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Remember, Remember, the 5th of November

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Jay made of VelcroThis  week winter has come in, frozen fingers in the morning and a nip in the air. Very different from the golden autumn sunshine of my last blog.

This month has been good, for 2 weeks of it I was off to have treatment for my sore hip. It makes me smile that if Jay had needed treatment then he would have had it long ago, but when I need some TLC I tend to put it off until it is quite necessary. 2 weeks of stretching, swimming and physio later and we are back up and at it, starting jumping as a regular thing.

It seems that Jay has stayed on top of his game, despite so long without jumping, he has just been waiting for me to go join him in the programme. We are doing nothing big yet, just up to 90-95cm, concentrating on getting the details correct so the movement can flow. Hmmmm, OK, that is correct, but it is also incomplete.

I recently went to a trainer’s seminar, where we watched lessons given by Richard Waygood MBE. The lessons were fun, and the theme I noticed was that the horses and riders were allowed to make mistakes. Oh, nothing out of line with correct Health and Safety, I am talking about small enough jumps, but questions asked where the horses and riders were allowed to make a mistake.

There were some refusals. There were some “moments”. But, at the end of the day the horses and riders delighted in working the problems out, were jumping quick fire fences off strange angles. The horses were actively seeking out the fences and were very much working with the riders. Everyone was alive, alert and in the moment.

That made me sit up and take notice. Jay has never refused a show jump with me, and I realised that if he ever did then I would be devastated, that I had asked him a question that he could not answer. As the session progressed than I realised that my thinking was incomplete. For a start I believe that at present if Jay were to refuse then we have no history for him to realise that I will not go off my head, and that we can work it out together. I guess it would be best to cross that bridge while the jumps are low. Secondly, by not presenting him with problems and puzzles I am inhibiting his ability and delight in working it out. Maybe by “playing so safe” we are a little less alive and in the moment.

I do not want to set Jay up to fail, I don’t want refusals, but I am toying with the idea that it is maybe counterproductive to be SO protective, and in trying to provide him with a “perfect” ride I am maybe eroding some of the fun for myself too. We have practiced turning back to jumps off short distances, and jumping at angles. Jay has had fun. No refusals to date, but if it happens I will just look at it as a learning experience, not the end of the world.

In some ways it feels like I am taking ownership of the whole thing, bizarrely by letting go some of the control. Now there is a paradox!

One day I put a video camera in the corner of Sykehouse and videoed our play, it is on http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lDIaGvR2LtE&feature=g-upl . You may see that I am riding with PURPOSE, that is helped by the fact that I am riding to music with an ipod. I find it makes me ride forward and with more flow. Good stuff!

In our other work I have been influenced by what on the face of it was some bad news. The hunt came to Sykehouse, and Jay is not a hunter horse, and has history of being VERY upset if he hears a hunt. I was working in the afternoon, which was good in so much as I could lunge Jay at 7am and then leave him in his stable so he would not either jump out or tear round and injure himself in the paddock, but bad in so much as I had a morning unexpectedly spare where I could not ride as I would wish.

Hmmmm, time on my hands, I had a browse of Youtube........ and found a lovely video about teaching Western horses to improve their spins! Now, when I have been visiting and teaching in Arizona I have had the pleasure of riding and competing on professional Quarter horses, and have played with sliding stops, spins, all the tricks, but I had not broken down how the  quarter-horses were trained.  

The video that inspired me is here..... http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=spbiXUGSnUQ

I love that video, making the wrong thing hard and the right thing easy. I guess I do use that ethos a lot in training, but doubted it would work with spins as spinning is pretty hard work physically, but it seemed that the horse was quite prepared to exchange some physical activity for peace from being corrected. And the correction was not hard, it was the peace that the horse was seeking.

This interests me as Jay is a lazy old trout, and getting him to maintain a high level of energy with light aids requires me to be so on my game. If you try to “order” Jay to work, with strong leg, or more leg, then he quits and shuts down. I like the idea that while the horse is doing the right thing we can just let him get on with it. It also brings to mind how much time I spend preventing him from making a mistake (uh-oh- I seem to have wrestled with this overprotective mother problem already this blog!), such as using a whole combination of aids to keep a certain rhythm of the trot, rather than setting the trot and only intervening if Jay actually changes.

