Hugo arrived in February 2017 and he's been growing ever since! He was born in May 2014, bred locally. He has a great aptitude for learning and is quite the clown.


July 21, 2018
The wall

Buck Branaman once said that 99% of horses’ problems were caused by people. This slightly depressing and sobering though might put some people off but I see it as a personal quest to never stop learning. I’ve never sold myself as a starter of young horses, purely because it’s not something I’ve had much experience in and I like to do a job well or not at all.

Obviously getting Hugo as an unstarted youngster last year was planned as I wanted to take my horsemanship through this process and see what I learned. I have no doubt that in another few years, I hope to have developed myself further and am sure things would be different if I was starting him then. But here we are.

Things have been going really well with him. He has accepted me on his back, he has accepted the saddle at walk, trot and canter and he understands that voice and/or legs mean go. So recently we started to get stuck and I couldn’t quite put my finger on the problem. I guess maybe I have to see a pattern a few times before it really clicks in my head. And this is what the problem was… We can steer and walk to the left, no problem. However, steering and walking to the right seemed to mean a brick wall in his head. He just couldn’t get his feet moving forwards or sideways and would just buck or throw his head up. It doesn’t really scare me sitting on him when he does this and I’m sure the traditionals would just give him a smack and get him moving on, but to me, there was a piece of understanding missing for him. The worst part though was that when he’d finally moved out through the problem and could make a turn to the right, I didn’t feel very successful and I don’t think he did either. We just made the best of a vague situation.

In my latest training session, I decided to go back to the long lines and see if could isolate the problem without me being on his back. He started off fine and then after about two circuits of my weave pattern, he got stuck and really tried to buck, while still braced on the right rein. I was able to keep asking him to move forwards with my voice and suddenly he broke into trot and off he went. We did some lovely shapes all over the field at walk and trot without another ‘No’ moment. This really cemented in my mind that the issue was not to do with my sitting on his back but that he simply didn’t understand how to go forwards to the right at the same time. The end of the session felt really positive – he seemed happy too so lots to take away from that.

I love how much this little guy is teaching me. We may take a bit longer than others but we will be confident and happy doing it.

June 10, 2018
Hugo's first demo
18-06-09_OD_08.jpgI am so excited at Hugo's progress over the last few months. Yesterday he took part in my Open Day and tried his heart out. In practice over the week, he had struggled to stay connected to Shaun and I but he absolutely nailed it. Our last demo had me riding Shaun with Hugo at liberty. He felt so good, I got on his back at the end - in front of 30-odd people. What a special pony!18-06-09_OD_05.jpg

April 20, 2018
Spring has arrived

Very quick Hugo update. This week he has been working on learning about vertical flexion in the halter. It's interesting that pressure on his nose, creating vertical flexion, causes him to champ his teeth, much like a horse would in a bridle, except he isn't wearing one. After allowing him to trot for a while, he relaxed and lost the urge to grind his teeth. I pondered if a horse that did this with a bit in it's mouth would simply have a flash put on. Certainly in Hugo's case, it's nothing to do with the bit, just a lack of understanding at this point in his education. 

This evening I took him and Shaun for a ride and lead session to the bridle path. We stopped to talk to some neighbours and Hugo fell asleep - Power Save Mode! We cantered to the top of the hill and they ate sticky grass. I love Spring - it really does give us hope for the coming months.  

April 8, 2018
Offering forwards

I haven't had much to do with Hugo recently as he has had a little cough, which appears to be allergy-related. It's quite interesting as he has odd ways of showing anxiety - manifesting in a very exagerated head tossing - but he also seems to cough more when he is worried. This might happen when Shaun has gone out of sight or it's feed time - probably Hugo's favourite time of the day!

