Peanut’s Blog

Peanut – getting there

Smile for the camera!
Smile for the camera!
It’s been a while…

More than a while, in fact. It’s been 2 years. Looking back, it’s hard to say where all  that time has gone while we convert my English eventer to a versatile western horse. And I’m not sure if I’d known how long it would take, I might have settled for a simpler option.

Lyla (Cansfield), always positive and never a hard word, offered the view that if I could spare 2 hours a day and started with all the necessary experience, we’d have been well away by now. But I knew from the start that Peanut is a horse with “character”. And he has a knack. He puts my world to rights when we’ve had a good session. That’s worth its weight in gold.

The joy of it is that, these days, I more often come away from the stables with that glow of a good workout than I do with a new bruise.

Time lost

It’s been frustrating. Just as it seemed as though we were ready to saddle up, health issues have intervened. First it was Peanut who was out of action for a couple of months. Then, just as he was ready for work again, I had to have emergency surgery on my hand. 

But, just now, watching a video of me working with Peanut about 6 months ago, I suddenly realise how far we’ve come. I look at myself waving my “carrot stick” around like a loon. Tossing the rope and poor Peanut walking over me in his confusion. It’s no wonder there have been times when he’s just reared up, ripped the rope out of my hand and gone off in disgust!

But, suddenly (will I regret writing this, I wonder?), that doesn’t seem to happen any more. I just have to lean into his space a bit to get him to lift his pace when he’s out on the line. And a gentle shake of the rope brings him down a pace. Lift the rope, bend my head and look at his rear and he disengages and stops. Ears pricked and waiting.

All very well – but….

…. we’re not yet off on our journey to convert an English eventer into  a versatile, western horse. “Stop talking about it, get on ‘im and ride”, one of my (successful western riding competitor) friends keeps saying. But those  that were around when I jumped in the deep end and started competing before I could ride 20 years ago are a little more understanding. 

Back then, I wasn’t too concerned about the horsemanship side of things as long as we came home with lots of rosettes. Fortunately, George already had it in him and taught me how to ride. I was lucky, with George, to have a horse that just gave without asking. I loved him. ‘Course I did but I didn’t understand him in the horseman’s sense.

It would be arrogant to say that I’ve fixed that particular gap in my  horsey skills. But Peanut has shown me a lot more and I believe I’ve at least crossed the bridge into that mindset. The old me would take reluctance as the horse having a laugh with me and be brisk in my response.

Now, although KP is of course capable of messing about, my first response is always to look to myself. See if I’m confusing him. Of course, if it’s not me, then he gets a kick in the slats (only joking).

At last, a proper saddle
KP Saddled
KP saddled

Over our last few sessions we’ve had George’s old saddles hanging around – just in case! And the time finally came when we thought it was right to offer him something he’s never seen before. A slick forked roper. Probably as heavy as you can get and certainly about twice as heavy as the “English” dressage saddle being used when I met him.

But, with Lyla watching on and guiding me, he quietly accepted first the pad and then the roper. Now, of course, the old me would have just swung myself up into the saddle and taken my chances. 

Lyla had obviously seen something about KP that bothered her. Something that my only semi-trained eye had missed. She “suggested” that she do the next bit and quietly took the lead rope from me.

Good job she did because, Peanut was initially obviously uneasy with the saddle on him.

But, of course,  Lyla had the measure of him and he quickly came back and did some quiet circles for her. Walk and jog.  Sweet as anything. So now we’re back to some patient, quiet, routine work with the saddle sitting on the rail where he can see it. It’ll be on him again soon.

We may be a good way off where we’re going to be a cause for concern amongst the versatile western riding competition community but, as long as we’re making progress and I’m learning, I don’t care. I know we’re on the right track and the plan is holding good.


Peanut’s Blog – Enjoying the Journey

Western Riding
KP Winter 17 – 18
The Journey

Journey? What journey? We’re teaching a horse a new way of going, not off on some transcendental trail ride! But, crazy though it sounds, some of the moments I’ve had with Peanut over the last few weeks have been almost sublime.

However, of course, this is Peanut we’re talking about and although there’s been a good deal of bliss, he always throws in a bit of extravagance. Just to see whether I’ve got what it takes.

A low boredom threshold

I’ve talked before about Peanut’s low boredom threshold and how I need to keep changing what I ask of him. Keep him at anything too long and he’ll start getting a strop on. Alex Peternell decided Peanut couldn’t be an eventing prospect when the boy failed with the required number of repetitions of a particular dressage exercise. I guess some horses can and some can’t. So, luckily for me, Alex decided to sell him.

But a versatile horse in western riding is all about constant change. In a Western Pleasure class, it’s regular changes of pace and direction. With Western Trail, it’s negotiating a series of obstacles: side passing along poles, backing up around a series of drums, working a gate and so on. Then there’s Western Games: Barrel Racing, Flag Race, Pole Bending and the rest. I could mention Cattle and Ranch Horse but you get the picture. For a horse like Peanut, this is all going to be meat and gravy. Or, perhaps that should be carrots and apples… 

So we keep finding different things to do in between the more mundane exercises to help him find his feet.

Spooky horse

Alex Peternell warned me  that Peanut was “a bit spooky” and, of course, I’ve had that in mind during some of his more extravagant episodes. But, honestly, I don’t think any of this is down to “spooky”. A young prey animal’s natural caution, of course. A stroppy teenager’s flap, certainly. But a spooky horse? No.

I decided that the day he dealt with a piece of blue plastic sheeting Viv had been trying to persuade another horse to walk over (or, even, walk near!) That was a spooky horse and it’s still a work in progress for him. But Peanut? The plastic was still on the ground when he came out to play and did it bother him? No. He walked up to it. Gave it a careful sniff. Licked it a bit. Pawed it a bit. Then took it in his teeth and gave it a good shaking.

And then there was the plastic drum. This isn’t as big as the barrels we use for Barrel Racing: probably half that size. But, looking for something for a change of routine, we brought it out and showed it to Peanut. He just gave it a sniff. Licked it. Tried it with his teeth and then gave it a nudge with his nose. Of course, it fell over but that didn’t bother him and in no time at all he was nosing it along the arena floor .

