IH Member Christina Wyman and her journey with troubled horse Remy.
It’s has taken a long time but it has been so worth it!
As a teenager, I was absolutely horse mad. It wasn’t until 25 years later that my passion for horses was reignited and I began riding again. The riding school also turned out to be a dealer’s yard; I remember the first time I saw Remy on the ‘seller’s row’; he was a powerful, majestic creature. This 17hh grey gelding was everything I thought I wanted in a horse (it turned out to be love at first bite).
I had lessons on him for about a month before the idea of buying him as a school master to ‘learn on’ was mentioned. My lessons were such fun and he knew his job: I wanted him for general pleasure riding, hacking and jumping. I didn’t think for a second that he would turn out to be so aggressive and dangerous in the stable. I unknowingly through my own ignorance bought a horse in September 2014 that turned out to have serious behavioural problems.
I kept him on part livery; grooms were constantly changing and there were some very questionable interpretations of ‘horsemanship’ seen on a daily basis. On the third day of having him, I went into his stable to change his rug; he grabbed my arm and sank his teeth in, pulling me off my feet. It was absolute agony and I ended up at A&E with a crushed arm. Everyone told me to ‘swap him for something else’ but believing that he could not be that bad, I kept him anyway.
A few weeks on, I was dreading the daily drive to the yard, worried about what the grooms would say he had done that day. I worried constantly about him running off, biting, launching at and attacking people. The grooms were too scared to change his rugs or turn him out, very quickly he became known as ‘Jaws’.
I felt alone; everyone was so quick to say how awful he was and offer advice. ‘Put a chain round his nose that will stop him running off’, ‘give him a smack to teach him a lesson’, ‘you will never change him, he can’t be fixed’, ‘you’re a fool if you think you can rescue him’ were just some of the comments made. As the story unfolded before me, I questioned what I was doing wrong. Why was this horse so aggressive and defensive, what had happened to him to make him so mean?
I soon found out that this horse could feel my uncertainty in every breath, and that I would have to ‘fake some confidence’ until I could grow a pair! I am not saying that I was a total novice but I certainly had no experience in dealing with problem horses.
I moved him across to the DIY yard in the hope that with one handler I could begin to address his behaviour. I put up a metal stable grill for when I wasn’t around and asked everyone to ignore him and not tell him off. Ignoring his threatening behaviour worked; people kept their distance and just left him alone. He had an enormous personal space bubble and genuinely felt threatened by people entering his space. I used a lot advance and retreat, rewarding him when he was calm and respectful by leaving him alone and slowly he began to respond to soft praise. Gradually his behaviour improved and he seemed comfortable when I was around him.
I also contacted my vet about his behaviour and he confirmed through having him scoped that he had ulcers. He received treatment, a tailored diet with as a much turnout as possible, at last we seemed to be getting somewhere!!!
The other issue I had was him running off whilst being led, this was made worse by my field being the furthest from the yard. He would explode in seconds if something worried him or he could see other horses coming in. He was extremely adapt at this; pulling into any pressure, setting his shoulder against me and bolting off. I began to bring him in using a chifney as this was the only thing that would make him listen. As the days got shorter, I had to rely on freelance grooms that soon refused to bring him in, saying he was dangerous.
I started looking into his history but did not get very far. He was 13 years old; I was his ninth owner and he had developed a deep mistrust of people. To him sadly I was a stranger too and just one in a long line of unreliable humans. We made progress with building a bond of trust in the stable and he was great once tacked up and doing his job. Sadly, just as things were improving he tore his suspensory ligament in December 2015 and had to be box rested for 6 months. The following 2 years were plagued by recurring injury and periods of box rest. But I was determined to build a bond with this horse and prove people wrong about him.
We needed professional help to make progress, but I wanted a trainer that would teach me the skills to manage his behaviour myself without using force or fear. I found the Intelligent Horsemanship website whilst researching horse behaviour, its ethos and approaches fitted well with the way I wanted to help my horse. I bought Kelly’s books Perfect Manners and Perfect Partners and began trying out ideas. I learnt so much from these books but felt I needed to see these approaches in action, so I booked myself on the Perfect Manners course in July 2017. This was a massive turning point in both our lives. I learnt so much over those 2 days, I felt empowered that I could actually make a difference. It also brought to the surface all the emotions, fear and uncertainty that I had about whether or not I could change this horse. I met Kelly, Sandra and Rosie that weekend and they opened my eyes to a new world of horsemanship. I felt enlightened by their approach and I was desperate for them to meet my horse, so I booked myself on the Problem Solving Workshop in September 2017. I wrote to Sandra explaining in more detail about his issues; I was so pleased that they actually agreed to let me take him!
