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  1. Puppy meets JayOh dear, I missed a blog! This tends to happen when a LOT is going on, and in the past two months I have hardly had time to draw breath, let alone shape thoughts in writing.

    First of all Talos arrived. A beautiful 8 week old German Shepherd puppy. Talos kind of took over the place, he is intelligent, a clean sheet, such a baby, and is already shaping up to be a lovely faithful dog. Meanwhile, with a busy work schedule and the heat, Jay took a bit of a back seat, having some low key schooling and hacking. In fact from being my “focus” last month, Jay became my relaxation, my “time out” for a while.

    In fact Jay and I were so relaxed we had a play where I took the bridle clean off and did <BLOG_BREAK>some walk/ trot and canter. There is a video on Youtube of our first time, but I will not feature it here as there are some BETTER videos this month!

    One day we hired Sykehouse arena to attempt a full course of showjumps with no bridle. We have not jumped a course of fences since before Xmas (nearly 6 months ago), so we started with a course of X poles with the bridle ON. Then, we started to video, off came the bridle, and this is his unedited jumping. It is on youtube, follow the link.....http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hunVtlWVW74&feature=youtu.be

    Jay surprised even me at how happy and relaxed he is, and how he looks after us both.

    Later that day I was still in the mood for play, OK, twice playing in one day. We have been playing with "nuisances" for the year that I have had Jay, today we tied some of them together, did a bit of play acting, took the bridle off, set it to music, and Jay is the star of the show........ Or maybe David is the star of the show, he is SUCH a good actor! Jay is the “Orange Panther”.....with no saddle OR bridle.....http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=heyWYJ9iJH4&feature=channel&list=UL

    We did also do some more serious stuff, one weekend Jay did his first Elementary dressage competition, it was quite a difficult test and Jay was a superhero.

    Then, at the end of June.....Jay’s jumping saddle arrived, and Jay approved!!!! Gosh, saddle fit issues, so upsetting and expensive, but we now have 2 saddles that Jay is comfortable with (dressage and Jumping). Celebration, and JUMPING! Not too much though, I have also been involved in the Olympic preparations, both in training horses, and in three of the torch relays.

    Part of “training horses” involved a training session where I had to conduct the session and “compere” for a large crowd in a training/demo session, all good fun and experience. There were refreshments sold, and several photographers! I had to “play the crowd” and it has been suggested by some that I should be a children’s TV presenter! Its all good fun, luckily I have learned not to be too shy!

    So, back at home Jay was still in the back seat, but we have still found time to play…..  Jay has been "familiarising" with the skipping pipe for a while now, and one day he gave me the "green light" to play mounted. So, I dragged David out of the house with a camera, and had a play, just at walk. Jay was his customary superstar self, even when I whooped him up his bum with the pipe.

    Gosh, that skipping pipe is HARD WORK to swing around, and watching the video I realised that, although Jay is a perfect gent, he was not really enjoying the experience. There is a video of me as a VERY clumsy mummy wielding a pipe around a VERY patient Jay as we “walk through” the exercise. Bless the horse, he deserves a medal!!!  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mT0mTb9fvd4&feature=youtu.be

    We did do some more serious work, in fact so much so that I have made a “discovery”. A few months ago I attended at the Andrew Mclean clinic (I blogged about it at the time…), and in that clinic I was SURE that I remembered that for jumping the best results are consistently achieved when the horse canters at a regular 105 beats a minute.

    Andrew demonstrated a phone “app” that was a metronome, that would beat at a predetermined speed, and the rider could ride whilst listening to the beat to keep the stride regular. OK, well I am a “technophobe” but David kindly downloaded a very simple “app” onto my mobile phone, and that evening I went into my school to canter at 105 beats a minute……. NO. No No No.

    105 beats a minute is, like, Benny Hill Silly Speed. It felt so fast a canter that it made me laugh to try to achieve. Hmmmm, I went back to the notes I took and saw that for walk the beat is 55, for trot it is 75 and for canter 95. I decided that I must have remembered wrong, and set about cantering to a regular 95 beats a minute.

