Strangeness in the Night

Last night Hal and I were witnesses to some truly strange and intriguing behaviour, and, unusually, , it was Florence, not Breeze, who was the main player.

The girls are now turned out over night, and are spending their first week since last Autumn down in our bottom field. We’d gone down to do our pre-bedtime checks, you know, debrief on the day, check the water, carrots for Flo, apples for Breeze, then check all is well. Last was very still and quiet, with not a breath of wind. It was also quite dark, yes, I know, it was gone 10, but Hal said there wasn’t a star in the sky, and it was considering raining.There weren’t even any hunting owls out and about. Pure, unspoilt peace and tranquility. Both horses seemed very much at peace with themselves and each other

We were just about finished with the fruit and veg, and I was offering Florence an after dinner mint, when she did the most unusual thing. Please bare in mind here that where food is concerned, Florence is your typical greedy cob, all she is really is a life support system for an appetite, so what happened next was totally out of character and unexpected. Flo had literally just touched my hand with her lips, ready to take the mint I was offering her when, her head snapped round to her right, she grew a hand and went on full alert. She stood like this transfixed for what felt like a very long time. I reached out and touched her, no reaction. She wasn’t shaking or trembling, but whatever she could see, hear or smell, it had her full, undivided attention. Even rattling a pocket of mints and herbal treats and scrunching the bag that her carrots had been in had no effect. Then, even stranger, she marched off down the field in the direction she had been staring. It was a very confident, purposeful march, fascinated, not scared. She again stoppped and kept on standing there like a statue. No snorting, just head erect, and ears pricked. After a while she did an even stranger thing. Now, at this point I think I should mention Breeze, who regularly scares herself stupid over things that just don’t appear to be there, had not reacted in any way. In fact, while all this was going on Breese was busily trying to pick Hal’s pockets. That was until Florence turned around and trotted back, past me, and up to Breeze. You could almost hear her saying “Breeze, you really need to come and see this!”, especially as they both trotted back down the field away and stood staring again. Of course cowardly custard Breeze made sure Florence was ahead of her at all times.. After a little time one of them, I presume Breeze, but only because she’s the boss, and I’ve never heard Florence make such a noise, let out two hard sharp blowing noises through her nose. Not like a frightened snort, but more like she was actually trying to scare something or somebody off. After that both mares came back to Hal and I to see if any extra titbits were on offer.

All the time this was happening there was no obvious sound or smell, and Hal couldn’t see anything unusual either. No rustling in the undergrowth, no splashing or plopping from the lake that is just at the bottom of the field, no cattle or sheep on theother side of the valley, no traffic, no helicopters or planes, not even any noises coming from the village. Just silence and stillness. We do have both Muntjac and Roe Deer hereabouts, so it could well have been one of those, and there is more than one fox, and lots of cats, both domestic and ferrel, so who knows. However, I would have thought that Flo and Breeze see these all the time, so I’d have thought they’d just ignore them.

Sometimes you just wish they could talk. Might be taking a bigger torch with us tonight though.

Peace

.and breathe.

Florence and Breeze are finally out over night. Yes, we’ve made it through another winter! Actually, this winter hasn’t been too bad. Only having the 2 horses has helped, but also, well, compaired to last year, the weather hasn’t been to bad either. There’s been minimal mud, they’ve hardly had a rug on, we haven’t used nearly as much hay as in previous years, and we’ve got shed loads of beddin gleft. Result! We never even completely ran out of grass this winter and haven’t had to supplement hay in the field at all.

You may remember that last Autumn we invested in a Haygain hay steamer. What an investment! Yes it was very expensive, but I’d highly recommend it. Apart from when she was ill back in January, Florence’s breathing has never been so good. It’s much less hassel that having to soak hay, and not once did I have the problem of having to deal with a frozen block of icey hay first thing in the morning. There’s also something truly lovely about the warmth and delicious smell of freshly steamed hay – Gorgeous!

The girls being turned out overnight corresponded with Hal an I having having to make our annual pilgrimage to Oxford to see the Eye Boffins. It’s been a very long couple of days. As far as the eye situation goes, nothing has changed, and so, unless anything dramatic happens I don’t need to go back for 2 years this time. Really though, Maundy Thursday is not the day to have to travel back towards tha West Country. Oh My Word! We had a very long day yesterday, and a total pig of a journey home. Oxford is such a noisey, polluted, and frenetically busy place. Going to check the horses first thing this morning was the perfect antidote to the 2 days of noise and rushing about we’ve just had. Yesterday I awoke to traffic, beeping horns and sirens. This morning, birdsong, sheep, and cattle. The woodpecker was hard at work, a Ewe had lost her lamb somewhere, and the noisiest things were the geese down on Alberts Lake squabbling as only geese can. I was greeted by 2 happy relaxed and content horses, and the air smelt of grass. Perfect!

