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New Experiences and Deeper Connections

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mountedflag1Gosh, a few short weeks since my last Blog, and so much has happened!

Firstly the event..... for me it was not about competition, it was about Jay’s first event, and keeping him level and even, as this was most intense outing, possibly ever. I will freely admit I was a little stressed, as Jay came with some serious <BLOG_BREAK>history, and although he has been great for me, this day would push our boundaries.

Jay went a bit silly in the lorry when we first arrived, there were hundreds of lorries, and a very busy atmosphere.  It did not take long for him to sort himself out. I then went to walk the SJ, and it was fine. I then walked the XC. Gosh, it was a bit more technical than I was expecting, a corner at no 4, an offset two stride double at no 5, a curvy one stride double that invited a run out at no 7. I was still confident to go though, until we met fence no 9.

It was a house, one stride to a drop step, one stride to a step up, then a couple of strides to a skinny. Wow! I knew instantly that we did not have the technical skill to achieve this today. Jay worries when we do a step down and I lean back, he then runs, and I could see a step up and a skinny not being achievable. So, I did not walk the rest of the course,  I decided to do the first 8 fences then retire. The reason for not walking the rest of the course? Well, I also know that if we were running well then I may have been tempted to just try it, and I also knew that this would be the wrong course of action.

Jay was excellent in warm up. I firstly took him for a walk in hand to explore the atmosphere and lunged for 15 minutes, then warmed up mounted but in shirt sleeves, and then went back to warm up proper (as in fully dressed despite the heat) and compete. Jay cannot see the point in Dressage, where are the jumps for goodness sakes??? HOWEVER he was foot perfect in behaviour, he socialised, he went to his arena, he did a fairly lacklustre test, but was quite accurate and obliging and scored 38.

In fact there is a video of his first event dressage test on http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a6j7EvxNhs0 . You will see he is not really moving off my leg, so I end up riding from front to back instead of swinging forwards. Hey, we have not done so much dressage as yet, I am more than pleased!


Show jumping he was great, he was a bit dozy to warm up, but then he had been got out of bed at 3am, travelled 4 hours, had 3 dressage warm-ups, and was now expected to jump! We only did 3 practice fences, and he carried me around the SJ like a pro. We were not together at fence no 6 and I was a bit left behind, and I was still thinking about that at fence 7, and in fact at fence 8 I was holding the neckstrap, but Jay sailed over despite me! Clear round. Good boy. Again, there is a video on http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J7IE0_DMhgQ


Then XC, Jay was a bit startled at all the galloping horses. The ground was hard, and Jay could feel it, so we did just one warm up fence, and went. Jay has never competed XC before, and he maybe hung a bit at the start, but once he spied the first fence we were up and away. Jay loved it! In fact between fence 2 and 3 we had our first gallop. Then I remembered to check for the corner fence at fence 4. I also remembered that I would have to angle the approach, but I forgot which way, and angled it the wrong way. Doh! Jay again carried me over. Once he was onto the fences he was great. Before he “locks on” I found that if I “coasted” then he would look at stuff to spook at. But, I was on the ball enough to keep the engine running and Jay enjoyed his XC, lovely and clear over the first 8 fences. This is a picture of Jay’s first ever competitive XC fence....
first XC Jay


After no 8 I patted him as if he had just won the Grand National, and pulled him up to a trot. Jay was still looking for extra fences, but I trotted a short cut back to the finish, and Jay was very pleased with himself.

Happy horse and happy rider.

All smiles. Jay was fine the next day, in fact when I turned him out he was all swagger. Hmmm, he was also all swagger and importance when I brought him in. Tuesday, and when I turned him out he was again Sooooo important, again that evening, Jay obviously felt that he was “Cock of the Yard” and we were all his minions! I had planned that he have 2 days off, but this new “attitude” needed addressing, so I got out a flag to play with. I like a flag as it gives Jay something mildly worrying to address, and I can help him with it, and that puts me back in the leadership role. Supposedly anyway.....

