Learning to be an Equestrian, not just a dressage rider…

When talking to various people in the horse world, I get a little concerned when they describe a person that has just started their journey with horses as competitor in a specific discipline, for example, a hunter jumper rider, a barrel racer, or a dressage rider.

Take a moment to work out what that means…. from the first time they sit on a horse, they have already been put into a “class”….

The job of that first coach is to teach a new rider how to begin their journey as an equestrian.

New riders need to be taught a basic understanding of the seat, the connection between the arms, hands and bit, basic good position, and how to ride a horse that may not do exactly as you would expect.

Like horses, riders need to be treated as individuals… Not a one size fits all approach

I spend as much time as it takes with each client to get them secure in their seat. They need to understand the correct position of their bodies, use each aid independently and have an idea how to react when things don’t go quite to plan. This takes time and patience from all parties.  I explain that this is what is going to happen and it will take time.

Riders should not be rushed, you would not expect a runner to run a marathon after 5 training sessions!

Fix your position, before trying to ‘fix’ your horse

Like our horses, we also have a correct way of going, regardless of the discipline.  Even experienced riders need to check them from time to time, it is scary how quickly we can fall into bad habits.

Holding your arms and hands correctly is not just for dressage, its for jumping and all other forms of riding too!

A rider with straight arms,  hands below the horses neck and open hands means they have no real control, and a horse that lives on the forehand. Relaxed shoulders, elastic elbows, thumbs up and carry your own hands.

Shoulder, hip, heel line is for all!

Imagine if your horse magically disappears, would you fall on your arse?  Then, you will fall on your arse when you horse does in fact disappear! Because at some point they will!! 

Practice your 2-point

Everyone  should be able to ride in 2-Point or  jumping position, you never know when you will need it!

Independent leg aids

The ability to use your legs independently and move your horse away from the leg is necessary for both the dressage and jumper ring, even out on the trails…. How else are you going to get close enough to the gate to open it without having to dismount!

And keep a open mind

We can all learn from each other and we should all learn how to ride a dressage test, navigate a round of jumps or ride gymkhana games, you might just learn something new!!

Storm

On the 1st April, we lost Storm.

I have written about Storm before. He was beautiful, nervous, kind, reactive, generous, accident prone and talented. He was my horse, and he is missed.

I decided to breed my old mare because I wanted a horse to grow from the beginning, and I know the specific blood lines I wanted. I also had to have the first of my back operations, so I know riding would be out of the question for a while.

Storm was born at Alvescot Stud on 22nd May 2000, he was a big bright bay Colt with a dotting mother.

Taking them to Diesel’s British Sports horse grading was a highlight, we went to the stunning Catherston Stud and was judged by the lovely Jennie Loriston-Clarke. So many lovely, well behaved foals… and then there was Storm, he got away from me, and enjoyed his freedom for a bit there… To be honest, I was really not sure what I had gotten us into, but the remarks about Diesel and Storm were lovely and they were graded into the Stud book.

He was then allowed to grow up at the stud.

All went well until he was around a year old. Mrs Hobbs called me and asked if he was insured, he was. They told me that they thought he may have Wobblers Syndrome. I, knowing these people knew what they were talking about, arranged to take him to the vet clinic.

The Wobbler syndrome was confirmed, and the advice was to give him some time and keep him in. The next few months were terrible, I was constantly waiting for the call to tell me that he had gone down and not getting back up. It never came, and he became more stable. He was eventually allowed back out into a small field, and his coordination.

Over time his gaits improved and you could not see his issues unless you looked for them. I kept him at a local barn and started some basic work with him. We even went to some ‘parties’ where I showed him in hand and he won a number of classes.

We then decided to move to Canada and I was pregnant with my first child. Storm and N came too!

I taught Storm to lounge and we worked on ground manners. He was then backed by Will Clinging. This went well, and I had a horse I could ride. But, I was unable to answer all of the ‘questions’  he threw me, and he went to ‘Dean the cowboy’. We took him over for a session and Storm tried everything to get Dean off. From rearing, bucking, spooking, running, and throwing himself to the ground, then, suddenly went “OK… fine, let’s do this”, and he was walk, trot and cantering around the ring.

When Dean had finished, he got off, gave Storm a huge hug and said..

“This horse is awesome! He needs to stay here until I am happy he is safe.”

He stayed for 6 weeks.

He came back more confident, and I had some coping skills for when he ‘lost the plot’ .

Once we got into the swing of things we managed a few dressage shows, some showing classes, and even a couple of hunter rounds.