    I was surprised to find that even that felt fast. I also noted that it is not easy to keep a canter so controlled and regular that you can keep to a steady beat. I tried it at the arena Jumping, and found that Jay slows down on corners. I was breathless in my efforts to keep the 95 beats a minute. BUT….. our jumping was BETTER!

    So much so that after a few “goes” I decided that I was ready for a jumping lesson, which I have with Phillip Curtis. He had nagged me last year that I needed more rhythm, and I had not really understood what he wanted. With this metronome I could up the pace (but NOT the stride length), and Phillip liked it! In fact he said that he would like it even faster than the 95 beats. With a herculean effort I had Jay jumping round at 100 beats a minute, although it was with some disbelief that I REALLY needed to ride with even MORE pace, as the canter felt so fast and powerful already.

    The proof of the pudding was in the way that we jumped. With an active short stride we met each jump well, no problems, no sticky moments. Even if we were not quite “right” Jay was so engaged and active that he could sort it all out. More surprisingly I started to be able to “see a stride” from 8 strides away, around a corner. PLEASE let this be me learning one of the great mysteries of the equine world, how to see a stride!!!!!

    Meanwhile Jay did another dressage, he is very reliable at dressage now, he has been in the top 3 placings for every competition this year so far. 1 July 2012wOtherwise our work has now been curtailed somewhat by the RAIN. It has been mainly arena work. At least that has left me with some time to construct a new skipping rope made of 2 lunge lines and some hosepipe. It took some work to have Jay agree to have two lunge whips simultaneously Whooshing around his ears…..

    Nearly to the present day for this super-long blog; last weekend I  reserved a full weekend for myself to take Jay to a clinic with Manuela Mclean, wife of Andrew Mclean, both of whom started the Australian Equine Behavior Centre.


    Jay has never gone so well. He is connecting, and strengthening, not the same horse that Manuela saw last year, it was nice to see the comparison to last October and luxuriate in the progress.

    I learned to improve our rein back with “pedalling”, to shorten off my outside foot, to slow off my inside thigh, to be flexible with bend, and we started some more lateral work. We worked mainly in walk and trot, with Manuela just having a look at his canter to plan tomorrow’s lesson. All that in one lesson.

    On Sunday; in the morning lesson we refined the above, and got stuck in to the shoulder in. This has been Jay’s downfall, and just as it started to go right he threw a fit. It was almost like a last ditch mental instinctive fight against the whole idea of shoulder in, and it was over almost as soon as it started, and then he did the shoulder in with a big sigh and release. We changed the rein, and again Jay threw a fit, and then released his tension and did it. After this he would shoulder in at will, quite nicely actually.

    I think it helped that Manuela is so clear, the shoulder in is almost entirely ridden by guidance from opening and closing rein aids. There is little leg, unless the horse slows or stops. The shoulder in has been a bit of a stumbling block for us, and it was good to have such a productive result.

    We then moved onto canter, and lengthening and shortening, faster and slower, all independently. At one point Jay produced a canter worthy of a canter pirouette. We practiced flexion in the canter, and walk/ canter/ walk. Finally we taught Jay a flying change. Jay liked that!

    In the afternoon we changed to the jumping saddle for a jumping lesson. On the first lesson I had confirmed that we should be moving at 105 to even 110 beats per minute whilst jumping. That felt like a silly target, in fact on the Saturday night I had gone back through our videos of Jay with my metronome phone app, and found that we have been jumping at a mere 85 beats per minute. 95 beats felt good to me this month, but more?

    Manuela set her metronome going on the loudspeaker, and she encouraged me to ride at that pace with short strides. Jay was initially his lazy old trout persona, but once he was in gear he loved it. In fact whenever we rode a loop he was showing off his newly acquired flying changes, with gusto.

    With the jumping, well, quite frankly, it scared me. No, Jay was not naughty. Nothing happened. It was just SO GOOD, it scared me! We had a proper “show jumper stride” to the bottom of the fence, as Manuela described Jay was snapping his knees up so fast and well, he was nearly snapping them in  half. He was then rounding like a champ, and activating his hind end to clear the pole by a mile. Then, landing back into the exuberant, 105 beats a minute, canter.

    Jay was enjoying it all so much he was actually squeaking.