In Jay’s case he saw the flag, stalked it, took hold of it, took it off me, and then would not give it back! See the pictures.....
Let Play commenceLet play commence....
Sharing the burdenSharing the burden....
Going it alone Going it alone........
Give it back now, Jay OK, give it back now Jay!!

Now, I am happy with this, Jay being good with flags is good, right? But, it did mean that my objective of me having helped him with a problem had not been achieved.

The next day Jay was lunged in the morning, and he was still very Cocky, so when I got home that evening I rode him to our canter field and worked him at trot and some canter, engaging his body and mind. After this he seemed more level, so we went on a rider out. Evening sunshine and stubble fields riding a good horse, does it get any better than this?

On the way back in Jay was taken by surprise. There was a gap in the hedge, and on the other side, suddenly in view, was a huge cow. Before he knew what had happened Jay had spun round, whoops. This has happened a couple of times before, and usually I can pull up, turn round and everything is OK. Not this time, Jay was suddenly fired up, as if he was scared that he had spun round, and then he was threatening to rear.

Jay did not actually rear, but this is the first time we have even had to have this discussion. I know that Jay has a history where rearing featured heavily, he can stay up for 20 minutes, he is an expert.

I was not mad at Jay, he just reacted to a scary situation, and then was scared of the consequences. I had to explain to him that he was in no danger, but, by the way, we WILL be turning right and walking up the road.

In the event, Jay settled and realised quite quickly that I was determined to turn right, but I was not mad, and we inched back up the road and tackled the scary cow together. I realised though that it was not really the COW that was scary. Jay was scared that he would react, then be in trouble. In consequence he felt stressed and reactive, and therefore more likely to make a reactive action. Horses eh?

Gosh, 3 months with no problem, then a simple cow caused a ruckus. It seems to be connected with Jay feeling “the man” after his event.

The next week Jay had some concentrated XC schooling, we went three times in one week, just planning on half an hour each session, at Osberton. The first time he did spin at some water, and throw himself around a bit, but again I stayed level, and let him know that we WILL be looking at the problem, but we will NOT be getting violent with each other. He quite quickly complied, and we had a lovely session, finishing with cantering through water, jumping in and out of water, just a good session.

Jay was still feeling less than settled around the yard, if I were to be very observant I could see that he was pushing on me a lot of the time. There was nothing rude, he was just stepping into my space while I was grooming, a bit far ahead while I was leading, maybe knocking me with his head if there was something he wanted to look at. I decided on a more challenging “flag training” session, to allow me to actually carry a flag while mounted. This to show Jay I am here to help him, when riding as well as on the floor.

I did a further session with the flag from the floor, really swinging it around so it makes the “popping” noise of a flag on a windy day. Then, one evening I took Jay to his field and worked on the flag when mounted. Jay was great. When he felt a little overwhelmed he gave a little whinny, as if verbally asking for help. There are some photos for this too, and I even made a greetings card with the caption.....

“Jay could not understand why the other horses thought being ridden under the British Flag was so difficult......”


“..........when he tried it he thought it was quite easy!”


One photo is on the title of this blog, the other shows a happy and proud Mum and Jay...
Mounted flag 2
Then, more XC training back at Osberton, and this second time we concentrated on steps and ditches, making it so we could WALK up to and up/down/over with no stress. So we can do the exercise in a calm state of mind, rather than needing to be all "Gung Ho" about it. When the step got a bit bigger Jay was a bit unsettled, but we held the exercise at that level, and walked and walked off the step, until he learned to drop his head and pivot off the step rather than launching.

We need more practice at this yet, he would step and pivot down at walk, but when we did it at trot he reverted to launch. This was a lovely session, horse and rider working stuff out at a level where we could both think about what we were doing, no ego, no pressure. Mistakes allowed and new things explained.

