Love Horse, Love Horse Art – Where did it all start? Part 2

Love Horse, Love Horse Art – Where did it all start? Part 2

Soul Sisters

In the second of a three-part series, Jo GG Barrett, the artist behind Urban Fraggle discusses her love of animals and the inspiration behind her amazing artwork.

Where could I find help?

The hunt was on for an experienced instructor. A stage 4 eventer was recommended. She worked with her in quite tight side reins (something I was not happy about, but what did I know). .and she bolted (on the lunge)… she worked with her a couple of times and advised me to sell her as she was too dangerous. I certainly wasn't giving up that easy! Call me stubborn, stupid or both. But this mare had cost me quite a bit of money, and, I don't have the mind-set of passing on troubled or problem horses. Looking in all the horsey magazines I found an instructor I really liked the look of, and we got on really well. She gasped at how beautiful Nancy was and how mature she looked for a 4 year old, and commented on how horses this young, but who look older, are often worked too hard too young. I liked her already. I moved yards (again!) Sticking with the same instructor I continued to 'work through' our problems… but nothing got any better. I pushed and pushed Nancy as I had these expectations of her. And our relationship was not improving. Why would it? All this horse had experienced from people was brute force, side reins, draw reins, bits that cut and saddles that mark! I didn't enjoy her. Every session was a fight!

I was time and time again told to sell her.

It was time to find another way, because the way I was working with her just wasn't working for us.

Would all my research lead me somewhere useful?
I started to research Natural Horsemanship, and came across Intelligent Horsemanship. I contacted one of their recommended trainers who came out to assess us both. (By which time, we had again moved yards!). The work began, and I must say it was a breath of fresh air. It was all about building Nancy's confidence. I had stopped riding her as my last fall resulted in my bashing my head, and I just thought if I carry on I may not be so lucky next time around! I learned to read signs in the horse’s face of stress and discomfort. Signals that she wasn't happy and all the little communications that horses give us, but often we miss. These communications start off small, but because throughout young Nancy's life so far, her trying to tell us she wasn't happy had resulted in these big F offs, because she just hadn't been listened to. Our issues had also started to transmit outside of the work environment, into the stable. She was getting more aggressive, and I was beginning to become very, very wary of her. I had never in my life been fearful of horses, but this was one was pushing my boundaries. 

We started to investigate health… ulcers to be precise. After physio etc. had been explored. My particular vet said she wasn't a candidate for ulcers as she was in (very) good condition. So, we carried on. But her behaviour was getting increasingly worse so we decided to get a second opinion. 

The result was that she had grade 4 ulcers and the recommendation was her to recuperate in a field and the very expensive gastrogard. I also had Bronte scoped and she too had ulcers. I moved them to an acre piece of land which my (then) boyfriend’s parents owned. I bought a shelter, fenced it all, and let them be horses for the winter. It was perfect, my own little paradise for my two girls!

Summer arrived and it was time to crack on with Nancy's training. 

Just because her ulcers had been treated did not mean things were now going to be a walk in the park! Far from it and nothing was improving! The IH trainer was finding her difficult too. Usual techniques which work well with the majority of horses were just not working on Nancy. Join up… pfft… Nancy just walked away. Long reining with flappy bags… once Nancy realised there was no real consequence she kind of looked at you with this 'and, make me' face. Looking back it was quite funny! I was working twice as hard as her… I remember one stupidly hot day (I lived in Essex at the time), I had her on the long reins with a bottle filled with stones (bearing in mind IH is about no pain, which is termed negative reinforcement. So, we make noises to 'spook' the horse into action). It wasn't long before Nancy realised that nothing happened after the noise of stone bottle or flappy bag, and she just didn't go into action at all! She had gone from bolting to literally stationary! All I wanted was a trot! A trot! But no, I was there flapping the long lines, rattling the bottle, sweat dripping from me, being watched by drinkers in the adjacent pub, that in the end I threw the bottle at her.. Ah… now I get a trot!!!
Nancy was just a little different to most horses, in that proven methods, which worked time and time again with horses, in fact, had zero effect on her. In one of the IH books, it’s recommended that if a horse attacks you in the stable, to stand firmly and wave your arms, making yourself big. I did this, and Nancy just lunged at me!

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