    The jumping I found so off putting that we went back to practicing the canter alone as the enlivened canter felt alien enough, without the whoopee jump too. By the finish of the lesson we were both happy. Gosh, who would have thought one 90cm jump could be SO exciting.

    Work this week has been super busy with Olympic prep. Jay had Monday off, and then Tuesday we went to the farrier. On Wednesday I needed some more “time out”, so we worked at...... skipping.

    This session Jay conceded that the whooshing lunge whips were not in fact harming him in any way, so we “went for it” the full game, skipping at canter. Once again it is uncut, all the trials and tribulations, as well as some fine skipping for his first attempt.

    To improve we need to get a better rhythm, but to do that we also need to trim some trees back, as the dratted skipping rope kept catching in the tree branches and getting tangled in his ears!....http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6Q9pgpsIup8&feature=channel&list=UL

    That’s about up to date, I intend to keep it low key for the next week or so as next Thursday I am off to London to work at the Olympics.

    To get into the “Olympic Mood”, here are two news videos of South Yorkshire Police Horses preparing for their deployments in London.....http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vcdos3WIrJ4&feature=channel&list=UL

    Right, I’m off to walk the puppy, who is “chillaxing” upside down on the rug right now. He looks like he has been here forever, impossible to think that 16 weeks ago he did not even exist!




  2. JayThis has been the “theme of the month” coming to me- “focus”.

    First of all, I am getting a new puppy, and in eager anticipation of the arrival of “Talos” I have made some purchases. You know, bedding, lead, collar, feed and a CLICKER. I read some articles on clicker training, so I got myself on Amazon, and

  3.   1WebThis month started well, Jay did his first BD Dressage competition, and won points as well as being placed on his first outing. He would have done better still if his mother had not taken the wrong course, the FIRST TIME I have EVER done this!

    I reminded myself that the only place “competition pressure” can come from is <BLOG_BREAK>myself (or connections), and my friends and family only care that we have a good time, and I only care that we have a good time, and,......... Jay and I BOTH had a good time, so we are all happy.

    I have really been enjoying the new “bounce” that Jay has to his trot. I have a photo at a third dressage, at Sykehouse. In Fact Jay was a bit cross at this one as he had just been dragged out of his field not 45 minutes earlier, but he still looks well, and shiny.

    Then, we had some “setbacks”, life seems to be hell bent on having me apparently standing still. But then they may not be “setbacks” at all, I have made the discovery that maybe I need to stand still to know how to move forwards....

    Firstly my new jump saddle came for Jay, and it looked OK, but Jay told me he was not comfortable with it. He would hollow, trip behind, become easily upset by outside influences, and generally be unhappy. This was a close contact saddle, and I have always suspected Jay is not a “close contact” shaped horse, however much I like them.

    The saddler has been great, he had a second attempt to get the saddle to be a comfortable fit, but when this was not achievable, he is taking the saddle back and building Jay a jumping saddle on the dressage saddle tree.  With the dressage tree the panels are better padded, and the points are further back. I am awaiting this new saddle with interest.

    Then, I had a problem with my left hip, it is often a bit grumbley, but after a particularly hectic weekend it became very angry indeed! So, I am “resting” for a couple of weeks, riding Jay for just half an hour a day or less.

    Far from feeling frustration at the new delays, Jay and I have been having a great time. We have had a riot of play, with videos too.

    The first is Jay and I playing with his Fitness ball, it shows what a long way he has come from when he first met the ball and did not want it to touch him... http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0WWUdaT5dKk&feature=g-upl&context=G2cc3a8eAUAAAAAAAHAA

    Then we had a slightly more serious play with an umbrella, where at first Jay was happy to touch it with his nose, but not with his body, but in 11 minutes he was talked around, and was happy with it all over. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KYtRaRyW_Fk&feature=g-upl&context=G280f6ecAUAAAAAAAGAA

    After all that serious stuff I let jay have some free time playing with his BIG ball, this one is just funny, particularly when Jay gets a bit too involved and “goes over the top” in every which way! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eyvx14auM3s&feature=g-upl&context=G27d37bdAUAAAAAAAFAA

    Then, well I was not riding much as I was resting my hip, but I wondered what Jay would be like to ride bareback and in a loping halter..... http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1bxE3XuIpPQ&feature=relmfu

    FINALLY, I decided to see if I could play with the ball when mounted, so “Jay learns to catch”..... http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0wDLnCpMgbc&feature=relmfu

    Playing, it is funny but so many people have looked at these videos, and then said how much they wish they could play with their horses...... I am perplexed. I don’t really understand why they don’t play either! In fact I think playing is a much underdone thing in adults. It is a safe place to be free, experiment, look silly, try new things, fail and laugh at it, achieve things, not achieve things.......

