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August 6, 2018 Joe Wolter Clinic 3-5 Aug 2018
After spending three days with Joe Wolter, I have finally had a time to reflect on the initial things that came to me over the weekend. If you don’t know who Joe is, that’s ok. But what you should know is, he’s learnt from the very best – the legends of the horse training world, the legends who are no longer with us but passed their message on to others. Joe is one of those rare people who passes this message on in its purest form, without the need for fanfare. He is a kind and generous person. When someone compliments him, he brushes it off with a humility that you just want to try to emulate. He is truly there for the horse, and also for the human.
I had always planned to take Shaun to this clinic but fate has decided that it was Hugo’s turn to step up. With a handful of rides behind us, I was really unsure of what to expect. In fact, my goal was to be riding him in the clinic by the third day. As it was, I was riding him on the first morning! We learned so much but these were my three highlights, one from each day:
Help him find the relief – the release that teaches. Halfway through the first morning, we were playing with moving the hindquarters using the reins and Joe noted that I was way too late in releasing Hugo’s weight shift. The funny thing is, my brain already knew that I should have released but my hand was still holding the rein. It was at moment that I realised that it was not me who was teaching Hugo, but Hugo was teaching me. I love this!
Drive or direct – not both at the same time. This showed up hugely on the second morning when I just couldn’t get my timing right to help Hugo understand that he needed to go off my legs. Why did he not understand? Because I had direction in the reins as well as driving. It’s like pressing the accelerator and brake at the same time. How confusing for Hugo! It’s not like I don’t know this. I’m constantly telling people to ride forwards, not to hold on but I guess sometimes human nature (in this case, in the form of fear) tells you it’s a silly idea. However, it was my lucky day as Joe treated me to a masterclass in riding Hugo. His feel, timing and balance was just wonderful to watch – when Hugo was unsure, he never let him get to a point where he needed to react but instead directed him somewhere else. This was initially through moving the hindquarters and then latterly to think forwards, even into areas where Hugo was unsure. Joe taught him to be ‘sure’ in what the legs mean. The difference in Hugo afterwards was phenomenal. I will never forget that feeling.
Having ‘locked in’ the feel of how Hugo was on the second day, I was really looking forwards to riding him on the last morning. Despite me thinking he would be ‘cooked’, he really wasn’t. He was, in fact, quite spooky and pretty sharp. I could have stayed on the ground longer but after working him for quite a while, I decided I wanted to try and help him in the saddle. After all, I wouldn’t have another opportunity to ask Joe to help me. He was no more spooky in the saddle than he had been on the ground, so Joe helped me to allow him put effort into escaping the scary things and then get peace from me as he tried to seek the edge of his comfort zone. I love this approach – the horse always feels successful. Something Joe said more than once was ‘Teach him to do your thing, his way’. As a bit of a bonus, we also got involved in the group riding – I couldn’t have been prouder of him trotting and cantering around with all the ‘grown up’ horses.
I guess we both grew a whole load this weekend.
Thank you Joe for sharing your message. I will be forever grateful.
Yesterday I had my first ever Open Day. I wasn’t really sure what to
expect but around 30 people turned up and I can honestly say, I enjoyed ever
minute of it!
The afternoon started off with Shaun and I doing a spotlight – starting
with riding with contact, showing a few simple changes, and then removing the
bridle – Shaun’s simple changes were just as nice and he felt so good, I jumped
the fence I had left out for later in the spotlight. Shaun felt amazing –
really responsive and calm. When the final song came on, we danced at liberty
to ‘Into the Groove’ by Madonna – he stuck to me like glue, showed off his
passage steps and jumped the skinny fence.
After introductions, Shaun and I gave a demo on being a Helpful Horse –
he was SO helpful – I could have hugged him. We showed basic handling issues
such as vet prep, stable manners as well as being a good ridden horse. To end
the session, I introduced Hugo and we did a quick spotlight – he was a little
unconfident to start with but got better and better as we went along.
During a tea break, where my mum had produced the most amazing array of
snacks, guests came to meet Shaun and Hugo in the arena – they were both
excellent with people around them. After the break, one of my clients, Janine
Falle, did a lovely and high energy spotlight with her gorgeous Andalusian
horse Golden. I hope people were suitably inspired.
Then it was time for Hugo’s moment to shine. We did a ‘Love Liberty’
demo and he was absolutely brilliant – he never felt like leaving me and was
completely connected. To finish, Shaun came back in and my boys did brilliantly
to show a duel liberty demo. I got on Shaun bareback and bridleless and, after
warming Hugo to the task, he came with me at liberty – a truly special moment
in front of so many people.
I want to say a huge thank you to everyone who came, to my mum for keeping
us fed and watered, Janine for her fabulous demo, to my arena helpers and to Anna
for being amazing as usual on music. And finally, to Shaun and Hugo for being
the perfect partners – I couldn’t have done it without them.
I'm sure I'm not alone in LOVING this weather. Feels like we have skipped Spring and proceeded directly to Summer- ooops!😁 Needless to say, I am doing my best to keep up with requests for lessons. I started today in Sidmouth at 8.30 and by the time I finished, I was completely wiped out.
