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Jay paying attention 

Gosh “Attention” seems to have been the theme of my month!

Shortly after my last blog I was lucky enough to have a lesson bought for me with a top trainer, by the owner of  a lovely maxi-cob who is just starting his schooling with me. Although we were already making progress the extra training has helped tremendously, a set of experienced, impartial eyes on the ground can crack open a whole new vein of learning.

The trainer noticed that I was <BLOG_BREAK>completing each exercise well, my faux pas was often when I was not paying full attention, such as if we had just been talking and I was to go and practice trot/canter transitions, I would pay attention to the exercise in hand, but I was so focused on the canter exercise that I was not paying attention to picking the horse up, to the halt/ walk transition, to the walk/ trot transition. Each time I did this something would slide, the contact, or the horse’s attention generally.

I LOVE learning, and this was a very hard lesson, and a lesson in how difficult it is to really pay attention for a full 45 minutes. That is to pay attention to your plan and also to ride each moment “in the moment”. Trying to combine cognitive thinking about the instructions for the exercise, whilst allowing the quiet mind and flow of the energy. I love hard lessons, I was exhausted at the end, but that was satisfying in itself, plus the horse went the best it ever did do, and the owner is delighted.

When I learn a good lesson like this I find that it is rarely confined to the school that I learned it in. I then had a jumping lesson on Jay, and I noticed that I did the same with him. I would pay 100% attention when approaching the fence, but at other times I dropped my performance. This would be, as before, when picking him up after discussing something with the trainer, but also I have this habit of congratulating myself after a fence. It is just momentary, sometimes it is congratulatory and sometimes it is relief, but that disconnect was allowing Jay to run on a stride or two, or indeed if he thought he was finished he would start to pull up. When riding a whole round of fences it stopped the flow and regularity.

After I picked upon what I was doing I did better, kept riding with attention after the fence and kept congratulations or discussions within myself until after the entire exercise was finished, which is now after we have halted!

I started to “pay attention” to a lot of other things with Jay. I noticed that he is a very friendly character, and polite too, but even so some things had slipped. Such as when picking his feet out, he is good and polite, but the first hoof of the day has started to take a little longer to pick up. I paid attention to this and found to my surprise that Jay has been postulating at my bottom behind my back!!! We now “do hooves” in a more structured way!

I had also noticed that when we were lungeing Jay would set off at a trot or canter, with a squeak. Now I usually lunge when I am short of time, or when Jay has been short of work and is giddy, and when this had happened I just kept him going, after all he was exercising and exercise in a short time is what I was after. Thinking back though, this has sort of crept in, polite horse to reactive horse...... not really my ultimate goal.

I was once quoted this regarding horses and their training...

“Once is a one off, twice is a co-incidence, but three times is training”.

I have allowed this rushing off on the lunge to happen regularly, after all he never kicks out, and I am usually in a rush, but now I am paying attention I can see that I have unintentionally trained him into being a less than polite and thoughtful horse.

Finally my attention with Jay has caused a situation to come to a head in a very dramatic way.

I had another jumping lesson, and finally I let another rider have a sit on Jay. I know that Jay was cast as a “problem horse” and although he has been generally good for me, he has not had anyone else on his back since May when I bought him. I don’t find it big or clever to have a horse that no-one else can ride, after all my job is surely to have a horse happy and confident in all situations, including to have another rider.

My trainer warmed Jay up for me. Just 10 minutes in walk/ trot/ canter, no jumping, and I just wanted Jay to have a nice time. My trainer worked a lot harder that I do, I have always borne in mind that Jay was cast as a horse that could not take pressure, and although I have asked him for more, I have not pushed too hard. I learned from watching this other rider, several things in fact. One was that putting yourself under pressure is not the same as putting you horse under pressure! The rider worked VERY hard, and Jay picked up his canter and became more connected, but did not seem to be “under pressure”.  Oh yes, he was working harder, but because the rider gave direct signals, that were not conflicting, he was happy to put in extra work.

I then rode Jay and put in more work, and after just 10 minutes my legs were just about cramping up, and Jay and I were both puffing like we weren’t fit at all! In fact we did jump, but the 1 hour lesson only took 45 minutes, as we had achieved so much and we were both very tired. The jumping was great, there was a related distance of a long 4 strides, and we did it in 4, 5, or 6 strides. Jay was very adjustable, but it was exhausting for us both.

