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Thursday, 27 December 2012

Happy Christmas!!!

I hope everyone who reads this has had a brilliant Christmas!!!

I've had a really great one. It began a couple of weeks ago when we went to see the first screening of a short film Mike was in recently. It was made to promote a youth centre in Oxford and was shown at the centre. Mike was one of only two professional actors in the film; the other was playing the youth leader. All the other people in the film were regulars from the centre, none of whom had never done anything like it before, including the girl in the lead role who was simply terrific!!!

The atmosphere at the centre was brilliant and very inspiring and inspired. Do have a look at the film:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GhB5H_n9rn0

A couple of days later we went to see 'The Magistrate' at The National Theatre in London. It's a farce written by Arthur Wing Pinero in 1885 and starred John Lithgow. It was very funny and I really enjoyed it. I especially liked the lead female character, Agatha, played by Nancy Carroll who's husband I met last summer when Mike was working with him at the Chichester Festival!

I took some photos of the stalls and lights on the Southbank just outside The National Theatre:






Last Thursday we went to the Christmas party at Whipsnade Zoo, as the guests of our liveries who work there. It was Mexican themed and great fun and very kind of them to invite us. We got to keep the sombreros and I'm going to have to get some photos of the donkeys wearing them!


Last Saturday we went to see 'One Man Two Govnors' at the Theatre Royal Haymarket in London and it was just brilliant! We ached with laughing afterwards and I would thoroughly recommend it to anyone wanting a truely hilarious evening. I thought Mike was going to do himself an injury at one point, he was laughing so much!

We had a lovely Christmas Day and Boxing Day, spending Christmas evening with my parents and Boxing Day evening with Mike's parents and family (too much mucking out to do to go anywhere in daylight hours!). That's one of the many lovely things about getting married - you get a whole new second family! They are all lovely, kind, friendly people and animal lovers too, and we all get on really well. It was lovely to socialise and catch up with everyone.

We're going to see Warhorse at The New London Theatre in January and I'm hoping to get tickets for The Devil's Horsemen's panto if I can just remember to phone up tomorrow to see if they have any left, so plenty more treats to look forward too still!

It's a hard life but somebody has to live it!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Rico's Blog.

New post, heavy on photos!!
http://helen-novillero.blogspot.co.uk/

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Passage from Spanish Walk.

I went to Your Horse Live on Saturday and watched 2 brilliant demos. One was by Sylvia Loch who gave a lesson to someone on their 9yo Andalusian stallion. When his owner was warming him up he was rushing around with her driving him on and his trot looked singularly flat and uninspiring. I overheared her tell someone afterwards that this was the first time she'd met Sylvia and her usual trainer is a well known German dressage trainer.

Sylvia slowed everything down and got him balanced and by the end of the 45min session his trot was transformed, showing real elevation and power. He was a lovely, tolerant, generous looking horse who showed no signs of resistance either way but I did think he looked relieved at the change in the way he was ridden.

The other demo was by Diane Thurman Baker of Turville Valley Stud. Her 14yo daughter is competing at Prix St. George and heading towards Grand Prix on a Warmblood that Diane has trained from scratch using Portuguese in hand training because, as she said, "that was the only way I know how to train." She trains passage from Spanish Walk because, again, "that was the only way I knew how." This was a warmblood who'd been rejected by other dressage riders as he was built downhill, quarters high, but her results were just breathtaking and it was all so calm and relaxed! The horse went into and out of piaffe and passage as calmly as a walk in the park! The whole demonstration showed total trust, harmony and co-operation between horse and handler and was beautiful to watch! I got really excited and enthused watching them and was beaming from ear to ear by the end of it!

Diane's daughter is now on the junior British teams with this horse, in spite of her being so young.

I've been asking via Facebbok how to train passage from Spanish Walk and David Bowler of Strada Saddles very kindly pointed me towards his explanation here: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Strada-Saddles-EU-Ltd/201433879957900

I can't wait to get Bella back in work and have a try at this!!! I still haven't managed to do anything with her as I've had to make some new accomodation for 2 of my horses to make room for a new livery who arrived last weekend. She's a 3yo Clydesdale mare and she has to be seen to be believed! She must be the most laid back horse ever born! She never turns a hair at anything and I don't think she'd know how to spook if she tried! She's a complete sweetheart and a very welcome addition to the yard (her owner has kept 3 goats here for years so we already know her!!).
                                                                            Molly


Anyway, the stabling is all sorted now so I can get going with Bella again, although not tomorrow as we're going to Whipsnade Zoo to see the baby giraffe!!!

Friday, 9 November 2012

Merlin - Straightness Training Day One.

Alongside working my way through the Straightness Training course with Bella I wanted a relatively blank canvas to work with and Merlin is the obvious candidate.