I started with a lady who wanted help with her young horse, teaching it some finer points on the ground that would help it become a ridden horse. It will be lovely to watch this progress.
Next was a client who is growing with confidence every time I see her. Today we prepped her for a fun ride by doing some jumping practice - something she wouldn't have even contemplated a year ago - and then she rode her pony bareback for the first time - very cool!
Finally, I helped a lady who's horse refuses to leave the yard. When I say refuses, I mean, she threatens to rear and gradually migrates back to the stables while continuing to threaten to rear. If you've ever been on a horse like this, it's incredibly hard to do the opposite of what you think you should be doing. My client was amazing and put her trust in me enough to help her through this. After a while, the little mare had a completely different outlook on leaving the yard and suddenly marched out of the gates with no encouragement from her rider. It really was lovely to watch the changes in horse and human.
It was somewhere around this point that I realised that, aside from having about 6 hours sleep and being completely exhausted, I absolute LOVE what I do. I cannot imagine anything else I would rather be doing.
I feel incredibly fortunate to have been associated with two
major learning organisations as a teacher, one natural horsemanship, Parelli,
and one traditional horsemanship, the British Horse Society. People often ask
me how I have transitioned from one to the other and in all honesty, it wasn’t
a problem. Good horsemanship is just good horsemanship, regardless of what
equipment you use or what organisation you affiliate yourself with. Just to be
clear, I am no longer associated with Parelli in any way and haven’t been for a
couple of years. There is no great mystery or scandal behind this decision, it
just wasn’t the right fit for me long-term. So, I am a BHS Instructor and can
help you with all the regular things that people have issues with such as
impulsion, contact, confidence but I bring horse behaviour and a bunch of
different training techniques I have picked up from various Parelli folk as
well as Joe Wolter and Buck Brannaman to name a few other natural horsemanship
trainers. On the traditional side of things, I have trained with Luis Lucio
(double Olympian for Spain) and more recently Spencer Wilton (silver medallist
in Rio with Team GB). I also have regular lessons with Andrew Lovell who has
really helped me improve the way Shaun works beyond anything I could have
imagined. So, if you just want to ride, that is fine. If you just want to stay
on the ground, that is fine too. The only time I might interfere with this is
if I think your horse's behaviours are too extreme to be safe in the saddle.
Let me say also that I will always point out behaviours that don't fit a
standard pattern as, sometimes, this can be an indicator of underlying pain.
Lessons can be a regular hour although if you have a problem, I like to have a
little longer if possible to really drill down to the issue. Also, if you live
further away, I may insist on the lesson being a certain length as I don't like
to drive for longer than the session duration. I hope this helps and I will try
to post more about what I do next time.
Amazing what a little sun does for the soul. Taught my first South Devon Riding Club clinic today. It was great to pass on solutions for relaxing a horse effectively when riding, how to get a lazy horse to put more effort in, improving transitions and back up. Then I had time to ride Hugo, who got really into looking for obstacles in the arena and marched out between them, and then ride Shaun. My mum also had a little go on Shaun - he was so sweet as she hasn't ridden for ages. This afternoon, I helped a client improve her lateral work. Love this pic of mum and Shaun.
Another interesting week of help and progress. I helped client develop her horse for loading. It's so easy to get injured loading because horses often make sudden movements when they are bothered and humans are usually too close to get out of the way. I felt with this client that her horse might land on her so we taught the mare to go through a gap and over a board on her own. This also builds self confidence. The horse initially refused to engage at all and then rushed over the board at trot. After a little while and lots of repetition, the horse was able to walk over the board without rushing.
On a similar vein, Hugo spent some time down at the stream today working on getting his hind feet more confident about being in the water. After a while of hanging out, he was brave enough to give it a go. I often find that the hind feet are usually the part of the horse's body we have to 'get involved' whether it's loading, walking through or over things, jumping or just getting them engaged for riding. Quite a variety.
Speaking of variety, I'm feeling privileged to have been asked to teach trouble-shooting and horsemanship clinics at South Devon Riding Club this year. If you are a member and want to take part, applications for the first clinic are due soon.
Bit late on my weekly update but I wanted to share a few things with you that had popped up this week, in particular about having your horse going forwards and being straight.
The first relates to a client who was riding a weave pattern - working on the feel on each side being even in relation to the other side. She said she could feel that the right rein had more brace in it than the left. I asked her to ride the pony forwards more before she asked for the turn as I could see the pony's left should falling out through the other direction. This had the effect that the pony had to put more effort into stepping forwards with her left shoulder rather than sideways (falling out) and the turn to the right suddenly improved.
The second incident was when I was playing with a horse on the ground. She was trotting through a line of five poles set up for canter, meaning she would get two trot strides in between each pole. On the right rein, she made the distance perfectly but on the left rein, she had to add an extra stride somewhere in the set of poles. This obviously suggested she was losing forwards somewhere in the set up and her stride wasn't as long/even. When I repeated the pattern again, and the same thing happened, I noticed that each time she moved over to the right of the poles and went along the fence line. I figured that her right shoulder was then 'drawing' to the fence, meaning again she was loosing forwards. So the next time, I made sure she started to the left of the poles and held her line and she did them perfectly.
