Monday, December 12, 2011

Christmas Newsletter 2011

The Farm

The year started very cold, all the water frozen and snow to shovel away before going into the house. Olivier, a patissier who came as a stagier to learn about draught work with horses turned up with his girlfriend to make bread in the old oven. The enormous ovens (2meter Olivier managed to crawl right in to clean it) were used a hundred years ago as the French equivalent of Water holes in Africa, where local people would bring their bread to cook, meet discuss the gossip and arrange marriages. It turns out that after removing the chimney we had fitted to a stove, the next difficulty was to ensure that the oven was the right temperature at the same time as the bread was risen… since it was a question of lighting a fire in the oven and leaving to burn for at least 24 hours, this was no mean feat… But Olivier got it right, and lots of loaves of splendid long crusty breads of different sorts were pulled out, consumed and stored.

The next winter problem was sanglier (wild boars) in the garden, at least one family found their way in under the special thick wire netting and had a feast every night, consuming all the parsnips and the remaining green vegs. This meant days of cutting pegs and bashing them in everywhere, keeping the gates shut and putting up with frustrated pigs digging up other areas when they could not get through the fence… but finally, by the time the spring came, and there was plenty more to eat elsewhere, we managed to discourage them. Once or twice Chris and Jake, if he was with us, would stump about at night with a gun and let it off at random, but I don’t think it had any effect on the wiley pigs!

Neighbours Christiane & Johann, local journalists, wrote articles for the Cretois on the farm, and La Tribune on the elephant & teaching academy which attracted some attention.

During the early spring we had a US family straight from a city came to stay for a month or two, and seem to have enjoyed their stay, particularly learning about animals, in fact during the year we must have had about 70 visitors of one sort and another who mainly have city backgrounds, and who have mostly learnt a lot from our four legged friends of how to think of the world “autrement”. We hope it enriches their lives, it is one of our rewards anyway.

We found an ancient reaper binder advertised for sale, and visited an old peasant high in the mountains. It has been sitting in a barn since 1950, lovingly greased occasionally and the canvas carefully rapped up in the rafters. After being shown around the garden and old farm buildings, drinking small strong cups of coffee, eating various goodies and debating prices, we bought it to harvest our crops we had not yet planted!...
But all turned out well as the wheat and the oats did grow, the machine was collected, repaired where necessary by Chris, and actually functioned! With a jolly bunch of wwoofers, painting and oiling, during hot sunny days, the sheaves were made and stooked. Later bought in, and with another bunch of wwoofers , and stagiers, we took the sheaves down to Bourdeaux on the day of the mediaeval festival, and a combine thrashed it …. Of course it all cost much more than buying the flour, but think how many more vitamins one must get, never mind the helpful exercise! Anyway the bread is good, and the porridge very distinctive; and we got to visit the mediaval festival, and watch some of our English Class friends teaching archery, and dressing up.

It is December now, we have had a sunny mild November, the dramatic colours have gone, and we are gently slipping into winter greys, and soon whites I am sure. One thing we are gradually organising, is someone to come and help on the farm and when they know how, take it over so we can leave it more easily; we will see.

Activities & family

A rather French occasion was an outdoor concert in the Foret de Saou, just next to the ruins of a chateau (there is something fishie about this, it seems to have been something to do with Nazi sympathizers, but may have got it wrong), we all arrived just in time and wandered over to the chairs placed in and around the trees, looking towards a platform on which the orchestra were playing away like mad… the problem was it was raining! It continued to rain, and eventually, even with the help of umbrellas and oil skins, it was considered bad news for the instruments and the orchestra took shelter in a shed, while one fiddlist continued to entertain us with Irish gigs, jumping about on the stage followed ineptly by someone carrying an umbrella and a pretty girl with a yellow oil skin, before we scuttled off to eat slightly soggy tartines and bump into friends with dripping coiffeurs and big smiles.

Sadly, and unexpectedly my sister Shelagh, an internationally acclaimed artist, died in March after a few days in hospital. Her friend and ex husband Pat organized a very memorable funeral, which I think she would have been proud of, ending with another friend and artist with whom she had often worked blowing gold dust over her coffin, symboilizing her frequent use of gold dust to artistically outline some of natures glories. A month later he arranged a celebration of her life in her studio. She is sorely missed, I very much enjoyed my frequent but brief overnights with her talking, drinking and eating in London before catching a cheap flight back. They allowed me to get to know her much better. We intend to sponsor an artist to do a natural sculpture on the farm in her memory, and hope that she would approve.

