I didn’t give up although it was a huge struggle. Toby’s fear gave him strength beyond belief, I couldn’t relax for a minute or he would be gone. On and on he went circling and circling. Eventually the cows moved away to get a drink, while Toby was still thrashing about on the end of the reins. At least I had my schooling whip which I used to stop him running straight at me. We followed them to the trough. It wasn’t a straight line because I wouldn’t have been able to hold him. As soon as it looked like he was going to use his left shoulder to pull away I would turn him again. We arrived in one piece to where the cattle were drinking, and Toby was still completely manic. More endless circles, we must have been there ages. I wanted to take him up to them so he could sniff them, but the bridle path is too narrow to circle, and I knew it would be on his terms if I did.

When he calmed down enough to think about going home, I thought we try it. He wouldn’t walk beside me, and it was either two steps circle, two steps circle all the way back, or I could get tough and demand co-operation. That’s what I did. I got in front of him and walked backwards up the lane. Every time he tried to mow me down or shoot past me, I would knock the side of the whip across the middle of his face. He was so hysterical even that wasn’t enough, so I applied more frequency and force in order to maintain my position. I did get through to him, and finally he stood still. Once I had his attention I remounted him and we rode home.

As soon as he climbed up the bank to the stables he relaxed. The old Toby was back and he plodded up the drive. At least he let go of it all rather than hanging on it. I’m not sure what we achieved other than my total fixation with not letting him get away this time. At least that was a positive outcome. I can’t drop this now; I will have to follow through to a conclusion. Tomorrow we will do the loading into trailer training, and the day after I will take him up to the outlying fields where we have some horses grazing with sheep. All being well I will leave him there for a couple of days. Then I will be back to take him into the field with Remi and the cattle. I will take the necessary lunging gear to ensure sufficient control when I lunge him around the horses and cows. If I just turn him out, he will jump straight over the nearest fence or gate to get away. Wish me luck!

7th July 10

It took less than three minutes to find out Toby definitely doesn’t load. Since he is supposed to have gone to at least one competition before Teresa had him, and I remember clearly the drama trying to get him into a box to come down here, I can only imagine it was a traumatic process all round.

A bad loader is a nightmare for everyone, owners and transporters alike. If Toby had been sympathetically introduced to start with, I doubt that he’d be a problem now. Actually he’s not a problem anymore, and it took less than an hour to achieve it. I have added a two minute video of stills to show his success, so you won’t get bored watching it.

Toby started snorting even before we’d reached the ramp, and I could tell by his body language he had no intention of even putting a foot on it. With a bit of coaxing, he did place first one hoof, backed off, and after a few more attempts, another one. Then he decided he didn’t want to even do that. We weren’t getting very far with the conventional route, and bribery or force is not really the answer either.

When Toby kept backing up, refusing to come forward by pulling on the reins, or nearly running me over to get out of the way, I thought it is time he learned a whole new approach to loading that is stress free and comfortable for him. I got the lunge line and whip and lunged him in small circles in front of the ramp. I did this for a while, only in walk, and noted when I thought he was getting fed up with it. I would edge him nearer and nearer to the ramp until he walked across it by himself on the lunge.

I judged the moment when I would ask him to walk in. If the timing is right, the horse will take himself into the trailer, and this is what he did. The beauty of doing it this way, is that from Toby’s perspective, it’s completely his idea; no-one forced him to do it.

He walked into the trailer and out the front unload without panicking or rushing, while I followed behind on the end of the lunge line. I made a big fuss of him and gave him three nuts as a reward. Note that this was after he completed the task, not before. We repeated the circling followed by the walking in unaided until I felt he was ready for the next step.

I led him round to the ramp. I was in front, and I made sure not to look at him, or worry about whether he was straight and where his feet were. I simply walked up into the trailer as if we did this every day, and without the merest hesitation, Toby followed. I made a big fuss of him again, telling him what a brave and clever fellow he is, before walking out through the front unload.

To prove to myself, Toby, and anyone who is interested in this work, I lead him backwards through the trailer by going up the small ramp at the front and coming out through the back. I did this a couple of times as well and called it a day. We need to repeat this with another couple of sessions to cement the new idea in his mind. We also need to spend some time just standing in the trailer as he finds the feeling of movement and clanging metal a bit off putting. When he feels more at home with it all, we will make sure he loads just as easily into a lorry.

I was going to take him to the sheep field tomorrow, but I think I will do some more trailer training and take him on Friday. He was a very good boy, and I think he knew it as his eye was bright and shining with faith in himself. It was lovely to see.

8th July 10

We never cease to be amused by watching the horses as a herd. Toby is a consistent loner, although he has made one friend called Tinker. They are very similar to look at. I’ve noticed it’s often the case that horses of a similar colour are drawn to each other, I’m sure it’s no coincidence. He is also at the bottom of the pecking order, although they never really pick on him as he’s so inoffensive. But not any longer, da da da da, he has found someone even lower than him! Someone he can glare at and boss around. Up til now, I’ve never seen so much as an ear back, but all that’s changed since the arrival of the new recruit Fudge. I’m sure once she’s found her feet the dynamics will change again.