These are just two examples. I could name loads but I'd be here all day :-)
Here's a little video of Hugo playing with a shoulder in exercise, which helps build straightness and strengthen the horse evenly.
It’s interesting when you sit back and reflect on a year in
your life at all the things that have happened. It wasn’t long into the year
when I lost my dear Taz. I think the best way to sum up is that he changed my
life so I could change his. He was always willing to offer his 100% best, no
matter what it cost him. Just when the whole family, including Shaun, were reeling
from his loss, Hugo appeared into our lives and brought humour and brightness into
our days. Shaun has transformed from a grumpy so-and-so to his old perky self
again. Hugo is a breath of fresh air and makes me laugh every day!
Professionally, I started off the year with this wild
ambition to get my BHSAI. In all honesty, I didn’t think I could do it but
Clare Sansom pushed me like crazy, completely beyond anything I could have ever
imagined I could achieve. I have some lovely people to thank for being amazing
generous with their time and horses – Jodie, Lisa, Wendy, Jeff and the amazing
Then towards the end of the year, I turned 40 and I can honestly
say, I’m so excited about what comes next. I have so many plans for 2018 – I’m
not sure if there are all achievable, but then, I said that about 2017! There are
not one, but two, massive goals in the pipeline – one professional, one
I want to thank all my amazing clients who are so dedicated
and wonderful to spend time with. Also, my lovely family and friends who put up
with me and my crazy ideas.
I recently spectated a clinic with Silke Vallentin in North Devon. The things this inspiration lady can teach about training horses on the ground to develop healthy movement is exceptional. That she does it from a wheelchair, is a testament to what anyone can achieve if they are determined enough. I have attended her clinics before but was interested to see that this time, she spent a fair amount of time teaching the horses the steps to 'sitting' on the hindquarters, leading to a school halt, school walk and so on. This is all done on the gorund, 'in-hand' but the cues are specific and subtle. I have spent a fair amount of time recently exploring shoulder-in on the ground with Shaun especially and have found it intriguing to see how quickly he has started to offer it ridden - his idea - without me even picking up the reins. I find it interesting how Silke talked about the shoulder-in and exactly how the horse needed to have it's weight to bring the inside hind into the centre of balance. Shaun has recently started offereing even more - he blows me away with his try - since Hugo turned up, his attitude has completely changed and he is keen to play/work again. When I ask him for 'sitting' on the hindquarters, he immediately offers vertical flexion. We constantly play with walking forwards in frame with softness - something that we have both struggled because my feel was not got enough at the start of his ridden career. Hugo has already started offering frame at halt, backup and forwards - he's just like a big sponge. It's exciting times and I continue to read and learn to find better ways to teach not only my own horses but my clients and their horses too.
I've been very lucky to observe some amazing horsemen this year, in particular Joe Wolter and Buck Brannaman. Both spent time with the legendary Tom Dorrance. If you've never heard of Tom, look him up. His words of wisdom are deeply profound.
I recall during Buck's clinic at Aintree, he was talking about horses that were busy in their mouths, that basically, you hadn't got to their feet yet. I remember looking at my friend Anna and we both said 'Shaun'.
Observing something is one thing. Finding the solution is quite another. I tried various things with him over the summer - jiggling the rein, being particular about where his feet should be and so on without much success and had pretty much given up searching for solution.
Yesterday, I went to a dressage competition. I was feeling very ill but managed to pick up a couple of placings amoung decent company. However, the judge was fairly harsh on everyone and extremely thrifty in providing comments. The bottom of my first sheet said 'The bit should be still in the horse's mouth'. The second sheet said 'Willing chap - the horse needs to go forwards into the contact'. That was all I got.
My mind rolled back to what Buck said. There it was again.
This morning I tacked up with a different plan. I've been working lately on straightening out my crooked body and this has mostly meant riding Shaun forwards more to be straighter. Clearly, according to yesterday's judge, this wasn't quite coming through from training to competition yet.
I got out to my arena and asked Shaun to go forwards without a contact. It took about 10 minutes to find a really forwards trot where he was carrying me rather than me helping him stay there. Then we worked on transitions without contact. Pretty sluggish then pretty good. I picked up the reins in the softest feel I could and his mouth started. I asked him to walk, he crunched on the bit, he bunched up his body and told me he couldn't give me what I was asking for. I asked for more walk, more crunching, more forwards please... and then it stopped. His contact was light as a feather and silent. I had got to his feet.
We did the same at trot. Every time he crunched on the bit, I asked for more forwards and held the contact as light as I could. He went quiet, came rounded and powered round the arena and through circles. We halted, in silence, and we were done.
I should know this. Freely forwards, Scales of Training - rhythm; suppleness; contact, Maintain gait before maintain direction. It's all the same, regardless of who you study and align your views with. This is what I teach. But sometimes, you can't see what is right in front of you. The bottom line is, Shaun taught me to feel for him. For when he was forwards enough, for when the contact was light enough and to stop over-riding him. I can't say that all is fixed. We have work to do. But then, it is a life long journey of learning.