Hi! My name is Saskia Henry-Davies, I’m 10 years old and I am in Year 6.
Me Growing Up:
I was born in Haarlem (The Netherlands) and lived in a large town until I was 6 years old. I had nothing to do with horses when I lived in Holland apart from when I visited the town farm and they had a few Shetlands ponies, but that was all.
We had to move to Wales on my 6th birthday, I didn’t want to go. To try and make the move fun for me, my parents said that I could do some little rides at the local riding centre near our new home. That’s what happened, and that was it! I loved riding and I have been riding every week ever since!
From there I have had weekly lessons, taken part in competitions, gone out on hacks from the centre, ridden on the beach and over the Black Mountains. I have also ridden out with friends on their ponies. Some of the most exciting lessons I have had is with Louise Harwood, the three day eventer and Badminton competitor.
My First Victoria Eveleigh Book:
I have been writing to Victoria for over 2 years, this is how it all started.
My auntie bought me my first Victoria Eveleigh book: Katy’s Wild Foal, I enjoyed reading it so much that when my teacher told us that we were going to write to our favourite author I chose to write to Victoria. I was incredibly lucky because I was one of only three people who got replies from our authors. It was so kind of Victoria to reply to me, I was surprised and delighted and so was my teacher! We have been writing to each other ever since. Victoria is the best ‘Pen-Pal’ I have ever had. Since then I have collected and read all of Victoria’s wonderful books over and over again!
Victoria, Animals & Farm:
Victoria is a wonderful person and when we visited her farm I met most of her horses also she took me to see her Exmoor herd. I realised how much she adored all her horses and how they adored her. Victoria has two Exmoor herds, one with a stallion (Owly) and he is such a sweet pony. She also has a Clydesdale called Ruby.
Here are a couple of photos of me and Victoria with Sherman the Shire and BFC (Big Fat Cat) at West Ilkerton Farm.
All of the horses are very well mannered and I could never imagine them hurting or harming anyone (Well Done Victoria!)
I loved my visit to Victoria’s farm, she made us feel comfortable and was very hospitable. There were many other animals on the farm including three dogs, a cat called Big Fat Cat, a herd of very lovely Devon cows and calves and of course magnificent horses and ponies! The surroundings of her wonderful farm are like something from a picture book, it is such a pretty setting, quiet, beautiful. Also Sarah, Victoria’s daughter, and Chris, Victoria’s husband, are very friendly and kind!
Victoria has written superb and brilliant books and I would more than recommend all of her pony books, they are all so enthralling, they make me so happy! My favourite book is A Stallion Called Midnight because it’s full of adventure and throws a whole load of emotions at the reader and my least favourite… I don’t have one! It’s nice that the Joe and Katy stories are completely different with different lifestyles, dissimilar characters and different in so many ways, apart from the pony love! I love all of Victoria’s wonderful books and they are best books in the world!
Many thanks to Rosie Julyan for sending me this lovely, thoughtful review of Katy’s Pony Challenge together with a photo of her pony, Timmy.
I love it when readers ‘get’ my stories, and Rosie has picked up on all the main themes. I’m especially glad that Rosie thinks Katy has a much happier life than Alice, even though Alice seems to have it all: good looks, success and one of the most talented ponies money can buy!
I was really looking forward to reading this book because I have enjoyed the other Katy books so much. My friend, Elizabeth, has read them too and she couldn’t wait for me to finish so that she could read it!
‘Katy’s Pony Challenge’ seemed different to the first three books because not so much happened in the story but I learnt more about how ponies think. For example, Trifle loved pushing the ball but hated the curtain. It has made me realise that if I am calm, my pony will be calm, especially if he trust me.
I live on a farm and have a pony called Timmy. I enjoyed reading the bits about looking after the lambs because my job during lambing time is to feed the orphan lambs. They are very greedy but cuddly, too!
I liked it that James was in this story and that Katy and Alice were kind to him. It must have been a challenge for Katy to let James look after Trifle.
She was really kind at the end because she let James show what he could do and didn’t steal the limelight for herself. It was funny when he took the rosette off Trifle – it just wasn’t important to him.