Let’s play ball

Ever since I started at the Old Mill, there’s been sitting in a corner a big green ball. I’d seen Vivien use it with her horses a few times but, back then with George, it didn’t signify. Here I had George with a black sack full of winner’s rosettes and some shelves full of trophies. A Parelli Green Ball? Don’t think so!

Ah! But Peanut? He’s obviously a different story. And so I wasn’t too much concerned when Viv suggested a bit a ball play.

The Parelli Green Ball

Complete Cradle Bridle with C3 Bit

Fans of Pat Parelli will know all about this. It’s an outsize, heavy duty, beach ball. And it’s green. It’s about a metre across and it’s bouncy. It’s Peanut’s new toy is what it is.

Of course, we took him up to it nice and quietly and he went through the sniff, lick, try-a-bite routine. He was bit more circumspect when I asked him to follow me on his line while I rolled the ball at my side but he didn’t take long to settle to that.

We then tried him with a bit of rolling it about under his chin and in front of his legs. Of course, he was a bit wary at first but in no time at all, he was off with it. Nosing the ball along the ground.

Perhaps, a bit too confident…

It was when he tried to give it a bit of a bounce himself that we decided to stop and do something else. He just stopped with the ball in front of him, reared right up and tried to come down on it with both front feet. It happened so quickly that I didn’t have a chance to stop him.

Luckily he just glanced off the ball. But, of course, he might have hurt himself if he’d come off it badly and I’ll have to be wary of this next time. For the moment, he just looks longingly at the ball sitting in the corner when he comes into the school. I know he’s got something in mind for it and I need to take care how we approach it next time. 

Clearly, though, as long as I’m careful about how I introduce him to new things, Peanut is going to be confident about it.

And so the Journey continues…

In between the various games, we’re making good progress with the other stuff. After all I’ve just been saying about spookiness, we’ve had a series of sessions when there’s been something going on outside the school which worried Peanut.

Say I’m being over considerate if you will but I’m not putting this down to a spooky horse. He’s indoors and can hear something he doesn’t know and it’s been testing my new found natural horsemanship to get his attention when this happens. But, by staying quiet myself and just asking him to do something simple he knows, we get through it.

It shouldn’t worry me but I’m beginning really to enjoy the journey. We had one of those days yesterday when it all happened. We started off quietly but something outside worried him and it took a good few minutes to get him back. Then, we did some more quiet stuff, rugged him up and started back to the stable.

He just strolled along about 10 feet from my shoulder. Before we got to the school door, I asked him to halt and he just stopped and stood there while I noisily slid the door back. At the open door, I turned round to him, still standing about 10 feet away, and pointed out of the door. He walked up to me and we stepped out together for a quiet stroll across the sand school. 


I can’t describe the feeling of peace that gave me. Well, I could but it would involve a reference to sex and that wouldn’t do at all! But at times like that, I find myself wondering whether, perhaps, the Journey is enough after all.

But then I very quickly remember the joy of a good run through the poles or a well executed Western Riding Class and, knowing that Peanut is going to be every bit as good as George, I want to be there too. It’s just very good to know that there’s always other stuff to do as well as ride. I can wait.










Peanut’s Blog – 2017 Year’s End

Peanut 2017

An unexpected year

Traditionally, it’s the time of year to take stock and make plans. See how plans made this time last year have turned out. If we do the same now, can we expect anything better of Peanut next year? 

I guess I have to say right out that this wasn’t the year I expected with Peanut. If I’ve learned anything at all it’s that whatever plans I had for this  year, they weren’t Peanut’s. And I think the first thing I learned about Peanut was that I might plan all I like but he has a mind of his own. If he’s got a plan, he’s not telling me about it!

Time and again (not a lesson I learned quickly), we’d have a good session together and I’d go home happy that we’d ticked a box on my list and could move on to the next item. Only to come back the next day and find that Peanut had overlooked ticking that particular box. In fact, he wasn’t ticking boxes at all. He was just having a laugh.

Screw the plan

So, early on, “the plan” got screwed up and binned. Fair to say, of course, that our “year” didn’t start until about April after we’d decided to just leave the boy alone for a while and let him find out about being a horse again. He’d had a pretty unsettling 12 months with 3 different homes before he ended up with us. At one of those he’d been a sort of unwanted Christmas present and had moved on in the space of about 6 weeks.

You just can’t treat a horse like that and expect him to give himself to you. And so, taking Vivien’s advice, we just left him for about 6 months. Which, I have to say, was a frustrating time because, of course, I’d planned to be showing him in his first Western Pleasure class by then. Such a dreamer…

Natural Horsemanship

At the beginning, I kept asking myself: do I need to do this from the ground? Or would it be better mounted up? Reckoning myself a fairly competent rider, I was inclined to just climb up and get on with it. That lasted only until I saw KP explode on the end of a 22′ line. Then, I was just glad I hadn’t been on his back at the time!

Of course, in the end, it was me who had to make the adjustments. Get to grips with a whole new way of going about things and go the Natural Horsemanship route. Welcome to the world of Pat Parelli.  Start from the standpoint that you can’t expect anything of a horse until he knows and trusts you. Accepts that you’re the next one up the pecking order in his particular herd. 

Easy to say that but my problem was that I knew bugger all about Natural Horsemanship. And, worse, neither did Peanut.

Everyone was very kind and understanding, telling me that Peanut wasn’t the best horse for a Parelli novice. But, thanks to Vivien and Webster, we got past the “blind leading the blind” stage. Vivien worked the edges off Peanut and let him find out there’s an easier way for him. And Webster patiently let me get some Parelli basics in my bag. I found a new little friend in Webster, but that’s another story…

9 months gone…

Looking back, the person I was before all this would have been spitting feathers. Already nearly a year gone and nowhere near even a gentle Western Pleasure class – never mind a bit of Working Cow Horse.