This weekend pushed us both totally out of our comfort zone and forced me to face my fears of dealing with his challenging behaviours. True to form, he tried to run off twice, demonstrating just how good he was at it!
At home we followed the groundwork plan meticulously. Most importantly, we both valued this time together and I was able to regulate my own emotions, use breathing and body language to communicate and keep him focused. I worked hard to show him an alternative way of dealing with his fear and capitalising on his natural curiosity to engage him with new objects and situations. We practised pole work, working with scary objects, backing up without resistance, leading and maintaining a respectful distance even when his adrenalin began to rise. The frequency of his running off decreased and his reactions to changes in his environment became less extreme. Most importantly, I stopped worrying about him running off and focused all my attention on encouraging him to synchronise and rely on me to take the lead.
It was time to test our relationship further so I we attended the Perfect Manners course together in June 2018. This was truly an amazing experience, a year on and I felt confident in my ability to handle him on the ground, he was no longer a bargy, flighty creature that took off when he felt frightened. I could take him quietly into the round pen and work with him without the fear of how he might react. The most incredible experience was when Sandra took me through a Join-Up with him, her guidance and encouragement made me believe that we could do it. It was such an emotional moment when he sought out the connection with me. The most amazing thing was how everyone at IH recognised the progress we had made; Remy was an absolute star that weekend and loved working with other students on the ground.
Our horses are what we make them and you if you take on a horse with a chequered past, you must be prepared to get professional help if you are to give your horse the best chance of building a new life. We cannot undo what has shaped them earlier in their lives and it takes time to prove that you can be relied upon. Taking the lead has been vital to developing my horse’s trust and it’s even harder when they exhibit extreme and dangerous behaviour.
I have also learnt that through spending quality time with my horse I can listen and enjoy quiet communication on a whole new level. Softness, ‘being still’ in the moment are qualities that my horse needs. He can communicate extremely well and once this was reciprocated it took our relationship to a much deeper level. The clarity and timing of feedback and rewarding any ‘try’ from my horse, even a fleeting thought in his eye has been absolutely vital in encouraging him to think and enjoy learning new things. For us ground work has given us the time and space to work as a team, enjoying each other’s company and becoming true friends. I have learnt about the importance of understanding why horses behave the way they do and how to behave in order to not make the situation worse. Learning about horse psychology, behaviourism and communication was vital and has encouraged me to empathise with him.
A history of injury has led us to use groundwork more than I would ever have considered, but we still love to ride out together and explore. Through the continued guidance and support of everyone at IH I now feel that we can do anything together!
We still have more work to do and Remy is definitely an on-going project but I love every second I spend with him. I will be attending the 5 Day Foundation course in August with Remy and hope to work towards being an IH Recommended Trainer one day. I would really like to learn more about horse psychology and work gain more experience in dealing with ‘problem horses’.
I’m proud of how Remy looks to me for leadership and trusts me when he is frightened, and it’s rewarding that I can help others with their horses and have been successful in sharing how to deal with running off issues with other horse owners at our livery yard.
I am most proud of the transformation seen in my horse, it has taken a long time but it has been so worth it! It’s great that people who knew him in the early days recognise the change in him and he is now less wary of people in general. It is sad that I will never be able to jump, compete or do anything more than gentle hacking due to his injury but at least he is a happy boy.
IH Member Emma Busk & Harvey
Thank you IH… couldn’t have done it without you!
When a middle-aged woman returns to horses after a 19-year break, there are two quickly learned lessons. The first is that you possess neither the skill, nor the courage, of your youth. The second is that, despite the learning the first lesson, your dreams and aspirations remain unchanged. Admittedly, I no longer dreamt of riding at Badminton, but despite my age, I still wanted to event.
I decided that if I was going to ‘go fast and jump things’ again, I really needed a horse capable of doing it with me. To be honest, I’d lost my bottle over fences, so the most important attribute of any new addition to my herd was being a confidence giving jumper. When I went to see Harvey, the seller did advise me that he was ‘grumpy’ in the stable. I figured I could cope with that, especially after riding him because as soon as my bum hit the saddle, I felt at home. He wasn’t a push button ride, but he felt safe, jumped nicely and I genuinely didn’t want to get off. So, I arranged a pre-purchase examination during which I saw some red flags. The owner (who had bought him a mere 5 weeks earlier) needed a stallion chain to trot him up. During the lungeing phase, the vet stopped the owner when Harvey did a very good ‘wall of death’ impression before turning in and rearing. But there was something about him I really liked. The vet found nothing physical that would potentially prevent him from eventing, so the deal was done and I now owned an exceptionally handsome, 8-year-old, 16.1 chunk of opinionated sports horse.
