Monday, 31 December 2007

Some progress

After Thursday and Friday's rather disastrous sessions, I took a friend with me to the yard to see if she could see anything from the ground. She is a human physio, but good with horses' muscles too, so I got her to have a feel down her back before I tacked her up. She said she didn't seem sore at all, but she was slightly tight behind the saddle on the right hand side. She massaged this a bit and then I tacked her up.

When I got on, she seemed much calmer than she had been the previous two days. She wasn't shying, despite the fact that we were riding outside, it was getting dark and it was blowing a gale. This was a big improvement. When I asked her to trot she was OK. It felt slightly rushed, but she did settle, and I was able to get her to bend quite nicely. My friend said that it looked rhythmical and didn't look rushed. It was still nothing like the length of stride we managed in my lesson with John last week, but she was at least not rushing. I was getting worried that she was starting to lean on my hands too much, which doesn't help with the feeling that she's rushing. My friend suggested that I drop the contact every now and again so that she doesn't have anything to lean on. I have thought about this, but I am also aware that a young horse needs to feel supported and secure, so I don't want to worry her by suddenly dropping her.

She did go very well. I rode her for about twenty-five minutes, then my friend said she'd love to see her canter. Stupidly, I said that would be fine. She had been going really well, then I went and spoiled it! The transition wasn't great, but the canter itself was very balanced and controlled. However, when I came back to a trot, I tried to keep the trot going and get it back to how it had been. Not a chance. She zoomed around at a hundred miles an hour and I was back to not being able to slow her down. My friend said that it was fairly clear that it's still the canter that's bothering her. She seems to think I am going to ask for it again and again, so anticipates it and rushes, getting herself in a terrible state. I brought her back to a walk and let her calm down. My friend also said that it is perfectly normal for young horses to have pretty awful canters for quite a while. She trained a pony years ago that she said used to have a 'train-wreck' of a canter for ages. This gave me a little confidence.

Rather than ride her yesterday, I decided to lunge her instead. She was wonderfully calm and accepted the side-reins very well. It's funny - when I ride her, she is much better on the left and harder to ride on the right. On the lunge, she is far better to the right. When she was really calm and listening to me on the right, I asked for canter and she popped up into canter beautifully. The circle was balanced and she didn't pull at all. On the left, she got anxious in the transitions and ran to try to get into canter. When in canter, she wasn't terribly balanced and fought the side-reins. It was useful to see this, as afterwards her trot was rushing again. She seems to just be really sensitive about her transitions at the moment.

I am going to give her today off, then give her a good massage before riding her tomorrow. I was planning to get her back looked at by the Bowen lady after my Christmas holidays, but if necessary, I will get her to treat her this week. As even I can feel this tight area, it must be there and could mean that she isn't completely comfortable. I'll see how it goes tomorrow.

Wishing everybody a very happy new year - I'm going to think of some training goal 'resolutions' today. I didn't end up doing that dressage test this weekend, as I didn't think we would even get through it considering how she went on Friday! Never mind - there will be other opportunities!

Saturday, 29 December 2007

A few problems

I have been struggling a little with Echo this week. She had four days off over Christmas, as I was seeing family and doing Christmassy stuff. I rode her on Thursday in the indoor school and she was so fired-up it was unbelievable. When I asked her to trot, she shot off at a horrendous speed (in trot, but fast) and I couldn't slow her down at all. I decided to work her a lot in walk, but she wouldn't calm down - she was like a coiled spring. Whenever I put my leg on, she zoomed forwards - it was quite disconcerting. Near the end of the session, I asked her to canter, but because I hadn't been able to put my outside leg on properly, I didn't have control of her shoulders, so she kept cantering on the wrong lead. She did eventually slow down her trot, but she was then very heavy in my hand. I thought that perhaps she was just a bit fresh from her time off. She worked very hard and was very sweaty (really needs clipping now!) so I thought she would be OK on Friday.

I rode her yesterday, again in the indoor school and it was very windy outside. The doors were rattling and Echo was very on edge again. I got on and she just wouldn't settle at all. I have never known her like that. After a couple of minutes, I got off and put her on a lunge line that was in the school. As soon as she was on the circle, she raced into trot and raced around at a crazy speed. I just let her run for a little while - she wasn't being naughty, it just seemed as if she needed to get it out of her system. When I asked her to canter, she leapt into it, but then cantered beautifully. Once she was willing to trot calmly, with her head lowered, I got on again. She still felt sharp off my leg and hot, but she was a litle more settled. However, when I asked her to trot, she just raced forward again.

I find it really difficult to slow her trot down - I've tried slowing my rising down, I've tried doing periods of sitting trot (I find it much easier to half-halt in sitting trot) and I've tried keeping her thinking by doing lots of turns and serpentines. Again, by the end, she was trotting in a more relaxed way, but she was very heavy in my hand. I didn't ask for a canter, as I didn't think I had much control over her shoulders again. I could really do with a lesson. I was supposed to have one on Thursday, but the timing didn't work out. I am a bit out of ideas. Perhaps I will call my old boss today and see what he says about it. My concern is that she may be sore in some way, as it is particularly out of character, but her saddle was reflocked a couple of weeks ago and she didn't seem sore in her back at all. Any ideas?

Wednesday, 26 December 2007

I didn't know you could do this!

This is apparently what 'people who blog' are all doing - taking a picture of their desktop. This is really not at all interesting, but have just been told how to do it, so thought I'd have a go. You press the Print Screen button on the keyboard, then open 'paint' and click edit and paste. And up it pops. I can't think of any reason why anyone would particularly want to do this, although I'm guessing that you could capture any page on the Internet and save it as a picture. Why? I'm not sure.

Thursday, 20 December 2007

Interesting Lesson

I had a lesson with John today and came out of it physically and mentally exhausted. I haven't had a lesson for well over a month now, for various reasons, so he asked me to warm up as usual, and said that he'd watch me. I walked her on a long rein, then started to trot. She'd had three days off, so was quite fresh, and was trotting round in a very choppy way. I tried to half halt her a bit, but she was on a bit of a mission.

John said, after about five minutes, that one of the main reasons that she was rushing was because she has made me twist my body. He said that I sit about two inches too far to the right, but have all my weight in the left stirrup. As a result, she is compensating and not working through her back to the right. He said that it's easier for her to the left, as my weight is in the left stirrup and so I can bend her. However, to the right, I am not able to use enough right leg. He got me to move my seat to the left and think about pushing my left hip towards her right ear when I rose in trot. This really helped. She began to bend properly and started stepping through and really swinging in her back. This was the same to the left and the right, which made a huge difference.

John then asked me to leg yield from the inside track to the wall on every long side, and noticed that she found it really difficult in trot on the right rein. He said that because she holds herself so prettily in front, she has been hiding the fact that she has some straightness issues to the right. When I finally did get the leg yielding, she gave me some lovely trot steps when we arrived back at the track. John even commented that her trot stride had doubled in length over the course of the lesson. I need to try and get that every time.

I came out of the lesson thinking hard and desperately trying to get my head around the corrections to my seat. It has to be one of the hardest things to change. I am going to have another lesson next week, as I really need him to put me in the right place! What I did love was the way Echo felt - she was powerful and seemed to be enjoying herself. Amazing.

Sunday, 16 December 2007

Some photos from today

If you click on the photos, they should enlarge.

I just rode Echo briefly in the school today, but had the benefit of cameraman, so thought I'd post some pictures. I got the best canter Echo has ever done today - as soon as I asked with my ouside leg, she just sprang into canter - normally we get a rushed, unbalanced trot before the transition. There is a photo of the canter and she is looking much more round than she has done before.

Saturday, 15 December 2007

I fell off!

I went for a lovely hack today - it was cold but sunny and fresh, and I was looking forward to a nice relaxing ride. For the most part, it was. We had a long canter where I didn't feel terribly in control, but she didn't do anything naughty. She felt very on the forehand today (it totally changes each day) and so when we went into canter she became a bit of a tank. It didn't matter too much, as the horse in front was going reasonably fast (he is an ex-racehorse after all). The only problem happened when Mojo shot sideways at a fallen tree, so then Echo spooked as well and her canter became disunited. She couldn't canter like that so we had to come back to a trot.

The rest of the hack was lovely. As we were riding home we saw an enormous herd of deer on the path. Both horses had a little look, but then the deer moved on and the horses relaxed. I was just admiring how sensible my horse is, as she clearly assessed the situation and realised that it wasn't scary. We were both relaxed and riding on loose reins. Turning onto the track that leads back down to the yard, I was behind my friend and we were chatting away, when Echo suddenly pricked her ears and looked worried. I didn't know what the problem was at first, then I saw two horses from the yard had just cantered up a hill that emerges near the track we were on.