Friends with a pithy turn of phrase were asking: “When are you going to stop looking at that horse and git on ‘im?” Others, that knew George well, were just looking at me with a slightly bemused expression. They just didn’t believe that I could own a horse for a year and not ride. 

But, by September, it was starting to come together. We were narrowing the gap between us. Me, by expecting less and being supremely pleased with just a little more. And Peanut just starting to get that he didn’t have to be on the defensive all the time.

It’s amazing the little things that mean so much but have taken so long to arrive. Lying down in his stable. Pooing in the same corner of the stable rather than spreading it everywhere. Just walking along coming in from the field. Quietly at my side, head down and ears pricked. There’s so much more, but you get the picture…

Lyla Cansfield

No question: meeting Lyla Cansfield has been another big milestone in our progress down the natural horsemanship road. We had our first session with her in October and it was good from the start.

Lyla has a very pragmatic approach to natural horsemanship that understands Peanut’s anxieties. But, just the same, she quickly spots his “stroppy teenager” tendencies and deals briskly with them.  Doing it her way has given me confidence and her progressive approach, expecting more without demanding it, works.  

… and 2018?

No question that we’re on a long road that I never saw coming. And I can see that it’s all been worth it. We’ve laid  some foundations that are going to allow us to accelerate without having to force it.

My main problem now is not knowing where I am along that road. Vivien, ever the pragmatist, will say: “Forget the bloody road! Just enjoy it the journey!” And I get that. But if the ultimate aim remains to have a finished and versatile Western Horse (and, whatever happens, that will always be) I need to figure out where we are in relation to that destination. 

I’m still figuring that and although I’ve learned the lesson about “the best laid plans”, I still believe you must have a goal. And it would help to know how far away we are from that.  We’re seeing Lyla again in a week’s time and maybe we’ll know more then…


Peanut’s Blog – Not a saddle as we know it….

KP & Pad 2

Until I read Joyce Harman’s, The Horse’s Pain-Free Back and Saddle Fit Book, I didn’t realise the significance of the little white mark on Peanut’s back just at the point of his withers.

Peanut doesn’t have a white hair on his body except for this tell-tale smudge. It’s where, at some time, an ill-fitting saddle created a pressure point on his spine and the hair roots died and left white hairs.

So, now that we are thinking about getting Peanut saddled up, saddle fit is an issue. And the relevance of this white mark has become significant. That’s because if there was sufficient pressure at that point to kill his hair follicles, there may other unseen damage.

Fit as a fiddle

All the work we’ve done with Peanut so far suggests that he’s as fit as a fiddle. But, if he’s put up with pain caused by a saddle, he might still have a few saddling issues.

Given the excitable state Peanut was in when I first got him, it was enough to get him quiet on the end of a 22-foot line. Offering up a western saddle (or, indeed, any saddle) just to see how it looked on him wasn’t an option.

All I did back then was use a draftsman’s flexi-ruler. That gave the profile at his withers and compared against George’s saddles. Peanut’s withers aren’t quite as much as George shark’s fin. So it looked as though George’s saddles would be okay.

Not ready for a proper saddle yet

And saddling has rested there until now. We’re not yet in a position where I can start riding him because there’s other stuff to do first. Critically, because he’s lost condition while he’s been lazing around, he needs more work in hand.

But, equally, if George’s saddles won’t fit, it’s something we need to know about. Last time I bought a saddle for George, it was made to measure and took about 3 months from the time we started to its arrival in the UK from America.

A timely visit from Lyla Cansfield

Thus, it was a timely visit from Lyla Cansfield. She advised that we give him a try in a bareback pad. Not a saddle as such but with most of the bits that might revive in Peanut memories of any previous issues.

It was a good work out to start with. He’s getting to the stage now where he just likes to show off a bit before doing what he’s asked. He tests me to see if I really mean it. And that’s good for both of us. I’m getting to know the right buttons to push and he’s getting to know that I mean it.

So, after a bit of peanuttiness, we settled down to some nicely joined up stuff before Lyla stepped in with one of Viv’s bareback pads. Bless him, he didn’t kick up a fuss at all but, of course, couldn’t resist giving Lyla’s unprotected back a bit of a whiffle. We all know by now that the whiffle might just be that but can equally be an exploratory tease with prehensile lips. A sharp nip can quickly follow…

And so poor Lyla was subjected to the sort of harassment that would have serious legal consequences for a human being doing it. But this was Peanut. All we could do was watch on with amusement as Lyla handled the pad with one hand and fended off Peanut’s overtures with the other. 

A Pat Parelli-ism

One of Pat Parelli’s soundbites refers to the application of “polite and passive persistence in the proper position”. It’s one of those “Parelli-isms” that you know sounds neat but don’t really believe until you see it in practice. And watching Lyla introduce this bareback pad to Peanut, a light switch suddenly came on. Peanut wasn’t leaping about – or moving much at all. He was just doing his best to be a pest as Lyla tried to offer up the pad and it needed all 5 Ps to get it done.

It took a little while but there he was, proudly showing off his bareback pad. “I was going to be a dressage champion, you know”. “Yes, Peanut, change the record, will you? We’ve got something else in mind…”

KP & Pad

And it worked…

Lyla then followed this up gently putting the boy through his paces to see whether there might be any issues. Happily, he was fine. Better still, when I reached that stage of our work-out the next day, he just stood there for me while I put the pad on again and cinched him up. Tick another box.

The interesting little snippet that occurred to me while we were getting ready for this session with Lyla and Peanut was that it was a year to the day when Peanut first arrived at OMEC. It’s gone so fast. I must admit that, back then, I was a bit crestfallen at the realisation that we were not going to just stick a western saddle on him and teach him neck reining before moving on with the rest of the western aids.

And a year on, I can only say that I know in my heart that we’re doing it the right way. Just as Vivien promised, progress has been slow at first but we’re starting to accelerate now, and I can see it all coming together. Quite when he’ll be ready for me to mount up, I don’t know. The extraordinary thing is that I don’t really care. I’m enjoying what we’re doing for itself because I can see the changes happening in Peanut and they’re good.

