Heels to Horses

A journey from the corporate industry into the world of saddlery

An anxious Olly returns home to me

Olly Has Issues…

It’s become apparent that Olly has formed two different anxiety issues over time which when you think about it may well be interlinked.

Firstly, he seems anxious when he is seperated from his field buddies, Toffee and Eddie and secondly, he has become highly anxious when put into a stable.

What I Know About Olly:

When I brought Olly back in 2011 he didn’t seem to show any signs of any anxiety issues, but that’s not to say they weren’t there. He was afterall only 4 yrs old and what I could gather from his passport and his racing card, that he had been passed from pillar to post across both Europe and within the UK. Eventually he was finally sold off the racetrack just 4 months prior to me meeting him.

The lady I brought him off had bought him from a friend of a friend, (possibly a dealer) who had obtained Olly from an auction. He was stabled at night and out during the day with three other field companions on a small private yard. He was probably around 3rd in line to the pecking order at this yard but had shown no anxiety issues other than coming straight off the race course and being green.

I brought him as my first horse, I know, I know, not the most sensible idea I had when you think back, but nevertheless you can’t help who you fall for, can you? and anyway I did go and see other horses before making my final decision but Olly was the one who stuck in my mind.

On his arrival he travelled well on the horse box, he stabled for two days and three nights before being let out into the paddocks, due to being wormed etc, then his daily routine consisted of being out during the day with another ex-racehorse (an older mare) and in a stable during the night.

Their stable was side by side and they grazed side by side too but when it came to work and taking him out for a hack I never had a problem with seperating him from the mare. Tacking him up and taking him away was fine also. He’d neigh once as if to say ‘See you later’ but then he’d work as he was meant to and returned to the stables no problem.

As previously blogged I had to give Olly up and he went off to Blue Cross to live, be rehabilitatated and then rehomed. Four years he was with Blue Cross and apparently he had moved several times within this timeframe, so God only knows what he has been through. Now, I’m not saying he has been mistreated in any way but as an exracehorse who has never seemed to have had a settled home anywhere, must mean his anxiety levels have obviously hit the roof.

An anxious Olly returns home to me

So, now I have him back we shall work on his anxieties and hopefully get him relaxed in his environment and able to leave his buddies knowing he will return and he is not going to be constantly moved. I’ve decided to blog our journey so that I have something to look back on our progress but also, maybe, help another exracehorse owner along the way.

Our Journey begins on Sunday 14th January = DAY 1:

Image shows a bucket of horse chaff, apples and carrots just for Olly.

The best time of day for me to create a regular routine for Olly at the moment is at lunchtime between 1pm – 1.30pm, so I prepared Olly a small treat bucket consisting of just one carrot and one apple mixed with dampened down chaff and lay it on the floor approximately 10 feet away from the field gate where Eddie and Toffee were standing.

I brought Olly out of the field and walked him over to his treat. Eddie and Toffee looked on in disgust by the gate (Eddie gets fed by his owner in a morning). Olly seemed ok to be away from his buddy but did constantly look up as if to look for him. He finished his treat and then wondered off towards a grass verge for a nosey and a graze. He was fine. I let him graze a little then when he seemed calm and content I eventually took him back to the field.

DAY 2 – Monday 15th January.

Today is noticeably windy, with showers this morning but is now brightening up with sunshine. I can see Olly grazing away from Eddie and Toffee although still within view of each other. He wouldn’t come to call so I went and fetched him. He came no problem. Eddie went on to roll and Toffee trotted over and walked upto the gate with us. Eddie eventually got up and followed too.

Olly and I came out the field and we walked over to his treat bucket which I had put down in the same place as yesterday, he ate it lovely. Eddie and Toffee stayed by the gate looking at us. I took Olly’s rug off and checked him over. He seemed ok apart from his coronet which was soft and quite white in colour. I wonder what that means? [Note to self – google soft/white coronets]

Olly would lift his head and listen out for the other two boys but finished eating before he moved to go back to the field. I wanted to stretch his routine a little to involve staying out the field a little longer and so encouraged him to walk around the yard. There are a few things on the farm that I want him to get used to seeing again, like tractors, the muck heap, the rubbish pile and other cars etc. Olly took it all in his stride. We went over to a grass verge where the duck pond and the estate deer can be seen in the background; he didn’t seem bothered and grazed. Eddie and Toffee had moved away from gate by this time but kept watch. Olly continued to graze.