They didn't want to come up behind us, so they were just standing still. Echo suddenly saw them and shot forwards , running into the back of Mojo. He panicked and bucked out at Echo, which made her spin sideways and charge into the bushes. The only problem was that he was trying to push through a tree, where the branches were as low as her chest. She was panicking and turned sideways, trying to find a route through the tree, but she slammed me into the branch and I fell off. It all happened as if in slow motion - I was lying on the ground looking up at her standing above me, thinking 'S**t - she's going to trample me', as she was still snorting and staring in the direction of the horses. I jumped up very quickly, but she didn't move. I was so grateful to her at that moment! I led her out of the bushes and saw my friend leading her horse too - I didn't realise that she too had fallen off! When her horse had bucked and kicked Echo, he had leaped forwards, spun round and stopped dead, causing her to fall off too. If someone had filmed it, it would have looked like a comedy sketch!

Both horses were jumpy but fine, so we got back on and went a long route home, in order to let them to chill out a bit before going home. Echo was still quite spooky, but was much more relaxed by the time we got home. I think she was a bit worried about me, as she was very very affectionate when we got back to the yard. In terms of first falls, it wasn't too bad - she relaxed quickly and we were able to continue our hack. I wasn't too shaken up and was confident to get back on, so as falls go, it could have been a lot worse. I think we will just have a light schooling session tomorrow - nothing too strenuous.

Wednesday, 12 December 2007


It was something ridiculous like -2 degrees when I was riding tonight and Echo hasn't been ridden for two days! Bless her, she was very very good. We were in the indoor as everything else is frozen, and there were two others in there, including a novice rider on a horse that kicks savagely if you go near it. Great! Having said that, we managed to keep out of each other's way most of the time. The only sign of her feeling fresh was her desire to trot whenever I put my leg on in the walk, but when I did actually trot, she was very good.

I managed a canter on both reins, even with others in the school - we must be improving. Managed to get the correct leg each time too - amazing! I didn't ride her for very long, as I didn't want her to sweat up and then get cold. Her clip is almost non-existent now, so she's pretty hairy again! I will clip her again soon - possibly a proper trace clip this time, so her back legs don't get so sweaty. Possibly not when it is below zero degrees, however!

On the board at the yard today was a notice about a small, fun Christmas show. There will be dressage and jumping; I think it's mainly for the riding school clients as a bit of fun, but I may enter the dressage. It's only prelim 4 and it would do us good to have something to aim for. I was a little sceptical, however, as our canter leaves a lot to be desired at the moment! Perhaps it will make me work on it, if I know I'm going to have to canter at a particular marker!

It would be fun to get dressed up and do a dressage test, however unsuccessful an attempt it is! My problem is that I'm fiercely competitive. I wouldn't dream of entering a dressage test if it were anywhere else yet, as I like to enter thinking I at least have a chance of doing well, but I kind of think I might as well have a go, as long as I see it as it's meant to be - a bit of fun. I will see how things go this week. I was thinking about getting her back looked at after Christmas, when I go back to school, so she will have to have two weeks off then. It would be a nice thing to do before that. We'll see, anyway!

Monday, 10 December 2007

Those pesky shoulders!

I very nearly didn't ride yesterday. Not only was I slightly worse for wear after a wedding on Saturday, it was blowing a gale and had been pouring with rain all morning. I had left a stack of marking to do in the afternoon, and I generally was feeling pretty lazy. However, when I got to the yard, the rain had stopped and the indoor school was free for half an hour, so I decided to just go in briefly. I'm so glad that I did.

Saturday had been another slightly awkward day - I rode Echo in the outdoor school, but it was very wet and she really hates working in there when it's like that. My plan was to school her briefly then take her for a walk on her own around the cross country course. She was not really in the mood, to be honest. She tensed through her body whenever we went through a puddle, she was on the forehand and was falling out horrendously through her outside shoulders. I have lost my schooling whip (on a hack - long story!) and realised that I couldn't really school her without one. I borrowed one from a friend but was already irritated by that point. I worked on loads of leg yielding - the opposite way to the way I would normally do it. When on the right rein, I would normally leg yield left from the three-quarter line to the track. However, to engage the shoulders, I was leg yielding right, off the track onto the three-quarter line. Although it wasn't the most successful leg-yielding, it did make her use her body a little more.

The hack afterwards was useless too. They are now grazing the section of the cross country course that I decided to ride down, so I got to the end of a track and had to turn around again. I also lost my dog for a while, so made Echo stand still for a couple of minutes while I called and whistled. She was very obedient, but it was not a very successful day. (Although I did find the dog ;))

Yesterday, however, was lovely. Whenever I really push her the day before, she is always very good the following day. She didn't fall out at all and didn't slip on to her forehand. As she was 'up' in her carriage, rather than 'on the forehand', I decided to have a go at what my trainer suggested ages ago - trying to ride the trot more forwards. He said not to really ask for medium trot, but at the moment she is trotting around very comfortably. He told me to start to show her that she needs to work a little with her hind legs. She got the idea of this in the end, although it needs work! She just rushed for a while, but by the end I felt her power forwards and take the bridle. It felt lovely!

The canter transitions are still not great, particularly on her more difficult right rein, but the actual canter is really improving. We can do a couple of laps of the indoor school without motorbiking the corners now! The transitions need more work, but I think she is definitely becoming stronger. We'll keep at it! She was so affectionate yesterday. She is not an overly affectionate horse all the time - she is happy to be dealt with and fussed, but unless there's food involved, she can really take you or leave you. However, yesterday she was really interested in what I was doing - sniffing my hair, nuzzling my neck and relentlessly undoing the zips, poppers and Velcro on any piece of clothing she could find on me. She's so cute when she's in that kind of mood - it's like having a toddler around!

Wednesday, 5 December 2007

Fewer Oats = Calm Pony!

I haven't ridden Echo since Sunday. She always has Mondays off, but yesterday I was too busy, so just brushed her thoroughly and turned her out. The weather is awful this week - gales predicted for tomorrow. It was very very windy this evening, and as she hasn't been ridden for a couple of days, I thought she'd be very sparky. However, I have made a big fuss about her feed recently. She has been on blue chip for a week now, but when I happened to be there when she was fed last week, I saw that she was getting a whole bucket of grain! She had a feed bucket full of oats and barley, with a little chaff and a little sugar beet! She is a youngster in light work!

So the last few days she has been on the diet that I thought she was on before. No straights, but a lot of chaff, sugar beet and some mix, along with her blue chip. When I got on this evening, I had a calm, sensible pony, who was willing to work properly. Magic. She is never naughty, even on all that food, but she finds it hard to concentrate when she hasn't been ridden for a while. Tonight she was great.

I was working on keeping her off her forehand. She is very croup high at the moment, and as a result, she tends to slip onto her forehand as soon as we get going. She has been feeling a little odd in her back recently. She isn't sore when I run my hand along it, and she is happy and willing to work correctly, but it just feels a little strange. She doesn't seem to be in any pain, but I am having the saddler check my saddle still fits, as she has changed shape a bit recently. I am also going to have her back looked at. Rather than get the lady I had last time, I am going to get a Bowen specialist that the rest of the yard use. She is apparently very good and works with vets at Newmarket. I am a little cynical of Bowen and reiki, but I have seen the results on other horses, so I'm willing to give it a go. I don't think there is anything wrong, and have a feeling that the odd sensation when I'm riding her is more to do with her being so croup high at the moment. I was watching her walk away from me in the field today, and the movement in her back did look a little odd when she moves her hind legs.

When I rode her today she was very good. I had a canter on each rein quite early on in the session and after that she felt very powerful. She was taking quite a strong contact, but it was definitely forwards rather than downwards. It felt lovely and as if she were really powering into the bridle. I've only really experienced this feeling in one of my lessons with John. I am desperate to have more lessons, but for the last few weeks he has been coming in the day time, and as a teacher, this is impossible for me during term time. With any luck, he is going to start coming in the evenings to teach some of the liveries; there's a little band of us that can only ride in the evening! I'd like his advice on her movement as well because I'm just not 100% sure. But then again, are we ever, as horse-owners!?

Sunday, 2 December 2007

A new trainer?