    I do advise that play with horses is done with a whole load of consideration for SAFETY, for instance I wear a hat, am in a gated safe environment, and I am making small progressions to what we can do. The first time in a loping halter I had a bridle underneath just in case Jay did not understand the new signal for stop, and the bridle did not come off until he understood and was happy (up there for thinking!). Also we did not attempt the ball game MOUNTED until Jay was happy and confident with the ball bouncing all over  his body. 

    Carefully done, it is FUN to experiment and work with your horse, learn about pressure and release, what keeps him happy.

    And THAT is what my final learning has been this month. By co-incidence I saw American Horseman Buck Brannaman interviewed on BBC Breakfast TV, for his new film that is coming out. I took notice as my friend Cordy has ridden with Buck for many years. Buck was the inspiration for the Robert Redford film “The Horse Whisperer”.

    During the interview Buck was saying how when he was just 3 years old he suffered abuse, to such an extent that he did not know if he would live through the day. He commented that many horse owners do not realise that this is how horses (prey animals) live their lives, in a state of being alert for fear. His perspective is that horses seek one thing, that we can give them, and that is peace. If we have peace inside us then we can give it to the horse, and that is 100% important to them. He believes that horses will gladly exchange some physical effort, or “work” for that peace.  

    In fact I was thinking of that sentiment when I was playing on some of those videos.

    Then, as Jay and I were both “resting”, I made time to go and see a seminar held by Australian behaviourist Andrew McLean. That day has still left my head spinning with learning so much.

    Andrew remembered Jay from our lesson last September. I was able to tell him that all as going well, aside from just one thing. That one thing is still the confounded grooming issue that suddenly appeared at Christmas, where Jay went from a horse that enjoyed grooming to one that did NOT want to be groomed overnight. I have instilled into Jay that he must BEHAVE during grooming, but he is still not happy, and an unhappy Jay means an unhappy mother......

    I think Andrew has the same way that he slants his seminars towards what you need to hear, without it being overt, that I have also observed in Horseman Mark Rashid when I have ridden with him. A lot of the horses had the same tale, they are just great, all apart from this one, random, “thing”.

    Andrew took me back to basics. His perspective is that if a random “thing” occurs then yes, we could “habituate” the horse to become tolerant (of grooming, of crowds, of water trays, of the side of the arena- we had a range of “random things” in the beautiful horses that were our models for the day), but that most often the random “thing” is a symptom of something else.

    For a horse to display random behaviour then Andrew believes that somewhere in his training there is an instruction/ aid/ command that the horse does not understand, creating confusion. In point of fact if the horse does not understand and it is not righted, then from the horse’s point of view we are the ones acting in a random manner.