“So, I’m not going to be an eventer after all then?”

“No, Peanut. We’ve got something entirely different in mind. And it’s going to be a lot more fun….”KP & Pad 3

Peanut – what a show off

Lyla & KP 051017
Lyla Cansfield returns

The time since Lyla Cansfield’s last visit passed quickly. And, to begin with at least, Peanut seemed to be making good progress with the benefit of Lyla’s insights to his way of going.

Peanut & Lyla Cansfield

But then, almost overnight, it was as though we’d hit a brick wall. Peanut went from being a boisterous, flashy show off to a stubborn little git. I could get him started but, then, he would do perhaps half a circle and stop. He’d turn to look at me and simply ignore anything I did to try and get him moving again. Worse, he went back to simply walking right through me as though I wasn’t there. Here I am, 6’ 5”and a good 100 kilos and, waving my arms around like a windmill, he would just wander over me. It was embarrassing.

Fortunately, I didn’t have to put up with too much of this before Lyla came back for another visit. She quickly put her finger on the problem. I’d gone from being too aggressive to overly gentle. As she put it, Peanut was acting like a stroppy teenager (she does a very good impersonation of Harry Enfield’s Kevin) and all it took to get us back on track again was for me to sharpen up my act.

A glint in my eye

It was quite funny really. Without turning into a bully, all I had to do was put a glint into my eye, square my shoulders and put a bit of energy into the command. The first time I did it Peanut just reared away but then very quickly settled into a brisk trot.

Of course, I felt a bit of a fool for not having worked this out myself but I guess my excuse is that, from the start of this journey, I’ve had to make a conscious effort to lose my basic instinct. To hurry up and get on. And the wishy-washy me just hadn’t been clear enough with my commands. We’d gone back to that horrible mutual confusion. Just winding each other up.

Now, I realise that it’s a very thin line between over-aggression and a wimpy, please be a good boy Peanut. I’ve got half a ton of horse on the end of that rope and if I give him an inch, he’ll take a mile. So, starting again, I find all it takes is to put a bit of energy into my end of the rope and we start to get somewhere.

Regular changes

While I am enjoying this epiphany, Lyla is setting up a few obstacles in the sand school and Viv/Ritz and Linda/Sally are getting to grips with figures of eight and weaving down a line of blocks. All, of course, managing their horses with nothing more than their first finger at the rope and a carrot stick in the other hand.

Peanut 051017

Having watched us for a bit, Lyla suggested that what Peanut needs most is a regular change of task. Give him something to think about. As I’m standing there happily watching my boy jog around first one way and then another, out of the corner of my eye I see Lyla setting up the poles for a jump.

 “See what he makes of that,” she says. Of course, the new Philip hasn’t yet become super confident and my first attempt fails miserably with Peanut just strolling up to the poles and standing there sniffing them. But, now I know that I don’t just have to put up with that. I quietly lead him away again and this time give him a bit of a glint in my eye and a meaningful swish of my stick.

Peanut, now you’re showing off

And away he goes. Sailing over the jump he stops on the other side and turns to look at me all pleased with himself. “I was going to be an eventer, you know”, he says. “Okay”, I say, “let’s see if you can do it on the other lead, then”. And blow me down, off he goes and jumps again. What a show off.

In no time at all, of course, I’ve become the show off and have him turning back without stopping and taking the jump again. And again. Lyla sees this going on and, wisely before Peanut gets bored with it, suggests that we move on and have a go at weaving him down the row of four jump stands. I’d seen Liz do this with Woody a while back and she had kindly let me have him to have a go at it myself. But Woody, of course, knew better and just walked all over me.

So, even with my newfound energy, I approached this with Peanut not sure of how it was going to go. And with that hint of uncertainty in my mind, Peanut inevitably got the vibe. He tried to pretend I wasn’t there. Fortunately, I recognised what was happening and, putting a bit of will into it, we actually got it done with me walking in a straight line a few feet out and guiding him with stick and rope.

He may not yet be a cutting horse

I’m sure that all my old riding friends – the ones George and I used to team up with to do a bit of cutting horse or team penning – might read this and think I have gone soft. Feeling such a sense of achievement in doing something so simple. But, as I keep saying, I’m doing something I should have done many years ago. And I’m enjoying it.

Best of all, though, is Lyla’s compliment on the real progress Peanut and I have made. So, as a pièce de résistance she now suggests that we see how Peanut manages with some side passing. Now we’re talking, I think. Side passing is meat and gravy to a western horse. If we can finish the day with the boy getting the hang of that, it’ll be real progress.

Wouldn’t it be nice, if I could say Peanut just looked around and said: “oh, a side pass, ay? Of course.” And then proceeded to go and do one. But, even after a morning like we’d had today, it wasn’t quite a fairy-tale ending. Fair to say, though, under Lyla’s sure guidance, he quickly got the idea and I managed to get a couple out of him before we called it a day.

Peanut sidepass
So, what do we do now?

Chewing things over as we sat in the sun with our horses quietly at our sides (how about that? He didn’t once try to nibble me!) we reviewed what we had achieved that morning. For me, it felt as though we had made a huge leap forward. Of course, I realise that it doesn’t necessarily follow that we’ll just walk out into the sand school and do it next time. But I’m starting to feel as though I’m standing on firmer ground.

Best of all, Lyla thinks that when she comes next time we’ll put a bareback pad on him. Then we can see whether he has any issues in that area. I moved to the edge of my seat as soon as we start talking about saddles. But, even now, I must accept that we’ve got some way to go yet. For one thing, we need to get his conditioning back to where it should be.  He’s been resting a long time and he’s out of shape. But it’s yet another brick in the wall and progress is good.

Peanut’s Blog – Lyla Cansfield Clinic

Peanut & Lyla


An interesting day…

Well, Lyla Cansfield gave us a pretty interesting day. I finished my last blog speculating that perhaps, in Parelli terms, Peanut is a left-brain extrovert. I’m pleased to say that one of the first things that Lyla confirmed after our first session with her is that she agrees.

