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Monday, 26 December 2011

Merry Christmas and Keeping Your Head Down!

Merry Christmas everyone!!! Hope you've had as lovely a Christmas as we have!

Totally unrelated but as I was bringing the horses in for the night on Friday we had a really rough rain storm with gale force winds. The horses were all very spooked and it occurred to me, not for the first time, how much easier it would make life if all horses were taught about head lowering.

I had to bring in a couple of other people's horses who had grown at least two hands, wild eyed and heads in the air as they pranced about, snorting.

Jack, who was at least as spooked as any of the others, let me put his head collar on and then deliberately dropped his nose to the ground and kept it there while I haltered his field mate. He has learned, through a lot of repetition, that he can calm himself down and control his own adrenalin levels by keeping his head down. By the time I had put his friend's head collar on and opened the gate he was as cool as a cucumber and walked alongside me in a relaxed and sensible manner.

I was really proud of him, especially considering that the thing he really couldn't cope with in the past was high winds, as he relies on his hearing even more than most horses, with his eyesight being limited.

I don't believe that most horses can enjoy feeling frightened and jumpy, anymore than most of us do, and in my experience most horses will voluntarily use head lowering to calm themselves down, at least in the presence of a human friend whose judgement they trust, once they've been taught the value of the exercise.

Head lowering has to be the single most useful things I have ever taught Jack and it's now one of the first things I teach any horse I work with, especially young or nervous horses. The difference it can make in the long term to the horse's temperament and attitude, and it's use on command, as a rapid 'calm down' cue, is unique and invaluable.

Friday, 16 December 2011

Latest Arrivals.

We have 3 new arrivals here. I need to keep the agricultural side of the business going to keep the council happy and, as we're no longer breeding cattle, I thought I'd go back to what I love best and rear some calves again. It's also a good excuse for buying them!!!

I've just sold my calf from last year, which has paid for the haylage for all our animals for this winter, so my plan is to do the same next year with these 3.

It's been a couple of decades since I last did any calf rearing but it's every bit as rewarding as I remember - they are so cute and bouncy, and hungry!!! The speed with which they can empty a 2 litre bottle has to be seen to be believed! I am very lucky in having a very enthusiastic helper who gets out of bed every morning without any prompting to help feed them, which is a minor miracle in itself!!!!

Here are Hetty, Monique and Violet (Mike named them after characters in his last play, The Kitchen). They are 5 week old Aberdeen Angus x Friesian heifer calves.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Very Exciting News!!!

I've waited a whole lifetime for this if it happens!!!

I can't tell you what it is yet but watch this space, probably on Sunday!!!!

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Some Photos of the Donkeys, Alpacas, etc.

The Three Donkateers - Bill, Rhys and Louis squeezing in!


Bill and Rhys

Daphne, my oldest ewe.


Don't ask!!!!!

Monday, 31 October 2011

Autumn Walk with Dogs.

I took Ben, Meggie and Flora for a walk in and around Ashridge Forest, which is just a couple of miles from us, on Sunday morning. They are such good dogs and we had a lovely time, surrounded by fabulous scenery. I do love autumn!

I've also started doing 'Boxercise' on Monday nights. It's fantastic fun, a brilliant work-out and great for de-stressing. My instructor said that she wouldn't pick a fight with me as I punch too hard! I was very proud of that. I'm the most pacifist person in the world but I do like to put 100% into everything and to do my best at things, and I'm also finding out just how determined and competitive I am when it's only myself I'm pushing and not a horse! It was my second session and I LOVE it! I'm trying to get fitter ready for this:

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Reasons and Targets.

I just finished reading a book called 'The Horse Dancer' by Jojo Moyles (I have to admit to a few tears towards the end) and it brought back to me all my old feelings about what horses and riding are all about, for me and for other people too.

For me, as for one of the characters in the book, it's all about feeling that you have a purpose in life, something to work for and aspire to. About forming a partnership based on trust and mutual respect with a powerful animal and finding ways of working harmoniously together to, hopefully, achieve something beautiful and inspiring, and all the confidence and self worth that comes with doing that.

