Food obsession & R+ (Saf)

Had an amazing session with Saf today. Saf is a resource guarder; bucket feed, hay etc. she struggles to tolerate anyone near her when she’s eating. Depending on her mood, she lets Moo share her hay, Raven and Rosie are tolerated but everyone knows not to try anything on with her. I know nothing of her past before I got her so can only assume that she had restricted forage early in her life. She feels that her life depends on protecting what hay she has (even though she has enough hay to keep her going day and night). Not a normal, wild horse behaviour at all. I tried clicker training her a year ago when I was less experienced, and really struggled because she would just hound me for the food the whole time, get overexcited and mega aggressive to any nearby horses.

Restarted training in the last month or so, having learned more about food obsessed horses. Started off using hay as the reward, this was as low value food I had. When she realised that the rate of reinforcement (RoR) was so high and she was getting a ‘boring’ reward, she relaxed. I moved her on to the hay cobs everyone else has for training. The first session she would chase away anyone who got too near. I rewarded the quiet moments. Gradually moved around her body, tiny steps at a time, until she accepted that although the treats are attached to me, I will always come back to her head to feed her so there is no need for her to follow me. This was like a lightbulb going off in her head. She knew the food was hers once she heard that click, so no need to panic.

Today was the most chilled I’ve seen her with the food. Her little face lit up when she saw I was wearing the treat bag. As soon as she heard the first click, she just chilled out and we had a lovely relaxed session despite having an audience. A few short weeks ago, having the neighbouring horses standing so close would have been unthinkable for Saf.


Targeting & Touch (Roz & Raven)


Rosie and I had a little helper whilst training this morning! Lovely Fowler is our tame cockerel, he just turned up at the yard one day (presumed dumped) and has been here for years!

Rosie has been getting so good at targeting. My target of choice is an extendable shoe horn with a tennis ball on the end. She was getting so good that if I left the target lying around anywhere she would go up to it and stand by it. I recently introduced the blue cone as a target with the aim of having her stay by it rather than the traditional tying up. She’s been working on going to the target wherever I move it around the yard. Today we worked on staying at the target while I moved away a few metres.

Meanwhile, Raven is working on letting me touch her all over. She is very shy so it is essential that we work on this before we try picking her feet up. I will write Raven’s story in a seperate post. At the moment we’re sticking to just the front feet. She has been taught in the past the traditional method of picking up her feet but is so fearful she couldn’t hold them up for long. Today we worked on me touching her front legs, starting at the top then working my way lower, without her picking her feet up. Obviously this must have been strange for her, since she has been taught, pressure = pick foot up. By the end of the session I could touch both legs down to the canon bone without her lifting. When she is totally comfortable and understands, I can revisit her targeting my hand with her fetlock to lift.

Good news! I now have a mini tripod for my video camera, so will start filming my sessions so you can see what I’m up to, rather than relying on my dodgy descriptions!

Ground Level Feeding

We all know that horses are designed to graze for approximately 17 out of every 24 hours. They are designed to mainly eat with their heads down, with occasional browsing higher up on trees and bushes. Having been a user of haynets in the traditional way for years I finally realised how uncomfortable it must be for the horse. Eating with her head up for long periods of time must literally be a pain in the neck! I cringe when I think back at my use of a wall mounted hay rack for Misty, a pony who we would later discover has COPD (or RAO as it is now known). It wasn’t even at head height, but above, so the poor girl had to reach up and most likely suffer the dust etc. dropping down. Thankfully they seem to have mostly fallen out of fashion. This was one of the countless mistakes I made as a horsey child (with non horsey parents), I’m sure more of them will come to light during the course of my blogging.


Pic taken very much before my journey into natural pony keeping began! Note the rugs, clip as well as the high haynet.

Eating at ground level stretches the topline, which puts the horse in a relaxed state. It ensures correct alignment of the top and bottom jaws, which in turn, aligns the teeth for correct wear. Lastly it allows the sinus and guttural pouch to drain effectively.