Pat Parelli defines a left-brain extrovert as a playful character with a dominant streak and a tendency to “naughtiness”. He is mentally sharp and keen to learn.

Pat gives a list of words and phrases typically associated with left brain extroverts. I can safely say that during our day working with Lyla, Peanut displayed most, if not all, of the following:






tends to bite and strike (out of dominance)





fast learner.

And I would not be exaggerating if I said that he displayed a good number of these characteristics even before we got him into the sand school! That said, I’m pleased that the tendency to bite and strike didn’t really show up. It was more a playful waggling of his lips just to see if I was going to react.

Getting started

But, boy, did we enjoy ourselves! Lyla came to the OMEC to spend the day not only with Peanut but with Vivien’s horse Ritz and Liz’s Woody. We started out over a cup of tea just talking about our horses, where we are now with them and where we want to go.

The day was divided into two obviously distinct parts where we started out each showing Lyla where we are with our horses and, then, Lyla taking the horse in hand to try out a few things herself. She then made a few suggestions and we had another go.

At the end of my “show and tell” first session with Peanut in the morning, my main feeling was relief. I had given a pretty good showing of where Peanut and I are at the moment. It wasn’t the disaster it might have been if I hadn’t had so much help from Vivien to get me this far and when, inevitably, Peanut decided to show some of his wilful exuberance, I coped with it.

What Lyla spotted is that Peanut carries a bundle of nervous energy that he needs to release before he can take on board the lessons he needs to learn. Until now, if we had a quiet session with him where he had got hold of something new, we counted that as a real positive and ended the session there.

Lyla taking a hand

Now, after I showed him to Lyla, she pushed him a little bit harder and waited for him to relax into a balanced, flowing lope (or, in English terms, a canter). I think the most impressive part of this period was when Peanut let out a huge, prolonged snort and then just settled into the relaxed and balanced lope she was looking for. He relaxed and, for me, it was a revelation. To see my boy quietly loping around on the end of a 22-foot line was just magic.

Lyla then gave me back Peanut’s rope and it was my turn, again. Peanut now had the idea and although he started off tense, he quickly settled down. This time, though, without the snort!

I guess all this sounds like real beginner’s stuff but I started halfway round the circle with George and I’m now getting properly started round the other half.

I put Peanut back in his field and did a bit of “licking and chewing” of my own while I watched Lyla work firstly with Liz and Woody and then Viv and Ritz.

Viv Liz & Lyla


Review and back to work

Over a sandwich and cup of tea at lunch, Lyla talked to us about what she’d seen and her observations about each of us and our horses. She was bang on when she assessed Peanut as “young” for his age. He’s clearly got a bit of growing to do – both physically and mentally but, that will all come with the groundwork.

In the afternoon, we went back to the sand school with the horses and, with each of us, Lyla tackled some basic issues that she had picked up on during the morning session.

With Peanut and I, it was a question of generally improving my technique in dealing with Peanut’s tendency to “crowd” me. This happens to begin with when I am leading him. Then, he has this inclination to try and creep up on me from behind. With George, it was endearing. Even without a lead rope or reins, he would follow me around with his nose in the small of my back and I knew I was okay. Peanut, I suspect, has something rather different in mind and we haven’t yet got to the stage where I can trust him out of my sight.

How to manage without eyes in the back of my head

Without eyes in the back of my head, it’s a matter of feeling the weight in the lead rope and sensing whether he’s getting too close. That’s okay but, of course, it can go wrong too quickly and, at this stage of our relationship, he needs to know his place.

So, the first thing we did in the afternoon session was address that issue and we very quickly got to the point where I am a lot more comfortable leading Peanut around.

In the process of doing this, we introduced him to the indoor school for the first time. So far, it being summer, we have been happy to work outside in the sand school but, with autumn coming on, we need to get him comfortable with being indoors.

Peanut indoors
Peanut indoors

It all went okay until he came face-to-face with himself in one of the mirrors.

Peanut & mirror

We all got a little bit tense, then. I sort of held my breath and watched as Peanut firstly peered at himself and then at me (in the mirror). And then at himself and then back to me. He gave a little snort and bounced about a bit. Of course, the other horse (the one in the mirror) started bouncing about as well. By then, the bloke in the mirror was laughing loudly and before the situation got completely out of control, I walked away and took Peanut with me.

So, that went well enough but it’ll be part of our routine for the next few days.

Back in the sand school, Lyla showed me some better techniques for working with Peanut and after we’d got the hang of that, I put him back in his stable while Lyla turned her attention to Ritz and Woody.

I learned a lot. More than anything, I’ve come away from the day with a lot more confidence and some better techniques to practice as Peanut and I build our relationship. We’ll be seeing Lyla again in a few weeks’ time and, hopefully, will have a good few more bricks in the foundation by then. I can’t wait….

Webster’s home!

And the best news of all this week is that Webster is safely back home. After 12 days and some anxious moments at Bell Equine Hospital, we went and picked him up yesterday. I’ve never been so glad to sweep up the poo from the trailer! He’s now going to be on 7 weeks’ box rest until his wound has healed but the indications are that he can then get back into work and teach idiots like me the right way to manage a rope and stick.  We’re all happy again.

Webster home

Peanut – progress at last

Peanut with Philip
Nearly a year gone

The weatherman on the TV tells us that summer is over and we are now officially in the autumn. Of course, there’s been no instant change outside but the end of the year is creeping up on us.

Also, coming up on a year since we brought Peanut home to OMEC, I’m looking back at what we’ve achieved. This time last year, I was still hopefully searching for George’s replacement. It was the old me out there: confident, assertive and looking for the horse to get me back into western riding competition.

So, the first and obvious conclusion is that I’m not that man any more. I can’t say that all my friends and business associates have suddenly noticed the change but, when it comes to horses, I’m in a different world. Peanut has done that. I look at the photo at the top of my first blog, and it’s me, beaming away. But poor old Peanut is staring anxiously into the distance, wondering where he’s landed up now.