It's not about winning competitions (although that would be very nice!) - it's about being the best that I can be and trying to improve myself and constantly learn more. If I can win a few people over to clicker training and Dales and Fell Ponies along the way then it's even more worthwhile!

I was sitting in the O2 arena listening to Paul Carrack last night (as you do!) and he'd just performed one of my all time favourites, 'The Living Years', and I suddenly decided on my aims and aspirations for next year, instead of just drifting along aimlessly with my ponies, as I have done recently.

Grace is well into her teens now and is worth her weight in gold as a safe hack and escort and she seems very happy with her light workload.

I have long ago accepted that Jack has severe limitations because of the confidence problems that partial sight in one eye gives him so we just have fun playing about at home, and Mike has now had a sit on him too and I will hopefully be able to give him lessons on him in future (Jack's a bit too responsive for him to be let loose on at the moment). I love riding Jack as he's so powerful and always get a kick out of how forward going he is these days. He's also fantastic at in hand lateral work so he's very useful to revise my aids with if I'm struggling with one of the others or try anything new with.

I'm going to have some more lunge lessons with Caroline and improve my seat so Bella and I can hopefully reach our full potential as I think I'll be the limiting factor rather than her!

Then, other than continuing our training at home, Bella and I are going to compete in at least on dressage to music competition, at whatever level we're capable of by then. I love dressage to music and have always wanted to have a go, so I'm going to, and I'll get to show her off in public too!!!

Merlin and I are going to enter the local Fell Pony Society show next spring and do a ridden class. That gives me loads of time to get him going properly and the spur to actually make the time to do it!!!

Merlin is such a good advert for Fell Ponies. I tried my western saddle on him tonight, having not even sat on him for ages, and as I went to climb onto the mounting step I clumsily managed to knock it over and it hit his front leg as it clattered onto the concrete. Merlin never moved an inch - just lifted that front leg and held it up out of the way until I'd stood the step upright again! From the wide eyed, jumpy little soul that first arrived here he has come an awfully long way!!

Thursday, 20 October 2011

My Number One Pupil!!!

I'm really pleased with the way Mike's riding is coming on. He's still in single figures when it comes to how many times he's sat on a horse but he sits still and straight (straighter than me I'm ashamed to say!) and his balance is excellent. He's the first person I've taught from scratch and I'm really enjoying it.

Tom, the Irish Cob he's riding, is worth his weight in gold and is giving him bags of confidence. He never does anything unexpected and is so reliable that Mike's hacking him out with me off the lead rein already. We've done a little sitting trotting with me explaining how to absorb the movement and if Mike manages to get the first stride right he sits the trot perfectly, which I'm really impressed with. We haven't tackled rising trot yet.

We both had a Western lesson with David Deptford yesterday and it was brilliant for Mike as the horses are safe as houses and stop immediately if you stick your feet forward and say "whoa". They trot really slowly and smoothly and Mike spent most of the hour trotting around their indoor school, just playing about with transitions. David said that he sat very well and he's going to let him have a go at cantering next time. He said that if a beginner's upper body stays still then he knows they're ready to canter and Mike's does.

David asked if I do a lot of teaching which made me think that I really should do more. Centered Riding is the approach I like the best so I'm going to look into becoming an instructor.

As Mike occupied most of David's attention I had a lovely time playing about on the horse I was riding, just doing my own thing trying out neck reining serpentines, turns on the forehand and haunches, fast trot to halts, canter to halt, etc. To be completely honest I found the horse's paces a bit flat for me and prefer a horse with a bit more spring in his step but the Quarter Horse I was riding was very sweet and honest, and very responsive.

It was my first time in a proper Western saddle as well and I certainly felt the part! I love riding one handed on a long rein and I love the whole easy, relaxed ethos of Western Riding. The horses and the people were all so easy going, chilled out and relaxed about the whole thing, and very smiley. I love the way they just drop the reins, mounted or unmounted, and the horses stand like rocks until the reins are picked up again. Everyone just takes it for granted that the horses will behave and guess what - they do!!! My kind of place completely!!!

