Dolly, overcoming fear


wwwDolly in woods 2
In the woods
Dolly in woods1
Out in front
wwwDolly on way out 3
Dolly setting out across the field.

We took Dolly out for another long ride in the woods on the 1st November. She was a star and went beautifully and even took the lead. I was surprised by her confidence.  We had a splendid autumn ride and here are some pictures taken by Amanda, who rode Eric. The things I notice when I am riding her now is that she picks up the bit. She is not afraid of it, and is receptive to me asking her to go left and right and to hold the bit well. The horse owns the bit, and needs to have the confidence to accept it. You own the reins and need to have the confidence to know that they are for communication and not handle bars.  Reins are not for stopping a horse. Indeed when you ride racehorses you will quickly find that as soon as you give the reins to the horse it begins to slow down. In the real world of natural horsemanship you ask a horse to halt by shifting your pelvis forward. You have to train a horse to respond to the pelvis. It is from the core of your body that you ride the horse. Your core – in other words the muscular power and balance of your body – and your mind in unison, work together to control the horse, not your legs and your hands. Dolly is now proving to be a wonderful ride and I enjoy being with her very much.


I apologise for not updating this sooner, we have had quite a busy summer with long reining clinics and with Dolly. I worked with Dolly on the 11th  of April, riding her around the field.  Then again on the 10th of May when we took her for a walk in the woods, leading her only.  She was impossible to hold and it really took two of us to control her. She was very nervous.

We did some long reining clinics in June and Amanda joined us for a weekend of working with quite a cross section of young and older horses mostly Thoroughbreds.

Dolly after first ride
Dolly after first ride 10th October 2015

I did not get back to Dolly until the 27th of September when we rode her with Eric around the field. All went well.  Then on the 10th of October we went for a ride. It was the first ride of any length and included road work. Dolly was terrific and I really enjoyed riding her.

Previous work; 19th of December 2014, a session in an indoor school and Dolly surprises us all. She was impossible to get the saddle on when we arrived at the venue. She was in a high state of anxiety. Once I got the saddle on and got her into the indoor school and put the long reins on, she calmed down, recognising the work of long reining. I rode her in the school, and for the first time at trot.

Dolly before
Dolly looking happy after being ridden
Dolly looking very happy.

Go to the bottom of this article for the latest on Dolly.

Dolly looking happy after being ridden.

Below is the story of a mare who was deeply confused and frightened. She had been ridden but it always ended in disaster, for her and for her rider. We have taken a long time – nearly a year to work with her phobias, and we have allowed her to learn at her own speed. The result is a very different horse and one of which I am deeply proud. Amanda has worked very hard completing all the steps I asked her to do. She and Dolly have become a team.

We will be riding Dolly again soon probably on the 5th or the 8th of November. These will be long reining work and more work with Dolly. If you are interested please call me and come and join us.

We rode her again on the 26th November and will be riding again on the 19th December, but I think we will be doing this last one with just myself and Amanda. Caroline on 07745 831 843.

Overcoming Fear. By Caroline Baldock

Photographs by Jeanne-Claire Bischoff and Caroline Baldock

Dolly and Amanda
Dolly finding comfort in friendship
It is going to eat me!
“Do I have to do this?”

I first met Dolly in 2012. She is a lovely well-made mare with a large eye and great sensitivity. I thought her very intelligent. Her owner said that although broken in she often bucked when ridden and was difficult to manage at every level.  I long reined her very carefully and then put the dummy on her and finally mounted her myself. I have to admit she was so sensitive that I did almost nothing and did not ride her for more than a couple of minutes. I realized she was about to explode. I felt she needed gentle handling, time and long reining.

I was not to see her for a while. Amanda got in touch with me. She has tried to long rein her and the mare had not responded positively and Amanda felt she needed help.  She had a bit on an incident when things went not to plan and that caused more fear of the long reins.


Long reining is wonderful, but one does need to get practice working on good horses first before going to work on a young or traumatized horse. When I say practice I mean years, not days.

We had another session with Amanda and Dolly on the 19th April. Dolly was still very phobic of the lines so we did a lot of ground work dragging lines again and then hanging them from her sides. We did manage to long rein her with Amanda walking at her head. then I decided that she needed a boundary so I suggested that we put her in the stable yard and long rein her in the yard as I had done with a very difficult horse called Rossi. It worked she began to listen to move her ears at last and to wait for amanda to give her commands.