Grand daughter Ella came to stay with a friend for a few days after singing in a concert with the National Youth Choir, Pip has built himself a workshop & lazing room on his patch of land in Devon and awaits the fruit trees to grow, Sam is very busy working for Sky TV & still seems to cover wars, Jake is finishing his M.Sc on renewable energy & looking after his daughter Immie part time. Chris’s mother Kay is living with his brother & family in Norfolk whose outdoor organic pigs were recently visited by Prince Charles. Kay talking and moving much better, it is grand that she can be with some of the family, well done Meg for nursing her.

Roger, (brother in law) came to look after the farm when we were away in UK, and all went well. He and a wwoofer from Italy spend many hours walking around the farm looking for the sheep which one of the canine street children from Sicily had chased off. However, on returning one glance through the binoculars located them nearly at the top of the cliffs, they’ll be Ok there until it snows, then we hope they will come down by themselves… it looks a bit of a tricky track to go and get them!

Chris flew to England with our English class with who we had arranged a 5 day visit to England in the name of ‘entente codiale’ ( 11 in all). We all met up in a very British pub in Richmond to celebrate Jakes birthday. Despite some of the arrangements going astray, an inability to find parking, Paul nearly loosing his mirror by driving on the wrong side of the road, crowds, and long walks, I hope a good time was had by all. Starting with the colours and hot houses in Kew, we investigated French/English connections: the white cliffs of Newhaven, the battle of Hastings, burning of the Pope at Guy Fawks, to the Tower of London, Buckingham palace, Greenwich meridian, dormitory hostels, snoring Frenchmen, remarkably chique French women immerging from the only douche, and many photos of red telephone boxes. It was a humbling experience to see how good humoured and adaptable the French can be, even in difficult situations.

The horses have continued to delight and enrich our lives.
This year it was Shindi and Lilka’s turn for some long distance rides, some in Ardeche, across the Rhone, with spectacular views, and hot galloping days, some up the Alps, with steep climbs and slides down, Shindi distinguished herself by winning all the ones she partook in, Lilka coming second in some. The winning is worked out by a peculiar mathematical formula from the speed ( maximum 15km/hr) combined with the recovery heart rate taken by the vet after the ride. The maths is sometimes incorrect, according to Chris! but it does not really matter as we all wait around after the event, drinking beer and coffee until they have worked it out, and then the prizes are given out and everyone gets something, in our case long thin silver plastic cups, plaques to stick in the stable, those caps that Americans love to wear back to front & sacs of stale bread ( there is a general belief that bread is what all horses crave…ours hate it, but we like it and by wetting it and cooking again in the oven, it is nearly like real fresh bagettes et flutes which we love!).

Because of gates left open and Oryx jumping Shindi, Shindi went to the vet for a pregnancy test, and turned out to be “enceinte”… we tried aborting it with no luck and she had to withdraw from competitive racing for this year. Shemal was more than keen to take her place, so we galloped into first place along the Rhone near Grenoble, skirting around the nuclear power plant which decorated the sky with its various emissions, with Lilka second again! Robyn and Peach joined us to jocky and crew for the marathon with Lilka and Shemal, but after galloping in the rain, although fit as a fiddle, one of Shemals front legs was not quite right, so only Lilka was taken to Uk to run in the Marathon. Lantana took Shemal’s place in the lorry as she was off to join her brother in Wales and perhaps compete internationally in long distance one day, like her brother & his owner, Andrea, presently members of the British team. Lilka meanwhile one day after our arrival (23 hr journey to Devon), cut her leg in an open stop cock hole left by South West Water, and could not go to the race anyway… so she was depressed, we were wet, cold and depressed, it seemed to be dark all the time, and it rained and rained. Chris drove her back to La Drome.

Research & Writing

Jake & Marthe have just finished a text book for the new academy in South Africa teaching Animal Welfare and How to Improve Animal Teaching. Various students have been doing projects here during the summer, we have run workshops in Belgium, Switzerland and Italy, and published 3 new papers on consciousness, subjectivity & behaviour. 2 Ph.D’s. partly supervised here have been completed & received distinctions (Austin & di Nestri) and a distinction in a thesis for a final veterinary qualification at Bologna (Parisi) on the amount of movement in free range horses was supervised here. We now have an exchange student arrangement with Dept Vet Sci University of Bologna.

A Very happy Christmas & Good Luck in 2012

Love from all with either 2 or 4 Legs at La Combe.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

1 year distance learning & weekend seminar diploma at Centre d’eco-etho-recherche et education

Le Centre d'éco-étho-recherche and Marthe Kiley-Worthington offer a 1 year course,
designed to allow those in full or part time work to be able to do the diploma in Equine Welfare, Ethology, Equitation & Management.

