Case of the Week: Foal – Dangerous Attention Seeking

Frankie, a Welsh part bred colt foal, and his mum, Gemma.

Presenting Problem: Charging up to people, and rearing, mounting and nipping them.

Medical issues: None.

History: Gemma was rescued in foal and underweight. Due to her aggression towards other horses, Gemma and Frankie were kept alone, out at grass. Gemma is tolerant of her son’s playful behaviour, but doesn’t play back. Frankie has had a lot of attention and handling from birth, but isn’t cooperative with haltering, grooming or hoof care. Their owners visit them twice a day to feed and groom them, for approximately 20 minutes each time.

Assessment: Frankie loves people and seeks their attention at every opportunity. He’s a very playful colt who only has people to play with, and directs normal colt play towards them. This makes them try to chase him away by flapping their arms and pushing at him; which only makes him more persistent because he is so highly motivated to play. When his owners try to halter him, or handle him, he is easily confused and stimulated to push, nip and rear in play.

Treatment: To arrange for another pony to come to live with them, for Frankie to play with after a strategic and graduated introduction procedure – although the risk of maternal aggression from Gemma is much lower now Frankie is older (4 months old). To teach Frankie that attention is earned and sustained by remaining calm, and that his owners will step away from him and ignore him (even leaving the paddock) if he persists in coltish play. Care must be taken to read his body language in order to respond earlier in the play wind up. Frankie is also to be taught how to respond to haltering, grooming and hoof care through more gradual reintroduction of these activities and well timed breaks and scratches for cooperative behaviour.

Outcome: I supported Frankie’s owners over the phone during the weeks following the consultation, and then later through the weaning and rehoming process of both Gemma and Frankie.

Free Download: Learn to Earn – Horses

Case Study of the Week; Ben

Ben, an Exmoor gelding

Presenting Problem: Difficult to catch, bolting when led.

Medical issues: Sweet itch, hot branded.

History: Ben is a moorland bred Exmoor pony and was rounded up and separated from his mother and hot branded, both on the same day. He has always been difficult to handle, previously people resorted to cornering him. His present owner spent time using approach and retreat techniques using natural horsemanship methods and has had some success. But it would be better if he was happier; and he is still not perfect to catch and he bolts.

Assessment: Ben is scared of people. He strongly associates them with being trapped, with pain and with separation from his mum. Although his owner has taught him how to behave to get release of pressure, and distance from people, which has helped his confidence, the fear is still prominent and resurfaces in panic such as when being led through gateways and lanes. Being caught is a precursor to that, and warns him of the pending panic.

Treatment: To further breakdown, into even smaller steps, all the tasks that frighten Ben. Still applying the same principles of approach and retreat, as these increase Ben’s sense of confidence in the situations. As each small step is accomplished and Ben can remain calm, he is also rewarded with food and scratches (via clicker training) to counter condition his emotional response to people – from fear, to enjoyment.

Outcome: I worked with Ben’s owner on a weekly basis for several weeks to the point that he was putting his head into the head collar, was able to lead safely, and have his feet handled for hoof care. Once this had been accomplished his owner expanded her use of clicker training to teach Ben horse agility.

Free Download: Catch me if you can!

Moving Yards… Part Two

So the plan went a little off piste… But not by much.

The aim of the operation was to avoid winding up Penny and Bronwen any more than could be reasonably helped. For their sakes, as well as ours since we needed a smooth operation on the loading and delivery front to allow Bro-in-law away on time for nephew’s sporting events.

I got to the yard before the trailer arrived to deliver Bronwen’s dose of ConfidenceEQ, and got a nice snap of the herd in relaxed contentment:


I then went to help get the trailer, which we got parked in position on the yard before bringing the girls in as usual for their very limited short feed on the yard. That meant they got to have a look at the trailer while occupied in normal activity, allowing a little breather before attempting to load.

Bronwen was first on, and that was calmer and quicker than any other time, so a PB for her! I think the pheromone helped quite nicely along with being patient and some good old wither rubs for every try.

Penny twigged that since Bronwen was on board, this was not a training session, so became tense and needed a little time before she decided she could walk in. Perhaps she should have had the ConfidenceEQ too? But then we were away:


I had a few more things to pack, but I caught up with them halfway to the new field. I was really happy to see some reassuring, friendly behaviour between them – Penny touching Bron’s nose at frequent intervals, which she also did when first loaded. Ten minutes later they arrived in the new field where we parked up and let them loose to explore!