    To overcome most random behaviours in horses we could do with checking the 9 main responses. But, to make most progress for least effort, even if we only checked out “stop” and “go” responses, and cleared them up so the horse will respond in a light and soft manner, then this would be of  more benefit than specific “desensitisation”. I watched the horses be worked, and saw how much of the confusion was in fact cleared up easily and simply, often from the floor in ground work.
    I love Andrew's work with clarity and the attention to detail, and was actually glad that clearing up this area would have great benefits. I have felt a little uncomfortable with some of the desensitisation that I saw. I do a lot of desensitisation, see previous blogs and videos above, but I use a advance and retreat approach, where the horse is not stressed, or adrenalised much.
    Andrew has many approches, some of them allow the horse to get adrenalised, and he will work at keeping slow feet and no distance so the horse learns that fight flight behaviour does not have any gains, then it will settle down to the idea of whatever is being introduced. One of the auditors at the clinic specifically asked a question about one of the techniques that Andrew uses, that of "flooding". I am glad she did, as his method of flooding was different to my own.
    I use "flooding" in, say, a case where a horse has anxiety, but not phiobia around something, like, for example a plastic bag. For a phobic horse I would use a very soft advance/ retreat scenario, but for the merely anxious I have observed that the horse will be more anxious if he is presented with just one shavings bag in an arena, rather than if we "flood" him, with say 26 shavings bags distributed around. With the bags in place we will do normal work, not "confronting" the bags, but making our work very important as to the responses of the horse, his speed and direction. This is similar in method to Andrew's "overshadowing". I have found that after just one session the horse will feel quite good about working amongst bags.
    Andrew described flooding as where the horse is so scared he thinks he will die, and can no longer think. But, if he can be worked through that then he will learn to stay slow feet and no distance. In fact he showed a video of a horse who could not be clipped, and it was held tight as the clippers were applied, just so the horse could realise that clippers do not hurt. I do not argue with Andrew's success, but I do wonder at all the other horses, where less skilled owners do not have the same result.
    Take clipping, I am sure many horse owners know of people who have tried to physically restrain horses to clip, with less than optimal results. For me, right now I would prefer to desensitise through advance/ retreat. Clipping is a good example to me, as I did this very exercise with a previous horse, who was absolutely phobic with clippers, even when drugged and highly restrained. I blogged about it then, see "Sherlock's clipping diary" on www.upbeatequestrian.co.uk/sherlocksclippingdiary.html
    You will see that the process took 2 weeks, but it was stress free, and the horse was easy and relaxed to clip from then to this day.
    I think the method of confronting the issue with restraint works for Andrew as he is so clear. He is a very calm person, I guess he has the "peace inside" that I heard about from Buck. He is also a master of clearing up confusion for the horse.
    I can see that both methods can work, I just prefer the longer road at the moment, I believe that for me there is more margin for error, and more space to build a relationship with my horse.

    I saw Andrew last year, and went home with the intention of testing and clearing up Jay's responses, starting with work on the ground. When I tried some of the work back home with Jay we ran across a problem. His “stop” was sticky, and could be easily cleaned up. His “go” was sticky too, but when I tried to clear THAT up he had a really over the top reaction, just to me touching or even pointing at his ribs from the ground, with or even without a whip. I mean he would kind of lose it, the normally genteel Jay  leaping around, or backing away, or shooting sideways. So, I left it!

    I know that at the time this was the correct thing for me to do, as I did not feel that I had the tools to do the job, not enough knowledge or experience for the apparant totally over the top reaction. I bought Jay as a troubled horse, with a history of over the top reactions where he would "lose it". I reasoned that to open that particular Pandora's box then I had better be very certain of myself. Besides, Jay is a sweetie to handle, if I am not annoying him at his ribs then he is a doddle, relaxed and happy.

    Hmmm, ribs, that is an area I can’t groom easily.

    Hmmm, even though this problem around Jay’s “go” has been with him since he came (he used to be very lazy and one paced), he was good to groom until Christmas. I think I may know why that is too. I know that when I school horses sometimes a horse can become responsive to a light aid, and then if an inexperienced rider gets on it is upsetting, even though the horse could cope with confusing aids before. I guess once a horse has been educated he knows better, and what was just general “white noise” before becomes intolerable confusion. For instance in a highly trained horse, if a less experienced rider loses balance they will be giving a whole load of unintentional leg, weight and rein aids.

    Jay’s general schooling has come on in leaps and bounds, ridden now he is light and responsive off the leg. This particular thing around handling his ribs as a "go" signal from the ground is one of very few things I have not tackled. I wonder if it is because he has more clarity in most of his life now, that this makes an area where there is still confusion light up like a beacon?

    I only did the seminar on Friday, and already we have had two in hand sessions. The first one he again blew up, was SO upset, just because I was pointing at his ribs with intent (just the intent that he go faster!)..... But this time I felt that we could work through this. Jay just need to know that this was a signal, to GO. So I stayed calm and methodical, kept staying there with “peace” inside when he shot forwards, and in fact with peace within even when he was doing some weird random leapy things, and after just 10 minutes or so he started to get it. Jay got external peace too when he moved forward. We finished the session with Jay able to trot from a signal to his ribs, with no panic.