Toby did more trailer training today. I moved the trailer to a new position to provide more of a challenge. Something as simple as this can have quite an impact on their willingness to climb aboard. I placed it going directly in to the lunge area which is completely in the opposite direction to his normal route back to the field. I attached the lunge line to the bridle as before but without the lunge whip. I didn’t circle first because I wanted to see his reaction if I simply walked up the ramp without looking back. As I entered I heard the sound of Toby’s feet following behind, so I knew he was going to load with no problem at all.

I made him stand before walking out again. He doesn’t like this very much, I think he suffers a bit with claustrophobia, and is inclined to shuffle around. I felt a strange sensation underneath my feet before realising that someone had unhitched the trailer without applying the brake. We were rolling gently forward. There was nowhere much to go as the ground is flat, but Toby’s movements were pushing it along anyway. I thought it was time to make a steady exit. When we got outside I turned my attention to the brake. While I was fiddling with it, Toby who was on my left by the front ramp, thought I was taking too long and proceeded to walk back into the trailer himself! I only just realised what he was doing in time. I quickly unravelled the lunge line so I could follow him without restricting him in any way. How amazing is that?

I could almost read Toby’s thoughts. They went something like this: “Now I get it. It’s quite easy really, and I get lots of praise. Avril’s really pleased with me, and I’m even finding it a fun thing to do. I don’t know why I made such a fuss, and I wouldn’t have need to if anyone had shown me what I was supposed to do”. Toby continued to load himself from any direction and up or out of any ramp. All I was doing was a bit of guiding from the end of the lunge.

Tomorrow he’s going on a real journey to the sheep field where he will meet our other three mares. Puzzle (not the one on the site), Harmony and Holly will no doubt give him a great welcome. They’ve been on holiday so long they will have forgotten what a saddle looks like. I’m really interested to see what he makes of it all. And the best bit? He’s now officially good to load.

9th July 10

What a busy day! It’s been non-stop what with one thing and another. We travelled Toby to the sheep field, only to find he couldn’t go in. More of that in a minute. Annie had the video camera primed, and she barely had time to turn it on before Toby loaded like a lamb. She said it was the quickest entry into a trailer she’d ever seen. I wasn’t sure whether or not he would as the partition was locked into position ready to put the bar across once he was inside. Trailers look quite narrow when they are like this, and not particularly inviting.

Once he was inside I stood with him with very quietly with as little movement as possible so he wouldn’t be inclined to start stomping around. He was very good as we pillared him and put up the breast bar etc. In fact he never moved a foot all the way. I drove carefully as I was keen to give him a good experience for the future. He travelled in comparative luxury in the new Ifor Williams 511 trailer, which provides plenty of room with ceiling as well as side ventilation. We were thankful for this as it was such a hot day. We chose this model as it’s the biggest, ideal for our large cobs, and Toby must have felt less confined, so much so that he stood perfectly still on arrival without wanting to launch out on to the ramp. They’ve also lowered the viewing window so we were able to see what he was doing as we drove along.

The owner of the field was making noises about putting him in with Remi and the cows. I was trying to explain that I thought we’d arranged for him to be with the sheep until Monday. Apparently that wasn’t possible. I was getting a bit confused with it all, but it seemed that either he went in with the cows or we would have to take him back again. I thought about it for a while before deciding that as he would be with three other horses in a vast area, he would copy or follow them and have enough room to keep away from the cows until he got used to them.

If I’d known about the changes, I would have brought the lunge line, but at least Toby was wearing a bridle. We videod everything; it wasn’t that exciting to anyone but ourselves, and possibly Teresa. I haven’t looked at it yet, but when I do, I can decide whether to add to the website. There was a big brown mare, the alpha mare, already at the gate. I shooed her away to get Toby inside. There’s quite a bit of old machinery and logs dotted around which made Toby snort.

The other two came cantering over when they saw a newcomer, and I had a hard time trying to keep them all away. The mare kept backing into Toby threatening to kick, I was kept busy twirling the extra lead rope I was carrying. The cows were standing at the other end of the field under some trees. A large flock of geese live on the other side of the fence which will be good for Toby to see.

I lead him across the field to get nearer to the cows. He knew they were there because he could smell them. He wasn’t at all relaxed, and the others didn’t help with their milling around and shooting about. I was focused on keeping hold of Toby and didn’t notice the mare getting closer until she threw her back legs at him. He tried to jump out of the way, which was straight into me, and came straight down on my foot. It did hurt! We were some fifty yards from the cows by now, and I thought this was as good a time as any to release him. Once he was free he went running off into the distance, front legs going up and down like pistons, with the others streaming after him. All that activity woke the cows up; they started to jog slowly en masse in the same direction. It was so funny to watch, words can’t really do justice to the scenario. Maybe the camera captured it all, but Annie was shaking so much with laughter, I think the footage might be a little blurred.

The two mares, they’re not ours, are so fat and bored, they couldn’t believe their good luck at this sudden and unexpected excitement. Having set off in pursuit of Toby, when they caught him up, they turned round and galloped back towards us, then veered off to run at the cows who scattered in all directions.

