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Ha Ha

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Jay on the beach twoHa Ha, a fine end to the season! And yes, I was right, by the time we did our last event the whole idea of competing was overtaken with the wonderment of learning new stuff.....

I went to the Andrew McLean lecture, mentioned in the previous blog,  and also to a clinic where I had a private lesson. Jay was great, by the end of the clinic we had a full set of <BLOG_BREAK>gears to go up and down, we could lengthen, shorten, quicken, slow, go directly between gaits, phew! It was like magic, but then again it was very simple.

Then, Oasby event. The dressage was great, in fact there is a video on http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Gv9ZILI18U&feature=related. Still a lot to work on, but Jay is moving forwards off the leg, concentrating and making progress. After the dressage I walked the XC course and there was a fence Jay and I have not trained for, and I had 3 hours between dressage and SJ, and it was quite firm underfoot, and we had another event the next weekend, and ran on firm ground the last weekend, so I withdrew after dressage.

Instead of SJ and XC, Johnny brought Sherlock to visit, so I had a social with Sherlock (and Johnny of course, but then we do catch up by phone too). We had our camera so we took photos. Sherlock looks WONDERFUL!!! It was so good to catch up. I love to see when a horse and rider find each other and make a good match. Johnny and Sherlock

Straight after Oasby we had the clinic with Manuela McLean. Jay had woken up and got gears after previous lessons, but we had lost some straightness. This clinic we worked on that too. In fact working on this kind of tied up all that I had learned.

A lot of things the Mcleans presented I already knew and practiced, but they were explained in a slightly different way. Like with a different focus, or from a different angle. With more ways to look at what was happening I was able to piece together a bigger and clearer picture.

I liked the way the McLeans started with just about all of the horses in hand, on the floor. Firstly they ensured the horse knew that the handler’s hand cannot be moved. That would be not to be pulled around, but also to teach the horse to move forwards or backwards from a touch on the headcollar or rein. They used a schooling whip to teach the horse to move first, then superimposed the behaviour to the rein aid. This made the horses really light and responsive. The horses had also already started to calm down, they were having to really concentrate and tune in. Once the horses realised that the handler was immovable, and they could lightly respond to pressure for forwards and backwards, they achieved a mental stillness that was good to see.


Then, the horse was taught to “park”. The horse was not to associate moving with the handler moving their feet. The handler could walk away, even run away, forwards or backwards, and unless the horse had the aid from the rein or head collar he was to stay. Andrew commented that most horses are trained to follow the rider, which creates confusion when you then step round to tighten the girth, and the horse will try to follow and be told he is wrong. Or, if you have the horse following you then go to a wall and tie the horse up, then walk off and leave it, the horse will try to follow and then find that he can’t. Or perhaps worst of all we have him follow our feet and put him in a trailer and then walk off, leaving him feeling that he can’t follow and he is trapped. By having the horse only respond to pressure on the head collar or reins, the signals become more consistent, the horse is in some ways more independent, and quiet inside.

We then mounted up.

With Andrew he has it all set down, like riding by numbers. This I don’t usually like, but on this occasion it seemed to work. I think I like to think it is all so much more "touchy feely" and emotional than "ride by numbers", and essentially it is a very "feely" skill, but the horses do need consistency to be able to work it all out.
Briefly, the aids I was taught were:- To go from halt to walk I use a 2 stride squeeze. For a faster walk a light 2 stride squeeze. To go up a gait to trot I use a stronger 2 stride squeeze. If the horse does not give the response then I go up a gear to teach them not to lean on the leg. As in, if Jay did not give enough “more walk” then we went up a gear and into trot. And repeat. Ideally repeat within 5 seconds as the horse won’t connect if the transition is longer spaced than that. So, quick fire transitions until the horse has moved off a light aid!

For a longer stride then I lengthened the seat follow, along with a touch every 3 strides with my leg until the new desired stride length was achieved.

To slow then I squeezed the reins for 2 strides lightly. To gait down then I squeezed the  reins stronger for 2 strides, the transition to be within the 2 strides.

If the horse resists and becomes heavy in the hand, then you transition down extra than you intended. Ie, slow trot not achieved off a light aid then I transition to walk. Trot to walk not achieved with a light soft respose, then I transition to halt. Heavy to halt? Then I rein back just one stride. As the horse takes the step back he will find the release of tension.

