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We have really been enjoying riding the new river routes this summer.  It has added a lot of interest to the rides, with slightly more challenging terrain to navigate, narrow paths, low trees, it is a really fun ride for the more experienced riding guests. The horses seem to love exploring the new trails and nothing phases them.

People always talk about ‘their journey’,it is an overused phrase these days but like a lot of horse owners, I have been on a lifelong journey of discovery.

My love of horses started as a child, where, like most of us, I was taught to ‘kick’ and use my little crop, ‘shorten those reins’ and ‘give them a big pat’ to say thank you.  The ‘show the horse who’s boss’ attitude dominated the riding school circuit and I didn’t think to question it. As I got older, although still riding at riding schools in the traditional way, at least it started to get kinder, but I still just did as I was told without questioning it.

When I moved to Spain and became a horse owner for the first time, and being lucky enough to have the horses at the bottom of my garden, I soon started to question those traditional methods.  I had accepted that horses were often kept in individual stables, without contact with other horses while churning out lessons by the hour. Tacking up tended to be rushed, with the horses tied to a stable wall with no hay to pass the time or settle their stomach before the ride. Thinking back, horses were often treated as no better than machines to be used for our enjoyment.

Once I was able to observe horse behaviour on a daily basis, I soon realised what sensitive, complex animals they are, and how living together in a herd kept them happy and healthy. Taking on the many rescues over the years opened my eyes to the effects of harsh horse management , even bullying and it has been a joy to watch shut down horses blossom with love and kindness and also to observe the difference between how they behave compared to my horses who were born here and have never known anything but kindness, never had a bit in their mouth, a whip used on them or shoes on their feet.  

To some people, our horses may look scruffy, in the winter they are left unrugged and develop thick coats to keep them warm, meaning they are not the shiny examples you often see with stable kept horses. They are also allowed to interact with each other as horses should do, which does result in the occasional small cuts and loss of hair through play.  Their feet are as hard as nails and cope amazingly with the stony terrain on our riding trails but again, they won’t always look glamorous. We are occasionally judged in a negative way, with the way our horses are kept being compared to living conditions in other countries . In the majority of Southern Spain, grass hardly grows, so traditionally horses are kept, if they are lucky, in tiny paddocks, usually on their own, but most commonly around our area, horses are tied up on long ropes in fields in the summer, without being able to touch another horse, with no shelter from the sun or water and in the winter, you are left wondering where they are, as you just don’t see them – they are mostly shut away in tiny stables, barely seeing the light of day.  

My horses have enough turn out to be able to run around, play, graze on their hay, roll and do everything a horse needs to do, with shelter if they want to use it. It is not the acres of grass that is considered necessary in other parts of Europe, but then again, our horses do not have the problem with laminitis that is becoming so common in the Uk.

Along with the journey to being bitless and barefoot which is described in the horses stories, I have also discovered new training methods over the years, which has evolved into positive reinforcement, using a clicker to train with kindness. This has been such a bonus with the scared, shut down rescue horses and I have had complete success . On this journey though, I have also come to worry about what we have to do in order to be able to afford to feed and care for the horses – namely, take people out on riding trails.  Most horse owners have the luxury of being the only people to ride their horses, and anything they do to train them is reinforced every time they ride them. I have to accept that I need to put different riders on my horses on a weekly, sometimes daily basis, and over the years it has made me realise how absolutely accepting and giving a horse is, to put up with all the different riding styles. Why should they even allow us on their back, we should take it as a privilege and treat the horse with the respect it deserves. If I witness a riding client being less than kind to my horse, kicking, pulling, slapping on the neck, (I accept that this is a common way of saying thank you and I don’t hold it against people when it is what they have been taught) I of course explain why we choose not to do this and they usually accept my explanation and have their eyes opened to the fact that there are other ways of riding, but sometimes a rider can’t be changed, and I was starting to get upset on a regular basis, watching my kind horses, some of them having recovered from sad past lives,  having to tolerate things they didn’t understand. I realised that if I could choose, I wouldn’t allow anyone else to ride my horses, but needs must and at the end of the day we have a business to run. One of the biggest problems I faced on rides was the constant call of ‘when can we have another trot’, or ‘when can we canter’ even when the horses were already sweating on a hot summer morning. It really upset me that people couldn’t see that the horses were living creatures and that they weren’t happy to just enjoy the stunning scenery and the bond with their horse, it was all about speed and rider satisfaction. I had to have eyes in the back of my head to prevent over enthusiastic children sneakily kicking their horses to try to make them trot all the time, unaware that it could be at a place where they would often canter and could lead to a dangerous situation, with all the horses taking off. (not to mention the fact that the poor horse had to put up with being kicked in the ribs at every stride). I started to think of how I could make things better for the horses, especially as they are all starting to get older, and realised that if I removed the cantering from the rides, and people knew there would not be any cantering, then it would totally change the type of client we had and mean that we only have clients who really care about the horse. I am not saying that cantering a horse means you don’t care, I love cantering as much as the next person,  but when it is all you want to do, when you treat the horse like a machine, you are not the type of client we want.