For anyone who doesn't know him Merlin (registered name Bybecks Ee's Away) is a 7yo Fell Pony. He was  used at stud until he was 5 years old when he had a very tough time. He was injured in a fight with another stallion, gelded and sent to a cattle market with some of his offspring. He was bought by a lower end horse dealer and his future was very uncertain. I first met him looking terrified at the back of a filthy stable with no hay or water in sight and was told he was going to be auctioned off again. I bought him and three yearling Fells, two of which were his sons, direct from the dealer before they all went back to auction.

Merlin was halter trained but unbroken, very nervous and distrusting of people, and virtually un-catchable when he arrived here in March 2010. He then became very ill and was diagnosed with strangles within days of arriving. He had to have injections and nasal swabs which didn't help with his trust issues but he is an incredibly kind, generous, forgiving pony and quickly came around with the help of clicker training. It took a long time before he would trust strangers but he's now a solid, friendly pony with everyone he meets.

He has retained no stallion tendencies whatsoever and is brilliant and peaceable with all other horses, mares and geldings alike. I lightly backed him with no problems at all in 2011 but have hardly sat on him since due to life getting in the way!! I've done a little in hand work with him, teaching him to yield his quarters in giravolta, and to yield his front end by stepping over with his forelegs in the first steps of turn on the haunches.

So this is where we are beginning Straightness Training. I love the way ST is so clearly, methodically and logically set out. First of all you assess your horse's asymmetry and work to address that right from the start. I usually become aware of it gradually as I go along and haphazardly work to even things up as best I can!!

Merlin is an extremely left bended pony (he bends very easily to the left and finds it very hard to bend to the right). He is also higher behind than in front with his neck set low on his withers so he is naturally very heavily on his forehand. His quarters are very powerfully built but he only knows how to use them to 'push' rather than 'carry' at the moment and I think if I had ridden him properly before now he would have really struggled with balancing himself and his rider, and he might have been inclined to rush and get nervous due to this quite marked imbalance.

My job is now to teach him to gradually stretch the tight muscles on his left hand side and to contract the stretched muscles on his right hand side. He then needs to learn to bend his hind legs more and step further under his body so he can carry more weight with his very strong quarters and lighten the load on his forelegs. This will not only make him a more supple, balanced, confident, comfortable ride but it will also keep him sound and happy in his work.

In our first session I began on his stiff side and asked him to relax his neck downwards then bend towards me as I stood at his shoulder. I'm keeping the rate of reinforcement high on this rein as he is obviously finding bending hard and not very comfortable. The beauty of clicker training this is I can keep his motivation high to do his best despite the discomfort and I don't have to force it in any way - he's happy to follow my subtle suggestions. Once we had lateral bend with a relaxed underside of his neck I asked Merlin to walk on with me in a large circle and encouraged his inside hind to step well under his body with subtle gestures with the whip.

I then changed sides and on his left side, where he bends with ease, I immediately succombed to the temptation to start freeshaping the height of his head along with the bend (on the right rein at this stage I was rewarding any lowering and bending, even if his head was lower than I really wanted, as I just wanted him to understand and to keep him motivated to respond). I love working on several criteria at once and he understood completely and found it easy, but, on reflection, I don't think this is a good strategy as the aim is to get him more symmetrical, not to keep him more advanced on one side than the other! I will resist next time!!!


We then did the same once more on his difficult right side (so he gets more practise on the side that needs it) and ended there - a short but very successful first session and Merlin thoroughly enjoyed it, thanks to the clicker!
Merlin ready for our ST session.


Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Progress.

I've been extremely busy for the last week! The horses and donkeys are all in at night now so I'm mucking out 13 stables a day which takes a bit of getting used to again, fitness wise!

Then last Monday a friend of mine phoned. He does pest control and had been called out to pick up and dispose of 5 feral kittens who's mum had just been run over. They were only 3 weeks old and none of the rescue centres would take them so the people who's muck heap they were living on didn't know what else to do with them. My friend said he must be going soft in his old age as he didn't really want to do the deed and wondered if I knew anyone who'd have them!

I've been very lucky as they were already very fit and healthy apart from having conjunctivitis which quickly responded to antibiotic eye ointment which I had in stock, and they were just getting past the 'needing to be toileted' stage, which wasn't so much fun! They were also just starting to walk (they now run and climb as well!) I've been bottle feeding them every 4 hours but they've just started eating a reasonable amount of solid food so today I cut down to every 5 hours. Mike really wanted to help but he's very allergic to cats so couldn't much.

They are very, very cute and incredibly friendly. They purr like mad when picked up and are all over visitors like a rash! We've already found homes for all of them at weaning. I'd have kept them all otherwise but our 2 old cats might not have been very amused and the dogs would have hassled them so they'll be better off in good pet homes.




On the horsey front I've been thinking a lot about what I'm trying to achieve with Bella. I'm not really interested in competing at lower level dressage - I've done a lot of that in the past and really enjoyed it but I'd like to move onwards and upwards in my latter years! What I'd really love is to train Bella (and myself) to  do all the advanced movements (piaffe, passage, tempi changes, etc.) and take her out and show what a lil' ol' Dales Pony can do! I wouldn't expect to do any good in competition but if Bella and I could just be there with the big boys, doing a passable job, that would be my dream come true!!

