Wednesday, 31 December 2008

Tiny...but it's a start!

I always seem to add blurry pictures, and this video is no exception! It is quite hard to see, but since I have it, I thought I'd put it on here. Now, this may be a tiny weeny little jump, but it's the first obstacle we've jumped since...July? She felt pretty good actually - particularly the second time, when I approached in canter. The stride was good and she seemed to really enjoy it. I have a lesson with John on Saturday and I'm tempted to ask him to help me with my jumping. Thing is...I'm RUBBISH at jumping and I know he'll pull me to pieces. I'll see how resilient I am feeling on the day I think!
video

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Don't criticise the horse!

Woohoo! - they've finally let me get onto my blog at school. I'm a busy girl and have lots of work to do when I'm here, but I also live in a house with two other girls and only one computer with Internet access, so it was a struggle to get anything posted.

I had a surprise lesson with John last week. I've been meaning to write about it for a few days now, but I've had to think quite carefully about the things he said and how it made me feel. I had warmed up before he arrived and so was ready to start immediately. He asked how I was getting on and I told him that I though things were improving - particularly Echo's straightness. The last time he saw us we were having real issues with the left shoulder and left contact, as she wasn't taking the contact forward into my left hand at all. In this lesson, however, she was really starting to straighten, and I'm sure it has something to do with me learning to use my left leg.

What I have been doing is trying to control her left shoulder with my left leg. I've found that this does work to some extent - it has definitely helped so far, but John pointed out that I still haven't got enough contact in my left hand. He said that I should control her left shoulder with my left rein rather than my left leg, as I need my left leg to move her quarters around. I played about a bit with this during the lesson and felt much more positive - I can take a contact with my left hand - I just don't!!

In the way all good instructors do, he called me over to go through some things and while I was talking to him he asked me what my long term goal is with Echo. I have never really attempted to define this; I feel that you have to just see how a horse goes - otherwise you let yourself open to disappointment and won't appreciate your horse. When I broke her in, my goal was simply that she be a well-rounded, well-behaved, pleasurable ride. She is this. Obviously, as you make progress, goals change and now I am pretty sure that we can compete in a bit of dressage. In order to give John a tangible goal, I said that I would like her to eventually, at the peak of her career, be able to perform a decent Medium test. I am under no illusions that she is going to be a world-beater, but I believe that any horse, with the right training and dedication, is capable of doing this, if you are prepared to work hard enough. All of the movements for a medium test are only extensions of the exercises I do now anyway.

John was slightly taken aback, but said that if this was the case, I would have to start working towards it now, not leave it until later. He said that the movements in any test are only schooling exercises, not performances, so I should begin to use them in my training, using them to develop her, rather than seeing them as an end product. All of this makes perfect sense; I have started to work at my shoulder in and in fact, we went on to practise this in the rest of the lesson and it was really successful. However, he then said something which has bugged me ever since. He said, "I often sit there wondering why you've taken such a difficult route." By this, he meant why I have chosen a horse of Echo's type, if I want to be a dressage rider.

I was quick to defend her. I know that what we lack in natural ability and flashy paces, we will have to make up for in accuracy and suppleness - John has always said this, and I trained a pony far more stocky and 'unsuitable' than Echo to quite a high standard before. However, I was really surprised by the 'I'm not sure why you're bothering' subtext to his comment. The dressage riders that I worked for before becoming a teacher had competed internationally at grand prix, yet they encouraged me to take on a 14.2hh gypsy cob type and work hard on him. They were of the opinion that it was just as worthwhile making an 'ordinary' horse go very well, as one that is flashy. Indeed, without wishing to blow my own trumpet, I used to beat a lot of under-schooled flashy horses on my accurate and obedient gypsy cob.

I know what he meant. I would get a lot further in dressage if I had a horse with more natural ability, however, I wanted a horse like Echo. I have had her since she was a yearling. Apart from the early handling and halter training she received, which set her up to be extremely obedient, everything that Echo can do is down to me. I broke her in with very little help, I hacked her out for the first time (and believe me, I am NOT a brave rider by any means), I jumped her for the first time (and I don't jump!) and I would never have had the guts to do any of these things, had Echo not been the character that she is. I am phenomenally grateful to my wonderful horse for being so patient with me, for looking after me and for teaching me so much. I could never be disappointed with her, because she has already exceeded my expectations. But, I'm a perfectionist and once something has been achieved, I want new goals to work for and I think this will always be the case.

Though I know that he didn't intend to offend me, and he didn't really, I felt a need to justify myself and my horse. He then remarked that when he first started in a racing yard, an old jockey told him, 'you can criticise and owner's wife, but whatever you do, don't criticise an owner's horse!' I think there is some truth in that.

Saturday, 22 November 2008

Freeeeeezing!

It's been so cold today - I rode this evening in the indoor school and the snow was blowing in through the door - it was funny actually - Echo kept spooking at the patches of white on the floor! Infuriatingly, I had to wait for ages after riding her before turning her out, as she was so sweaty (really got to clip her soon...!) and I then felt pretty bad putting her in the field when it's supposed to be -4 degrees tonight! But she was tucked up in two rugs and the field has now been extended into some trees, so she'll have plenty of shelter. I kind of have to remember that she is a horse sometimes!!

She went well this evening, actually. We had a bit of a fight on Wednesday, and I wasn't planning to school her tonight. I just could not get control of her left shoulder that night- no matter what I tried. It was frustrating and pointless, as we both just got stressed. Tonight, as it was so cold, I decided to warm her up really well before asking her to work hard. I did my usual walking holding the buckle, turning her in serpentines and circles, then had only a really light contact and a very long rein and trotted her quite strongly forward - not asking for an outline, but asking for a bend with my legs. I then cantered her with the same length of rein and took a forward seat and pushed her really forward down the long sides. It was really beneficial, as when I went back to do some exercises like leg-yielding and shoulder in in walk, she felt much more supple. She felt much more solid in my left hand too - hadn't expected that, so that was a bonus!

I've started to do a little work without stirrups recently - I'm determined to improve my position. I imagine Johnny Depp riding a horse in front of me to stop me looking down and really use the mirrors to look at my position! The sitting trot is improving again slowly... I spent so long when I worked in the dressage yard improving my seat and getting supple enough hips to really sit still in sitting trot - it's a little frustrating that I seem to have lost this, but... I'd be bored if I had nothing to work on!! I've found that is a good motto to live by when it comes to horses!

I have requested a set of travel boots for Christmas and this is going to force me to get organised and start taking Echo to places. I want to start competing in the spring, so I need to take her out a couple of times just to work her and then go home. Every time she's been on a lorry in her life, she's ended up moving house. She needs to get used to going somewhere to work, rather than seeing it as an exciting new adventure where she'll get to run in a new field with new friends.

So, I sit here - tucked up in my warm house with central heating, desperately trying not to think about my poor horse in a freezing cold field. Oh well - knowing England, the temperature will be back in the teens by next week!

Friday, 31 October 2008

As requested...

Very blurry and not looking our best, but thought I'd share a photo which, I think, shows that Echo has a little more power than she did before. The surface was dreadful in the school today, due to all the rain, but she felt good in trot. This is the right rein too ;) I will ensure some good quality photographic evidence of our progress soon, I promise.

And anyone who can recommend a way to stop me looking down all the time, I will love forever!

Thursday, 30 October 2008

Catch Up Time!

OK. I hold my hands up. I have been thoroughly useless at blogging in the last couple of months. I could bore you with reasons, but they have mostly involved work (lots and lots of it), a bit of travelling (not enough of it), and a lovely new boyfriend (!!). I also obviously had all the problems with my saddle, so after the sores on her back cleared up and I got a brand spanking new saddle, it took a little while to get back to where we were.

The saddle is lovely - it's still a Wintec - I don't have the funds for a nice leather saddle yet, and as she keeps changing shape it wouldn't be worth it. It is, however, one step closer to a dressage saddle, as it is a VSD cut and therefore has straighter panels, but will still enable me to jump. It's so comfortable; compared to my old one, which was far too small for me, it resembles an armchair - I could canter in it all day. I wouldn't though...obviously!

It took some getting used to, but the last lesson I had with John, he commented that she was moving really well - without me even telling him that I'd got a new saddle. Once he knew, he said that she looked much more level behind now. This is fantastic - we obviously still have the problems with the right hind, but knowing that she is now comfortable makes a big difference.

Last week I was very brave: I actually let somebody else ride Echo. Now, I am something of a neurotic mother when it comes to my animals, and I would not have handed Echo over to just anyone. However, my best friend is an awesome rider and I trust her more than anyone in the world with my horse, and as her horse is lame at the moment and she was at a bit of a loose end, I thought it would be nice if she had a little sit on her.

