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.

Thursday, 20 September 2007

A bit of variety

I decided to only lunge this evening, as I am trying to keep Echo's workload varied. The dressage trainer arrived today, so the indoor school has been worked on and the surface is quite good at the moment. They have put up new mirrors in there, which Echo was rather intrigued by and she had to stand and admire herself for a while! I worked her in side-reins tonight and she went beautifully - she was relaxed, round and moving freely. I also asked her to canter a few times on each rein, partly because I am rather concerned that this dressage trainer might ask me to canter on her at the weekend! I haven't cantered her in side reins before, and I think they actually helped her to balance.

I am really excited about my lesson at the weekend - everybody who has had one today was very impressed and looked suitably shell-shocked - as one should be after a good dressage session!

Wednesday, 19 September 2007

Windy days

I amaze myself with my ability to find something to worry about! I had thought that I would try to find someone to hack out with tonight after work, but as the wind picked up and I could see the trees waving at me through my classroom window, I made the decision that perhaps I would stay in the school for today. As I have said before, my experience with dressage horses built up an irrational fear of the wind, and I unfortunately let this extend into my riding of Echo.

However, when I arrived at the yard, my usual hacking partner happened to see me and ask if I fancied going out with her; I couldn't think of a viable excuse and therefore said I would. I rode her in the school for about ten minutes first, but she was stroppy and argumentative. This is one of the reasons I wanted to hack out in the first place - I want to keep her training varied, as I think she may be becoming slightly bored of the school. I have also decided not to ride her tomorrow and to do something different. I may lunge her somewhere new or loose school her - anything that is a bit different.

The hack was very good; despite her bolshy attitude, she was mostly relaxed and seemed to start to enjoy it. We had a funny moment, where we came across a pile of tyres by a run down shed. The horse in front shied quite violently and threatened to rear, and Echo looked absolutely horrified! I realised then how dependent she is on this horse, as when her 'rock' became scared she didn't know what to do. When the horse in front had finally gone past the object, Echo walked past quite calmly and simply looked at the object as if to say, 'You were scared of that?' We were out for at least forty minutes, which is good for Echo. She has a few issues balancing when walking down hills. I have to make her walk slowly, as otherwise she starts to pace and loses her balance. However, if she slows down she drops away from the horse in front and then feels she has to speed up again!

I'm pleased that I agreed to hack out in spite of the wind, as she really was unaffected by it and I would do well to remember that in future!

Tuesday, 18 September 2007

Dutch courage!

The drop in temperature over the last couple of days meant that Echo was somewhat feistier than usual today! I had been a little worried about her last week, as she had some swelling in her right foreleg on and off for a week or two. It got to the stage where I was considering calling the vet to do a scan, as although she didn't seem to be lame on it, it didn't go down for ages.

After a day off in the field and plenty of cold-hosing, as well as using witch hazel and arnica gel on it daily, it seemed to be OK today. I rode her for about 40 minutes and it didn't seem to be swollen at all afterwards. My thinking is that it is probably a slightly tweaked ligament, probably caused by her slightly dishing action. Since her feet became poor quality earlier this year, her right foot has turned in slightly, causing her to dish and I assume this must put some strain on the leg as she is just starting work. The dish is not considerable, and my farrier is working to correct the problem with the foot, so these shouldn't be permanent problems.

Echo settled well today, after her initial feeling that she didn't want to concentrate, and she would rather look at everything around her and find things to shy at! I worked on some serpentines in trot, constantly changing the place that we circled, moving around the arena all the time. This made her concentrate and I then introduced some poles every now and again. She doesn't have a great deal of respect for poles, and tends to crash into them unless I set her up exactly on the right stride!

She has started to bend beautifully to the left; this is typical, as I have just booked a physio to come and look at her. I think I will keep the appointment, as it will be good to check everything is as it should be. In fact, we have worked so hard on the left rein that the right is now more difficult!

What is very exciting is that there is a Dutch grand prix dressage trainer coming to our yard to do a clinic this weekend. As he is teaching in hour long slots, I am going to try and have a lesson with him on Echo. We will not be able to do a full hour, and in fact will probably only do half of that time, but it will be interesting to get some expert guidance on what I am doing with her. I feel very lost without the advice of my old boss when riding a young horse, so it will be fantastic to have somebody tell me what to do! However, it will test our partnership, as it will be the most demanding thing we have done together so far.