In this course all aspects of horses, their bodies minds, management and teaching are taught and integrated with the study of scientific equine ethology, the ethics of equine welfare and critically appraised folk knowledge critically from practical experiences.

The course is taught over two complete days each month for 8 months at the centre ( this can be a weekend, arrive Friday night and leave Sunday night) at the centre. Each weekend covers some basic physiological/body needs of the horse to ensure good management, and some welfare/ethical/ethological related subjects.
See detailed program

When : October 2011 to May 2012

Where : Centre d’éco-étho-recherche et éducation à La Combe
26 460 Bezaudun sur Bine, France

Learn more : See detailed program

Friday, January 21, 2011

Article about Marthe (in french)

French magazine Cheval au Naturel just published online their nice article (by Thierry Curren) made last year after a visit at La Combe.
Click here (it's in french but pictures are amazing !)

Enjoy !

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Near Christmas 2010 Newsletter. Year 2009-2010

The farm and research centre continues to develop. The good news is that we have almost finished the infra structure, hurrah! We have built a small dam for a little lake this summer, which nearly lost us Jake and the Mini digger falling off the wall, and then the whole thing was nearly was washed away in the October storms after repairs, we await with baited breath, it’ s filling up in the new year.

The grass grew quite well in a wet spring, and we made our first silage, only to find that all the plastic covers of the 10 bales (compared to the easy of making over 100 @ Little Ash) had holes in from all the thorns in the grass (patching up with tape seems to have worked, but will have to await the grand opening after Christmas to see). We made around half the needed hay, and have planted wheat and oats this year. Last years oats was not a great success, the wild boar dug most of them up and the plants were not happy to set oats, but, nevertheless, we have a sack to winnow and then grind for porridge, we hope. The garden continues to improve, but it
was a poor fruit year.

There was erratic weather in the summer, and the swimming pool was not used a great deal, this may have been encouraged by the presence of a family of garter snakes that took up residence in the bull rushes, they were very good swimmers, and provided one did not trespass on their domain seemed friendly enough!

We had many WWOOFERS & people for courses of all kinds from many countries, ending with a US family who stayed for 2 months and helped make the lean too on the side of the big barn/manege so we can have the horses and cattle nearby and done have to shlep up in to the mountain every day to feed them. However the wind has been so strong in the last few days , the final touches have been abandoned and we are just hoping that the roof does not blow off.

We have completed the Observation room so can study the Chamois without freezing to death outside, and have had several researchers, in particular a couple of Italian vets doing their projects and doctorates on the horses, and 2 post MSc students who are working with the centre on welfare questions of captive elephants in South Africa. Marthe has been off to SA several times with circus and elephant work, and at last the courses on the science of educational psychology are getting off the ground while Jake and Sarah have helped finish & present a backlog of research papers whose abstracts are now available on the internet site.

We are really aiming to obtain some South Devon heifers next year, meanwhile the cattle herd is cut down to 6 with Velue the Jersey.
Her grand daughter Ulma is giving us milk and some not bad cheeses too. The sheep reproduced so we have the beginnings of a half merino flock, but will get a Suffolk ram next year for better fat lamb. The dogs are reduced to 3, with Kongo excelling himself as a gun dog in Suffolk, and Kananga ( last years pups) going to live in London with Jake after the new year. Kaz and Bear continue to be themselves, and certainly Bear although a little short on confidence, is a great help with the cattle and sheep, Kaz a useful hot water bottle and finder of lost things.

This year we have taken part in a number of 30 & 60km competitive rides in some beautiful spots. The high light was Shindi, Lilka and Shimoni doing a 60km at Alp d’ Huez, a ski resort right up in the Alps. Of course they got out and ran off into the Alps just before the event, but the organizers kindly let us do it the next day, and even though not official our times and recovery rates were first second and fourth overall… not bad for Shimoni’ s first! Shindi has won every one she has done this year, but Lilka has not always been sound and she is gradually changing disciplines to dressage and cross country. Shiraz had a superb colt in June, Shatish, 4 white socks and black like his dad. He has received plenty of attention and will have a serious educational programme this winter. However, the most terrible and most important event of the year has been the loss of Oberlix who had a terrible accident in September. Somehow
nothing seems the same, he was such an ikon for what we do. The Arab Horse Society have published his obituary, and I will always continue to relive those great days with him.

