He found her in The Killing Fields…

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.

Did he know something she didn’t? Did he know she mustn’t get away? His forever human?

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.

He needed time off.

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.’

HOOF NOTE…

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 UKAmazon US. This book has more than 50 excellent reviews on Amazon and a recommend from the Historical NovelCover 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.

If you want to keep in touch, click the follow button on this campaigning blog or find me on Facebook…or buy one of my books for a friend! 

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A Tale of Two Crimes

By Linda Chamberlain

Here is the story of two crimes. Both of them are distressing but for very different reasons.

I think I am right in calling the first a crime. It concerns the murder of a horse called Kit. This healthy horse was put to death by a livery yard owner following a disagreement over an unpaid bill for £30. The woman who was loaning the horse said she would pay the bill at the end of the month. The livery yard boss wasn’t happy. He said he would bring her horse in a trailer and tie her to a tree in her garden unless she paid him. She should have but she didn’t. He couldn’t load the horse into the trailer and so he ordered the animal’s destruction claiming the mare was dangerous.

Then something else unforgivable happened. The horse’s body was dumped in the woman’s front garden. Where she and her children would see it the next morning.

left for dead (library picture)

left for dead (library picture)

There have been arrests and police are investigating but there’s a twist to this story. The RSPCA, this country’s foremost animal welfare organisation, has given that yard owner a lot of money. They had some of their rescues at his place but attempted to reassure the public with a statement saying none of their horses were involved in the case. Many people were outraged that the organisation didn’t speak out against such wrong doing. Such senseless cruelty. It sounded as though the charity didn’t wish to become embroiled in the uproar that followed Kit’s death. After public outcry, the RSPCA has finally removed its horses from the yard in question.

Crime number two sees the RSPCA in a much more aggressive role – the sort of behaviour that might have been an appropriate response to the murder of an innocent horse. No gun was used in this crime. No blood was spilt. There were no distressed owners and no horses injured. But barefoot trimmer, Ben Street, was taken to court by the RSPCA. He was found guilty. He now has a criminal record. You might question whether that was a good use of the charity’s time, effort and money. I certainly do.

Ben’s crime might shock you. If you’re ready, I’ll tell you what he did. The court heard that he trimmed a horse’s feet. Then he got hold of a set of hoof boots. These are useful bits of equipment especially for newly barefoot horses, enabling them to be exercised. These particular boots were a special type – they could be glued to the hoof for short periods. So, Ben made use of some glue and enabled the horse, which belonged to one of his clients, to be comfortable while his feet recovered from years of harmful shoeing.

Serious crime? Example of glue on hoof boots.

Serious crime? Example of glue on hoof boots.

His actions upset a farrier who was also on the yard at the time. That farrier complained. The RSPCA’s inspector, also a former farrier, interviewed Ben under caution. They prosecuted. Why? You might ask. Here’s the crux – it’s illegal to practice farriery unless you are qualified and licenced. That’s OK. Very sensible. But Ben wasn’t practising farriery, was he? Well, the Farriers Registration Council and the RSPCA argued that the glued-on boot constituted a shoe and therefore his action was illegal. He trimmed the horse in preparation for this shoe and they said his trim had been harmful. That was his bloodless crime. He trimmed a horse and stuck on a hoof boot to save it discomfort – discomfort that was probably caused by metal shoeing in the first place.

Real horse shoes using nails and metal

Real horse shoes using nails and metal

Here’s what Ben is actually guilty of.

* Helping horses walk on their own feet again.

* Embarrassing traditionalists who are too stubborn to investigate the harm caused by nailed-on shoes.

Ben has an excellent record of helping horses and I hope this questionable prosecution doesn’t stop his pioneering work. Thankfully, a growing number of farriers are offering a barefoot service and I know of many owners who sing their praises. I would urge those farriers to complain to their council about this very smoky interpretation of the law.

In other news!

My debut novel is about to go to press. The First Vet – a story of love and corruption inspired by one of this country’s early vets – will be available as a paperback on Amazon and as an ebook on Kindle very shortly. In the meantime, for anyone who can’t wait, you can download the first chapter by clicking on the picture in the right hand column of this blog. Happy reading. Happy riding.