I’m recovering from a weekend of 40th birthday celebrations. I can’t quite believe I’ve reached this particular milestone, but now I’m here it doesn’t feel too bad! After a fairly rowdy dinner with friends and family on Friday night, we went to watch the Jaeger-LeCoultre Gold Cup Polo final at Cowdray on Sunday. The weather tried to put a dampener on it, but the actual game was full of speed and action. It was a shame that the all-English team of El Romanso Polo were unable to convert some good chances, which let King Power Foxes get too far ahead, but the pairing of the Pieres brothers was always going to be difficult to handle, particularly as Facundo’s horsepower looked off the scale.
Among my lovely presents was a watch from all of my in-laws (those that know me well will understand the thinking behind that!) and a five year old chestnut gelding called Zuma (pictured top) that my wife, Penny, found a week ago. She had a feeling that I would like him and I have to admit I can’t stop grinning when I ride him. He is everything I would look for in a potential polocrosse horse, so watch this space!
At a rough estimate, I’ve ridden around 2,500 different horses in the past 20 or so years I’ve been training horses! They have come in all shapes and sizes, of all abilities and backgrounds, but one thing you can usually feel as soon as you work with a horse is whether they have a generous nature or not. With Zuma for example, he is still flighty and nervous at this stage but I can feel he is asking, “What do you want me to do?” Whereas other similarly flighty horses that I have worked with are saying, “What can I do to get out of this situation?” In competition horses, I think that attitude can be the difference between an excellent horse and the exceptional one; a horse that will give its rider every ounce of itself is hard to beat. I have been enjoying some riding lessons on a lovely big dressage horse at the moment, and luckily for me he has a very generous nature; he puts up with me trying to improve myself with great grace, for which I am very thankful!
Sometimes in my job, I am presented with conundrums to solve. I had this last week. Over the course of six months, why would a quiet, seemingly well-natured horse become grumpy with her owner on the ground and try and bite and kick her whenever she touched her, when there are no pain or injury related reasons behind it? As I watched the owner handle her horse, I realised that she was asking her horse to move by pushing it with her hand, before using exactly the same pressure and action to say praise it. My theory was that the horse couldn’t differentiate between the “ask” and the “praise”, so that every time the owner put her hand on it, it was an aggravation to the horse as it thought it was going to be told to move.
During the session, we explored different ways to move a horse on the ground, such as giving a bump with the halter, swinging a rope to put energy into the horse and making yourself “big”. We went through my tying-up exercise from Your Horsemanship and we saw a significant change in the horse’s attitude. When the owner went to rub the horse after the exercise, the horse accepted it well. Only time will tell, but I look forward to following their progress and finding out whether my theory it right!
The rest of the summer looks pretty busy but fun. We have a two-day camp this week and two weekend polocrosse tournaments on the bounce, where both Jack and Rosie are playing. It makes me smile so much watching them having so much fun and growing in confidence on their awesome ponies, Wayward and Gilly. I am looking forward to catching up with South African coach, Bruce McClarty, at these events. Bruce is a highly successful and visionary coach, who I like to pick the brains of at every opportunity. Penny and I are then off to Ireland for a few days for a very exciting horse-related adventure, which I can’t quite talk about yet but I will reveal all in my next blog. In the meantime, I hope you are enjoying your horses, and let’s hope the sun shines for the rest of the summer!