Reader Profile: Jack Emmerson

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Jack Emmerson

Hello my name is Jack! I am eight years old.

I like long walks and taking pictures with my camera, I also love riding my ponies, Jester and Scrumpy Jack. I love spending time with my ponies!

Jack on Scrumpy
Jack on Scrumpy

My favourite subject at school is maths. When I grow up I would like to be a Race Jockey.

I like the Joe books because they are about a boy like me.

By Jack Emmerson

Knitbone Pepper: My First Book Review

I don’t do book reviews – at least, I thought I didn’t.

This is an awful confession for an author to make, but I’ve always found reading difficult and analysing books even more difficult. When I was doing O level English at boarding school, we were under constant pressure to read and analyse books. For me it took all the joy out of reading. In fact,  it put me off reading for pleasure for a long time.

I loved animals, the countryside and farming, and I wanted to be a farmer, but our school careers teacher told me girls didn’t do farming! So I studied biology, geography and chemistry for A levels and biogeography at university, hoping to become a soil scientist. My favourite books at the time were all non-fiction – Small is Beautiful by E F Schumacher, Why Big, Fierce Animals Are Rare by Paul Colinvaux and The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins, for instance.

It was only about fourteen years ago, when I began writing stories, that I decided I really ought to start reading some. . . Before long, it became apparent there were lots of brilliant books out there and I had a great deal of catching up to do!

Most of my fellow children’s authors are very well-read and a lot of them studied English or creative writing at university. When authors get together, there seem to be two main topics of conversation: chocolate and books. I can hold my own in any discussion about chocolate, but when the subject turns to books it’s rather like being at a dinner party where everyone’s discussing fine wine. Basically, I know what I like, but it takes a lot of courage to join in the conversation for fear of making a fool of myself.

HOWEVER, I’ve just read this book called Knitbone Pepper by Claire Barker, and I feel compelled to say:

A) I love it.

B) I can’t imagine anyone not loving it.

For a start, the book itself is a lovely thing, which is rare in this era of mass market paperbacks. Usborne has lavished care and attention to detail on every aspect of this stunning hardback, from the feel, size and look of it to the fantastic illustrations by Ross Collins. There’s even a  classy ribbon in case you don’t quite manage to read the whole thing in one sitting and therefore need a book mark. Oh, and for me the finishing touch is the embossed spider in the margin, which will make perfect sense when you read it.

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It’s hard to write about the story without giving things away that are best discovered as you read, so I’ll just say it’s warm, witty, well-written and wonderful.

Here’s a book that’s designed to be a cherished present rather than a stocking filler. Yes, it’s £9.99, but it’s worth every penny.

Claire’s website

The Exmoor Pony Festival 2015

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It’s nearly time for the annual Exmoor Pony Festival! This year it’s from 8th – 16th August, and it promises to be bigger and better than ever, with a huge amount happening throughout the week. I’m particularly excited because (all being well and touching loads of wood) Orion the Exmoor pony will be at both the Meet The Herds Day and Exford Show. Also, I’m going to be at the Exmoor Pony Centre during the morning of Thursday 13th August, but I’ll have to go home in the afternoon to get everything ready for the book launch of Katy’s Pony Challenge in the evening. Can’t wait!

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Here’s some information and a programme of events:

The Exmoor Pony Festival is co-ordinated and promoted by the Exmoor Pony Festival Trust.  The EPFT is an unincorporated association which was set up as a joint initiative between The Exmoor Pony Society and The Moorland Mousie Trust (Exmoor Pony Centre) to continue the tradition of the festival first established in 2012 to celebrate the free-living herds of registered Exmoor ponies within the boundaries of the Exmoor National Park.   The co-ordination and promotion of the festival is undertaken on a voluntary basis.

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PROGRAMME OF EVENTS

All events are open to the public and admission is free unless otherwise stated.

Where booking is required please contact Sue McGeever on 01884 839930.