It's a big ask and a long term one, I know, but Bella is now fully mature and has never had a moment's lameness in her life. She's keen and eager to learn, very balanced and supple with an superb, elevated, cadenced trot and all the lateral work in place in hand and will turn herself inside out if necessary, thanks to clicker training, so why not?

Having had a lesson with a well respected classical instructor last year which was less than successful (she didn't approve of CT at all and Bella had just about lost the will to live, let alone work, by the end of the lesson) I'd rather find my own way there with her, using CT and keeping her enthusiasm and good will. I know her so well that I know how much to ask and when to press on or back off and its a fact that I'd never even have realized a fraction of her potential if it wasn't for clicker training. If I can't keep it fun for her then I don't want to do it so I'd rather learn the skills required and work away on our own together, for now at least.

For that reason I've just signed up for Marijke de Jong's Straightness Training Home Study Course. My plan is to work through it using Merlin as a blank canvas for the introductory work and at the same time try to advance Bella towards piaffe and passage which I think she's more than ready for, in hand anyway! I'm very excited about this course and I think working through it using CT will be the icing on the cake!

This is a link to the free stuff on the website: http://academicartofriding.com/free-online-course/

Now all I have to do is find the time between mucking out and kitten feeds!!!!!!!!!

Saturday, 25 August 2012

Patsy and Kia Arrive.

We picked Patsy and Kia up on Tuesday and, as you can see, they're settling into their new home very well indeed. They are lovely characters - very affectionate, well mannered and polite.



The lovely Kia.







Country Music Patsy Montana II

Wolfheart Cash Quixote Kia   


Dougal saying hello.

Mike making friends.





Their spacious accommodation in my pony barn.



Saturday, 11 August 2012

What a Week!!!!

I had the most amazing week last week! On Thursday I went to Greenwich for the first day of the Olympic dressage which was just awesome! Everything about it was wonderful - the journey on public transport to and from the venue, the organisation, the venue, the people working there, the atmosphere, the dressage itself - it was a fantastic experience with a carnival atmosphere and one I will never forget. The scale of the stadium, which was all constructed from scaffolding, was just jaw dropping, the scenery was beautiful and the whole experience made me very proud to be British. I couldn't get over the fact that I was actually there, at an Olympic Games!!!!!                              

The view from our seats.



One of the beautiful flower arrangements.


Laura Bechtolsheimer and Mistral Horjis




The big screen very near to us.

Mike was working and couldn't come but my non-horsey companion who loved every moment of it, much to his surprise, and mine!!!

The stadium is just visible in the background.

The Cutty Sark which is very near the venue.

Then on Sunday we went to Dorset in pursuit of a brand new business venture! We stayed overnight at a guest house at Lulworth Cove, which is stunningly beautiful.
The view from the hotel window

Early the next morning I walked along the very steep coastal path to Durdle Door. This was the view looking back down the path to Lulworth.

The bay before Durdle Door.

Durdle Door itself.


The views from the path on the way back.

Lulworth Cove

Stair Hole

We then went to Monkey World which is the biggest Ape Rescue Centre in the world and was lovely to visit. I especially liked the Golden Cheeked Gibbons and the Orangutans.

This Lemur came down from the tree and walked along the fence to a bench where some people were sitting. The Lemur's minder asked the people to move as it is her favourite bench! She then sat down, surrounded by people like me with cameras, snapping away at close quarters, curled up and went to sleep!




A Squirrel Monkey looking very cute! 


Now for the reason we went to Dorset in the first place! Now that we are married we fancied starting a brand new joint venture- something that's ours as a couple right from the start, and hopefully one which will at least pay for itself, so we're going to start a very small Mediterranean Miniature Donkey Stud.

Mediterranean Miniature Donkeys are a proper breed which have more or less become extinct in their native countries of Sardinia and Sicily. The breed was saved by becoming very popular in the US and they were first imported into the UK in 2000. They are still quite few and far between in the UK and it's been quite difficult to find any quality mares for sale but we've been very lucky and managed to buy 2 lovely foundation mares to start our stud.

Country Music Patsy Montana II and Wolfheart Cash Quixote Kia were imported from the US as foals and they are now 6 years old. They are just 33" tall (the max height is 36") and they are in foal to a multi championship winning (both in this country and in the US) jack, Itsy Bitsy Tomcat, who is just 29" tall. The foals are due next April and will be about the height of a wellington boot at birth!

We are hiring a lorry and going to collect the girls on 21st August

Patsy
They are VERY friendly!!
                                                                     Kia and Patsy



This is the jack they are in foal to - Itsy Bitsy Tomcat.




It's all very exciting! We've got loads of plans for taking them to county shows and other events so more people can find out about them, setting up a website, etc. I've really missed breeding something and I was never very comfortable breeding animals for meat. We were looking for something that that we would love and really enjoy, and that there would be a demand for, and I think we've found the ideal project!

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