Ella was there when I first broke Echo in - in fact, she led me around on her when I was lying across her in a very ungainly manner, so she has been a big part of the process - including all those lengthy phone calls about the specific nature of her right hind leg in trot (you can't beat friends for that!) I rode Echo for about fifteen minutes, then Ella got on and rode her quite a lot in walk to begin with. She immediately felt my problems with the right bend - she is very heavy in your right hand and then won't let you take anything in the left hand. I have written extensively about this in the past, so I won't go into too many details now, but I was glad that finally somebody could actually feel what I feel.

She worked hard to get her responding to the leg aids - particularly getting her to keep her left shoulder engaged. She actually found that once she completely had control over the left shoulder, she could use a lot more inside leg and then she became soft in the right hand on the right rein. She is much more skilled at this than I am - probably because she has spent years working on her horse, who has a similar problem!

In addition to this, Echo looked absolutely amazing. Because she had control over her shoulders, she was much more forward moving and her trot was stunning. I had that funny mixed sensation - a teensy bit jealous because I know that I can't quite ride her like that, but totally in love with my beautiful horse and excited about her potential. The latter was definitely the prevalent emotion - thank goodness!

Yesterday, I had a big breakthrough. I had struggled to achieve what Ella had managed in the following days, but yesterday I felt like I finally had my head in gear. I managed not to ride like a moron and actually got what I was after. While I was walking her on a loose rein at the beginning, I decided to try to steer her a bit using just my legs and seat. I held the buckle, so that I couldn't cheat at all and use my hands, and forced myself to turn her in complicated turns and circles on both reins. I found that through this I was able to move that troublesome left shoulder around effectively and she was much more responsive.

When I finally did take a contact, I made a real concerted effort to have an entirely equal contact in both reins, and I carried on riding just as strongly with my legs in order to keep hold of the shoulder and create the bend with my inside leg. I found that she was much softer in my hands and I was able to get a bend with a completely even contact. It was exhausting - both mentally and physically, but she felt brilliant. She was soft, forward and rhythmical. A definite breakthrough - I just hope I can recreate it!

In fact, I decided not to try today! It poured with rain all morning and I was all set for an indoor school session - which seems such a shame while it's half-term and I still have some light! However, it cleared up and I decided to venture out on my own. We haven't hacked out for months - actually, since I noticed the sores on her back - let alone gone out on our own, so I must have just had a moment of bravery! I went out through the cross country course to see how she felt and she was a little bit tense at first, but she settled into a nice rhythm after a while.

Feeling that I wanted to go out for longer, I took her out onto the heath. It was really soggy underfoot, so we had to mostly stay in walk, but for the first time, she wasn't a quivering wreck by herself. She usually gets herself so tense that she feels like a coiled spring and winds herself up, jumping at shadows and terrifying herself. It's not much fun to ride her when she's like this, but today she just seemed to really enjoy being out and about. We came across several huge herds of deer, but she is so used to my dog racing out of bushes unexpectedly, that sudden movement doesn't faze her too much.

It was a really lovely ride and she was so relaxed, it felt like my baby is starting to grow up!

Saturday, 13 September 2008

Saddles

Sorry for the lack of posts in the last couple of weeks. After my excellent lesson with John, we had a small setback in the form of a sore back. I went out for a lovely long hack a couple of days after my lesson and when I was brushing her the next day, I noticed a small lump on her back and she was very tender under it. On closer inspection, the lump had formed into a little scab, and then I noticed that there was a symmetrical one the other side. This made it pretty clear that it was the saddle. I just lunged her that day, but she didn’t look terribly comfortable, so I stopped and realised I would need to give her some time off to heal the bruised part of her back.

I felt so awful. She definitely hadn’t been sore before that, as I check her back every day, so I guess she’s probably grown a bit and with the added element of a long hack, probably just tipped it over the edge. Luckily, a saddler was coming out the next day, so I arranged for him to check the fit of Echo’s saddle too.

Now, I know very little about saddle-fitting. I’m ashamed to admit this, but it’s true – just like I know very little about farriery and veterinary science. When this is the case, one puts a great deal of faith in professionals that are trained in these areas. Bearing in mind that Echo’s saddle was fitted a year ago and has been checked three times since then, the last time being about 3 months ago, I didn’t expect to be told on Monday that the saddle did not fit her at all. If she had grown a little and it wasn’t quite sitting correctly any more, then I would understand, but it didn’t fit AT ALL.

The new saddler said that it’s very short for her, meaning that the surface area is not very big, causing it to put pressure on her back in the wrong place. He also pointed out that it’s far too small for me, and therefore it puts me at the back of it, meaning that there is extra pressure at that point. He also said that it is too narrow for her. Great. I have been making my horse uncomfortable. He couldn’t fit a new one to her, as her back was so sore, but he did place another saddle on her back and it was two inches longer than mine – he said that she can easily carry an 18” saddle and that this would fit me much better. It’s a Wintec VSD, so has a slightly straighter cut than my old one, but can still be used for jumping.

Several girls at my yard have had to get new saddles because the ones fitted by the other guy have made their horses lame. I know professionals exist on their reputations, so I don’t want to be too outspoken about this, but I was so annoyed. I know Echo has grown, but it seems very unlikely that it fitted properly in the first place.

So, for the last two weeks I have been bathing the scabs daily in hibiscrub, coating her back in arnica and doing no riding. At last, the tenderness has completely gone and I was able to lunge her on Tuesday. She looked so much more comfortable. The new saddler is coming out on Monday (my bank account is not going to like it…) and hopefully then we should be back on track again.

Lessons to be learned: gain as much knowledge as you can yourself – you can’t put complete trust in professionals. Poor Echo.

Friday, 29 August 2008

Quarters In

I had a lesson with John on Wednesday and decided to get him to help me with teaching Echo quarters in. I had tried to start teaching her the day before, but we just got in a real tangle. She expects the outside leg back to mean canter and I couldn't persuade her that it could mean something else, as she kept running through my contact. I gave up, as she was getting in more and more of a strop and I knew I needed help.

The reason I wanted to teach it to her was because she has such difficulties with her hindlegs - I thought that if I could move them laterally, then it would get her to engage them more easily. John agreed that this was a good idea and I explained my problem to him. To begin with, he got me doing turn on the forehand, so that she got the hang of moving just her hindlegs away from my leg going back. First we did turn on the forehand from halt, then from walk. Once she stopped running through my hand (John told me I had to 'close the door' in front and to tell her off if she ignored that) she was very good at this. He then told me to come round onto the short side of the arena and put my outside leg back to ask for the quarters to come in slightly.

She didn't understand at all and kept speeding up and bracing against my hand, but after a few attempts, she did move her quarters in ever so slightly, which was enough to begin with. We did it on both reins and got a small movement each time. It was at this point that John reminded me of the reason I was attempting the exercise - because she has difficulties with her hindlegs - therefore of course she's going to find it difficult. But the process of asking for it made her walk so much better, and particularly her right bend improved and she was taking a decent contact in my left rein.

After getting a small movement in walk, John then got me to try it in trot. Again, the movement was marginal, but it was something at least. He then told me to do the same in canter, asking for quarters in on one side of the arena and shoulder in on the other. This was quite interesting, as when I asked for shoulders in, I lost the outside contact and she fell out through that shoulder, meaning that she rushed onto her forehand. When I asked for quarters in, although I didn't get much angle, the canter became much more active and uphill. I wouldn't normally encourage too much quarters in in canter, but particularly on the right rein (my bad rein) the added outside leg really engaged her hindlegs and got her moving.

It was a really good lesson, as we achieved something that I wanted to. We started out not being able to do something, and made positive steps towards achieving it by the end. My friend videoed the lesson (although her camera doesn't have the technology to put it on the computer unfortunately) and although Echo looked great, it was a bit of a wake up call for me to sort out my position. I had a pretty good seat when I used to work for David and I was a bit appalled by my posture and flexibility on the video. I concentrated pretty hard on that this evening when I schooling Echo, but I could do with someone shouting at me like the good old days!!

John also talked to me at the end of my lesson about rein back and the aids for collection and I am rather confused about these. When I have got them sorted in my head I will post about them, as I would love to know what other people think.

Wednesday, 20 August 2008

A horse-owner's guilt!

Through various sources recently, I have started to feel awful about the rein contact I take when I school Echo. I know that comments weren't intended as criticism and it has been from reading other posts on the matter of 'light contact' that I have started to feel this as well, so none of the material has been specifically aimed at me, but I think contact is a real issue with most dressage riders.

I am, officially, my own biggest critic. When I was working for David Pincus, he used to get hold of the other end of the reins and make me take a contact on his hands, so he could feel what I was doing to the horse's mouth. He usually said that I was not taking enough of a consistent contact - that I was dropping the contact at the wrong moment, and that in fact, giving with the rein is definitely not the same as dropping the contact. You should always be able to feel the horse's mouth, even when you have given in your rein contact. My instructor, John, has reiterated this recently - I need to have a more consistent contact - not stronger or lighter, but just clearer to the horse.

