Tuesday, 29 January 2008

I've been tagged!

I've been tagged by Regarding Horses and from what I can gather, I have to write seven facts that people might not already know about me. Here goes!

1) I have never ridden a complete cross-country round. I have jumped individual fences, even a couple in a row, but the only two times I have tried to ride a whole round, I have fallen off. One time breaking two ribs, and the other breaking lots of confidence! I am hoping that this will prove to be third time lucky, as one day I would love to take Echo cross-country. That's a long way off yet though.

2) I LOVE plaiting. Weird, I know. My friend used to pay me to plait her horse before competitions and be really apologetic about it, but I absolutely love it. Sometimes, when I was working or my old boss, I would have to get up as early as 4.30am to get his horses plaited for a show - but I didn't mind - it's great. Those of you that saw the photos of Echo at her first show will realise now why she had so many plaits - because I find it so therapeutic!

3) My first experience of horse-ownership was a complete and utter disaster. I bought a flighty thoroughbred when I was fourteen and had only ever ridden cobs and ponies before. Hattie was completely unsuitable and in addition, had some kind of mental problem which caused her to have panic attacks and throw herself onto the floor. I never really recovered my full confidence after that. I don't think I have ever truly trusted a horse 101% again.

4) I am completely addicted to soap operas. I don't have time to watch them, but if I did I would watch them all. In fact, much of my English teaching is able to be related back to soaps - there's nothing quite like Eastenders for teaching dramatic irony! If I could only watch one, it would have to be Home and Away - I even went specially to visit the beach when I was in Australia!

5) The most amazing feeling I have ever experienced in my entire life was, without doubt, galloping flat out on a beach when I was thirteen years old. Nothing has ever matched that. Something about the speed and the power, with the sight of miles of open sand in front of me was simply mind-blowing. I never wanted to stop galloping. Second to this, in horsey terms (as other experiences have seconded it in other ways) was my first experience of riding piaffe on an ex-Grand Prix dressage stallion. For so long, I had watched horses do this and longed to see what it was like, and when I did finally get to try it, it made a dream come true. I have to point out that I had absolutely nothing to do with creating it - this horse had a very clear button to press. I couldn't make him do a working trot at that stage, but I could make him piaffe!

6) When I was little I had a recurring dream that I had a huge dapple-grey horse called Pebbles, that I used to ride everywhere - including to school (too much reading 'Jinny' books I think.) I never considered getting a dapple grey, as I knew that I wanted a coloured horse, but I thought that it must be fate (or coincidence??) that Echo's mother is called Pebble. It was obviously meant to be!

7)I still cry, without fail, EVERY time I watch Black Beauty. There is something about that moment, when Black Beauty is close to death's door at the sales, emaciated and resigned to his fate, then he hears Joe's voice and it wakes something inside him and he starts whinnying madly. There is a few seconds when you think that Joe won't recognise him, then something clicks and the two are reunited. He pushes aside his bedraggled forelock and sees that white star, and that's it - I am in floods of tears. In fact, just thinking about it now is making me emotional. Everything about that film gets me - even just hearing the music.

Well - I'm not sure how interesting those facts were, but I had fun trying to think of them. I will have a go at tagging some people, although I'm not really sure how to do it.

Wiola - Freelance Instructor's Diary (although I think she may have done this before!)
Odin's Diary
Barokko's Diary
Rachel-Catherine - now I know she's done it before, but tough - do it again!!!

Talkative baby!

Well, Echo has been at the new yard for two days now, and things are starting to get settled. She is very relaxed and happy in her stable. She walks in happily and looks very comfortable in there. She is lying down a lot, which she always does after she has had a traumatic move, but at least she feels happy enough to do so.

When I arrived at the yard yesterday afternoon she had already been brought in by the girl who I'm going to pay to help me out a little bit. As I was walking over to her stable, she put her head over the door and wickered to me - I was really touched! She doesn't normally do this, so she is obviously depending on me a bit while she is feeling unsettled. I grabbed my lunging stuff and set to it, as I didn't have a lot of light left. She was very spooky when I led her into the school and was snorting and taking little baby steps. I led her round the outside a few times to get her to settle, but she was still like a coiled spring.

I put her on the circle at one end of the school and she shot off in trot, head up like a giraffe. Nothing I could say or do would make her slow down, so I just let her run for a bit. She started to lower her head after a few minutes, so I brought her to a halt and put the side reins on. This made her angry! She was not at all in the mood to work. The left rein was tense and hurried, but the right rein was considerably better. She cantered for a while, but it was balanced and calm. When she was listening properly to my voice aids and seemed to have chilled a little, I called it a day. Added to this, I could by this point only see her white patches trotting round - the lights weren't working!

