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!

Daily adventures while training my young horse.