I have started to really think about the type of contact I take on Echo. JME made a very interesting point in a comment on my post Needs Must, which brought to my attention whether my rein aid was behind or in front of the wither. Also, when I watched the demonstration by Emile Faurie, he said that you should only ever use your wrist when asking for bend, as any more than this will make the horse over bent and fall out. I think I was doing both of these things too much - I was using more than my wrist to ask for the bend, and the aid was in front of the wither, meaning that she reacted in the wrong way to it.

When I was thinking about all of this and reading about the ideal 'feather-light' contact that JME says is possible on most horses, I started to feel the horse-owner's guilt. That sinking, deep-down feeling that you have done something dreadful and are not worthy of riding your poor horse, as you make such a terrible job of it. When I got on Echo yesterday in order to school her, I rode for the first 10 minutes in walk on a loose rein, completely unsure of what I should do. Then I sorted myself out.

I rode as I usually do - albeit with a sharper focus on what I was doing with my hands - and I remembered that I am capable of riding my horse. She is a cob, who is very young and naturally on the forehand, so she is not going to be uphill and featherlight just yet. She needs to learn about balance and subtlety and carrying herself, so I have to show her at the moment what I want. When she trots around, she always has her ears either forwards or sideways, tuned into me - she doesn't come behind the bit and she tries her hardest to do what I ask of her. I don't think she is uncomfortable.

I don't ride with a strong contact - I sometimes have to take a stronger contact, in order to create the frame where she will carry me in the easiest way for her - but when she gives in her poll and her jaw, then I lighten it. Surely that is the point of schooling - lightness is the end product, with harmony and balance achieved by working at it - especially when your horse is not ideally built for it! Lightness is what I obviously want to have with my horse - in all respects, but that cannot be reached (at least in my experience - except with a horse that is built naturally 'on the bit') without establishing a clear contact first.

I sound like I am ranting, and I think I probably am but mainly at myself. I always doubt my own abilities and get the 'guilt' but I have a happy horse who is willing to work for me, which I think has got to say something to me. I have to remind myself every now and again that schooling is a process developed throughout the horse's life - I can't expect it to be perfect immediately - she's only four!

Saturday, 16 August 2008

The Arte y pico award

A belated but huge thank you to Dressage Mom for this blogging award. The orgin of the award can be found at http://arteypico.blogspot.com/ and I am really honoured that Dressage Mom thought of me for this. I am supposed to pass this on to five more inspirational bloggers, but many of the blogs I read have already received it. I will therefore only pass it on to the following three blogs that I read regularly.

Barokko's Diary - a fellow young horse trainer with a coloured horse - girl after my own heart!

Odin's Diary - learning to ride as an adult can'tbe easy, but Maat has a wonderful horse to learn with.

Little Miss Rachel - not a horsey blog, but entertaining and personal.

Needs Must!

Despite continued improvements in Echo's responsiveness, thanks to my last lesson with John, I have still been having huge issues with her taking the contact in the left rein. The right has always been her worse rein, but it was getting ridiculous last week. My problem was that every time I took any sort of contact in the left rein, she would turn her nose to the left. To compensate for this I would have to take a stronger contact in the right rein, meaning that I was having to pull her head to the right, which didn't feel good. When I put my right leg on to continue to ask for the bend, she would escape out through the left shoulder, because I didn't have a true contact in that rein. If I put my left leg on to catch her, she sped up, so we ended up zooming round in a wooden, unpleasant fashion. Not so good.

A couple of influences encouraged me to change tactics. I was reading a blog a couple of weeks ago (I can't remember for the life of me whose blog it was, but if I do, I'll be sure to credit them appropriately!) about working from the ground. The writer was talking about doing leg-yielding and shoulder-in on the ground, which I had never really thought of doing. I also watched a demonstration with Emile Faurie on Horse&Country TV (!!) where he was showing his work with a four year-old stallion he is training. He was saying that everything must be explained to the horse. So many problems come from a breakdown in communication between horse and rider: all it requires is that the horse understands. This got me thinking. I knew that Echo just didn't understand about the left contact, but I really had no idea how to tell it to her in a way that she would understand. Every suggestion people had given me hadn't worked - probably because I was explaining it wrong.

So - I came up with my own method, combining my two inspirations. I decided to lunge her for a couple of days and followed our usual method of lunging - free on both reins in walk, trot and canter, then with side reins on both, working on transitions. I then put her on the right rein and shortened her left side-rein a little more, so that they were uneven. It wasn't by lots, but enough for that left contact to take a hold when she was bending on the lunge circle. I was able to keep the right bend using the lunge rein, and I varied the size of the circle, all the time watching to see how she was reacting to the tighter left rein. When she accepted it, she actually moved much better and her canter transitions were much improved.

At the end of the session, rather than immediately taking the side reins off and letting her walk free for a few minutes as usual, I kept the side-reins on and walked her in-hand around the arena. Using my hand on her side where my inside leg would be, I asked her to move from the three-quarter line to the track in leg-yielding. As the left side-rein was still shorter, it kept that contact through the movement. We did this a few times, then I took the side-reins off and let her relax.

I know it probably isn't the most orthodox of techniques, but I thought it would probably explain it to her in a much clearer way than I can do when I am riding her. In fact, when I rode her yesterday, she was a lot better. I felt that for the first time in weeks...even probably months, I could have an even contact in both reins, with her maintaining the correct bend. Particularly in canter, where she usually falls out through the left shoulder quite dramatically, my left leg did not cause her to speed up - instead, she kept herself straight and cantered beautifully. It was so nice to not be fighting her on the right rein. I hope that she felt that too, and now is starting to understand about the contact. I would be interested to know what all of my wise blogging friends think about my method, as I know it isn't ideal, but she does seem a happier horse as a result

After she had gone so well, I popped her a couple of times over a little cross pole that was set up in the arena. I have got a friend to come down with me next weekend to help me with poles and jumps. I can't wait!!!

Tuesday, 5 August 2008

The Seat

I had a lesson with John on Friday, which, as usual, has given me so much to think about. He was running a little late, so I warmed up for quite a long time before he arrived, meaning that for a change, we were actually ready to get going immediately. She had warmed up quite well and was going very nicely on the left rein. The right rein is improving, but she is still not taking my contact in the left rein, and so it is a little tense on that side. I manage to combat this to some extent by really using my outside leg. This stops her falling out through that shoulder but also encourages her to stretch that side. It doesn't work completely yet, but she is starting to understand.

The last lesson we had, we had been working on canter transitions. I thought these had been really improving, so was keen to see what he thought. He pointed out that although it was better, I was not using my seat to ask her to canter. He said that I put my legs on, then my seat waits for her to canter before it follows. He said that I need to use my seat to actually ASK for the canter. I had a think about this, then admitted, somewhat reluctantly, that I didn't really know what he meant, and that I wasn't sure how to use my seat to ask for a transition. To be honest, I thought that the seat was meant to follow. He gave me an understanding smile, sighed, and said we'd go back to the beginning. Oops...!

He asked me to walk and told me to really feel the movement of the walk in my seat. He then pointed out that I was not using my seat evenly in walk - that I was doing one full stride, then a half one, and he warned that this is how horses get a 'Newmarket walk'. As soon as I started making sure that my seat was moving evenly, the rhythm of her walk really improved. At that point, I knew it was going to be a valuable lesson. Once I had sorted this, and really felt the movement, he told me to halt, and then walk on using only my seat. I had to start the movement that I had in my seat in walk, in order to create the walk transition. It worked!!! So clever... So then, following this, I had to go into sitting trot and feel the trot movement in my seat. From walk, I then had to ask for the trot by starting to move my seat in the trot movement. It worked too! The hardest one was canter. Because the trot is bouncy, I don't really have the strength in my hips to force my seat into the canter movement. I found that I had to use my legs at the same time.

John's reasoning for me only using my seat is that before, I was putting my leg on and therefore the trot was getting faster before I cantered, meaning that the canter was too fast before I'd even started. This way, my legs can support and straighten, rather than asking for the initial transition. He said that if my legs were in use to create the movement, then how would I straighten her or control the movement? This made a lot of sense, particularly as the canter really improved when I stopped using my legs so much in the transition. He said that I should place them in the correct position, but not use them to create the transition.

He also told me off for looking down all the time. This has always been a huge problem for me, even when I was working in the dressage yard. He did point out, however, that Echo copies my position, so if my head is tilted down, she can't do anything except be on the forehand. He was however, reasonably positive about how she is progressing. She is much more supple than she was in the last lesson and is starting to swing in her back and be relaxed. I am really glad that things are going in the right direction. I practised what we had done in the lesson on Sunday, and it was really starting to improve. I was trying to make sure that every transition I made, up and down, was only created through my seat. It is making her far more responsive to my half-halt as well as making her softer in my hand and sharper off my leg. I find it amazing how subtle the seat aids can be - I had always used my seat, but I had no idea how much of an influence it is.

