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Strands of Time...

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Playing in the stubble

Theme of the moment for me seems to be “time”.

I find that when I am moving through my days a theme will appear, I see it more and more as I make connections.

First of all was “Time Out” from my normal routine as I went to work the Olympics. Time away from home having wonderful new experiences is great, but a double edged sword as I do miss home, the people and animals.  I got home and landed running, catching up with work, short of time.

Talos the puppy has been dog training and having trips out for socialisation, and on one of these occasions we were at Sykehouse Arena, watching Show Jumping. Despite the fact that since I went away and came back Jay had not been ridden much (in fact we have hardly jumped at all this year), it was such a nice sunny day and happy atmosphere at the show that I decided to go drag Jay out of the field and bring him to the show. Jay was great, joined in the party, warmed up in the collecting ring for the 85cm class, and was just a little too forward. I decided that it was not the “right time” to do more that day, so we went home.

Funny, so many people thought that I must be unhappy not to have competed, but it is something I have often said, that entry just gives you permission to be there, it does not make it compulsory to do anything. I left on a high, Jay had come out to play, was excited but had held it all together. Most of all I was happy that I had been the mother he deserved, and when I had a “gut feeling” that enough was enough then I acted on it. I believe that if we had jumped in the main arena then Jay’s excitement would have boiled over, and I would not have had fun, and neither would he.  Oh, no, nothing “terrible” would have happened, but neither of us would have gone home just as happy as we did do. We maximised our happiness on the day, without taking one step too much and wiping out the credit we had gained from a lovely day.

The next day we went back and did jump that course, that day it was the “right time” and Jay was Mr Perfect! To make the “perfect Jay” appear on a show day we have a few links of our chain missing right now. For instance he has not been to many shows lately, come to that we have not ridden in many different places, also we have not jumped much. In fact with me recently at the Olympics and busy on my return Jay was just short of being ridden at all! To do well at shows we will work at all the individual threads, fitness, jumping technique, trusting each other in different environments. Then we will elegantly draw all the threads together to make a strong cord.

We have done this before, when we went eventing last year. Our preparation was full on, taking care that each individual thread was covered. We worked on ground work, riding in various places, technique, fitness, lorry trips, jumping in different places, XC on various courses, shows for dressage and SJ........ and it all came together very nicely for all three phases in a very busy environment, with each element or possible stress point covered and familiar.  

After some down time in winter we picked up the dressage again, but did not do much jumping. So, currently Jay is comfortable in a dressage show, but not in jumping. I don’t see the route back to success jumping at a show as any big secret, just that we need to retrace the small steps to build up our confidence in all situations. I guess that for Jay to feel confident there can’t be too big a jump from what we do comfortably, but what we do comfortably can stretch, as long as we only stretch a bit at a time, so our confidence does not snap.

Working long hours at the Olympics has made my hip a bit sore again, so jumping temporarily out again, we went out and about doing more dressage. In fact the day before dressage we had an unusual training session, I just had a play with the sheepskin bareback pad and loping halter. That was a laugh. We practiced rein back, to turn on haunch, to canter, to halt, to rein back, to turn on haunch, to canter, to halt, rein back, to turn on haunch the other way, and...... yes even Jay guessed it he was off into canter with a toss of his head and a squeal, and swagger and pride and fun. And yet, if ever I was unbalanced he would slow down, stay straight so I could get right again, what a star! I was laughing out loud, and he was so happy too.

The next day Jay and I did our first BD affiliated Elementary test, and despite our unusual preparation (or maybe because of it) Jay was a total superstar and went and won!  The test was good despite the rain and thunderstorm, and the man with the Golfing Umbrella at the ringside. He did put it down, but poor Jay thought that was even more scary as it deflated, and spent the first part of the test looking for it.

Jay being so successful at dressage surprises me, as if you look at his component parts for dressage he is not brilliant, but during a test we have something good going on, where he feels that I am helping and guiding him. Because of this we smoothly progress through the test, and even if a movement does not go well we smoothly move on without tension to the next. I think that is why we are scoring above our weight really for what we can technically achieve.

There is a video on Youtube of this test, and I can see that our halt-trot is not good, but it is smooth and we are both relaxed. One of the circles is a bit big, but we correct it and move on, none of it is a drama, we are there to have fun after all.

