Friday, January 2, 2009

The Horse Project


For general and up to date information about the horses of the Druimghigha stud, their performance and career, read the
Druimghigha Blog, created and maintained by Vicky Clink, owner of Druimghigha Shanti

Druimghigha Shemal Winner of the Arab Marathon, 2000, Man versus Horse 2002 & 2003, 80km Red Dragon, Wales 2003. Short listed for the junior International Endurance Team, 2003. She knows over 250 words, and has learnt some human concepts. She was Aurora: Sleeping Beauty in the televised production .

The Druimghigha stud was founded in 1959 in Sussex , when Marthe Kiley-Worthington, having come to UK from Kenya , bought Stirrup Cup ( Kathiawar ) a Whetherby’s registered thoroughbred race horse. She was a crib biter, rearer and although fast, had behavioural problems & was not retained by the racing stable. She had been sold on to a variety of people, ending up with a city gent who could not manage her. Her behavioural problems sparked off my interest and with plenty of work, we overcame many of them and spent a summer touring around local shows, qualifying for the Foxhunter finals, and winning many events including gyhmkhana races. She visited Nimran, a pure Crabbet Arab, and produce Padna Parameter (Syringa) an anglo-arab who taught me much about teaching horses. After leaving university I left for Africa.On my return several years later, I sent Syringa to Harwood Asif a pure Crabbet Arab in order to breed a versatile performing but well conformed anglo-arab: Baksheesh, 3/4 arab, 1/4 thoroughbred was born in 1963. He was placed 3rd the first ever British Arab races, won the Arab marathon twice, won 3, 80km endurance rides in the early days, and took part in one of the first 160km in one day races on the South Downs . He jumped, won cross country and worked at medium dressage level.

a 15 year old Iris Draught mare was bought to ride and breed with Baksheesh. A registerered section A, 6 month old Welsh filly, Aderin, was bought off the hills to join us. Several years later, two pure bred Crabbet arabs: Omeya (Genji x Sumara) and Crysthannah Royal (Crystal King x Hannah of Fairfield) were bought at an Arab Horse Auction to join the stud. These four mares produced foals, every 3rd year or so. During the mares’ non breeding years, and every year for the stallion Baksheesh, the horses took part in competitions (endurance, dressage, jumping, cross country, racing, driving, gymkhana, obstacles) taught people, worked on the land , went on long rides around England. They lived as our companions and friends as well as our research subjects. Their social organization and communication was studied in detail for my doctoral thesis, and as a post doctoral fellow they were studied to help the initial development of animal welfare science.

Omeya and her son Druimghigha Oryx. Aged 2 months.

In 1972 when I was a fellow of the University of Sussex, we decided to examine the conventional equine husbandry and teaching, and experiment with alternative practices based closely on the behavioural needs of these high quality horses. This was the start of the 34 year research programme, (the longest running of any study of a group of horses to date). It has resulted so far, in four books and numerous scientific papers and theses (see list publications). We have continuously monitored the horses physical, social, emotional and cognitive behaviour, in order to assses their “needs” and developed measures for “quality of life”, not just the absences of “distress”.

The husbandry developed for the Druimghigha horses is the result of years of study of empirical observation and experimentation. For example, their physical needs are fulfilled by feeding them high fiber diets which they have access to at all times, and home produced grains when they are working more than one hour/day every day. Their need for constant movement and exercise is catered for by keeping them outside in large paddocks, and also working them frequently. Their social needs are catered for by the horses being in groups of different sexes and ages, often with a stallion so that mares have natural sex when they wish (contraceptives are used to prevent unwanted pregnancies). Their emotional needs are catered for by allowing friendships and sex , no artificially weaning of foals (unless their mother is at risk from continuing to lactate). We found that the establishment of behaviours indicative of trauma and distress was often linked to artificial weaning.

Their cognitive needs are catered for by the horses acquiring ecological knowledge since all the horses run out all year around in large paddocks with other species (cattle and sheep) with varied topography (rivers, mountains, woodland, ditches, cliffs etc). They have to make their own decisions to find natural shelter or shelter in buildings (provided in winter). The life of equines as well as humans can be enriched by mutual contact so the youngsters are handled and begin to learn to learn from humans and about them and their ways from when they are a few months old. We are particularly interested in the degree to which equines can learn to comprehend human language, experimenting with this, and with their ability to acquire human concepts and investigating animal consciousness.

Our horses are not shod unless it is necessary for the work they are doing, (when taking part in competitions over distances more than 40km). When shod, the “natural balance” shoeing technique is used, a method developed from studying the feet of feral horses.