    That day I then rode and he went the best he ever has done, responsive, soft, everything you could wish for.

    Today we did our second ground work session, and he was again upset, but not to half the degree as before, and again he went well ridden.
    When riding I have also become aware of how important it is to Jay that I concentrate entirely on the feel I have in the NOW. Usually I have some specific task (like canter transitions), or a pattern (like a 3 loop serpentine) in my mind, and if Jay was to, say, get a bit heavy in my hand then I would fix it for next time, thinking about the finished task. This last couple of sessions I have been more in the “now”, and if, say, Jay has been a bit heavy in the rein I have transitioned down straight away to rectify the confusion.

    I think that sometimes the task is of vital importance, but that maybe this should wait until horse and rider are at a stage where basic misunderstandings are cleared up already. Then we can go do a dressage test, right through. Then if any misunderstandings have muddied the waters then we can go back and clear it up again.

    From Andrew’s experience riding in a clear way, from awareness in the moment, will lead to less random acts like shying, spooking, and not being groomed.

    So, That’s me, apparently stuck and not making “progress”, but actually having great fun, learning loads, and building better foundations.


    What’s next?

    Well, next month Mark Rashid is in the UK, so I plan to take a day out and watch his clinic. He has different methods and explanations than Andrew, and I will enjoy making sense of both horsemen’s work, as they both have amazing results. But, before that I am having a few days away, in Spain, with my Mum!!!


  4. Up to the markThe month started out with snow again! Jay was once more out of work, just as I was home from being away....... just after he had some time off....... Sometimes things just seem to conspire against you. I bear in  mind though that no-one knows the <BLOG_BREAK>whole picture, so what seems to be “against” me in the short term may well be in my favour, if I knew the whole picture!

    We had temperatures down to -16, and it was the middle of the month before Jay was back in work, any later and my saddle pressure, rider/ horse analysis session would have been at risk of having to be cancelled.  At least the down-time gave me opportunity to scan the internet for information and inspiration. I read an interesting article on learning, achievement and effort. It came as part of an e mail last week, and I have already passed it on. I will reproduce part of it here..

    An article by Po Bronson, posted in New York Magazine, states that certain types of praise can have a negative effect on the behaviour of people. (For the entire article, go here: http://nymag.com/news/features/27840/.)

    A study was done that indicated that if a child is constantly told they are "smart" or "talented" or "the best," it can create a situation in their minds that makes them "risk adversant." They become so sensitive to any task that isn't immediately easy, that they stop trying. They won't take risks that might prove to their parent(s) or teacher(s) that they don't have the natural talent or brains with which they've been labelled. In equestrian terms, it takes away their "try."

    I found the actual article well worth reading.

    Yeah, riding again. I lunged a circle in the snow on the Sunday, then Monday the snow had all but gone, I did another 20 minute lunge and 10 minutes riding, then Tuesday we had a walk in-hand around the village for half an hour and then  20 minutes riding in the school. That was it, back to work after a fair break. Jay is a star, he shows me where I am at. I was practicing the inner strength (as in core muscles) that Mary and Andrew (Tango teacher) have been insisting on. I have found what I was doing wrong, a bit of my innards was not supporting, and to compensate I have learned to fix a few vertebrae in my back, and then I had to rock to keep in balance. Funnily enough causing problems in both riding and Tango, and making me less flexible.

    We were fully prepared for the horse and rider gait analysis and saddle pressure analysis later that week. The day was part of the research for the Saddle Research Trust, and it was heartening to see firsthand that all the research they talk about really does take place.

    Jay and I were firstly marked up with tape to show our centre lines, so we could be filmed for computer analysis. I like this idea actually, it was very revealing, and it is something that most riders could easily organise to do themselves, with a standard video camera. The tape really showed any differences, as shown in the photo at the header for this blog. Even without a computer analysis, the symmetry (or not) is plain to see.

    During the day I tried a few different saddles on Jay, with different set-ups under the saddle to balance them. It was interesting to me that different saddles made a difference to how straight the horse goes. One learning point for me was how a simple saddle pad could make a big difference to the pressure points, but the stark learning point was even more simple than that.