This, as it turned out, was his fourth home in a year and, with what I’ve learned in the meantime, I almost want to cry at the thought of what was going through his head when that photo was taken. Of course, we found out soon enough. And, for me, it was a chastening experience.

Peanut becoming a horse again

Happily, for Peanut, it’s been the time he needed to start down the road of becoming a horse again. Back then, I would come home from a session with him and count the bruises left from his casual biting and nipping. Back then, I’d take him into the sand school and watch in awe as he exploded on the end of a 22-foot line.

But, as I’ve changed my way of going, so has Peanut. Whether it’s the relaxed, horsey, life at OMEC or the change in my approach, he’s clearly changing too.

Of course, he has his off days but they get less and less and if he rewards me with that little “nicker” as I rub his nose at the end of a session, it’s worth millions. Hopefully, it’s a combination of the two: as I am giving up my old ways, he’s finding a man he can trust.

Gently steering me through all this, Vivien has been a model of patience and encouragement.

Peanut with Viv & Philip
She runs a quiet, peaceful yard at OMEC and the arrival there of this big, black, bolshie young horse was probably – make that certainly – a test of everything she holds dear. But, thankfully, she’s been there for Peanut and me and I’ve learned that groundwork is good.

Lyla Cansfield clinic
Lyla Cansfield

I’m writing this as my first clinic with Peanut looms on the horizon. We’ve got Lyla Cansfield coming next week and we’ll have a day with her to take stock of where we are. Hopefully, we’ll also get a few good hints on where to go from here.

Lyla has an approach to natural horsemanship which chimes brilliantly with the way we’re going with Peanut. She believes you tackle understanding and confidence (horse and person) first. Then, it’s a question of body language to assess the horse’s posture. It’s also consideration of his movement and readiness for riding.

Finally, she works on balance. This is firstly in relation to the horse’s mental state so he is able to cope with life in the world at large. Also, it relates to his physical balance. He needs that in readiness for the instant response that we look for in a versatile horse.

It’s going to be good and I can’t wait!

A word about Webster
Webster & Philip

I can’t be writing this without a mention of my little friend Webster.

We had the most horrible morning last Saturday. It was a beautiful day and we were just getting ready for some work with KP when there was this loud “thump” and we looked up to see Peanut and the other horses running about in fright. The “thump” was the sound of Webster hitting the ground as he went down in his field in obvious agony. It looked like a bad colic attack and we had couple of nightmare hours getting him on his feet and keeping him there.

Fortunately the vet got there in a bit over half an hour after Webbie first went down. After he stabilised the little chap, we managed to get him into the trailer and down to Bell Equine. Oh, the relief you feel as a nurse takes the lead rope and a team of vets and nurses descend. For me, it was like history repeating itself but for poor Viv, whose love and care rescued the little man, it was just torture.

Surgery found a a benign cyst strangling his colon. I’ve always struggled with that word “benign” in situations like this. Of course, it means its not cancerous but there was nothing harmless about this horrible thing. We’ve now got everything crossed while we wait for him to recover. The news has been up and down since but he’s in good hands. He’s a tough boy and he’s hanging in there….






Water Baby – Peanut’s story continues

Peanut Water Baby


It’s been a while now…

It’s been a little while now since I gave best with Peanut to Vivien while I honed my natural horsemanship skills with Webster. Bless him, Webster was a patient teacher and got me started with some basic aids that, in all truth, were not in my toolbox. 

Learning patience has been the biggest issue so far. That, and adjusting my expectations to realise that Peanut knows nothing of my agenda. He has no agenda at all and doesn’t even understand that, when we’ve got one skill fixed, we can forget that and move on to the next one!  

It’s been as much about adjusting my own outlook and lowering my energy as it has been about acquiring new hand-eye skills. I’m finding that, even writing about it, I seem to relax and sit heavier in my seat. 

So, before I took up Peanut’s lead rope again, the first thing I had to understand was that, whatever happened yesterday would not necessarily be the basis for moving on today.  

Done biting and nipping?

We are, I hope, over the biting and nipping that Peanut so casually applied to anyone that came within his reach. Even so, every time I put on my Levi jacket – the one with the top pocket Peanut ripped off – I remind myself that he can still do it if he feels like it.  

But, where before I would have responded in kind to that sort of thing, I now blame myself for not seeing it coming and ducking. And it’s in that change of attitude that we seem both to have moved on to a more relaxed approach to each other. It’s good. 

Also, my friends have stopped asking why I haven’t just chucked a saddle on him and got on with it. Not having to explain that all the time adds to the acceptance of the fact that we are where we are. You just take him as you find him every day. 

A Parelli slogan

It’s one of Pat Parelli’s slogans that you must take the time it takes so it takes less time. You read these things and it’s hard not to feel that it’s easier said than done. But, in a week when I have had my first uneventful and quiet workout with Peanut, you realise it’s true. Vivien puts it slightly differently but it comes to the same thing. Taking time at this stage to build a solid relationship is going to be the foundation of faster progress towards a sound working partnership. 

All of which sounds very existential but the bottom line is that by accepting the wisdom in the experience of others, I’m making a good start with Peanut. 

And that may sound as though I suddenly have a pussycat on the end of my rope. Certainly not. There’s a spark in this boy that you feel every time you look him in the eye.  

Water can be fun

I think he loves a game and there’s a mischievousness in him that is never far below the surface. This showed up a while back when we’d had one of those torrential downpours that make it summer in England. The sand school at OMEC is as good as any but, after that kind of downpour, you’re always going to have a sizable puddle. This time, though, it was not far short of a lake. Vivien has a very good surface water pump that quickly solves the problem but I had turned up ready to have a session with her and Peanut. We decided that we’d all just have to get a little bit wet. As you do. 

Now, dear old George would baulk at anything that so much as looked like a puddle.

Talking about me?
There was a time at Camber Sands when the tide had gone out and there was the merest ripple at the water’s edge. While all the other horses splashed their way into the sea for a swim, George and I stood at the water’s edge with him spooking at every slight ripple that came his way.  