A few days later and back to the water training. This time we started with running water in a small stream. I have noticed that Jay is most reactive when he is unsure of what to do, he is afraid of making a mistake, and with this small stream he did not know whether to go over it, or step through it. In his indecision he refused either, panicked, spun, and then threw a fit!

Oh yes, now I know what Vere was talking about with the rearing, sinning, bouncing. Jay can really throw himself around! I was pleased to note that I do not think he was trying to harm me. He did not want to face the problem, and he seemed to be keeping me too busy to take any action other than cling on, but he did not try to actually finish me off.

Also, unlike some horses I believe Jay knew what he was doing. As in, even in the midst of his fit, he would not have fallen off a cliff if one had been around.

I was able to keep telling Jay that we WOULD be turning right, and eventually he did, his body followed his nose and we were facing the stream again. There followed about half an hour where Jay and I felt around the problem, he was feeling too reactive to think around the problem, I did not particularly press the goal of going through the stream, I pressed that he listen and follow direction to turn, and stand, and face the problem.

This was really useful information finding for me. I could finally start to find out how much pressure Jay could take, and he could start to trust that even in the midst of confusion I would have a clear objective, and not lose my head in turn to get it.

After that half hour we could cross the stream, even if it was with a bit of a leap. We went on to work in the big river, jumping in and out of water, jumping in the water, and then back to the stream. He did try the spin, and sometimes succeed, but he learned that I would always keep asking, and in fact by this time I had put my whip down as I had no intention of using it.

That lesson went on for an hour and a half, and by the end we were communicating, when Jay was unsure he could ask for guidance before he spun, and I could request he not spin, and we did it, tacked the problem together, no spin. We did 2 more new water crossings, and Jay was a superstar!

The next day we had a dressage lesson, and I was unsure if Jay would be fit after the excitement of the day before, but he is a tough young man, and he was fine, so we went.

The lesson was at Yorkshire Riding Centre, and it is a busy atmosphere. To my surprise I was the most confident I have ever been on taking Jay anywhere, I realised the hissy fit the day before was SUCH a relief! He came with so much history that it was spooky that he had not put a hoof out of place in three months. In fact it had felt like I was riding round carrying an unexploded bomb, with no sign of it going off. Now it has happened I KNOW what will happen, and I dealt with it, and it did not freak me, I was able to breathe, talk, think..... everything. I liked that he was still thinking, and I did not feel that he was putting me in any particular danger.

I made some lesson notes, this is an extract.....

I really wanted to bottom out this crookedness we have experienced. I understand now that in an effort to “use” my left leg (I know it is weaker after injury) I have over used it! I draw it back and use it too hard. I am now to release the leg when I am sitting, and only close it when I am standing. If I just try to leave it “off” then it will naturally come on as I stand up, or else I would fall over!

Then the rest, I tense up to shorten my inside side. In fact I have “lost” where straight is! I must keep my inside hip forwards, and my inside shoulder back, but not down as well as back (I think this is where the tenseness is stemming from). When I drop my leg and straighten my seat, then my hands also become level, and the poor horse does not have to proceed in a contorted shoulder-in!

Oh Gosh, coming back here has made me see the huge improvements from the first time. At first Jay would not move off the leg, now he can even go quite cheerfully. We can have a contact without him thinking this means STOP. Although if I ever say “good boy” this does still have the effect of slamming the brakes on.

The walk/trot transitions were mostly good, no leaping off the floor into tranter when I go walk/ trot.


Canter- I have not got any connection here at home unless I allow him to go back to his old very low and strung out outline. I have practiced cantering with the higher outline, but mostly he is blocking my reins. I did a lot of time this lesson in canter with short stirrups. When I sit on the canter and try to urge with my seat Jay does a mis-step and stumbles behind. When I am up off his back he can move forwards. I cantered off his back, I was not allowed to jump up and down. I was allowed to brighten the canter with my feet, and hold the front end with a consistent contact. I felt like I was consistent, but apparently I was not. I eventually got a semblance of consistency by pressing my hands into his mane. That also helped ease the white burning pain in my “bingo wings”!!!  After some time like this, with trying to get shorter strides, Jay did come more pliable in the rein.