When I decided it was enough time away. I patted and praised Olly and then took him back to the field. We practiced a stop / start exercise inhand to voice commands on the way which he was good at and never pulled or became bolshy.

We walked over to the field lovely and attempted to get inside. I had to push Eddie over a little as he got too close to the gate and Toffee tried to escape. It was hilarious trying to juggle these three personalities. Evenutually I went to take Olly’s headcollar off and because Eddie walked over to him he pulled away. Luckily I had unbuckled the headcollar in time and he was gone. They all cantered off together.

DAY 3: Tuesday 16th January.

Olly was out of view in the field and didn’t come to call so I had to go and catch him. Toffee had disappeared, eventually cantered over to us from what seemed like out of nowhere. We all walked upto the gate together.

At the request of Eddie’s owner I am now to feed him at the same time as Olly as this may help with the gate issue, so I gave Eddie his meal and took Olly out the field for his treat just around the corner. I chose to move Olly around the corner a little more now just out of sight of the field and the gate. However, Toffee escaped (the little shit) as the electric fencing must not be on. From this point onwards Olly was distracted and anything I attempted was a lost cause. He was far too interested in where Toffee was to even eat his treat.

Eventually he did finish his food and I decided to add a job to Olly’s routine just to get him used to it and it become the norm. Olly has stable anxiety and I don’t know how, why or when it started so I have chosen to add an exercise into his routine to get him used to his stable with little pressure on him which could start his anxiety off. All three of us (remember Toffee has escaped and was meandering around us) walk back towards the stable block. Olly snorted on route at pretty much everything, including his own shadow. Olly and I walked into his stable and put the feed bucket down in there. I could feel him become anxious and he rushed to get back out to Toffee who was waiting in the tractor park area. I didn’t make it an issue, he was distracted.

We walked back somewhat quicker to the field than normal and I released them back into the field. I’ve noticed that Olly is jumpy around Eddie and I belive it’s because Eddie has launched himself at bothe Olly and Toffee and therefore I believe there is some sort of heirachy going on. I believe today was more of a negative result than a positive one but at least it was another day of routine for Olly.

DAY 4: Wednesday 17th January.

I had to fetch Olly from the field again which was fine. I have been advised not to feed Olly carrots because of the sugar content and therefore advised to feed treats such as swede, turnips and apples with a non molassed chaff. He did seem to love it. I fed Eddie too and Toffee neighed after Olly.

Being seperated and out of view didn’t seem to bother Olly today. The farm tractor was out and about and it had to go past him at one point. I stayed calm and just helped him to realise where the tractor was and that he needed to pass. Olly turned himself towards the tractor, snorted at it then continued eating. He finished his treat and licked the bucket almost clean.

Once he had finished we walked towards his stable to drop the bucket off; he was fine. We walked into the stable, walked around it, dropped the bucket in the far corner and walked back out again. Olly was a little anxious but otherwise fine and we walked back to where I normally feed him and let him graze on the grass verge a little; he was fine until the shitland (I mean Shetland) decided to escape…again!

Image of the horses walking towards the water trough

I decided to put Olly back into his field at this point. He was fine, seemed very chilled and stood by gate even with Eddie standing there too. Eventually they walked off together towards the water trough. All in all it as a nice calm moment.

DAY 5: Thursday 18th January.

Today Olly had to be fetched in again which he came in willingly. I fed Eddie and Toffee tried to escape again… [Little Shit!] …this time I closed the other gate so even if Toffee did escape he couldn’t come and see Olly. It worked!

Olly and I walked further away from the field onto a patch closer to the stables, but Olly didn’t much like it and became very anxious. He circled around me and the feed bucket, so we walked back to where I normally feed him and he calmed down a little. Olly finished his treat and we walked back to the stable block to put his bucket in his stable. He walked in and walked out ok. He stood still outside ok and on the way back to the field we did another exercise where we stop and start to voice commands. He did these very well.