This video clip is terrible quality as my boyfriend was going to film my schooling session on the video camera, but there is something wrong with the battery - therefore he caught a couple of moments on his mobile phone. There's nothing particularly interesting about Echo in it, but what amused me about this clip is my dog sitting on his lap watching what's going on. You might also notice the fact that horse and dog match nicely - not planned, but it amuses everyone!

Saturday, 1 December 2007

My Special Horse

I've left it a while between posts again as work has been so hectic, but I have been managing to ride. Tuesday and Wednesday evenings I rode Echo and just focused on getting her soft and relaxed; this was a little difficult on Tuesday as there were four of us schooling in our rather small indoor arena, and there was a jump up (the last time Echo had seen a jump she was being chased over it!) so we got some nice work, but it was a little tense! Wednesday was fine and I got a canter on each rein - I am also finding that I can sit in the saddle a little more now when cantering in the arena. One thing I did notice, was the importance of my outside leg. She had been very forward going, so I guess I hadn't been using my legs enough. When I asked her to canter on the left rein, she cantered on the right leg, then on the right rein cantered on the left leg - rather a clear signal that I was letting her fall out through her outside shoulder. As soon as I got my act together and got her shoulders in, she cantered on the correct leg!

Yesterday, I decided to just give her a break from riding, and thought I would lunge her for 15 minutes just to establish some canter transitions. She was going beautifully and was cantering quickly when I asked, then she suddenly stopped. Nothing I could do would persuade her to canter again - she just ran around in a fast trot. It was extremely odd. In a bid to not let her 'get away with it' I got the yard manager to come and help me, but he couldn't get her to canter. By this time she was hot, stressed and tired, and I was just getting cross. I was quite upset, because I couldn't work out why she would just suddenly stop being willing to canter. Nothing had changed, and I wondered whether she was in pain of some sort. The yard manager recommended that I put her back in her stable and let her dry off, then come back later in the evening and ride her, getting a good canter with me on her. Then he said I should put her on the lunge again and ask for the canter again. I agreed to this, then went home and thought - a lot!

The fact that something like this had me in tears indicated to me that perhaps I was too tired to be having this argument now, and if Echo had refused to canter because she was exhausted, then she wasn't likely to be much better a couple of hours later. I decided to pretend it had never happened. I went back down to the yard, brushed her off and changed her rugs (she seemed very pleased to see me - bless her, even though I had been hitting her with a lunge whip) and gave her lots of hugs and polos. I was in no state to ride her and I'm really glad I didn't.

Today, I went out for a hack with my friend who I used to hack out with when we first started hacking. She has sold her old horse, Jem, but has got a new one now - a big 5 year old ex-racehorse. He's got a lovely personality but she has only had him for a couple of weeks and has only hacked him out in walk and trot. She was keen to have a short, steady canter, but I knew that she wouldn't want to gallop about madly as she is trying to keep everything calm. Echo behaved absolutely beautifully. She was willing to slow down even when Mojo started getting a bit in front of her, as I was keen to keep her balanced. When we had a canter she was great - not too fast and no bucking, so a great improvement on our previous two hacks! We had a second canter up a hill, which was a bit faster; I think Mojo suddenly remembered he had been a racehorse and was desperate to go. My friend controlled him really well, although at the top of the hill, I could see she was trying to stop, but he was just cantering slower and sideways! Echo came back to a trot, even though he was still cantering. She has such a sensible brain.

I really enjoyed riding her today. I realised yesterday (during my ridiculous over-analysing) that I am probably putting a bit too much pressure on her and that I should learn to not ask for 'just one more transition'. If she's done it well, leave it there. So easy to say, and yet so difficult to do, as I am a perfectionist! I need to give her more rides like today, where I make a huge fuss of her for just trotting nicely, or for taking a sideways step when I ask her to. I have a very special horse and should remember that more.

Sunday, 25 November 2007

Bucking and Jumping!

Out of these two things, it is quite clear which is better! Yesterday I hacked Echo out with a friend of mine and her horse, who is very laid-back and quiet. He is a relatively young horse, but has an amazing temperament. My friend fully understood that we had to go steady, and that I only wanted to walk and trot mainly, with a couple of slow canters. It was all going very well. Her horse is lovely to hack out with, although she did warn me not to get too close to the back of him, as he has been known to kick out. The two of them seemed to get on very well, and even when we got a little close at times, Jimmy didn't seem to mind.

It was freezing yesterday morning and so we did plenty of trot to warm up, before having a short canter up a hill. Echo was OK in this canter, but she did pull quite a bit, and didn't seem to be enjoying it. My friend was a little concerned about getting lost as she hasn't really hacked out with someone like me, who doesn't know the area (thousands of acres of heathland - all looks the same!). As a result, she was keen to just do a couple of loops of the same area. We then decided to canter up the same stretch again. As with the previous time, she went in front, with Echo and myself closely following. However, after about three strides, Echo put her head down between her front feet and started jumping on the spot. It was very odd. I tried to get her head up and kick her on, but she just bucked higher. I found this quite worrying, as although I didn't feel as though I was going to fall off, I was worried that she was in pain of some sort. She hadn't been at all fresh that morning and I would have thought that, had it just been exuberance, she would have taken off rather than stand on the spot to buck. I made her walk up the hill to where Jimmy and my friend were waiting, and she walked calmly up.

When we got back to the yard, I lunged her for a few minutes in canter on both reins and she seemed fine. I then got on and cantered her round the indoor school on each rein and she also seemed fine. This has really foxed me. All I can think is that perhaps she doesn't enjoy cantering on hacks now because she feels she can't keep up with the horse in front, or she finds it stressful after our rather bad experience last week. I think I will try again next weekend and see if she is better in front, or perhaps take her round the cross country course and have a canter on our own. It is rather worrying me though, as I didn't know how to solve the situation at all. It is really hard to know when to push and when to back off. I am also going to make sure I canter during every schooling session now. I suppose it might be that cantering has just become too exciting, as we only ever do it when we are hacking. I will try to take the novelty of it away, and perhaps as her balance improves in the school, it will help with her canter on hacks too. It's all very difficult to judge.

On a happier note, I loose jumped her today. It was really nice to see her work from the ground and for her to be doing something different. She behaved very well - there were a few occasions where she tried to squeeze through the outside of the jump, between the wing and the wall and she took the whole jump down with her! We solved this by wedging the pole against the wall so that there was no wing there. She really surprised me with her jumping. I know that her mother is a good jumper, but Echo has never shown any natural inclination to jump. In fact, she is always much more likely to climb things rather than jump them!

We took her over a pole first, then raised it to a little cross pole, then put it up to a straight bar at about 2ft high. She is not the most coordinated horse in the world, and got quite tangled up with her feet. She was much happier to come in trot than in canter, and she was finding it rather difficult when the jump was made bigger. The yard manager put the jump up to about 2ft6 (might not have been - I'm terrible at judging heights!) but because she kept approaching in trot, she was having to really launch herself over it. I didn't want it to be a negative experience that she found difficult, so (much to his disapproval) I insisted we put it back down. I didn't see the point in her crashing through it every time - that would do nothing for her confidence. She jumped this smaller height beautifully on both reins, then we called it a day.

She was very sweaty when she finished- more than anything, I think, because it was something new and quite stressful for her. However, I was so proud of her - she looked great when she jumped well. I think we need to do a couple more sessions like that before I attempt to pop over anything with me on her - she was struggling to find her balance even on her own, so I will let her get herself sorted before making her carry me over them! I have no desire for her to be a show jumper - just an all rounder who can do a bit of everything and perhaps a little bit more dressage! Hopefully, if she enjoys jumping, that can be our little release, along with hacking - where she doesn't have lots of pressure on - just a chance to have fun.

I had good intentions of videoing the session and posting it on here - but my designated cameraman was needed to wave a whip! Next time...

Tuesday, 20 November 2007

Clips and Blue Chip

Echo was clipped at the weekend. I didn't do it myself (I am very slow at clipping so not ideal for a young horse) but I held her and fed her polos! It worked out very well; she was in a very funny mood - flighty and on edge, so it wasn't an ideal time to introduce her to clippers, but she was perfectly behaved. You could see she was concerned as they started to travel up her neck towards her head, but she really will do anything for polos - I think she would try to stand on her head if it meant she would get polos, so she settled very quickly. We just did a low chaser clip this time; I had thought I would like her to have a trace, but it was good to get it all over with quickly. She does sweat around her back legs, but hopefully this will be reduced anyway. She's never been mareish or funny about being touched under her belly, so there was no problem with that area either. I was so proud of her - that's the attitude with which she has approached most things so far.

