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November 9, 2018
Backing with lightness

If you’ve ever been to Pilates, you will know that it’s possible to do the moves you are asked to do fairly easily. Or… you can do them properly and it’s actually quite hard. I see backing up a horse in the same way. You can back a horse up any old how or you can ask it to frame in vertical flexion and use it’s whole body to back up. The reason why back up is so useful is that 1) it engages the hindquarters and 2) you can do it in a relatively small space and 3) it will improve your horse’s way of going when you ride it and 4) your horse will lead better. This is one of the ‘must do’ exercises I use on my pony Shaun, who has arthritis in his hock, as a warm up to normal exercise or on days when I can’t fit anything else in.

Where to start: Use a rope halter or a bridle. First teach your horse to stand in vertical flexion. Ask your horse to hold vertical flexion and lighten its jaw. When this happens, it will feel soft. If your horse holds this position after you have released, that’s a bonus. If you can feel a brace, your horse is not ‘carrying itself’ but leaning on you. Wait until your horse finds lightness in vertical flexion and then release. Sometimes horses find this really hard, so you may have to actually back your horse up to help it with this.

Backing up: Ask your horse to find light vertical flexion and then back them up. Ideally, they will hold the light frame but more likely will lean on you initially during the exercise. Wait until the horse finds a light step, then release.

Progression: Build this up to 10 steps of lightness. Back your horse up a slope to make the exercise harder. Do this every day, on the way to the field, down the length of the yard, it doesn’t matter where.

Note: This website is for informational purposes only. Consult a vet before performing this or any exercise program. It is your responsibility to evaluate your own horse's medical and physical condition, and to independently determine whether to perform, use or adapt any of the information or content on this website. Any exercise program may result in injury. By voluntarily undertaking any exercise displayed on this website, you assume the risk of any resulting injury.

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November 8, 2018
Raised Walk Poles

Raised walk poles do something with the horse that raised trot and canter poles do not. Because there is no moment of suspension in walk, a horse must lift each foot off the ground separately to complete the task. As a result, this exercise build strength in the horse's muscles. 

I normally start off with three walk poles on the ground. I use a rope halter but a bridle/cavesson and lunge line will be fine. If you are not sure of the distance, which for a horse is just under 3 feet and a little less for a pony, just put three poles out fairly close and see how your horse walks through them on both reins. When they are confiedent, you can start to raise them at one end - check both reins and then raise the other end. I prefer to use wooden poles for work like this, purely because they are heavier for the smart horses figure out how to boot poles out of alignment, which usually stops the session while you re-adjust them. 

Once your horse is going through three poles, move to five and so on. I would usually ramp this up over a week or so, not all in one session, and then continue with this. 

Next time: Backing up with lightness for long-term improvement

Note: This website is for informational purposes only. Consult a vet before performing this or any exercise program. It is your responsibility to evaluate your own horse's medical and physical condition, and to independently determine whether to perform, use or adapt any of the information or content on this website. Any exercise program may result in injury. By voluntarily undertaking any exercise displayed on this website, you assume the risk of any resulting injury.

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October 3, 2018
Do they understand?

Just want to throw this out there on a Wednesday afternoon. I popped out to see a regular this morning and her main horse is out of action, so we spent some time with the field buddy. My client said to me that she had taught the mare some groundwork but she really didn't want to go backwards. She started tapping the pony on the chest with her stick and the little mare dug in her heels and refused to move. Sounds like a classic 'stubborn' pony, right?

So I asked the owner whether she thought the pony understood that she had to go backwards? She wasn't sure. We broke down the backup into bite sized pieces for the pony- first can you go back off the halter, just for one step. At that point, the pony shut down and left the conversation, so I described what was going on in the horse's head. Eventually the pony became mentally present again and we were able to continue. We worked with this for a little while, until the pony was backing softly off the halter. Then we introduced the lightest cue from the stick and then supported with the already taught halter aid. Within 5 minutes the pony was backing softly from the lightest suggestion.

In short, the owner thought the pony was being stubborn. The pony was confused. I love being able to help situations like this.

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August 6, 2018
Joe Wolter Clinic 3-5 Aug 2018
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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.

Photo Credit: Claire Dupuis

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July 4, 2018
On Holiday
Just a quick message that I am taking a few days off from teaching until 16th July. I may be slow in responding to messages before this time. 

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June 25, 2018
Surviving Summer Heat
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June 10, 2018
My first Open Day
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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.

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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.

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April 20, 2018
Sping? is finally here!


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. 

Have a wonderful weekend xx

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April 13, 2018
Liberty duo
Absolutely love these two gorgeous boys. I think they bring out the best in each other. Looking forward to progressing this for my Open Day on 9th June. 

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April 9, 2018
Who am I?

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.

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April 8, 2018
Open Day 9th June and other dates
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March 25, 2018
Sunshine at last
18-03-25_Shaun_and_mum.jpgAmazing 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. 

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March 19, 2018
Boys and their toys...
My two Connemara boys helping with the mucking out..!

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March 12, 2018
Taking care of the hind feet

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.

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February 26, 2018
Understanding straightness

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.

 

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