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New Beginnings

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Looking forward to JJs future I have found a new horse. A new partner, playmate, confidant,  my new legs and speed, a new being to join and run and jump and read and interact with. Meet Jay Jay, henceforth known as “JJ” as I am too lazy to type the lot out each time.

Looking for a horse taught me some more “things” about myself. I guess the most startling thing was that <BLOG_BREAK>competitive success is not top of my agenda. I kind of knew that already, but I had it pointed out large and clear when selecting a horse. I have discovered that I like a horse to bring energy to the mix, to have a horse where there are some issues where the horse will not currently compromise, a problem for me to work on, a dance of will and understanding.

I tried a fair few horses, all the ones I actually went to look at were quality animals that I would have been proud to own, but still, some actually had me make a decision of “no” in a very short space of time. I found that if the horse did not wish to engage with me, then I did not wish to engage  with him either. So, if the horse was disinterested in me then that was that. Also some horses physically just did not make me feel good, they were out too. I found that on some horses I felt like a raw novice rider, out of balance and out of time. That did not “do” it for me either.

One horse in particular, it was just as I would have ordered, he was beautiful, he had some competition experience, he had a problem of sorts that I believe could have been easily overcome. He was smart, he jumped well, he was not too expensive. I felt competent when I rode him, in fact, he should have been perfect. As we left the yard I even told David that if it was instant success I wanted then this would be the horse for me. But, he was not. Oh, he was nice, and I even thought about going back again to see him in a different setting, like at a show venue. But it did not excite me THAT much to do so, and for me, that is just WRONG.

That horse had a tough act to beat. I had already seen a horse that DID excite me. I advise people to take someone knowledgeable with them when they go and look at horses. I do this for other people and when I do I am the voice of reason. I can be objective, assess the horse for “faults” and see if the rider and horse are likely to be a harmonious match. For other people I can be objective and professional. For myself I go back to being an excited 14 year old with the chance of a new pony! I had picked my new horse “over the stable door” some three weeks before I actually got to ride him.


While I tried horses I trawled the internet, asked friends, rang dealers, looked in Horse and Hound...... all the usual routes. I had also been recommended to see Vere Phillipps in Leicestershire. I was told that there would be a number of horses to view, and the facilities are fantastic, but most of all Vere has an eye for good horses, and for which horses will suit which person. So, we arrived and I described what I was looking for. We did a quick tour of the stables, during which I saw JJ over the stable door, and stopped to ask about him. I was informed that he could be difficult, and that I did not want him. I was a touch disappointed, but I was paying for Vere’s expertise as well as for a horse, so I duly continued and tried three nice horses, one of which I liked enough to arrange to come back and see once it had done a bit more work as it was a youngster just back in work after a winter off.

At the end of the visit David and I went into Vere’s house to see some photos and videos of the horses, and as I watched the video a stunning horse came into the ring and started to jump round. Instant love, “Who is THAT? I LIKE him!”. I found that the stunning horse was none other than JJ in action. Wow, he jumps beautifully, active and buzzy but bouncy as a rubber ball. To my surprise Vere then told me that I had ridden the young horse that day really well, better than he thought I would, and having assessed me riding he thought I could ride JJ, and when I returned I would be able to try him.

For the next 3 weeks I thought of little else, lovely red horse that I did not even know yet! I tried a few others too. I always think that trying horses should be fun, but when I am doing it, I hate it. Setting off each time in eager anticipation, and usually disappointed. Sometimes as soon as you see the horse over the stable door. Our cars clocked up some excessive mileage, and I felt the pinch from high diesel prices!

FINALLY, the day to try JJ. One of the advantages of trying horses at Vere’s place is that if he doesn’t have anything suitable he will go to Ireland and find a horse or two to suit you, import it, and you can then try it with absolutely no obligation to buy. On my return I had 4 horses to try, one of which was the youngster I had tried last time, one was JJ, and the other two new horses selected in Ireland with me in mind.

