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.

Daily adventures while training my young horse.