He got over it, of course, but not in all his 22 years did he ever approach a puddle without giving it some serious thought and gentle encouragement from me. I took comfort, of course, that George was not entirely alone in this anxiety and I expect there are a few horse lovers reading this have shared the experience. 

Peanut’s puddle

So, when we first presented Peanut with a puddle, given his generally excitable nature at the time, we half expected a refusal and perhaps a bit of a strop.  

It may be that, in the expectation that he was going to grow up to be an eventer that Julie Keatinge got him familiar with water early on in his life. Whatever, the way he seemed to say: “oh, goody, a puddle” before he launched himself cheerfully into it left us all laughing like mad. He splashed happily around for a while and then dropped himself fully and sat in it!  

Peanut Water Baby 2

So that’s one little issue I hope we won’t have to worry about. Unless, of course, he decides he must sit in every puddle he comes to even when I’m riding. Fortunately, that’s not something we have to deal with just yet… 

Right brain or left brain?

For now, I’m glad to have got to the stage where we can work quietly together. I’m under no illusion that we’ve got a few steps back in store. But, I’m lucky to have Vivien on one hand and the Parelli Savvy Club on the other.

My next problem, I think, is coming to terms with the Parelli concept of “Horsenality” and working out whether Peanut is “right-brained” or “left-brained”. Then, adding to that, whether he is extroverted or introverted? Right now, I’m inclined towards left-brain extrovert. I think that we’re still too early on to decide about that and will keep an open mind. Don’t hold your breath but I hope we’ll be back soon…



Peanut – a blog about Western Riding

Peanut – not a good start

It wasn’t an auspicious start to our relationship. I had travelled down to Chippenham from London to meet Peanut and his then owner, Alex Peternell.

Peanut dressage
Alex had owned Peanut for about 10 months having acquired him as an eventing prospect. But Peanut hadn’t come up to scratch and Alex was looking to sell him. I had recently decided to continue western riding after the death of Delphicks Boy George and perhaps to prove a long held belief that you don’t need an American Quarter Horse to go western riding.

Unfortunately, though, Alex had been delayed in another part of the country and couldn’t be there. He had, however, arranged for a friend to show me Peanut and it all went well enough until, inevitably, I was invited to ride him myself.

It’s worth noting at this stage of the account that in my 16 years of horsemanship, I have only ever ridden “Western” and, of course, KP didn’t know a western saddle from a bar of soap. Quite how I imagined I could get on a 6 ½ year-old horse and expect him to respond to Western cues, I have no idea. And it did not go well.

Poor start gets worse

Actually, the 1st lap of the sand school was uneventful although we were wandering around a little bit as the poor boy tried to understand where I wanted him to go (“neck reining” was, of course, totally ineffective). Quite why I thought it would be a good idea to try him at a jog I am not now entirely sure but he picked up the pace happily enough and we did another lap of the sand school at a fairly brisk trot.

Unfortunately, there were a few poles here and there and Peanut wandered in the direction of one of them so the easiest thing was to let him jog over it. 3 of his feet cleared it but he clipped it with a hind foot and that was enough to set him off at a canter.

That, in itself, was not particularly a problem but he was not responding to my efforts to slow him down and the last straw came when the Velcro holding my windcheater closed gave up to wind pressure. The windcheater flapped open with a loud ”crack” and, of course, that was the last straw for Peanut. He took the bit and set off at a full gallop with me not having much of an idea how to stop him. At least he seemed happy to be confined by the sand school fencing and eventually I had the sense to get his head round to my inner knee and he came down to a full stop.

Fortunately, Peanut calmed down again as quickly as he had gone off and didn’t seem to bear me any ill will for the experience. Alex’s wife had joined us and I’m not sure who was more embarrassed. Clearly, she thought I was a complete idiot and probably somewhat under impressed with my claim that I was competent in a western way of going. She was kind and polite in response to my parting words that I would have to think it all over on my way home.

A problem familiar to us all

The problem was that I had fallen in love with Peanut as soon as I saw him standing in his stable. It may be that he was black and shiny but he seemed to be bigger than George and, dare I say it, just a little more elegant. Having been brought up to believe that converting an “English” trained horse to a “Western” way of going would be a fairly straightforward process, I was now not so sure. I was more certain that I had probably been over estimating my own riding ability.

I therefore arrived home with very mixed feelings and it was not until the next morning that I had the chance to have a long chat with my friend Vivien. Wise as ever, she suggested I go back and have a riding lesson with Alex and Peanut to see how I got on then.

Thankfully, Alex thought this was a good idea but told me I would have to wait now whilst another interested buyer came to see Peanut. It was one of the longest weeks of my life but, luckily, the other buyer didn’t turn up. By now, I was completely over my 2nd thoughts and ready to just go down and buy him. Alex, though, would have none of that and insisted he would not sell me the horse unless he was satisfied I would be able to ride him (his wife had obviously given him a colourful report of my first attempt). So I drove back down to Chippenham and, this time, with the benefit of Alex’s input, things went much better.

One problem solved

Everything moved quickly after that. Peanut passed his vet exam with flying colours and in no time at all, we were heading back up the M4 with the trailer on the back and Peanut in it. We spent the journey back pondering a stable name. With all due respect to Julie Keatinge who had bred him at the “Keatinge Stud”, and to all the other Trakehners out there having the same pre-name, I couldn’t see myself going out to the field and calling “Keatinge Paicie” every time we brought him in and it wasn’t long therefore before we settled on simple “KP”. But neither was it very long before someone asked his name and, on being told “KP”, the immediate comeback was “Peanut”.

There’s been times since when the suggestion has been that the nickname is derived more from the size of his brain than a logical progression from his registered name but that’s not only unkind but also completely wrong. Because it very quickly transpired that my new best friend, whilst not being possessed of a towering intellect is nonetheless pretty damned smart.

More excitement

The immediate problem was that he wasn’t showing much interest in behaving in a civilised manner whilst being handled on the ground. He was quite happy to chew on anything that came near his mouth (me included!) and being led on a rope didn’t seem to be something with which he was particularly familiar.