Harvey’s seller hadn’t lied, he certainly was grumpy in the stable… but also bargy; very handy with his teeth (with the speed of a cobra and the jaws of a crocodile), confrontational in the field, a nightmare to tack up, difficult to lead, and IMPOSSIBLE to load. This was definitely an issue seeing as I’d bought him to compete. He wasn’t just sticky… he was simply not going to go in and used multiple techniques to avoid it: planting, rearing, spinning, reversing – he had the lot.
At that point, my only experience of Intelligent Horsemanship had been watching a Monty demo on television and attending a couple of demos by Lincolnshire-based IHRT, Garry Bosworth. So, within a month of arriving, Garry was at my place and by the end of our session, Harvey was walking in and out of my lorry with ease. I had learnt some techniques, purchased a dually halter, and actually started to make slow progress on the ground and with loading.
Now we were mobile, we made our competitive dressage debut. I was thrilled we came home with a red and a blue frilly, but crushingly disappointed, and a little terrified, by Harvey’s behaviour on the ground. It was a two-man job tacking up, and mounting required a leap of faith that I really don’t want to ever repeat. After that outing, Harvey’s grumpiness increased at the same rate his willingness under saddle decreased.
I have never believed that horses possess the ability to be ‘naughty’ without reason, so the only logical step was to investigate the cause. I suspected a pain issue but because I knew his tack fitted, he was sound, his teeth were in good shape and his back was fine when palpated, concluded that it was worth checking for gastric ulcers. My vet agreed and the scope showed grade 3 squamous and glandular ulcers. After 3 months of treatment, he scoped clear but my vet cautioned me not to expect a total personality change. And he was right! Harvey’s ridden work improved significantly but we were only making slight improvements on the ground. In hindsight, at that point, I should have hot-footed it down to Hartsop Farm and worked on my skills, rather than trying to teach myself the application of IH principles.
But we WERE making progress, especially under saddle, and I genuinely loved this complex horse. And he loves to jump… he is forward and sensible to a fence, honest and forgiving… and he gave me my jumping mojo back! We were building trust in each other and having fun. And, if he could forgive me for sometimes messing up our approach to a fence, then I could surely forgive him for his foibles. None of my friends could though… after that first outing, there was no one who was prepared to groom for me at events as that would mean handling “Harvey the Carnivore”, “Horrible Harvey” or “THAT Horse” as he has been variously referred to. So, I donned my brave pants and ventured out alone, all the while trying to implement IH techniques as best I could.
Eleven months after Harvey arrived, we set off from Lincolnshire to Solihull with only my two labs for company, to do our first BE one day event, where we stabled overnight. Ironically, he was fine to handle, but our performance highlighted another issue. We performed a reasonable dressage test and show jumping round but were eliminated at the first fence cross-country. Despite schooling brilliantly cross country, I realized Harvey had insufficient confidence in me to go out and tackle the course alone. This is something we continued to struggle with, despite finishing the 2017 season with a double clear at Norton Disney BE. Embarrassing as it is to admit, at that time I genuinely did not realise the positive impact that IH could have in ridden work.
Harvey has always lacked confidence without the company of other horses and hacking alone was anything but enjoyable. Initially he was incredibly nappy. But, by allowing him time to process and rewarding every forward thought we gradually solved that problem. Once out alone, he found everything terrifying, which would result in a very spooky & bouncy ride which really wasn’t much fun for either of us. Because of this, and his morbid fear of ditches, I decided to retire him from eventing and concentrate on our dressage and showjumping.
As each year passed, we became better and better together in all aspects of our daily activities as our trust and understanding developed. We expanded our horizons: stepping up to BD, heading out on fun rides, attending camps and generally enjoying life. Then, last June I took him to the vet… for a couple of months, I’d felt he wasn’t really through from behind, and although no one could really see anything untoward, he just felt wrong. Sometimes, it’s awful being right – Harvs had developed bilateral hind-limb PSD (proximal suspensory desmitis). Looking at treatment options, it seemed best to try non-invasive shockwave therapy and rest.