Toby didn’t follow, he just stood and looked. Weighing up the situation, he didn’t fancy his chances of survival, and ran round the fence looking for a way out instead. At least he didn’t jump over the gate. There’s so much room that he can keep his distance until he decides to get nearer. The cows are very quiet and definitely won’t chase him. Everything started to settle down after that, but Toby was still too unsettled to graze, and the others had bellies full of grass and weren’t hungry. They mooched about for a bit and the alpha mare used every opportunity to aim her backside in Toby’s direction.

We decided to head for home and leave him there for a few days. I will go up on Sunday to see how he’s doing. The farmer lives on site and will call me if he needs to. He told us about another cow phobic horse who had been chased by aggressive cattle and had never got over it. He thinks something similar has happened to Toby. Apparently the other horse did come round after living with the cows for a while. He agreed with us that Toby will too but in his own time.

Since Toby would be one too many, we had to bring a horse back with us. Now we have two Puzzles, very confusing. We noticed there are also cows in that field which we didn’t know were there. I feel this is an even better place for him to be because it’s a smaller field and he wherever he goes he will be closer to them. Perhaps it’s safer to leave him for now, but we will monitor the situation and aim to move him over as soon as I feel it’s right.
This will mean a gap in the diary, although I will keep it updated. If anyone is missing it too much, I’m happy to write about other aspects of training if asked.

12th July 10

I wasn't planning on writing his diary this evening, but since I was visiting Toby on Sunday at his temporary home with Remi and friends to see if he was still in one piece, and what his state of mind is with the cows, I thought you might like to read about it.

I saw the three horses together under a tree, the cows quite far away under another, and Toby on his own out in the heat of the day. He is always a bit of a loner, but when he saw me, he came walking over. I had a thick forked branch in one hand to keep the others away, especially the big brown mare. She hasn’t accepted Toby and bosses him around like mad. In fact they both do, but Remi doesn’t.

Toby was still wearing his head collar which we’d left on in case we needed to fetch him in a hurry. I didn’t have a lead rope, silly me. I wanted to lead him across the field to see what he would do. Waving the branch around to give us space from the others, I took him by the head collar up to the cows with the other horses following at a respectful distance.

Toby walked well enough, and for an optimistic moment, thought he’d got overcome his bovine horror. He was ok to within 20 metres, and then started getting anxious, trying to pull off to one side to get away. Not that badly, as I was still holding on, albeit being pulled around. I was so pleased when step by step he got within about fifteen feet of them before some of them swung their heads or coughed, and Toby was off, high stepping it and snorting as only he can. I didn’t try and hang on because that wasn’t the point. I wanted to see what he was going to do. He circled in trot round them while the other horses stood and watched. Eventually the cows began to walk back down the field and Toby came back to me.

I took him by the head collar again to follow them. They’re very quiet cows that kept stopping to watch what we were doing. Toby was reluctant to say the least, and tried to pull away, push past me, or go backwards like he did when we tried to load him. With perseverance I got him as close as he would go, about forty or fifty feet. I feel I gave him some comfort just being with him, but he is still extremely wary.

Remi seemed to know what I was trying to do, and came to help. He got right behind him and nipped his quarters to make him move on. This was a blessing as Toby kept planting his feet with his head up in the air. Every time Toby stopped, Remi would give him a nip. Not a bite so he would shoot forward, but just enough to keep him going. The other two played their part well by keeping in a line behind rather than coming alongside and upsetting Remi’s good work.

The cows had stopped again and so did Toby. Despite my drawing him forward with the head collar, and Remi urging him quietly from behind, he wouldn’t go any closer. In fact he did a little rear to try and get away. It wasn’t that high as I still managed to keep hold of him, but it showed the strength of his feelings towards them. I stroked him and reassured him and then let him go as there wasn’t much point standing there being surrounded by flies.

Off went Toby again with his jerky “I don’t like this” trot, still snorting. I could almost hear Remi saying, “Don’t be silly, they’re not going to hurt you”, as he went right up to one of the cows, turned his quarters into her face, and stood there whisking her flies off with his tail. She was very happy with this arrangement, but I think it was all lost on Toby, who was still parading round an imaginary perimeter on his own.

At least Toby is still in the field with them, he hasn’t made a dash for it over the fence, and he does get closer to them than he did on Friday, but I’ve a sneaking suspicion he’s never going to really like them, although if he’s prepared to tolerate them, that will be enough. I couldn’t ask for better horses as an example for him to copy, and Remi was amazing. All three horses not only don’t mind them, they interact with them at various times in the day, mingling with them and gently playing with them.

I will leave Toby there for a few more days, and go back with the lunge line and do some ground work with him in the field. I said good-bye, feeling sorry for him in his self-imposed isolation. Let’s hope he comes round sooner rather than later.

22nd July 10

We collected Toby today from his cow field. I drove the trailer into the field and parked up. As soon as Toby saw us he came straight over, I think he thought it was time he came home. The farmer said he’s used to the cows now, but I wanted to lunge him amongst them anyway as I didn’t want to lose the opportunity.