After the lesson I walked through the water jump. Jay hesitated slightly, then walked straight in. It would have been a harsh fence judge to give us 20 penalties, as it was only a slight hesitation while he summed up the problem. We had a splash about then finished.

Today Jay was his normal calm, gentlemanly self. Bliss!......................


All’s well? Ah, not quite. Jay had a couple of days off after this lesson, and the next time I rode him was in his own school at home. I just wanted to do a bit of schooling to confirm what we had learned on our lesson. Well, I had been told that Jay was as bad at home in his own school as anywhere, even so, after 3 months of foot perfect behaviour I was NOT expecting a spat at home despite the warnings, but I got one. Jay decided not to walk past the “E” marker, and he spun and caught me off guard. I took him back and told him what was what, but this time he spun, reared, spun, leaped, threw himself around.

This time was different. Previously Jay had been caught off guard by something, and then panicked at his own reactiveness. This time Jay was displaying a really unhelpful pattern of behaviour. I could do without this becoming his new habit, I understand it was previously his habitual way of going, and we need for this not to be repeated. Jay was not really scared of anything, he was looking to FIND something to react to. Jay was “On One”!


In the nicest possible way I kicked Jay’s ass! I did not hit him, but I put him in the bridle and kicked him to stay there, and maybe tickled with the stick to back that up, and each time he tried to back away from his bridle I firmly put him back in there, and he then did the BEST work we have achieved so far together. I mean he really put his back into it and tried hard. No violence, no upset, no “punishment”. Just, if he had energy, I knew how to put it to good use. We both went to bed happy. Jay in fact felt back to his submissive, liquid gold self.

The next day I had planned to just lunge Jay, but after Friday’s antics I felt the need to see if we had worked out who was the momma, so I rode again, and Jay was straight into compliance mode, worked well and hard. Superstar, happy and content.

To yesterday, a new show venue for Jay, we went to Port Royal, on what was a VERY windy day. The collecting ring was full of frisky horses, shying and rearing, and I am glad to say that Jay was not one of them!!!
I was glad we had worked with the "popping" flag, as there was a row of flags, all "popping" in the wind! Jay was great, even when he did not feel confident, like when a leaping horse passed too close, he looked to me for guidance. He was cool, calm, and collected. Ah, collected, well maybe not collected, but that was my fault, not his!

There is a video of his beautiful clear round http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kHi1JP764mg

 You will see that I am again doing too much, making his canter too long, making him too lively. Jay can really jump, he does not need to go like that! In my defence we have not done any SJ for weeks, but I have decided to stick at this height until I have had some more lessons to learn to do Jay justice!
So, do I think all out problems are over, forever? No, I guess not! Jay and I still have some "stuff" to work out. In a case like his I would prefer to do more work on the floor, with disengageing his back end, so I can have him step under and through, both on the floor and mounted. In Jay's case he has some difficulty in stepping through, which is a physical issue we are working on.
Do I feel positive? YES, I DO! Jay is great. We are feeling it out, he is teaching me to be ever more observant, to clear up stuff like pushing on me on the floor, to make me face myself.
Jay is a horse who looks right into your heart. He did that on the day of the "Scary Stream". He looked in to my heart to see how far I would go, how I really felt. In doing this he makes me look into my own heart. Makes me face myself. Face my fears and ego, he is deep!
This afternoon we are off XC schooling again, to go play in water. Andy is coming, in preperation for some spectacular rearing and leaping he is bringing a fast memory card for his camera. Do I think that will happen? No. probably not, but if it does there will be more stuff to learn. I love trips out with Jay, he is great!
After that? Oh yes, I have bought a day ticket with British Eventing, and we have entered out first BE Event! Near the end of September.
Bring it on!














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  1. Gail

    Way to go, Ruth! You and Jay are doing great things! It's now October, and I just read this, so I hope your first BE event went well!

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