I learned not to use hand and leg together......ever.  I have a contact with the rein when using the leg, yes, but not to pull and squeeze at the same time. If the horse is truly soft to the rein and leg response then he will move softly forwards and “melt onto the bit”.

It was presented in such a slow methodical way, with each stage thoroughly completed before moving on. Very clear and deliberate. No confusion.


On the Monday after Oasby with Manuaela, we did straightness. Jay was not straight. I was told that this was because he was leaning on my right leg. Funnily enough I have a history of problems with straightness with myself, and have had chiropractic treatment etc to correct this. This has set up a self fulfilling prophecy in my horses as when they maybe don’t go straight, I believe this to automatically be my fault (which it may or may not be), but then I set about compensating for the problem. I set up a whole load of “corrections” to make the horse appear straight. In this case it was just Jay leaning on my leg, so once this was identified I knew to.....transition one up!

So, if Jay leans on my leg we have more trot, or a transition up a gait, until he learns not to lean. In this way even if I am not completely perfect in my physical structure I am not building a whole drama around it. In fact Jay can learn to move quite straight even if I am not quite straight, it is more important that he remains responsive and relaxed in his mind. That is not so easy to achieve if I am screwing myself up inside trying to “make” my body perfect.

I don’t know if you read the recent Horse and Hound article on our hugely successful Para-riders? I guess if a rider is missing an arm they will not feel quite “straight and level”, but they have trained hard and have such understanding that the horses are responsive and light, relaxed and able to complete beautiful dressage tests. The Horse and Hound article did question if a lot of riders have missed something in their training, and I think this is it. The absolute concentration on the correct response from a light aid every time. Consistency at a new level.

The reality of the situation was that by then end of the lesson we were moving straight, turning accurately onto a centre line off either rein, staying relaxed and swinging along with each other.

Attention to the obvious details, but proper, honest attention. This riding is taking “being in the moment” to a new level for me.

After the clinic Jay and I had a week of work implementing what I have learned so far, and then we had our final event. On the previous two events Jay was just a bit more “frisky” than perfection, but when I looked at the work he had done, on both events I had been working the day before and Jay was just lunged. This time I took the day off before, and worked him well.

I worked him too well in fact, he was a bit tired, but calm and obedient. We finished on our dressage score, and were placed 7th. To my delight Jay was unconcerned by other horses, tents, flags, whatever. He was happy in himself and took it all in his rather beautiful stride. Placed on his third ever BE run, even David was happy! J5

That was on the Sunday, and I intended to give Jay a rest after the season closed, but there was just one more thing that would make my first 6 months with Jay complete. We had to go to the beach. Those who have read my previous blogs will know that Sherlock and I had a “bit of a to-do” on the beach, and it is indeed a challenging place to ride. I wanted to see if Jay and I had built trust enough to tackle this place and go have some fun!

On the day I went with Andy, who magically took some lovely pictures. In fact Andy has started a new website and there are a while load of photos from this day on the website, along with other photos, including the last clinic in America..... http://andrewcooper.zenfolio.com/p762259842

We chose a day with quite a rough sea, the noise was loud even in the lorry. As you will see from the pictures on Andy's website I was very careful, at first I even just let Jay view the sea from the safety of his lorry before getting him out and working him in hand. Once out and about he was beautifully behaved, but somehow I did not feel like I really wanted to ride him just yet. Nothing I could put my finger on, but he was just doing that stiff legged walk, maybe a little pushy, not quite relaxed.

I had a quote appear in my e mail today, and I will repeat it here as it is appropriate...

We would never move forward in the face of negative emotion. There are many people who would teach you otherwise. They say you've got to face fear to get over it. And all they do is desensitize themselves to the point that they get themselves into situations where they have no idea what's going on, and the end of them comes rather abruptly... And then everyone calls them brave.

--- Abraham

I think that is one thing I learned a long time ago now, to listen to my own wisdom, even if I cannot put my worries into words. I believe that my ability to listen to myself is one of the reasons I feel confident.....

