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!

Daily adventures while training my young horse.