As we were both riding at the same time I couldn't take any photos but here are some of Mike at home, taken on his first proper lesson in the school and on the loose! I've changed the saddle now as this one was tipping backwards a bit and he looks even better on the new one, with his lower leg even more underneath him.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Bella's Blog Update.

I've updated Bella's blog with the results of my Centered Riding lesson, for anyone who might be interested.

Monday, 17 October 2011

Late Birthday Surprise!!!

Just look what we did today!!!

Mike had arranged a surprise VIP day for me with some of our liveries who work at Whipsnade Zoo. A lovely keeper took us both for a giraffe and meerkat experience!
Getting up close and personal with the giraffes and meerkats was the most amazing experience. The giraffes are so gentle and graceful (and huge!!!) and the smaller one, who is only three years old, really seemed to enjoy talking to us, even when the food ran out.

The meerkats were very inquisitive and VERY bold! They ate the crickets we gave them then climbed all over us, scratching at jumpers to see if there were any more hiding in there, then using us as lookout posts. They were totally unafraid and completely adorable.

Here are a few more photos of some of my favourite animals. I missed the rhinos and elephants this time due to time running out but they're having an event where you can have your photo taken with an elephant soon and I'll definitely be back for that!
These maras roam free around the zoo and tend to hang out in family groups. They mate for life and are very cute and very tame.

Last but never least the lovely zebras!

I had the most lovely and memorable day! We're going to become members of the zoo so we can go often, as it's right on our doorstep, and we want to go to Regents Park Zoo soon too, as they have aardvarks and I just love aardvarks and have never seen a real live one before.

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Passage on an Andalusian Stallion!

I had the most amazing day today! I went for a lesson on an Andalusian schoolmaster not too far from here. His owner has 10 Andalusians and Lusitanos and is an accredited Centered Riding Instructor. She does displays with them for charity and is lovely abd great fun. One of the first things she said to me is that people take riding too seriously and forget to have fun, which is what I'm always telling people too.

The schoolmaster I rode fulfilled many of my dreams all in one go. He is an Andalusian stallion, called Henry, and he has paces to die for! His trot is like floating on air and his canter is just wonderful - so much lift in his stride and it almost felt like slow motion.

I had a lunge lesson to work on my position and I expected to feel a bit insecure as it's ages since I rode without stirrups, plus I'm used to a suede seat and this was slippy leather, but I was very pleased to find that when I slipped a little my muscles automatically pulled me back into centre, without me having to think about it at all, and I felt as safe as houses. Henry was also a big help as his paces are so smooth.

Caroline told me that I'm always in too much of a hurry (something I know that I'm guilty of) and need to slow everything down, just think about what I want the horse to do, then wait and trust him to do it, and that the lazier the horse is the less I should do. It worked wonderfully with Henry, who was not over-enthusiastic about lunge lessons(completely understandably)and walk trot transitions became effortless (so much so that I did accuse Caroline of aiding from the ground but she assured me that she wasn't) and we even managed some walk to canters!

She also told me that I need to stop using my muscles to move my seatbones and let the horse move them for me. I hadn't realised that I was doing that but she was right and it felt much better when I did as she said. She got my legs a lot more stretched and wrapped around the horse and told me that I need to feel as though I'm sitting more on the back of my seatbones to get me more upright, and that definately did work (I lost the sense of where upright is a long time ago and am still trying to find it again when I'm on the ground too!

Then my biggest dream come true - I was allowed to try some Passage on Henry! Caroline trains it from Spanish Walk and she got me to try my normal position, then the "more to the back of the seatbones" position, and the difference it made to the height of Henry's steps in Spanish Walk was amazing! Proof if I needed it that she was spot on!

I stuck to the new improved position and we both asked for Passage and it was fantastic!!!! Very difficult to sit, as you'll see from the video, but the height and power were awesome! It was everything I thought it would be and more! Caroline said that it's her favourite movement too.

I came home walking on air and tried out my new way of aiding transitions on Bella and she responded brilliantly. I've also noticed some very big, slow trot strides happening occasionally just lately and I now know that she's heading gradually towards Passage. Caroline told me to try it in hand, from Spanish Walk, doing it myself and waiting for her to copy me, trusting that if I stick with it then it will happen, so that's the plan!