 

Meet the Herds – Saturday 8th August 11am—3pm
Cutcombe Market & Moorland Hall, Wheddon Cross TA24 7DT
Meet representatives from many of the free-living moorland herds of Exmoor, both ponies and people look forward to welcoming you.
Breed Show Social – Wednesday, 12th August 7.30pmRest & Be Thankful, Wheddon CrossAn opportunity to speak to the breeders and showing enthusiasts and recall the events of the day and look forward to the autumn gatherings.   Booking essential. (£9.95 per head)
Meet the Anchor Herd – Sunday 9th August 10am start
Meet at the Green Room, Exmoor Pony Centre TA22 9QE
Take a guided walk with the Wallace family, to see mares, foals and stallions followed by refreshments and a walk across Varle Hill to see the free-living Anchor herd.
Activity Day at the Exmoor Pony CentreThursday 13th August 10am-3pm,Exmoor Pony Centre TA22 9QE
Pony rides, grooming, refreshments, crafts, fun and games. 
Withypool Ride – Sunday 9th August 3pm startWithypool CommonJoin us as we ride the route that Herd 23 have taken across Withypool Common during the annual autumn gatherings. There is also a chance to learn a little more about Endurance Riding. Booking essential Katy’s Pony Challenge – Book Launch
Thursday 13th August 7pm
Lynmouth Pavilion, EX35 6EQ
Victoria Eveleigh – Exmoor pony owner/breeder and writer will be launching her new book
Conservation Grazing Day – Monday 10th August 11am start
Moorland Hall, Wheddon Cross TA24 7DU
Learn about the role of the Exmoor pony as a conservation grazer and visit an environmental grazing site – especially useful for those thinking of using Exmoor ponies in this role. Booking required for off site visit.
Exmoor Wildlife Safari escorted by Gill Langdon
Friday 14th August—Afternoon, Dunkery
A 4×4 safari taking in the beautiful scenery and hopefully ponies and red deer. Booking essential
Dr Sue Baker’s Talk ‘The Exmoor Pony From Doomsday to DNA’
Monday 10th August 7pm
The Green Room, Exmoor Pony Centre TA22 9QE
A ‘must do’ activity for those interested in the history of the breed, talk by Dr Sue Baker author of ‘Survival of the Fittest’
Pony Walk on North Hill with ENPA Pony Ranger and a pony
Friday 14th August 11am, Car park on North Hill
Join us for a gentle walk on North Hill, to see the pony herd and learn about the National Park’s management of the ponies escorted by a tame pony from The Moorland Mousie Trust.
Exmoor Wildlife Safari escorted by Tricia Gibson
Monday 10th August – Afternoon, Dunkery/Porlock
A 4×4 safari taking in the beautiful scenery and hopefully ponies and red deer. Booking essential
Social Evening—Quiz/BBQ and Exmoor Pony Czech Documentary Film Screening ‘Lesson of Wildness’ – Friday 14th August 7pm
The Green Room, Exmoor Pony Centre TA22 9QE
Come along and have a fun evening with Exmoor pony owners/breeders/enthusiasts , everyone welcome.
Guided walk on Dunkery with Tricia Gibson Tuesday 11th August 10am, Meet at the car park (beside the road) on the top of Dunkery – approx 1/2 way between Webbers Post and Dunkery Gate at 1000.  Bring along your camera, sturdy boots and food/drink for a 10-15 mile walk. Exmoor Pony Extravaganza Exhibition
Sunday 16th August 10am—4pm
The Green Room, Exmoor Pony Centre TA22 9QEA summary exhibition of the Festival events, to celebrate the Exmoor pony breed.
The Exmoor Pony Society Annual Breed Show
Wednesday 12 August starts 9am
Exford Show Ground
An opportunity to see Exmoor ponies in the show ring from mares with foals to stallions, youngstock and ridden ponies. Visit the website for discounted entry voucher.
Stud Visits can be arranged with the majority of herd owners and additional Safari Trips can be organised throughout the Festival Week.To contact The Exmoor Pony Festival Trust please phone Sue McGeever, Voluntary Secretary, on 01884 839930 or email susan.mcgeever@btconnect.com. For more information on the Exmoor Pony Festival and the ponies please visit www.exmoorponyfestival.com.

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Orion 14: Snow Wanted . . . And Unwanted

The climate in Cornwall is  different from that on Exmoor – so different that the Payne children, Harry and Lowenna, had never seen snow.