Drugs are used only when it is in the interests of the individual’s welfare as it is maintained that constant use of drugs to keep horses well or sound indicates inappropriate husbandry. Antibiotics are rarely needed. The horses are wormed only after faecal egg counts indicate this is necessary. Soil Association approved wormers only used. The intestinal worms are controlled by multi-species rotational grazing .

All the individuals are monitored for any evidence of ill health or distress. The conception rate is significantly higher than for in hand breeding or Artificial Insemination. Ill health and diseases are rare ( e.g. Colic has occurred 3 times in 400 horse years. Despite the long, fast distances covered for international competitive long distance riding, lameness is rare. The average life expectancy for the horses retained bred or acquired young is 26 years. The Welsh mountain pony, Aderin is still active and able aged 38.

In 1983 we moved to the Isle of Mull, Hebrides, North West Scotland, to set up an experimental ecological farm and stud in a marginal areas. The horses adapted well to the very different climate and terrain, living out throughout the year but with winter shelter.

In 1989 we moved to the Dartmoor National Park in to set up an ecological farm and stud to demonstrate the integration of wildlife conservation with economic ecological farming and horse breeding.

In 2003 I was offered a fellowship at Girton College, University of Cambridge. Two of the horses accompanied me as subjects for our learning experiments. Thereafter the stud moved to a small project near Ely, demonstrating how organic horse management and horticulture can be integrated on the superb fenland soils. We transferred to our new large project in La Drome France on 25th December 2004. Here the horses live out in the high pre Alp mountains, snow in winter, very hot and dry in the summer.

Druimghigha Orbelix taking part in an endurance competition.

Their education starts when they are a few days old being handled gently and continues throughout their lives using only positive reinforcement. The animals intended to remain in the stud for their lives are taught to be able to win a race one day, and pull a plough give a beginner a riding lesson the next, win a dressage competition , then a long distance race, and deliver the vegetables in a light vehicle. They are truly versatile arabs and part breds, and have excelled in Endurance (10 international horses produced to date, 4 times winning the Arab Marathon, and all who have completed been placed within the first 5. We also take part in dressage events (up to Intermediare/Grand Prix), and demonstrations with dances, liberty and quadrilles.

Some of the well known horses include (all prefixed with Druimghigha):- Druimghigha Baksheesh, Druimghigha Shiraz and her foals: Druimghigha Shiera, Shirak, Shemal Shukrane & Shanti. Druimghigha Shereen and her foals: Sher Khan, Shergar, Shellah, Shezaam, Shindi and Socrates. Aderin and her foals: Druimghigha Achmed and Aisha Evans, Amanita, and Aroha. Chrysthannah Royal and her foals: Druimghigha Cariff, Cara, Carma and Christmas Time. Omeya and her foals: Druimghigha Omani, Osnan, Oscar, Omen, Oberlix and Oryx.

In 2002-3 we decided to see if Druimghigha Oberlix , (who is an pure Arab Horse Society Premium tested Performance Stallion), could take part in International level Endurance races and International dressage in the same summer. This he achieved, taking part and being placed in 80km races, 3rd in the Marathon, while also taking part in affiliative dressage up to Intemediare Level ( one before Grand Prix).

The research on equine education has involved teaching the subjects (Druimghigha Shemal ,Oberlix and Oryx) human language, measuring the speed of learning acts, learning concepts and whether or not equines have a “theory of mind”, in order to further investigate equine lore and equine consciousness. These subjects understand at least 200 words.

The research is one of the few research programmes where the subjects pay for the research. This is done by teaching, displays, multi-species theatre/ballet (Sleeping Beauty televised 1995, Chestnut Beauty 2000), workshops throughout the world (details of workshops see below). and selling young horses.The youngsters are usually sold at around three years old having had their secondary education (handled, lead, lunged, free schooled, backed, bitted, long reined, ridden out, elementary to medium dressage movements, 40km slow rides in difficult terrain, and out camping). Their fitness is assessed by heart recovery rates and heart monitors.

Oberlix and daughter Druimghigha Shemal being ridden cooperatively: NO TACK.

No equipment other than a simple snaffle, bitless bridle or head collar, saddle, numnah and breast plate is never used during their education or in competition unless it is obligatory (no drop nosebands of any type, martingales, running reins, curbs, long hackamores etc). The horses are cooperatively educated, not frightened or forced. If there is a problem, the education must be reassessed. They can be worked at liberty, ridden. They will go over every type of terrain that we can find ( water, sea, bogs, steep hills, rocks, rough areas, forests, steep banks, in snow, mud, rain, dry or dusty). They can be left tied up for several hours, kept in electric coralls, go camping with their riders or attend competitions with strange horses. As part of the sale, there is a free follow up service to help the new owners overcome any misunderstandings. Horses are only sold to approved homes. We sell young versatile cooperatively educated 3 year olds. Contact centre if by email if interested.