Of course I needed to try JJ first. If I had not then I would have not been trying the other horses wholeheartedly, I would have been comparing them to a dream, my dream of the perfect red horse.

I approached JJ in the stable. After 3 weeks of waiting I was a little hasty for his liking though, and marched straight up to him. I found he felt a little crowded, and did a little withdraw, it was barely perceptible, but it was there. I slowed and relaxed, and he relaxed too, and I was there at his head. We looked at him in the stable, and then it was time to ride.

JJ had a lot of tack on! In fact I would venture to say that he was wearing the most tack I have ever ridden a horse in. The deal with JJ was that I would ride him, and if Vere did not think I was up to it he would ask me to dismount, and that would be that. So, I zipped my mouth shut, and just rode! I was told that JJ does not like pressure, it can cause him to check out from his situation, so I rode smoothly and forward, asking just for walk, trot and canter. I knew I was doing OK on my “riding test” as Vere then removed some of the tack, so we were essentially in a snaffle bridle. I then did a bit of “work” as in some slight lateral feel to the work, some lengthening and shortening, all was well. I noted that JJ has a very quiet feel to him.

Gosh, I was invited to JUMP! And, when I did, I laughed out loud, JJ is just FUN to jump. I got one jump VERY wrong, and he leaped us over, with just a short “bunny run” afterwards in protest. In fact there is a video of me trying JJ on http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cw67f4Z7VPw.
Finally, for my test (to me it did feel that I was proving myself worthy of JJ, I had already decided that JJ was worthy to be my horse), I took him out hacking, on his own, on bin day, and to a field where we galloped. For some unknown reason, on JJ I felt competent, relaxed, in fact I felt like a child on a pony club pony, having fun. This is what it is all about to me.
Ha, deal done. I tried JJ on the Wednesday, he was vetted on the Thursday, Funds cleared on the Friday, but it was Monday before I fetched him home. The photo is of his grand arrival.

Arrival of JJ

For the record JJ is 16hh, chestnut gelding, just 6 years old, he has not evented or dressaged (yet), but he has been and done some showjumping. In the main  he is easy, but when pressured or excited he can be sharp. Hence the large amount of tack. My problem will be that, in Eventing, the tack JJ is using is not legal even in the warmup areas. So, we will have to strip JJ bare of his tack, which will mean helping him to remain calm and confident in a variety of situations. Just up my street! Vere has done the majority of the work with him, but as an intelligent, energetic young horse JJ will doubtless feel it necessary to try me out at some stage.

People have sometimes asked for advice on settling in a new horse, and it has been funny as this week I have heard my own words as I have advised myself! Before we set off to travel JJ back we had prepared his stable, a good shavings bed, water and a haylage net. This way if JJ should arrive home in an excited state we would be able to put him straight to bed to settle down. One extra that David had done for JJ though turned out to be a master stroke.

I have kept two horses here on their own, but with both of those horses they started with company when they arrived, only living on their own once they were relaxed and settled on the yard. JJ, however, was leaving a busy yard, and coming straight living on his own in a strange environment. We had given this some thought, and I have heard that a stable mirror can offer some comfort to a horse on its own, so I bought a cheap one from Ebay! Just £9.99, it was like tough aluminium foil on a roll, and David fixed it up to some wooden board in his stable.

JJ travelled well, offloaded like a gentleman, even posed for some photos. Then, he was stripped in the grooming parlour and put to bed. OH GOSH, he LOVES his mirror! He was straight over to it, consulting his reflection about his new situation. He went for some haylage, took a bite and went back to consult himself on his choice of food. He has continued every day, he poses in front of the mirror, pulls faces at the mirror, unfortunately he has even tried grooming the mirror, and the surface was not THAT tough, so it has marks on it now. In fact JJ loves the mirror so much we have ordered a much more expensive stainless steel one, that is optically like glass, so he can keep up with his new buddy!

After a couple of hours to settle JJ was still looking a little anxious. From experience when horses have had a shot of adrenaline I have found that unless you give them an opportunity to move their bodies it can hang around and cause undesirable behaviour. So, I took JJ out, booted him up and took him onto our arena to lunge.

