Posted on 28th Jan 2019
So for the last week I have been working with the Ponies to improve their fitness and learn more about their strengths & weaknesses.
I have been keeping their work varied using a rota system where they move between lunge work in a roller, loose schooling with and without tack & ridden work.
I was also lucky enough to have a friend come to stay. After the necessary quarantine procedures she was able to come and ride with me. This was super helpful because it enabled me to assess the ponies behaviour when another pony was entering, working & leaving the school.
Most of the Pony’s were extremely good about this. But our young pony Jasper and hot head Skitel were a bit distracted by this. It was therefore a really helpful exercise, as I was able to work them through until they were settled and concentrating on their schooling instead of the other pony.
I have also been checking and tweaking bits bridles & saddles so as we have the best tack allocated to each pony. Some of the ponies have also had makeovers and are looking super smart.
Posted on 22nd Jan 2019
I promised in my blog “A journey to Shenzhen” that I would unleash some of the highlights of my time in Holland with “The Lady & her dog” Jenny and “The Girl from Far Away” amongst others! Well they are coming very soon.
Now for anyone who has worked in the world of International show jumping you will be aware that it takes all sorts and there are some colourful characters out there. However, at Team Toblat, colourful barely covers a coffee break this is some seriously once in a lifetime craic!!
As a teenager I was passionate about Show Jumping my Working Pupil experience with Diane Lampard (looking after her Queen Mary Cup winning horse Abbervail Dream & grooming for her at the local shows with the Whitaker’s and Tim Stockdale!) Inspired me to want to be a rider and set me on a path of all things horsey that would eventually lead me to the adventures of Neb Toblat!!
Now that’s not a real name! But it will do just fine for the purpose of these stories. You see even the Interview to become Neb’s flat rider/manager was an adventure or more a series of unrelated difficulties and that was just the beginning. I don’t believe that more than two back to back days occurred in six months without some epic chaos or ridiculous scenario unfolding. The stories are far too good not to bring a laugh and a smile to all that read them especially if you’re a groom! So over the next few months I will endeavour to drip feed the best of them to you.
Just follow freefilly.blog “The Tales of Neb Toblat!”
Posted on 22nd Jan 2019
So we have six ponies selected to go to China they are a range of sizes and ages and types. We have four gelding’s and two mares they have all been chosen because they have been ridden by children and some have been used in riding schools.
It’s really important to me to try to make life as normal for the ponies as possible while they are in the quarantine process. So I want them to be out of their stable’s and moving around. I also want them to be able to socialise and make friends with the other ponies. Horses and ponies are herd animals and we have to balance their safety with letting them be horses.
So once I have spent a couple of days with the ponies I can start to see their personalities and begin to assess how they might react in a social group. I have decided that our smallest pony Drum Drum is very level-headed and seems to have a very nice nature. I also think that Skitel is quite a gentle nature and that he will feel less anxious if he is friends with Drum Drum who is calm.
So the first day that I introduced them I put Drum Drum in the school first and let him have a run about. Then Skitel, I wanted Drum Drum to be loose when Skitel came in as he is a much smaller pony and its better than he can run away if Skitel had tried to kick him. Nether of these ponies have hind shoes on and they both have rugs so it would be very unlucky for an accident to happen. But it’s always better to be safe so I have put boots on Skitel today as he has front shoes on. Skitel and Drum Drum were super good and had lots of roll’s and made friends.
The next day I was able to add Jasper to the group he is a similar size to Skitel and young, so I hope that he will learn how to behave in the group from the older ponies. Jasper doesn’t have any shoes on either. Skitel and Jasper both strutted about a bit trying to be the best looking pony!! Then they were all super good.
Next we have Hugo he is lovely little pony but he is a busy busy bee!!! always on the go this little guy just has so much energy!! He wants to trot on the walker he wants to canter all day in the school. He has a level personality and is very friendly but he does get a bit stressed. Hugo has all four shoes on and so for this reason he is only going in the school on his own at the moment. I will have his back shoes taken off this week and then he can make friends with the boys.
So that just leaves us with our two Mares Roxy and Saskia! Roxy is a bit like Hugo she is a kind nature and very sensible in the stable but she is also a very forward thinking Pony and likes to be busy. Saskia is quite a bit bigger and is a part bred Haflinger she can be a bit bossy and stubborn at times, so I am working with her to improve her manners. Saskia likes to trot everywhere which is ok for an adult handling her but we need to make her child proof! I put Roxy out first so as she could get out-of-the-way if needed and then Saskia went in with her. They had a bit of a girly squeal but are best buddies now.
