It feels like spring has sprung down here in Kent and I was actually working in shirtsleeves today! I can almost watch the grass growing and the ground drying beneath my feet, so my new tractor and harrows are going to be busy over the next few weeks fixing up the paddocks.
It is also the time of year that I welcome batches of young polo ponies from the Tomlinson family at Beaufort Polo Club. I love working with their homebred youngsters; they are well handled but respectful, smart and quick to learn and really remind me of the Australian stock horses we breed on the farm in Australia.
In my last blog I introduced my two new dressage projects, JJ and Beans.
Unfortunately, I have not been able to spend a lot of time on them yet but in a way, it has given them time to settle in and get used to the rhythm of the yard. Instead of riding them I have got Sean, who is gaining work experience with me, to lead them off my polocrosse ponies, who are in the process of coming back into work after their winter holidays. JJ, the four-year-old, has been particularly full of himself and this regular leading work has settled him down no end and got him ready to ride without any shenanigans that may have happened if I had got straight on with ridden work!
Leading off another horse is a really useful tool to have in other circumstances too. For example, when doing general fitness work or rehabilitation after an injury. I also use a “lead pony” when I am starting young horses if I feel that they are a little nervous and can do with the reassurance of working alongside another horse.
One of the things a horse has to get used to is having a human on its back above its eyeline, which is very unnatural to them as in the wild this would be the equivalent to a predator leaping onto its back to pull it down!
By using a lead pony, you can lean over the horse, pat it down and desensitise it to you being above its eyeline before you make the step to getting on. The top photo is from a few years back when I started Sheer Bliss at Your Horse Live using Diesel as a lead pony. It must have done her good, as she has become a highly successful endurance horse.
Last week I did a talk to a “confidence group” from the Rother Valley Riding Club. They are a great bunch of people who for one reason or another have had knocks to their confidence, which has impacted on their enjoyment of riding and handling their horses.
The main point I wanted to get across was the importance of planning each session with your horse, be it schooling, hacking or competing. Having a purpose and plan to a ride allows riders to maintain their focus when the “what if’s” start to take over.
In my clinics and lessons with nervous riders, I often give them exercises found in disciplines such as Le Trec, equitation and mounted games and it is amazing how taking the focus away from the horse helps the rider (as pictured above). It is the same when you go to a competition; have a plan for when you arrive and a routine for the warm-up arena as this is where a lot of people have problems with their horses.
I was really impressed by the group’s enthusiasm, and by sharing their ideas and achievements, I am sure they are more likely to succeed in regaining their confidence with their horses. I have heard back that many of them are busy reading a few sports and performance psychology books that I recommended such as The Chimp Paradox by Professor Steve Peters, which is very enlightening with regards to how our human minds work.
The other great thing about this time of year is that I can support the three riders that I sponsor through my online training website, Your Horsemanship, as they compete in their respective disciplines.
Alex Mersh is a young eventer who has some lovely up and coming horses to compete and dressage rider, Gillian Portus, is doing very well with young and established horses. Oz Wedmore is a local lad who loves his point-to-pointing and I love receiving his emails on a Monday after his weekend exploits. He has just won his first race under Rules at Sandown, which had the added bonus of a chance to meet and have a quick chat with the Her Majesty The Queen! I can’t wait to go and watch him in some spring point-to-points; it’s quite cool to see my logo on the breeches of a winning jockey!
On the subject of racing, I can’t finish without mentioning Annie Power, the amazing mare who romped home in the Champion Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival last week. I have a huge soft spot for chestnut mares; Milk and Muffett were two of the best horses I have ever ridden and were both chestnut mares so I am always amused that they have such a bad reputation. They may be a little fiery, but don’t be put off — get them on your side and they’ll put themselves on the line for you!
I hope everyone has a great Easter — we’re off for a quick family jaunt to Dubai where we hoping to get to the Dubai World Cup — I don’t seem to be able to get away from horses even when I’m on holiday!