John Chatterton Horse Training
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Recently John Chatterton offered to run 3 day charity training clinic for Storm’s Sanctuary horses. John worked with 14 horses saved from slaughter, from new foals, yearlings, colts to 10-14 year old brood mares. John donated all of his time, training and proceeds from the clinic to the ongoing care and training of Storm’s Sanctuary’s beautiful rescue horses.

John & Juneaux 2

Image above:  John working with one of the young horses Day 1

The clinic offered the opportunity for attendees to also camp at the clinic’s venue from Thursday through to Sunday night. John also camped over, so attendees not only had the opportunity to watch his work during the training days, but also sit down over a camp fire and lunches to talk and ask as many questions as they liked. A rare opportunity for many who have seen john work his magic.


Image above:  Some of the herd at feed time

As the founder of Storm’s Sanctuary John’s generosity and commitment to helping these horses lose their fear and become well handled, calm and trusting horses has been amazing. When he first arrived all the horses had been through so much trauma and were terrified. Watching the “terror” leave the foal’s eyes was one of the most emotional moments for me since rescuing these horses. The future for these horses is for them to become “Equine Therapy” horses for people with Acquired Brain Injuries and similar disabilities.

Learning and working with John in creating a bond with these horses instead of dominating by fear is the first step into our future together. The horses were so relaxed, attendees were joking with John and asking if he’d like them to step in and wake the horse for him. That comment alone, sums up John’s ability with horses – within 48 hours John starting the clinic, the horses were calm, following him, wearing halters, leading and even picking feet up ready to be handled.


Image above:  Young horses at play

Thank you John Chatterton, for everything you have done for the horses and founder of Storm’s Sanctuary, we are lucky to have you help us get to where we are going.

Article by Sharon Morrisey

Photography by Adrian Diente

If there is one thing I have learned in my life with horses, it is that you never stop learning about them. Horse trainers and owners who have been working with horses all their lives will be the first people to tell you it is not possible to know everything about horses. Every horse is an individual with its own unique life experiences and there is no-one who can claim to have known every horse, or dealt with every problem that can arise.

The most experienced horse people can still make errors of judgement when purchasing a new horse and for those who are new to the world of horses, the path can be a dangerous one for both the purchaser and the horse.

I have seen many disastrous results when inexperienced people go looking to buy a horse, from the purchasing of a totally unsuitable animal because it looks pretty, to seeing previous owners accused of doping their horse because the animal has become confused or anxious in the hands of its new owners. Actually that latter accusation is all too common, and not usually the case at all.

Here are some tips for first time buyers to consider:

The debate over straight load or angle load floats has been going on in Australia since the angle load float was introduced more than twenty years ago. They refer to testing in the USA proving your horse travels more comfortably, will not scramble and is safer than the conventional straight loading system.

I find it interesting that everyone I've asked to see the results of these tests have not been able to produce a copy. So who has done these tests and how old are they?

After much investigating I have managed to find results of a study that was conducted in 2000 by RAy Goer BVSc, MVSc, PhD, director of research and product development for Kentucky Equine Research in Versailles, Kentucky; Anne Rodiek, PhD of California State University; and Carolyn Stull, PhD of the University of California-Davis. (Published in the American Equus Magazine in the April 2000 edition).

More relative to this article, were the results of tests where researchers "shipped horses loose in a stock trailer. The study found the horses spent a collective 65% of their time facing backward, but individual preference was mixed and strong. For example one horse spent 98% of the journey facing forward while another spent 100% of the trip facing the rear. Interestingly, no horse chose to stand on a slant."

This would suggest that horses do not like angle loading if given the choice. I can hear the groans of discontent already, such as angle loads are better because my horse doesn't scramble in them and does scramble in a straight load. You're right, the horse won't scramble in an angle load, providing the partitions do not extend down to the floor, but it does open a whole new array of problems for your horse.

The article also states....."All researchers agree that a horse who can lower his head below the point of his wither is much less likely to suffer respiratory stress from travelling. Whenever possible, allow the horse to take advantage of whatever room there is to carry their head in a natural, mucus draining posture".

Even a 15hh horse does not have the head room to lower its head in an angle load float, meaning as pointed out in the study, it will not be able to clear is respiratory passages, which can lead to travel sickness and in severe cases cause death. It has also been documented on video, that a horse may continually pace on the spot in order to keep balanced and jam its rump between the divider bar and the wall of the float, forcing its rear quarter on a 45% angle making the horse twist its back, which may cause injury to the back and muscular complaints over the long term.