Saturday, 26 July 2008

Pesky flies


I've been extremely busy recently so not really had much time to post - although I have been riding quite a lot - I love my long summer holidays! I jumped Echo again the other day - she was very good, although she took off quite early and I had to do my best to stay with her. Took her out for a hack on her own yesterday, a bit further than usual, and off the property of the place where I keep her. She was better than usual, as she didn't shout her head off all the way round, like she normally does when she's out alone, so she must be feeling a little more confident, but she kept getting spooked by things. The thing with Echo is that once something spooks her, she gets tense and then more and more things start to scare her, so by the end of the hack she's jumping out of her skin when she sees a rabbit! We will just have to build it up gradually I think - yesterday was definitely progress though.


I have found a solution to the nasty flies that are around. No amount of fly spray can keep them away from her ears when I'm riding, so I have invested in a fly hat for her. She does look somewhat like a new recruit for the KKK, but it is doing its job very effectively and she seems much happier being worked when she's wearing it.

Monday, 14 July 2008

WE JUMPED!!!

OK, so it was only a tiny weeny midget cross pole, that she could have stepped over, and it was barely a foot high, but WE JUMPED IT!!!!

We had been doing some trotting poles, as a friend was there to help me (Echo is not all that coordinated and tends to kick them all over the place). I had never done more than two together, and that was months and months ago, so she had to really think about them. We started off with one, then two together, then three. I was working on keeping her supple and trotting as normal, just going over the poles when I asked her to. She was actually really good. When it got to doing three, I could tell that she was really concentrating. She was all wiggly going up to the poles, and my friend said that you could see her thinking. We then did four in a row on each rein and called it a day, as it had been mentally quite taxing for her.

I had a quick canter on each rein (she hadn't been as flexible to the right today, but then I suppose I was thinking more about the poles!!) and she was pretty responsive to my half-halt, so I went out for a walk to cool off. I had every intention of just walking a circuit of the cross country course, but as I was heading out, I noticed that there were a couple of jumps set up in the wood-chip arena. This is pretty common, as the surface is good in there for jumping, but this is the first time I've seen such a tiny jump - one that even I could manage!!

I saw it and thought about what to do. What was the worst that could happen? She could refuse - no great loss, I'd just pretend I'd never asked and come back later, better equipped - like I did when she first refused to go in the water jump. She could do a huge cat-leap - that wouldn't be too bad; I have a reasonably secure seat and a neck strap. She could take off afterwards, but I was fairly sure she wouldn't (Echo doesn't usually expend more energy than she has to!) Or she might just pop over it happily - and that's exactly what she did! I went into the wood chip arena and trotted a couple of circles, then pointed her at the jump and trotted purposefully and rhythmically up to it. She popped over and carried on trotting, as if to say, 'yeah - what about it?'

I was grinning from ear to ear. Although I know it was such a tiny jump that it was physically barely more than a trotting pole for her, mentally it was the equivalent of a 3 foot spread for me. I now know that she can do it and this will give me so much confidence. I have no desire to do loads and loads of jumping with her, but recently I have been really itching to have a go. Dressage is most definitely my thing, but I do get a real buzz from jumping and I think we are going to have lots of fun. I went straight out on the rest of my walk and couldn't stop smiling.

Sunday, 13 July 2008

My Horse is Awesome!

Now, this might be stating the obvious, because she's mine and I love her, but today I was just so over the moon with her.

The last few days I have been doing a bit of schooling, which has been going OK, although she's still been really heavy in my right hand, and we've also been hacking a bit too. We went out on our own for quite a long time earlier in the week, which was amazing. I cantered her all the way down this huge field and she was light and didn't pull at all. We even explored some paths we haven't been on before, which was really rewarding, as she wasn't as spooky as usual. We then went out with a friend yesterday, whose horse is quite reluctant to go in front, so Echo and I led all the way! We didn't canter, but I felt that we could have done and she would have been fine. I was so impressed with how much braver she is getting. And me!

Today I didn't ride til quite late in the evening and I had to go and get her from the field, as they'd already turned her out. As I walked down the track, she came over to the fence and wickered to me. Now, this probably has more to do with the fact that I always give her an apple or something when I first arrive, but the fact that she came over and seemed pleased to see me made me go all tingly!

It's weird, but the weather has been quite close today and when I first got on I felt quite light-headed. I had to really force myself to concentrate and I don't think I was riding as effectively as I could have been. However, I had worked very hard a couple of days ago on the right rein, really asking her to bend properly. I read an article by Carl Hester which said that you should spend 75% of your schooling time working on the side that your horse is stiff on - not always on that rein, but counter-flexing sometimes on the other rein. I made an effort to do this last time I schooled her and today I could really feel the difference. She was pretty good on the left rein (which I started on) but when I moved onto the right, she immediately felt more supple than she has done recently. When I put my inside leg on she didn't rush away from it - she felt fantastic, because when I put my inside leg on today, she really bent herself around it and this is the first time I've achieved this feeling from her.

Her right canter was really good too. I have been working on the things we did in our lesson with John last week, on really riding the canter and asking for connection using half-halts. She was really listening to me and not falling out through her outside shoulder. I ended up not schooling her for that long, as she went so well. I took her out for a walk round the cross country course to relax.

I am being a very good girl and making sure that I canter up hills as regularly as possible, to improve the strength in her right stifle. I cantered slowly up quite a long, gentle hill today, then decided to canter up my usual very steep, short one as well. The track is sand, so it's good in any weather and it really is steep. The first few times I could barely get her to trot up it; I used to have to really kick her on up it to get a canter. Not today though. As soon as I turned her to go up it and shortened my reins, she absolutely exploded. She took off at a hundred miles an hour! It's hard to tell whether I should let her do that. She's very good in that she stops as soon as we get to the top, with the lightest of aids, but she is obviously anticipating it now! I kind of think that she's enjoying herself and as she doesn't take off like that anywhere else when we canter, I can let her have her fun. Perhaps I will get her to walk up it a couple of times just to remind her that I dictate the pace! It's impressive how much stronger she has got recently though - she felt very powerful today.

I apologise for how gushing this post has been today, but I couldn't resist sharing how awesome my horse is!

Wednesday, 9 July 2008

Better

I rode Echo yesterday, for the first time since she had her wolf tooth taken out. I didn't push her too hard, but asked for correct bend in walk and trot - and it was so much easier!

She felt soft and easy in her mouth and didn't feel like she was fighting me. She was still a little more stiff to the right, but we are still dealing with the problems with her right stifle, so I was never expecting miracles. The good thing is that we are making progress. And she'd had a week off but was still sane and willing to cooperate. Maybe the stroppy mare potion is working...

I've also been riding her with a gel-pad under her saddle when I have a thinner numnah on - she seems to go better in this. This is the summer of BIG improvements!

Thursday, 3 July 2008

Toothless

Echo had her wolf tooth out yesterday! I was a real squeamish idiot and couldn't be anywhere near when the vet did it - I'm awful with teeth - I'm bad enough when I'm going to the dentist, let alone watching my horse have a tooth pulled out!

She's never been sedated before and she looked so sweet - her chin was nearly on the floor, her front legs wide apart and her back legs wobbling. The tooth was bigger than the vet had first thought, but it came out very easily apparently and he then rasped the edges of the teeth around it, while she was sedated, so he could get to them properly. She spent the next twenty minutes propping herself up with her head on the stable door, but then suddenly perked up and started to eat, which I thought was a pretty good sign that it was all feeling ok.

I turned her out and have been told to give her about three days for the gum to heal, then I can ride her again. From the size of the tooth, I am not surprised it was getting in the way of the bit - I'm pretty sure that it was this that she was flicking the bit over in her mouth, so we shall see whether it makes a difference to her left contact.

Sunday, 29 June 2008

Definite Progress

I had such a useful lesson with John today. I explained about the wolf tooth and that it isn’t being removed until Wednesday, so he said that we wouldn’t make an issue out of the contact on the left. We started working on the right rein (the difficult one) and actually John said that it was a lot better. She is bending to the right now; I still feel like I’m having to use my inside hand too much, but at least it is not one sided now – she does actually take the contact in the left rein and feels as if she is working from my inside leg into my outside hand.

He said that we would work on canter transitions, and the first few that I did were pretty dreadful. There is often this period of scurrying between trot and canter, where I lose all ability to ride altogether! My body tips forward and I feel like a complete beginner. Not good. He got me to think about not altering the ground speed at all when moving from trot to canter – keep the contact, sit up and ask for an upward movement, not a faster movement. Once we had established better transitions, he then said that the best strides of canter were the first two and the last two, and that I lost it in the middle. He got me to work on slowing the canter down and really riding it. It felt lovely and her trot started to really swing afterwards.