Lungeing can be great, or a waste of time! A lot of people lunge fresh horses, but I have found that if you just chase the horse around you can end up with a very fit, and still fresh horse! A horse like JJ cannot be subdued by being tired, he needs to know where he is in life, as in I am the boss!

Humans tend to show themselves as the leader by controlling the situation or opponents, we pin people down when fighting, we like to control. Horses are slightly different, they show themselves to be the leader by PUSHING, and having their counterpart driven away. So, lungeing can be done with a human mindset, with gadgets and tight circles controlling the horse, or with more a “horsie” slant, with the horse guided and “driven”.

I very rarely lunge on a circle. We do circles, but I also drive the horse up and down the school. On this first lunge JJ was not really paying attention to me, he was more interested in looking at his surroundings, with his legs akimbo, and his head and tail in the air. Well, if we are to be successful at eventing, then JJ will need to feel that he can listen to me, whatever the circumstances, so this seemed like a good place to start. We just did 20 minutes, but by the end of the session JJ had realised that he could not just fly round looking at the scenery, he realised that we had a job to do, we were not just mindlessly circling, and I was a person who would require his attention. We finished with JJ paying attention, circling and going large, and his head was lowered, his topline relaxed.

After the lungeing JJ was in a much better frame of mind. He was groomed off, rugged up and fed. David and I went in for a Champagne celebration!

TUESDAY- up early, and out to find that JJ had not eaten his tea! When I have a new horse I feed low energy feed, we have molasses free chop with some low starch/ low sugar mix. He is also on a multivitamin supplement as his feed totals less than a whole scoop. I am not worried that his tea did not go, he has obviously been laid down in the night, and his haylage has all gone. I fed him again, and left him in peace. Hmmm, breakfast not gone either, I put some sugar beet to soak for the evening (molasses free!) to try to tempt him.

I had intended to ride, but I also wanted to lunge first. We groomed and went out to lunge. I actually got so tied up with the leading and lungeing that I ran out of time for riding! JJ is fit and athletic. He did not, however, want to move in a  wholehearted way. He was happy to run round, no problem. But, with the circles and straight lines, I asked him for engagement and bend too, and JJ found THAT hard! We just did half an hour actual work, at the end of this time JJ was carrying himself much better, with no gadgets, more engagement. His attention was on me, success!

After this we turned JJ out in the field. Our fields have a LOT of grass in them, so we decided that he could go out for just a few hours. From his field he can see the neighbour’s horse, and we found that he can have a vocal conversation with the neighbour’s horse too! He stayed settled though, perhaps because of the lungeing. The demeanour of a horse is controlled by its chemical state, as in hormones, adrenaline, etc, and we had set up a calm state, with endorphins and all the discharged adrenaline used to good effect. A horse can instantly recharge, but it is good to start an experience in the right frame of mind, and he stayed calm.

Then, to work!!!

WEDNESDAY- I took some time off so I could lunge to get the correct frame of mind, then ride! David was available today, but would not be tomorrow, so I decided to take the opportunity of riding out while I had a companion. With the addition of Sugar Beet JJ was now eating, phew!

The lungeing went REALLY well, JJ is smart, and he now understand what I require from him. We added transitions to the mix. We started with a circle at each end in trot, with driving down the long sides. He no longer scoots off when being driven. Then we did 4 smaller circles in each corner, and driving on the sides. Finally we had the circles in walk, the short sides in working trot and the long sides in lengthened trot. Wow, quick fire changes of gait, that DID take some concentration! It also put JJ in a FAB frame of mind, head low, thinking rather than being reactive.

I tacked up with most of the gizmos. I have decided to take them off slowly! It seems prudent to do each new experience with the tack on, and when I am confident that we are on the same page with our thinking then tack can be removed. We rode out. JJ was great. In fact David walked with us until we came off the main road, then he walked back the short way and I did the second part of the ride on my own.