So Amanda continued to work her in the stable yard until our next session which was in July.


On assessing the situation I was quick to see that Dolly just firmly said no to any kind of long rein, line or rope. She was not having anything to do with such terrifying creatures they were going to eat her. I began before the beginning. We put a halter on Dolly with a long rope. We then left her in the field with the rope on the ground, she was horrified. The rope was clearly going to eat her. She refused to move.  At one point she got the rope wound round her near fore. Amanda went to dive in to rescue her. At this point I took Amanda and led her to a log where we sat down.

“It is not your problem.” I said. “Leave her, she will be fine. We must let horses learn for themselves otherwise they will never grow up, they are just like children.” We sat down and waited. Dolly was traumatized but finally got the rope unwound from her leg. Then I got a bucket with carrots in and placed it tantalizingly in the field. She looked longingly at the carrots and then at the rope. Which would win?  We just sat down and watched.

Dolly’s desire for the carrots was so strong it overcame her terror of the rope and she finally, edging sideways and keeping a close eye on the rope, which was clearly going to eat her, as far away from her as possible. She made it to the carrots and munching on them heaved a sigh of relief.

“I need my Mum!”

I then advised Amanda to continue this work until Dolly was quite happy to drag the rope round the field.  This Amanda did and gradually Dolly grew to manage the rope and her terror.

Next we found that if you dragged a rope round her she would swing round to keep an eye on it. She refused to allow the line to pass behind her. So this we did for hours, stopping and restarting so that she had time to learn and think. She still does not like the line but accepts its movement.

I advised Amanda to continue this work and also leading the mare free without touching her. A version of bonding with her and developing her confidence strengthening their relationship.

The first steps.

This she did and I returned on 7th December 2013.

We walked the line around Dolly and she had greatly improved. She was much calmer. So I decided that it was time to crack on and start putting lines around and over her body. This we did, Dolly had improved. I finally put the roller on and tied the rope so they would flap along her sides. Amanda led her around and Dolly was exceptionally calm.

Stepping away

I decided to continue after lunch and the following photographs show how far we got. I am very careful to supply support by having Amanda stay at her head the whole time and only when I am satisfied that Dolly is taking control of her destiny and being accepting do I ask Amanda to start stepping away from Dolly. These photographs all taken by Jeanne-Claire Bischoff, and she has done a wonderful job.


You can see the progression of our work, gradually asking Dolly to take more and more responsibility for her actions, which is what happens when you long rein. The horse should be going on from you either in a circle or in straight lines or half passing, shoulder-in’s, backing up, but hardly controlled, just lightly guided and flowing with the person working from the ground.  It is mind stuff, when you get really good at it you can just feel or think what you want the horse to do and your tiny change of body language will suggest the change to the horse.  I usually raise a hand to suggest trot and make a circular motion when I want the horse to canter. The relationship between me and the horse is utterly joyous and lots of fun, I get a real buzz out of being so lightly in touch wit a horse that is intent on listening and thoroughly enjoying the experience of communication.

Dolly & Amanda
Dolly with her lines
wwwAmanda & Dolly 15-5-14
Dolly disengaged

On Thursday 15th May I paid a visit to Amanda and Dolly. We spent the afternoon working with both Dolly and Eric. She is still very phobic of the long lines but we now attach short ones to her roller. She appears to accept this but is curiously turned off by trying to cope. I suspect that she like many other horses does have learning difficulties. Not unlike people, we are after all mammals and I am sure, as I work with many horses that their ability to learn can be compromised. Some learn very quickly others seem to learn very slowly, or forget quickly. I am sure that we do have horses in the autistic syndrome. I would be interested to know if anyone experiences these kind of learning difficulties with their horses.

27th July 2014

Dolly on the short long lines.
Into the small enclosure with short lines.
Dolly does like the fence
“Not going near that?”

We built a small arena just outside the gate of the yard, it was small to start and Amanda long reined her into it. She was very hesitant even to step out into the grass; she did but would not go close to the electric fencing. Amanda had to work her quite hard to get her to go towards the fence. But she was listening to Amanda.

Dolly still avoiding fence
Not Sure!
Dolly trying not to listen
Long Reins, Trying not to listen.