I would rather be Katy and live in her world on the farm rather than be Alice because she seems busy all the time and not so happy.
I can’t wait to read the next Katy book because I really like them.
It was lovely to see a copy of Katy’s Pony Challenge on Christmas day, and I’m really enjoying reading it before I go back to uni.
I was about 10 when I met Katy for the first time in Victoria Eveleigh’s self-published version of Katy’s Wild Foal (which was called Katy’s Exmoor).
We bought it after going on horse-drawn tour with the Eveleighs’ beautiful Shire horses.
During our following holidays with the Eveleighs, in their self-catering cottage at West Ilkerton Farm, my sister Molly (who coincidentally shares Katy’s birthday on 1st April!) and I really felt like we grew up with Katy, envying her life on Exmoor and, of course, her ponies. Even though more years have passed for me than for her, I was delighted to catch up with Katy after all this time!
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.
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!
David Percy and his wife, Jackie, run Boeveys tea room and restaurant at Simonsbath, in the heart of Exmoor.
Nine years ago, I sold David a cross-bred Exmoor filly. She’d been born on the moor and had run wild for almost a year before being rounded up, weaned and handled for a while at our farm.
Last year David got in touch with photos and news of his pony, Freyer. We met up, and I was delighted to see that she’s a contented, useful and very much loved member of the family.
David says he thinks Freyer’s initial handling at our farm (with the help the well-known horse trainer Vanessa Bee) had a lot to do with how she took to being trained later on. I think he shouldn’t underestimate the time he has spent with her, his unconditional love and his determination not to give up on her when she contracted laminitis. Freyer obviously sees David as her best friend,and she makes it clear she resents other people joining them when they go for a walk together!
Freyer’s story is particularly wonderful for lots of reasons. It’s about a man with hardly any knowledge of horses buying an unregistered pony from the wilds of Exmoor and forging a close bond with her, but it’s also about empathy, trust, loyalty, courage and much more besides.
Many thanks, David, for letting me share your stories about Freyer on this website:
Last year, I did something I had been meaning to do for some time. It was a simple act: a photograph sent to Victoria Eveleigh, the breeder of my pony Freyer, eight years after they had last seen each other. Victoria’s interest and enthusiasm took me by surprise. It made me realise how difficult it must be for a pony breeders to launch animals into the world and never hear about their lives, achievements or wellbeing.
Having met up with Freyer again and heard my stories, Victoria asked me to write about her for this website. So here is a brief account of the life, so far, of one crossbred native pony.
Having moved to the edge of Exmoor with my wife, I decided I wanted to get a horse to ride. I didn’t know a great deal about horses, but one thing I had learnt was that they like the company of their own kind, so I thought it would be a good idea to get a pony as well.
The opportunity to buy a pony came sooner than I’d expected. As the summer of 2005 turned to autumn, I heard from a friend that there were some young ponies for sale on a farm nearby. My friend, Sharon, was looking for a pony too, so we went over to West Ilkerton Farm to meet Victoria and her husband, Chris. They showed us ten or so ponies corralled in the barn. Victoria explained that she’d turned her pedigree Exmoor mares onto the moorland, thinking that they were in foal to an Exmoor stallion, but they weren’t. An unregistered Welsh cob stallion had escaped onto the moor, and all her mares had given birth to his foals instead – in the middle of winter!
My objective was to get the biggest pony there, as it would be the most useful, but Sharon had exactly the same idea and I ended up with the second biggest.
Gypsy becomes Freyer
So there I was, a forty-eight year old man with his first pony, a head collar, a passport and the information that all the ponies had been handled with the help of a horse trainer called Vanessa Bee. I had no idea of the significance of this at the time.
After saying our goodbyes, we took my pony (then called Gypsy) and Sharon’s choice (Merrylegs, now called Mary) back to Sharon’s yard in her trailer. There we parted company, and I walked Gypsy through the village to her new home – not realising that it was a lot to ask of a pony who’d been born on the moor and handled for a couple of weeks on a farm!