I felt the benefit of her clip tonight, as I rode her in the indoor school. In fact, I only rode her for about twenty minutes because she was so good again, but she didn't sweat at all. This is much better for both of us - she doesn't get cold and wet, and I can get home quickly! She was very good today actually - I was most impressed. I had much more control over her shoulders tonight, and I found I was able to lift her a little in front, as she has becoming a little on the forehand recently. I know this is just a young horse thing, as she finds her balance, but she was very responsive about my half-halts tonight. I did some work on trot-halt-trot transitions to engage her hind legs and these worked well. To combat the problem of the shoulders, I made a point of not doing any leg-yielding tonight. I think I will start to teach her a little shoulder in, as this will have the same effect on her way of going, but without (hopefully) causing her to fall out through her outside shoulder every time we do a circle! Hmm... That's a good idea actually - perhaps that's what we'll have a go at tomorrow!

In terms of her health, she seems to be OK in her gut now, but I am a little concerned about her body shape. When she was a yearling, she became very ribby in the winter, but with a huge belly. She wasn't thin, just looked a bit poor. Last year she was fine, but this year, I think partly due to the diarrhoea, she isn't quite looking her best. She is starting to look slightly like she did as a yearling and I am keen to get on top of it quickly, as I didn't really manage it before and she didn't look quite right until Spring. I think, as she has had a slightly problematic gut, I will try feeding her Blue Chip.

I've never fed a horse Blue Chip before, but have heard very mixed reviews. Some people swear by it. I have heard all kinds of stories - some quite ridiculous! Some have said that it sends horses wild, someone told me that it makes cobs ooze grease from glands behind their knees, which then cracks, (!!!) and tonight I was told that it can make horses hormonal and that it is fed to stallions as a form of Viagra!!? I guess it is different for each horse, and the only real way to know is to give it a go. The people who like it say it is fantastic: it calms the temperament, settles the gut and gives horses fantastic condition. That would be nice! I'm not sure I want some sex-crazed filly on my hands! Any advice would be welcome, however and I will consider my options over the next few days.

Saturday, 17 November 2007

She Bucked!!!

I took Echo out for a hack today, thinking it would be a nice time for her to relax and not have to work hard. However, our new hacking partner was somewhat lively and shying at everything, which put them both on edge a little. On our second canter, we had reached a lovely long sandy track, where you can really get a good stretch of canter. The other horse was a little bit ahead of us, as she was very energetic and going quite fast in all her paces. When she went into canter, Echo realised that she was quite far behind and charged off, trying to catch up. However, the horse in front was going at quite a speed, and Echo couldn't catch up, which clearly annoyed her greatly! She stuck her head down and bucked several times, then continued to charge off with me! I was shouting to my friend to stop, as I had absolutely no control at this point. When she did, we ended up cantering past her for a few strides.

I was a little concerned for a while, but then thought about what had happened and realised that altogether, it had just been a bit too much for her to handle. Her friend was obviously very fired up and this was having rather an effect on her brain! We spent a long time in walk, then had a couple more steady trots and another canter, where we went at a very sensible speed. I think she has started to think that cantering on hacks means going very fast, so steady steady steady for a while until I have brakes again!

She is being clipped tomorrow - fingers crossed for us!

Friday, 16 November 2007

Wiggly Shoulders!

I rode Echo this afternoon and was having some rather irritating problems. She was forward-going and flexed in the poll at all times - we no longer have any fights over her mouth (touch wood!) and in many ways she was very good. In fact, she was NEARLY very good for the whole session! However, I think perhaps I have been doing too much leg-yielding with her because every time I tried to ride a circle, on the open part of the circle she would fall out through her outside shoulder considerably. I know that this is because when I incline my weight to the inside and put my inside leg on on the circle, she thinks I mean go sideways. I also know that it is because I am not riding her outside enough, but I can't seem to correct it!

It's a strange feeling, not being able to control a horse's shoulders - she feels very wiggly! I also found that because I wasn't controlling her body properly, she was becoming quite heavy in my hand. I am very keen that she doesn't drag herself along on her forehand, and learns to push herself from behind. However, I was finding it very difficult to stop her hanging on the reins, when I clearly had no control of the main bulk of her body. It felt out of control and awkward and I kept getting really annoyed - not really at her, because she is not the one with the problem, but I didn't seem to be able to make myself correct it.

I think I need to leave the leg yielding a bit and focus on some transitions for a while - get her weight a little more onto her hind-legs and stop her falling onto her forehand. I really need a lesson, but funds are a little tight - all those vet's bills were a nightmare! Hopefully we are going to go for a hack tomorrow and relax a little!

Thursday, 15 November 2007

Different Mentalities

I think I confuse people at the yard where I keep Echo! I rode her on Tuesday evening after work and she was not particularly cooperative. There were plenty of reasons why this was the case, but nevertheless, she was not overly willing. The first reason was that it was only the second time she had been ridden since her time off. In addition to this, I was riding in the evening, when she thought that she should be out in the field. It was dark, I was riding outside with the floodlights, it was extremely cold, windy and then started to rain lightly too. Not exactly perfect conditions for riding a young horse!

When I got on she shot off at an extended walk, pacing round the arena like her life depended on it. She felt like a coiled spring and didn't want to concentrate at all. I like to give her plenty of time on a long rein to warm up, but I had to take a contact in case she found anything to shy at - we would have ended up at the other side of the arena very quickly! I worked for a long time on walk and halt transitions - we had quite a fight, as stopping was not high on her list of priorities, but eventually she settled. I read an interesting article in a magazine recently, which said that horses think very well in walk, a little in trot, and very badly in canter. I thought it would be best to stay in walk for a while in order to get her brain engaged.

It didn't really work. When I went into trot she zoomed round, falling out through her outside shoulders and shooting away from my leg. Her little legs were going at break-neck speed and nothing I could do would slow her down! In fact, it was only persistent work in that session that made her slow down. I rode her for about an hour, insisting on a lower head carriage and a longer stride, until I got what I asked for. We ended the session exhausted and very wet - from sweat and rain. The positives from this are that she got there eventually and produced some relaxed, rhythmical trot work. The downside is that she lives out and has a long-ish winter coat still, so I had to wait for about an hour and a half for her to dry before I could turn her out - not much fun when everyone has gone home and I knew I had stacks of work to do. No one could understand why I didn't just stop earlier - but I am a perfectionist - I can't leave something unfinished!

What baffled them more was that I then rode her last night and she was fantastic from the moment I got on. We were still outside, but she was focused and willing from the start. Her trot was lovely; she was very responsive laterally from my legs and I was able to really channel her energy - it was a pleasure to ride her. So I stopped! I rode her for about twenty minutes in total, including warming up and cooling off - she didn't break into a sweat and we were all happy. Somebody asked me why I had stopped so soon and I tried to explain that she didn't need to do any more, and they said, 'Don't you like riding her then?' I started to explain that I see riding her far more as a training exercise for her and much less as a hobby for me - and that I get my pleasure out of her achieving something and going well. I didn't feel that I needed to ride her for longer. It really made me think about the different goals people have as riders and horse trainers.

Monday, 12 November 2007

Much improvement!

I was finally able to ride Echo again yesterday and it was great to be riding again. I lunged her the day before and she was very good - frisky, but good! What I did notice on the lunge, however, was the marked improvement in her canter. She has always struggled to canter while lunging, and so I have avoided this for a while and only cantered on hacks. Her transitions were much more defined this time and she was able to really power from behind. Her canter is actually starting to look rather good!

When I rode yesterday she had definitely forgotten a few manners! Too much pampering and not enough work! When another horse came into the arena, she decided to wander off and say hello! It took about five minutes for her to remember what her job was. She was a little wooden in the trot to begin with and I had to really work on getting her to flex. I also did some leg-yielding quite early in the session and that seemed to work. However, as I was turning onto a circle after that, she kept thinking I wanted to leg-yield back to the track and it took some strong outside aids to show her that I didn't want her to go sideways EVERY time!

I decided to see if there was an improvement in her canter when I was riding her, and asked for a transition on the left rein first. She got the left canter straight away, and I was able to maintain it and even ask for her to be a little more civilised in the pace. However, on the right rein, she kept striking off on the wrong leg. It seems that she was only pretending to bend to the right at first, and was actually falling out through her left shoulder. When I asked for the canter she immediately struck off on the left lead. I had to physically stop for a moment to think about this. I realised that I needed to ride the outside of the horse more strongly. I think in order to make her bend, I had been putting my weight more onto my inside seat bone. In fact, this was enabling her shoulder to escape. I found that when I straightened myself and distributed my weight more evenly, she then was able to truly bend to the right and got the correct lead leg in canter. This was a bit of a learning experience for me - I had thought that I was helping her to bend by exaggerating a little with my weight, but both with the canter leads and the leg-yielding, I have found that being straight and even helps her a lot more.

