WILD | an update | dog agility

A couple of years ago I began this blog and was posting to it on a regular basis. During my short time in Manchester, this was quite easy for me and it became a very important part of my week.

However, since I returned to Norfolk a year ago, I have been juggling working full-time, riding numerous horses for people, studying for dog training qualifications, applying for university and much more, so the blog couldn’t ever be prioritised.

The past year has seen a lot of positive changes in my life, and as a result I will not be continuing with my written blog posts on Wild Call. This definitely isn’t the end though – my YouTube channel is steadily growing and this is what I have now chosen to focus on in terms of social media.

I hope to post regular vlogs and edits on here, documenting my adventures with horses, dogs, wildlife watching and anything else that takes my fancy!

For those agility enthusiasts among my followers, I present you with my most recent vlog…

 

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An update on Bob

I’ve had Bob on part-loan for a couple of months now, so I thought I’d write a post to explain what we’ve been getting up to.

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Initially I was just riding him in the school while I got to know him – we just focused on flatwork and I worked on being able to encourage him into an outline. He did used to really over-bend when I rode him and I noticed that his head carriage was very inconsistent, varying from being right up in the air to being tucked down towards his chest.

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As I don’t often take lessons, this was the point where I had to evaluate my riding to try to find where I was going wrong. I do have a habit of shortening my reins up too much during the ride, and following a suggestion from Bob’s owner I began to lengthen and shorten my reins throughout the schooling session until I found a length that he was comfortable with and would work properly over his back with.

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After this I started to see a much more consistent outline from Bob, and I decided to incorporate more canter work into our schooling. From here his fitness began to increase and we also began hacking out more with a friend from the yard.

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Our first long hack together had got us off to a bit of a hairy start – the two horses we were out with took off at a gallop in front of us, but when I started to let Bob go with them he threw his head down. I thought he was going to buck so started to pull him up: he didn’t like this as he wanted to keep up with the others, so then he really did start bucking! I didn’t fall but it wasn’t exactly the most reassuring beginning for us. 

Shortly after that I came off Dusty on the road while I was out on my own, so my confidence took a bit of a knock. I became quite tense when riding Bob outside of the school and continually shortened my reins up, which didn’t help at all! Once I realised what I was doing, I made a huge effort to keep my reins a little longer and to keep my hands soft – this was the turning point for us and we began to actually have fun on our hacks.

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Our past couple of hacks in particular have been fantastic: we’re usually out for a couple of hours and with the recent harvest there are lots of stubble fields to canter on. 

The increase in Bob’s fitness resulted in him losing some weight, so I could finally use his proper saddle (instead of the treeless one we’d had before). This made me feel much more secure, and I began to set out canter poles in the school. 

Before I knew it, canter poles became cross poles, and cross poles became straights! After a six month break from jumping I have decided to take it up again, and Bob is the most fantastic confidence giver. I pop him over a few small jumps once a week – last week I got really brave and jumped 70cm with him! (In the picture below we were just doing tiny jumps as he was quite spooky that day).

Jumping Bob

I was told that Bob could spook quite badly; initially I didn’t see this side of him (just the occasional ‘look’ at things) but I do now know what was meant. He doesn’t spook particularly often (unless it is very windy), but a couple of times he’s nearly had me off. 

An example of this was two weeks ago on our hack; we were walking along with loose reins after having a canter when a bird flew up out of the hedgerow next to us. Bob span and tried to take off across the field – luckily I reacted quickly enough stop him, but I lost my stirrups and left the saddle for a few brief moments!

Overall, I’m having a great time with this little horse and he’s really helping me to improve my riding – I hope that I can continue to progress with him into the autumn.

Dog agility – training the seesaw

Since we began agility training a few years ago, Rusty and I have often found ourselves a little bit limited with our equipment. We acquired a tunnel and a set of weave poles as Christmas presents, but I was unable to teach the contact obstacles (A-frame, dog walk and seesaw) as these are large pieces of equipment and are usually quite expensive.

However, shortly after starting my job a couple of months ago I began to do some research and decided to buy Rusty her very own seesaw. I thought that this was the best option as it is the smallest of the three contact obstacles (so is easier to store), and is possibly also the most difficult to train – so if we do go on to do more agility in the future we will be better prepared for it.

Rusty seemed to know that the contents of this box were for her…

Rusty box

Once I had assembled the seesaw, I began training with the plank laid flat on the ground. The main focus at this stage was to get Rusty used to walking over it and to teach her to always go in a straight line without leaving the board. This is important because when the seesaw is set up properly, Rusty mustn’t ever try to jump off it or turn around on it as this could potentially be dangerous.

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However, with the board on the ground Rusty didn’t seem to have very much respect for it and frequently stepped off it as she walked along. For this reason, I decided to raise the plank up on a couple of plant trays – this made Rusty think about where she was placing her paws whilst still being low enough to the ground to be safe in the event of something going wrong.

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The next step was to use one plant tray to add a tiny bit of an angle to the board: I kept Rusty on a lead to begin with so that I could control her speed and ensure that she kept going in a straight line.

I also controlled the movement of the plank with my other hand so that it didn’t move too quickly. During these early stages of training it is important to build up the confidence of the dog: Rusty is naturally timid so I had to be careful that she didn’t become scared of her new toy.