I noticed some profound changes; she will let her ears slip out to the side just like my lovely traumatized Ms Jones when she does not want to accept something. As soon as she gets her head round it she listens to Amanda and moves her ears. It was her ears that were the clue as to her learning. I cannot more than emphasize this aspect of the horse’s communication system. If the ear is not on you, you are in trouble. She also bends away from the electric fence; she tries to avoid its existence. Amanda cannot look her in the eye she will be gone. We have a long way to go but are making progress.

Dolly and Amanda on their own.
At last she is listening.

We did a few circuits until she settled down and then we made the ring bigger and gradually bigger and bigger. She needs boundaries. We did her again in the afternoon and we put longer long reins on her. She completed walk and trot in this arena.I realize the importance of good facilities, and round pens and restricted areas. Fencing in good condition and good footing. Also one has to have the best equipment.

However we are making progress with Dolly and next time I will be putting Chocolate Charlie up on her.

My plan is to long rein her with Chocolate Charlie and then to get her into a bigger arena, and then the filed then ride Eric and lead her with Eric around the field. And so on until we have her desensitized to pressure and a rider and the long reins.

Amanda & Dolly with Bands
Dolly with bands on and being long reined.

6th of September, 2014.

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Dolly with Bands & Saddle

We gathered for yet another session with Dolly. Amanda had been working consistently with her since our last visit. Not every day, but whenever she could, and never for very long, perhaps 10 minutes. What we had noticed was the Dolly found it hard to keep up concentration for long and zoned out even more than usual. What Dolly has always done is to zone out and then, explode. It wasn’t until we finally got her long reining in the yard that her ears began to connect and she began to listen. This was a major breakthrough. I had suggested to Amanda that she get slightly longer long reins, 20 foot or so and then if anything happens there is not so much for her to get frightened by. This was working. She was now going out on the long reins into her little enclosure. It was working, Amanda was able to long rein her in the field.

This Sunday I had bought Chocolate Charlie, (riding Dummy), down and was hoping to put him up. But like all things one has to do what is appropriate.  We began by watching Amanda put these elastic bands onto Dolly. This technique for desensitizing animals is being used by quite a few trainers. Dolly went out with the bands on and she looked very calm. She has also been on a calcium additive for some time now. Amanda worked her on the long reins and she looked composed and interested.

Dolly in Yard with Dummy
Dolly with Amanda & Chocolate Charlie

The next step was the bands with a saddle. The saddle and stirrups have caused her to explode before so we were now in new territory. Dolly was quite happy with the saddle and composed. She did not even turn a hair at the stirrups. Amanda then walked and trotted her on the long reins. I did hold them while Amanda walked at her head but we had nothing to worry about. The next step was Chocolate Charlie. So I took her back into the yard and we put a single line back on and got Chocolate Charlie up. Once again the job was done carefully with lots of bouncing him alongside her and then leaning him over and finally putting him up.

Amanda took Dolly round the yard with Chocolate Charlie up and Dolly did not seem the least bit bothered. She had good ear attention and was not switched off at all. Then we took the next step. we put both lines on and walked her around the yard and then out into field. I had decided to take the bands off. Dolly went out and walked and trotted with the dummy.

Dolly being helped on long reins
Dolly & Dummy with Jo and Amanda.

We had now surprisingly worked for one and half hours in the morning and then again the same in the afternoon. The work is gentle and has breaks, but at no time did Dolly show any signs of overload, boredom, or worse than than fear. We have never been able to work her so long. I was amazed that we achieved so much in one day after all our small bites at the apple, and the nearly a year and a half of working to allow her to understand we are not going to hurt or frighten her. Dolly really has come round a corner. It has been due to consistent work from Amanda and a planed approach to re-training.

I am delighted to say that I have now a distant hope that she may one day make a lovely riding companion. I keep my options open, but it is looking more likely. There is still a huge amount of work to be done. I will keep you informed. I have learned so much about how to take tiny steps and which steps to take thanks to Dolly. Each horse presents us with challenges, each horse has to be understood and also to understand us. Our task is to be clear and concise in our requests, to be thoughtful and careful at all times and to know that when engaged and trusting the horse is the most wonderful friend and servant, unengaged it is at best a pest and at worse dangerous.4th

October, 2014

On the 4th October I went again over to Goring. We now know that Dolly has accepted Chocolate Charlie. She is also responsive with her ears on to us and listening to Amanda or to me when we long rein. The beginning of the passing of fear is now possible. I decided that it was time for me to ride her.