A week or so later we had another clinic with Manuela McLean, she is a magician. When we arrived Jay was not in fully focused mode, so we did some work on the floor. Jay was rather reactive and dramatic, but we worked it out, and after that he was a superstar to ride too, working on his focus, and variations with his trot. It has got to be worth taking the time for a few minutes of ground work to then have a wonderful session. Time well spent.

On the second lesson we cracked on with leg yield and shoulder in. In the leg yield we were introducing changes in stride length and speed of the step, and angle of cross. Gosh, only 6 weeks ago we were lucky to GET a leg yield, now we are changing the details. Much improvement in shoulder in too. In fact on the right rein I found I had enjoyed ¾ of the length on the school, watching myself in the mirror doing a pretty perfect shoulder in, before I realised that I had set up the movement, and since then I was just sitting there enjoying it, with no further signals to Jay the automatic superhero. We also worked on the walk/ canter/ walk that we started 6 weeks ago, Jay was pretty good with direct transitions.

I like it when a plan comes together. We have worked on individual things, and today they all came together. The strands all elegantly drawing together to make a strong cord.

The week after I decided to revisit the issue of the Golfing Umbrella....... It was not an issue at the Dressage show because I had not made it one, but Jay was definitely distracted by it, and if the man had not kindly put it down I don’t think I would have tried to struggle through a test as Jay was totally fixated. It seemed funny, as we have done some ‘brolly training in the past.

I got the umbrella out for a training session with a kind helper, and we found that Jay was happy with the umbrella if I was holding it, but scared if someone else was holding it. Well, I missed that one, it is quite nice to know that Jay has extra confidence in me, but umbrellas may appear anywhere, and it would be helpful if they were tolerated - whoever is holding them!

I was explaining my thoughts as we worked with Jay, and it became apparent that one of the keys to success in helping a sharp horse like Jay to have confidence and accept strange objects is time. I find that when I have a kind helper I am almost apologising for not “doing” more. I am worried that they will be disappointed, or bored.

We just hang out with the umbrella wherever Jay is comfortable to do so. How can I explain better? OK, if you introduce a horse to a train and it has never seen one it may be scared. If it is in a field it may run round when it first sees a train, but will probably acclimatise fairly quickly. If it has horse companions who are not scared of trains it will probably acclimatise VERY quickly. HOWEVER if a person tries to acclimatise a horse to the trains without understanding how to help best, then the horse may never acclimatise, however often they see a train......

You would never see the other horses trying to pull or push the new horse towards the trains. They would just get on with their business, be near the train, or not, and not be too invested in whether the new horse were near the train or not. The process may not take long, but it is in an atmosphere where time is not an issue, not counted, no pressure from time. No pressure from the other horses either, other than their example that the trains are not an issue. The horse has time and space to make his own mind up.

On our umbrella training we did not  really “just hang out” with the umbrella. We started the person with the umbrella walking in a predictable fashion, round the school, and we followed. We followed as close as Jay was comfortable, but before long Jay felt like he was pushing on the umbrella, I think, making it move away, and he got bolder and closer by his own volition. I did not attempt to control how close we were, it was up to Jay. We then introduced times where Jay and I walked a small circle so for a while the umbrella was behind him, although walking away. Jay became happier.

Confronting the umbrella was different. We made it as easy as we could with us each circling the school in opposite directions, with the umbrella close to the fence so we wouldn’t be trapped against the fence. We made this as easy as possible with the gap between where we would pass very wide.  Jay was  not comfortable, so I asked him to stop and back away from the advancing umbrella. He initially liked this, but backing up is difficult, and the umbrella is not so scary, and he made up his own mind to walk past.

Even at the end of the session Jay is much happier, but still not as confident as I would like. I wonder if Jay would be just as happy, or in fact even happier, with umbrellas if someone spent time  in his paddock walking around at random, not reacting to him, and allowing him to move freely? What I know though is that if someone was trying to get close by forcing him then he would get less confident.

I think that in training some of our decision making is derived from wanting to be in control, to be the one who sorted out the scary umbrella issue. It would seem too easy to have a random umbrella walker! Some of it is time, I wish to complete the training in a nice bite sized chunk, so maybe I try to speed up the process. Some of it is me being too invested in the outcome, I really want Jay to be happy near the umbrella! Maybe that could make me less patient. Maybe randomly walking around with an umbrella is just not interesting enough to do, despite the fact that I would like Jay umbrella proof! Maybe it just seems......too easy???