I got her in from the field today and she was very fired up on the way down to the yard. She pranced sideways all the way. I've got no idea what the problem was - she seemed really worried about something. She visibly relaxed when she got into her stable, which I think is really good at this stage. I lunged her again this afternoon and she was much better. Someone was muck-picking on the other side of the trees, which she could hear but not see. This made her a little tense at first, and when I put her onto the circle she thundered round in canter for several circles. She did, however, settle much quicker tonight, so I put the side-reins on and then she was immediately prepared to work. The left rein was still more tense, but canter transitions were good on both reins and she was obedient to my voice aids at all times.

It's a real shame that I have a staff meeting tomorrow and will not be at the yard until late. I would have liked to ride her tomorrow; she was just starting to look relaxed enough at the end of today's session. However, on Thursday I will lunge her in her tack and see what she looks like. There is no point getting on her while she is tense and worried, as this will just add to her problems! Hopefully, she will be more settled in herself by then and will realise that the same things still happen each day, just in a different place!

She is being very loving to handle at the moment. Every time I go into her stable she wickers softly at me - admittedly, she probably realises that I am the one doing all the feeding now, but even after she has eaten she does it, so I don't think it's all due to food. I suppose it could also be that she is missing proper company - although she can talk to another horse over the fence, she is in a field on her own. I don't really like this set-up for a youngster, but there is nothing I can do about it. I'm making sure that I take proper time to groom her and give her scratches. She really enjoys this, and I suppose she doesn't get it from the others now.

It is really nice being able to care for her properly. I mucked out mostly with her in her stable this morning, as she was eating her breakfast. I'm finding the rubber mats and shavings combination really good, although I am fully aware that she isn't being her usual dirty self yet. She is a little dehydrated (always happens when she moves) and so is not peeing as much as usual. I am trying to get around the problem by making her feed as wet as I can, and actually the exercise really helps, as both days she has come in and straightaway had a drink. These things will all settle down in time I'm sure. As for me, I am having to go to bed super early to cope with the 5.45am starts. What we do for our horses!

Monday, 28 January 2008

Clever Pony!

Echo is safely installed in her new home and we are both starting to get used to the new routine. She loaded brilliantly, and travelled calmly (and QUIETLY - big improvement on last time!), only getting a little excited when we arrived. I unloaded her and let her take everything in for a minute or two, before putting on her rug and taking her up to the field. She walked up to the field nicely, although she was snorting at everything and her eyes were on stalks! I took her into the field and led her round the perimeter, making sure that I walked slowly and in a relaxed way. I let her go by the gate and she just stood there! She obviously didn't realise that she was free! When I left the field she did wander off, but there was none of the explosive excitement I was expecting - she went to say hello to the horse next door, then had a good roll, before getting up and munching on some grass! No drama at all!

I left her out for a couple of hours while I finished off the bars on her stable and sorted a few things, then we got some of the horses in together, including the one in the field next to her. She was spooky on the way back to the yard as well, but she was very obedient to lead and took everything in her stride. Once we were back in the yard, I changed her rugs outside her stable, so that she could have a good look inside it. She didn't seem worried, so I took her in and let her have a look. She hasn't been on shavings since the summer that she was two, when she just came in for a couple of weeks to be 'civilized'. She nosed around in them for a minute or two, but seemed fine with them. She seemed so calm, that I took the middle section of her bars out, so that she could put her head over the door. She can see the other horses now and seems happy in her new house! One slight downside is that her hay rack is at the back of her stable, so if she wants to eat and look over her door, she has to keep running from one to the other. She did this rather a lot!

Once she was settled, I left her for an hour or so, while I went and got the rest of my stuff from the previous yard. When I came back, she was very happy so I gave her her evening feed and checked her over. She was almost her normal self, although she did take quite a long time to eat, as she put her head over the door after every mouthful. This is not like Echo at all - normally I can't drag her head out of the bucket for love nor money!

When I got down to the yard at some unearthly hour this morning, the other horses were up and alert and looking over their doors (they obviously know their routine!) but I couldn't see Echo's head. When I had a peep over her door, she was flat out and fast asleep! I called her and she jumped up, looking a little confused and dishevelled - she had shavings in her ears, her mane, and her tail. She looked so cute! I made her breakfast and left her to eat it while I got all my tools to muck out. We are still trying to work out the routine - the horses that go out on each side of her don't get turned out until between half past eight and nine. Echo will be going out at about 7.15! However, the horse next door but one goes out then, so I thought she would be OK. She was very excited when I led her up to the field, and she trotted off as soon as she was turned out, but she did seem a bit stressed that the horse she met yesterday wasn't out yet. There really is nothing I can do about this, so I am hoping that she will just get used to it and not worry eventually. She wasn't thrashing about, but she was standing by the gate and looking a little worried.