I think I have spoken about the horse having the responsibility before, but this video has taken the thought to a whole new level for me. Well, I don’t have a need for Western Spins, but I am sure the thinking will help with other things. Hmmm, Jay is OK at rein back, but it is a bit stilted, as in he does each step then stops, I ask and he does another step then stops.......

I took this idea from the video out to our school, and played at having Jay look TO rein back, as opposed to looking to STOP doing it. Within just as few minutes as Warwick Schiller, we had Jay meandering back thoughtfully, curious as to how he was only corrected if he stopped. I found it really hard to leave him to it, the temptation being to nag him if I thought he was going to stop, rather than letting him make that mistake, then learn from that... Or even to nag him because the steps were not quite even or big enough.....By the end of the session Jay was happily stepping back at will, smoothly, with no holding or nagging, very smoothly and willingly. As soon as he was looking to GO instead of STOP I found that the steps became even and bigger, all by themselves.

I love it when training is magic!

Food for thought there. I am sure the ethos of that could be applied to many other situations. Just yesterday I was refining the idea that I set the canter, and “allowed” it to deteriorate, then it was corrected, and I sat still again. It felt so much more effortless than the idea of “lots of leg” to maintain the canter. He still allows me to rest my leg on, but I am not having to push push push. I can remember a lot of lessons where I have had to use loads of leg, to little effect. I like that this idea is just a continuation of the work we have been doing with Manuela McLean (like the effortless shoulder-in two months ago- the only signals I gave were to change the speed or angle), it is just more understanding of the very same thing seems to have arrived at my door.

That is funny, when I taught at my  first clinic in America with Lee Hop, Comparing and Contrasting English and Western riding Lee Hop coined the phrase “Good Horsemanship is Universal”, and here I am, improving on my understanding of English dressage, using the “Equitation Science” from trainers in New Zealand and Australia, with a video of a Western Trainer from America. I guess horses learn in a similar way all over the world, after all they are horses.

Warwick Schiller had many other videos that were good to watch, in particular the one about washing a horse’s head made me smile. The simplicity of the idea, thinking like a horse and adapting our way of working so they can understand. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8N3KLRGFUzg&NR=1&feature=endscreen

Then, this week, we had fireworks. No, I don’t mean trouble, I mean real, honest to goodness fireworks. I speak to a lot of people who are worried as to how their horses will react, and so I thought I would share our preparation for Jay.  Firstly I knew that I wanted him in the stable, as this is where he feels more secure. He also has a weaving grid at the door to discourage him from jumping out. I had a full grid on standby in case he was very upset. I also had the lights on so the flashes were not so obvious. On other occasions I also have the radio on loud, but this time I wanted to take a video, so I left it off.

So, that is “the basics”. In addition I had Jay feeling a bit hungry, restricting his food through the day. Then, I put his haylage into a “Trickle net”, which is a haynet with quite the smallest holes that you ever did see. Then, I hung that net outside his stable so it hung free, making the haylage even harder to get out, plus it put Jay in a position where I could video him!

The tactic was very successful, Jay was so intent on eating that the fireworks were a mere background noise. The video is here... http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EOhhx791ufE&list=UU0lJP-CVlvm1ywFllb-umLQ&index=1&feature=plcp

The only downside was that this year fireworks occurred on Friday through Monday. Poor Jay has dropped a bit of weight over the 4 day period, but small price for a happy and confident horse, and he was a bit plump anyway!

Finally....... I wanted some up to date photos for my blog, and a couple of days ago it was a lovely sunny day, and the sun was reflecting golden oranges in various shades on Jay’s coat as I rode him, so I decided to take some photos of Jay turned out after his work. Good plan but flawed in its execution as Jay was absolutely DELIGHTED to find that mummy was turned out with Jay today, and wooffelled down his nose and stuck to me like glue. All I have is loads of photos of Jay’s nose! I mean, even if I RAN away to take a photo, he was right there with me, nose to the camera, wooffelling in his most friendly fashion. So, I guess that Jay’s nose is what this month’s photo will have to be!!!

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  1. Crissi

    Ruth - what a great Blog! I was intrigued by the idea of allowing mistakes to happen as part of the natural learning process; I've been exploring that idea too (in horsemanship, as well as -gulp!-life). Isn't it a relief to find that we won't shrivel up and die if we or our horse make a mistake?! There certainly is far more depth to a learning process when mistakes are understood to be part of it all. Thank you for sharing your experiences and feelings about that! And of course, I adore the nose photo of Jay. ;)

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