• Kathryn Hulland


It is 3 years ago today that I had to wave goodbye to my pony Tigger, it was the hardest day of my life and I was in a deep depression after. My health was at rock bottom due to fibromyalgia and an auto immune condition for which I was receiving hospital treatment and I had been fighting it for some time, if it had not been for some brilliant friends helping me during other health episodes and keeping an eye on him for me over the year before he went I would have had to reach this decision much sooner.

I just could not keep Tigger as he would suffer (I was unable to manage him so he was eating too much with no exercise a recipe for Laminitis if something was not done). I had tried sharers and paid people to ride him but everyone was so unreliable which isn't helpful when trying to manage your health.

I won't go in to much detail I prefer to look forward but when he went I was in a bad place and a lot went on in that time period with losing family members human and animal and getting worrying health news for other family members it was a testing time, little did I know from dark places amazing things grow. Had this not happened I would not be in the incredible place I am now doing the wondeorus things I love. Everything happens for a reason and I cannot believe 3 years have passed!

So this is something I wrote about Tigger and some of the memories I have of him. I am so happy he now lives with my friend and her 2 other horses only an 1 hour and 20 mins from me so I can visit whenever I want and he is so so happy. As much as I would love to see him daily I won't move him whilst my friend is happy to have him as he is so bonded with the others and content, I just wouldn't do it to him and my friend loves him :-)

Tigger is a Dartmoor Hill Pony, he is 10.5 years old and grew to about 12.3hh. I took him on as an unhandled foal, I say unhandled someone had tried to handle him but in quite a confrontational way which he didn't appreciate so he was basically unhandled and fearful of humans at 6 months old.

I bought Tigger when he was 6 months old from a lovely farmer in Widecombe. When I got him he had already been taught to have a head collar on and lead. The method used to teach him this involved him being in an enclosed area and having a rope placed around his neck (basically lassoed over him using a long stick), he was then pulled and forced to “face up” to the person training him. You could see he was very scared, he would not have long been weaned and there were lots of eyes watching him but he had nowhere to run. The theory was once he faced up the handler moved on to a bit of touching and putting a head collar on followed by leading. That was Tigger’s first experiences of human beings and sadly for him he did not feel it was a good one. Unfortunately Tigger would be one of those ponies whose first memories would live with him and lead him to be very mistrustful. I have found some ponies can get over these initial experiences more easily if then treated right, others hold on to them for life no matter what. Tigger arrived at the field near Haytor where we kept the Dartmoor Pony Training Centre ponies and was reunited with Merry, Trixie, Pippin and Pixie who had come from the same herd and all born the same year. I left him to relax and become part of the herd before trying to do anything

further with him. He settled in and then took his role as boss of the herd, a big responsibility for one so young. Because he took on this responsibility I believe this made him even more edgier as he was always on the look out not just for him but for the rest of the herd too. After giving him a month to settle I started to try and approach him, to start with he was not keen and did not want human company. It was time to spend hours sat on the hay piles with him! Finally he was happy eating around me so I then started working with him in the stable area with a bucket of food. The stable area was set out so there were pens leading from the stable to the fields, I would close the pens so the pony I was working with could be outside and see the others but could also choose to come inside with me to where the food was. This worked very well as it meant Tigger could take the pressure off himself by walking away to see the others. Tigger spent more time trying to find space to start with than wanting the food, he then started coming in snatching a mouthful then going back out! Gradually this built up to him scoffing mouthfuls at a time whilst allowing me to touch him.

I placed the head collar over the bucket and put it on him quite easily. I left it on him for a few weeks so he was easy to catch and got used to it, I then started taking it on and off and he was ok but still very edgy. He was always very jumpy and I couldn’t make any sudden movements because if you did he would be off. I slowly built up a trust with Tigger and used clicker training to teach him to be groomed, he loved clicker training and turned out to be a very intelligent pony, I taught him to back up, move over and even to pick up his feet with it. I knew he trusted me when he did this. You could see he was concerned to start with but he took a leap of faith because he knew he’d get a treat at the end of it and I would never ask too much and push things too far. It took so much for him to stay put you could see every inch of him was poised to run but he really wanted to please. Having taught him to lead and spent more time with him and done some de-spooking in the field I started taking him out for walks on the road which seemed to improve his confidence and continued to build his trust in me, when he came across something scary he looked to me rather than trying to run away. I would always click and treat him when he did something right and when he coped with a new situation which seemed to continue to build that confidence.