    I learned (now come on, I know I KNEW this already!) that Jay tells me when his Saddlery is comfortable - or not! When he is comfortable he moves straighter, and is smoother and more “forward”. If the saddle was showing a high pressure then I did not need the computer to tell me, Jay just quits on the job! To all intents and purposes it looks like Jay shows nappyness, but I KNOW him better than that, and this was borne out by the fact that every time he was miserable, it was accompanied by a less than optimal saddle fit.

    Not that pressure analysis is not valuable, by using the equipment it could be seen how the fit could be improved quickly without having to upset the horse. Also, not all horses are as expressive as Jay, I know a lot of horses who can get quite sore with a badly fitting saddle but who soldier on regardless, needing to show visible physical symptoms before the rider knows about it.

    The week after the analysis Jay and I competed at our first competition of the year, at a local dressage. Jay was happy to be out, and despite it being our first Novice test, we got 74.4% and won! Happy days.

    I knew, however, that our saddle fit is not as it could be, so I set about researching saddles. I decided to let Jay be the judge, and I would buy the saddle that he was comfortable in regardless of the aesthetics, or price. It was like a princess trying on the glass slipper. Meanwhile we started jumping again, just 90cm as it is before Xmas since we last jumped. Jay was, of course, a star. We even hired a XC course, and just hacked around, and got the feel of cantering on grass again, finishing up with a few 90cm fences.

    The next week I was so tired from paid work that I just did not have the energy to ride Jay. So, Jay and I had a walk in-hand around the village, then we just played in the school. He had a game of football with the giant big green ball, then I got a plastic sack and tied it to a lunge whip. That was so funny I went back for a video camera, and the video is on this link...




    The way Jay is behaving does make me question that horses are not predators after all, he is like a kitten, stalking the rubble sack, pouncing on the rubble sack, ripping the rubble sack.....!

    My saddle research paid off, and I found a saddle that I thought would fit Jay. The man who made it came and fitted it to Jay, so it was a perfect fit. It is a Barrie Swain “Semiflex” saddle, and Jay loves it! From the very first time he wore it he relaxed and some of our schooling “issues” just disappeared. The terms are that I have the saddle for a month and then either buy it or send it back. That is a confident manufacturer, and I can assure you now that it will not be going back!

    In fact Jay was SO different in this saddle that I have decided to sell my jump saddle too, so all 3 of my old saddles have just been sold on eBay! I can’t jump now for 3 weeks until the new jump saddle arrives, so we are concentrating on Dressage for the moment.

    Concentrating on Dressage...... In fact the saddle arrived just in time, as I went on a weekend dressage clinic with a clinician called Jody Heartstone. Jody is a NZ Grand Prix Dressage Rider, and also works with the methods of Andrew  Mclean, who I learned so much off last year. In fact Jody has a set of videos on YouTube, about 24 short videos about training your horse with Andrew’s methods. The first one can be found from this link http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MXEEYUCtIrA.

    I love the teaching as it de-mystifies a lot of “stuff”, and makes the material very understandable.

    Jay did really well on his clinic, on the first day Jody even (unprompted) said how evenly I ride him and how he has the exact correct bend on both reins- result... as this is one of the breakthroughs I had on my lesson with Mary Wanless!!! We also did variations within the pace, and cleared up some confusion for Jay about how unacceptable it is to push into the bit, even at halt.

    On the second day we learned about controlling his right foot. Apparently Jay is right footed, when I am initially warming up and he is fresh I have already worked out to do the initial warm-up on the right rein so we don’t spin (the fence is in the way!), but I did not really know why this worked, I had just observed that it is best. The second day of the clinic was outdoors and windy, and Jody had me feel when he was testing a push with his right foot, any thought of freshness tended to start there, and as soon as it occurred I had to slow the foot again to bring it back in line.

    The normally perfect Jay was, in fact, a naughty horsie a couple of days ago. David took time off work to get home early and bring him in, then pedal cycle to the top of the A19 to fetch the lorry from having a new exhaust fitted. Good David! Well, he got home and went for Jay, who was waiting next to the gate. You know Jay has his turnout fence at 6’6” as he LIKES jumping and a 5 bar gate is child’s play? Well that fence has been successful, so far!