On this session I took it slowly and we had some success, but I wonder if it could have been even better? We will be playing with umbrellas some more, as much because I have more to learn as because Jay needs it.

Other than that, I have been having physio for my hip, and have been surprised at how effective it is at sorting out problems that I have adapted to so long ago that I am not even aware of my own compensations. So, I had a physio session for Jay too, which he passed with flying colours. Some muscle tension was identified and released, but there were no major issues. It was nice that the physio did not even want to see my saddles as there was NO evidence of saddle problems. All that time and trouble getting a saddle that is right for Jay has paid off!

We also travelled to the farrier,  and after Jay was shod we went for a ride somewhere different in the beautiful North Yorkshire countryside, where Jay was ASTONISHED by just about everything he saw.  He was astonished by the cattle regarding him from the field. He then pretended he had never seen pigs before (he has seen piglets before, but these were fully grown pigs- so he might have a point there!). Then, the Troll Bridge, and this time even I thought it was scary, as the bushes had overgrown the far side of the very narrow bridge and it looked like I was riding him into a high up trap. He sorted it out in his head in his own time, and marched across, only to find....... he was astonished by sheep hiding behind a hedge, then astonished by a newly erected wind turbine, and then he disturbed the baby grouse in the grouse farm, and about 100 of them squawked away simultaneously from right next to him, which then left him vulnerable to being astonished by a lady with a dog!

At least these days when he is astonished he does no more than come to a halt and make like a statue. I then wait and he turns back to Jay, and carries on. It makes the rides funny and pleasurable.

When we are hacking on familiar ground close to home not a lot astonishes Jay now, in fact last week we went for a play on the stubble. I was having such a good time I pulled my mobile phone out and videoed it. This is for me what it is all about, me and my boy Jay having fun, enjoying time together on a glorious sunny September evening.

The video is on http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g7Mukks7zFM&feature=youtu.be Happy times.

Nearly up to date, this week I have been doing some schooling using my MP3 player. I like riding to music, but to show respect for my neighbours I have used the MP3 instead of the car stereo. Our work has been great, but on quite a few occasions I have forgotten that the music is just in my ears, and have burst into song. Oh dear, my school borders the road, I can't imagine what my lone voice sounds like, sung with the confidence of someone who has booming music in their ears and who can't hear their own voice!!!

I have also taken Jay to visit the floods on the bridleway. That took him a few minutes to confront, but with no pressure, just some well timed requests, he was soon splashing about. In fact we were soon cantering through the water, having great fun. Jay was good, but at the end of this hooning around he was quite "high" so I decided to dismount and walk home. Jay was not naughty and was perfectly rideable, but riding a "high" horse on the roads is not what I wish to do. Am I right or wrong? Well, we had great fun, came home safe, I am confident in my decision, so whatever people say I guess that decision was right for me. Isn't that one of the reasons we have a horse of our own, to make decisions about what is fun to do with them?

What next? Well, I am off to have some physio on my hip. I have a glorious horse, we have so much to offer each other but I have been hampered this year. I have decided to go away for 2 weeks on an intensive physio course to get rid of the problem for good. I guess I am taking some time for myself, to get ready for great times ahead!

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  1. Cordy

    Hi ruth. As usual, this blog is so joy to read. You are my inspiration. Thank you for taking the time to share.

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  2. Gail Fazio

    Bravo, Ms Ruth! You and Jay are doing fabulous, and I applaud not only your attention to details, but the fact that you are sharing it with us. Good luck with the physio; I hope it is successful for you and you can get back to your superstar!

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  3. Jo Field

    Always a thought provoking read. Something so simple as an umbrella and 20 minutes does so much more than tackle umbrellaphobia, it's another step toward a horse that is truly happy in his skin. The holy grail of horsemanship for me, rather than a horse that stays in control out of obedience, a horse that stays in control out of confidence! Fantastic. Xx

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  4. Ruth

    As always I do so enjoy your blogs.All the affection you have for your horse is expressed in the way you tell your story. You and jay were obviusly meant to be partners. Looking forward to the next blog.

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