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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!!!


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