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.
Building confidence in riding is something I am very passionate about. I hit rock bottom myself about 10 years ago and didn't ride one of my horses for a year because I was too terrified. I learned the hard way how very few trainers and teachers out there truly understand how fear can affect your riding, especially if they have never gone through it themselves. A few days ago, I had the pleasure of helping Liz get back on her pony for the first time since March. I used a number of different techniques to help Liz prepare herself and stay present during the lesson. We set very small goals for her session and she did so well, we ended up doing far more. Liz messaged me today 'I really feel I can do this now and play confidently with the three boys'. I love receiving this sort of feedback!
So one of the reasons I have been so intermittent about posting lately is that I have been working on gaining new qualifications. The good news is that I am now a BHS* Assistant Instructor and a UKCC Level 2 Coach. This has taken four exams over the past 14 months and lots of revision and paperwork in the meantime. It's been a lot of hardwork but I'm really pleased that I stuck with it. This gives me new opprtunities moving forwards to offer a greater range of teaching to clients, not only to do with riding but also horse care and management. Thank you to all my clients who have been patient with me while I progressed with this goal.
Buck Brannaman is currently in the UK imparting his knowledge on training and riding horses. His message today is really about teaching the horse not to lean or brace on the reins, although this brace obviously usually shows up during groundwork, which is why we spend time working on this. His first take away quote was 'Pulling on two reins doesn't fix anything'. Most people who have studied the more natural trainers will have heard this before. We only ever activate one rein at a time.
I’ve told this story before over the years but it is still
one of my favourites. It was very early on in my teaching career and I was called to a yard to give someone a lesson. The client told me that someone else also wanted help and could
I see them too? I agreed and after we had finished with the first horse, the
owner of the second horse came out, half-leading, half-dragging a big bay horse
with this weird look on his face. As she stood and told me how this horse
wouldn’t do anything she wanted him to do, I looked at this horse and could see
that he was completely shut down. His eye looked dull and he was ‘in his shell’.
After a lengthy explanation of all this horse’s problems, the owner stopped and
looked at me. I was slightly dumb-founded as to me, it was fairly obvious that
these two were driving each other nuts. The only diplomatic thing I could think
to say was ‘It sounds like you are quite frustrated by your horse?’ The owner
laughed and agreed.
Without really knowing where to start, I asked her to just
rub him all over to see if there were any places he didn’t like being touched.
It didn’t take her very long to find a no-go area on him, which was his chest, but
there were places all over his body where he would just pin his ears and
threaten to bite. I set about helping this lady slow everything down and read
the feedback the horse was giving. After 40 minutes, the horse started yawning
and blowing out, although he didn’t move his feet once. After an hour, all this
lady had done was stroke her horse and responded to its feedback. I left the
yard thinking that I would probably never get called back and they must have
thought I was completely crazy.
Well, I did get called back, a month later. The next time
the owner led the horse up to me, his ears were pricked, he had a twinkle in
his eyes and he had apparently been causing all sorts of cheeky chaos. His owner
was over the moon. I still go and see the horse to this day and he is a right
clown. It was a huge lesson to me that sometimes the smallest, seemingly
insignificant things to us can mean a huge amount to a horse.
This time last year I was really worried about Shaun. He was very grumpy, seemed to want to pin his ears even if I did the simplest things such as touch him and generally didn't want to engage with me. I did alot of soul searching and questioning whether I had done something fundamentally wrong in his training but I couldn't figure it out. I even stopped taking him to clinics because he didn't seem himself. Obviously, then he lost his long time buddy Taz in January, and it turns out that Taz was alot sicker than he had us all believing. I cannot really describe the transformation in Shaun in the last few months. He is genuinely happy, just like he always used to be. Hugo has certainly played a part in that but I also believe that he must have been holding onto deep concern for Taz for some while. This explains his behaviour lasy summer because it just wasn't like him. Just goes to show we can't always know these things. I'm just glad I have my boy back - time for some more fun!
For some while, I have been seeking more information that would give me an answer to some things I had been mulling over in my mind. It was all related to softness, lightness and feel. I couldn't get my head around what I was looking for or where to find the answers. I have been working towards a coaching qualification as well so this distracted my mind for a fair while. In the last 7 days, the answer was presented to me in the form of a clinic I attended by Joe Wolter and a couple of books I listened to by Buck Brannaman and Mark Rashid. I have already been applying these learnings to my teaching and the results have been very positive.
I look at my knowledge pool like a riverbed. At the bottom there are big pebbles. These are the fundamentals of knowledge. I should say that when I started my second horsemanship journey 10 years ago, I actually had to start a new riverbed! So on top of the pebbles we have gravel. Some bits of gravel will fall down between the cracks and fill in gaps in the pebbles. As we go further up the riverbed floor, the deposits of knowledge get smaller and smaller but they still fill in the voids all the way down to the pebbles. In terms of a river, the lightest particles of sediment are carried along by the river until the current slows and they can be deposited. In other words, you have to wait for that information. You are ready for it when you are ready for it.
What I'm trying to say is that if you have had a good or bad experience with a teacher, bits of knowledge will still trickle through. You might not realise or even appreciate it now but at some point, when more tiny grains of information are deposited, things will make more sense right down to the base of your pebbles.
ps I knew my Geography degree would come in handy one day
I spent some time over this weekend watching Joe Wolter teach. I dodn't know much about him except that he had spent time with Tom and Bill Dorrance as well as Ray Hunt. He had just a wonderful way of putting things - very kind and thinking and feeling for the horse. He came out with some really wonderful sayings but my favourite was this one: Don't make it happen, let it happen.
So how do you do this? His approach was to set up a feel for a horse and allow them to puzzle solve and learn where the solution it. I very much like this because there is less chance for the horse to panic or get frustrated because he has been rushed to find the solution. This is such a powerful thing to learn - it is basically patience and being prepared to repeat and repeat until a horse finds the solution. Joe was also happy to get on a variety of horses and the changes in those horses really were quote profound. Such an unassuming person, no ego or need to be a showman. His approach is one that I will try and take on board moving forwards.