But, Storm continued to be accident prone and was off work regularly due to cuts, bumps, weird lumps and even the occasional pulled muscle.

We also found that he would not lie down to sleep, we tried a whole number of things to help with this, but, nothing worked and he became sleep deprived and would fall in his stall, this lead to a whole range of injuries. Which, I think, was when he damaged his hock and he became chronically lame on it. There was not obvious reason, ultra sound and x-rays were clean, but it was swollen and he was lame. He did not seem to care too much and he was pasture sound, So I retired him. He eventually became sound though!

Then the colic episodes started

Last June, he had his first bout of Colic. I found he lying down and knew there was something wrong. My vet came out and we got him up and moving, and recovery was quick.

He had a further 2 bouts of colic in January and February, and then again on the first of April. He has shown signs the day before and again, my vet had visited and we treated him and he was quiet over night.  When I went down in the morning, he looked tired and would not eat, I put him out in our ring, and he lay down. Vet came back out and we realized there was nothing to be done. He was showing signs of both gas and obstruction colic. We decide to give him some fluids, and stomach contents came out of the tube.

We had discussed surgery, but even though, I did not want to say good buy to Storm, I was NOT going to put him through surgery. I had made the decision some time ago that he would not be leaving the farm again. It was hard to keep my resolution, but Storm did not deserve to die on the operating table. If I had sent him, it would have been for me, not him.

I do believe that colic surgery has it place, but recovery is tough and survival rates are not great. Taking into account his age, his chances of a full recovery with no recurrences was not high. This was the right choice.

His postmortem shows that he had Duodentitis-proximal jejunitis. The cause could not be identified ( all blood work was clean) and there was nothing that could have been done.

Here are the comments:

Capture

 

Sometimes there is nothing we can do other than give them a safe and painless passing.

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Acceptance

If you do something totally “by the book”, it may not work out.

Best plans get screwed up, good ideas get thrown out of the window as emergencies take over. 

Sometimes the things that we never expect to happen do, both good and bad, and we need to learn to roll with the punches.  

We forget to breath and take in the moment as life gets hectic. 

This is called life and there is no manual.

People often ask how I manage….. See above! Once you realize that some things are out of your control, life becomes a little easier.

The only person I am truly responsible for is myself and my responsibility is in a nutshell:

To treat others the same way I wish to be treated, and to bring up my children to understand the statement above!

So, what has this got to do with horses?  

EVERYTHING!

Here is a story for you….

Recently, winter has spring up on us. It has been cold, snowy and hard under foot. And, as I do not have a heated indoor ring. I could not ride without risking an accident. First this got to me, I had a lesson booked and I had not managed to ride, first due to the low temperatures and then due to snow, I canceled due to lack of preparation and the snow covered roads.

I was meant to be showing too. Again, no riding, so no practice and so no showing…. I could have still gone and “winged it” but, knowing my horse, not worth the risk to our partnership.

I was soooo annoyed with myself, I felt I was wimping out….  

Then there comes a moment when you have to say, these are circumstances beyond my control. All I can control is my own actions, which means stop turning my emotions back onto myself when there is little I can do to change the circumstances.

So, I went skiing instead, I played with the children, we sat and had hot chocolate.

Don’t get me wrong, not riding takes it toll, but not beating myself up about it helps alot.

Being an Equestrian is about acceptance.

Bucket list item – Attend Carl Hester clinic – Check!

I was very lucky to attend the Carl Hester master class in Vancouver over the mid November weekend. It was awesome!!

Seeing this clinic was a bucket list item for me, I have watched him ride for the UK for many years and have found his books excellent reads. I think it’s really awesome what he has done for the Equestrian sport in the UK, especially dressage. Something he empathized was that he did not come from a “horsey” family and he did not have lots of money, he brought the best horse he could with the money he had and it was the training that made the horse, not the price tag.

Mr Hester has an distinct and direct way of dealing with each horse and rider even though most wanted to work on the same concerns.

We got to see a some really nice horses and some excellent riders, which helped the rest of us understand that the issues remain the same even as we progress. We are all looking for better connection, better paces, and more ‘spectacular’ results that can only come from more relaxation and impulsion.

We learnt that they only school the horses 4 days a week, and the actual learning time is only around 30 mins, they are stretched before and after each ride, ridden out twice a week and a day off with as much time out in the field as possible. The young horses live out as much as possible and are only brought in to work.  I think something we can all take from this is that horses need to relax and be horses and we should not “drill” them.

There was some much information, especially on how to improve the upper level movements , but when it really came down to it there were some key points we can incorporate into our own ridden work.