After practising this on both reins, he told me to ride a figure of 8 in canter, only trotting for 3 strides in the middle. I knew this was going to be next to impossible. We started off on the right rein, as she finds the transition easier on the left, so I could guarantee that one of them would be OK! With the exception of a couple of half-decent transitions, the whole exercise was out of control and scrappy. However, it did teach me some useful lessons. I am far too dependent on my safety net of doing transitions on the fence; I am also nowhere near quick enough to respond to Echo when she asks me questions. I felt like my brain was a couple of seconds behind the action when I was trying to do the figure of 8 –need to get my act together! It also taught me that I need to be far clearer with my aids and responses. She is not quick enough to respond with her hind legs – there are all sorts of reasons for this, not least the problems with her stifle; however, I need to sharpen her responses by making sure that I am focused and determined when asking her to do something. John said that I shouldn’t be afraid of teaching her what I want her to do.

I feel like we are starting to get somewhere now. I have stopped getting so frustrated when I school her and have definitely chilled out about the schooling. We have seen a big improvement in the last week, and that’s with only schooling at most 3 times. The rest has been hacking, which I think is really good for us. I am determined to teach her to jump this summer – I very nearly tried popping her over a tiny little jump on the cross country course when I was hacking yesterday, but she really needs to loose jump one more time before I face her with something like this. Also, I was on my own and I think it might be sensible to either be in the school when I first jump her, or at least follow the lead of another, quiet horse the first few times. I’m getting pretty excited – I haven’t jumped for years! I think I’ll have a lesson on one of the school horses to reacquaint myself with it.

Saturday, 28 June 2008

Happy Birthday, Echo!




It is Echo's 4th birthday today and the lady that bred her has very kindly sent me some photos of the day she was born and the following few days. The first two show her at 5 hours old!

Thursday, 26 June 2008

Fort Knox


This is, so far, the only field that we can keep Echo in - she jumps over or breaks through everything else! It has 3 layers of electric tape and this seems to revent her thinking she can squeeze between the tapes. All this houdini behaviour has not made me very popular at the yard...!
She's standing in her cute baby stance here - I have photos from when she was a yearling standing in exactly this pose, with her front legs splayed apart. I'll try to find one.

Tuesday, 24 June 2008

Wolf Teeth

Echo apparently has a small wolf tooth on her left side of her jaw. This is the side that I have been having problems getting a good contact on. This has improved since her teeth were rasped, but since we have been having problems, I'm guessing I should probably have it removed. I don't really know much about the process of removing wolf teeth or in fact anything about wolf teeth at all. Someone told me that there is no anaesthetic - they just pull it out - that sounds awful! I don't want to hurt her... but I don't want the bit to hurt her either so guess it'll have to be done.

We had fun today, going fast up steep hills to try to build up her muscles around her stifle. I think she's going to enjoy this fittening process - reckon I might too!

Sunday, 22 June 2008

Hacking in a Gale!


I went for a lovely hack today. It was blowing a gale, but Echo was actually really quiet. In fact, the only time she spooked was when I sneezed very loudly! We did some good long trots and lots of walking. At one point, my friend suggested we start off trotting up a track, then as her horse (who can be very strong) wasn't pulling too much, we decided to canter the rest of the way. I haven't cantered Echo on a hack for months, so was prepared for some bucking, but she was actually very good. She was steady and balanced - I think she might have enjoyed it as much as I did! I was taking silly pictures on my phone - I love the fact that Echo's ears are poking into the photo here! I really enjoyed myself today. Lots more hacking for us.

Saturday, 21 June 2008


Oh and I forgot to add that, in order to show willing, I have bought Echo some 'hormonal mare' supplement. She has now broken the fence in 3 of the fields and they are having problems keeping her in any of the paddocks, as she just jumps out or breaks the fence. She has even been known to give the battery for the electric fence a good boot and break it, then duck under the not-so-electric-anymore tape. I am rather embarrassed by this behaviour, and although the yard owner is lovely and says that it's just 'horses', I felt I ought to try something. We'll see how it goes. It might also help towards solving her stiffness - you never know!

Another interesting lesson...

It was really interesting to watch the massage therapist with Echo last weekend. I made a decision at the time, that even if the massage didn't have any obvious physical effects afterward, I would try to get her to treat Echo occasionally anyway, as she seemed to enjoy it so much! She started off by her poll and loosened up her whole neck, then worked over her shoulders and down towards her quarters. She did lots of stretching, encouraging Echo to stretch the muscles herself once the leg was put in a certain place. I have never seen her look so relaxed. The last thing she did was some massage of the tail and as she moved it gently from side to side, her whole body wiggled right through to her nose. She can sometimes drag me a bit on the way to the field, but when I led her out afterwards, she looked half asleep, bottom lip hanging and strolled along at my side!

In terms of the physical problems, she had a look at her on the lunge and agreed that something odd is going on with her right hind leg. She couldn't find anything terribly wrong, but did say that she's a little stiffer on the right. She got me a little scared, as her horse has recently been diagnosed with juvenile arthritis at 5 years old, and suggested that I have her x-rayed if I can't find anything. Also, when she relaxed and started chewing, Claire noticed that her teeth were grinding a little and suggested that I get them seen to.

She then had a couple of days off, and Claire told me just to hack her the first day I rode her, so on Wednesday I arranged to go out for a gentle hack with a friend. It was very windy and quite late in the day and when I got on she tensed up and her back contracted. When I asked her to move forwards, she hopped with her back legs and seemed really uncomfortable. Getting very concerned, I jumped off and took her in the school to lunge her for a little while. She was very fired up, which didn't help, but she did look quite free. I think she must have just been a bit stiff after the massage and the days off. When I got on, she was fine, but still couldn't bend at all to the right - she just wouldn't take the contact in the left rein at all. I would be using my right leg and trying to push her into my left hand, but as soon as I touched the left rein, she would turn her head to the left and run forwards. I was getting really frustrated again, so I gave up and did some trotting over poles to take both of our minds off it!

I had the vet to rasp her teeth on Friday, which helped with the left contact issue, and then had a lesson with John today. As usual, it was pretty enlightening. I was glad, actually, that he saw her at her worst, as he was able to give me some useful advice. She was awkward in her head and wouldn't bend today. He had a look at her and felt down her quarters carefully. He said that she is very loose in her stifles, but particularly loose in the right stifle, meaning that she is finding the engaging work quite hard. He said that this partly her age, but that I have got to get her fitter, using lots of hill-work to really build up the ligaments around the stifle. He also said that you can get medication to strengthen the ligaments, but that this would require a very specialist vet, probably at Newmarket, and therefore we should see how we get on with the fittening work. I also asked him whether it would help her to do some jumping and he thought it probably would - anything that will get her to really bend her hind legs - even raised trotting poles.

After this, he got me to go back on to the right rein and noticed immediately the problem I was having with the left rein contact. He said that I'm putting my inside leg on and holding her with the outside rein, but as soon as she tries to bend to the left, I try to sort it out and take my inside leg off as she is rushing through it. He said that I am giving her really mixed messages and have got to be a lot firmer with her. He asked me to ride her on a really small circle around him and really pull her head to the right, whilst keeping a good contact on the left. The small circle stopped her rushing and also forced her to bend more effectively. At one stage, he got hold of her reins and walked around holding onto her bit, asking her to soften to the right. She did eventually do it, although she was trying to do everything she could in order to get out of it. We were only walking and all I wanted her to do was to bend herself to the right. He pointed out that this is not difficult for her, but she has worked out how to not have to do it. The leg-yielding was the worst, as when I put my right leg on she rushed away from it and I was having to rely entirely on the right rein - which is completely the wrong thing to do!

It is so frustrating when you know that the problem is you as a rider, but it's so hard to fix! I am going to do some really short schooling sessions, to try to get around this problem. John has lots of funny sayings and today they were useful. He said, "Rome wasn't built in a day, but parts of it were." He emphasised that I have to get what I want, but I must have small, achievable targets, rather than just wanting her to 'go well'. We will also do lots of hacking and maybe even a little jumping, to try to get her back legs stronger and keep her interested. I received lot of very helpful comments on my last post, most of them mentioning her age and that perhaps I am overdoing it with her. It's really difficult to judge, as she has been broken in for 10 months now, although she has had periods of that off for various reasons. She is very clever and learns quickly; I have got to keep her interested, but not over-tax her. It is a difficult line to draw.

I will continue to work hard in the school, but will make sure that I just have a couple of goals, maybe even just one, that I focus on and achieve. I will then try to build up the hacking and loose-jump her a couple more times, before attempting our first jump with rider (!!!).

Sunday, 15 June 2008

Hind-leg Dilemma

After my lesson, I continued to work on the things John had told me to: engaging and motivating the hind legs by practising shoulder-in and walk to canter. I also started some halt-trot transitions as they seemed to get her moving a bit more powerfully. She was amazing for the first few days. She was really using herself and the walk to canter transitions were coming along really well.