All the ponies are now used to the walker and because they can go in the school in groups it means that I have been able to make a nice routine for them. It’s always a good idea to develop your yard routine around the horses or ponies you have and its ok to adjust it as you get to know more about the individuals you are looking after. Our routine goes like this.
7.15 – 7.20 I hay the ponies, I like to give them hay before hard feed it helps to protect the stomach and decreases the risk of stomach ulcers. Especially as they are not able to graze in a field.
7.20 – 8.00 I go for a 20 min run its always good to keep fit and do another type of exercise. Then a grab a coffee & some porridge and get my warm cloths on its frosty out there!
8.00 – 8.05 Feed the ponies their hard feed
8.05 – 8.15 Unlock everywhere and put the lights I also put out the hay for lunch
8.15 – 8.30 The boys go in the school and Hugo Saskia and Roxy go on the walker. I swap this over each morning so the opposite group goes on the walker.
8.30 – 9.00 Muck out the boxes because of the clever super quick vacuum system with just the help of one of the staff here we do the boxes add shaving and sweep up by 9.00!! Super quick.
9.00 – 9.15 – Ponies off the walker and in from the sch.
9.15 – 10.45 – I lunge or loose sch three of the pony’s then wash their hooves to get them used to the wash bay. This alternates each day I give them a brush and rug them up.
10.30 – 13.00 – Coffee and Blog and paper work. I also make reports about the ponies and make any arrangements. I may need to order equipment or run errands.
13.00 – 13.30 – Lunch its important to eat regular healthy meals when you are working with horses.
13.30 – 14.00 – The girls and Hugo go on the walker and the boys go in the sch while i skip out the boxes and top up their hay & sweep.
14.00 – 16.30 – I ride the three ponies that were not worked in the morning brush them and rug them up.
16.30 – 17.00 – Staff hay and feed at night whilst I clean my tack and make sure the school is skipped out and everything is super tidy.
Over the weeks as the ponies become fitter I might change their work routine at the moment they have an easy day on Wednesday and Sunday. This means I can have a day off one day and on the other day I will be able to get jobs like clipping done. They still go on the walker and loose in the school on their easy days so as they do not stand still for a long time.
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Posted on 19th Jan 2019
Final preparations have been completed and our special ponies have arrived to begin the biggest journey of their lives. Quarantine procedures to take horses and ponies to China is long and complex and it is best to consult with the professionals. If you are interested in purchasing or importing then please get in touch with Hayfield’s Equestrian who can provide this service. The ponies have already undergone a variety of veterinary requirements and checks before their purchase was confirmed.
The checks will continue throughout the quarantine procedure, so once the ponies had settled a government official vet arrived to check that everything is up to the their strict standards. The quarantine period then begins and our ponies will stay in the facility with me for the next 30 days.
On day 31 we will fly to China which will be a new experience for us all! When we arrive in China it will be similar to here and we will again stay together for the quarantine period before beginning our new life at the Guanming Riding Club Shenzhen
But for now the first thing to think about is helping the ponies adjust to their new environment, they have all come from different parts of Holland so it’s a big change for them. They don’t know each other or me so it will take a little time to help them feel settled.
It’s best to start small so on day one the quite ponies had a walk about in hand. I have taken them to see the indoor school and they have been individually introduced to the horse walker. It’s not common for ponies to go on walkers so this has to be done carefully for a short time. I was able to watch them from the stable window to make sure they were ok without standing by the walker which would encourage them to stop and see me.
The hotter ponies had a gentle lung so as they could disperse some energy, horses and ponies with more blood breeding need to move more to reduce stress. They are all eating and drinking well. I will also keep a close eye on their coats and droppings as this will help me to assess how the changes may be effecting them internally.
I can also check their temperatures and gums to make sure they are healthy and getting all the nutrients they need. Dutch stables tend not to have as much grazing as in the UK so its unusual for them to be in the fields at this time of year. This will lessen the adjustment for their systems as they will be used to being stabled and having hay as their bulk fibrous feed.
The ponies have lovely shavings beds and the amazing facilities here at Horse Services International are second to none. We even have a muck vacuum in each stable. There is a small trap door in the corner of each stable the staff here open it and throw the muck in, it is sucked up a huge pipe into a lorry container which gets collected as needed. It’s a very modern system and is a massive help to the staff here who have to undergo intense cleaning and sterilisation procedures after each quarantine period. The system can also be switched from vacum to washing vac its fantastic!!