All that remains is to wish everyone a very happy new year, and invite all who wish to visit us next year in this beautiful place.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Obituary Druimghigha Oberlix (Aboud x Omeya) AHSB v17

We bought Omeya, Oberlix’s mother, at the AHS auCtions in 1978. She was a skitty, terrified, slim, typey 3 year old Crabbet Arab who had been kept alone in a field since she was around 1 year old. She rushed into the ring and jumped about on her skinny legs with her convex head in the air, and tail straight up. We had seen her outside and decided that she was a filly we wanted to see more of.. but we had already bought the sensible pure bred filly we had been saving up for, for years. But Omeya floated and whirlpooled into our lives, Chris turned to me as she wizzed & cavorted passed in the ring and said ‘I will lend you the money’ so I bought her for £700; we then realized that neither of us had the money! In addition the autioneer said “You’ll never get her in the trailer, that is for sure!...” but we did and she arrived home with her companion Crysthannah Royal (Crystal King x Hannah of Fairfield) , two pure Crabbet fillies of very different types. One gentle, solumn correct in behaviour and conformation, one typey, wild, incorrect in both behaviour and conformation and not in the least solumn!

The following morning I went to feed her, we had left them in the stable overnight to accustom them to their new surroundings. Omeya , terrified, turned and kicked me, my reaction was fury and rapidly I hit her back … she looked askance at me, turned around and we made ourselves lifelong friends. For the rest of her 26 years of life she trusted humans and would do anything they asked, often an enormous responsibility! So quick are decisions made and mental habits formed!

Omeya grew up and learnt to balance on her scrawny legs a little better, she did endurance, arab flat racing, a little cross country and jumping, she worked in the garden pulling ploughs, sleighs, light vehicles, harrows, logs or anything else we cared to ask her and she did it all in a head collar with no bit. She took part in many endurance rides and races winning some , 7th in the 160km summer solstice one year, 3rd and another time 4th in the marathon. We were asked by Mrs Lancaster who was at the time the owner of Aboud in Soctland if we would like to send a mare to a free covering to one of her stallions, so we visited and chose Aboud who at that time must have been around 2 or 3, before he had become a champion in hand, and the following spring we sent Omeya to him.

In the spring of 1989 she gave birth to Oberlix, at our new ecological farm and research centre in Devon Omeya gave birth to a dashing colt with the correct conformation of his father, the glorious movement of his mother, and his own rippling burnt chestnut coat and strong personality At the time we were just beginning a what has turned into a 20 year research programme on improving large mammal handling and teaching, and young Oberlix was a pilot subject for our research based on in the department of psychology at the university of Exeter. His participation allowed us to design the methods for years of study in how to measure and improve the handling and teaching of equines, ( and other species including elephants, bovids, camelids and canines). We used methods that had been shown to be very successful with preverbal children. This involved, in particular, talking simply to the subjects, to encourage them to begin to listen and understand language.
In 1993 his daughter Druimghigha Shemal was born, the 6th generation of our breeding of part bred arabs, (she won the marathon in 2000, and 2x won Man versus Horse race, and several 50mile race rides). Oberlix continued to learn to understand human language all his life and traveled around UK and Europe giving displays and demonstrations at such venues as the Cadre Noire, ( the elite French riding school at Saumur) , and many other influential places. He was tested to understand 250 words and not only commands. The result of his and his daughters comprehension of language has been written up in scientific papers, and invited talks given at international scientific meetings. One of the most interesting new things found was that all our subjects quickly learnt to imitate the teacher to do simple actions. This is particularly interesting since to do this, they have to have some idea of self, something that previously has been considered unique to large apes and sea mammals.

There were many more discovers concerning horses minds that Oberlix contributed to (see pictures and examples in Horse Watch, what is it to be equine? J.A.Allen 2005), but above all, he became a quite delightful companion, and one of my very best lifelong friends. I could take anywhere and do almost anything with him and when it came to competition he would generally win, or come very near it! He worked our garden for us so we did not have to dig or weed, he harrowed the fields, he pulled a light vehicle when we wanted him to, he taught beginners to ride, he rose from Novice to Inetermediare dressage level ( one before grand prix) in one summer (obtaining more than 50% before progressing to the next level, and doing them all au de combat).

In the same summer he was in international endurance competitions, coming 6th in the Summer solstice, 100m race, one year 2nd to his daughter in the man versus horse and the marathon, the next year 3rd, and so on. We took him to the Arab Premium Performance Tests and he became a Premium stallion, performing by far the best in the free jumping, and showed of his language comprehension to the conformation judges.. but I stupidly hired a professional to jump him. She destroyed his confidence at the second jump, by hitting him ( I had told her not to!), something that had never happened when jumping before. As a result, he got around, but not with the top marks!