So, I confidently decided that it would not be fun to ride Jay at that moment, and instead took the saddle off and put a lunge rein on. Then, as you will see on the photos we had a good, fun time exploring the concept of “the sea” together. In fact this was the MOST enjoyable part of the day for me. Me and Jay, playing in the sea. Jay on the beach

I learned how much he had learned too. At one point a wave took him by surprise and it looked as if he may run me down to escape, but no. I would like to think that Jay loves me so much he would not hurt me, but in fact I believe the exercises we have been doing have installed a belief in Jay that I cannot be moved, so he did not try. In fact the wave “got him” as he worked out how to move away without taking my space. It was all very safe and controlled. And fun!

On the way back to the box this time I could not WAIT to ride Jay. This time he was different, Andy said that before he could not see why I didn’t want to ride, but by comparing the way Jay walked back the first time to how he did the second there was a stark difference. Jay was happy, relaxed and fluid in his movements.

We tacked up, and went on the beach, and had a GREAT time. One of the things I have learned is that just because you appear to have something worked out in a training setting does not guarantee that you have it worked out when under stress. I think this is what my “feeling” was telling me, so we took the exercises back and worked it out. I proved consistent to Jay in a stressful environment. Once that was sorted, then the environment did not seem so stressful.

Happy horse, happy me!

After this day Jay did have 5 days off, and poor Jay found that in winter he is confined to being turned out on the arena. To compensate for the lack of grass he has sugar beet and carrots added to his diet. So, Jay was fed more, exercised not at all, and had restricted turnout. Then, one morning I fancied a ride. So, I did!

We had a lovely ride out, no problems. For some reason, on that day, we were on the same page and it was OK. Funnily enough the next day it would not have worked, so we played with a tambourine and a flag instead.

This week Jay had the Chiropractor and the Dentist. I was not expecting any major problems as he saw both as soon as he arrived. I was looking forward to the chiropractor as she treats both of us, so if we have been affecting each other it can be worked out. There were no major problems, Jay has a stronger back end then before, although he still has an abnormal rolling pelvis movement. I have been given some exercises to mobilise my left hip....the usual stuff.

It was the dentist that was interesting. Jay had a fractured tooth, and in fact as the dentist examined it he managed to pull the loose chip off. Nothing serious, he probably bit down on a stone when grazing, but the abnormal tooth wear has left him with a small ulcer on the opposite cheek. I was glad to be able to clear that up for him as a wobbly tooth and ulcer would be distracting and annoying to say the least.

Last night Jay ran the gauntlet of some nearby fireworks. I left his lights on, and although I was at work Jay was watched and he spent the evening circling his stable, and talking to his mate in the mirror. That mirror was the BEST thing I have bought for Jay! When I got home he was a bit sweaty, but otherwise OK.

This morning I was intending to ride, but there was shooting nearby. The sound of a shoot does not normally bother him, but after the fireworks last night he was a bit more nervous so we spent some time clearing up some leading issues. Again, this proved to be a blessing as we have cleared up another “hole” in our relationship. Jay is great on the lead rein, unless you want to trot. Well, we worked on it, Jay gave me several incorrect responses to pressure, I stayed level, he kept trying, and after 20 minutes or so Jay was like one of these cars with a fancy auto hydro something gearbox, with seamless acceleration and deceleration, no leaning on the bit, and by the finish he had got so happy with it he even forgot to scowl!

After all this work he was cool, calm and collected so I did ride some, and we practiced the whole “zero tolerance” to pushiness, as in pushing on the bit or on my leg. The work was good and joyful. Hmmm, I do wonder if part of the reason a lot of horses slide in their responses is due to our politeness. We are so “PC” that it is not natural for most people to say “No, not right”. I see a lot of riders, me included, who will think a transition is not good, but will cheerfully ride on, intending to maybe do it better next time. However, today I worked hard at examining if the response was correct or not, so I could make the feel right, right now, even if that meant transitioning up or down to get it.

Did I ever say? I LOVE learning!!!


Not long to the Your Horse Live talk now. I have had a couple of phone calls telling me that I am advertised in the magazine, the local newsagent has sold out, I will get a copy next week. Meanwhile it is all on the internet,





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  1. Cordy Coupland

    Ruth, thank you for sharing this learning experience. Your commitment & consistency is an inspiration. I love watching you two grow together. yes he found the right home. Thank you again. Cordy

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  2. Gail Fazio

    Ruth, you've made such progress! I am so proud of you and Jay!

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