New Field 2

New Field 3


It was really interesting to watch them exploring according to their individual needs and tastes. Penny, the seasoned mover, did as she always does, seek out the most delicious grass! Bronwen is a far more sociable creature and called frequently, to locate the other horses in the neighbourhood, and of course to attempt to inform the rest of the herd back on North Gower of her whereabouts.

The girls’ new human neighbours came out to meet them too, and as we left to take the trailer back they were getting to know each other over some carrots.

New Field 1


Moving yards… Part One

So here we go again, another change in my circumstances and my horses are affected. No drama for my part, I’m moving to South Gower with my family to spend even more time in an area where we already spend a lot of time. Good news for us!

Penny and Bronwen don’t know it yet, but I have arranged a field for them in reasonable walking distance from where I’m living so I can spend more time with them. I’m sure they will like the field. It’s not been touched by anything except sheep, and that was some time ago. There is plenty for them to eat, and plenty of variety so they can forage away to their hearts’ content (it will be fun to get an Equicentral system going). It’s a pretty dry field in relatively windswept location, so the midges that cause their sweet itch shouldn’t be a significant issue. Only thing is, they’ll be leaving the rest of their group, Millie, Asil, Kahli and Hope who they have been living with for nearly four years (OK, Hope came later). I think they’ll miss them and being in a bigger group. The picture at the top of the page shows Bron grazing this morning while some of the others took a nap.

Penny is now 19 years old, and Bron is 9. They’ve been together for the last 5 years, and have been through 3 previous house moves in that time. They groom together often so most likely they will settle in to their new arrangements pretty soon.

Penny has moved yard a total of 16 times since I bought her as a two year old. We last practiced loading two years ago and she was loving going in the trailer for pony cubes. I don’t have a trailer but I’ll be using a similar one tomorrow, so I think a little recap of that activity before we drive will have her in the best place she can be to travel 30 minutes down the road. I’m counting on Anthony’s brother being careful with his right foot! To be fair he did one of her longer journeys when she was 6 years old, including us getting lost around the Vale of Glamorgan, so I’m sure that part will be fine. We shouldn’t be able to get lost tomorrow at least…

Bronwen on the other hand associates being trapped in small spaces like trailers with being weaned and sent to the mart. To prime her for thinking the best rather than the worst tomorrow I used some ConfidenceEQ (equine appeasing pheromone), to promote feelings of love and security. That plus a belly full of fresh grass, we then did some quick work with her target and clicker to prepare her for the feared elements of travelling tomorrow: Crossing over funny flooring (a tarp), and walking into enclosed spaces, a garage, between a horse trailer (not the one I’m using tomorrow) and a wall, and between a silage bale and a wall. She got into the activity straight away so I’m encouraged – now and then we go explore the garage and the narrow gaps anyway, without the target, clicker or food. We don’t do target and clicker work that often, as most things we do don’t require that support. However, we don’t have the facility to explore the trailer like the gaps around the yard, so today’s unexpected, pleasurable experience will hopefully be the one she draws on tomorrow. She certainly hung around hoping for a little more before rejoining her gang.

Let’s see what tomorrow brings!


Trigger stacking? Hacking?

Sunny day, keen horse, lorry swooshes by out of nowhere, everyman and his dog is outside DIYing, and the farmer just turned his steers out! What’s the worst that could happen?

Turning this situation around, from disaster movie to ultimate horse movie?

Download your Free Guide: Happy Hacking

“Spring Special”:
Happy Hacking consultation, one to one help to assess your issue, tailor make your training program, and help set out your milestones. £70, no mileage charge if you’re in the Swansea and Llanelli areas.

Want to be social? Get your friends down the yard to join you and let’s do a half day clinic, £150 shared between all you. Learn how to assess hacking problems, tailor make the solutions and be each others’ cheerleaders! No mileage charge for Swansea, Carmarthen, Brecon, Bridgend and Cardiff areas.

We’ll take a closer look at what ‘trigger stacking’ is and what it means for your ride. We’ll also look at how to recognise when your horse is reaching their limit, how fear behaviour is acquired, how training works, and how to combat fear behaviour without distress.