capri capri2

Capri  is semi retired, and we now only use her for young children in walk

10 years ago we saw an advert in the local paper for a mare and foal desperately looking for a home, due to the owners ill health. As they were living in a nearby village we decided to go and have a look and of course once we saw them and their living conditions, we couldn’t turn a blind eye, even though the owner was asking 1000 euros for the pair. Capri was living with her 1 year old filly Bonny in a small enclosure, cared for by an elderly man who admitted that he had no idea about horse care. Capri had not been ridden by the man at all and Bonny was a very large, strong willed filly with no manners what so ever. It was obvious that they had just been left to their own devices. They were healthy enough though, and though we knew we were taking a risk with Capri, not knowing her history, we felt that Bonny had great potential and in any case, we could not leave them there now that we had seen them, so we agreed to buy them and by the following day we had two new additions to our herd.
Capri was about 14 at the time and seemed a very nice, kind horse. Once we got her home we tried riding her in the arena and she was absolutely fine, very responsive with nice manners, so we were pleased that the risk had paid off. As she had lost a shoe (at the time we still had our horses shod) we waited for the farrier to come before trying to ride her again. Poor Capri, it turned out that she was terrified of farriers (which is not surprising as they can be quite brutal here and often hit the horses with whatever tool they have in their hand if they don’t stand still – one of the reasons we later chose to go barefoot). She was so traumatized that she was rearing up and almost falling over backwards, so the farrier decided to sedate her.
The following day, when we tried to ride her, it was clear that something was very wrong. As soon as I got on her she started to rear up and it was obvious that she had pain in her head.
I called the vet, thinking that perhaps it was a problem with her teeth but when the vet prepared to sedate her to file them, to her horror she discovered that when the farrier had injected her in the neck the previous day he had blown the vein, and this was what was causing poor Capri so much pain, it could have even made her blind!
Luckily for us, and all of our horses, this was to be the start of the decision to ride the horses in bitless bridles. Capri has been the greatest teacher, as from this day on, she could not bear any contact with her head, even if someone, thinking they were helping, tried to hold her while she was being mounted, her eyes would roll in terror and she would start to rear up, she really was so terrified. This meant that I had to learn very quickly how to ride without contact and of course once I saw how it could be achieved with Capri, there was no reason not to ride all the horses this way, which has been so lovely for our youngsters, who have never known the feeling of a bit in their mouths or shoes on their perfect little feet.
Now , aged 24, Capri is a kind, gentle horse, a great role model to Bonny, and also her subsequent foal Picasso, fathered by Leo. She still thinks she is a race horse, she loves to gallop but though ridden in just a head collar will stop with the tweak of a finger . You can also see her panic still, when you pick her feet out, even now I have to be very sensitive with her and always allow her to put her foot back down if she wants to, never letting it feel like a battle to her , it just proves how deep routed a horses fear can become, and that they have an incredible memory for past experiences – I am so grateful to her for teaching me that it is possible to ride bitless, and also glad that I have had the chance to give her a home and help her recover from her trauma, as I dread to think what her life could have been like, if she had had to continue living with her fear.

Bracken Bracken 2

Bracken is semi-retired, but sometimes takes very young children on lead rein

Bracken is our cheeky little Shetland pony.
We bought her off of a Spanish school friend of the children, about 10 years ago. When the children came home from school and told us about her, we didn’t like to say no – Shetlands do not tend to have a great life here in Spain and can often be seen as live Merry go rounds at fairs and fiestas – a really upsetting and horrible sight, – poor little Shetlands, tied nose to tail going round in circles for children’s’ enjoyment. We felt we were justified in buying her as a cute addition to the herd, for our guest’s small children to ride. She only lived about a 20 minute walk from us, so it was easy to get her home and she became a very happy and popular member of our herd.
As Shetlands go, she is a good one, she willingly stands for small children to groom and fuss her, and allows us to lead her around for toddler pony rides. On the very rare occasion that we have a young rider wanting to take her out on a ‘real’ hack , she is in her element, she loves to go out and can easily keep up with the bigger horses on a 2 hour ride. Sadly most children who are big and strong and competent enough to ride her out are at the age where they want to ride a bigger pony, so she is quite wasted really, though I doubt she thinks so. She has bonded very closely with our old mare Alfie and lives with the oldies – quite a clever move as it ensures that she gets plenty of food, she’s not silly.
She has led us a merry dance over the years with her Houdini antics though. We have to have extra bolts on every door that she might come in contact with and also padlocks, as she has an incredible ability to open anything – we can’t even just loop a padlock through a bolt, that is not enough, it has to actually be locked. Being so small, she is good at escaping under top bars of gates and with her thick coat and extra layer of fat she has no respect for electric fence tape. One day we thought she had disappeared when we came down to the horses in the morning – there was no sign of her. We ran around the garden calling for her and she was eventually found in the pool pump house – silly creature had let herself in but when the door closed behind her she couldn’t get back out. Her worst trick is to lock us in the hen house which is situated in the horse’s paddock. It has a bolt on the outside but no way of opening it from the inside which means that feeding or cleaning the chickens out has to be done quickly with a constant eye on the door – I always try to keep my mobile phone in my pocket just in case!