3 year old chesnut, 15.2 gelding, Shukreen. Shemal X Oryx for sale 2009

Courses & Students. We take pupils and students to learn about all aspects of horse behaviour and welfare, improve their handling, working or driving skills, learn more about educating equines from beginners to advanced professional standard. We specialize in teaching the art of riding based on the European classical school, but with ideas and practices filtered from many schools of riding including Western, Indian, Australian, English with an emphasis on cooperation between horses and rider, rather than obedience of the horse, and domination or leadership by the human.

Everyone, from beginner to advanced rider, first has a lesson in our magnificent manege, and then can be taken out (on our horses or their), for rides in this spectacular mountain world, for hours, days or weeks, while learning about the local natural world, learning more about your mount and about the ecology and how to value it more (see calender & prices).

We run a 6 months or 1 year Diploma (approved by universities in UK, USA, Japan, Canada, Australia) in the science, theory and practice of Equine Welfare , Ethology , Education and Husbandry (email for further details) in French & English.The teachers are academically and practical ( BHS qualified, see personnel).The teaching is of a high standard and the diploma demanding. Many world authorities visit the Centre and contribute by giving seminars, lectures or demonstrations in their areas of expertise. The students are exposed to many different ideas and are taught to think, question and discuss all relevant issues. 1 scholarship per year is offered to particularly promising students.

We supervise undergraduate and graduate student projects and theses.

We run an internationally consultancy on behavioural problems and welfare of equines (and other species). email or phone 00 33 (0)475532027 for further details and prices.

Druimghigha Oryx and Druimghigha Oberlix , the two stallions,
nuzzle each other excitedly over a hedge.



We have to date conducted these international workshops in UK, France, Japan, Australia, USA, Switzerland, Canada, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Kenya. In French or English, or with translator.

Organisation: Interested people & riding Centres organize workshops internationally for us. If you are interested look at calendar or contact by email for further details. At least 10 people are necessary to cover costs. ( Prices: 45 pounds, / 63E for 2 days; 40pounds day 1 only. 25pounds/35E for an individual lesson on day 2. If less than 10 people, must have minimum 350pounds/490E day 1. Of each person’s payment over 10, 40% day 1 & 10% day 2 go to organizer to pay expenses (advertising etc). Board and lodging is provided for teachers & horses free for the period required. We need a comfortable place to lecture with video player, some equines (any age/sex), and an enclosed space to work them ( out or indoors). Date will be mentioned on Eco Research Centre’s internet site. All profits go to help finance the Centres research programmes. Notes & attendance certificates for grants on request. Text books available. email if already attended & require advanced courses.

Day 1. Theory & some practical experiences.

& background to the scientific/philosophical approach.

Do horses have minds?
If so what are they. What mental life do they have? Current understanding of these questions by scholars in simple language. Applying “conditional anthropomorphism”, what it is and why.


What is it to be an equine? Exercises to help us understand differences and similarities between them and us in perceiving and interpreting the world.

The physical, social, emotional and cognitive needs
of equines, and how to fulfill these in order to improve their welfare. Exercises in: learning to observe social behaviour , equine communication, and understanding equine emotions.

Instinct and Learning
. The ways in which equines learn. Exercises in putting the theory into practice.

.This understanding put into practice in handling, liberty, teaching with the voice, lunging and concept learning.

Feet & shoeing.
When to shoe horses and why. Balancing the hoof & shoe. Four point/natural balance shoeing & why.

Day 2 to 5. Putting the theory into practise.

The next day/s consists of individual lessons for those participants who would like them, (45 minutes) with their own or our equines. These can be on a range of different aspects of equine behaviour, husbandry, teaching or riding. They include handling, teaching simple movements, liberty, lunging, early & more advanced riding, (up to Grand Prix dressage) jumping, cross country, physiological and psychological fitness for endurance, driving, working equines, or how to conduct ethological studies with horses, ponies, donkeys, mules or zebras. They can also be consultancies on behavioural problems (e.g. loading, aggression, “vices”, bolting, management problems etc). Maximum 6 lessons/ day. There is discussion at the end of each lesson. We have 1hr lunches together (sandwiches or buffet) to facilitate discussion and a social meal in the evenings ( cafĂ©/pub etc).

Text books:
Horse Behaviour, Equine Welfare, Equine Education & Horse Watch. >> See Books & Articles

1 comment:

  1. Please could you say more about how to use contraception with mares who are living out with stallions. Is it healthy for them and how practical is this? It sounds really amazing. How many people are doing this successfully?