As a thank you for having Orion, we promised the Paynes they could come and stay at West Ilkerton Farm when it snowed. Usually this happens several times during the winter and spring on Exmoor, but all we got during the winter of 2014-15 was rain, rain and more rain. Not a snowflake in sight . . .

At last, when we’d nearly given up hope, there was a forecast for snow on high ground, particularly on Exmoor, Bodmin and Dartmoor, and it was going to happen on a Saturday. Ideal!

Jon had to work, so Beansy brought the children up for the weekend, despite the fact she wasn’t feeling well.

Lucy recognised Harry and Lowenna
Lucy definitely recognised Harry and Lowenna

The weather was pretty good when they arrived on Saturday afternoon. We went to see Eric and Lucy out in the field, and the ponies got some apples as a special treat.

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And then, as if by magic, during supper it began to snow! Hurray! We could hardly contain our excitement!

Half an hour later, it had all gone.

Never mind. The forecast was for snow overnight, so we were bound to wake up to a winter wonderland . . .

As soon as I woke up the next morning, I knew it hadn’t happened. The light seeping into our bedroom was the ordinary, dull light of a grey winter’s morning rather than the luminous reflected light from snow.

The children were bitterly disappointed but making a huge effort to be polite about it. I felt awful, and tried to compensate by doing fun things like lighting the fire in our dining room so we could have a campfire breakfast. (It took about two loaves of bread to perfect our toasting technique, but eventually edible pieces of toast were produced.)

Outside, it was turning into a sunny day. Huh, so much for snowstorms.

Sarah, who’d been checking her Facebook messages, suddenly said, “Look! They’ve had snow at Exford! Oliver Edwards has posted some photos of snow at Westermill.”

“Is it still there?” I asked.

“Hang on, I’ll send him a message.”

Tap, tap, tap . . . Tap, tap tap . . . “Yup, he says there’s still some, but it’s melting fast.”

Feeling rather like those crazy storm-chasers in America who drive around in search of bad weather, we drove into the centre of Exmoor. The roads were clear, but ribbons of snow still clung to the verges and hung around in patches on Brendon Common. We stopped briefly, in case that was as good as it would get, then kept on driving through Exford and towards Dunkery, hoping that the probability of finding snow would rise with altitude . . . Yes! We were right!

First snowman

First snowman

First toboggan ride on a feed sack
First toboggan ride on a feed sack

It was powdery, like icing sugar, and there wasn’t enough to build a huge snowman or go tobogganing properly, but it was just enough to have some fun and a snowball fight until the novelty wore off and everyone became cold and hungry.

Snowball fight
Snowball fight

What was really amazing about that weekend was that Beansy  wasn’t at all well but she still came up because she didn’t want to disappoint the children. She’d told me beforehand that there was a possibility we’d have to rush her into hospital. Thank goodness that wasn’t necessary.  However, she was going to have to have an operation as soon as possible, and it would take her at least a month to recover afterwards.

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Originally the plan had been that Orion would stay with the Paynes until the summer, and we would swap Eric and Lucy for their Exmoor stallion Dunkery Tawny Owl (Owly) at the end of February. Eric was going to a new home, and the children were keen to have Lucy back so they could ride her. Owly would run with my three mares so that, all being well, they’d have foals in 2016.

Owly
Owly

However, this plan could have resulted in foals being born in January, when the weather’s often at its worst. Also, Beansy wasn’t going to be well enough to train Orion for a few months, so we decided on a Plan B: to swap Eric and Lucy for Orion instead. Having made tremendous progress, Orion hadn’t been doing so well recently. Perhaps a complete rest and change of scene would do him good.

There was one day, and one day only, when Jon and Beansy could make the journey to Exmoor while somebody looked after the children at home. Even though the weather forecast was appalling, we had no option but to go for it.

The weather was even more appalling than we’d bargained for, with high winds and sleety rain. Jon led Orion over to the other side of the farm, where Gaia, Demeter and Dora were waiting in a pen with Eric and Lucy. The idea was to get Eric and Lucy out before we released Orion, but he became so excited that we had to release him into the pen straight away. Eric took exception to another gelding with his harem, but luckily Beansy caught Eric, Jon caught Lucy and they led them away before any damage was done.