I certainly know where I’m happiest.

The Invisible Equestrian 5 – The Dog Zone

I really am going to go off topic with this post. However, if you work in, or run and equestrian business, or any other kind of business for that matter, especially one where you offer goods and services to the public, or invite the public onto your property for any reason, then read on, this post applies to you.Do you know the law when it comes to Guide Dogs and Other Assistance Dogs? If you are just Mr, Mrs, or Miss Average, then I suspect not. However, if you run a business that offers goods and services to the public in any way, why not? You should, and the law applies to the equestrian industry as much as any other.

I m writing this post because, as a Guide Dog Owner, I regularly fall victim to access refusals, and less favourable treatment because of my Guide Dog, and believe me, after 23 years of Guide Dog Ownership, and a lifetime of living with sight loss, it’s beginning to wear a bit thin! Now, I’ll be perfectly honest with you, I predominantly experience access refusals in pubs, cafes, restaurants, and hotels and guest houses. However, I have had problems with taxis, and, in the equestrian world, tack shops.. I personally have never had a problem with a Riding School or Livery Yard, but I do know people who have. OK, I was once asked to keep my then Guide Dog tied up when at the yard where I kept my horse at the time, but in fairness, he had just pushed the elderly resident Staffy into the pond, so it was a reasonable enough request really!

So what is the law, and what are everyones obligations under it?

Firstly, let’s make it clear from the outset, the law is not about the dog, the law is about treating people who have disabilities and long term health problems fairly, and not discriminating against them because of their disability or condition.

Originally these protections were enshrined in law as part of the 1995 Disability Discrimination Act (DDA), and were then incorporated into the Equalities Act 2010 (EA). That means that these laws have been on the Statute Book for 24 years. Why then do so many business owners, Taxi Drivers, Service Providers, claim that they are ignorant of the law? Surely this is just one of many laws and regulations that you must be aware of in order to run any business or service legally? It honestly rocks my world when, having been denied access, or offered a less than favourable service because I have my Guide Dog with me, the reason/excuse given is so often “I’m sorry, I didn’t know”. It makes me wonder what other laws and regulations they don’t know about.

The EA provides that it is illegal for service providers to treat people with disabilities less favourably because of their disability, or because they have a Guide or other Assistance Dog with them. Service providers are required to make reasonable adjustment to accommodate the needs of people with disabilities, and thisincludes allowing all Guide Dogs and Assistance Dogs into all public places with their owners. In practical terms this means that, even if you would normally have a blanket ban on dogs in your premises, if you are open to the public, you cannot stop a person with a Guide Dog, or other Assistance Dog coming in . It also means that Guide Dogs and other Assistance Dogs cannot be restricted to any existing zone that is reserved for pet dogs.

This is not an entirely one way thing though. Far from it. Guide and Assistance Dog Owners have obligations under the EA too. Accredited Guide Dog and Assistance Dogs are highly trained, and we owners have had specialised training the safe and effective handling of our dogs. The dogs behaviour is a fundamental part of this training. Guide and Assistance Dogs are trained to lie quietly under tables, sit, stand or lie quietly next to their owner in queues or at counters, sit quietly in footwells of vehicles, sit quietly under seats or in footwells on trains, trams and buses, and should not scavenge or beg for food. We are trained to groom our dogs, they have regular flea, tic, and worm treatments, are fully inoculated, are spayed or castrated, and regularly, every 6 months in the case of Guide Dogs, have full vet checks.. We are expected to keep our dogs under control at all times when they are on duty. If you, as the business owner or service provider , or even as a member of the public, do not think that a Guide or Assistance Dog is being correctly handled you are fully within your rights to point this out to the owner in the first instance, and report the problem to Guide Dogs, or whichever Assistance Dog organisation the dog comes under.

So how can you be sure the dog is what the owner is claiming it to be?

This is a very valid question. Sadly there are some sad, strange, misguided individuals out there who seem to think that Guide and Assistance Dogs are merely privileged pets. They are not! It’s sad but true, but some people seem to think it’s OK to claim they have a Guide Dog or Assistance Dog when they don’t. It’s more of a problem inthe USA, but Fake Service/Assistance Dogs are a genuine problem, and it just makes life so much more difficult for those of us who are legitimately just trying to live our lives with the help of our chosen mobility/safety aid. You see, that’s what a genuine Guide Dog or other Assistance Dog actually is. Yes, they are lovely, but, regardless of the fur and wagging tails, they are not pets, they are mobility aids and safety equipment. Yes, they are sooo much more than that. Ultimately though, for those of us who have them, our safety, independance, mobility, even life, rests in their paws, eyes, and noses. There is no t technology yet invented that can do what a well trained dog can do anywhre near as reliably. Quite simply they are the best tool for the job!