Anyway, in preparing him to ride, I have found that if he feels like he is being 'made' to go forwards, he gets grumpy, swishing his tail and bunching his body up. So when I get on him now, I just sit there and let him go wherever he wants. The good news is that now he really sets off at a good march and walks everywhere like he's sure he's supposed to be doing it. Obviously I don't want to slow my little introvert down, so I just tell him he's a good boy and occasionally steer. Today he felt really good so I thought about trotting. He is so sensitive that just the thought of trotting sped up his stride. Next, I gave him the voice cue that I do for trot - one click - and he just did it. We did one stride of trot and I stopped him - don't over-exert yourself Hugo! - and got off. This might not be the most conventional or quickest way of starting a horse but I relaly want him to understand what each question is. I have no timescale on how long starting him takes and in fairness, when you see diagrams such as the one below, I relaise that baby horses should not be rushed physically, mentally or emotionally.  


Excerpt below is taken from "Timing & Rate of Skeletal Maturation in Horses" by Dr. Deb Bennett, Ph.D: 
"Owners and trainers need to realize there's a definite, easy-to-remember schedule of bone fusion. Make a decision when to ride the horse based on that rather than on the external appearance of the horse..  For there are some breeds of horse--the Quarter Horse is the premier among these--which have been bred in such a manner as to LOOK mature LONG before they actually ARE. This puts these horses in jeopardy from people who are either ignorant of the closure schedule, or more interested in their own schedule (racing, jumping, futurities or other competitions) than they are in the welfare of the animal.

The Schedule of Growth-Plate Conversion to Bone

The process of fusion goes from the bottom up. In other words, the lower down toward the hooves, the earlier the growth plates will fuse--the higher up toward the animal's back you look, the later. The growth plate at the top of the coffin bone, in the hoof, is fused at birth. What this means is that the coffin bones get no TALLER after birth (they get much larger around, though, by another mechanism). That's the first one.  In order after that:

Short pastern – bottom before birth; top between 9-12 months.
Long pastern – bottom unites with shaft at or shortly before birth; top 13 to 15 mos.
Cannon bone – top unites with shaft at or shortly before birth; bottom unites with shaft at about 18 mos.
Small bones of the knee – top and bottom of each, between 18 mos. and 2 years
Radius-ulna – upper weightbearing surface, between 15-18 mos.; distal surfaces, between 3 and 3.5 years
Humerus – bottom, between 1.5 and 2 years; top, between 3 and 3.5 years
Scapula – glenoid or bottom (weight-bearing) portion – between 3 and 3.5 years
Hindlimb – cannon bone, coffin bone, andpasterns same as forelimb
Hock – this joint is “late” for as low down asit is; growth plates on the tibial and fibulartarsals don’t fuse until the animal is 3-3.5(so the hocks are a known “weak point” –even the 18th-century literature warns against driving young horses in plow or other deep or sticky footing, or jumping them up into a heavy load, for danger of spraining their hocks).
Tibia – bottom, between 20 mos. and 2years; top, between 3 and 3.5 years
Femur – there are 4 major epiphyses on this bone, including the head that goes into the hip socket; they fuse between 3 - 4 years.
Pelvis – the hip socket is firm between 18mos. and 2 years, but the rest of the bone does not stop growing until the horse is 5 or more years old.

And what do you think is last? The vertebral column (spine) of course. A normal horse has 32 vertebrae between the back of the skull and the root of the dock, and there are several growth plates on each one, the most important of which is the one capping the centrum.

These do not finally fuse until the horse is at least 5 ½ years old (and this figure applies to a small-sized, scrubby, range-raised mare. The taller your horse and the longer its neck, the later the last fusions will occur. And for a male – is this a surprise? – you add six months. So, for example, a 17-hand Thoroughbred, Saddlebred or Warmblood gelding may not be fully mature until his 8th year – something that owners of such individuals have often told me that they “suspected”)

Significance of the Closure Schedule for Injuries to Back and Neck vs. Limbs

"The lateness of vertebral "closure" is most significant for two reasons. One: in no limb are there 32 growth plates! Two: The growth plates in the limbs are (more or less) oriented perpendicular (up and down) to the stress of the load passing through them, while those of the vertebral chain are oriented parallel (horizontal) to weight placed upon the horse's back.  Bottom line: you can sprain a horse's back (i.e., displace the vertebral growth plates) a lot more easily than you can sprain those located in the limbs.