We had a visitor with us as well. Elizabeth came all the way from Wales to meet us and the horses with a view to us training her horse in the autumn. She was looking forward to meeting Toby, and thoroughly enjoyed watching him work around the cows.

As I was getting him ready, the other horses swarmed around us and Remi thought he would have a go at walking in to the trailer, just for something to do. Once Toby realised we were heading for the cows rather than loading up, he was reluctant to say the least. He kept stopping and planting his feet but eventually we reached them on the far side. He isn’t really bothered by them anymore, although I don’t think he’s particularly keen on them. That doesn’t matter, the important thing is that he’s not terrified of them anymore.

I began lunging him next to the group, which has grown as there are several new born calves. The cows are very docile which was lucky because they can be quite protective and even aggressive at these times. I think Toby was a bit confused as it must have seemed odd to be asked to trot circles, but he tried his best, although they weren’t exactly symmetrical. He tended to fall out when he was furthest away from them and cut the top off as he passed beside them.

After a few minutes the herd decided to walk off to somewhere more restful while we followed them. Just then I heard the sound of galloping hooves as the other horses thundered straight at us. At the last minute they veered round behind us, setting the cattle off. Poor Toby didn’t know whether to keep going or rush off and join them, but it was easy enough to keep him with me. We continued down behind the cows as they headed for another of their favourite trees. I had just started lunging him again once they’d regrouped when there was another burst of thundering feet. The three horses charged off flat to the boards to the other end of the field completely in the opposite direction.

Toby stopped dead, trying to figure out his best move amongst the unexpected mayhem. Loose horses careering around madly in all directions are deeply unsettling for any horse who isn’t allowed to join in. I have to say Toby coped well considering the circumstances. He spun around a bit on the end of the lunge line, but was controllable, and soon stopped. Elizabeth said afterwards how impressed she was with the way he behaved during the melee.

I did a bit more circling with him, followed by some walking around them, before heading to the trailer. I didn’t doubt that he would load well, even though going up a narrow ramp in the middle of a huge field is hardly inviting, because I’d prepared him so thoroughly to loading at home. He went straight in with no hesitation at all. I don’t think he travelled quite as well as the first time as he was sweating a lot when we got him out, but at least it wasn’t due to my driving. I took my time, no swinging round corners or sudden breaking to put him off for the future.

He seemed relieved to be back in familiar surroundings. I had the impression he wasn’t too fond of where we’d left him. He almost had that abandoned look which says please take me home. A little while later I noticed him in a cosy threesome with Purdy and Crispin; all coloureds together. I will ride him tomorrow and see how much of his training he has remembered.

23rd July 10

I couldn’t decide whether to ride Toby to the forest and maybe see the pigs, or go to the village and meet some new cows. I must say he felt like he had wings after his time away, and he was that stuffed with rich grass he felt like he could go forever. I did consider lunging first, but I know Toby is the sort you can leave for months and just jump on as long as you can cope with the spooks. He’s got beyond all that really, but he felt so well, he didn’t really know what to do with himself.

The caramel cows were beside the fence at the bottom of the lane. They haven’t been that close for months. I was interested to see what Toby would think of them after his sojourn with their cousins. He stared at them but that was all. He didn’t want to stand, but that was almost certainly to do with his energy levels rather than any particular aversion. He’s always been relatively good with this group. It may be their colouring or because they’re normally static, so it’s a bit difficult to judge. Some of them were behind the hedge where he could hear them but not see them. This would have upset him a lot, especially when they coughed, moved, or pulled the branches into their mouths. He coped much better with cow noises today.

Yesterday I discovered a lively group of heifers in a large bank field that runs the length of a bridleway track in the village. They are all a deep red colour, highly inquisitive, and keen to canter about with their tails bent over their backs. I was riding Zarina when I found out these cows were unusually frisky, running down the hill towards us as soon as they saw us. I use this track for all sorts of training exercises as it’s on a gradient, dark and narrow, with just the right surface for introducing canter.

I spend a lot of time here going up and down, the benefits of which are huge, but too lengthy to go into now. We turned round to go back down the hill with the heifers behind us. They let us get so far before lumbering after us, overtaking us, and charging off into the distance. I have to say that would have been too much for Toby, he’d have been gone with the best of them if he possibly could. When we reached the end of the track we turned round to ride back up, and blow me, a streak of red bodies were running back with us.

Luckily Zarina has grown up with cows and didn’t seem to care what they got up to, but I knew I would have to be careful with Toby. I trotted him up the track, having trotted him all the way there in order to get him a bit sensible, when I saw the girls standing on the hillside watching us. The trouble for Toby is that the track is so much lower than the field which makes the cows look far more imposing than they actually are. It can also seem like they are running straight at you from above which is disconcerting in such a restricted area.

Toby is definitely better with cows after his recent habituation, but given that he was mad fresh, I didn’t fancy our chances when they started to run down the hill towards us. I quickly rode him up the ways a bit before dismounting as I know he’s happier with me on the ground in an emergency. I have to say he wasn’t rock solid with this restless scrum, all trying their hardest to get that bit closer in the hope something exciting would happen.