I felt like a first time mother leaving her upset child at school on their first day. I had to just walk away and not look at her! I would have loved to stay with her for a while, but I was already running late for work.

I will hopefully lunge her this afternoon, as I think that keeping up the things that she knows will help her settle into a routine. She has been such a star about the whole thing and I am so proud of how she is dealing with it all. Hopefully, our training will resume as soon as possible.

Friday, 25 January 2008

Nearly there!

Well, it's now almost all organised. I have my rubber mats, shavings are being delivered tomorrow, as is my hay, and I will be buying feed myself tomorrow. The manager of my present yard is going to drive Echo to the new place on Sunday lunchtime, and I think I nearly have everything I need!

I toyed with the idea of various different types of bedding; the guy that delivers everything to the yard gave me the choice of ordinary shavings (which are MUCH more expensive than I was expecting) or these other two types. One was 'Aubiose' and the other 'Aquamax.' I know nothing about these, so I looked them up on the Internet. They do look interesting, but Echo is quite a dirty horse, and the idea of deep littering the bed until the weekend does not really appeal. So, for the moment, shavings it is. When I worked for David, we only ever used shavings, so I am used to mucking them out. Hopefully my rubber mats should reduce the depth of bed I have to give her; I guess I will just get to know these things as I go along.

I rode her today and she was fantastic. We are having some niggles with the left rein, but I can tell that she is now straighter, because she gets the correct canter lead almost all of the time now. In fact, her canter transitions were beautiful today. We did one horrendous one, but that was entirely due to me riding like an idiot; she came obediently back to trot and then cantered perfectly next time. I am finding that I can slow her trot right down, then ask for the transition. This is showing her that the canter shouldn't come out of a rushed trot, and really seems to be working.

We are going for a hack tomorrow morning, which may well be our last hack at the present yard, then I may try to ride her on Sunday morning before we move. I think this would be good for her psychologically. I do think that she should be alright to load (touch wood!!) but if I have ridden her then she should be more amenable. When we arrive at the new yard, my plan is to let her have a look around, then turn her out for a couple of hours, so that she can get to know the others. When I bring her in, I will leave her to settle in her stable for a bit, then may take her to have a wander round the school in hand.

I am so sad to leave our present yard, but I am quite excited about the move - it's a new chapter in our lives and will be a good experience for both of us. I like the idea of doing everything myself. I haven't had my own horse on DIY livery since I was 14, so it should be exciting. Fingers crossed for us - we'll need it!

Monday, 21 January 2008

A Quick Update

I'm sorry I haven't updated this for a week - I have been waiting to be able to say something conclusive about my livery, but unfortunately I still don't really know what's going on. I have decided to go for the yard that is nearer to me - thank you all for your helpful suggestions! I am going to make things as easy for myself as possible by getting rubber mats and having her on shavings rather than straw (you can't get away with going to work without a shower if you've mucked out straw - shavings you can just about, although the children will be the first to tell me if that isn't the case!)

I had hoped to move her this weekend, but I can't get hold of the girl that runs the yard at the moment. My boyfriend is going to go up there tomorrow and see if he can find out what's going on. The manager of my present yard has very kindly agreed to drive her there, and I think I can get everything organised by then. Ideally, I would like to move her on Saturday, as then I would be able to spend time with her on Sunday to help her settle in.

I really hate moving her - I wish I could explain everything to her, but as it is, it's really horrible to tear her away from her friends. The yard she is at right now has been so good for us - the facilities are great and the bustling atmosphere of the riding school has been ideal for breaking a youngster in. She is relaxed and happy, so it seems cruel to take her away from that. However, it at least means that I can keep her. John has agreed to keep teaching me at the new yard, which I am extremely grateful for. I like the way he teaches and I think that we are making real progress.

She has been going well this week; I have been lunging her a few times to work on her canter transitions, and this is helping to some extent. I could really do with another lesson soon, as in between sessions I build up a collection of things I need help with. However, this might have to wait until things are not quite so tight money-wise. Isn't it rubbish that everything is always so governed by money? Where is that lottery ticket...

Monday, 14 January 2008

Sad changes

I can definitely sympathise with Dressage Mom's situation. I knew that my finances were a little stretched at the moment, but this weekend, thanks to my super organised boyfriend, I managed to have a proper look at them. The outcome was not good. If I am going to be able to keep Echo, which is an absolute necessity, I am going to have to save myself a vast amount of money each month.