I spent the afternoon grooming the ponies and making some notes about them, its good to have a marker to compare back to. I wanted to be familiar with how well they are shod if at all, if they have any medical conditions such as thrush or mud fever. I also need to be mindful of any odd behaviour or habits which could currently be due to stress or the travelling. It’s quite possible for horses and ponies to strain muscles or become stiff after a long journey.
Anything that’s unusual over the next three or four days wouldn’t alarm me but I will take it into account and plan for that ponies accordingly. If I think they have got tense and stiff with the journey then I will prioritize him to get loose schooled and time free in the arena so they can stretch, roll and let off some steam. Now I have my notes I can look back in a week and see if any of the behaviours or ailments are improving, if they are not then I will consult with the farrier or vet accordingly.
The next day the ponies have a saddle fitting session once I have allocated the best fit saddle to each pony I can begin working them. The quite ponies who didn’t work yesterday have a gentle lunge and go on the walker. Whilst the hotter ponies who were lunged the first day are now lose schooled with their tack on. As I’m working on my own lose schooling help’s me to see how the saddles sit on the ponies when they are moving. This will help me to assess if I need to change the saddle pad or make a small adjustment.
It is also safer for me when lone working to see how they react under saddle. As the ponies were purchased and vetted over a week ago it’s quite possible that their previous owners may have kept them in twenty-four seven in case they injured themself. Anyone who has sold a horse has faced this dilemma! As I don’t know what has happened in their recent history I will watch them all loose first before getting on them.
Loose schooling is also really helpful to help me understand their personalities, are they crying for their friends and running to the gate or are they bold and investigating and getting on with their work? Happily all three of my hotter ponies were very bold and complete experts at loose schooling! In fact I think Hugo would have loose schooled himself! One of the boys was rather fresh so I’ve made sure he gets some turn out time in the school.
That is all for today guys any questions or comments please get in touch and don’t forget to like and follow my site freefill.blog look me up and share share share ! x
Posted on 18th Jan 2019
Part two Tack Cleaning and Tack Fit
It is very important that I fit tack correctly for our ponies whilst we are still in Europe. China exports many things but equestrian equipment is hard to buy out there.
So I have brought with me a selection of used bridles and saddles and some tack and equipment has come with the ponies. We will top up what we need with new items.
Over the next week or so I will fit and ride in various options of tack to see what works best for each pony.
I have also bought us a full tack cleaning kit so as we can keep everything in good condition and oil anything that has dried out.
Posted on 17th Jan 2019
Part one Grooming
Well its been a very exciting start to the week here at Horse Services International. On behalf of Hayfield’s Equestrian I have been busy preparing equipment and shopping for the Ponies.
The first thing I needed to assemble was a full grooming kit, so that I can keep the pony’s coats shiny and clean. Over the next couple of weeks they will all get a make over, so they are super smart and don’t get hot and sweaty when they are worked. Its much warmer in China so we can help them to acclimatise by clipping them and keeping them super warm while they are here in Holland. When we get to China we can take away the rugs, so as their bodies don’t notice such a big difference in temperature.
But grooming doesn’t just keep your pony clean it’s really important for lots of reasons. It helps you to form a bond and a relationship with your horse or pony. Its important that they feel comfortable and trust you to pick up their hooves and brush them in places that are sensitive or vulnerable.
Don’t forget that a very long time ago your ponies ancestors were in danger from wild animals so they learnt to protect themselves.
Our job is to reinforce that we can be trusted not to hurt them, that’s why it is so important that you don’t hit your pony. But we also need them to respect us and behave in a way that reduces the risk of an accident or injury. We will talk about how to train your horse or pony another day.
But for now you should also know that grooming is like a massage it stimulates blood flow and improves circulation. It helps to warm the pony up and take away bad toxins that can stay in the muscles when animals and people don’t move enough or have done exercise and perhaps not cooled down or stretched properly afterwards.
So make time to groom your horses and pony’s. In the old days every horse had their own groom and it was part of the job to groom and strap the horses thoroughly before and after work. (strapping is an old-fashioned way to stimulate and therefore build muscle, by repeatedly slapping the horses with a special leather pad. Its soft and isn’t meant to hurt the horse. It is quite a firm technique, a little like sports massage or an electric muscle simulator. It encourages the muscle to work and build it also makes them extremely shiny.) Some people believe that this is why horses managed without physio back then. Because they groomed and strapped so much it prevented the muscle spasms and injuries that are common now.