And… stretch….

He emphasized the need for the horse to stretch. Each horse was asked to stretch and to work in a longer frame. Athletes stretch before training, our horses are athletes, they need to stretch too!

Leg on… leg off…

Leg off a ‘lazy’ horse, and leg on a hot one. The hot horse needs to accept the leg and listen to it. The lazy one needs to stop depending on the rider to keep them going. ( Stop nagging them!!) If you ask the horse to do something, they should continue doing it until you ask them to do something else.

Leg = reaction. It may not always be the reaction you ask for BUT that is OK! Appreciate that the horse is learning, and try to be clearer with the ask the next time.

Transition, transition, transition….

Ride every transition like it is part if a test and ride LOTS of them. And by lots he was looking for hundreds…

How often have you ridden a transition, especially down a pace that has just been ugghh… but you have not corrected it because, basically no one is watching. Stop that! Ride them like they really matter, because, basically they do. If you ride each transition forward and correct, it becomes habit, and when it comes to test time, a non issue!

Hands!

Keep an eye on your hands. A good hand is a hand that is constantly communicating with your horse, it just looks like it is doing nothing! They are forward hands that correct while looking still. First though, keep them in a good basic position. Hands up and in front of you with the thumbs up and close together. This is not news, but it is something I see often, hands are dropped and turned over, this leads to a gap in communication with the horse. Fixed hands block the communication. We often heard, thumbs up, hands together. It is nice to know that even advanced risers need reminding of this occasionally!!

There was so much more information about how to ride different movements, improving collection, changes and piaffe and passage, but the above is a good starting point and easy to implement for any rider.

On being bigger, and being able to enjoy my horse.

So, a couple of things that have been mulling around in my head…
I am not a “small” person. I am quite tall and have shoulders that are wider than most, and I have curves….perhaps not all in the correct place right now, but I am working on it.
I am also, like most equestrians, strong. I have a large muscle percentage and I do not fit in the normal range for clothing. To be honest, this is a general thing, and not just related to “equestrian clothes”. (I not even going to the long boot place today…)
Now, I appreciate that there are companies out there that are making equestrian clothes for the more “curvy” rider, I am not just not sure I enjoy being singled out because I am built a bit like an “Amazon”.
And when they do have the “full” size stuff, it tends to be shaped like a tent. Tents do not look great when riding, especially when competing. And I am not sure my horse would appreciate it either!!

Big does not always equate to “tent shaped”. We need the same clothes as everyone else, just in a cut that does not cut off our circulation!

My horse,Keane, who is a Percheron cross, is really good fun, and he is great to take out and show. But something odd has happened. I have had a number of my fellow competitors stop and say what a cute horse he is, and he seems like lots of fun to ride.
Which confused me….. are their horse not fun to ride?
Looking around the collecting ring… it became clear, no, no they are not. This is an issue that we are seeing more and more. We are buying horses that we are not ready to ride. The following saying comes to mind.
“Most do not need a $50,000 dollar horse, but need a $1000 dollar horse and $40,000 dollars worth of lessons.”
Sometimes, we need to be realistic. We need to determine what we want to get out of our riding and buy the horse we need, not always the one we want.

I am missing my partner in Crime .

On 4th September we had to say good bye to our wonderful pony Daisy.

She had fractured her lower jaw just over a week previously, and despite being on strong antibiotics, it still became infected, at which point, there was nothing else that could realistically be done.

Jaw fractures are common in horses, especially young, playful ones. They can heal very well, and there are surgeries, but for older horses, the story is not so great.

I did not feel surgery was the right way to go for Daisy, mostly because it involved wire hooked onto teeth (which she did not have) and general anesthesia, which would be “dicey’ for an animal of her age, neither of which was something I was willing to put her though.

This is something that my vet agreed with.

I could have kept her going, but again, since the infection set it, I noticed a change in her attitude, and while, sometimes she looked fine, there were others, I noticed her standing in the corner of her stall looking “defeated”. She was also on a “draft” horse dose of pain meds, and she was still unable to graze easily.

I did not ride Daisy, but she did help me teach a number of children a solid foundation in riding. Before I started teaching with her, I spent time lounging and working with her in the school. We learnt how to talk to each other and look after the children together.
She knew exactly how much she could get away with and if the child was not paying attention, she would just wonder back to me….. She knew exactly where all the treats were!!

She also made an AWESOME UNICORN!

 

 

 

Trust yourself!

So, let’s start with this…

My name is Jane and I have a slight Facebook addiction.