In the UK there is an organisation called Assistance Dogs UK (ADUK) which oversees the training, professional standards, animal welfare standards and legality of organisations which provide dogs to guide or in any other way support people living with disabilities and long term health conditions. ADUK are themselves governed by 2 international bodiesAssistance Dogs International (ADI) and the International Guide Dogs Federation (IGDF). In order to. Be a member of ADUK an organisation has to be accredited to either ADI or IGDF, and it is the organisation, which has to meet verry rigorous standards which apply to every aspect of how that organisation works, from dog training and welfare client support to the supporting infrastructure.

Every client of an ADUK accredited organisation is given an anADUK ID book which gives details of the dog, owner, organisation, and other relevent information. The law applies to ADUK accredited dog/owner partnerships only. So if in doubt ask to see the dogs ID. That said, Guide and Assistance Dogs invariably wear some kind of uniform, either a harness or jacket which clearly indicates what their job is.

Now, I feel it’s important for me to point out here that, in the case of Guide Dogs at least, the law only applies to working Guide Dogs. The law doesn’t actually aplly to pups at walk, breeding stock, retired Guide Dogs, or working Guide Dogs who aren’t actually with their owner. So, if I’m poorly, and my husband offers to take th dog for a walk, he can’t just pop into the shop on his way home, and take the dog in with him. Neither can my elderly retired dog automatically go everywhere he used to e able to when he was working. Sadly some Guide Dog owners have a real problem getting their heads around this fact, and again, just like people who claim their pets are Assistance Dogs, it confuses matters and makes things for the rest of us, who just want to be able to get on with living our life, so much more difficult.

So, how should you behave towards a Guide Dog Owner, or somebody with another kind of Assistance Dog? Quite simply, in exactly the same way you would behave towards them if they didn’t have their dog with them.

.

Behave as if the dog is not there. Remeber this dog is not a pet, it is there to help it’s owner to live their life safely. Yes, we know they are beautiful and clever, but, if I’m in your premises, I’m probably there to do something like shop, eat, have a meeting…the list goes on… Really I’m there for exactly the same reasons as anyone else might be. I’m not there to balster your ego, inspire you, entertain you, and I’m definately not there to educate you about your legal obligations towrds me. All of us who have nay kind of Assistance Dog are very aware that we only have them because of the kindness and generosity of those members of the public who support the various Assistance Dog charities. We really are very greatful, but we have lives that , whilst our dogs are vital to our being able to live them, are about. So much more than our dogs or our disability. If I’m trying to have lunch, or I need to be fitted for a correctly fitting riding hat, the dog should not be your first concern.

Remember, as clever and well trained as they are, Guide and Assistance Dogs are just that – dogs! They are amazing, but they are not little machines, and they are not little humans in fur coats. They can be distracted by, and frightened by, the exact same things that every other dog can bedistracted and frightened by. They cannot read, understand complex instructions or tell the time. They are not particularly good at judging the speed of cars, bicycles, or even other pedestrians, and they feel pain, discomfort, heat and cold, get hungry, thirsty, and need to wee and poo just like every other dog. They can get ill, injured, and stressed, and when this happens it has a direct and negative effect on that dogs owners ability to live their life to the full.

Recently I was the victim of an access refusal because I had my Guide Dog Quincey with me. It was unusual, because I personally have never come across a situation quite like this before. We fell victim to the Dog Zone.

Many pub landlords, restauranteurs, and cafe owners are becoming wise to the fact that having a blanket ban on dogs in their premises may be detrimental to their takings. Dog people like to take their dogs everywhere with them, especially since , and I don’t mean offence by using the following term, handbag dogs became such a fashion statement, or in areas where family holidays often mean the whole family, 4 legged as well as 2 legged. Many establishments have got round this by having a specific area where dogs are allowed, whilst leaving the rest of the premises free for those clients who are dog free. It sounds like a really good idea, and in principle it is, but there can be problems, especially if the presence of a specific dog zone in a premises is used as a smoke screen for breaking the EA. This is exactly what happened to me last week.

Under the terms of the EA reasonable adjustment must be made to accommodate the needs of people with disabilities, and, as I wrote above, this means that if a person is accompanied by their Guide Dog, or other Assistance Dog, tat dog, they must be allowed into any area that the public would normally be allowed into, regardless of whether dogs are allowed there or not. If you do not allow somebody with a Guide Dog or other Assistance Dog into your premises because of the dog, or insist that they use the dog only zone, you are treating them less favourably because of their disability.

THEY ONLY HAVE THEIR DOG BECAUSE OF THEIR DISABILITY

The dog is not a pet. The dog is not a fashion accessory.

The dog is a vital piece of mobility, orientation, health or safety equipment, without which that individual cannot safely live their life.

If you refuse access to a person because of their Guide Dog, or other Assistance Dog, or you insist that they stick to the dog only zone, you are treating them less favourably because of their disability. If you are treating somebody less favourably because of their disability you are discriminating against them. If you are discriminating against them because they have a disability you are breaking the law.