We did put Chocolate Charlie up one more time. She made no fuss and totally accepted him. We had enlarged our enclosure outside the yard and this has been of great use to us.  We were able to long rein Dolly alone with no one at her head. This too is an improvement. We have taken everything slowly waiting for Dolly to understand what we are trying to teach her.  I would say at this point that when I first met Dolly up in Oxford, we long reined her and then put Chocolate Charlie up and I did get up on her for a few seconds. It was like sitting on volcano  about to erupt. I got off quickly.

Dolly, Amanda, Caro
Dolly with me up being led by Amanda

I was going to put our years work to the test. What would I find? We took her into the field inside the enclosure. Jo bought me the mounting steps and gave me a leg up and I rolled over the saddle and began patting Dolly on the side. Nothing. So I got down and we repeated the process with me just barreling over the saddle. I then asked Amanda to walk me around like that for a while. She did and Dolly did nothing. Next step I stepped and repeated the process this time lifting my right leg over the saddle and leaning on her neck stayed low; then I sat up. Nothing. We walked, Amanda at her head. Nothing! Dolly felt solid under the saddle. perfect. She did not flinch. She stepped out as if this was the most normal situation. I was delighted. We walked a while and I got off.  We then put her away and did some more long reining with the other two horses, Storm and Eric. Marvellous.

Dolly licking and chewing
Licking and Chewing

After lunch we reconvened. This time I got straight up on Dolly and Amanda left me alone to ride her around the enclosure. She was a delight, I could feel myself falling more and more in love with her every second. My delight at asking her with a little squeeze, something she would explode over, was sufficiently answered with an extension. Marvellous.  I then rode up up to the yard and halting her, got off and gave her a lovely rub and a hug. A different horse, a different feeling, a new confidence and a wonderful companion growing with every second. The we watched as she yawned and yawned, five times in all. She was responding to a delight at the experience of having someone on her back and was logging it. We all stood in amazment and delight. She has replace the shutting down, turned off, peppered with terrified explosions, with an understanding of what we are asking her to do. She delights in it. Her life, at ten years old, has been turned round.

Dolly & Caro
Thank you Dolly

That is not to say that we have finished. Indeed no. This is just the beginning. We need to ride her quietly around the enclosure, then the paddocks, then with the other horses, until we are quite quite sure that she is the horse we always hoped she would be. Well done team Dolly. Well done Amanda and thank you to Jo and Carla and Jeanne-Clare who have been with us. It has been and still is a very interesting retraining of a horse, who has found it impossible to understand what people are saying and why they are terrified of her, and how that terror has turned her into a highly flighty animal with no sense of connection to humans CB

The last time I rode Dolly was on the 26th of November. We long reined her and then I mounted her and we walked around outside the enclosure. She behaved beautifully with no shudders of built up tension. I was so pleased, I decided it was time to tack up the other two horses, Storm and Eric and walk them all out around the fields together. Everything was fine until suddenly as I was leading, her she put her head between her legs and bucked. Only four times and without bothering me at all. She was very careful and did not to even pull on the rope. I had to laugh. She stopped and looked at me as if to say, “that feels better.” Off we went again. I treated it as a non event. Then we went back and Amanda rode Eric, Clare rode Storm and I put Chocolate Charlie on Dolly. We set off again and all she did was to turn in two little circles and then stop. The rest of the time she was fine.

I think it is time to take her to a good surface and get her trotting and cantering with Chocolate Charlie and allow her to buck. then I will ride her. I feel we have enough of a contact and she has come so far that we will be fine. It is time for her to grow up and be useful for a job is there for all of us and horses do need a job. You may not agree with that, but I am certain that they love nothing more than being part of something, of being in a team, of being loved and to be responsible for their actions. I remember my horse, ‘Smelly’ that day I rode him up Whitehall. He had never been in a town before, never mind a city, he had never heard traffic like that in London. He rose to the occasion with the pride of a stallion and head down he lead out into traffic. it was the moment I sat on his I realised he was loving it. They need a job. That was Smelly’s best day, the best day of his life. He was center of attention and everyone was photographing him. He was happy. I want us to help Dolly to find happiness.