I have also realised over the years that  a lot of people who think they can ride , and say they can ride, are not actually balanced riders and it started to occur to me that an unbalanced rider bouncing around on my horses back in trot and canter was not kind to my horse or it’s back!  In short, I was allowing things to happen that I wouldn’t allow if I was a one horse owner, with the luxury of being that horse’s only rider.

There has to be a bit of a compromise, with 14 horses to care for, some of them do have to earn their keep, especially as half of them are retired or semi retired and will all live out their days with us.

By changing the riding business to offer ethical riding, at walking pace, enjoying the scenery and the bond with your horse, we not only make life better for our horses but we offer something a bit different for our guests too – there are a lot of people who are maybe nervous, or older and lacking the confidence they used to have, or are complete beginners, or just horse owners who enjoy happy hacking, who really welcome the type of holiday we offer and it is a great compromise all round, with happy horses and riders.  

We are now meeting so many lovely, genuine horse lovers, and with the addition of our varied riding courses, some non ridden, and often beneficial for the horses, for example equine massage or other therapies, we are finding a way forward , as our horses (and we!) get older.

https://www.facebook.com/events/324553085019825/

Due to the success of our previous courses, we are so pleased to be hosting a third clicker training course with Sue Fraser of Peak Equine.
Sue has trained extensively with renowned clicker trainers Becky Chapman and Alex Kurland.She believes that the horse’s needs should always come first and that if we are going to ride and train them we should do so in a way that is good for both their body and mind. She doesn’t want the horse to just comply with requests – but to enjoy and take part in the learning process. See what Sue’s clients have to say about her http://www.peak-equine.co.uk/feedback
Price per person 550 euros
Price includes airport transfers, (from Malaga airport) 3 nights accommodation based on 2 people sharing (single room supplement of 40 euros per night) all meals and wine with evening meal, approx 7-8  horse hours  during the course , finishing with a picnic in the mountains  on final evening – (price for those wishing to ride to the picnic 50 euros,(paid in cash on day)  non riders can come in the Landrover. All abilities catered for) use of heated pool and Jacuzzi.
https://horseriding-holidays-andalucia.com/
If you wish to stay longer, before or after the course, for a relaxing holiday with or without extra riding, please ask for details. Non participating or spectating friends or partners are welcome. (non participating price 200 euros) *IF YOU ARE A SINGLE TRAVELLER WILLING TO SHARE A ROOM, TO SAVE THE SINGLE SUPPLEMENT, PLEASE LET US KNOW

The course:- Arrive at Cortijo Los Lobos on the 10th May , in time for a welcome 3 course meal , where we can all get to know each other and discuss the course.
The following two days will cover :-
An introduction to clicker training – learn the science of how clicker training works and how to shape behaviour. Participants will get hands on training with the horses in how to teach your horse basic behaviours starting with essential manners around food and handling skills. The exercises build towards teaching the horse how to balance and use his body correctly. The course will finish with a stunning ride into the mountains, bitless and barefoot, where we will enjoy a picnic while watching the sun go down. Leave on the morning of 13th May ( time can be flexible, to suit flight times)
Stay longer and attend our fantastic ‘restoring the balance’ course with Bern Easterford from 13th to 16th Mayhttps://www.facebook.com/events/404195546781391/ or Tracey Cole’s confidence course from the 16th to 19th Mayhttps://www.facebook.com/events/312633606228403/

10% discount if you attend two or more courses

Please contact June Wolfe cortijoloslobos@yahoo.co.uk
https://horseriding-holidays-andalucia.com/
or ring June
(0034) 660 294 457

Sierra can be ridden by all abilities.

Sierra was very head shy when she arrived in February 2016. She was also a bit aggressive towards other horses, putting her head down and charging towards them, though fortunately she was never agressive with people although she did seem very nervous of being touched and was impossible to catch.
Sierra also had shoes on and her feet were very overgrown and turning up at the toes. Her previous owners said that when she was shod the farrier had to sedate her. We didn’t want to continue her fear of not only being shod but of head collars and being caught, so the only answer was to help her realise it wasn’t anything to be frightened of.