However the haynet isn’t necessarily the bad guy. Thanks to an idea adopted from a barefoot Facebook group, a few years ago we started feeding our a haynets on the ground. Now don’t panic, I know I’m breaking all the BHS rules but hear me out. I cannot stress enough that this is only really suitable for barefoot horses, otherwise there is a risk of getting the net caught between the shoe and hoof. It is also important to use haynets with as small holes as possible, I use 2″ as anything larger isn’t going to be safe. I fill the net, pull it tightly closed, then daisy chain the rope and tuck it back in the net. The girls love it, I’m happy seeing them eating with their heads down, we’re wasting less hay than we would if we placed the hay directly on the ground, it’s slowing them down, and they’re enjoying working a little harder for their hay rather than just eating it like spaghetti.



Would love to hear from you! What do you think about my unconventional use of haynets?

Emma & The Herd x

My Laminitis Journey

This feels like a good time to get started on one of the subjects I will write about occasionally. My darling Rosie the Shetland is currently battling laminitis. This isn’t the first time, nor the second or third she’s had this debilitating illness over her 14 years. Obviously I’m doing something wrong, I do feel like I am failing her by letting her suffer this time and again. I am a fixer, if one of the girls has a problem I do relish working out a solution.

A quick laminitis guide: It is important to remember that laminitis is not a ‘foot thing’. That is merely a symptom of what is most often a gut issue. The short version is generally: Trigger (e.g grass) > Harmful bacteria prolificate in gut > Toxins released into the bloodstream > Inflammation of the lamina = Laminitis (one of many symptoms).

Rosie seems to be more susceptible to winter laminitis, indeed she never seemed to have a problem at any other time of the year. Especially in recent years, she has been carefully managed on a grass track (the best I can do with my facilities) with near constant hay available. She never managed to lose the laminitis rings on her hooves, nor the stretched white line and slight laminitic shaped hooves. I thought what I was doing was enough, after all, she would run around with the others and was rock crunching in the summer.


I’ve recently read Jaime Jackson’s book ‘Laminitis’ which has made me finally realise that the above issues are symptoms of ‘sub-clinical laminitis’, also known as Low Grade Laminitis or LGL. If you want to learn about laminitis I can’t recommend this book highly enough!

Anyway, so I’ve got these warning lights flashing in my face, but always too blind to see them. Don’t get me wrong, Rosie is on this grass track with 2 Welsh Cobs eating the grass down and tonnes of hay. I’ve not just chucked her out in a field full of grass then wondered where this laminitis has sprung from. Yet still, this isn’t enough to abate the sub-clinical laminitis. If she doesn’t have an acute attack for a year or two, and it takes approximately 9 months to grow a whole new hoof, I shouldn’t be seeing those 3 symptoms, hoof rings, stretched white line and long toe / runaway heel unless laminitis is still present over the spring, summer and autumn. Just because she isn’t crippled at the time, doesn’t mean that it isn’t there. As for the culprit, I’m looking at you grass!

Rosie’s current treatment is a herbal remedy to detox her gut and help circulation, a mineral balancer and a natural painkiller (willow and meadowsweet) – she was on bute for the first few days but I got her off that as soon as I could, and saw a marked improvement. At the moment, at night she is going in a fenced off section of the field which has no grass and adlib hay, and out in the field during the day, muzzled. Standing still does her no good whatsoever, she gets more and more stiff. This seems to work for her as  she’s made some great progress over the last month.

Emma & Rosie x


Welcome to The Pony Keepers blog. Pop the kettle on and settle in, we’re in it for the long haul. I’ve had ponies for over 20 years and they are my life, I couldn’t imagine life without them. I have been on a journey of discovery and learning, going from stabling, rugging, feeding mix ‘n’ chaff and shoeing to as natural lifestyle for them as I can achieve with my facilities.

Some of you may know me from my other blog, Dragon Dressage. Well, while I’m doing less riding at the moment, I am still very much up to my neck in horses. Rather than expect all my dressage loving readers to switch to a different type of blog, after all that isn’t what they signed up for, I decided to start a new one focusing on natural horse and pony care. Of course, Dragon Dressage fans are more than welcome to join in over here.

See you all soon!

Emma & The Herd x