Our first year at New Coghurst Farm with the horses and observing copying behaviour

Well it has been exactly one year today since we moved to our farm in Hastings, so it feels right to relaunch my blog and fill you in on all the goings on in the last year. I will be updating my blog at least once a month if not more and will be letting you know what we are up to with the horses, as well as giving you examples of our work, so you can understand it better.


This last year has been non-stop and full of excitement! Sitting on 100 acres of land there is a LOT of work we have had to do and still need to do at the farm to make it functional to run Intuitive Horse and for the animals to live in a safe and stimulating environment.


We got to work in December 2012, when we moved here. We found ourselves doing jobs one would normally do in the warmer seasons but we needed to create an area where we could work with clients and horses that created a calming and safe feel for both person and horse before April 2013 when our first retreat was starting. I think we found the perfect spot! (see below for before and after pictures)


We have been paying particular attention to designing the land so it creates an interesting and stimulating environment for the horses. It has involved lots of clearing brambles, pulling ragwort (ragwort is a poisonous plant to horses and has to be pulled up so the whole root is removed) clearing old fencing and putting up new fencing, hanging lots of new gates and putting a land management system into place.


To help maintain the land we have six sheep who have joined us here at the farm. Their job is to be our lawn mowers, not a bad job for a sheep hey? Cross grazing sheep with horses can be very beneficial to the land. They hoover up what the horses don't eat and their little feet actually help move the soil around and level out rutted areas caused by horses feet. Along side our six sheep we also have a sheep farmer who brings between 70- 100 sheep to graze the land as our six need a bit of help! (see pictures below of our sheep!)


As our herd of 13 horses live out all the time it is really important to me that they live in an interesting environment so looking at it from a horses point of view is really important. Horses are naturally inquisitive animals and I have observed in the past that some of mine like to explore and walk through little forest type areas. Wherever possible I have started to create areas for the horses to have access into woodland and hedge rows. This also provides them with natural shelter from the elements.


They love a variety of hedges, trees, herbs, weeds and grass to forage so we didn't want to put fencing up that would stop them from being able to access the hedges and trees. So if we have had to put fencing in it has been as close to the trees as possible. In adjoining fields we don't need fences as they have access to roam from field to field.


The land here is a mixture of flat and hilly land. The horses muscle condition has improved greatly since having the hills to go up and down every day and they have a stream they have to cross to get into one of the fields which is a bit different for them.


This Autumn I have been out foraging the hedgerows for different herbs and berries, seeing what we have and what we could grow for future years. There is a lot we can forage and store over winter to use as supplements for the horses. One thing we have an abundance of here is rosehips. Rosehips are a great source of vitamin C and B and if you pick and dry them they are good to offer the horses through the winter months. I also make a macerated oil out of them.This involves infusing them in a base oil such as sunflower oil, I then offer the oil to the horse to self select.


Whilst I was picking some from the bushes Jacy Blu, my 6 year old warmblood, came over to see what I was up to. Convinced he wanted some of what I had just picked in my tub I showed him how to select a rose hip himself. I held a rosehip in my hand gently extending the branch it was on so he didn't put his face in the thorns. He then very delicately took the rosehip between his lips and pulled it off the branch. Thrilled at his new discovery he then continued to select individual rosehips from the bush with my occasional assistance. Ruedi, another herd member, later joined us and I showed him the same thing which he enjoyed doing also. (see pictures below of Ruedi self selecting from the hedge)


This copying behaviour is something which I am very interested in and I have had quite a few different encounters with animals mimicking my behaviour. Another example of this is with my dogs. When up in the fields with the horses I have often found myself picking blackberries to munch on. I looked down to see what my dogs were up to as I was picking berries and they both had their heads in the bush and were delicately picking berries from the bush and eating them. This happened on numerous occasions but they didn't start selecting them until I started.


There is something to be said about copying behaviour in animals. I will share another experience I had with this with two of my horses in my next post which will be in the next couple of weeks! I would love to hear if any of you have had experiences where you have noticed your animal copying your behaviour.


*Please click read more for pictures*




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Comments: 2
  • #1

    Pippa (Monday, 09 December 2013 10:34)

    Hey Emma, great blog! It is amazing to see the before and after pics - just goes to show how far you have come in a year!
    The self selection and copying behaviour is really interesting. Obviously we know that we humans learn through copying, and there is plenty of evidence of animals doing it in the wild. It seems to be something we expect less from our 'domesticated' animals though? Will be interesting to hear more about it as you observe the herd, and potentially more of this behaviour! See you soon, x

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