I left Gypsy in the stone-built stable in our field, with water and hay. When I returned, after a couple of hours, she was standing in the middle of the stable, shaking like a leaf, and I realised it was probably the first time she had ever been alone. I went into the stable, took her head in my arms and whispered ‘Ssssh! Ssssh!’ in her ear. She calmed down immediately. The same technique still works today if everything gets a bit too much for her. I kept Gypsy in for the first week, spending as much time sitting with her as I could. Then she was turned out to get on with her life.
We really wanted a name that was a bit more personal, so my wife chose ‘Freyer’, and that’s what we’ve called her ever since.
It was almost two years before I found myself a horse to ride, so Freyer had quite a lonely life for a while. I took her on occasional walks around the village, and she had great fun playing chase with our dog. They developed an intriguing love-hate relationship.
During this time all she really had to work on was a talent for escaping. I had numerous calls from people who’d seen her wandering up the lane or running with the horses and sheep next door. I would then spend hours trying to catch her, and even longer trying to discover how she’d made her escape in order to put a remedy in place. Eventually I caught Freyer in the act of putting her head under a fence rail and lifting the fence post effortlessly out of the ground, like a crane, and I realised that what she needed was a reason to stay put.
I was right. As soon as she had company she didn’t stray from the field – unless I left the hook out of the eye in her field gate, in which case she’d waste no time in making straight for the herb garden. Perhaps she liked herbs, or perhaps she knew that it would get me into trouble!
I think the next three or four years were Freyer’s happiest time. Tuff the thoroughbred became her great friend. Although Tuff was much taller, Freyer was the dominant one. Tuff was so meek that she even let Freyer share her food. This was a problem, because thoroughbreds need to eat much more than native ponies.
Tragically, Tuff broke her leg and had to be put down. Freyer seemed to know something terrible had happened, and for a few days stayed very close to me. Since Tuff there have been a few loan horses, which Freyer has accepted but hasn’t liked nearly as much, and now I have Lem, another thoroughbred. This time the underdog is Freyer, but she’s building a good relationship with him.
In 2008 I thought it might be a good time to get Freyer broken to ride. I certainly didn’t have the skills to do it myself, so I took her to a local lady who I knew would be up to the job.
A week passed… nothing. Another week… still nothing. I was getting anxious, I admit, and then I received a video clip by email. First there was a shot of the sky, then the camera panned down to a familiar mane and a pair of ears. The penny dropped: the person making the film was riding Freyer! I was delighted, and picked her up a few days later. Apparently the task had been unusually straightforward. Personally, I believe the halter training she was given before she came to me was crucial in making the job as easy as possible. Throughout her life her behaviour has changed from feisty and independent to compliant as soon as a head collar or bridle is fitted.
They say you never realise how much you love someone until something happens to them. Well, that was certainly the case with Freyer.
I hadn’t had much experience of illness in horses, although one hears horror stories all the time, so it was a shock when I went to get Freyer in from the field one day and found that she could hardly walk. She just stood there, rocking her weight back onto her heels. It was early winter, and there didn’t seem to be much goodness in the grass, but it was obvious she was suffering from laminitis.
I put her head collar away and called the vet immediately. He confirmed laminitis and, with wonderful bluntness, told me to work Freyer or lose her. The disease, he explained, is similar to insulin intolerance or type two diabetes in humans. He prescribed Bute to reduce inflammation and numb the pain she was clearly feeling, and said she should have as much exercise as possible.
I left her for an hour or so for the Bute to start working, then off we went on the first of our many daily walks. Apparently, walking not only provides much needed exercise but also promotes blood flow to the hoof and improves hoof growth.
For the first four months we walked every single day – for at least an hour and sometimes two or more, whatever the weather and often in the dark after I came back from work.
To begin with it was clear she was uncomfortable. She hated stony paths and sought out the softest ground all the time, but our reward for all our hard work was a gradual improvement in her soundness.
And then, just when I thought we were winning, she became terribly lame again. I had to tug hard on the lead rope just to get her to move. Eventually we negotiated a circuit of the field with her leaning on me, twice falling in a pile in the mud. I ended up pleading with her while tears ran down my cheeks. We had failed. Was this it? Would she have to be put down this time?