We have been starting to canter this week. A few days ago I asked for canter on the right rein (as this is her naturally better rein) and she was very good - a little unsure that I really wanted her to canter, but willing to go forward. Today, once she had settled in trot and was listening to me, I asked for canter on the left rein; it was a very messy transition (as you'd expect) but she was very forward going and kept cantering past the gate (our napping days seem to be over - touch wood!). She does tend to flop back into trot afterwards, and then is unable to do anything afterwards, but this will come I'm sure.

I must upload some more photos, as she looks very different in her work now - she is starting to feel like a dressage horse! I must also do more hacking and make the most of the weather, as she is so good that it will be tempting to push her too hard. I must remember she is only three!

Sunday, 9 September 2007


Yet again, I have left it a week before writing again. I have been meaning to write all week, but have been feeling a little bit frustrated by the level of progress we have been making, and didn't feel in the mood to share my frustration! However, towards the end of the week things really started to improve, so I will tell you about that.

I had a lesson on Thursday evening from the manager of the yard where I keep Echo. I had not really thought of having a lesson, as for the last two years, lessons have been synonymous with intensive dressage training, and we are by no means ready for that. I decided that I needed some help, as I was finding it increasingly difficult to control Echo's speed in trot, and the idea of bend to the left was unheard of. This meant that we had little balance on the left rein and as a result, she was speeding up or dropping behind my leg. I found it really difficult to know what to do.

In my lesson, my instructor had us working on the right rein, which is naturally better, but trotting in small - maybe 15 metre - circles and he got me to constantly change her speed. Once I had established a slower rhythm with my seat and hands, he got me to quicken the trot and then slow it again on my terms. He also got me to take a contact - something I had been religiously avoiding, as I didn't think I should really touch her mouth. The difference between the way she went on that day and the way she had been going is phenomenal! She started to work in an outline and I was able to use my inside leg to really ask for the bend. This was a big breakthrough for me, as so far she had always been understanding the leg to mean go forwards. Although I want this, I also need her to learn that the leg can also mean sideways.

The left rein in the lesson was nowhere near as good as the right, but the instruction has provided me with something to work on. I have also discovered that she shies a lot less when I ride her on a contact (obvious really!) The last couple of days we have been practising hard, although still having issues on the left rein. I have, however, now taught her to turn on the forehand, which is really helping her to understand left bend, and today showed much improvement. She felt relaxed and rhythmical in the trot today and she showed some bend to the left, albeit not as much in trot as in walk.

What was really exciting today was our first proper hack. We have walked out a couple of times for ten minutes or so, with somebody walking next to us - yesterday was the turn of my poor boyfriend and dog, who were very nearly trampled as she decided that they could be her security blanket every time she was scared! Today we went out with nobody walking with us, but with two other horses to show her the ropes. One of them was one of her field mates - a lovely quiet cob who is very much the boss in her field. It was very successful! We walked out beyond the confines of the cross country course, onto the vast stretches of heathland that we are so lucky to have on our doorstep. Although we do not have to hack on roads - a luxury for which I will be eternally grateful - we do have our fair share of hazards to encounter, not least the herds of deer. We came across two small groups of deer; the first scared Echo a little, as she could hear them but couldn't see them. The second didn't seem to bother her very much at all. We also had to ride along parallel to a busy road, which meant that although she could hear lots of traffic, we didn't have it driving right by us. This was not a big problem, as Echo spent the first year of her life in a field next to a huge road, which I believe could have been the M25. She is somewhat used to road noise! However, since then, she has been in quiet fields in the middle of the countryside, so I am delighted that she is taking all of these things in her stride.

The only mildly worrying moment on the hack came towards the end as we were almost home, and were walking down a narrow track with high banks on each side, covered in bracken. Echo suddenly shot forwards a few steps and I assumed she had heard something behind her that I hadn't. When I had stopped her, I looked behind us and realised that she had a huge piece of dry bracken stuck in her tail, which had wrapped itself around her back legs! Considering this, her spook had been very minor really! I got off and disentangled her from the bracken. However, having never got on her from the ground, I wasn't sure whether I should just lead her the rest of the way home. But I decided just to go for it and get on again. Such a clever girl - she didn't mind a bit!