For a few days when she first arrived we made up a small paddock with electric fence in the sand arena so that she could make friends with the horses over the fence (we couldn’t integrate her until we had her shoes off but of course , with her fear of her feet being touched it was impossible to remove her shoes) . I sat on a mounting block with a clicker and treats and a head collar in my hand and just waited until she came to me. It didn’t take more than a few minutes for her to realise that if she touched the head collar with her nose she got a click and treat and in just a few sessions she was lowering her head into the head collar herself. Once that was achieved the next step was to start touching her feet and again, with the help of a clicker and treats , within a few days she was happy for her feet to be touched and Clive had managed to remove her shoes and even give them a little file! We have never had a problem with her feet or catching her since, she really is sweet and actually instead of running away, she follows us around the field.


Looking at her passport, it seems she has had a difficult life, with 11 different homes in her 14 years, no wonder she had issues. She also had sweet itch when she arrived , with a hogged mane , but now she is 100% fine and her mane is growing back . She came to us in a bitless bridle, which is unusual to see here , but the vet says she has some nerve damage in her face and her teeth also indicated previous trauma, so we think that probably it was not possible to put a bit in her mouth. Once we had gained Sierra’s trust we then spent time helping her to be happy to be tacked up.When she first came she would dance around once a saddle was put on her back , but again with the aid of patience and a clicker she is now much happier and is a joy to ride, perfectly behaved with a lovely forward going canter.
We are really thrilled to see that she has made friends with new horse Flamenca and the pair are inseparable, it is lovely to watch their bond growing daily.

6 months on

It has been nearly 6 months since the sad death of our beloved Caña. I finally feel stong enough to write about her, though I will never forget her.

Caña came to us in January 2016 along with another horse, Sierra. They had both been working at another trekking centre over the mountains from us and needed a new home. The trekking business was downsizing.

Unfortunately, Caña arrived with what we were told by her previous owners, and assumed ourselves, was thrush. It turned out to be much worse and when we removed her shoes we found the full extent of the problem. All four of Cañas feet were badly infected with canker (a disease that is next to impossible to treat and a poor prognosis for success). Her feet and heels were bleeding and oozing white puss.

Incredibly she wasn’t showing any lameness but her feet were so bad and so painful to the touch. We can only assume that as it affected all 4 feet, she couldn’t show lameness as she couldn’t limp!

We immediately called the vet and so began months of treatment. Soaking all four feet daily in special solutions, as the months went on, a new mixture of treatments were tried and tested. The transition to barefoot helped a lot but it was a constant battle to keep the infection at bay.

Caña’s feet when she arrived…

 

Helping Caña to enjoy people…

When we first took Caña on, her previous owners described her as ‘not a cuddly horse’. This was a huge under statement. Caña was so sad and shut down, she literally shuddered if you even put a finger lightly on her. With the aid of a clicker and treats we set to work to help her accept human touch more readily. After a lot of time and patience, we were gradually able to catch her, tack her up, ask her to lower her head for her bridle (relaxed) and be mounted at the mounting block without rushing off, all at liberty.

We started to ride her once her feet had started to heal; the vet assured us that movement would help her recovery. When she came to us she was neck reined with a bit. At the grand old age of 24 we transitioned her overnight to bitless with 2 reins and she was amazing! I loved riding her.

With all the months of positive reinforcement, she really responded to my voice. Though she had a huge, long stride (she was a very tall horse), I only had to say ‘stand’ for her to stop and wait for the other horses to catch up.

 

Caña’s last day ……

20 minutes into a lovely ride on a beautiful sunny September day last year, the dreaded event took place. Our lovely Caña was kicked in the leg by our old mare Capri, breaking it badly. It all happened so suddenly, one minute we were walking along, chatting and enjoying our ride, then suddenly Caña was rearing in pain. Luckily our fantastic vets came very quickly and poor Caña was put to sleep very peacefully in the olive grove where the accident happened.
After all the months working with her, we had a strong bond and I really loved her. I miss her gentleness and beauty, she was a very special horse. I console myself that her feet would never have been 100% – canker has a habit of never quite going away, and she has been spared having to tolerate the constant treatment for the rest of her life. She died when her health was at it’s peak of improvement, after a very happy summer of going on picnic rides and being loved by everyone.

She did not have to struggle through another winter, which I know would have taken it’s toll on her feet especially as she was inclined to get mud fever. Despite knowing this, I will never stop missing her.

R.I.P. our beautiful Caña.