However, towards the end of last week, she became much more resistant to the exercises. She started getting really tense and stressed by the transitions and started to run through me. The worse rein was definitely the right, as she seemed to not want to take a contact on the left. As soon as I touched the left rein, she would turn her head to the left or bend to the left. I ended up having such fights with her, as she was hanging persistently on my right rein and refused to take the contact on the left. It got to the stage where every day I was having a huge battle with her and not winning!

After a few days of this, I decided to give her Thursday off, while I got my head together. On the Wednesday she seemed to find it absolutely impossible to bend to the right. She was also struggling with leg-yield left, so I think we may have problems with that right hind again. John pointed out in my lesson that the right hind is the less-engaged of the two, as she tends to step inside with it, rather than straight. On Friday, I decided to lunge her so that I could see what was going on from the ground. She looked pretty stiff behind when she started. She was hardly bringing her hind-legs under her at all. After a bit of a warm-up, I put the side-reins on and asked for some canter transitions. This did seems to loosen her a little and she looked pretty comfortable in her hind legs.

It's just so difficult to know what to do. I don't know whether she's sore and really can't engage them properly, or whether she just finds it easier to drag herself along from the front and is being difficult. I put her on a really small circle on the lunge, so that I could almost flick her with the end of the string on the lunge-whip, and asked her to trot. This made her really bring her hind-legs under and was particularly effective on the right rein. It also made her bend, and subsequently made her take the contact in the left side-rein. Keeping her on the tight circle, I asked her to canter and then trot again. When I pushed her out onto the larger circle again, she looked much more engaged; she was really pushing from behind, rather than dragging from in front.

I decided to do the same exercise yesterday, and she started off looking just as stiff behind. Again, the exercises were successful, although she didn't bend very well to the left. I did, however, spend some time feeling along her back yesterday. She doesn't seem to be sore in her back, but when I pushed hard and ran my hand from her pelvis over the top of her quarters on the right, she raised her back right up and didn't seem comfortable. I have a massage therapist coming to see her today, so I'm hoping she can shed some light on that.

I find it hard to believe that she's sore in some ways, as she has been a nightmare in the field recently: she keeps jumping out! I can't believe that a horse that's having trouble engaging the hind legs in trot can find it comfortable to jump over a fence that's at least 3 ft high! She has been in season (hence the escaping into a field with the boys!) and I haven't yet tried the hormone supplement that her old owner has said works well with her mother. Her mother also gets stiff in her pelvic muscles on the right hand side, so this might be the answer. I will see what the massage therapist says today and then possibly try that next.

I really thought we were back on track when I started riding her again recently. Never mind - we have plenty of time. She has not even had her fourth birthday yet - it's in a couple of weeks time.

Sunday, 1 June 2008

Weekend silliness

Well, after my successful lesson on Friday, I have had to give Echo the weekend off as I have come home to see my parents. With any luck she will be thinking over the things we learned the other day and will have decided that it is a good idea to fully engage the hindquarters. One can always hope...

My brother is a keen film maker - he's only 15 but has just made his fourth feature film. A little sickening. Anyway, when he is around, a camera is never far away. We were messing around with my dog in the garden, getting him to catch balls and jump over stuff, and Nicholas made a lovely video of him. With the lack of anything horsey to blog about, I thought I'd share this with you. I am already trying to arrange for him to come and visit over the summer and make a really nice video of Echo. I had better not sing his praises too much though, or he'll start charging.

This is my beautiful black and white dog, Jeff - one half of my little black and white family!

Friday, 30 May 2008

Piaffe! Well...nearly!

My lesson with John was as useful as I expected! Having not had a lesson since January, we had a lot to work on. I expressed my concerns about her back end not feeling like it was connected to the front and he agreed that she wasn't really using her hind legs at all - particularly not her right hind. She doesn't seem to be sore, so it is possible that she has just got into bad habits. I also had an interesting email from the lady that bred her, who said that Echo's mother also gets tight pelvic muscles on the right hand side when she is in season. This is definitely something to consider, as I may try her on some kind of supplement - her old owner said that 'Magic' is working well with Echo's mother.

I was a little alarmed that John said he thought she has got worse since last time he saw her, but I guess with all the time off, that is really to be expected. I also knew that really, as I could feel that things were not quite right. However, he said that he would watch me have a canter on each rein and then we would come up with a strategy for engaging the hind legs. After a canter on both reins he pointed out that my best strides of canter on each rein were along the fence, clearly indicating that there is a lack of support on the outside. He said that I need to ride the outside of her more strongly, stopping her shoulder from falling out. In addition to this, he recommended that I really work on my walk to canter transitions. We had a couple of (pretty disastrous) attempts at these, where she kept getting the wrong canter lead. He said that I was dropping my inside shoulder too much and letting go of her outside rein at the crucial moment. He got me to bend her slightly to the outside ad ask for the canter on a straight line rather than in the corner. This sounds strange, even when writing it here, but it was to stop the outside shoulder from falling out and encourage her to strike off on the correct leg. He said that I must put my outside leg as far back as I can a few strides before the transition, so as to prepare her, but also then be prepared to really hold her back if she tries to trot off at that point. What I found difficult with that, was keeping my weight on my inside seat bone and still asking for the canter with my inside leg. It all felt very clumsy, but we shall certainly work on it. In fact, when we finally got the correct canter lead, the canter was miles better than it had been to begin with.

As well as the walk to canter transitions, he said I must teacher her to do shoulder-in. He says that I need to motivate her back end and this will come through being asked to use it in a way that will interest her. She is quite a clever horse and learns very quickly. Making her interested in the work will encourage her to bend her hind legs properly. We then got talking about in-hand work. When I worked at Sheepcote we used to do lots of in-hand work with all of the horses, starting off with the four year olds, who would just do a few half steps, right up to David's grand prix horse, Wurlitzer, who used to practise his piaffe from the ground. Although Echo will never be a rand prix dressage horse, I really think this might help her and John was very keen for me to try it. Knowing Echo, she will have a huge strop and a tantrum, then she will suddenly get it and think it's fun. I will try to get someone to take some pictures at some point, as it might be an interesting training diary. For now, there's quite a good example of what I will be trying to do here. I will probably have side-reins on Echo, in order to have rather more control, but this is the general idea.

Thanks to Wiola, I have now learned how to put a video on here! I prefer the video I have linked to above, but this is an example of passage in-hand. I'm not a huge fan of Andalucians' movement, but you'll get the general idea. It's surprisingly hard to find good examples of piaffe in-hand. There are some pretty shocking examples of it - one horse was even cross-tied and being hit with the whip - I was so shocked. The horse has to be able to move forward - you can't tie it to the spot.



So...a successful lesson. I have, as usual, got lots to think about and lots to practise - I really should have lessons more often!

Thursday, 29 May 2008

Getting back to it


I have been so useless at posting recently - I shall endeavour to do better from now on. As some of you may know, things have not been terribly easy over the last few months, but I have now moved into a new house with a friend and am having a really good time. In addition to this, Echo had over a month off with a bad back and has only recently come back into work, so things have been pretty quiet with her for a while.


However...things are getting hugely better - Echo is now sound and back in work, so I am getting to ride a lot more regularly and we are getting back somewhere near to where we were before it all went a bit wrong! Even when I first started riding her again, it was rather sporadic and I was finding that every time I got on she was ridiculously tense and felt as if she was going to explode. I am starting to get used to this feeling and not be worried by it - instead I just ride her forwards and wait for her to relax! I have been able to ride her much more regularly recently so she is starting to really get back into it now, and we have less of the explosive tendencies!


I even felt secure enough to hack her out yesterday, which is quite brave for me, considering she is hyperactive at the moment and hasn't hacked out since February! She has been ridden every day this week, and has been going really well; I rode her on a little loop round the cross country course on her own after a schooling session on Saturday and she was fine, so I decided to just go for it! We went out with a horse that we haven't hacked with before, but is reasonably old and knows what he's doing. He likes to lead, so that suited us well. I only really wanted a slow hack, as she hasn't been out for so long, but in the end it was so wet that we couldn't do more than walk and trot anyway. It was a very successful outing; she was spooky on the way out of the yard - the wheelie-bins were obviously housing some very scary monsters, but when we got going she was fine. The trots felt...powerful. I wouldn't have wanted to canter that day, as she wasn't really taking a contact and was pinging forwards very boldly. I think a canter might have somewhat blown her brains...but next time, definitely!