Orion the outcast
Orion the outcast

I’d been looking forward to a joyful reunion between Orion and Gaia – I think Orion had, too – but she was utterly vile towards him. She’d loved Eric from the start, and appeared to be lost without him, so perhaps she felt Orion was responsible for the removal of the love of her life. Whatever the reason, she treated him like an outcast, attacking with her hooves and teeth whenever he approached her or the other two mares, or even me. Soon he was covered in bite marks.

To add to his misery, the snow we’d longed for a couple of weeks earlier arrived. It was the kind of wet, sleety snow that chills you to the bone. The other mares were okay because they had thick winter coats, but the Cornish weather had been so warm that Orion had already shed his winter coat and replaced it with a sleek summer one.A bleak day in March, with a dusting of snow on the hills

I worried about him all the time. He looked so cold and lonely, but there was nothing I could do. All our available shed space was taken up with cows, calves, sheep and our riding horses. He’d just have to tough it out somehow . . .

Orion 13: Slow Progress (by Beansy Payne)

My best Christmas card!
My best Christmas card!

This is Beansy Payne’s second blog about Orion’s training in Cornwall during the winter and early spring of 2014 – 15. I love the way she is so honest about the setbacks and breakthroughs involved. I also love the fact that Jon and Beansy aren’t giving Orion a ‘one size fits all’ education. We’re keen to make progress, but at the same time we’re prepared to take as long as it takes.

Domesticated life is challenging for Orion and, as a result, it’s often difficult for us to make sure we always do right by him. We’ve never come across a pony that responds in quite the same way as he does. He’s super-sensitive, incredibly  flighty and very much likes to control situations, and that can create problems when he interacts with people. We’ve had to be flexible and imaginative in our training methods, so he’s teaching us a lot as well.

Sometimes it’s hard to see progress and we begin to doubt ourselves, but then there’s that special moment when a breakthrough occurs, and we realise that we really are going forwards!

For instance, today Orion was asleep in his stable and I was able to muck out the loose box next door before going into the stable with him to take a photograph. He didn’t worry about me at all. He stayed lying down and then slowly and calmly got up before walking towards me for a rub his forehead. It did bring a little tear to my eye as I realised he truly was beginning to trust us.

Since my last blog entry, I’ve been clicker training Orion. This is based on positive reinforcement through a simple method of using a ‘click’ to mark a desired behaviour and then offering a reward. For Orion this is a food reward. I have a little shoulder bag that sits at about my hip height, and have lots of pony nuts in it. The success of clicker training is all in the timing. Orion never looks to ‘mug’ me – he never even puts his nose near the bag where the food is – instead, he quietly looks to seek out what it is I’m asking of him.

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Orion was the perfect candidate for clicker training as he was quick to want to avoid human contact and really only looked to engage with us when he was out of his comfort zone. By introducing clicker training, he had the motivation of food. Yes, the cynics would say it was cupboard love – and to begin with, of course, it was. But over time, as we’ve shaped his behaviour, this training has given him confidence in us. I don’t think Orion lacks confidence in general; I actually think quite the opposite. It’s only when he’s with humans that he lacks confidence.

At first, I target trained him to the head collar. I chose to use this because he doesn’t really have a positive association with it. (He has a history of pulling away, and I guess he feels trapped by it.) I held out the head collar and, when he touched it, I clicked and then reached into the bag and gave him a reward. Orion is very quick to learn, and in no time at all he was looking for the head collar in order to receive his treat. I was even able to hang it on the wall and he’d still go and touch it before returning for his treat.

We’ve now moved onto rope work. I ask him to stand, and then I touch his body with the rope. He used to hate people behind him, but I can now stand behind him and touch his bottom with the rope without him looking to move off. We’re also shaping how we use the clicker for this: he waits for two or three clicks before he receives the reward and so he learns to ‘hold’ the desired behaviour. It’s all about gaining his trust in us with a kind and sympathetic approach. We’re not afraid to alter our methods and ideas as we develop with Orion – after all, every pony is different.

We still have to move very slowly near Orion, ensure the children or visitors don’t alarm him and continue to work around him in a way that he can cope with. He will still pull away or have a ‘meltdown’ if frightened. He tends to react first and think later. However, when we look back at how he was when he first arrived, we can see how much progress we’ve made. He’s definitely earned his spring holiday with his sisters on Exmoor!