He was perhaps the nicest horse to ride under any conditions, happy to go along with what was required, fast or slow, with mares in season or out, with his own mares or others, with other stallions or alone, quiet confident, glorious paces and arab through and through. He taught me more than anyone else I think about life and how to live it. He was an ikon of our stud, and through his offspring, the Druimghigha Stud lives on, and we keep learning more.

He is more than missed, but lives on in our memories of glorious times together.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

The Druimghigha Stud newsletter

The spring was a good one for the horses as we had more rain than usual and the grass grew reasonably well… for here. As a result we have made about half the hay that we need for the winter off the farm and surrounds, and even made some silage to help Oryx who suffers from a cough with dry feed.

Marie Dussaux, who has a house in the village, contacted us about having Fanny a Barb x Arab mare that she had bred and handled when young, but had been untouched until now, 7 years. She wants to sell her, but needed her to be educated to be ridden before she was likely to find a buyer. We took her on and she is now a quiet, very pleasant ride although she needs more work before she would suit a complete novice. I thoroughly recommend her to anyone who will continue her education and wants a pleasant companion, friend and to do randonnes. She is not expensive and could well breed a very nice foal, particularly with one of our stallions.

We started endurance training in May with Shindi and Lilka, two mares, and had various teething problems with soft soles and sore feet, but these have now been put to right and the pair of them are seriously fit, coming first and second in the 60 k Alp d’Huez ride in the alps, up and down over 2,000m with recovery rates in the low 40’s, and Shimoni (who is for sale) also taking part with Jake who is now running his horse ethology and safari business (see, shortly to be translated into French).

We have done a couple of other rides of 40k at 15k/hr and been placed with all horses in the first 3 so far this year, the last one was a ride across Ardeche which was delightful ending up at a Western Riding festival!

The high light this year so far with the horses has been a 5 day ride around the Vercors we took Shindi and Oberlix and then replaced Oberlix after 2 big days of over 40 k climbing and dropping over 2,500m/day, by Lilka for the last 2 days. We camped and ecologized as we went. The country was quite spectacular in fact quite scary mountaineering sometimes but the horses were like mountain goats and never worried, unlike the humans who often had to shut their eyes! We found some lovely spots for lunches of tomatoes cheeses and fresh bagettes, and a final night in a welcoming hostel with a great dinner, bed, breakfast and hay and as much food as one liked for the horses… we were all very well pleased and hope to make it an annual trip if we can persuade others to come along with us, perhaps some who have been to our workshops?

We have had various people wanting to come on workshops of various kinds, including working horses on the land, young horses, and those running horse therapy centres, and have mainly been writing up research articles which are now available on the internet site (

Another development has been the purchase of a piece of land in South Devon UK, where the grass grows. It is mainly for Oberlix to have a belly full every year, but we are developing it as a small ecological farm, Pip my son is already starting a market garden and wood workshop, and we will be available from time to time to run workshops in the UK from there.

Horses for sale now are :

* Druimghigha Shimoni (picture) 5 yr old gelding, faultless and a delight. (Druimghigha Shemal x Druimghigha Oryx)

* Drumgigha Lantana
(Lilka x Oberlix) pure arab, 15hh.(150cm) Mare, 3 years. Ride & drive, a real goer. (picture)

* Druimghigha Lan Yu
(Lilka x Oberlix) pure bred arab, 15.1 ( 152cm) mare, 2 years. Being backed.

* Lilka
(Lillifee x Eldon) pure bred arab, 15hh 9 150cm) mare (11 yrs), competing in endurance this year, marathon & working at medium dressage, beautiful & lovely paces. A real champion.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Luxor (Oberlix x Lilka) won a bronze award in the Exmoor Experience ate the Golden Horseshoe Ride in Exmoor

Druimghigha Luxor is a son of Oberlix and Lilka. He just won a bronze award in the Exmoor Experience ate the Golden Horseshoe Ride in Exmoor. Andrea Champ tells us how joyful she feels about it :

"Luxor and I took part in the Exmoor Experience ate the Golden Horseshoe Ride in Exmoor, and won a bronze award, having missed out on silver as his pulse rate was one digit too high!

In fact this was the 2nd time Luxor had competed in this class,the last time being in 2008 with his previous owners,when he achieved a silver,so he is proving himself to be a very consistent horse! I have had him for just over a year now and he is the best horse I ever had the pleasure to own. Temperamentally,he is second to none,having a very gentle spirit and at times being extremely laid back. He sleeps a great deal and has an impressive snore! He only does as much work as he feels he has to,but when it comes to competition,he lights up and goes for it! He loves his job of endurance and is a great joy to ride. Luxor is brave and will try his hardest to overcome his worries in strange situations,even though he is very much a hot blooded arab at heart. I feel blessed to have such a horse."