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Another important thing that I worked on at this point was teaching Rusty to ‘leave’ the obstacle. She began to find racing along the board pretty exciting and was choosing to do it without being asked, which then led to her jumping on and off it at random intervals.

We practiced walking and running past the board both on and off lead – sometimes I would ask her to ’tilt’ (our specific command for this obstacle) but the majority of the time I told her to ‘leave’.

Once I was satisfied that Rusty felt confident with the board and how it moved, I lifted it up onto the stand so that it was at its full height. With Rusty wearing her harness and lead I walked her up to the middle and then slowly moved the plank down. I put plant trays underneath to begin with so that the change in gradient wasn’t too great.

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Rusty picked this up so quickly – within a few training sessions she was completing the obstacle at speed with no help from me at all. I definitely think that taking it slowly during the first few stages really helped her find her confidence.

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As always, she loved learning something new and seeing her having fun made me even more excited for us doing more agility together in the future. The video below shows some clips from our training sessions…

A long walk with Max

On Monday I took Max for our last walk together before I headed home for Easter. The weather was incredible and we had a fantastic time, so much so that I just had to write about it!

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As Max now knows me better and is starting to take confidence from me, I decided that we would leave the park and venture out to a new place. However, this plan of mine involved crossing and walking along a couple of really busy roads, so I was a little worried that we might encounter some problems.

I meet Max’s owner near the park, so to begin with we just walked back through past the lake and along the quieter roads: due to the sunshine there were quite a lot of people around but Max was on his best behaviour, which made me feel more confident when we stepped out onto Oxford Road (one of the busiest bus routes in Europe!).

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At the traffic lights Max showed some signs of being anxious – he cowered away from people walking past and initially did not want to cross between the buses and cars that were waiting, however with a little encouragement he then leapt forward and proceeded to drag me until we had reached a quieter area again.

To be honest I was incredibly relieved that that was the worst he did – I had been wondering whether he might revert to his old trick of leaping up and twisting away from me (it is difficult to hold onto the lead when he does that). I do think however that he used to do that because he was afraid to be close to me, whereas now he comes bounding up to me when I collect him, and is happy for me to fuss him.

Once we were off the roads altogether, I let him have a bit more freedom on the lead and he really settled down. The path we were on is popular with cyclists, so I did have to keep bringing him back to me to get out of their way, but he was well behaved and didn’t do anything silly.

We were out walking for a couple of hours, and unfortunately on the way back we got caught up with a load of parents picking their children up from school.

As I walked past a particular group of people, I called out to let them know I was behind them. One woman turned around and instantly jumped away from Max; I could see that she was quite afraid of him. This really made me realise how much he feeds off the people that are around him – he in turn flinched away from her and began to really pull and lean on the lead again.

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On our way back, I decided to stop by at my flat to drop my coat off (I hadn’t really needed it in the first place so had carried it for most of the walk). I’m not technically supposed to take animals into halls, but there weren’t any people around who would have reported me so I snuck him in…

Max had also become quite warm, so sitting him in the kitchen for a few minutes allowed him to cool down.

A couple of my flatmates came in while I was there and they immediately came over to see Max, stretching their hands out to touch him. At first he flinched and tried to back away, but it only took him a couple of minutes and then he was fine – he actually ended up really enjoying all of the fuss he got!

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This was amazing to watch, as when I first met him in November he wouldn’t come near for me ages, and our first walks together were really stressful because he didn’t want to be near me or any other people that we passed. I couldn’t even walk in parts of the park that were close to the road without him becoming anxious.

It is true what people say, building a bond with a rescue dog is incredibly rewarding.

Zoos – good or bad?

As a zoology student I find it incredibly frustrating when people ask me if I want to work in a zoo. The short answer to this question is no, but the long answer would probably include an explanation of what zoology actually is – a study of the physiology, evolution, behaviour and conservation of animals (among other things!)

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I have mixed feelings on zoos. My family didn’t visit them much when I was a child; I only have vague recollections of seeing elephants when I was young so when I travelled to Tanzania and Kenya it felt as though I was seeing all of the animals for the very first time.

It was therefore quite ironic that one of the activities for new zoology students in my first week in Manchester was a trip to Chester zoo.

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I went with an open mind but no amount of imagination could conjure up the expanses of grassland, or the watering holes where these animals would gather in the wild – the enclosures were small in comparison and I saw animals pacing up and down next to the fencing. It seemed so wrong to have these creatures kept for human entertainment.

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However, there is a different side to zoos – they can play an important role in conservation.

Many captive breeding programmes have helped to bring species back from the brink of extinction, and some do release animals back into the wild (although sometimes the offspring are simply sold on to live in other zoos).

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They can also serve to educate the general public on the plight facing many animals in the present day, and this in turn could inspire people to change their lifestyle in order to help certain animals (for example checking products for irresponsibly sourced palm oil or reducing energy usage).

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Some important research is carried out in zoos. Near the elephant enclosure at Chester zoo there were signs explaining research that is being carried out into EEHV (elephant endotheliotropic herpes virus) – the zoo funds this research, which will hopefully create a vaccine for elephants both in captivity and in the wild.

Despite my views on keeping wild animals in captivity, I do have to admit that zoos could be crucial in saving many endangered species. That doesn’t mean I want to work in one though!