lola lola snow

Lola was purchased locally by a friend of our daughter, who wanted to keep her own horse on livery at ours.   Unfortunately after a few months, things were not working out and we took the decision to buy Lola off of her family, rather than see her leave the friends she had bonded with here.

Lola is a beautiful bay mare with a luscious silky black mane.  In the first few years she was with us she was a great horse, we soon got her ride able and trustworthy enough to use for guests, in fact she developed the nick name ‘Slola’ as she has such a slow, relaxed walk.  She was a great addition to the herd, good for nervous riders, but if I ever needed to use her myself  as a lead horse she could be encouraged to walk faster, and she had a fantastic, fast canter, so was an all round useful horse.

Unfortunately, about 5 years ago we had a riding booking for a teenage girl who wanted to go out on a hack.  She was a beginner and I had decided to put her on our totally bombproof horse Hercules and ride myself on Lucy, but at the last minute, the girls mum phoned and asked to ride too.  She told me she was an experienced rider, so I was not too worried and decided not to change my plans, I would still ride Lucy and take Hercules for the daughter and the mum could ride Lola, no problem.  That was until they arrived and I saw the size of the mum.  I had stupidly forgotten to ask for weights when they booked, something I always try to do, and I was left with the embarrassing problem of either trying to assess the weight myself or come straight out and ask.  I sized the woman up, she wasn’t very tall, but very round, and decided that she would not be any heavier than the heaviest male rider Lola could take, and that, along with the fact that the woman was supposed to be a good rider, and would therefore ride lighter, plus the fact that it was only an hour beginners ride, and we would just be walking, made the decision.  While we were getting ready the woman kept telling me tall stories about her riding abilities, and how she had  sat on rearing horses etc, her skills were increasing by the minute!   We set off, but after just a couple of minutes, to my horror, Lola started rearing up.  She had never reared before and I jumped off of Lucy to help.  The woman would not get off and just kept saying it was fine, but I knew that there was a problem and finally got her to dismount.  Poor Lola, she used to have an Australian stock saddle, which had a sort of metal d-ring at the back, in the middle, under the cantle and it seemed that the weight of woman had caused the ring to press into Lola’s spine, causing her to rear.

Needless to say, the woman did not ride and I just took her daughter as originally planned, but that one error of judgement on my part was the beginning of years of problems with poor Lola.

From that day, whenever she got to the place where she had reared, she started to rear and jump around, making it perfectly obvious that she remembered and was traumatized by the memory.  We realised that she now had a saddle issue too, and tried changing the saddle to a simpler, lighter one (we got rid of the stock saddle as we found it too heavy).

Nothing seemed to help until I decided to try a treeless saddle.  This made things much better, she no longer had a problem with the saddle, and if we could get her away from home, past the scene of the original incident, she was usually fine, but that in itself was a problem – I could not use her for clients as I couldn’t rely on the rider getting her away quick enough, and I could not ride her myself as the lead horse for the same reason – I had to take time, checking on the other riders etc, so it just didn’t work.  This led to Lola never being ridden, especially in the winter months when I am often on my own with no one to ride with.  Every spring, when we have girls to help, she starts to be ridden, and is often a favourite with teenage girls, but just when it seems that she is almost over her phobia, and going out regularly without problem, the helpers leave and we end up back to square one.  This year I am determined that we will crack the problem once and for all as Lola is a lovely horse and I do not want to give up on her.  Meanwhile, she leads a very happy life of early retirement – she’s not silly!
You can read more about our horses and other animals in my book, ‘No time for a siesta’  available from Amazon for kindle or in paperback:

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Leo is suitable for all riding abilities.