As you can tell, it was quite a mental workout! However, this was not the only form of workout, and I have realised that unfortunately I am going to have to clip Echo soon. She has grown quite a woolly winter coat, despite my gallant efforts to keep her well rugged up. I had hoped that this year I would have the chance to stand her next to some horses being clipped and get her used to trimmers and other noisy items. I am determined that she will be an easy horse to clip, and therefore I need to make sure that I introduce it all properly. There is nothing worse than a horse that is difficult when you are trying to clip, so I want her to learn properly. Therefore, this week will be spent getting her used to buzzing items and then hopefully she will be de-haired a little at the weekend. In the meantime, I will try to ride her only lightly, as she got very sweaty yesterday. I have to ride her in the evenings after work, and I can't turn her out if she is wet - it takes so long for her to dry in this weather too. Fingers crossed that she is as angelic as she has been in every other way!

Monday, 5 November 2007

Quick Update

Thank you for the kind 'get well soon' messages for Echo - she is doing much better now. She is very much enjoying the extra food required for the medication to be administered, combined with the lack of work! She was quite full of herself yesterday!

Things seem to be improving - she's much more solid now, thanks to the drugs, so we will see what the results of the tests say about the cause. I am missing the riding, but as I'm back in the thick of it at work now, the extra time is quite welcome.

I'll update further when I have the results from the vet. I am also hoping the farrier will shoe her tomorrow - he refused to do her on Friday, in case she covered him in pooh - what a lightweight! No, I can understand that - I'm sure I wouldn't want to risk spending to long by her back end at the end of last week, although having said that, I don't think I've ever washed a horse's tail so many times in a week! I have had to start using a baby shampoo, as I didn't want to harm her tail with my usual 'super strength' brand!

Saturday, 3 November 2007

A slight setback

I mentioned previously that Echo has had diarrhea for a while, and I had been concerned, but not too worried. Yesterday, while I was in Oxford, the vet visited the yard, and as I had asked that they look at Echo next time they were out, they examined her while I wasn't there.

I had a phone call in the afternoon, saying that I needed to collect some drugs from the vet to treat it. I can't remember the names of the drugs, as I've taken them to the yard already, but one will 'solidify' and one is an antibiotic. The vet has said that there are two main possibilities - salmonella and worms. I would so surprised if it is salmonella, as none of the other horses in her field have the problem, she doesn't have a temperature, is happy in herself and eating normally. I would have thought that salmonella is contagious enough to spread between horses in the field and would make her feel unwell.

If it is worms, I will be so angry! She has been wormed regularly and effectively since she was born, but since I moved to her present yard I have had to relinquish control of these things. It's a horrible feeling - I've always been in control of what she eats, when she's wormed, when the farrier comes etc. Now, they do the feeding, they worm them and they organise when the farrier comes. I have got used to this now, to a certain extent, but when something like this happens, I can't help myself from blaming them! It makes me really angry... but enough ranting until we find out the results of the faeces tests that are being carried out.

Obviously, I can't ride her until this has cleared up. I do feel bad for having ridden her for the last couple of weeks, but as I said, she seemed happy in herself and perfectly willing. I don't think I would have done her any damage riding her, but I have obviously not treated it, which I feel bad about. I find with horses that you spend half your life worrying and the other half feeling guilty!

Thursday, 1 November 2007

Brave girlie.

Echo was slightly awkward in the school on Tuesday - she just didn't seem to be in the mood really. I was practising the leg-yielding, but it felt sluggish and difficult, which was making me annoyed. I persevered, although I probably should have just moved on to something else. I finally got some good steps and decided to leave it there and go for a walk round the cross country course. This was quite successful as last time we did this, she was very spooky and kept jumping at things. I guess this time she was too tired to shy! Even when two small irritating ponies came thundering gleefully up their field next to us, she only had a little look, then kept walking. I was able to canter past them up the hill after that too - big improvement!

I was going to school her yesterday as well, as Tuesday had not quite gone according to plan, but as I was tacking up, a lady at the yard asked me if I wanted to go for a 'little wander'. This sounded more appealing and I assumed it would only be a short hack. We ended up going out for about an hour and a half! Admittedly, a lot of that was walking, but we did several good stretches of trot, and had some canters too. What was really good about yesterday was that it was our first time out for a proper hack with someone other than our usual partners. The horse we went out with is in Echo's field, so they know each other well, but it's funny - she was very different with the new friend!

When we are out with Jem, the horse we usually hack with, Echo is totally submissive to her, as Jem is very much the boss of the field and Echo adores her. She is definitely the mother figure to all the others. However Rosie, who we hacked out with yesterday, is very different - she is definitely not the boss, and Echo wasn't sure whether she should take charge or not. As a result, there was much switching of places during the hack. Sometimes Rosie was in front, but she is a it smaller than Echo and we had to hold back a bit; sometimes Echo was in front and wasn't always sure that she liked it! She was actually very good, and got the hang of leading very well. We even led for the last canter, which was fantastic. We were coming up a hill and I was really able to put my leg on and stretch her out. It felt amazing.

The only slight mishap was on the way home - I really must start making Echo walk through puddles, rather than keep allowing her to step round them. She went to go round a big puddle, then realised that there was a small tree in the way. She then went round that as well and I had to duck right on to her neck in order to not get smacked in the face by the branches. However, the problem then was that I couldn't see where we were going, and Echo had to pick her own route through the trees to get back to her friend on the track. This was a bad idea, as she has very little spacial awareness with me on her back. We just about scraped through, but not without some loud expletives on my part! I had visions of being left dangling cartoon-style on a branch and watching Echo trot off into the distance!

When we got back it was almost dark and I gave Echo a feed as she had worked hard. I am starting to give her a feed after every time I ride now, in an attempt to keep weight on her this winter. She kept her weight last year, but I wasn't riding her so she got to keep all her energy to keep her warm. For a stocky little thing she is actually not that good a do-er. This may improve as she gets older, however, as she is still only a baby.

Tuesday, 30 October 2007

Video from my lesson AGES ago

This is the video that I have been promising for ages to put up here. My laptop has been difficult about videos, so it has been tricky to get hold of. The lesson was with Kjeld Friedrikkson, a Danish Olympic rider. The first few moments of the video are near the beginning of the lesson, where Echo was being quite difficult with her head. After this point, Kjeld raised and tightened her noseband, and as you can see, it made a huge difference.

This was taken well over a month ago, and I think we have improved in our rhythm and balance, as well as our impulsion. She is quite forward here, but has definitely developed as she has gained strength. The end of the session sees Kjeld try to get us to work the trot out into a longer outline, getting her to stretch. It is partly successful, although I think we have got better at this!

Sunday, 28 October 2007

Speedy Pony!

Echo had a day off on Friday, as she had worked very hard in the lesson on Thursday. Yesterday, I managed to catch our usual hacking partner at the yard, and arranged a hack in the afternoon. I am so glad that I did, as it was a great ride.

The wind had picked up a bit by the time we went out, but when we are in company, Echo doesn't seem to be very bothered by the wind. We went out through the heathland and into the forest. The route we went on required us to walk down a road for a short stretch - something we haven't done before. Our only experience of roads has been walking along parallel to one, but a few metres away, and crossing a road. Luckily, we didn't encounter any traffic, so I didn't have to deal with that!

Once we were in the forest, we had some good long stretches of trot, where Echo was very forward going. It's funny - I find it much harder to keep my balance in the trot out hacking - I think it must be because we are on rough ground and going slightly faster than we would in the school. I have to concentrate really hard on not getting in front of or behind the movement. Cantering, however is fine!

Our first canter was through some woods on a sand track - it was a nice long track, but is not on any kind of incline, so Echo was quite fast! I had to steer her behind the horse in front, as she was picking up quite a bit of speed. I try to control her with my weight rather than my hands out hacking, as I don't want to be hauling on her mouth. The next canter that we had was rather more controlled and I was able to sit up and enjoy it.

We cantered quite a few times on this hack - it is so good for her transitions to do plenty of canter while out in the countryside. I am also really enjoying the faster work - I am starting to get a taste for some speed (although nice and controlled thank you very much!) which is quite a revelation for me after so many years spent only doing dressage!