Schooling wise, she is going pretty well. I am having issues getting her to take weight on her hind legs, but can't remember if it is any more of a problem than before she had her back problems. Her hind legs just feel really weak - I can't really describe it better than that. I suppose she has had a lot of time off and has grown a bit too, so there are bound to be some changes, but I have been working quite hard to get her to use her back end. I've been doing lots of transitions to lighten her forehand and have been asking for some steps of leg-yielding. It does seem to be improving, as I lunged her last week and her transitions looked much stronger than they had done a couple of weeks previously.


My other niggle is with her outside contact on the right rein. I have real problems riding her from inside leg to outside rein when on the right. This seems to be a left side problem, as she is reluctant to take the contact forward on the inside when on the left rein too. I don't really know why this is. The leg-yielding has been helping, but I find that when I change the rein I lose all ability to bend her correctly! I think it will be something that comes with time. I am also having a lesson with John tomorrow, so it is highly likely that he will point out the problem within a minute or two, and make me feel thoroughly stupid for not realising what it was, as it was so glaringly obvious! That's what usually happens, anyway! We haven't had a lesson since January, so I am a little apprehensive, but very excited at the same time!


My lessons always leave me with LOTS to think about, so I will no doubt voice my thoughts on here tomorrow!

Saturday, 26 April 2008

The joys of spring!

After last week's success, I ended up having to give Echo a few days off at the beginning of this week, so when it came to riding her on Wednesday, I wasn't sure what she would do. She had felt so tense and exuberant last week, that I knew there was something of a storm brewing inside that 'butter wouldn't melt' expression!



I decided to wimp out and lunge her instead of riding. I am so glad that I did! As soon as she got out onto the circle, she absolutely exploded. She bucked and leaped and twisted and cantered, all in a jumble. She is not balanced enough to canter and buck, so she has to jump about on the spot. I pushed her forward and she thundered round for about five minutes, looking as if she was thoroughly enjoying herself! When she finally came back to a steady trot, I have never seen such a contented expression on her face. It was as if she were saying, 'Thanks Mum - I needed that!'



I rode her very briefly yesterday, but there was so much going on that I couldn't stay in the school for very long, so only wandered around for about ten minutes. Today, I wasn't taking any chances, so I lunged before riding her. I expected a repeat of Wednesday's performance, but on the left rein she seemed quite calm. I decided just to get on and not bother lunging on the right rein. I don't want her to get too much into the habit of being lunged before riding, as we both might become a little dependent on it. Once I was on board, she was very good. She has to be reminded to concentrate, but after lots of half halts, she was listening fairly attentively.



Her trot has improved so much since she had her back done. She is much less on her forehand and is lovely and soft in the contact. I worked on getting her to stretch, then changed the rein. The right has become a bit more difficult. I am finding it tough to control her outside shoulder, hence steering is a little erratic! Once she was feeling more under control, I asked for canter in the corner. Little madam leaped in the air, stopped dead and stood there bucking her little heart out! She is so funny when she does this! I am amazed by how confident I feel riding her through these little outbursts, but I don't feel unseated (touch wood!) - it just feels...funny!



I pushed her into trot again, and went back onto the left rein. Once the trot was established, I asked for the canter again - I had already cantered her on the lunge on the left rein, so thought this might be fine. She was perfect - the canter was steady and relaxed. Thinking that this might have improved the situation, I changed the rein again and asked for canter to the right. It wasn't exactly great, but it would do! She kept striking off on the wrong leg, but she didn't buck, which at that particular moment, was what I was most interested in! I decided not to persist with the transitions, as I had achieved what I wanted to!

It was such a beautiful day. She got very hot when I was riding, so I gave her a bath and shampooed her mane - it has been couped up under a neck rug all winter, so was quite greasy and horrid. Just as I was about to tie her in the yard to dry off, the horse that lives in her field in the day time came in and she was able to be turned out. I led her down to the field and she was behaving very strangely! I didn't put a rug on, as she was wet and it is supposed to be a warm night. We were about ten yards from the gate of her field and her knees wobbled and buckled, and she got down and rolled! Right in the middle of the path, in the sand. Lovely - wet horse rolling in sand... might take me a while to groom her! I love that though, seeing her having a good scratch. We don't give them enough chances to be completely natural.

Saturday, 19 April 2008

My little coiled spring!

After a couple of days of walking (albeit not in the prescribed straight lines) I decided to ride Echo for a bit longer yesterday. She had been feeling quite tense when I was walking her. She didn't do anything silly, but it felt as if she were just humouring me really, and what she'd really like to do would be have a huge bug and race around. I'm quite glad she didn't!

It was very windy yesterday, so I rode her in the indoor school, which is great, but rattles a lot in the wind and she was already quite twitchy! I rode her in walk for a long time, trying to get her to take the contact forwards. The best way that I can describe the sensation she gave me, is like a coiled spring. She felt as if she had a lot of pent up energy. It was in danger of becoming a bit of a vicious circle: I didn't feel comfortable asking her to trot, because she hasn't trotted with a rider for a month and a half, but if I didn't trot, I was just prolonging the inevitable, and she would just have more energy!

I picked a calmer moment and asked her to trot. Needn't have worried (as usual!) as she was very good. The trot felt amazing. Her head carriage was good and she felt powerful and impressive. We had a couple of slight issues about speed, but she was obedient to my half-halts and I didn't feel unsafe. After a few torts on each rein, she still felt a little explosive and I knew that I was going to have the same mental issues about canter. I'm not technically supposed to be cantering yet, but I needed to just do a few strides, to reassure myself that she wouldn't do anything stupid. I asked her to canter and it was a messy transition (more out of Echo's surprise than anything, I think!) but successful. She did a funny leap in to canter and I think that if she had been a bit stronger she probably would have bucked!However, we kept the canter for a side of the arena, then she came obediently back to trot.

I feel like we are making a bit of progress now. She needs to build a lot of strength, as she has had a lot of time off. This doesn't seem to have done her any harm at all, other than a few issues in-hand. She has started being quite naughty to lead. Her field is very close to her stable, so she doesn't have to be led very far at all, in comparison to a few months ago, when she was a good ten minute walk from the yard. At the slightest distraction, she has started rearing and spinning around. It's funny - she doesn't pull on the lead rope at all - she doesn't seem to have any desire to get away from me, she is just full of herself. I think perhaps I need to do some ground work with her and re-establish a little respect. This is most unlike Echo, as she is normally so calm and well-behaved. Perhaps she is feeling like a true teenager!

Thursday, 17 April 2008

About time!

After well over a month of not being able to ride my horse, including two weeks of not even being able to touch her, it was so nice to go down to the yard last night. Echo has somewhat forgotten her manners, as she hasn't been handled at all, other than to change her rugs and turn her out or bring her in. She has become a little more pushy in the stable, but nothing that can't be dealt with!

I had to brush her for over half an hour, as no grooming during the season where she sheds the most coat, is not particularly helpful! I could have knitted a jumper with the hair that came off. I wouldn't though, as that's gross (there was a random thing on the news about that recently - another story though!) She seemed genuinely happy that I was around again, which was really rewarding.

I tacked her up, thinking that I may well not ride; she's had a long time off and I would have ideally liked to lunge her first. However, the back lady said I wasn't allowed to lunge, so, I took her to the indoor school and just...got on! Back lady also said that I should walk her out in straight lines the first few days, but with a 3 year old who's had a month off, I wasn't going hacking!

She was beautifully behaved. Again, some of the manners have escaped her, but she was willing and forward going (I was a little worried, as she has been rearing in-hand recently). I walked her round the school for a few minutes on each rein, then called it a day. She did feel a bit different. She felt lovely on the right rein, but a little awkward on the left. I think that her stiffness has been making me compensate in my position, so I am sitting slightly crooked. I must correct this, as I don't want to make things worse. As soon as she is properly back in work, I will have another lesson with John.

So, fingers crossed that the back is sorted now - I will get Jan to come and check her in about a month's time, just to make sure that things are all as they should be. For now - it's just brilliant to be riding her again.

Thursday, 3 April 2008

Look, but don't touch!

The Bowen back specialist came out to treat Echo yesterday and confirmed what the saddler had said. She is sore across her back, from the 'point' of the hip on each side, across the top. She said that this seems to be reasonably recent, as she has not started to compensate elsewhere in her body. She said that if this were the case, she would have problems in other muscle groups as well.

It was a strange session to watch; she worked her muscles with her hands for about a minute, then would leave about a two minute gap and then work them again. She didn't seem to be pressing very hard or manipulating as such, just carefully working up her back. Echo seemed to quite enjoy the treatment and particularly when it got to her neck, she looked as if she might fall asleep! Jan advises that the horse be turned out immediately after she ha treated them, but Echo couldn't go out at that point, so she told me to walk her in-hand for twenty minutes, to disperse any toxins that had been released. I don't think she and Echo had quite the same thing in mind!