Whilst I am extremely happy with the yard she is at right now, they don't do anything other than full livery, so in order to save money I will have to move her. The yard is also a good twenty minutes from my house, so even if they could offer me a better deal, I couldn't afford to drive down there twice a day. There are a couple of yards near where I live - one literally about five minutes away, and one about ten minutes. My problem is deciding which one I prefer!

The one five minutes away is a lovely old-fashioned stable block inthe grounds of a huge manor house. I know the girl that manages it, but it is very small - only about nine liveries I think. Knowing well what people can be like, I am just concerned that such a close-knit group could get bitchy. Of course, it might go the other way and I might make some great friends. The hacking there is better than at the one further away, although of course nowhere near as good as I have at the moment. I have been very spoiled up until now.

Both yards have an outdoor school with (rather inadequate) floodlights. However, the one further away has other facilities like some cross country and showjumps. There must be some jumps at the nearer yard, as three of the liveries apparently event. Not that Echo and I are exactly jumping enthusiasts at the moment!

I am most tempted by the nearer yard, not only because I will save extra money on petrol, but because the hacking will be better (apparently you can still get to the forest on longer hacks :) and there are plenty of bridlepaths) and I like how quiet the yard is. However, the stable is not quite what I would like. It is on the main yard, but it is set slightly away from the others and so she wouldn't be able to touch the other horses. This would not be such a problem, but when turned out, all the horses are in individual fields and although they can 'talk' over the fence, it isn't really the same. She has done this before when we first went to our previous yard, and she didn't seem to mind...except when she was in season and used to climb into the field with the gelding next door!

The yard further away would be good, as it is a big barn with all internal stables: all the horses can see each other and touch through the bars, which would be really nice. My only real problem is the hacking - lots of roads.

The nearer yard is also difficult, because most of the people bring in their horses by 4 o'clock in the afternoon - I don't finish work until quarter past and definitely couldn't be there until half past. This would be less of a problem in the summer, but at the moment, I don't want her left out in the field on her own. They said they would bring her in for me, pick out her feet and change her rugs, but at a fairly big cost (comparatively to the livery price). I need to see if that is negotiable, as it would only need to be five days a week and they wouldn't have to change rugs as I would be there shortly after.

As you can probably tell, I'm in a bit of a pickle over it. Added to this, I have no idea how I am going to manage to do everything myself and teach at school - I'm already exhausted as it is! My plan is to get rubber mats for the stable and reduce the bedding, only to ride four times a week, and to really use my time carefully. I will have to exist on less sleep, as I never finish school work until about half past eleven or midnight, but would have to be up at six to muck out. I guess the good thing is that it will start to get lighter soon - if we were heading into winter now then it would be horrible, but it can only get easier.

The other good thing will be that Echo and I will still be together, and essentially, that is all that's important.

Sunday, 6 January 2008

More progress - clever girl!

Echo had a day off on Friday, as when I arrived, all prepared to work on what I had covered in my lesson with John, the farrier was about to arrive and I wasn't willing to risk him turning up and leaving again because I wasn't ready (which he did the previous week!) so I just gave her a good groom until he got there. It was nice actually - I'm often in such a hurry to tack her up, that I don't have time to enjoy grooming her. When Gary arrived, I then sat with her while she was shod. She is fine to shoe and was tied up with a hay net, but she was in a nosy, affectionate mood, so she spent the hour sniffing my hair, nibbling my chin and trying to undo every zip and button on my coat. Very cute!

I rode her on Saturday in the indoor school and she was absolutely brilliant. She was slightly obstinate in her walk/halt transitions for the first few minutes, but I was organised and persistent, only accepting good transitions, and she became very willing. When I asked her to trot, the most amazing thing happened. I asked for the trot, and her immediate question was 'How fast?' She checked herself to find out what I wanted - which was the first time that had ever happened. The surface was slightly deep, which made the trot a little more tricky for her, but it also meant that she was really stepping under and swinging through her back. She was soft, flexible, willing and light in my hand - amazing!

I decided to have a go at the canter transitions, as that was what I had worked on with John the day before. She cantered perfectly on the right rein - her transition was immediate and steady - a big improvement on before. To the left, she started to run again, then kept getting the wrong lead leg. I was in a really positive mood because she had been going so well, so I stopped her and had a think. I wondered what John would say if he could see my transitions and I remembered him saying that I was dropping her on the right hand side when I couldn't get the left canter. Armed with this thought, I had another attempt and made sure my body was thinking left, yet my right hand and leg were supporting her. Bingo! She cantered perfectly, immediately able to go onto a 20m circle. She seemed relaxed in the canter too, which was fantastic.