Toby only did one snort, not bad for him, with plenty of pacing and twirling in between. I think most of his display was based on freshness rather than raw fear, but I knew if I rode him back down the hill the cows would run which he would find very disturbing. Leading him was like hanging onto a race horse in the paddock before the two-thirty at Kempton, and my money was definitely on Toby to get to the bottom first before I’d even put a foot in the stirrup. That’s what freshness does to horses; it kind of makes them drunk on the power of it all.

When the cows realised we weren’t playing that game they gave up and I got back on. We rode back briskly to say the least, mostly in his own version of collected trot. It’s not true collection as he’s not in self carriage with his centre of gravity back far enough. As soon as I relaxed the hand he either speeded up or fell on his forehand, but it looked impressive, and I know Toby enjoyed feeling rather grand.

We passed a migrant worker carrying armfuls of ragwort alongside one of the fields. I was so surprised when Toby shied, or tried to. He is the most dependable horse you will ever ride when it comes to members of the human race. He never discriminates either. Young, old, sitting, standing, crouching, hiding, running, playing football, whatever they are doing Toby doesn’t care. It’s one of his greatest safety features, but today he didn’t fancy a man with blooms. That’s what you get with too much feed and not enough work; unexpected behaviour which is out of character. I think I might lunge him on Monday after all.

26th July 10

Toby gave me a big whinney when I caught him today; it’s always nice to be acknowledged. I thought it would be good to go to the forest, and off we trotted down the drive in a positive manner. In fact we trotted all the way, it’s not that far, but a lot of it is uphill, a bit of a test of fitness. Everything was going swimmingly. Toby felt balanced and rhythmical, I could feel the softness each side of his mouth, his shoulders were absolutely in line, and he felt very much to the leg. We strode out up the hill with the pig wood on our right, when suddenly he stopped dead.

That meant there were pigs ahead. He hasn’t seen them for a while, and it seemed as if his dread of them had grown in the interim. He isn’t really frightened, possibly because they’re small, although there are seven of them, so collectively they have a presence. He made a few half hearted attempts to swing round, gave just one snort before going forward into the drive to let a car go by. We turned back to take a closer look. A couple of them were waiting with their snouts poked through the netting, and Toby seemed keen to sniff them. I turned him so that they were behind him, a position he has struggled with in the past.

I wouldn’t say he was relaxed, but he stood without tossing his head or moving sideways, and to be fair to him, he has only had one ride after his time away, followed by a weekend off. He is definitely quieter now without all that rich grass, but still not as settled as he will be in a couple of days.

We started to walk back down the hill when all the piggies made a dash for it, crashing through the undergrowth in an effort to catch us up. This is definitely Toby’s nightmare scenario, noise and movement behind from livestock running towards him. Knowing him as I do, I was prepared for all possible reactions except the one he gave, which was to stand still. Brave Toby! I must mention that it’s so important for the rider to remain calm and relaxed in these situations because horses can feel tension wherever it is, especially through the reins.

It’s a bit of a paradox, waiting for something to happen while truly behaving as if nothing out of the ordinary is going on. We turned back up the hill, watched the pigs again briefly, listened to a few snorts and oinks, and went on our way. As we were trotting along the forest paths, I noticed Toby making the familiar churning sound geldings make when they’re worried. Strangely he hadn’t felt the need up until now, when to me he felt more relaxed.

A part of a fir tree, all dark and green, lay across our path. Toby doesn’t feel the need to shy much anymore, but this new thing made him hesitate and bulge outwards away from it. A small part caught itself on the saddle and made a snapping sound as it broke, causing him to jump. I wasn’t happy with that, so round we turned, and back again to trot past it without so much as a look. At the end of the path is a wider firebreak that crosses it like a T junction, so you can go left or right. The ground is set slightly higher, with a small climb to reach it.

I use this for more advanced canter training as I can ask for a particular lead depending on which way I want to turn while still on the smaller lower track. The horse has to engage the hind leg properly in order to get the correct strike off while travelling uphill at the same time. I don’t even try this with the greener horses because they start to worry and get all their legs in a muddle. Toby went from walk into a perfect left lead and on we continued up the track which slopes upwards to the end where it ends in yet another T junction.
I pressed my left leg into his side to move him to the right where the ground is softer. He knows that means move over rather than faster, and I was able to hold him on a given line while keeping the canter going. He began to tire before the end so I asked for canter to halt by voice. He can do that now, although it needs further refinement to be spot on and softer. I finished his training session by asking for canter right in a straight line before turning right at the junction. This is also hard for him because home is to the left and he wouldn’t take right canter through choice knowing we will be travelling in the opposite direction.

We’ve spent some time working on this, and now it looks quite polished. It’s so good for horses to be able to canter turns in this way, calmly and without rushing. As a result of all the training given to Toby, he is absolutely fine with loose dogs now, no matter where or how he comes across them. As we were cantering our turns, a man and a dog appeared behind us, but Toby didn’t even blink. This is a reliable gauge of progress as normally sudden sightings like that make horses jump, stop, or shoot off.

