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a month to remember

Article describing Police Horse Thorne's one month trial, Published Equi Ads June 2007
A month to remember!


The first thing we do with a horse on trial is visit the local Equine veterinarian for a preliminary vetting, which includes eyes, heart and general soundness. This preliminary vetting has many purposes, we will be aiming to attend a football match so we must make sure the horse can see, we would not want to “waste” a month of training if the horse has a serious problem, the vet can also assess the horse’s condition and recommend any remedial shoeing etc.


From the vetting the Thorne is taken to Ring Farm, where the Police horses are kept and trained, and is settled in for the night. We do not work them on the day that they arrive, Thorne was a little stressed from travelling, he has only ever had two trips in a horsebox before and a young man can only cope with so much change in one day!


The next day I am delighted to see that Thorne has been lying down, he has eaten all of the food that we have given him, and has even worked out how to operate the automatic drinker. He is happy in his skin, curious at his surroundings. Perfect.


Before we take the Police Horses out onto the Pubic Highway we have to be satisfied that they understand the aids. I am sometimes surprised to go and try horses that people have been hacking on the roads for years that do not really respond to the rider, so the first stop for Thorne is the sand arena. Thorne is already trained to basically go forward from the leg and to pull up with the reins. He does not actually move away from the leg though, as in sideways, and this is important to us, for example to control a shy, or even just to move out to avoid a parked car. He leans into your leg rather than moving away from it, and although he does stop or slow when you take a pull on the reins he does not really yield or soften to the bit, again he leans into it and pokes his nose out.


This only takes a couple of sessions to address, soon Thorne is understanding the aids and this has the double effect of better control, plus he is now carrying himself in a more balanced fashion, less like a wobbly teenager!


And so onto the roads, we start on quiet roads with a companion on the outside, this “outrider” controls the situations for me so I can concentrate on Thorne, I do not want to be staring at traffic or hazards, Thorne needs to get the feel from me that all of that noisy stuff is pretty inconsequential, and can be politely ignored. So far so good, Thorne enjoys his outings, and we soon progress to a busy shopping street, it is December and we have the opportunity to practice politely ignoring a giant inflatable snowman on the pavement outside the shop.


I guess I am very fortunate that because of the expertise of my colleague, mounted on a proven Police Horse and in charge of the traffic (which they stopped), I could give the snowman no more than a polite passing attention. Thorne thought it was very interesting, but not alarming. He also shows passing interest in traffic, as the weeks go on we progress to major trunk roads, and from the inside of a pair to the front (where we can still be protected to a degree by the rear horse), and finally to the outside.


Throughout this training my motto is “To first do no harm”, meaning that if all we achieve on any particular day is just exercise, and if that exercise is enjoyable, then no harm has been done. In fact by the enjoyment of that exercise immeasurable good will have been done. If I go out and take Thorne one step too far and frighten him, then that is a backwards step. Small steps add up quickly as Thorne gains confidence that whatever happens I will guide him, and that he can cope with and feel comfortable with the ever increasing “weird” things that he encounters.


After two weeks Thorne is doing well, his schooling continues daily both on the riding school and also on the roads, plus we are now starting work in open fields. This is often exciting for a young horse that has recently had his feed and exercise increased, and we start in a very methodical way. First we work on the sand arena to formalise the work we will be doing for the day. We then have a short patrol so Thorne is a little tired. Then when we arrive at the field we take our time and mentally mark out an arena, working in walk until he is settled, then in trot, then finally in canter.


We also use this opportunity to encourage Thorne to start to be independent from his equine escort, working separately, leaving his partner to ride away and work, and finally allowing the companion to canter away and leave him. At first Thorne frets, and has to be given a job of work to do such as trotting a VERY accurate figure of eight, but after a few sessions he is confident.


At home we introduce Thorne to flags and to plastic on the floor, some noise and working with up to 7 other horses. Again we stage the work to first do no harm, and Thorne has really got the idea of “polite interest”!


By the third week we are travelling Thorne on the lorry, first locally then to his first town centre. By this time I have a real feel for what he will find comfortable, and I am not surprised to find that Thorne LOVES town and the people within it, especially the ones with Polos! I do have to accept that this is stressful though, we will first do a long patrol around the periphery, then a pass through town, and although Thorne is well behaved I can feel that internally tension is up, so we go back to the periphery so he can walk off his tension and think about what has happened. Each pass we do through town produces less stress than the last, that is the guide that we are progressing at a good rate.


In the fourth week it is the final tester, football. The difficulty with football is that there are 20,000 people over whom I do not have complete control, and until I am sure of Thorne we will keep a distance and always have a safe “escape route”. Thorne is just there to watch, not as a Police Resource, it is to see if he is suitable to be trained on as a Police Horse, not to train him as one on one day! I am with a steady companion, and we start with a steady walk out in a quiet area and then trot up the biggest hill we can find to ensure that Thorne is just a little tired and feeling settled.


At a match the stadium almost takes on a life of its own, the crowd shouting as if with one very powerful voice. Thorne is fascinated, head up, nostrils wide. That is a little more than polite interest, so I give him a job to do, move a little this way, lower your head, bend that way, and he relaxes. I am impressed, first match and he finishes standing still, head low as he investigates the contents of a discarded fast food wrapper. That is the point of today, a gentle introduction and an opportunity to gauge Thorne’s reaction, and I am pleased.


Just the final hurdle, the five stage vetting. The vetting process is very stringent to account for the fact that the horse will spend many years working on concussive tarmac. Even if Thorne were to fail this vetting it would not mean that he would not pass a vetting for another job. We have lost some horses here, it is always disappointing as by now I have bonded with Thorne, and would be upset if he were to have to go back. However Thorne passes, and I can phone the owner to tell her, and plan for training to start in earnest!


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