Our first walk out proved what an amazing pony he was and how far he’d come, just outside the gate and a big 4x4 comes trundling towards us with a very rattly trailer full of hay. I moved

Tigger to the verge and used the clicker training to keep him focused on me as it approached, but kept him so he could see it and was aware of it. As it passed he looked at it, looked at me then started following it down the road trying to grab mouthfuls of hay from the back of it! One thing that really helped with his edginess was when he lived in a herd with older horses and was no longer the boss, it was as if he could now relax and not concern himself with the others so much. He can have the odd tantrum if there is something he doesn't want to do, I have realised you have to be careful with him, there is a fine line between Tigger being truly scared and Tigger not wanting to do something and it’s important to judge it correctly, I know him well enough after 9 years luckily to understand. Interestingly Tigger doesn't respond to pressure, if he stops at something no amount of pressure on the head collar will get him to step forward and if too much is put on he will simply rear. I first found this when we loaded him on to a trailer and subsequently trying to teach him to stand tied up. As a resut of this I worked around it and I used clicker training to load him and he was fine about it and has always loaded since, I did a lot of work walking him over different obstacles to get used to surfaces and the trailer was often left in the field. I believe his pressure issues are because of his first experiences these were full on pressure to make him face up, I think the force of the pressure scares him and takes him back to those memories and so I work around it. I couldn’t tie him up for a number of years because if he spooked and pulled back the pressure he felt would then make it even worse and full panic would set in, again we worked with this and he happily ties up. As he got older I discovered a stubborn streak to him. I would take him out of the field to do some training or to take him for a walk and he would not want to go back in his field! When out of the field we would do clicker training and he also would get some grass so I can’t blame him for not wanting to re-join his friends! When he first tried this I put pressure on him via the lead rope and head collar and he totally backed off and reared, so I then tried to circle but he would just stop, next I tried backing him up then walking few paces forward then told him to stop and would reward him, I kept going like this until he was happily moving forward again and went in through the gate. He tried this again one day but using the same method he was through the gate quickly and has never done it since. He did make me laugh! When a horse reacts like this I question everything, I once had a mare who refused to leave the field and it turned out to be because we had to walk in between an electric fence and she was so sensitive to the fence she just would not walk in between it if it was on. Too many people force a horse without looking in to the reason behind a behaviour. Tigger had a couple of outings to shows and he has behaved perfectly, taken it all in his stride

and not been nervous, our last show I entered him in a couple of classes, he stood perfectly relaxed and we came home with 2 red rosettes! I nearly cried then and there in the ring he was amazing! He seems to thrive on new experiences. What he does struggle with is humans he has not met before, he is very wary of them. He trusts the people he knows but any one new and he backs off from them when they approach him. I was out on a walk with him one day and we met a man who wanted to give Tigger a treat, well Tigger didn’t want this man too close and so only allowed him to touch his nose and proceeded to turn that nose up at his offer of a treat so he can be fussy even if food is on offer.

In the early days Tigger used to always back up from me when I approached him and tried to keep me in front of him, to get around this I again used clicker training, he had already been taught to stand still with clicker training so whenever I or anyone else approached him I ensured they had him stand still and make sure he let them go to his side then reward him. Because of this he now lets you approach him to the side. He doesn’t get treats very often now as I don’t want him to get nippy, there are limits! But the training has stayed with him and the method still works when doing something new and over time he became more and more relaxed. A few years ago we moved to a livery yard away from the ponies, he still lived out in a herd but it meant I had lots of facilities and a friend to help bring him on a bit, we long lined him and finally I backed him when he was 6/7, such an amazing feeling that first hack! Eventually we moved to a yard where I kept my old horse Dollar, it was like coming home and it has an indoor and outdoor school so as perfect. Again he lived out in the herd so he was happy. He was so good to back and lovely to ride, he loves being out and about and is so brave, he will snort at something he is not sure of but keep walking by. He is quick to learn and could turn his hoof to anything.

Unfortunately due to my health getting very bad a couple of years ago I had to loan him but he’s with a very good friend and very happy living with 2 other horses enjoying an easy life. Everyone who meets him loves him. He’s helped me through so much and taught me so much and the Dartmoor Hill Pony really is the best pony in the world!!

The Hill Ponies do vary; Tigger was very sensitive and a prime example of the type that should not go to an inexperienced home, if he had been forced further into anything I dread to think what he would have gone through, however that sort of pony for the right person is life changing and I can’t imagine my life without him, he’s my rock! Other ponies I’ve worked with have been less sensitive (although all have a sensitivity of course) and make amazing kids ponies, driving ponies and they will hack, show jump, xc and even do dressage they are so versatile and will carry light adults.

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