So how do you travel your horse in a safe and healthy manner?

We do recommend straight loading, as this is the natural direction a horse gallops, trots and canters, the only time a horse will travel on an angle is in the dressage arena - a taught movement that does not come naturally.

However, be aware that some horses will scramble immediately in the standard designed straight load float, while others may develop an issue over time.

Many people think it is simply the horse misbehaving. Ever hear someone say, my horse is a real pain in the float, he always kicks and moves around when we're travelling, so I fix him and slam on the brakes to teach him a lesson. Chances are he is scrambling and simply trying to balance himself, and then you hit the brakes only to terrify the animal even more. Once they start to scramble, it will only get worse.

Imagine standing on a moving bus while going around a corner, your natural desire being to step your legs apart to retain your centre of gravity and maintain your balance. The horse is doing the same thing, only a standard horse float doesn't provide the necessary room. When the animal can't retain its balance it leans onto the centre divider and attempts to regain its balance by scrambling up the wall.

Some people will tie the partition across to one side to stop scrambling, believing the horse is then travelling on an angle. All this practice is doing is allowing the horse to step its body away from the side wall and take a wider stance to keep his balance.

However, the disadvantages with this solution are, your horse will not be secure in the float and will be thrown around as you corner, accelerate and brake as there is no rump bar in place. The risk of your tailgate opening during transportation increases as the horse will try to lean or even sit against it in an effort to brace himself. Finally, you will only ever be able to transport one horse at a time using this method.

The solution is the patented JR design with the sloping walls and adjustable rump and chest bars.

This system effectively acts as a seat belt for your horse, while allowing him to step his legs sideways and always retain his balance.Put us to the test - we will be happy to provide you with the veterinary test results that testify to the fact that horses are less stressed when travelling in a JR Easy Traveller float. We can provide actual video footage of why a horse scrambles and how they behave during transportation in an angle load float.

Ask yourself the next time you see a manufacturer claim, for the safety and comfort of your horse, or the latest technology, or computer designed, or New Level of Comfort and The Finest You Can Buy - whatever the sales pitch - ask what sets their float apart from the rest. Can they substantiate their claim? Ask to see the results of the tests that they quote. Then come and talk to us and see the difference for yourself.

Contact JR Easy Traveller floats for a complimentary CD/DVD.

When you can run your hand down a foals legs and it remains relaxed, (as described in the Early Foal Handling article) it's time to start picking up their feet. Put your hand underneath the fetlock joint and say "up" using a gentle pull and release.

As the foal takes the weight off that leg, stop and reward him and change sides. Don't try to get 100% effort straight away. You want to avoid frightening them as they may learn to snatch their foot away. The principle of this method is to teach the foal to relax and to balance itself as it picks up its legs.

I don't like to pick up a foals legs with my hand above the fetlock joint as you tend to hold the leg a lot tighter to stop it slipping out of your hand, encouraging the foal to pull away. Ask them "up" with a gentle pull and release with your hand. Do not lift it up too high at this stage, and the minute they relax ask them "down". Keep your hand on the leg until it is back on the ground. If you drop their leg they will start to anticipate and pull their leg away.

Give them time to absorb what has just happened. These early lessons are especially important for the foal to learn that they can do what we ask without pressure. Such handling promotes obliging behaviour. It pays to spend a little more time when you first start, as it will save you a lot of time later on. Repeat the same on the other side. If the foal accepts you picking the front feet up willingly, then the back legs won't be a problem, just repeat the same procedure for the back legs as you have just done for the front legs.

Make sure your foal is not standing with their side too close to the wall, as they need to lean over to balance themselves as they pick their foot up. (For those who didn't read last months article, we have our young foal standing quietly in a corner of a stable or yard with his mother standing quietly by.) Often people push a horse up against a fence when the horse doesn't stand still. A horse quickly picks up bad habits and learns to lean on the handler because he can't get his balance. Often the horse gets the blame instead of the inexperienced handler.

An exercise I ask people to try is to stand against a wall with your right shoulder and right leg up against it, then try and pick up your left leg. You will find it virtually impossible to hold your leg up without falling away from the wall.

Handling the Head

At this stage I haven't handled the head of a foal a great deal as most foals are quite sensitive around the head, especially above the eyes. You might have noticed that foals keep their head up high with their neck muscles tight - ready to run. They also try to keep their eye higher to look down on you. They feel threatened when you are above and out of eye vision.