I went down to the yard today, but the weather was horrible and there was a hunter trial going on. I decided to just give Echo a thorough groom and turn her out. She will have a day off tomorrow as well, but I don't think this will do her any harm. She still has quite bad diarrhoea - I can't really work out what is causing it - she is still eating normally, and seems perfectly happy in herself. She is moving fields on Tuesday, and the new field has better grass; hopefully this will sort the problem, otherwise I shall have to look into it a bit further. She has lost a little weight recently, probably due to the diarrhoea. She isn't thin by any stretch of the imagination, but I don't want her to lose any more, so I am going to start giving her an extra feed each day.

Thursday, 25 October 2007

Surprise Lesson

I ended up having a lesson today, which was really useful! I am rather short of funds at the moment, but a friend offered to lend me the money, and since my instructor was around, I decided to go for it. It was such a good thing to do!

Last time I had a lesson I had a real breakthrough with my hands in the walk. Today, we had another revelation. I love lessons like that, where you suddenly think 'Of course! That's what I wasn't doing!' The breakthrough today was with the leg yielding, as this is what we have been practising since our last lesson. When John arrived I said that I thought she had been going better on the right rein recently, and that the better rein keeps switching. After watching us for a few minutes, he begged to differ. He asked me why I thought she didn't feel as good on the left and I explained that it was because she was heavier in my left hand. He then pointed out that with a young horse, you want the horse to go forward into the contact. The fact that she is heavier in my left hand means that she is not taking the contact forward enough to the right and not moving off my right leg properly. This all makes lots of sense, but I hadn't really thought about it like that.

When we started leg-yielding he explained that I was shifting my weight to the wrong side. When I wanted to leg yield to the right I was putting my weight to the right. I think I thought I was helping to show her which direction to go in. Evidently I was doing the opposite and preventing her from moving across. I really don't know why I thought this was the right thing to do - when she falls in on her right shoulder, I put my weight to the right and that pushes her weight across to the left. I KNOW this, so I have no idea why I thought that putting my weight to the right would make her go right in the leg-yielding - it doesn't make sense!

John also explained that while it helps mentally to leg-yield in walk for a bit first, as soon as the horse has some idea of going sideways, it is far better to ask for the exercise in trot. Apparently the moment of suspension in trot gives the horse time to physically move its legs across, whereas they can become tangled in walk. I was a little sceptical of this to begin with, as when I have tried it in trot, she just rushes. He watched me have a go once, then the next time I turned up the three-quarter line, he told me to make a transition to walk, while still asking for the sideways movement. Suddenly, she moved properly sideways. She was fairly strong in my hand, but we actually moved to the right correctly. It seems that when he just said to 'slow down' I wasn't able to control the forward movement from my leg. If I actually asked for the transition while applying the leg, it made it very clear to her that my leg meant sideways, not forwards.

We did this a few times on each rein, really working on using my inside leg on the turn to get the sideways movement started. As well as producing some excellent leg-yielding, the contact she was giving me was fantastic. She was really stretching into the bridle on both sides and I felt like she was really swinging. It just proves to me how valuable lessons are - even when we are only covering the basics. I feel like we are making such great progress and I love the fact that each lesson is a little revelation in itself. I go away thinking very hard, as you can probably tell from my babble here!

Tuesday, 23 October 2007

Hot Head!

Following our fantastic ride on Sunday, I decided to hack Echo out again on her own today. She had been so good at this recently, going round the cross country course and I didn't think it would be too much of a problem to go out onto the heath instead. She has been that way before, but not alone.

Looking back on it, it probably was a rather big step. She didn't do anything naughty at all, she was just very stressy. I rode straight out onto the heath from the yard and she was fine,just a little quick and held her head rather high. I was surprised by how confident I felt. I had a clear idea of where we were going to go and decided to stick to it, quietly and with determination.

She shrieked her head off regularly, but was obedient about walking forward. I had thought that she would settle after a while, but she wasn't having any of it. At one point she seemed a little more relaxed, so I had a little trot, but she got very stressed and wasn't listening to me, so I went back to a walk again.

When we got back to the border of the cross country course, I decided to go the long way round, in order to take her down a route she knows well. I thought this might settle her, but she was very fast and quite spooky. The only time she settled was when we were on our way back and were in sight of the yard.

I'm not worried about this, I just wish I had done things a bit differently. If it is nice weather again tomorrow, I will ride her in the school for a short while, then go round the cross country course, and THEN venture out a little way on to the heath. It would make sense to do the more worrying bit when she is less fresh and has worked a little already.

I am keen to keep her going out on her own, even if only for short adventures. Our usual hacking partner has found a loan home, and so we are going to have to get braver at going out alone and with horses Echo doesn't know as well.

Monday, 22 October 2007

Cloud Nine

I had the most fantastic day with Echo yesterday - it was one of those 'grin uncontrollably' moments. It wasn't because of anything specific, just the utter joy of being able to ride my horse.

I schooled her for about twenty minutes and as usual, she was very good. She was slightly lazy in the walk, but once we started trotting she was very forward going. I was working on what my instructor had told me to practise - changing the bend effectively and obediently. In walk she is excellent at this, and combined with some leg yielding, the exercise makes her very supple. We did have a very bizarre moment yesterday, however. She is normally better on the left rein, and so her right to left bend changes are better. Yesterday, I asked for the change of bend from right to left in trot as we came across the diagonal, but I must have asked her to change too abruptly, as she completely lost control of her front legs, got in a complete tangle and nearly fell over!

I don't completely know what happened; I may have shifted my weight to the left too early and unbalanced her. We came around again in trot and she was fine the next time. What is good, is that she is getting much better at changing the bend. When she is not falling over (!), she is much more flexible through her body. I am starting to ask for leg yielding in trot now, which I hope will teach her where her legs are a little bit! This is still in the early stages.

I then went out for a hack round the cross country course and she was so lovely to ride. We had a couple of trots, then as we were coming up a hill, I decided to ask for a canter. In the school, her canter transitions are quite laboured, but out hacking she springs into canter. She felt forward going, but completely controllable. I was dictating the speed entirely, and it was the best feeling ever. When we had got down to a walk again, I had to give her a huge hug. We have come such a long way in the two and a half months she has been broken-in. I never thought I would be hacking alone and cantering after such a short time.

I couldn't keep the smile off my face when I got back to the yard - my horse is amazing!

Sunday, 21 October 2007

Show Time

I am exhausted today after yesterday's show; it was a great day, although I have to admit, showing really isn't my thing! The day started well - Echo was perfect when being plaited - as you can see from the photos, she had to have rather a lot of plaits! Her mane is so thick that the number of plaits was well into the twenties. Luckily, I decided to use bands rather than thread, so it only took me an hour and a quarter. However, I then realised that having plaited her mane, showing etiquette requires that I would have to plait her tail as well. I was seriously running out of time by this point.

I had groomed her thoroughly the day before and absolutely smothered her in coat shine, so she was pretty clean. Her back legs needed re-washing and her tail needed a little rinse, but otherwise she is pretty good at keeping herself clean. However, it's the little things that take ages when preparing for a show, and I am a little out of practice. I ended up missing the first of my classes - it was a shame, but there was just no way I could get there in time.

We did, however, make it in time for the 'In hand cob' class. I had been a little dubious about whether to enter or not. Not only does she not fall under the two descriptions of 'trimmed' or 'traditional', but I had also been reading some information on the Internet about what constitutes a 'cob'. I read that, in order to be classified as a 'lightweight cob', the horse has to have at least 8 and a half inches of bone below the knee. A heavyweight cob then has to have 9 inches or more. I measured Echo below the knee this week and found that she only has 7". However, having already entered the class, and as it is just a small show, I thought I would have a go anyway.

She was impeccably behaved. She walked beautifully round the ring, striding out with her ears forward and looked fantastic. There were some stunning cobs in the class, most of whom were coloured. We were called in 5th, which I was not surprised about. When I was asked to take Echo up to the judge, she asked me how old she was and checked that I would be entering the coloured class. She then said that I shouldn't really enter a 'cob' class, because Echo is not a true cob, as she doesn't have enough bone. She said that however much she likes the horse, she cannot place it highly if it does not have enough bone. I thought this was really nice, as she clearly liked Echo and her reasons were what I had been expecting anyway. We ended up sixth, which I was pleased with - we still got a rosette and had got some very good experience.