The vet arrived, and we hurried out to the field to see Freyer, but she wasn’t where I’d left her. She was moving around, hardly lame at all! The vet soon found the reason for her extreme pain and miraculous recovery: she had a huge hole in the coronet band of one of her forefeet, accompanied by the unmistakeable smell of a burst abscess. He explained that laminitis produces voids in the white line, which can pick up dirt and become infected.
Since then, with careful management, Freyer has been sound. Her weight has been reduced and kept down with work, and I’m just a bit more sensible with her food – although she still gets an occasional treat.
I came to carriage driving by accident. I’d always admired a nicely turned out team of horses and had enjoyed seeing the power of a big working horse, but I’d never imagined that driving a horse was something I’d be able to do. It was really Freyer who taught me to break a pony to harness and drive.
As I’ve mentioned, I spent many hours walking with her to reduce her weight and improve her circulation. To begin with I held a lead rein and walked beside her, but as she became more confident I used a pair of long reins. Having been led and ridden, I could steer and stop Freyer easily, and she quickly became responsive to verbal commands to walk on, trot on and whoa.
During these walks behind Freyer, my mind often wandered. I thought about how much good all this exercise was doing me…Actually, it was hard work! How long could I keep this up? What if I could rig up some way she could pull me along? Then dawned on me that people had already thought about this – it was called driving, and what I needed was a wheeled vehicle that Freyer could pull.
Hours were then spent looking for something suitable. Eventually I found a proper gig, did the deal and brought it home in the horsebox. I didn’t know it then, but this purchase was a great move. The gig had large wheels, a high seat, a swingle tree and storage. Also, it was adjustable for weight distribution and could be dismantled if necessary.
It was time to have a think about what to do next. Freyer was fine as far as we’d got but it was a big step to go out on the roads with her pulling a cart. And I didn’t have any harness. Luckily, a local man who was used to getting horses going, driving them and working them on his farm agreed to help me.
The first thing was to get Freyer used to traces. To start with I just let the reins drop as we were walking, purposely rubbing them up and down her legs. She never once reacted badly, and in fact was just as happy long reining with the reins running between her hind legs. Then I spent some time getting her to move away from the whip in order to allow a bit more control, and also to trotting on command. Tyre pulling came next. I made traces from some old rope and attached them with more rope to a Land Rover wheel and tyre. This is not recommended; on our first outing she performed faultlessly but the equipment didn’t. The tyre bounced about all over the place, and it wasn’t long before it flew forward and hit Freyer’s rump. Luckily, she looked round briefly and didn’t even break pace.
It transpired that the bits of harness I had been borrowing were parts of a complete harness. Furthermore, it was surplus to my mentor’s requirements, so I bought it. Now I had all the kit.
Putting the carriage to Freyer was done very carefully, quietly and gently, but with absolutely no adverse reaction. With someone by her head holding a lead rein and me in the cart, we set off. After 45 minutes she was happily pulling the gig on her own.
One thing Freyer had never experienced properly before was the feeling of breeching, which is the part of the harness that runs around the rump, underneath the tail. Driving horses lean back into this to brake or back up their vehicle, and as our gig had no brakes we had to make sure Freyer knew what to do. We pulled uphill, then turned to descend. As we did so, the breeching made contact, pushing her on until she broke into a fast trot, head up and eyes rolled back, trying to see what was happening but blinded by her blinkers. I feared we were heading for a bolt situation, and tried my best to soothe her. Thank goodness she seemed to listen to me, and soon she’d worked out what she was supposed to do – she walked down the rest of the hill, accepting the weight on her breeching and slowing the gig down.
So that was it: forward, left, right, away from whip and whoa. Back up would come later, and practice was still required, but we were driving!
A pony for life
Freyer is ten years old this year. It’s unlikely she will ever compete in a gymkhana or win a rosette, or have a young lady dote on her, grooming her for hours and sharing all her secrets.
That doesn’t mean to say she hasn’t had a valuable life. She has learned to be ridden and driven, and she has patiently and forgivingly taught me a great deal about horses.
Even though I am a man and in my 50s, she brings me as much joy as she would have to any schoolgirl.