We got him out into the sand school on a 22’ line and it was explosive.

Peanut unchilled
We were glad of every inch of those 22 feet as Peanut did everything he could just to get off the line. I’m 6’ 5” and he had all 4 feet in the air above me! It was awe inspiring and not a little bit intimidating but after about 20 minutes of that he settled down and would at least stand quietly so we put him back in his stable and went for a cup of tea while we re-thought things.

A belated admission

It was then that I had to admit to Viv that I hadn’t actually seen him “in hand” at all. First time I saw him he was already saddled up and standing in his stable and the next time, he was cross-tied while they saddled him in the barn and ridden out of it. Add to that the fact that apart from two exercise periods of 20 minutes each day, he’d spent all his time in a stable in a barn, and you could see a picture forming in Viv’s mind. She had a few hard words to say about why I’d even considered taking him on.

But. She’d fallen under his spell, too.

We then had a few long conversations about how best to go about the job of converting my might-have-been-an-eventer into a versatile, working cow horse who would be just as happy showing his style in a Western Pleasure class as kicking up the dust round a Barrel Racing course.

Belated research on Peanut

It was while we were chewing this over that I made the enquiries I should have done before buying Peanut and, piecing together the threads on Facebook, worked it out that I was actually his 4th owner in a year. And that led us to the inevitable conclusion that what Peanut needed most was a bit of time to become a horse again, make a few mates among the other horses on the yard and just get the calm vibe at the OMEC. So we turned him out for a few months and just let him play in the field.

Peanut chilling
He loved all that and very quickly settled down.

In the meantime, I had a bit of a hill to climb of my own. Although I have been there, seen it, done it and – literally – written a book on versatile western riding, I’d done all that starting off with an almost fully trained horse, my gorgeous Delphick’s Boy George. And what he hadn’t taught me, we’d learned together. Groundwork wasn’t something we’d done much of (why walk when you can ride, right?) and I’d kind of skipped that whole scene on the Natural Horsemanship front.

I’d seen and greatly admired such “horse whisperers” as Monty Roberts and Buck Brannaman but the penny hadn’t really dropped that they all built their relationship with a horse from the ground up. You go and spend a few hours at a clinic with one of them and, in the time available, the groundwork just seems to be a shortish exercise before saddling up and getting on with the real stuff.


Pat Parelli, as I now understand, makes a much bigger thing of the importance of building from the ground up but back in George’s day, discussing such things with friends while saddled up and riding along, “Parelli” seemed to be an over marketed, almost industrialised, approach to the natural horsemanship concept. Worse, nearly all the people I knew who had “done Parelli” were poor horsemen to begin with and when Parelli hadn’t shown them a quick fix for their problems, nothing changed.

Of course, big mouth that I am, I’d already voiced these opinions to Viv when I turned up at the OMEC with George back in 2012 and she’d politely (she can be polite, sometimes) just let me be a blowhard.

Now, sitting with her with my cap in one hand and a cup of tea in the other, I started to learn that everything I’d seen and admired about Viv working with troubled horses had come originally from her being a Parelli disciple. She’s the first person I’ve ever seen actually putting Parelli techniques into practice and the evidence is there, staring me in the face. It works. And so I see no reason not to believe it will work with Peanut, too. I have to find a way of making a connection with him and introducing him to the western – ultimately, Vaquero – way of going and this must be it.

The obvious problem, of course, is that I know as much about Parelli as Peanut knows about a western saddle and unless I can get the hang of it pretty darned quickly; it’s going to be the blind leading the blind. We’ll get nowhere apart from, quite likely, me in hospital.

So, signing up for Parelli, I’ve quickly become an admiring disciple. He may be a bit keen on his metaphors and adages but, for me, I get the message and, wonderfully, I have Vivien and Webster on hand to laugh gently at my efforts.

My new friend Webster

Webster is one of Viv’s rescues. He’s got a very poor, practically blind, left eye as the result of someone else’s mishap when he was a boy and he’s barely a pony. But he’s feisty, full of mischief and doesn’t know he’s vertically challenged. He does know that if I don’t get it right he doesn’t have to do it. But when I get it right he happily trots, turns and side passes and backs up all with me standing on the other end of a 22’ line in one hand and a stick with a string on it in the other. I feel joy when it goes right and you can almost see a smile on Webster’s face.

We’ve become good friends along the way while Peanut has been chilling in the field with his new mates, Ritz and Linney.

But, and it’s a huge “but”, translating all of that into working with Peanut is a different story altogether. When I get it wrong with Webster, he just stops and peers at me through his forelock with his good eye. You can almost hear him saying: “Now then, Philip, that’s not what you meant to do, is it? Have another go”.

Start of a relationship with Peanut

Although in the meantime, Peanut has started down the road towards a relationship with me, coming to me in the field and quietly walking back to the yard at my shoulder, it’s a different story when we get into the sand school for a bit of work. He’s acquired a few tricks along the way and he’s a very clever, spirited chap.

“Clever” and “spirited” were what I saw in him and wanted him for in the first place but you quickly learn that if you don’t read him right and get there a split second before he makes his move, you’ve lost him. Confusion quickly comes for both of us and the result is a mess.

It hasn’t taken me very long to realise why some people start out in great hopes with Parelli but fall by the wayside before they can achieve their goal. You can learn all Pat’s 7 “games” and become quite adept at managing the rope and stick and he can tell you how to look for the signs. But there’s nothing in the world that can just inject his 30+ years of experience in reading a horse and knowing what it’s going to do before it does. Pat calls it “savvy” and nothing, but nothing, counts for more when you’re building a relationship with a horse.

I’m very lucky to have Vivien standing at my side and, currently, taking over for a bit. Although I have made progress and a long way from where we started, it’s that “savvy” that holds things up for me. As a result, the message hasn’t got through to Peanut. On the basis that he’ll get a better idea of what’s expected of him if Viv can show him first, she’s currently putting a bit of time in with him while I watch and learn.

Peanut & Vivien