The year seems to be flying by, but also appears to be slightly confused; snow one week, positively balmy the next! Yesterday it was so spring-like that we took the horse’s rugs off, and then immediately regretted it as they came in covered from head to toe in mud! I hope this lovely weather continues as I have a half term youth clinic this week, and the first of my 2019 camps next week, where I am welcoming a small group of riders and their unbroken youngsters. This gives riders the chance to be involved in the starting process, safe in the knowledge that they can hand their horses over to us for the “scary bits” like the first ride!
Since my last blog, I have donned the breeches and competed one of my horses, JJ (pictured top), in his first dressage competition, where he behaved impeccably. JJ was given to me as a young horse as he was tricky; he was very anxious and hated travelling. He has provided me with a great learning opportunity as I rarely have horses long enough to train them to a higher level; we’re even nailing flying-changes now! He has not been plain sailing by any means, but his ability and way of going has now overtaken his tendency to spook at non-existent monsters as his most significant attribute. I’m at the stage when I feel like my lack of time is holding him back, so he will be looking for a new home in the near future.
Horses like JJ take a long time to get right, and will probably always need experienced and confident handling. When horses come to me with anxiety-based issues such as bolting, I wish I could tell people that there was a quick fix, but in reality, once I have got the horse back on the right track, it is a question of consistency in training and handling over a longer period of time to truly solve the problem. I have a lovely young horse in for re-education at the moment. She has come with a rearing problem, and physical reasons for this issue had been ruled out by the vet. Although she has a lot of training under her belt and has been out competing, she has steadily become difficult to ride.
In my first session with her, some close contact lungeing soon highlighted the problem. She has developed a strong and unnerving “head flick”, which she uses to evade contact. The natural, and understandable, instinct for a rider is to stop this by blocking with the rein and trying to keep the horse straight, but over time, this has resulted in her increasing her evasion by rearing. When I rode her for the first time, I let the reins go and just asked for forward, being very careful to duck out of the way of her head! In addition to her head flick, I also felt there wasn’t a clear pathway between my leg aids and the movement of her feet. This is one of those issues that will take a period of consistent re-training to solve, so my advice is to take note of any small issues before they escalate; prevention is definitely easier than cure!
It is so easy to ignore those little things that go wrong, particularly if it means going right back to basics, when all we want to do is to feel like we are progressing. This mare’s issue would probably have started with a small flick of the nose, and if it had been addressed there and then, with work on lateral flexions among other things, it may have been enough to prevent it escalating. Two weeks on, she is starting to relax and has become a lot more willing and forward in her way of going, so hopefully by my next blog, there’ll be more good news!
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Off the yard, I have been kept busy with my online business. I am not a particularly “techie” person, but with my children hitting their teens, it is interesting to see them inhabiting a totally different world of apps and social media channels, whereas we grew up round the family TV! A couple of weeks ago, a partnership between Your Horsemanship, my online horse training business, and the popular riding app, Huufe, was launched. Huufe now features some of my training tips, and allows users to buy Your Horsemanship membership at a discounted price. It’s exciting for me to be involved with an app that I actually use and enjoy, as well as the kind of global exposure that comes with it.
In a couple of months’ time, I will be facing other kind of international exposure (hopefully in a good way!) when I play for the UK at the 2019 Polocrosse World Cup in Australia. I’m flat out in the CrossFit gym, have a racquet in my hand as much as possible, and have even changed my diet to try and get any advantage that outweighs my slightly advancing years… or maybe I should be describing myself as a “highly experienced player”!
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