It may seem as if Toby is forever cantering, but it’s an integral part of the foundation training because most horses have insufficient work in this gait outside the ménage, which means they can find cantering in open spaces intoxicating and get over excited. Toby is learning that cantering is just another thing we do, and no more out of the ordinary than trotting. He is also learning to keep it steady, to stop instantly when asked, and to take a given lead in a straight line, whether it’s uphill, downhill, or round corners.

27th July 10

We went somewhere new today and Toby didn’t like it. I can’t say it was the best ride I’ve ever had on him, but it did highlight his weak spots and showed me clearly what further work he needs. We started off going down the bridle path at the end of the drive. Toby is happy here and will trot or canter wherever I ask. It wasn’t too long ago that he snorted his way along it, so this represents a big improvement.

We followed the road to the forest, turning off to the left early into a newly constructed driveway that cuts across the middle of a field. There are ditches and banks on either side of decreasing height and depth the further in you go. We used to put horses there before redevelopment started, and I know it to be a useful training area with some interesting features. I took Toby over the ditches first, (only the smaller ones), which he didn’t mind, although it would have been a good idea to pop over them rather than stumble across them, but at least he wasn’t afraid of them.

Then I asked him to trot across the grass toward the gap that separates the land into two parts. There are numerous hazards dotted around, as well as those that are semi- buried, rotting, or randomly thrown into the side somewhere. Straight ahead was a makeshift structure partly covered with a black tarpaulin that looks stark and scary to most horses. The day was very still, no flapping or noises anywhere, just static objects for Toby to deal with. Toby was ok with all of it, at least in the first field, but hesitant and unsure. He drifted in and out of rhythm with his head up and that familiar trot with his head held high and his legs going like pistons.

We persevered, and when I felt he’d settled a bit I asked for canter. There is a broken line of post and rail which is all that remains of an old sand school between the structure and a hedge. I wanted Toby to canter along the side, coming round the tarpaulin, cantering down the other side before coming round to repeat the exercise. It’s not too difficult for him physically, but it was mentally. He would suddenly break into trot from canter, trotting at the same speed which felt ungainly and uncomfortable.

I worked him on both reins trying to recreate the quality we have at the village green or in the forest. We reached a compromise of sorts and then I rode him through the gap into the field beyond. Two nissan huts sit either side as we pass through the entrance with bits of debris stacked up their sides. Horses always hesitate here the first few times until they’re out in the open again, but Toby became increasingly anxious about the surroundings.

For a start there is the spoil from the drive which is heaped in a long line down one side, then there are smaller areas vaguely marked out with collapsed wire netting, brambles, and bits of tape. In the middle of one area is a pile of brush gathered ready to burn. On the far side is a field of sheep, and a small square in one corner which backs onto a neighbour’s garden. They are practising the “good life” complete with chickens, geese, and a forlorn sounding peacock.

There was no one thing in particular causing Toby’s agitation, he didn’t do anything dramatic, but he felt like he had reverted to a young green four year old. It took an immense amount of direction and not a little force on my part to keep his attention and make him go where I wanted in the way that I wanted. His mouth felt dead and his neck felt heavy because he had too much weight on his forehand, running through the bridle when the mood took him. Worry makes horses either go shorter, lighter, or bunch up, or like Toby, they become longer, feel stronger, and pull. I spent ages trying to get him to carry himself as normal, all the while moving him around the different areas, into the square by the garden, through various gaps, circling round the pile of brush, and up and down past the piles of earth.

Then I came back to the nissan huts, round them first one way then another, past rusty machinery marooned in the hedge, in and out the apple trees until Toby was wet with sweat and I was red and glowing . I called it a day, but I’ll be back there tomorrow. I know that sooner or later he will settle back to his usual self when I take him up there, but given that I’ve been expanding his comfort zone since the day he arrived, I think I can expect a more mature performance.

28th July 10

I swear Toby spent all night cogitating his ride yesterday, because today he was a different horse, giving me a faultless performance. He went so well, it was the shortest session we’ve ever had. When your horse offers you something that peaks anything given before, it doesn’t do the relationship any good, or confidence either, to try and recreate it over and over.

Toby has been plodding out the yard for a while now, which I like because I know from experience that if a horse sets off too forward, I’m in for a tough time. As training progresses we find they start off and return more slowly, or shall we say, more relaxed. When the rest of the ride matches up, we know we are on the downhill stretch.
He was eager to turn up the new drive, a good sign, and when we got to the grass, I asked for canter and off we went. I pointed him to the strip between the old fence and the hedge. It’s not really a hedge, more of a wood, and is particularly dark and uninviting with lots of overhanging branches.

Toby was going forward well without my having to ride for every stride. He felt focused and attentive. Are we talking about the same horse? We made a great turn between the makeshift structure with its hanging coat of black tarpaulin and the old fence without missing a beat, and headed back down the field. The whole point of this exercise is that Toby turns round the end post and comes back again following the line of the wood rather than running towards home. Toby did a superb turn which I’m going to try and describe in detail so you can enjoy it with me through the written word.