It’s not rocket science.

As I said at the top of this post. I rarely actually have a problem in the equestrian world where this is concerned. However, it does happen in every business and it shouldn’t.

Please make sure that you and your staff know the law.

Hitting the Target

I had the best lesson yesterday. I went over to Melissa’s to ride Goldie (Florence is still not right), and what a successful session we had! i really do feel that, even though I’m not riding very often at the moment, I am making some progress.

Melissa was interested to hear about the work I did when I had my RDA Assessment, and the way Mark orientated me. I explained about how he ‘called’ me into the letters, and how he got me to count strides between markers so I knew when to leave the track on a circle. So we decided to practice this by doing trot to halt transitions , but trying to make them bang on the marker.

To be honest with you, counting strides is not a new concept to me. However, I’ve never really found it helpful. Yes, I can cout, and I do understand how knowing how many strides your horse takes between A and B can be a real help, and not just for Blind and Visually Impaired Riders, but I think that previous instructors haven’t really quite understood it themselves, and therefore, have perhaps, made it a bit more complicated than need be. Being blind means that I have to concentrate on a lot more things than my sighted counterparts, especially when it comes to my surroundings, what is going on around me, and my position and orientation in relation to the rest of the world. I have to constantly actively think about where things are, and where I am, I can’t just look up and see. This is my normal, but it is hard work, and can be exhausting, especially whenit is the background to learning new skills, or carrying out specific tasks, carrying out instructions that are being given at the time, or being in new surroundings. I also personally find it difficult to concentrate when there is a lot of background noise, like a noisey crowd or loud music, or when it is windy. In the past I’ve had many soul destroying, and frankly pointless, lessons with instructors who have heard, somewhere, that blind people find their way around by counting steps, and so have insisted that I count every stride a horse takes around the school, all the strides down each long side, all the strides across the ends, all the strides across the diagonal… whilst all the time they stood in the middle of th school barking instructions at me, and making me repeat the same thing over and over again, because I hadn’t got the count right. Now, I can count, of course I can, and I can follow instructions, as long as I understand what it is I am being asked to do, but as I have to concentrate so hard on my surroundings all the time as well, I have very little spare capacity , so if something else happens whilst I am doing all these things I can’t always process that as well. What happens is that I either lose count, forget my position, or blank the instruction being given. All of which means that things don’t go as planned As a result I decided a long time ago that stride counting was not for me. Well done anyone who can do it, but I can’t – end of.

Until now that is. You see, Mark, and subsequently Melissa have a slightly different approach. I don’t have to know how many strides there are down the entire long side of the school. I just need to know how many strides there are from marker to marker, which means I only have to ride from marker to marker, which means I only have to think about the distance between markers, which means I only have to concentrate on bite size amounts of counting at a time. Oh my word! It sounds really obvious doesn’t it, and really simple. What it is though is a revolution! I can actually do this! It works!

I admit that yesterday I still had my reservations. When I’d done it with Mark the other week it was in an indoor school, so I could hear the walls, so could easily tell I was on the outside track, and had no wind to contend with. Melissa’s outdoor school, like my own, is somewhat exposed, and, again like every outdoor school I’ve ever ridden in, there’s nothing to echo locate against, so I can’t hear if I’m on the outside track or not. There was quite a stiff breeze blowing yesterday, which always seems to make things harder. However, I needn’t have worried. We worked out that, in working trot, Goldie has 7 strides between markers. So, using B on one rein, and E on the other rein as my stopping pointss, I set off to count down from M and H respectively, counting down strides and preparing for the halt in order to stop at the desired point. It worked! Not just once, but every time, and on both reins. The only time I overshot was when Goldie decided to spice things up a bit by demonstrting her powerful extended trot. She might be an elderly riding school horse, but she’s got some moves.

The other bonus development of yesterday’s lesson was my increasing ability to sit deep and use my seat to stop. Perhaps it was because I was having to work less hard on knowing where I was I could work on the physical aspect of getting good accurate halts as well. It surprised me actually because I’m very stiff at the moment, and actually had quite a lot of difficulty getting onto Goldie yesterday. At 16hh she’s a bit bigger than Florence, and Melissa’s mounting block is a bit lower than mine. However, once I’d scrambled aboard it all seemed to come together. Everytime I sat and asked for halt it got better, I sat deeper, was able to recruit my seat and core more, and needed to use less rein. Brilliant! We finished on a high, with a perfect square halt bang on target at E.

I’m still buzzing! It’s bouyed me up to keep slogging on with the diet and fitness regime, as my improve physicality can only be a result of what I’ve been doing so far. I feel more confident in my abilities, and it’s wetted my appetite for more. I’m back down to Camelford for another RDA session next week. Bring it on!