The coloured class was about half an hour later, and Echo was equally well behaved. She stood perfectly when required to (there is a LOT of standing around!) and was excellent to lead. She did seem a little bored by the end though, and didn't have her ears forward as much as she had done before. We ended up fourth. The coloured that won looked rather like a 'pot hunter'. It was a Shetland stallion that would not have looked out of place at HOYS. The judge was mesmerised by him, and it was no surprise that he was first. However, it was less clear why the horse in second place was so favoured. I don't want to sound bitter (although I am bound to be slightly biased!) but looking objectively at the two of them, Echo had much more clearly defined (and nicer) markings, had better paces and was just generally more attractive.

It was this that confirmed my dissatisfaction with showing. Even though dressage can be subjective at times (certain judges will never place people like Carl Hester below first place, no matter what kind of test he does), at least you get marks for things that you actually DO. I used to win dressage competitions on the little cob I used to compete, even when we were against big warmbloods. Yes, if the warmbloods had done immaculate tests, we probably wouldn't have won, but the pony used to be absolutely foot-perfect. More often than not, our accuracy and his willingness to try hard would come through in the end. Showing just seems to be so subjective; one of my friends was told yesterday that her horse had unattractive markings. I don't think that is very fair. I am perfectly aware that I would probably not be saying this if I had been placed first in both classes!!

I had a great day, and was incredibly proud of my beautiful horse. In my opinion, she was undoubtedly the best horse there!

Saturday, 20 October 2007

Official Show Photo

This is the photo taken by the photographer at our show today. I haven't yet looked at my own photos, but I will put some of them on and write a proper post about the day as soon as possible. She was SUCH a good girl - she behaved beautifully and we had a 4th and a 6th.

Wednesday, 17 October 2007

Momentary Panic

I had a worried five minutes this evening. I was brushing Echo in preparation for riding her and noticed a lump on the front of her off-side hind. It was too far forward to be a splint and had no heat in it, but was definitely a lump. Recently, I had been thanking my lucky stars for the fact that I actually have a horse to ride now, and was worried that I might have jinxed things! I am not a supersticious person, but horses certainly make you 'touch wood' a little more frequently than you usually might!

After trotting up sound a couple of times, I was happy that it was almost certainly just a small knock. She is in season at the moment, and living in a field of mares means that things can become a little fractious at times! It is likely that one of the mares caught her leg and hence the lump appeared. It didn't seem to be causing her any discomfort at all, so I rode her for a short while in the indoor school.

She was a delight to ride this evening, after a brief disagreement over the mounting block! She is beginning to understand the idea of leg-yielding now, although I am still having to use my weight rather dramatically to explain it to her. I have another week before my next lesson, so I will hopefully be able to consolidate this before that. She felt lovely in my hand and was willing to bend from my leg - I ended up only riding her for about twenty minutes again - she just didn't need to do any more!

I have managed to get hold of an in-hand bridle for Saturday. I hadn't planned on being so competitive, but another coloured horse at my yard is being kitted out in all the gear, so I thought I had better give Echo the best chance possible! I have, however, realised that I know absolutely nothing about showing - not even what to wear myself. I also have not plaited with thread for years; in the dressage yard I worked in I was nearly always able to use bands, as we then used white tape to make the plaits look beautiful. I am tempted to use bands anyway, simply because I am better and quicker at plaiting with them and it is only a little local show after all. In the end, it may come down to how willing Echo is to stand and be fussed over that morning!

Sunday, 14 October 2007

Bendy Pony

I think the relaxed hack yesterday did Echo some good, as today I rode her in the outdoor school and she was fantastic. She was soft in her contact and felt lovely and forward in trot. I am working on her downward transitions again, this time with a new tactic. I now ask for the transition from sitting trot, and if she doesn't stay round and soft, I make her keep on trotting. She is learning quite quickly that I won't let her walk until she is soft. This way it also prevents me from really hauling on her mouth to keep her in an outline, but gets me to use my legs and push her on until she's round. My contact stays soft and consistent throghout. It seems to be working well so far.

The leg-yielding is coming on reasonably well, although better on the left rein than the right. This is because she naturally falls in on her right shoulder on the right rein, therefore finds it hard to shift her momentum across to the left. Although the leg-yield itself is tricky, once I have done it a couple of times, she is then lovely and bendy round my right leg. We are also getting better at changing the bend, although this is obviously better from right to left than left to right.

In the end, I only rode her for about 20 minutes in the school - I dodn't feel that she needed to do any more. We then went for a little hack on our own round the cross country course. We had a trot and a canter, which was the first time she has done so on her own out hacking. She was very good, although she is not very forward going when out on her own. I think I need to do a little more of this, as well as keeping up the hacking out in company. I'm not really sure how to encourage her to be more forward when out on her own. Trotting helped a little today, although she was slightly tricky to get into trot - she just didn't want to move out of a walk! In the school and in company she is quite sharp, but she becomes very dead off my leg when we are out alone.

She will have a day off tomorrow and then we will try to keep things varied next week. Her schooling is actually improving now that we are doing less of it!

Saturday, 13 October 2007

In Control!

I had such a lovely hack on Echo today. She was relaxed, forward going and a pleasure to ride. As we were hacking at lunchtime, we had no time restrictions due to light, so were able to go a bit further. We reached some amazing tracks, where in the past I have been running with my dog, but had only dreamed of riding on them. They are like a grid system through the forest, with mile after mile of sandy tracks. They are perfect for riding on; we had some lovely long trots and one good stretch of canter, where we were able to get into a good rhythm. She even had a bit of a head-toss and a grunt at one point - I'm pretty sure that's a sign that she was enjoying herself, as that's what she does when she's excited in the field.

Actually, today was a great confidence boost for me, as I felt for the first time that I could control the speed of Echo's trot and canter while we were out. Previously, I have felt that she was very dependent on the horse in front, but today I was definitely the one controlling the pace. After our canter, we came to a really long field, where my friend asked if I'd like another canter. However, I was quite keen to just trot, as I don't want Echo to think that she goes into canter every time. As we set off, the horse in front started quite quickly; I think she was expecting to canter! Echo was perfect and stayed a good distance behind - not even considering going into canter. What a star!

We have been starting to prepare for next weekend's show. I have now finished pulling her mane, so that I can plait it more easily. I am working my way through the forest of her tail and am planning to trim her head tomorrow. She isn't clipped, but she has a very hairy head and to show it off properly, I think it needs a bit of a trim. This will also get her prepared for the noise of the clippers, although I would really like to avoid clipping her this year. However, you can't really make plans with this sort of thing - we'll see how it goes. I have now entered the show and we are going to do three in-hand classes. We're doing 'Youngstock - any breed', 'Cob' and 'Coloured' classes, and if we have the time and inclination, we may have a go at the 'Prettiest Mare' class! It's only a tiny local show, and should just be something different to do! I will make sure I take plenty of pictures to put on here!

Wednesday, 10 October 2007

Mother syndrome

I just realised how long I have left it between posts! Things have been incredibly busy at work, and while I've just about been able to squeeze in riding Echo after work, I haven't had any spare time to write.

Things have been ticking along nicely with Echo. We have had some really nice hacks - we even had a canter last time! I had gone out with my usual hacking partner, but then we came across two more people who wanted to join us. Echo has never hacked out with anyone behind her, and this certainly made her a little more sprightly! She didn't do anything silly, she was just more forward going. When we had our first trot, we were side by side with her field mate. Echo was so speedy that we overtook her friend and were then leading the whole ride! So much for a timid youngster! We had another trot in a stubble field, which was fun, then had a canter on the way home. We decided to canter on a quite narrow track, so there was no possibility of anyone overtaking; it is also on a slight hill, so she was able to balance herself. It was such good fun: I had the biggest smile on my face afterwards!

Since then, we have had a few schooling sessions, some better than others for various reasons, but today I had a lesson with a local trainer. He teaches lots of people at the yard and I have heard many good things about him. We just had a half hour lesson this evening in the indoor school, but as Echo had had the last two days off, I was not sure how willing she would be to cooperate. She was, of course, very good!

He asked us to work in as we normally would in walk and trot, and then gave me a few pointers. He noticed that in walk, I tend to hold my hands too still and that this is encouraging her to tuck her head right under. She has recently been fighting my hand occasionally and he said that this is her getting annoyed with my rigid contact. This was a real revelation, because I had no idea that I was doing this. He told me to move my hands in an exaggerated way to begin with, and with a little practice, I found that she was much softer in her contact. This is so obvious! It's amazing how you have to return to the basics sometimes in your riding.