She walked calmly for about five minutes, until something spooked her and she jumped a foot in the air, then reared. Great. She then proceeded to prance the whole of the rest of the walk, with such vigour at one stage, that I had to put the rope over her nose! I really hope that this has not undone the work on her back. Jan was very particular about how little I can do with her for the next two weeks. Yesterday, I was not allowed to touch her at all, except to put her rugs on. For the rest of the week, I can only touch her head and pick her feet out (as near to the ground as possible). She will then be treated again on Wednesday and will have another week of the same.

It is frustrating, as I have this time off but can't ride; however, I have so much to organise with moving house, that it is not the end of the world. I have also been able to go and visit friends around the country and not felt like I'm missing any riding! Ever cloud...and all that! The only really irritating thing is that the weather is beautiful today and I would love to go out for a long, relaxing hack. Never mind - we'll have the summer for that.

Friday, 28 March 2008

Great Timing!

Echo has had the last couple of weeks off for various reasons, and to be honest she hasn't worked consistently for a couple of months now. I'm not worried about this, as she is young and growing at a rate of knots, so the time off will not do her any harm. However, I lunged her last week and she didn't look quite right in her hind legs. She didn't look lame, but there was a definite 'not quite right' thing going on. I'm sure that phrase is becoming a technical term among horse owners! I couldn't really put my finger on it, so I trotted her up for the yard manager and he said she did look a bit stiff in her hind legs, possibly through her back a bit too. He suggested that it might be from having lots of time off and only sporadic work, so he suggested I should ride her and see. I didn't end up riding that week for various reasons, then was away all weekend.

I lunged her again yesterday, thinking that a week off might have rested anything that was sore, and to begin with she did look slightly better, but she was doing something very odd in her walk-trot transitions. Rather than push off her left hind, she would do a strange sort of jump in front, then would use the left hind properly once she was trotting. I had a close look at this, by timing the transition just at the moment where she should have to use the left hind to propel her into trot, but she wouldn't use it. I trotted her up again afterwards, but no one could see anything conclusive.

Today I had the saddler check the fit of her saddle and was thinking that I would see how she felt with me on her, but when I mentioned to the saddler that I thought she had a sore back, he ran his hand down her back, behind the saddle. It was amazing - when I have done this, she hasn't flinched at all - I must not be pressing hard enough. When he did it, she nearly fell over! He said that she has a very sore back, but that it is too far back to have been caused by the saddle (and luckily for my bank balance, the saddle still fits fine!) and must be due to something she's done on her own. It has been so wet recently, that it is quite possible she's slipped in the field. Her front end is also rapidly shooting up to reach the height of her back end, so this could be tweaking something. What is good to know is that it is predominantly on the left side, which would explain the problem with the left hind.

I have contacted the Bowen back specialist and she is going to treat her on Wednesday. She will have to have two weeks off while she is treated over a five day period, and that is just typical, as I am on my school Easter holidays right now. How do horses manage to time things just perfectly? However, at least the clocks change this weekend, so it will be lighter after work and we won't always have to go in the school in the evenings. I will update once the back lady has seen her next week. Fingers crossed!

Tuesday, 18 March 2008

Sorry for the absence!

I am so sorry for my lack of posting over the last couple of weeks - I don't have access to the internet in the house I am temporarily staying in, and work is so busy that finding time there is tricky. However, I am moving house very soon, and so shyould have lots of time to blog! I will also be on my Easter holidays soon, which will mean lots of time for riding Echo. It's been a bit erratic up to the end of this term, but she is going well when I do get to ride. I will post more information VERY soon.

Tuesday, 4 March 2008

Bending!

Echo has been going really well this week. I have only been riding her for about half an hour each time I’ve ridden, but this is plenty, as she is still a bit lacking in strength through being young and having had a holiday. I have been feeling very emotional towards the end of the week (it’s up and down!) and felt that I needed something specific to work on with Echo, to keep me focussed and sane. My theme for this week has been working on getting her to work into the outside contact. I felt that I was using too much inside rein and decided to do something about it!

Working in walk a lot to begin with, I started by asking her to flex her neck dramatically to the inside, while still walking in a straight line. Once she worked out what to do, she immediately felt more flexible through her body. I then started to ask for leg yielding from the three-quarter line to the track. She knows what to do with this, but is sometimes keen to not take the outside contact. I find myself over-using the inside rein, which is not good.

I then started to ask her to leg yield along the track. When I came round the corner before the long side, I asked her to bring her hind-quarters in and leg-yield along the track. She finds this difficult, but I find it a more successful way of getting her to work into the outside rein (albeit the ‘wrong’ outside rein each time!) I then started to ask for these movements in trot, which she finds easier in some ways, but does then have a tendency to rush. I worked hard at using half-halts in the leg-yielding to control the pace, which in turn got her to work more into the outside rein.

We are making small steps with this, but I feel that she is starting to understand what I am asking her to do. The other interesting thing with all of this is that on Sunday I managed to get a walk to canter transition for the first time – and on the left rein, which is notoriously our worst for striking off on the correct leg. I was really pushing her into the corner in walk, asking her to really reach in to the outside rein and step under with her inside hind, and on a whim, I decided to ask for the canter transition, as she felt very connected. She just sort of popped up through the transition and the actual canter then felt amazing and balanced. What a result! John tried to get us to do walk to canter in our last lesson and we didn’t manage it, so I am really seeing progress now.

It isn’t that I want her to be able to do this all the time, but it is a great way of balancing the transitions and stopping her falling onto her forehand when going into canter. The other thing I felt able to do on Sunday was actually ask a bit more of her in the canter. I was able to sit up and really ride, using my inside leg to engage her. This is a good step forward, as previously I have been satisfied with just getting into canter in the first place. I now need to work on the downward transitions. She still really falls into trot and then runs along on her forehand, so I have decided not to trot after cantering at the moment. I bring her back to a walk straight from canter, which I am hoping will instil a desire to balance herself after the downward transition. I am not sure on this point though, so any ideas would be appreciated!

Thursday, 28 February 2008

Happy Horse!

This is a little out of date, as I don't have internet access where I am living at the moment, and so am writing on my computer at home, then bringing it in to work to put on my blog. All a bit confusing!

I had such a lovely weekend of riding – this is what owning a horse is all about. On Saturday I went for a hack with my friend and her ex-racehorse. It’s such a shame – she has come to the end of her tether with the standard of care at the yard and is moving her horse at the end of this week. Just as I have come back! I totally sympathise with her though; you have to do what is right for you in terms of livery yards. It was a beautiful day yesterday: the sun was shining and it wasn’t too cold. It was a little windy while we were out, but Echo isn’t really affected by the wind thank goodness!

She felt really pleased to be out again – we haven’t hacked for about a month now, so she was alert and interested. My friend and I had a lot of catching up and gossiping to do, so we spent a good half an hour just in walk, but when we trotted Echo felt balanced and forward-going, which was fantastic. At one point we decided to have a canter and Mojo cantered off from walk. I should have thought about this, as Echo has had some time off and has lost some strength, so is finding her canter transitions a little tricky again. She seems to get worried when the horse in front canters off and she gets stuck in the transition. To combat this, she stands still, puts her head between her legs and bounces repeatedly on the spot!

In the past when this has happened, it worried me and I thought there was something wrong. However, I am starting to see a pattern and have realised that it tends to happen when we don’t trot for a period before going into canter. She gets stuck in a walk/canter transition and so just bucks! It’s as if she can’t get her legs in the right order and she gets in a tangle! My friend stopped and we decided to just trot up the hill. However, once Echo was trotting forward (and as we always get left behind because Mojo’s huge) I decided to ask for the canter transition – she was fine, so I called to my friend and we cantered the rest of the way up the hill!

On Sunday, I rode her in the school and she went really well. It was warm and sunny, which always makes me feel more positive, and it was a joy to be riding my beautiful horse. We worked a lot on the left rein, as she felt a little stiff to begin with. After some walk and trot, I asked her for a canter transition and she struck off on the wrong leg. This hasn’t happened for a while, and I knew exactly what the problem was: I didn’t have enough contact in my right rein, and was relying too much on the inside rein for the bend. Not good! We probably did about 8 incorrect transitions, with me really working on getting her into my right hand in between. In fact, although we kept getting the wrong canter lead, the trot in-between started to feel amazing. Finally, I got her properly working from my inside leg to outside rein, and we got the correct lead. I was exhausted! We did a little work on the right rein, but she was tired and so was I, so I called it a day.
It was such a nice day that I decided to graze her by the school for a while and watch some lessons going on. It was nice for her to get some sun on her back, and some grass, as there is none in her field. She gets a huge mound of hay each night, but she always loves to get some good old-fashioned grass! She seems so relaxed at the yard – I definitely made the right decision moving her back. I am able to go down there and ride, spend some time with her, then go home and get on with other things; it’s making a big difference to my state of mind. She is also loving being back in work again – I think she got bored when I wasn’t riding her – she just generally seems very content with life at the moment.

Daily adventures while training my young horse.