I even noticed that on our way home Jay was so tired he could not lift his legs over the raised poles on the driveway that we keep there to keep Jay’s pelvis mobile. I also had to wash him off as he was so sweaty.

The next day I noticed that Jay was a bit grumpy to groom, over his loins and quarters. That was unusual, but all seemed well so I took him back to the arena, just on my own for half an hour or so, to recapture the canter we achieved yesterday. It was great, even though my legs went into cramp almost as soon as we started. We jumped a smaller course, of about 1m, and that was great too, so we went home all smiles, although Jay needed washing again as this “new canter” is obviously more taxing physically for him than the old.

Christmas eve and Jay was VERY grumpy to groom on his loins and quarters, he was moving into me when I tried to groom here, although he was happy to be groomed elsewhere. I decided that he was probably a bit stiff from the extra work, and gave him the day off, and suspended grooming this area.

Christmas day we had a lovely ride out, just a walk out for an hour as Jay was still too grumpy to groom his quarters and loins. Then Boxing day a day off. No grooming as he reacted as soon as I went to this area.

After that I decided to give him a lunge in case the saddle fit was the problem, and this went well, he worked well on the Pessoa. Then, I had a problem. The day after Jay was so grumpy to groom that he slammed into me, knocking me into the wall.

Now this made me pay attention! There was nothing to see on Jay, he was sound, healthy to look at. But something was making him act in an uncharacteristic way in the stable. I took Jay out of work completely so we could look at it, but the grooming issue did not get any better.

Finally I “got it”, I sorted it out.  I don’t doubt we had minor muscle stiffness for a couple of days, Jay was then grumpy and moved into me when I groomed him, I correctly identified that he was uncomfortable and so stopped grooming......... Yeah, I am usually quite switched on with ground handling, but I missed this one!

Jay pushed on me and I gave way. I showed a weakness, and Jay just had to find out just how weak I was...... I believe he really needs to know, for his own feeling of personal safety actually. So he pushed back. And I gave way......

Remember the quote.... “Once is a one off, twice is a co-incidence, but three times is training”.

I was unintentionally training Jay to push on me until it was at the point that he slammed me into the stable wall. By this time I don’t even think he was sore any more, he was just pushing.

I find Jay funny, with my previous challenging horses a challenge looked like a challenge. They were very up front. Jay just kind of greases round you, for all the world it looks like he is being friendly when he is pushing, until it is out of hand.

I was sure this was the cause of my problems, and that meant being a bit tough with Jay to re-establish some manners. I also reasoned that even if I was wrong and he was in pain, then the correct response to pain was to move away from me, not push into me. I hated having to do it because it was a problem of my making, but I went and groomed and smacked his bum if he crossed the line and pressed into me, and that was that.

Funnily enough he has been good to groom ever since! Yesterday I put him back into work, just a lunge session with no gizmos, and he is still good to groom. Today we did ½ hour schooling, which went well, and still good to groom. Jay had been so upset with the situation that he had stopped eating his hard feed. Now we have reasserted who is who in the dynamic he is eating up again.

With Sherlock I realised that he was a horse who pushed on you. We did a lot of work with flags and tarpaulins, because I realised that while I was pushing on him, he was not pushing on  me. This established a new routine of Sherlock not even trying to push any more, and because his challenges were so overt and obvious, if he did challenge we would just do some more work with me pushing on him.

Jay is going to teach me more still, as he is so subtle with his pushing. With him a friendly nuzzle and how it is received is very important to him. I believe Jay is going to teach me to take “paying attention” to a whole new level.

Well, that’s it, I wish you a happy new year. I hope that you have dreams for 2012, and are enthusiastic to plan a route to fulfil them, that is part of the fun of life for me, to work towards goals and learning. Like fitting together the pieces to a giant puzzle.

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  1. Gail Fazio

    What an excellent reminder! I'm so glad that his soreness (and yours) was just from hard work and you both recovered well. I don't always have a lot of time to do anything with Chloe and realized I had let her slide in many areas I should not have. I am trying to be more particular and consistent in what I expect from her. Great lesson!

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