So, what made me decide to attend IH courses after muddling along, moderately successfully for 3 years? Well there I was, in the middle of summer with no horse to ride. Some friends suggested I borrow Giles, their homebred Trakehner, who had been sitting in the field doing nothing for a couple of years, had never left home (or mum) and is also 17.3! Sure, I said, that will be fun and picked him up a couple of days later. Coming to mine was a huge deal for him… and when his owners led him to his new paddock, I did question my sanity as he pranced and leapt down the track. I brought him back into work slowly, with a lot of long-lining and short sessions of ground work, using Harvey’s dually. I booked a lesson at a nearby yard and found I couldn’t get him in my trailer. I thought back to Garry’s instruction 3 years earlier. I cancelled the lesson and relaxed. We now had all day to load. After 20 mins I had him walking in and out with no issues. Then it clicked… stop messing about with this, learn do it properly and make life better for your current and future horses.
So far, I have completed: Feeding & Nutrition/Horse as an Athlete; Horse Psychology; 5-day Foundation; Handling the Untouched Horse. One of the many lessons I learned is that every moment you are training your horse, whether you realise it or not. The other is that IH ethos and techniques are not a quick fix but a way of life. I now do groundwork as part of my daily routine… turning out, bringing in, in the stable, mounting, feeding, with all 5 of my horses: Alfie the little welsh rescue, Annie my WB dressage mare, Parel my KWPN broodmare and her foal, Floyd, and of course, with Harvey who has improved immeasurably in a very short time.
And what about Harvey? Unfortunately, the shockwave provided only temporary relief. After informed and careful consideration, he went to Rossdales for surgery in June (where he was described as mannerly & delightful!), and the prognosis for a full return to work is good. To me, however, the most important thing is that he is field sound – anything else is a bonus. He will always have a home with me – he brings me so much joy, even if I can’t ride him.
Looking back on 30+ years of horse ownership, it’s not the rosettes that I’m most proud of, it’s Harvey. He is no longer the angry, aggressive, dangerous horse who came to me 4 years ago – he’s a happy, much-loved member of the family who has taught me so much. And since returning from Hartsop Farm, we’ve even nailed the solo hacking. Who knows, if all goes well, we might even overcome the ditch phobia and return to eventing.
Thank you IH… couldn’t have done it without you!
IH Members Rosemary Miller and Liz Earl founders of the Shetland Pony Club
“Shetland ponies … can be very opinionated or “cheeky”, and can be impatient, snappy, and sometimes become uncooperative.” Wikipedia
Shetland ponies don’t always have the best reputation as the perfect child’s pony, so we asked how IH members and sisters, Rosemary Miller and Liz Earl, founders of the Shetland Pony Club, how they use Intelligent Horsemanship every day with their 20 Shetland ponies.
How to succeed at first riding experiences
The sisters have always loved Shetland ponies and Rosemary had a much-loved family Shetland pony, Billy Boon for her children. Inspired by an old photograph of her grandfather riding to school in India on a donkey, her daughter Mills, decided to ride to school on her Shetland pony to avoid the traffic jams. Billy the Shetland was for many years a common sight, as he trotted through the woods, always laden with satchels and books on his way to school. Rosemary wrote a bedtime story book, The School Trot, all about their school run antics, illustrated in Thelwellian style.
Rosemary’s friends asked her to teach their children to ride too, sparking the idea to recreate the childhood magic that the sisters experienced themselves. Over a decade later, Shetland Pony Club is thriving, having made 10,000 children’s pony dreams come true.
Shetland Pony Club specialises in first riding experiences for children aged from 2½ to 10 years old. Based on their family farm in Cobham, Surrey, they help children start pony riding offering pony rides, birthday parties and summer camps. Booking is by appointment only and they have a busy office, where they create Shetland Pony Club TV, their weekly YouTube channel video, and build their worldwide following on Facebook and Instagram.
So how do they introduce so many children to riding safely and kindly and pass on the pony magic to inspire the next generation of riders? IH Magazine caught up with Rosemary and Liz to find out their best tips and wisdom:
With Shetland ponies many conventional philosophies don’t apply. Shetlands grow slowly, so they are not fully mature for riding until they are about 6 years old. So, they need to be brought on slowly, then they typically live until over 30 years old.
We think about how we can make our ponies most comfortable and the children as safe as possible, whilst having fun. So, all our riding is on the lead rein and we have one to one staffing. The ponies are led in bridles with Newmarket couplings or dually halters, and children hold onto a saddle strap, rather than holding the reins.
Traditional saddles with trees, slip on the barrel shaped, low withered ponies; so we use bareback saddle pads from the USA that are comfy for the ponies and allow children to naturally sit correctly with their legs relaxed and long. We don’t use stirrups initially as these are a safety hazard and the children learn to feel the pony underneath them as he moves, just like the principles of a balance bike.