I think horses like to know what is beyond their own premises, like they are oriented in their world. JJ came home happy, and was turned out, no problems.

THURSADY- On my own today, David was at work. Groomed and rode in the school. As I feel comfortable that JJ knows his school we did not lunge first, and he had less tack on. Here I came across my first problem. JJ was pig sick of being in the school! He was obedient, .....trot here...OK.....circle here.....OK......., but he was board. Oh OK, lets go out and explore! So, we went out and went to Sykehouse Arena. On the way we met a tractor, and JJ just said “Oh, a tractor”. Good or what??? We rode over, had a few minutes to socialise and then went home again. JJ was an angel. He was then turned out, still just 4 hours a day due to the excessive grass growth!

FRIDAY- so far I have “done” JJ in the morning before work. Today I was on a different shift, so I turned him out in the morning. When I got home in the evening JJ was in his stable in a bit of anxiety. His summer sheet was ripped, his bed in disarray. There was a lorry in the street outside pumping liquid and making a big noise. I took him to the grooming parlour and removed the trashed rug, and tidied his bed. Meanwhile David got home and when JJ saw him walking up with his biker leathers and helmet on it was as though he had seen a “monster man”, and adrenaline was again up.

Hmmm, so far JJ has been Mr supercool. My intention this evening was to go ride in my canter field, to have a canter workout. But, looking at the rigid horse, my plans had better change. He did settle once the helmet was off, but he was still very reactive. OK, lungeing it is then!

So, last night I lunged. I did bear in mind that on Thursday JJ did very little work at all, we schooled for less than 10 minutes, and just rode 200 yards to socialise. But I don’t think it was just lack of exercise, he was also turned out for 5 hours. I am guessing he got his foot caught in the rug strap and had a bit of a panic, then the lorry and helmet (that I don’t think would normally have bothered him) just added to the adrenaline rush.  

I don’t try to tire the horse out lungeing, but just to move the horse in a directed way so he can feel that I am in charge. 20 minutes later JJ was a different beast! We did introduce canter on the lunge for the first time, JJ had a lot of energy anyway, and he learned to circle and drive up and down at canter too.
Lungeing JJ

In fact the transformation from reactive to calm was so great that I tacked him up and we went for a lovely evening ride to our canter field. We did a great workout, just two round of trot and one of canter on each rein. Then a walk home in the fading sunlight.

That was JJ’s first 5 days with us. Despite being a smart, athletic horse he has actually been very easy! So Far....!! He has not put a hoof out of place.... So far!!

I have seen several horses fall apart when moving home. My mum says they look like little schoolchildren lost on their first day at school. They don’t know where they are, what the routine is, or who to follow. They feel anxious and have excess energy. They can be reactive rather than head lowered and thinking.

JJ’s regime this week has been to introduce routine and familiarity as soon as possible. To help him realise who is running the show. To give him an outlet when he has excess energy from anxiety. To stop him feeling like a lost schoolboy, all frightened and disorientated.

What is next? Well, in a few moment he will be turned out, then this afternoon I am taking him for our first lesson. We will travel about an hour in the lorry, to a gated yard, we will ride some. I am not bothered how much “work” we do as long as we have “good work” as in calm and thoughtful. Then we will travel home. I have found that this travelling away and then returning to the same place seems to impress that this is a new “home” and not somewhere JJ is just visiting.

After that? I don’t know, I will just make it up as we go along!

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  1. Gail Fazio

    I watched the video and he's lovely! It certainly doesn't look like the first time you've ridden him. I believe you've found a great candidate and he's making great strides in such a short time. I hadn't thought about the mirror but Chloe always looks at herself when I walk her by our sunroom windows. I need to try a mirror for her. Can't wait to hear how the lesson went ....

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  2. jo field

    Hello JJ! There is clearly some lovely conversation going on between the two of you and it sounds like JJ is quite happy with this line of communication being open. Wishing you both the best of luck and cant wait to hear more x

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