After such a good ride yesterday, I really didn't want to school her again today, so I persuaded a girl at the yard to hack out with me. Her horse lives in Echo's field with her, so they know each other and get on well. Her horse is a slightly nutty thoroughbred but I figured that Echo is now mature enough to deal with another horse getting silly without losing her brains. Aside from a little moment just after we set out, where we had our first trot and a pheasant shot out of the grass next to us, causing both horses to leap into the farmer's field on the left hand side of the track, it was a very good hack. We had a couple of very steady canters, as despite Meg's flightiness, she luckily has a very controllable speedometer!

We saw lots of new things, including a big herd (is that the correct collective noun?) of goats, which she stopped and stared at for a moment. I love Echo's reactions to things - she stops and has a look and you can almost see the cogs turning in her brain as she works out whether or not the scary object is going to eat her or not. The only thing that really upsets her is when she can hear or sense something behind her. She becomes rather prone to rushing forward then, which is not a particularly pleasant feeling. However - none of that today, and I was particularly pleased, because today was our first proper hack since I fell off. We've walked round the cross country course on our own, but today was really successful, and such a beautiful day - it was a pleasure to be out on my beautiful horse.

Thursday, 3 January 2008

Black and White, in more ways than one.

I had a lesson with John this morning - I was so glad that he was coming today, as I really felt that I needed some help. Everybody has been great and given me lots of advice, but until someone actually stands there and watches the problems you're having, it's hard to explain what's wrong. I got on and explained the problems.

She was very excitable this morning - she was shying and wouldn't settle or listen to me. It was very cold, so I started doing some halt/walk transitions to get her thinking. He watched me do a few of these, then our conversation went a bit like this:
John: Was that a good transition?
Me: No, not really.
John: So what are you going to do about it?
Me: Er...do another one?
John: And how are you going to make sure that it's better than the last one?
Me: Er...(or something equally inarticulate...)
John: You are going to ask for the halt and expect to get it. If you don't, then tell her off. If you don't tell her that that's wrong, she will assume it's right.

This was pretty much how my lesson went. Me riding like an absolute muppet, being ineffective, and John telling me that I'm confusing her. The definitive moment came when he said 'What colour is she?' (Now there's a question I did know the answer to!) Black and White. He said that she needs things to be completely black and white. According to John (although I'm sure this just came to him on the spot!) she isn't grey and 'in-between' - she needs things to be clear cut and explained plainly to her.

He got me to do some walk-trot-walk transitions, and noticed that she is falling onto her inside shoulder in all transitions. He got me to bend her in an exaggerated way to the left and then ask for the downward transition, really keeping her moving into my outside hand. This really worked, particularly after he got me to trot her on a really small circle around him, then spiral out and then ask for the downward transition as she was moving out. She finally felt really connected.

I explained that I was having issues trotting after we had cantered, and rather than ignore the canter for a bit, as I had thought I should do, he got me to try walk to canter. He wanted to see what she would do and it was quite interesting. She did manage to canter from the walk, but it was on the wrong lead on each rein. She was finding it really difficult, so we then went into trot and asked for the canter in the corner. This was great, although he did see my problem with her rushing and 'falling' into canter. To get around that, he asked me to ride deep into the corner. He said that I am trying to make it easy for her by cutting the corner, but am only making it more difficult for myself. If I ask for the transition in the corner, she can't rush forwards. He also said that I should not think of the canter as going 'forwards' faster, but going 'up' and staying at the same speed as the trot. This was really interesting and it really worked. She cantered immediately and on the correct leg every time. We did this on both reins and she was really good.

As we finished the session I was concerned about the fact that she seems to get really strong in the trot when we are working on the canter transitions. In fact, I should have thought before telling him this. Our conversation was rather similar to the one we had earlier:
Me: She keeps rushing in the trot before we canter and she gets really strong.
John: So don't let her. She will be strong until you tell her that that isn't what you want. When she does what you want, then you make a big fuss of her and tell her that it's right.
Me: Oh. That seems obvious now.

He said that she is testing me and that all young horses do this at some point. Unless I explain clearly the boundaries now, then things will be more difficult in future. He said that I've got to make things easier for myself and expect her to get things right. We aren't asking her to do anything difficult, just to carry herself correctly. She seems to be exploring the other options at the moment. As usual, I have come away from it with a great deal to think about.

I think we need to do some hacking this weekend, as we have been working hard in the school. I will try to consolidate today's lesson tomorrow, but then I think we need a chance to chill out and think.

Daily adventures while training my young horse.