This is one reason I don't like putting a halter on a foal. If your foal hasn't been handled well around the head, or learnt how to lower their head and relax, then putting a halter on can encourage them to fight by lifting their head high and struggling to get away. Our reaction is to grab them and hold them tighter, which teaches them to fight and associate this with the halter.

At this stage because the foal is small enough that we can manhandle them and get the halter on, they learn only that their handler is not their friend. Then problems start later on when the foal is let out into a bigger area or paddock. When they see you coming with the halter they become hard to catch.

You have probably seen or used the 'hide the halter trick' and the 'bribe with food' trick. Nothing is worse than being in a hurry and you can't catch your horse, so establishing a non-fear based relationship in a young horse is very desirable.

When your foal is standing quietly in the corner and has willingly accepted you touching them on both sides, it's time to start touching his head. Kneel down at their side and put one hand gently on the opposite cheek to support their head while you massage the cheek closest to you. Begin with rubbing the top of their neck and slowly work onto their cheek, using a massaging motion. By kneeling down you are not as threatening and once they are comfortable with you, you can do this exercise standing up.

They should enjoy the massage and it will give them a chance to get used to seeing your hand on their cheek. Slowly work your hand up under their eye and stroke under the eye with a downward motion. Keep in mind that you're only looking for a 1% try so as soon as the foal relaxes, change sides. Some foals can be tense and nervous so I like to put my finger into their mouth to encourage them to chew, which has a relaxing effect on them. Massaging the base of the ear is also very relaxing.

I explain this in more detail in my book in the chapter devoted to Step 3 "Touching All Over". This will teach you how to touch an older foals head, but at this early age I don't over-handle their head. While a foal is only a few days old their mother hasn't yet taught them of the dangers around them so now is a good time to introduce some of the objects they will need to become accustomed to such as clippers, fly spray, rugs, plastic bags, and rattling objects.

Start with a small towel which for this purpose represents a horse rug and put your arm in front of your foals chest and introduce the towel to him from your other hand. Let him smell it and then rub the towel down his side. He (or she) will reach around to smell it indicating that they are relaxing a little and this will be the time to change sides. Change sides a couple of times then lay the towel over their back like you would a rug or saddle cloth.

To teach your foal to accept neck rugs, hoods and to lower their head, I put the towel over their nose and eyes. Wait until they lower their head and then pull the towel completely over their ears onto their neck. You would not do this too soon or in such a way that might startle your foal. If your foal is coping well with the towel and is curious about the things you show him, then it may be time to introduce clippers to him.

Be sure to use battery operated clippers to avoid cords which might cause an accident. Don't turn them on straight away, but let your foal smell them first, then turn them on and let him smell them while they're running. While the clippers are running, rub your hand up and down his neck to let him feel the vibration. After a few lessons you should be able to run the clippers all over his body - without clipping him of course.

Repeat the same process using a plastic bag, spray bottle and a rattly object (perhaps a tin can with stones inside). Preferably start all objects on the same day but remember that your foal will tire easily and will need to drink regularly.

Some of you may now be asking, "What do I do with my foal that is already a month or two old and I can't catch it or handle it, and it needs to be wormed or have its feet done? Do I let the vet or farrier come out and do it?" That wouldn't be very fair for the vet or the farrier.

Firstly, they are very busy and are running to a time limit, so by necessity the foal will get grabbed or pounced on to be restrained. Although no-one is actually physically hurting the foal, it has just been confirmed in his mind that humans are predators and should be avoided. He probably already had suspicions, and that's why he was timid to start with.

Imagine what is going through the foals mind. I've seen foals handled this way and they squeal like a pig because they think they are about to be eaten alive! It may take months to get a foal's confidence back after a person has grabbed it, as we are now considered by them to be two-legged monsters. Some horses will remain nervous and distrustful for the rest of their lives. Roping is a method I particularly abhor for foal handling and should only ever be a last resort.

The foal feels the pressure around their neck, panics and starts fighting to survive, which can do a lot of damage or even kill the foal! They will pull against it and may flip over and hit their head. Foals that receive this type of handling are normally hard to teach to float load and tie up and they learn to rear up at the slightest pressure on the halter.

The point I am trying to make here is that when we pull on the halter the foal will pull back against us. It is a completely normal reaction, and until we have been able to teach our foal how to give to halter pressure, its natural instinct is to pull back. Instead of having a willing partner, we will have a mistrustful foal who will not respect us.