I love my Facebook ‘family’, but I have noticed a huge problem. It’s called an Echo Chamber. I tend to only see posts from others that tend to share my own personal points of view. So, I made efforts to interact with others that perhaps have a different position. It is not always comfortable, or easy, but I have found it enlightening.

I have found the same in the horse world. We all claim to be working to better the lives of our equine friends. But there are many who will judge you for doing what is best for your horse. A good example is the ‘Natural hoof trimmers’, if you happen to talk about having your horse shod, they rain down on you with judgment and guilt inducing rhetoric. My horses are barefoot if they can be, or they have shoes if they need them. I use a certified farrier who spent many years perfecting her skills and her knowledge and her understanding of horses is excellent. But my main issue is, while I know I am capable, well mostly, of making the best informed decision, someone else may not be, and they could end up doing much more harm than good. Just because someone is forceful with their words, does not mean they are right, they are just a bully! I have noticed this being an increasing trend of late, from the barefoot enthusiast, the rugs are evil, and how dare you ride with a bit brigade!  

The key here is to understand that not one size fits all with horses. One horse may be very happy without a rug on a cold wet day, but another may need it. It may not be “natural”, but here is something that most people forget, our horses are no longer natural either! Sorry to break it to you, but you 16hh3 German bred warmblood sports horse would probably not do too well in the wild! They have been bred with the understanding that we can provide the technology to keep them healthy and happy!

In summary, you, along with trusted professionals are the best people to make decisions for your horse. Do not do something against your better judgement just because someone with a loud voice tells you to.  (Well, apart from your coach during a lesson, then do exactly what they tell you!! Because that is what you are paying them for!! 😁 )

 

If you ain’t thinking forward….

The most important word to think of when riding is FORWARD

If you and your horse are not thinking forward, then you will have trouble getting anywhere (Weak joke I know, but could not resist it… anyway…)

Everything that you are trying to achieve in riding and training your horse should be thought as a forward motion, yes, even going backwards.

A horse’s first instinct is to run away, fight only if necessary. So, working with their natural instinct of wanting to keep moving is beneficial for all. We should be able to control our horses feet, both ridden and on the ground, and a first step to that is learning how to make our horse go forward.

Step one is to teach the horse that the leg “on” means that they need to react to it. As horses tend to move away from pressure, it means they will most likely move away from the leg.  This is what we want, when we want the horse to move sideways, we apply press in the direction we want them to go. If we want the horse to move forward we use both legs at the same time, in the same place on either side of the horse, creating a “tunnel” of pressure for the horse to move forward from.

Things to remember:

IF you ask your horse to go forward and it does, reward them, EVEN if they did not do exactly what you were expecting, they are making an effort to understand. If you have forward then you have something to work with.

DO NOT NAG. If your leg becomes a constant bang bang bang at your horse’s side, they will switch off to the leg, which will make them hard work to ride, and will mean using harsher aids, along with more artificial aids to make your horse go. This is not a good path to go down. Once you ask a horse to do something, for example trot, you should ask, they should respond, and then continue to do the action until they are asked to do something else. It is easier for them to do this than it is for you to keep on asking for trot all the time!!

I use the Ask…Tell…Demand approach. For me, in general, this means:

ASK: The minimum aid to apply, a squeeze of the lower leg.

TELL: Is a bump against the horse side, and voice command

DEMAND: By the time I have reached demand, I am just looking for the horse to go forward. This can be achieved with a “pony club kick” and perhaps a YeeHaw!

Different horses have different thresholds, this need to be taken in to consideration with your aids for Ask, Tell and Demand

The demand is useful when a horse gets “stuck”, perhaps they are trying to figure out exactly what you are asking but have just got confused, or there is something distracting them, in this case the forward motion “unglues” them from the spot.

BUT the most import thing to remember is that you NEVER stay at Demand. Once the horse has reacted, you go straight back to Ask. You don’t want to spend you entire ride “Shouting” at your horse, that is a sure way to get them to “filter” you out.

When you are riding, always have the concept of forward in your head. You are always riding your horse forward to trot, forward to collection, or forward to the halt.

The building blocks of horsemanship – RELAXATION

Since moving to Canada I have been asked what type of “horsemanship” do I follow?

I was rather confused about this, as to me there has always just been “horsemanship”. But since moving here, I have been exposed to many different names given to how equestrians feel horses should be educated.