Mike is going to have a lunge lesson on Henry next time so he's in for a real treat - the sort not many novices get the chance of!

Here is the lovely Henry:

A very short bit of video. This was the second bit of Passage we tried and Henry did very well to concentrate as it was blowing a gale and the horses in the field next to the school kept taking off and galloping around like lunatics!!!

Monday, 26 September 2011

My Book!

I bought a book recently about training cobs, by someone who has trained them to a high level and, although I haven't finished it yet and there's loads of useful information in there and I'm sure I'll learn a lot, I'm slightly disappointed that it's not quite the book that I thought it was going to be.

This is all very good though as it's spurring me on to write the book that I wanted it to be! Mine won't be specifically about training cobs but about bringing out the very best in the ordinary, family type horse or pony.

This has been a bit of a theme with me for the whole of my working life. I could only ever afford ponies that no-one else wanted and they ended up being ponies that everyone wanted!

The first, when I was about 20, was a 14 hand very round cob called Ben. He had a reputation as being uncatchable in the field and a runaway when ridden (one potential buyer had said he should be put down before he killed someone) but he'd been through a few dealers hands and had just become very scared of people. Once I'd spent enough time with him and he'd realised I was a friend he was the sweetest, gentlest, kindest, most genuine pony ever born. People used to say that he always looked happy.

I used to take him hunting and have people on big, flashy horses looking down their noses slightly at us at the meet, then they'd be queuing up behind him for a lead after a few fences as he'd have a go at jumping just about anything! He also did a very respectable dressage test and qualified for The South of England Family Pony Championships, and was 7th at the final in a huge class (and some of the spectators became his fan club, saying he was the only true family pony there!). I bought him when he was 8 and kept him for the rest of his life and he's buried here.
Ben. If you click on the photo to enlarge it you can see what a lovely, kind face he had.

Then I was given a 14.2 very cobby grey called Jonesy. He had been much too strong and lively for his owners and when he got excited he would literally try to jump anything, even if you didn't want him to! After some very hairy moments we began to understand each other and he calmed right down, to the extent that I used to ride him out around the lanes and fields leading Ben and my Golden Retriever, BJ, both of them on lead reins with BJ trotting along in front of Ben. Not very safe, I know, but I was young and even more foolish, and my animals luckily had more sense than me so we never came to any harm!

I was invited to go Team Chasing with a team of TBs. There was no way we could keep up with them but we'd catch them up at every fence with a ditch because they'd have to wait for Jonesy to give them a lead, then they'd disappear over the horizon until the next ditch fence! I had Jonesy from the age of 12 until he died at 30 and he's buried next to his great friend Ben.

There was also Robert, 15.3 with attitude! Robert had decided that he didn't like work and went in for passive resistance! I was asked to ride him because he'd plant himself and refuse to go anywhere he didn't fancy, which was just about everywhere! I long-reined him to get him going then discovered that he too loved jumping and we were away. I managed to get him over refusing to load by riding him into the horsebox (not to be recommended really but nothing else had worked and we were desperate!), as he was by then so good at going wherever he was asked when I was on his back. We could then go to shows and won loads together, including local opens up to 4ft, which would look absolutely massive to me now! I rode him for a couple of years and he then went to a lovely home to do Pony Club Show Jumping with a teenager.

I've always concentrated on making friends of my horses and tried to base training them on reward as much as possible. The clicker has just speeded everything up so much, made communication so much more clear and precise, and eliminated all those elements of misunderstanding, and the inevitable frustration that goes with it, for me and for my horses. It opens up so many more ways of discovering what horses are good at and enjoy, and so many more possibilities for bringing out the best in them and training them to have a good attitude towards their work and towards their trainers/riders.

I had part one of an article published online recently, here,
and was then asked by the sister magazine, Your Horse, to answer a reader's training question which I think is going to be in the magazine. I was embarrassed at being described as "clicker training expert" but the editor of Horse Deals has a Dales pony she was having trouble with and has had so much success after following my suggestions that she is now my number one fan!

I love writing and think the book will be my next project!!!

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Trying Something New.