Leo was our first ever foal, and to us in some ways he will always be our baby.

Lucy, his mum seems to feel the same way, as though he is now 11, he is such a mummy’s boy and chooses to be with her over all of the other horses. He does have a good relationship with his own off spring, especially Spirit, but his greatest love will always be his Mum.

Leo was a lovely foal, very easy and good natured, but thinking back, of course he was – he had his mum for his love and milk and as he got older, a nice supply of mares to keep his hormones happy! By the age of one he was off making babies one minute and back to Mum the next – talk about have your cake and eat it.!
At the time we hadn’t quite realised that horses could be fertile at only a year, and by the time his first foal, Spirit, arrived the following year, we also had 3 more foals on the way! Though we had tried to have him gelded in the spring of the year he turned one, the vet decided to leave it until the autumn as it turned hot very suddenly and there were a lot of flies, but then in the Autumn the reverse happened and we ended up leaving it until the following spring.
Never mind, our happy little accidents proved to be a blessing in hindsight, they have given us a lot of joy and are now a fantastic addition to our riding business.
As already explained in Lucy’s story – Leo loved his milk and the pair of them were in no hurry to wean naturally – we eventually weaned him, aged four, alongside his last foals, by putting him in an adjoining paddock, but when we reintroduced them back into the herd , Leo was the first one trying to suckle – what a big baby! Even now, when we take Lucy out for a ride without him, though he doesn’t make a fuss at the time, he can be heard calling to her when she is near home, and his little head is always the one turned in our direction as we walk back through the gate.

LeoLeoLeo

Blackberry1 Blackberry2

Blackberry  is retired but sometimes used in clinics for ground work.

In the September of our first year in Spain we went to a horse fair in a town about an hour away. A stupid thing to do really – it was pretty obvious we were going to want to ‘save’ all the poor horses being paraded about. One little black horse really caught our eye though – she was so sweet and pretty and being dragged around by an old man who was trying to convince everyone to buy her. He told us that her name was Mora, which means Blackberry or ‘dark woman’ in Spanish, and before we knew what we were doing, we had agreed to buy her (thanks to my Dad who was there at the time and felt it only fair that our daughter Elizabeth should have her own pony, seeing as we already had 2 horses for the boys).
Poor Blackberry arrived at our farm in the back of a van , smaller than a transit van, she could just about stand up , and was squashed in next to a mule that was also being delivered to our village! We were horrified, and couldn’t wait to give her some love and attention. We soon realised that she was absolutely running alive with bot flies, but she stood so nicely while we hosed her down and tried our best to remove them. What a well behaved horse we thought – that was until the next day when it became obvious that she had only been such a quiet placid horse the day before as she had been drugged! Today was a whole different story!
Blackberry proved to be a very nervous and angry little horse – we had no idea what had happened to her in her previous life but it can’t have been good! With lots of love and attention our daughter Elizabeth, only 10 at the time, was able to eventually ride her and she became a nice companion for Polly and Caretta. She has never been an easy horse though, and it always feels like we go two steps forward and one back. She is very intelligent and sensitive and can also be quite moody. She really does not like men at all and if she takes a dislike to someone she lunges towards the fence with her ears back in a very threatening way, but on a warm sunny day, she can be so lovely and gentle and laid back, it is almost as if she suffers from seasonal adjustment disorder – she is definitely not a fan of bad weather.
We had just got her to the point where she was usable for clients and a trustworthy horse to ride, when we had to go to the uk for a week and had horse sitters to take care of the place.
When we came back , Blacky was completely undridable and would not even let us near her with a bridle. We never found out what happened while we were away, but we were back to square one and it has been a long journey, getting her happy enough to be ridden again.
Now well into her teens, she is still not quite a ‘reliable’ ride, and is pretty much semi- retired, but I have not given up on her – I just need the time and help, to work with her consistently and I am sure she would be fine. Perhaps this summer……………..