That first impression with the halter can make a good horse or a bad horse.

I have worked with many problem horses and they all have the same thing in common - when they feel a little bit of pressure on the halter they fight against it. That first incorrect lesson can promote a lot of problems such as being hard to catch, lead, float or tie up, breaking reins when stood on, rearing up or just being stubborn, not to mention vet and chiropractor bills or permanent injuries.
There are no bad horses but there are a lot of bad handling methods.

I have often heard horse owners say, "my horse is a good horse but sometimes he will pull back or rush out of the float, etc." All these problems are man-made. Putting a halter on a foal and trying to get them to lead before they have been taught a signal to move forward is asking for trouble; tying them up before they know how to give to pressure, picking up their legs before they know how to stand still; putting them on a float before they lead well and have accepted noises and rattly objects are all guaranteed to create problems.

Let's discuss 'Time'.

I constantly hear horse owners say "I haven't got the time". Teaching my 'Ten Steps' program doesn't take a lot of time. I have seen many horses at shows that have never had the right training, for instance: not standing still to have their hoofs blackened; being twitched to have their face and legs trimmed, fidgeting when being washed and plaited; pulling back when tied up; being nervous and whinnying a lot; barging forward when led; shying when led to the ring and much more.

All these problems take up time and your horse is confused and stressed. I can't stress enough how important it is to do the initial handling in the early weeks of a foal's life.

The first and most important step for safely loading and transporting a foal is to teach him how to relax and accept being handled. Have a helper hold the mare on a halter just a few feet away from the foal.

It is important that the foal is facing the mare while you are doing the early training so they both feel secure and un-threatened. You next need to train your foal to walk forward by placing your arms in a cradle position around him (in front of his chest and behind his rump), taking care not to hold tightly.

If you hold too tightly you may panic the foal. If my previous handling tutorials have been followed regularly, your foal will not be worried about being held this way. I make a verbal clicking sound as a signal for my foal to move forward.

If he doesn't move, I gently move my arms forward, putting a gentle pressure on his rump and leaving a slightly open space between my arm and his chest to encourage him to step forward into the space. Look for a 1% effort (and all this may mean is a rock forward) then stop pushing and reward him with a rub.

Change sides and repeat what you have just done. Once he has learned the click sound to step forward, teach him to take a step backwards. Simply say "baack" and push back with your arm on his chest, remembering the 1% rule, and then change sides. At this stage still keep your arm loosely around your foals chest and touch him all over and down his legs.

Sometimes when touching the foals legs they will try and pick their leg up and move it away from your hand. Don't hold the leg up, just rub the leg until the foal puts it down. The foal must learn that touching the leg is not the signal to pick it up. This will be beneficial later when you need to wash, bandage or treat a cut on the horse's leg and need him to be standing on it rather than picking it up every time you touch his leg.

If you spend a small amount of time each day handling your foal all over in this manner, with a little help from friends, loading him on a float with his mother will be much easier. It's a good idea to give your foal a little trip in the float whether his mother needs to travel to stud or not, to give him confidence for travelling.

Many mares will be taken back to the stallion on their foal heat, and in this case you will have only a week or so to practice handling your foal so that his trip to the stud is as stress free as possible. I transport a lot of mares and foals in my JR Longreach float which has removable chest bars. With two other people helping me, I have one person holding the mare while a helper and I stand either side of the foal and hold hands behind it.

The other person will gently rest their hand on the foals chest while I pick up the foals front foot and place it on the ramp, "clicking" him to go forward. I have already taught the foal to walk forward on this signal in the stable or yard so they should move forward willingly. With one side of the front chest bar removed, I can walk the foal right up into the front of the float. I get my other handler to walk the mare into the float on the opposite side.

Even a difficult mare will load to get to her foal. I don't tie her in, the handler will stay with her until the rump bar and tail gate are secure. While I am still standing with the foal, my second handler will now secure a plywood partition across the front of the chest bars from chest height to the floor so that the foal can't get under its mother's feet. After the bum-bar and tail gate are secured, I unclip the mare's lead rope to avoid the possibility of the foal becoming entangled.

You will find the mare will travel happier when she can see her foal directly in front of her. Make sure the foal is standing on a suitable nonslip mat or flooring and the door is well secured so the foal can't accidentally open it. On a trip longer than half an hour you will need to stop and remove the partition to allow the foal to drink from the mare.

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