by Linda Chamberlain
He had blue eyes. And so he had been left to die because superstition warned that the Devil might control you through the blue eyes of an animal. He had to fend for himself. On some land known locally as The Killing Fields where there was no feed in winter and little water in summer and so many horses were to die.
Then he spotted a woman, a horse trainer, called Krissy Valentine who was looking for a couple of ponies to rescue. There were so many in those fields but she didn’t want another forever horse. Didn’t want something so big.
Sometimes, though, horses have to take their lives into their own hooves and he didn’t want to be left in such a place, forgotten.
Krissy was driving through the 200 acres of open fields in Kent (south east UK). He approached the car. He said hello…but after a while the humans drove off looking for a smaller project.
Krissy takes up the story. ‘Don’t forget we were in 200 acres. We drove off to check the other horses but then we picked up movement in the bushes and as we went down a track for a bit out comes this same cob who stops our car. We were quite shocked and my friends kept saying – it’s a sign!
‘We moved him and his little herd on and kept going. About half an hour later the sun was going down and we were on the other side of this place heading back and we were stopped yet again by this cob. He was sweaty and had clearly been following us.
‘I was entranced now but we wanted to get home so we carried on once we moved him out of the way. As we were going out the gate, there was a thunder of hooves and this cob comes cantering along after the car, sweating and blowing. We couldn’t believe it as he slowed himself down and came to another stop by the car.
‘I promised him there and then that he’d come home with me and he’d be safe. Forever.’
This happened in 2012. Soon after, the RSPCA intervened but 40 horses are thought to have died in their first week of rescue. The cob, now named Prince Valken, got out early. He was said to be aged four but, once she had him home, Krissy realised he was younger by at least six months. She knew he’d been sat on and she knew he’d worn a bit. She also found he had a few issues. Water was one of them. He was so used to going thirsty that he’d drink too much rather than graze and so then he’d lose weight.
And then Krissy moved to France. Prince Valken stayed with a friend before joining her later and once in France she restarted his training.
As you can see from the fabulous photos, Krissy enjoys riding without much tack! Actually change that to ANY tack. Her horses and ponies enjoy it too. That doesn’t mean we are asking you to do the same but I thought you’d like to hear how she reaches this point of trust.
Over to Krissy again…’I restarted him from scratch – no bits, no shoes, just a head collar and riding bareback. We’d hack out in the forests and reserves in France that way for hours and hours on end, jumping logs and basically letting him enjoy his education.
‘I wanted to create a partnership based on equality and using as little tack as possible. I start all my youngsters tackless and introduce tack as we go along, generally around six months after the initial backing. I’ve found it is the best way to be with rescues, especially ones who have been in such a state.
‘And I always use reward-based training such as positive reinforcement, clicker training, and natural horsemanship.’
Krissy has her own land so went for lots of walks in hand, playing games, trick training and hopping on for the ride home. The pressure was off; fun was top of the list.
The next stage was introducing a western saddle and neck reining. She soon had the cob responding to the neck rope rather than the bridle. The ‘whoa’ cue was introduced in a safe, fenced-off area…’I would lean back, put my legs forwards and relax my body, saying whoa and breathing out. I could stop him solely off voice. It was time to tie the bridle reins up on his neck and work solely off the neck rope. Always, always, a pocketful of treats will get you far with horses.
‘Reward-based training has changed our lives. Soon we just whipped the bridle off. I’d carry a Parelli carrot stick with me and hold it at the shoulder if I wanted to turn and he wasn’t 100% clear of the neck rope but he picked it up so easily.
‘Riding without tack feels right; it feels like I am made to fit onto my horses that way. I prefer it and find my ponies do too. I can do jumping courses and school but I also do stunt training this way. I do use a bareback pad for long excursions but, for me, the less tack the better.
‘I feel so free, knowing that there is nothing between me and my horses, knowing that my control comes from our trust and partnership rather than our tack.’
Not surprisingly, Prince Valken’s hooves were in a state when Krissy first acquired him. They were broken, shaped like triangles and failing to grow. A farrier trimmed his hooves gradually, taking off a little at a time, being careful not to put him in pain.
He went on loan when Krissy moved to France and was shod for a few weeks. She was determined it was a temporary measure and once they were reunited, the shoes were off once more. Now he has brilliant hooves and is trimmed only as often as needed.
ABOUT ME – BOOK NEWS – MY HORSES
My name is Linda Chamberlain and I’ve been a journalist all my working life – now I’m also an author and blogger focusing on horses and their welfare. The harm caused by horse shoes has been a particular worry and prompted me to write the hugely popular novel The First Vet and then the non-fiction book, A Barefoot Journey. Another historical novel is in the pipeline. In the meantime my companion horse, Charlie Brown, is trying to worm his way into a true story I’m researching about a dreadfully spoiled princess who closed Richmond Park and kept it to herself for a few years. He thinks it’s time he was in a book and will revert to his original racing name, Legendary Romance. I’ve made him a promise and so I will have to write it now! I’ve recently discovered that the princess took a tumble in the park one day – was that you Mr Brown? He’s not admitting to anything…
Charlie Brown’s job is to look after Sophie, my ridden horse. Apart from one lapse (he bit her ear and she didn’t talk to him for 2 days) he’s been doing a good job. So have I! Sophie has recovered from laminitis (see blog, Life After Lami) and now she is teaching me how to care for a tendon strain. I’ll only write about that once we’ve beaten it…If I forget how to ride, I will get in touch with Krissy!
BOOK LINKS – BOOK REVIEWS
My non-fiction book – A Barefoot Journey – tells the story of riding without shoes in a hostile equine world. Mistakes, falls and triumphs are recorded against the background of a divided equine world which was defending the tradition of shoeing…with prosecutions. Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US – paperback for £2.84 and Kindle for 99p.
My historical novel, The First Vet, is inspired by the life and work of the amazing early vet, Bracy Clark – the man who exposed the harm of shoeing 200 years ago but was mocked by the veterinary establishment. His battle motivated me to stretch my writing skills from journalism to novel writing and took me to the British Library and the Royal Veterinary College for years of research. Paperback price £6.99, Kindle £2.24 –Amazon UK. Amazon US. This book has more than 50 excellent reviews on Amazon and a recommend from the Historical Novel Society.
‘Fantastic read, well researched, authentic voice, and a recognition of the correlation of our best slaves- horses- with the role of women throughout history. If you are into history, barefoot horses, and the feminine coming of age story, then this book is a must read’ – Amazon US reader.
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