In trot, he said that she has a good length of stride and explained that this something that cobs can lose easily, and something that I must work to maintain. He said that this would involve making sure she doesn't get tight and tense through her back. She needs to swing through her body to move her legs, rather than use her legs to move her body. I had never thought of it like that and it is an interesting idea. We worked hard on changing the bend in trot and not allowing her to change the rein until she has changed the bend, even if that means going back to a halt in order to enforce this.

She is usually better at changing the bend than she was tonight, but he made the useful point that I need to be a little firmer with her. He said that it is good that I am patient, but that I must insist on something once I have asked, not just try to improve it next time. This is something I have been told before, and stems from the fact that I sometimes find it hard to see Echo as a horse that I must RIDE. It sounds stupid, I know! It is because I have had her since she was so young, and essentially she is my baby. He suggested I start to see her more as a work colleague and less as my child. This won't exactly be easy, when I feel like a mother to her. However, the more I start to think in dressage terms again, the more I remember how to ride assertively.

This week he has said that we should work on a little bit of leg yielding, as well as really insisting on the change of bend when changing the rein. We shall keep at it! I think I am hacking out again tomorrow, so the pressure is off. I'm sure that is why Echo is starting to enjoy hacking now: it is our chance to mooch around without the pressure. Even I am starting to enjoy it, and I never thought I'd say that!

Saturday, 29 September 2007

Free Echo!

Echo in her stable without her bars!!!

Thursday, 27 September 2007

McTimoney Technique

I had Emma Punt, a McTimoney back specialist, out to see Echo today. I booked her to come when Echo was having trouble bending on the left rein. However, I think that may have been something to do with the saddle, and she has since become much more supple. However, I thought I would keep the booking, as an MOT is always a good idea.

McTimoney is closely linked to physiotherapy, although they cannot call themselves chiropractors unless they treat humans. The girl who came out was very knowledgeable and I was really impressed with how thorough she was. She took down masses of information about Echo's history and what we have done so far, then she watched her walk and trot up in hand. She noticed that Echo holds her quarters fractionally to the right and so had a close look at her from behind. Apparently, her pelvis was slightly crooked, which was causing her to hold her quarters to one side. She did some manipulation of this and has apparently put the problem right.

She also said that she had some slight tension through her muscles on the left hand side of her spine, so she worked this area for a while to relieve it. As you would expect with a young horse, there is not too much to fix, which is good. Also, being young and flexible, apparently things right themselves quickly when manipulated.

I can't do too much with her tomorrow, as she needs to work mostly in straight lines for a while. This is not a problem, but she went so beautifully tonight before she was treated, and I am so enjoying riding her at the moment. I'm really glad I got Emma to come out, as it is great to know that physically Echo is able to cope with what I am asking of her, and that she is happy and comfortable.

Wednesday, 26 September 2007

This week has been unbelievably frustrating! I had such a good week with Echo last week, finishing with a really successful hack on Sunday, where we even had our first trot out in the big wide world. We trotted twice and both times Echo was very well behaved. We went out with one of her field-mates again and this is working out very well. We went past some potentially very scary objects and Echo did not even look twice at them. What a star.

On the way home, we had to go past a field where some of the horses from the yard are turned out and that was slightly tricky, as they were all young geldings and Echo is the biggest flirt I have ever known. Fortunately, I saw them come galloping over before she did, so I got off before we could have any difficulties. I led her past their field, with Echo prancing and fluttering her eyelids at the boys, then I remounted as soon as we had gone past. She was then fine.

My friend suggested that, as we were hacking back through the cross country course, we should have a little paddle through the water jump. Now, Echo has never been great with water; a year ago, when she was at her previous yard, we had a 'disagreement' about the idea of walking through puddles. In order to rectify the problem, I had to trudge through the water myself, generally getting soaked, then Echo would consider coming through too. I knew that she was not going to be convinced by a proper water jump. We didn't get into an argument: she just said no, and I left it at that. Echo takes some persuading when she has decided that it would be best not to do something. I can usually succeed in the end, but it is a battle of wills, and I didn't want to get into that with me on top.

So today, while I was waiting for the farrier to arrive to put her shoe back on, I took her down into the cross country course on a lunge line, and stood in the water jump (thank goodness for good wellies), asking her politely to follow me. It took about ten minutes and several pieces of carrot, but eventually she followed me in. After that she splashed through it happily several times. I intend to go through it mounted as soon as possible now.

The reason this week has been frustrating is that when I went to see her yesterday, I found she had lost a shoe. I considered riding or lunging anyway, but it was the foot that had all the problems a couple of months ago, and I didn't want to risk it. My farrier couldn't come out until 7pm this evening, so that is an extra two days off she has had. Tomorrow, I have the back specialist coming out to check her over, and she recommends a day off following the treatment, so I am desperately going to try to ride Echo before she comes, so that she hasn't had the entire week off!

How do horses manage to be so frustrating, when everything had been going so well?!

I forget to say - I took Echo's bars off her stable door on Sunday, so she no longer impersonates Hannibal Lector, and has room to move freely around by her doorway. It is nice to see her looking like a normal horse in her stable. I was also sick of people assuming that she had a weaving problem; I used to have to explain that in fact she had a 'climbing' problem! Her new trick, however, is checking to make sure people have put the bottom bolt across on her door, by quickly opening the bolt at the top. It is amazing how fast she can do this! I must get a clip to secure it. She doesn't ever go far, just wanders around the yard chatting to her friends!

Tuesday, 25 September 2007

Dressage Divas

OK, so we aren't at this stage yet, but it's something to aspire to! This is my old boss riding his beautiful Grand Prix dressage stallion Wurlitzer.

I'm not sure whether I have the time to do my lesson with the dressage trainer justice this evening, but I felt that I should say something. On Saturday morning I had a lesson with Kjeld Friedriksson - a Danish Olympic dressage rider. He was staying at the yard, giving a four day clinic of lessons. Most people had two lessons a day for four days, but as this was obviously out of the question for Echo and me, we just had a half hour single session.

Echo went beautifully. We went in the indoor school, as the other option was the woodchip arena, which is on a bit of a slope, and Echo has problems balancing in there. Kjeld asked me to walk round the arena, starting to take a contact and asking her to be soft. She shied a little at the new additions to the end of the arena, but otherwise was very well behaved. We worked mostly in trot and on trying to establish a balanced rhythm. She was slightly difficult in my hand to begin with, as her new evasion trick is to try to snatch the reins out of my hands. It seems that as soon as we iron out one thing, another materialises; I have just stopped her rushing in trot, and now she has found something else to try. This is, however, to be expected with a young horse.

Kjeld told me to ignore this behaviour, maintain my contact and essentially ride her through it. As soon as she was soft in her mouth, I could give freely with the reins. She soon settled and began to work softly. We then went on to work on lots of transitions. She is fantastic in going forward to walk from halt or to trot from walk, but the downwards transitions are slightly less balanced. She tends to tense her neck and fight my hand in the transitions. We did lots of work on these, and the results were very interesting. He told me to do sitting trot for several strides before I even think about the transition, as I can keep her more engaged in sitting trot. He also asked me to slow right down in the trot, until she essentially fell into the walk without realising she was making a transition. This worked well and she was soon soft throughout the change of pace.

He made a few other interesting points. He said that part of the problem with her fighting my hand is that she is opening her mouth in the transitions. He raised her noseband by a hole and tightened it by about four holes. When I worked for my old boss, he used to have nosebands incredibly tight, so I was used to it then. This is nowhere near as tight as that, but it made a huge difference to her contact.

Another idea he pointed out was that I was opening my inside rein on a circle or corner, in order to help her bend. In fact, Kjeld showed me that this was making her fall in through her inside shoulder and causing her to bend to the outside. This was quite a revelation, as when I kept my hands close together, I suddenly felt as if I had control of her shoulders.

The lesson was very successful and I have a short video clip to upload to this website as soon as I can. I will also try to put some stills on here, as I'm not sure if everyone is able to view the videos. My position needs some attention, as I persistently look down - an attempt to keep control of her outline I think!

At the end of my lesson, I was feeling very confident and was riding very positively. Echo was very hot and needed to walk for a bit, but another lesson was about to start in the indoor school, so I went for a walk - on my own! We had a hesitant moment, where Echo wondered whether I really meant that she should walk away from her stable and go off on her own, but she responded to my leg aids and we pottered off up the hill! We didn't go far - just a little wander, but it finished off a very good session in a very positive way.

Daily adventures while training my young horse.