And here's another little fact: within the chain of vertebrae, the last to fully "close" are those at the base of the animal's neck--that's why the long-necked individual may go past 6 yrs. to achieve full maturity. So you also have to be careful--very careful--not to yank the neck around on your young horse, or get him in any situation where he strains his neck (i.e., better learn how to get a horse broke to tie before you ever tie him up, so that there will be no likelihood of him ever pulling back hard)."....

March 25, 2018
Freely forwards
The sun came out today and I had a chance to ride Hugo a little longer. We popped out a few obstacles and he spent a little time choosing to walk from obstacle to obstacle, investigating them. By the time we finished, he was happily walking round all four of them both ways with no leg aid needed to get him going. Such a smart little learner :-)

March 12, 2018
Wintered well
Hugo has come through the winter well. He has grown so much in the last few months and is front end high for the first time since I got him. He is an amazingly quick learner but also really sensitive. If you get loud with him or push him too fast, he will just shut down. I figured that out pretty early on so everything I do with him now is bite-sized pieces of learning. His sessions are never more than 20-30 minutes long. His attitude to learning is so positive that I know we have found the right balance. I will not be starting him until later in the year - he isn't 4 until May and I feel like he still has plenty of growing to do. However, there are so many things I can teach him on the ground - he already understands vertical flexion and also how to perform shoulder-in. This should make things so much easier when he finally has to do these exercises ridden.

November 8, 2017
Hugo's first ridden trot

Hugo has been coming along nicely recently. He is now a really confident learner and is able to take on board a bit more information than when I first got him. He understands the training system that I use (of pressure and release) so has started to offer things to see if it will get a reward. He always has such a bright expression – I guess his curiosity has not been blunted – and he learns things so fast that sometimes I have to just stop and check with myself that he learned something that had once taken me a long while to grasp myself! I guess because I know what I am looking for a little more now, it’s easier to know when he is getting warmer. Today, I wanted to see if he could trot with me on board. I tried yesterday and he was a little reluctant to go, more of an un-confidence, so today I got my mum to come in the barn with us in case he needed a little help from the ground. I need not have worried, as once going each time, he trotted with purpose and freedom and seemed very unconcerned that I was on his back. 

September 8, 2017
Hugo learning about forwards

I thought this video of Hugo learning might help a few people. I asked him to trot round two markers and he got stuck each time going from right to left, not so much with the turn but the concept of going forwards afterwards. He doesn't always think forwards, although once he is moving, he actually frees up. So I made sure every time he made an effort to go forwards on this turn, he was allowed to go forwards for a bit before asking for another turn. I don't want to be turning him a lot right now if it is going to start to second guess going forwards. The last revolution he was much more forwards in his turn and continuation so we stopped. Often when I see people playing with this, they get really stuck on making it look as good as it can be as a whole exercise, when sometimes it would be better to work on the ingredients of the exercise.



August 7, 2017
Hugo learning about steering
Hugo has been doing really great. I've have sat on him five times now. On the 4th ride, he figured out how to go forwards off my leg. Today, he learned how to steer. This might sounds a bit obvious but when I pulled on his reins before, his nose just ended up at my foot! I am so proud of him. This video is today's ride:

July 18, 2017
Hugo's adventures
Hugo_Torbay_and_District_9th_July_2017_01.jpg17-07-16_Hugo_Backed.jpgHugo has had a busy few weeks. On 9th July, we went to his second show, this time without Shaun for company. We were parked near the entrance and his first educational moment came when all the trailers came past him and made quite a racket for a boy like him. After about 10 vehicles, he had decided that actually the vehicles were fine and not that scary. It did strike me that it was a really good way to introduce a young horse to vehicles without being on the road. 