When we finally got to the field, Toffee had escaped…again. Eddie came cantering down to us which upset Olly a little. I can see that Olly is nervous around Eddie in the field and he won’t even go into the field unless Eddie is moved on. Today I just about got his headcollar off before Eddie came over and threatened Olly with flat ears. Even though Olly got restless in his new feeding area we did have some good work, in and out of the stable, so a positive result today.

DAY 6: Friday 19th January.

Olly was in view when I came to feed him. I called his name and he came to call from the middle of the field [this is good progress!]. I caught him and brought him in. Toffee escaped again and I gave Eddie his feed. [I give up with Toffee lol]

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I brought Olly out to the tractor park area and fed him in the same spot as before which is slightly away from the field. He was fine there until he heard the ducks and geese become startled by something which resulted in them flying off from the pond. Olly could hear the commotion so freaked a little, turning and starring in that direction then circled me.

I didn’t let Olly move away from his treat bucket but instead coaxed him to continue eating the last bits of his feed. His attention span was gone though and soon as he had finished he was fidgety again. We took his feed bucket back to the stable and I could sense he was calm doing the walk down to the stable block. He did rush into the stable and back out again though but I kind of knew that would happen.

We turned off right towards the smaller paddock where they used to be and he was fine. Olly caught the smell and sound of the others and neighed after them. We then proceeded to walk back to the field. On route we practiced our walk/stop routine several times and Olly was very good. [Massive Progress]. Olly then did try to rush off with me but I held onto him, turned him around and tried the exercise again. This time it wasnt so hurried. He was eager to go back to the field but equally finished the exercise really well. [Progress]

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Finally it was time to put Olly back into the field. Eddie stayed away from the gate whilst I put Olly back in which was big progress on both their parts. Olly stood still to have his headcollar off.

Overall today was a good day. It would have been excellent had it not been for the scared ducks. Very pleased with us both.

DAY 7: Saturday 20th January.

Today we have had a flurry of snow. It stayed around for a little while too but then melted. I had to fetch Olly from over the hill this time as he didn’t come to call. Once caught he walked in fine.

Today I have brought some new chaff to try, well actually it is dried grass called ‘Graze On’. It is molasses free and has no added extras which can mess with his sugar intake. We walked over to our usual place on the tractor park for him to eat his treat. He ate all the swede and apples first then started on the Graze On chaff. Eventually he got bored and left some.

Eddie neighed after him during his feed which distracted Olly making him want to go back to the field. I held him back, talked to him and tried to distract him again by picking his feed up. Thankfully he loves his food, so went back to eating but he was still distracted by the neigh.

Eventually Olly got fed up of eating the chaff; with less than a handful of it left, we did proceeded to do our job and took the bucket back to his stable. We did our turn in the stable which was very rushed and then back out again.

I had also brought a Himalayan salk lick when I got the chaff and had left it in the stable, so we had to go back in to get it. I showed it Olly but he wasn’t interested.

On the way back to the field we did our walk/stop/stand exercise which he was good at, but not as good as yesterday since he lost his concentration.

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At the first field gate I asked Olly to stand and I showed him the salt lick again, this time he tried it. He seemed to like it and licked it for a few minutes [This is progress].

After he was done we walked into the field. Eddie waited away from the gate and let Olly come in which was a positive result. Olly stood to have his headcollar off, I kissed him goodbye, then stroked Eddie and gave him a little kiss too.

I then walked over to the gate and picked up the salk lick and showed it Eddie. He wasn’t interested so I took it to the nearest wooden fence post and tied it up. Eddie followed me. I rubbed some salt lick onto my fingers and gave it to Eddie to sniff; eventually he licked it. He then allowed me to rub the salt lick and offer my hand several times.

Eventually I said goodbye to the boys and left them to it. Olly and Toffee trotted off and played a little whilst Eddie watched on.

What a positive and rewarding day today was. It’s times like this you realise that getting a horse into a routine is as simple and effective as putting children and babies into a routine. I’m a mom, I should have known this but sometimes I’m just too invovlved to think outside the box.

I will continue to blog about our progress so if you have any suggestions or advice for us then fire away as I’m all ears on new ideas.

Thanks for reading, Clair x

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