Growing up, most people I knew followed the techniques that the British Horse society endorsed. There was always a copy of the Pony Club Manual in all its blue glory at the barn. For horse care and education of the rider, I still feel that this is a very good starting point. I then worked with a number of people that used the fundamentals of “Classical” horsemanship. While the general basics were the same as the “BHS” way, there was much more emphasis on the horse’s way of going. This led me to look into the classical fundamentals of equitation. The emphasis being on the harmony of horse and rider and training the horse to be the best it can be while ensuring a long and pain free life.  This should be the goal of any training method.

I have found that if we ride in a balanced and mindful way, the horse is more likely to be co-operative. What do I mean by that…?

Balance:

As a rider we need to sit in the saddle in a way that does not throw the horse off balance, we need to be capable of holding ourselves together, with a balanced feel of the reins, without expecting the horse to support us. We need to be body aware so that we are not putting our horse off balance.

Mindful:

Understand that our actions will cause a reaction in the horse. If we are not clear, concise and consistent with our aids, we cannot expect the horse to respond in the desired way.

First Step – RELAXATION

When working with horse and riders, I first thing I ask them to do is to RELAX. Being able to relax is the most import tool when working with horses.

If you are not relaxed, you are TENSE

There are two main reasons while riding when tense does not go well, one is emotional, the other physical:

Emotions take control

Horse are flight animals, if we feel tense they wonder why, and then become tense themselves, They do feed on our emotions, so we need to be able to control our own composure before we can even consider trying to train a horse to keep their own instincts under control. I tell my clients that if they have had a bad day, do not try to train your horse. If you are feeling tense, you may well be argumentative, and most horses will argue right back at you.  If this can be avoided, then do, you do not want to get into a flight you will not win.

Physically cannot move freely

If your body is tense, you will not be balanced, you will not be able to allow your horse to move, and your aids with not be clear, concise and consistent. Basically tense bodies don’t work very well.

How do I relax when I am riding?

  • BREATH!!

OK, I know this is something we sort of need to do, but to be able to control your breathing is important. When we are tense we tend to take quick, sharp breaths. We need to slow this down. Think Yoga…. In through the nose, inflate the belly and out through the mouth.

Sometimes I will SING!! Not much fun for anyone near, but it stops you holding the breath, and it gets the horse’s attention focused on you,

Generally, just the threat of making my clients sing will make them laugh, and so they relax and start breathing better.

 

  • “SHAKE IT OUT”

Well not literally, I am not sure the horse would enjoy that :-p …

I work through my body from my feet to the top of my head (I find it easier this going from bottom to top, if it does not work for you, try from top to bottom…)  I feel for my foot and see is I am holding onto it or am I letting gravity take control of the muscle. There should be no tension in the legs, the aim is to have them in a neutral position against the horse’s side. (This is the beginning of the passive aid…)  I check that I can feel even pressure on my seat bones, that my hips moving with the horse,  my shoulders down and relaxed, and so on.

If I feel tension, I take a deep breath and let go of the muscle. I may add a little shake if I feel the horse is OK with it, but to be honest, they will just be happy they have a rider that is moving with them rather than an object they have to fight against!

Happy Riding!!

Being an adult with responsibilities sucks!

 

With Storm not being in a fit state to be ridden, I have been “quietly” looking for a horse to ride.

I was offered the ride on a wonderful, well-trained mare. I was soooooo excited. I had a plan for when I would ride, what shows I wanted to enter, which stable she would go in… I knew it would be tight to fit everything into my day, but I was going to go for it!

Then, my youngest got a virus, nothing too serious, but he needed all my attention. That spare hour before bed was gone, well to be honest; sleep was gone for a couple of days there. This made me think…  If one of the children was ill, or I was ill, what would happen to my meticulously planned riding schedule?

Well, it would have gone out of the window, and I would have sucked it up, because I am a parent, and because my children need me.

Being a parent is a juggling act at best, and adding in horses, adds a whole new bucket load of balls to throw up in the air and try to catch.

I read a lot of articles on ”How I make it work! “ and to be honest, I would like to call “Bu*****t” on them. If you have children, they need to be your first priority. They are only children for a short time, be present, and there for them. There will be other shows, other horses when you have time to fully focus. But for now, enjoy the children, enjoy the ride on your horse when you have the opportunity, but don’t put yourself under so much pressure that you are paralysed by the stress and find enjoyment is gone from both.

I am not giving up on my ambitions or dreams, I am admitting I have responsibilities to my family which need to be taken care of first, and this is what being a parent is about. As my time permits, I will ride, train, and coach, and I will make sure I am also taking care of “me”. The dressage ring will still be there when the children are adults in their own right!

PS: If you have a significant other, then remember that relationship is important to, because if you are sick, the horses still need to be fed! 😛