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.

Daily adventures while training my young horse.