Imagine you are cantering along a field that slopes slightly towards the road back home. You know you want to make a tight right turn in a fairly narrow space back the way you’ve come. You mentally count the strides as you calculate when to ask for this change of direction. Your inside leg is closed round his side supporting him as you start to turn your body the radius of the arc you plan to ride, a semi circle of less than ten metres. He is soft on the inside corners of the mouth as you increase the bend and bring him round your inside leg. To do this successfully, he must bear most of the weight on his right hind, which means having sufficient collection. Everything slows down like an ever expanding moment as you and he come round with the forehand raised to advance the movement. You are aware that the steering is so light you could place him exactly where you want without loss of impulsion or rhythm. As you bring your shoulders and body back to square, his forehand mirrors you and you are travelling in a straight line again.

That’s what was like on either rein. No hesitation, no grinding to a halt at the table, no falling out of canter into a fast trot, no running through the bridle or stumbling around on the forehand, just smooth engaged paces from an obedient horse. It was the same past the nissan huts. With a lovely swinging trot, not looking left or right, out into the field we went. Toby was so focused I think he would have happily gone into the next field if it wasn’t fenced off.

We turned left before the end and I asked for canter again. I wanted him to keep cantering and go left at the top through the gap into the adjoining paddock, then continue down through another gap towards the big mounds of earth and stop immediately in a dead straight line in front of them. He did all this as if he’d done it every day of his life. Off we went again, this time on the right lead, curving back towards another gap to bring us back into the paddock we’d just come from. Purple headed thistles were growing across the gap, and I had a feeling Toby would spring over them rather than through them. You can tell by the canter if this is likely to happen, and when he lifted up and landed without breaking his stride, I was ready and going with him. Round the pile of brush we cantered and out to the mounds for another swift canter to halt.

I have to say Toby felt wonderful, and it reminded me of travelling between fences when I used to event. I gave him lots of praise, which he certainly earned. I thought we would finish by cantering down between the nissan huts, then up again and back down without stopping, jumping ditches as we went. He did everything spot on first go, with no need for endless repetition.

I won’t take Toby there for a while, there’s no need. I’m not expecting to repeat the brilliance we had today, but having done it once, it can’t be undone, and he will be able to reproduce it again. When we got back to the stables he was barely sweating despite the heat.

29th July 10

It was a late finish today for us all, partly because Toby had an appointment at the beauty parlour in the afternoon. We want to tidy him up and remove some of his excess coat, as well as pull his not inconsiderable mane and tail. I started clipping him on my own. It is only his second session, the first being some while back. I pillared him in the passage way, stroked his neck, and turned the motor on. As we know, Toby wasn’t at all keen when Teresa booked someone to come and clip him last winter. I think he made it very clear he wasn’t buying into all that shaving stuff. We use a form of clicker training among other non-invasive tactics to build a positive association between the activated clippers and a targeted reward.

Toby hadn’t forgotten the previous introduction, and a brief résumé was all he needed to remind him of what it’s about. This chiefly involves him putting his muzzle on the machine with it turned on, followed by a reward. Unless he is prepared to accept the clippers around his muzzle, it’s going to be difficult to make progess. He has to learn to “own” it, pushing it around with his nose, or even trying to eat it!

I clipped a bit of hair around his jaw first before moving underneath his neck. You soon see whether there’s going to be a reaction when you clip this spot. Toby was fine, and after enhancing his jaw line, I move on to his legs. Most of us know how much hairy cobs dislike having their feathers cut; they are far more sensitive about them than you would think. But I was optimistic as Annie previously cut them with scissors with no bother, a good indication of how easy, or not, it was going to be with the real thing.

Toby didn’t seem to mind, in fact I would say he’s way better than most of his type. He just stood there patiently while I gently beavered away. From time to time I would feel this nose pushing on my side as he bent his neck down to see what I was doing. Each time I told him what a good boy he was, stood up, placed the clippers on his nose, and rewarded him with a nut. It’s always a good idea to continually reinforce the behaviour you want.

I wondered was lurking among all the thick hair, but mostly it was nice and clean and dry. He does have some small cracks which are painful, they almost always are. When he started moving his leg around and snapping it up, I thought it best to wait for assistance before continuing. This isn’t due to clipping so much as the feeling of irritation it produces as it ploughs through the hair. I didn’t want this to put Toby off, so a bit of soothing from Annie was called for.

He was very good when the clippers went round his head, even over his ears. When I’d finished I stood back to admire him, and I have to say, he looks a different horse. We will give him a bath and take some photos. I’m sure you will all agree the new Toby looks very handsome, and is now officially good to clip.