wwwDolly & choc 2
On long reins with Charlie

On the 19th November we took Dolly in a trailer 3 miles to the nearest Riding School.  She loaded well, taking about 5 minutes. We set off, and within seconds she was screaming for her friends. When we arrived and unloaded she was a whirling dirvish. She would not stan still for a second. She called and bellowed and whipped round and charged and pulled for Amanda about. We did manage to get her hock boots off but it was a trial. Then I had to get a saddle on her. this was not going to be easy she was behaving like a racehorse at its first race. I kept going. I finally got the saddle on and we took her into the school. She still showed high anxiety and was a handful. I managed to get the lines on with the help of Amanda but had to ask Amanda to step aside as I got her ready to go. I thought she would charge off in any uncontrollable direction. I was ready. Did she? No! in fact as soon as the lines were on she got professional. ‘I know what to do’ She said. amazed I watched as she went into perfect long reining work. She did not put a foot wrong. All that training was paying off. She walk, trotted and cantered. I was truly impressed.

wwwDolly Caro- Choc
Dolly with Chocolate charlie

We then put Chocolate Charlie up, not a murmur, she set off with him bobbing about and was quite happy and she did not buck. I was hoping she would buck. But no. She worked at a trot and walk quietly as if Chocolate Charlie was her best friend. However we did upset the horse in the next school who could see the odd bobbing head of Chocolate Charlie and was quite put off by it.  Progress I thought.

It was then time for me to ride her. We put CC outside the school and pulled out the mounting block. I always lean over first. Then I hopped up and Dolly did nothing. She felt the best I have ever felt under the saddle. No hint of a wobble or fear came through. We walked at first with Amanda leading her and then we went off round the jumps and past a mirror which I did not even clock. Dolly was not fazed by it. I then allowed Amanda to move away leaving the line and finally to sit in the middle of the school and watch us. Dolly was perfect.

Going nicely

We then took her back to the box and spent at least 10 minutes getting her to load. But I have adopted a rather different approach to loading. I work them on the ramp up and then back and then I go into the box and let the horse space to come in. One needs a long lunge line and I think getting out of the way of the horse is a very good method. I am sure that Temple Grandin would agree with me.

wwwDolly going beautifully
Amanda watching

Dolly loaded and we set off for home. She seemed a much happier horse. Each time we work with her she glows with a feeling of achievment. I do think horses are the same as us. I think they feel and think just like we do, and I talk to my horses, clearly and soundly I give them advice. I offer sympathy and most of all, I love them dearly, and I show them affection. I think praise will get you everything. If you never praise your horse, he will never know that you care. Just like we should behave with children.

We will be doing this again as it has been a very positive day out for Dolly.

On the 14th of February 2015, I went back to Goring Heath to ride Dolly again. It has been nearly 2 months since I rode her. We had a session on the 26th of November and then took her to a riding school on the 19th of December.

Today we stayed on site and worked in the field. As I was tacking up Dolly she was yawning. This is a very good sign that she is happy to remember our last encounter. Amanda took her up to the top field and there she long reined her to perfection. Dolly had her head low and was relaxed and did nothing wrong. She walked and trotted. I should add that she had been in the stable all night, but showed no signs of anxiety or high energy.

We then went back to the yard and I mounted. She felt normal, as normal as any riding school pony. We took her out to the paddock with Amanda on the end of a rope. We then walked round the ring marked out with wooden poles and then Amanda let me off and I walked into the middle of  the circle and watched. Dolly did not put a foot wrong.  She was a delight to ride.

I rode her back to the yard unattached to Amanda. Happy in the knowledge that we seem to have a normal horse on our hands one with confidence and normal reactions. I believe that we have turned the building blocks of fear, tension, lack of confidence and anxiety into ones of contentment, confidence, trust, listening, and normal response. She was a darling.

On the 28th of February, I went back and rode her again. We trotted this time and she did put in a buck, but stopped immediately. I continued to work her quite hard. this is the first time I have worked her at the trot and we were out in the field some way from the stables. I was very pleased with her progress. I did feel that she does not like pressure at all and so I have to find a way to introduce her to pressure. I might put my soft bandage around her nose, in the hope that gentle pressure might wean her off the fear.