Riding in soft saddles in the wildflower meadows
We keep it simple, safe and calm. We encourage children to brush and help get their ponies ready for riding, and to care for them afterwards. This teaches responsibility and gives each child a chance to become accustomed to being around the pony before they get on. By calmly brushing, tacking up and leading their pony, the child gets used to being around him and learns to care about him. Popping on via the mounting block is the natural next step.
Liz, a BHS qualified instructor and former teacher knows that children love familiarity and routine, and so our weekly videos all about the ponies help them to know what to expect before they even arrive at Shetland Pony Club. They can meet the ponies online and learn about what they will be doing before they arrive.
We are a member’s club, with many children coming to ride every week with us. Our members soon progress to leather saddle pads and get rewarded with stickers and rosettes for progressing to stirrups, reins, trotting and cantering.
So, what about pony management?
The Shetlands are kept out all year in a herd and we only have geldings to avoid dealing with pony love as well as children! We don’t have a riding arena. This means that we are able to vary where we ride, around different parts of the estate, enjoying the countryside and the changing seasons. We show the children the wildlife around them, plant wildflower meadows and make paths amongst them to keep it interesting for the children and ponies. Young children love to relax and sing nursery rhymes and chat away and we allow the ponies to graze when they are waiting, to keep them relaxed too. The ponies understand voice commands and usually walk happily together in groups.
Honeybee in summer
in the cornfields
Children love our ponies before they even meet them in person through our online presence. We often tack up a spare pony and this allows us the flexibility to swap ponies easily if one is not comfortable for whatever reason. Any pony that is not 100% can be taken off duty without pressure, until he is fully fit again.
We only use positive reinforcement with our ponies. We try never to buy a problem pony, and introduce new ponies very gradually to the herd and begin riding with them once they are fully settled. We work in hand with the ponies, handle them and lead them out, get them familiar with our tack and use weights on their backs before they are ridden by experienced children on the lead rein at the walk.
We have found that by treating Shetlands with respect and gentleness they can become the most loyal, engaged and willing partners for children. The reputation of Shetland ponies being “naughty” is generally due to people having unrealistic expectations, and by not balancing the feed, exercise and rest routines for their ponies.
It’s useful to stick to a routine for all concerned. The ponies are brought in from the field then fed breakfast from buckets, then every ride starts with hats on, a child friendly safety talk, grooming and tacking up.
It’s important to make our routine successful for the ponies we have now, as we hope our ponies will be with us for many years to come. If a pony is biting or kicking we use IH principles and look at whether there is any physical issue, then work on how we can make the pony most comfortable. If a pony has a sensitive skin and bites when brushed, only our staff brush him using soft brushes or silk scarves and tack him up away from the children to avoid any discomfort.
If a pony won’t stand still to mount, we check his saddle pad, girth and his back and girth area for any signs of pain. We then work with him to desensitise him, often a change of mounting sides or location can make a difference.
Robin Hood is a great success story, who we rescued and helped to be happy with us using Intelligent Horsemanship methods. He had a cut mouth so use a dually headcollar instead, which makes him more comfortable. Once healthy, Robin Hood was bored not working, but he was nervous when being mounted. We took him on the Intelligent Horsemanship 5-day Foundation Course and did Join-Up with him, building trust with Tom, our trainer. He is now able to be ridden and is a great asset to the team.
Robin Hood in the bluebells at Shetland Pony Club
We never stop learning. We have a 5-star animal welfare licence, are approved by the Association of British Riding Schools and are always updating our skills with Intelligent Horsemanship and in all areas of our business. New ideas are being produced all the time and we work to improve our skills and care of the ponies and children as well as our customer facilities. We are passionate about children, ponies and the countryside. Through our work and love, we want to give a better life to more Shetland ponies.
We have seen the benefits that riding, caring for ponies and the connection with nature has brought to over 10,000 children and parents who have visited Shetland Pony Club.
Riding ponies can improve lives and fulfil dreams. Knowing where to start can be a barrier. We’re the beginners’ experts and we support parents and their children all over the world get started with ponies, so that they too can fulfil their dreams.
Shetland Pony Club offers riding for children aged 2½ -10 in Surrey. You can also enjoy the magic of Shetland ponies at home with their online videos, courses and adopt a pony scheme. www.shetlandponyclub.co.uk
River swimming on
Shetland Pony Club camp
Autumn Riding at
Shetland Pony Club