So when we finally got to the show ring, we did a Turnout Class, where we came last as he was the only one that wasn't plaited. After that, we did a youngstock class and he came 2nd. He was a bit agitated and excitable so we need to spend some more time just hanging out at our next show, which is at the weekend.

After a really busy week for me, I was lucky enough to have a few days off, which I really needed. My friend Karen Corbett popped over on Sunday and we mucked about loading Hugo on her trailer in every permutation we could think of. After that, she suggested that I hopped on him, so we just set it up for him so it was really easy. He didn't really flinch and was more interested in the food being offered to him than the fact I was on his back!

July 4, 2017
Hugo's changing

I took Hugo to a show at the weekend and was lucky enough that a professional photographer snapped Hugo and I in our posh clothes. Hugo did two classes - Best Turned Out and Best 2 and 3 Year old. Being a native breed, he wasn't plaited so we were marked down for that, but still came 5th! He got a little excitable while he was waiting for his turn but settled down again. In the second class, he was much calmer and we came 3rd. Again, I was so impressed by his chilled out nature and manner. Here's a comparison between now and February when he arrived.

Hugo_Arrives.jpg Hugo_Cockington_3-7-17.jpg

June 13, 2017

The great thing about having a blank canvass is that you don’t have to undo other people’s mistakes. The flip side of that is it’s perfectly possible to teach something you didn’t intend to and you only have yourself to blame.

We have a (loose) goal of taking Hugo to Totnes Show, which is an agricultural show local to us. To show in one of these classes, he should really be wearing a bridle, although it is possible to do it without if necessary. So it came time when I felt he needed to at least understand what a bit is. I don’t really like leaving this to later in a horse’s life as they seem to take much longer to accept it. But in my mind, it was no issue either way.

I started off with a rubber bit and he just hated it. Every time I came near him, he would reverse away from me and take ages to stop chomping. After a couple of days and consultation with a friend, I tried a very narrow sweet iron bit. He took hardly any time to go quiet in the mouth but I still had the reversing. Feeling like I had pushed him too far, I went back a number of steps and just made it into a game. By the end of the next session, I could jingle the bit and he would walk over, pop his head through the headpiece for some carrot. By the end of the next session, he was allowing me to pop it in his mouth for a second or two and then he got carrot. Today, he allowed me to slip the headpiece over his head and hold the bit for a few seconds. He got a treat once I took it off. He seems happy with this arrangement. It’s not how I bridle Shaun, who gets a treat as he takes the bit so Hugo has shown me that one technique does not fit all. Plus, he really struggles to fit anything else in his mouth when there is a bit in it!! Here’s a video of today:

May 25, 2017
Hugo is travelling!

Many apologies for the lack of posts. My web hosting server has been misbehaving! 

The day Hugo came, we had to shoehorn him into the trailer and he sweated up badly on the short journey. A couple of weeks ago was the first day he went somewhere since then. We've done lots of preparation in terms of getting him used to the ramp and being shut in but today he had partitions for the first time and, crucially, Uncle Shaun by his side for reassurance. We only went for 20 minutes but he ate during the journey, didn't move his feet and did not sweat at all. Shaun was completely brilliant throughout as well, loaded on his own and stayed calm and dependable throughout. Just to check, I reloaded Hugo again once we got home and he happily went in on his own, was shut in and then came quietly out again. 

A non-event, just like it should be. 

April 20, 2017
Hugo Level 1
Just for fun - Hugo having a crack at Level 1. Somethings didn't go as smoothly as others and I probably forgot something but it's no big deal

April 15, 2017
Hugo at Liberty

Hugo and Shaun have been doing a few things together recently. Yesterday, they went for a short hack with Hugo being led from Shaun. Hugo behaved impecibly. Today, they both did group liberty. It was always a dream of mine to do group liberty with Shaun and Taz so hopefully Hugo will be a great replacement. Here they are having a play with Figure of Eight: