I hope since my last blog that your lives are returning to some semblance of normality, or you may have been able to make positive changes to your lifestyle amid the uncertainties of the Covid-19 pandemic? I have been very fortunate to be able to continue working, and my family and business have been relatively unaffected. In fact, being able to take some time out from our usual crazy work and family schedule has been eye-opening, and I am sure I’m not the only one who said, “I’m going to simplify my life from now on!”
In my case, that sentiment has been a little short-lived! I’ve actually been busier than ever on the yard with horses in for training (such as Roland Tong’s stunning ‘Kevin’, pictured top sticking his tongue out at me!) and a lot of riders diverting their overseas holidays to my 1:1 weeks, where they have daily lessons with their horse and watch me working with horses in on training. I have also had more demand for lessons than usual; possibly because there’s a few horses that are a little fresh from their enforced holiday! Sometimes these require me to be a bit of a detective; my lesson with Nicky and her lovely (big!) Irish Draught mare, Shadow, being a case in point.
Nicky came to me with napping issues, as Shadow had taken to planting herself and reversing when she didn’t feel like going out on a hack. She also said that she had started to do this on the ground when she was bringing her in from the field.
Starting from the ground always gives me an idea of what is happening with the horse, but when I asked Shadow into a lunge, she took off up the arena with me “skiing” behind!
“Does she do that often?!”
“Yes, that’s her new trick!”
“So, do you worry that she’s going to do that when you’re riding her?”
“Yes, if she did that with me on her, there’s no way I could stop her.”
Therein lay the real problem. The napping was a by-product of Nicky’s forward cues not being convincing as she was worried that she could lose control. Therefore, the first part of the lesson was spent on giving Nicky techniques to control Shadow, such as the one rein stop and controlling the hind end, so that she knew she could stop her in all situations. Once she was confident in these processes, I then taught the “tapping” technique to solve the napping issue.
Horses have two forms of resistance, the first being, “I don’t know”, and the second being, “I don’t want to”, and without calm, consistent and decisive forward cues, these resistances can turn into napping, planting, spinning and rearing.
When Shadow planted, I showed Nicky how to tap her rhythmically and fluently with her whip just behind the leg at the same time as giving a light leg cue to go forwards and giving with her hands. The leg cue did not increase in intensity but more energy was put into the tapping until we got a forward step. When she got the forward response we were looking for, Nicky immediately stopped the tapping and took her leg off, so Shadow understood that she had done the right thing. It is so important to add energy from something other than our leg cue, otherwise our horse will become completely ‘dead to the leg’ and unresponsive in all our ridden work!
After a few goes, Shadow was responding to the light leg cue with no need for the tapping, which was the result we were looking for. I am delighted to say that after this one lesson, Nicky and Shadow are enjoying hacking out with only the slight hesitations that Nicky can now quickly manage.
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Off the yard, I have recently had the pleasure of judging the ‘Freestyle Performance’ class from the Retraining of Racehorses (RoR) National show that they have held virtually this year. It was so lovely to see ex-racehorses turning their hand to dressage, jumping, western and Le Trec, particularly as a few of them were even done bridleless and bareback! As someone who was bought up starting and retraining homebred racehorses in Australia, I love that organisations such as RoR exist, and I am hoping to be involved in their online showcase later in the year too.
Lastly, there has been much excitement in the Webb household as our daughter, Rosie, has got a new pony to go to Pony Club with and learn the eventing ropes. ‘Froggit’ has been a star so far, and Rosie can’t stop smiling — I’ll let you know how they get on at their forthcoming Pony Club camp!
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