Mike and I have booked a western lesson at David Deptford's Sovereign Quarter Horses in a couple of weeks time. I'm having an hours lesson and Mike half an hour (I've only had him riding twice so far and, although his confidence has come on in leaps and bounds, he hasn't even trotted yet so we must find time to do a bit more at home before then!).

Impatient to begin as always, I bought a used treeless Barefoot Arizona saddle on eBay last week and I LOVE it!!! It's incredibly comfortable and doesn't put me in a chair seat, which I had thought it might. I've ridden Jack and Grace in it so far and they seem very happy in it. I am finding it difficult to tighten the cinch sufficiently (it's so different to English girthing) which means the saddle is slipping back quite badly but never slips at all laterally, Jack and Grace don't seem to mind but I do need to sort it though as I end up with far too much horse in front of the saddle!

I think that Jack would be perfect for western as he's much happier and more confident if he can keep his head carriage low and I always feel mean trying to encourage him to raise it. He copes with his limited sight much better with his head low, in the 'confident horse' position and I'm sure he knows what's best for him in this case. I'm also much more of a western style rider really, I think, and it would be great to find something that Jack could really shine in - outdo his younger sister Bella for once!!

I'm really looking forward to having a ride on a Quarter Horse as it's years now since I sat on a different type of horse to my cobby lot.

Photos of Jack and then Grace with the saddle.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Cycletta South

I took part in a 40k cycle event on Sunday. It was the first women only event of it's kind, designed to promote cycling as a healthy activity for women. I entered some time ago and really meant to train for it but never found the time, apart from one longish ride a month ago!

I LOVED every moment of it!!! Everyone else looked very professional, in proper cycling gear, and I was the only person I saw with a basket on the front of the bike so I was convinced I'd be the slowest by miles! In fact I started to overtake people as soon as we hit the first steep hill (there are lots around here!) and carried on overtaking all the way around. I LOVE overtaking people - I am such a sad case!!!!

I finished in a respectable time and determined to train properly next time and get much faster! I even escaped any aches and pains so I must be fairly cycling fit even without doing any, which can't be bad! I love my trusty bike which was given to me second hand and beat loads of flashy bikes!!! Can't wait until the next one!

Here is a link to the photo I've ordered as a memento:

Saturday, 3 September 2011

I've been really enjoying my ponies lately. We've had some lovely weather and I'm very happy and positive about life again now. I feel that I really am 100% recovered and it's only taken two and a half years!!!!!!!!

Through a friend of a friend I've managed to arrange for Anne Wilson to come here and give me a lesson on Bella soon. She's been very ill but is also just about 100% recovered now. I've been doing lots of trot, rein back, trot with Bella and now sometimes get such big, bouncy strides I have trouble sitting them so I'm hoping Anne can help me progress towards piaffe and passage (I don't ask much, do I?!!!).

Bella is looking brilliant at the moment - very fit and shiny, and is full of enthusiasm for work including for cantering, which is a real breakthrough!

I've also started riding Jack regularly again. I've hardly ridden him at all for the last two and a half years and I can't believe his attitude to work now. I have to keep steadying him in trot as he starts to rush sometimes, he's so keen to please, and he carries himself beautifully. He is so much bigger and more powerful than Bella that he gives me a totally different feel and I'd forgotten how much I love riding him.

Merlin is coming on really well too. I'm doing lots of in-hand work with him at the moment, to teach him to accept the bit and aids, and to bend and step over Into the the outside rein. He is very sweet to work with, always happy and trying his best, and he is fast getting the hang of lateral work, rein back, etc. He's still a bit "chompy" with the bit at times but I'd been working him without one until quite recently and he's already carrying it quietly in his mouth for some of the time.

He's also amazingly bold these days, unrecognisable from the scared, bedraggled pony who jumped and snorted at everything and everyone when he first arrived.

Grace is also very well and much in demand with liveries who want someeone quiet as an escort. I was riding out with a friend the other day who said she was the perfect pony and "I want one just like her - in fact I want that one!" pointing at Grace.

I am very lucky!!!
Three photos of Bella, then Jack having his post work snack, then Merlin looking rather round!


About Me

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I am a clicker training addict and there is no cure - thank goodness!!!