Posted on 14th Jan 2019
In life we can never know what might be just around the corner and so in my life I try to embrace opportunities and also to offer them to others when ever I can.
In this way one of the most exciting adventures of my life is about to begin. Whilst working for a 5* rider in Holland last winter as a flat rider and manager. It became necessary for me to form a team at very short notice.
Deep in preparation for our show jumping tour In Italy, we were let down rather badly. My employers had paid a man to fly from Brazil to become our show groom. However, whilst I patiently waited at the airport my stomach began to sink as I realized that he was not going to show up. He never did, apparently got off at Portugal and didn’t get on the flight to us! We never heard from him again.
Anyhow, I was incredible lucky to find someone else who came at very short notice from far away as our show groom. Then a girl living locally called Jenny, replied to say she used to compete at 1.40 but hadn’t worked with horses for several years due to illness. She would be slow but would like to try and come back to working with horses.
She ended up becoming a trusted colleague and friend and along with the girl from far away we have many ridiculous and hilarious stories to tell, but I will save that for another day.
Jenny called me a while back to tell me that she thought she had the perfect job for me. A man she was in contact from Sweden (she is Swedish) needed someone to ride six ponies in Dutch Quarantine to train them to become riding club ponies in China!
I would ride the ponies for thirty days in the Netherlands and then fly with them to China. I would spend a month riding them in the Chinese quarantine and another month settling them into the club and helping with the expansion of the business in China.
Now it was a not a simple process! The coordination of buying the ponies organising the dates to work for the fantastic “Horse Services International” who have an outstanding facility. Had to be balanced alongside the non guaranteed Chinese Visa, which I would need and travel arrangements to get from the UK. Like a game of Russian roulette “Should I book my tickets or wait for the visa” “when will the blood tests come for the ponies, should we apply for the Visa before we buy the ponies!!”
I believe if you are on the right path there may be obstacles but things will go your way. When life is an uphill struggle and nothing seems to go well, then maybe you have taken a wrong turn. So I was delighted to be granted a two year multi entry visa which is the very best scenario.
Today is the first day of the project. I arrived at the end of last week and after a few days to get settled in and organised. I am ready for my ponies to arrive soon.
I will be keeping you up to date on their progress and my adventures over the next three to four months. If you would like to know more about riding Clubs in China or the export of horses then please get in touch with Hayfields Equestrian who have fantastic contacts and facilities in Europe and China. You can follow me on instagram or face book #freefillyservices.
That’s all for now folks!!
Thanks for joining me!
Good company in a journey makes the way seem shorter. — Izaak Walton
For me, that company has often been of the equine variety. I have a passion for all things horsey, especially whilst travelling the globe and absorbing new cultures. It’s a colourful world out there and the land of horses is vast and diverse. So much to learn and experience.
I have spent my life working with and helping horses and owners all over the UK and Europe. I began my career as a working pupil, grooming for two consecutive 5 star British SJ team members, before I turned 17.
From backing youngsters to riding racehorses, my experience and an opportunist encounter lead me to set up and run my re-schooling, eventing & pre-training yard. For eight years I worked with my team of sassy lasses, in the heart of stunning Northumberland countryside.
Having competed in all disciplines, I specialised my business in young and problematic horses. I have always favoured the troubled souls of quirky and misunderstood ad horses in pain. The Temple Girls & I found a niche in the market and had many busy years.
Having retired from competing, I contemplated what came next, which in 2017 lead me to India where I trained as a Yoga Instructor. Later riding in the Udaipur mountains, on the amazing Mawari Indian War Horse.
On my return, I took international freelance projects which began with working as a Flat Rider Manager in Holland. I coordinated and accompany their six horses (with a driver & his partner from Romania and my Ukraine Groom), to Arezzo for the six week Show Jumping Tour.
So in 2018 it gave me the opportunity to go to China, I had initially expected it to be a two-month project. However, it was actually a five-month epic adventure from Northumberland to Cambodia. Via Holland, Germany, Kazakhstan, China, Macau, Hong Kong and Thailand.
My life has taken many twists and turns and am immensely grateful for all the wonderful opportunities and experiences I have had and shared with others.
It was at this point that I decided I had no reason to return to live in the UK and instead began my life as a nomadic equine expert and travel blogger.