30th July 10

I took the new look Toby to the forest today. It was a non-eventful ride with a good amount of sensible fun. We did some different things like cantering up the mound and down the other side, and then the same thing in reverse. There are trees all around the mound, and you have to follow a narrow bendy path to get out which becomes almost totally obscured by foliage the further in you go. In the middle of this is a small pile of luminous birch logs; guaranteed to make most horses stop or try and swing away. Not so for Toby; he went straight over the middle without a murmur. It requires a certain level of training before asking a horse to take canter before the mound, keep it going to the top and out the other side, as well as going into a thick screen of leaves by pushing through, only to be presented with a strange looking obstacle to jump.

Toby needed a couple of shots at it before getting the idea. He tended to break back into trot as he didn’t believe he could canter all the way. I particularly enjoy working horses here; there are numerous options for leg changes, tight turns, immediate halts, and more. Toby took it all in his stride; he loves this sort of fun thing as much as I do. Before we arrived here, we trotted down a fairly steep track, taking canter where it levelled out and continued on up the hill. For the first time on Toby, I rode in the cross country half seat. It felt really good, and he is ready now for a rider to ride this way.

To do this effectively, the horse must want to go forward, remain in balance, as well as be able to hold a rhythm, moving effortlessly under the rider in a straight line without backing off, spooking or rushing. He needs to have a full acceptance of the rider’s hands in order to adjust the pace for jumping or making turns. Toby isn’t fit enough to sustain this for very long, but it was great while it lasted, and shows me what he’s capable of.

On the way back we did more canter to halt just with the voice. Toby’s really got a handle on this now, with a couple of excellent results. It’s not an easy thing to do as he needs great control over his legs while maintaining perfect balance. On hearing the command, he must instantly stop his body travelling forward in mid canter and halt with a soft mouth; no leaning on the hands or putting in a couple of trot steps on the way. He has to powerfully engage his hind legs as these are the brakes.

We continued to work on the refinements of the foundation training, such as moving towards collection in the trot, holding it in a dead straight line in the centre of the road before going forward to a square halt without walking in between. Then moving off into trot again without the slightest deviation. It sounds simple, but harder to achieve than it looks. We also did quite a few turns on the haunches. Toby knows what I want, but still finds it hard to come round in a complete circle on his own axis with just the rein on his neck. It gets easier every day, he just needs to learn how to unlock his shoulder and lift his forehand more. He’s got the weekend to mentally process all that we’ve done this week. I'm really pleased with his progress.

2nd August 10

Teresa has made tough decision; Toby won’t be returning to her now that his training is nearly complete. The New Forest is such a unique area with a large variety of free range animals, and now that he is fitter, Toby is probably more forward than she would like. We will be putting his details on the website shortly. His new owner will have the benefit of knowing a great deal about him through the diary and the videos, so we are looking forward to a bit of match making!

Today’s entry today is likely to be the last as we concentrate on preparing him for his graduation. We hope you’ve enjoyed reading his diary as much as I’ve enjoyed writing it, and I don’t mind admitting I feel somewhat sad that it’s coming to an end. We’ve seen and done a lot together over the last few months, and as always, it’s unbelievably rewarding to work through the different stages of the Foundation Training, turning corners faster and faster as the weeks go by.

He is on a different level now, and when Teresa is comes down to ride him, we will make sure she doesn’t keep the experience to herself! Anyway, back to today. We rode through part of the village to the green, following the bridle path up the hill and beyond. We haven’t been this way for some while, and from Toby’s perspective, there were many new things to see. He is more mature now, and the unsure little cob I used to coax past this and that is long gone. A team of student archaeologists are entrenched on the green itself, so riding on it is impossible at the moment. I can’t wait for the harvest, we are surrounded by wheat and barley, and I’m so looking forward to being able to ride on the stubble.

They are cutting the field on the home lane, and I was surprised to notice that Toby wasn’t that keen on the tractor and its enormous baler. He doesn’t mind tractors as traffic, but I suspect this is the first time he’s seen them off road. Not to worry, he will have more than enough opportunity to get used to them over the next couple of weeks.

We did some road schooling on the way back. We did things like increasing the bend on either rein even though we stayed on the left hand side. We leg yielded into the middle and back again. We made a good attempt at shoulder in, but Toby finds the necessary engagement quite hard unless he’s in walk. I thought we’d try travers as it’s relatively easy to teach going along the side of the road. Toby was willing to give it a go, but didn’t quite get the hang of it first time. That’s ok, many of them don’t, and the important thing is not to make an issue of it, or pressure them so they get worried and anxious about doing the wrong thing. We interspersed this with more advanced shoulder work. Toby’s getting really good at this now, and elevates himself in a complete circle on his own axis as he yields to the pressure of the rein against his neck.

While we were walking along minding our own business, a piercing whistle rang through the air disturbing our peace and quiet. I couldn’t imagine what the need for it was, and turned to look behind me. Toby was totally unconcerned and didn’t appear to have heard it. A jogger sporting his full regalia, dinky little sports shorts topped with a matching wrestler’s vest, was clearly signalling a warning that he was about to speed past in his go-faster footwear. On a different horse, I may well have appreciated his concern, but Toby is so reliable when it comes to people in uexpected places.

I haven’t forgotten the requests to write something on competitiveness riding in company. It’s waiting on the desk top, and will be uploaded in the next couple of days on the diary page.