    David greeted Jay, and unhooked the top tapes over the gates. He turned to pin them back, and heard hoof beats, looked around just in time to see Jay sailing the 5 bar gate, and setting off across the lawn. The mare from over the road then went mad, and Jay lit up and went on a XC course over our 3 fields, leaping backwards and forwards in glee. When David managed to catch him he had brushed and cut his leg, so David then spent half an hour cleaning and hosing, and cursing.

    After the poor man had then cycled to fetch the lorry and come back, I was home tidying the stable. Jay was feeling a bit abashed, and was being as sweet as he can be, using the pooper scooper, sweeping with the sweeping brush. Unfortunately I went to take the sweeping brush off Jay, and somehow he held on and tweaked it so poor David was hit hard in his shins.

    David LOVES horses!!!!!!

    The next day I schooled Jay. Jay is just going Sooooo well, we have been playing at slowing the trot down, right down. Then  keeping the rhythm and lengthening the trot, longer and shorter and longer, but keeping the rhythm steady throughout. Once Jay got the slow, long trot he seemed to LOVE it, he felt very posh, and he was pleased to work out what pleased me.

    Then, I turned him out. I followed all our new protocols, he went in and the electric tapes were put up BEFORE he was let loose.  All went well, and then he watched me walk away, then she started to stalk up and down the fence line, looking at the grass. Hmmmm, I was suspicious, so I watched some more, and he was obviously pleased with himself jumping the gate the day before, and he started to trot little circles and increase his pace at the gate and tapes, sort of dummy runs to go jump them.

    I was nearly as furious as David! The tape over the gate was not quite as tall as the rest of the fence, maybe 6ft instead of 6’6”. I could see that I needed to change it, so I took out some spare connectors and insulators, a new gate handle, a giant roll of tape, and a chair to stand on. I followed all safety protocols with the gate, and installed myself and my equipment on the inside. I went to the side of the gate and started to screw in an insulator to the very top of the fence, and Jay was being a pest, getting his nose into everything, so I told him to go away. He went over to the new reel of tape, and grabbed the end and set off like an “Andrex Puppy” across the school, the tape unwinding all the way.

    That got my attention, I re-attached the top tape so he would not jump out, and set off after him to make him put it down, as he looked with a cocked head, inviting me to play more. A bit more cussing and he got the message and dropped the end of the tape, so I went to get it. Meanwhile Jay doubled back and found my chair, so he grasped it between his teeth and made off with that instead.

    I tried to be mad, but Jay is just such a clown. I have created a monster!

    The new tape over the 5 bar gate is now 3 strands deep, to 6’6”, and electrified on all 3 strands. It is like living in “Jurassic Park”! Jay listens to the tic tic tic sound  to make sure it is turned on.

    Defeated Jay was then in a mood. He thought about removing his rug. He does this if I put a rug on that is too warm, he picks at the shoulders until he can pull it clean over his head. I decided that he needed occupational therapy, so I threw him a “Jolly Ball” and he had a fine game walking backwards, dribbling it backwards around the school. That makes a change, he usually holds the handle and beats himself around the head with it!

    I felt that Jay was a little board so I decided to ride him a second time, we went out around the village in the late afternoon sun, and he was great. Curious, sharp, generous, what a horse!

    Back at the yard I decided to hose his leg, he just nicked it by brushing when he went on his solo XC extravaganza the day before. I was on the yard, cold hosing away, when he grabbed the hose in his teeth and started to spay the water all over. He missed, but I did nearly get very wet. He then went to bed, with his teddy bear to terrorise. He is worse than a child.

    What next?

    Well, in the very short term, today we are tripping out to the farrier, near Harrogate. I think we will have another schooling session this morning, then after he is shod we will go for a lovely hack in the North Yorkshire countryside. There will be lambs to snort at, Jay has a morbid curiosity with sheep!

    Then, next week we have our first competition with British Dressage, Jay will be making his affiliated Dressage Debut. We will be doing the Novice 24 test.

    After that we hope our new saddle will arrive, and we can start jumping again. I look forward to that!


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