She is now having a well-deserved day off tomorrow as usual, and I will see if we can hack out again a couple of times next week too. I might even become converted to this hacking lark! I shall also try to take some more pictures this week, as she is looking lovely and smart at the moment, with her pulled mane and trimmed face. We are participating in an in-hand show at our yard in October, so we are getting prepared early!

Monday, 3 September 2007

Saddles and High Spirits

Last week was slightly hectic in terms of work and as a result, I did not ride Echo as much as I would have liked to. On Tuesday I only lunged, as I wanted to experiment with jumping on the lunge. On Wednesday I had a saddler come and fit a new saddle, and although I did ride, it was rather on-off in nature and never for very long.

The good news is that I now have a saddle that fits, although Echo was not overly impressed with the new positioning of it. I got a verbal wrist-slapping from the saddler because apparently have been putting my saddles too far forward on her back, therefore restricting shoulder movement. However, the position he put the saddle in looked unnaturally far back to me. He said it needs to be on or behind the back of the shoulder, but with a GP saddle, this sets it inches back from the withers. I could see that the saddle fitted better there, but I'm sure it was right back on her kidneys. Echo soon told us what she thought of that, as when asked to trot with me on, she just stopped! No bucking or anything nasty, but she felt distinctly lame to me. I got off and drove her forward on the lunge and she was fine, so my feeling was that it was just a reaction to the new position of the saddle. I therefore remounted and pushed her forward and she was alright again. A very odd experience.

I have now come to a sort of compromise. I am placing the saddle further back than I would have before, but not quite as far back as the saddler told me to. I will build up to this gradually, I think. The new saddle is fantastically comfortable though - far nicer to ride in than the one I had been borrowing.

So, back to my mad week. I rode her on Thursday and Friday, both of which were good, successful sessions, where we even managed to get some bend to the left! However, I went to Burghley on Saturday, so she had another day off being ridden. When I went down to the yard to ride yesterday, I found that they had already turned her out, as they weren't sure whether or not I was coming down. She was also in a new field, which is in view of the school. When I took her out of the school, a little mare who has become very attached to her went absolutely crazy. She charged up and down the fence, shrieking and squealing. Echo is normally very good when being taken away from her friends, but this was a lot to cope with! She tried to rear and spin round to go back to the mare, then called all the way to the yard.

Despite calming down considerably once in the yard, when i took her into the school to lunge for a couple of minutes, the little mare went ballistic again, thundering around and calling frantically. Echo was full of beans anyway after her days off this week, and couldn't contain herself. Every time her friend called she screamed back, throwing her whole body into it and charging around on the lunge in canter. I have to say, however, that her canter looked lovely when she was all fired up like that - very impressive. I had thought that she didn't have a particularly good canter, but she showed her ability to engage her hind legs yesterday!

At this moment I thought that I would not ride, as I don't see the point in asking for trouble, and I was planning to just lunge her and get it out of her system. However, after a good twenty minutes on the left rein, she had stopped calling back to her friend, and was listening to me on the lunge. I put her on the right rein and she was very quiet. Much to my boyfriend's amazement, I asked him to come and give me a leg up and decided that it would be best to just let me off the lunge straight away. She can be quite whizzy when I ride on the lunge and I didn't want her to be like this after having calmed her down effectively before. She proceeded to behave beautifully when ridden! After all that! She did call once in response to her friend, but it was rather half-hearted and didn't create an explosive burst at the same time!

This is definitely one of the benefits of having owned her for so long: I am able to recognise her moods quite well, and judge how well she will cope in various situations. Invariably she surpasses my expectations. Yesterday was difficult though, as she is not that attached to the little mare in her field, and there are lots of them that live together - the mare was not on her own when I removed Echo from the field. Had the mare not reacted in the way that she did, I don't think I would have had any trouble with Echo, but because she became so stressed, it made Echo mirror that reaction. I suppose that is something to do with the horse's herd instinct, but it is frustrating!

Daily adventures while training my young horse.