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A dose of my own medicine....

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Jay at bishop, photo courtesy of Trafford PhotographyJay and I have had to be a bit strategic in our jumping, with due deference to his recent splint, so our next jumping lessons were indoor XC in style. We jumped single fillers with no wings, at strange angles, plus “water ditches” to open him out followed by tight turns to skinnies, a corner....... all good fun and low impact from low jumps.

I can’t overestimate how much we gained from these sessions, up to now I have always tried to make each jumping session as “perfect” as I can for Jay. On these sessions we were not “perfect” but instead we started to thrash out a whole new set of routines, where I tried my best with what I have and Jay responded as best he could, and it may not have been perfect but it was fun.  It did me good, as in I can sometimes set unrealistic expectations for myself, but it did Jay good too, to have some small “mistakes” and the world did not fall in around his ears.

In between lessons Jay and I still “played”, in fact I bought Jay some harness and taught him to pull a barrel around the arena.  I must confess the many straps were a bit confusing, so in the end we just used a roller and breast plate. I know little about teaching a horse to pull, such as a cart. This was not the objective though. I want Jay to be "Life Proof", and one day he may get caught up on something, like catch his tack on a fence, and I would rather if that happened, he stop and await rescue rather than panic and run.

The video is just a snapshot of Jay's first pull of a barrel. We have done a whole lot of work beforehand, Jay already understands that if "it all goes wrong" he should stop and wait for recovery, such as if he treads on a rein he just stands with his head down for rescue. I have also dragged a barrel around with us using long reins a few times, no worries.

The first time I attached Jay's breastplate to the barrel it was while leading him, with a quick release knot in my hand, and it was all good. Then we dragged the barrel with just one trace, then with two. The video ran out, but shortly after Jay decided he did not really like the thing we were doing, and so stood still and awaited rescue. Of course, if the objective was to actually teach Jay to be a plough horse then I would have insisted he walk on and explained the concept of pulling to him, but actually when he stopped and looked at me for rescue I thought that the lesson we had set out to learn was learned, so we unhitched and played at something else. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gkzZ7YFC-7w

No fuss and no panic, mission accomplished. Harness sold already.

Oh, I also tied the barrel to his head collar and had him back up a few steps, as if he had pulled back and had broken what he was tied to. Jay is FAB, as ever went along with the silly game.  Nice Horse!!!

Jumping lessons continued, and it was on one of these lessons, where we were having a lot of fun, that the subject of actually going to a few shows was brought up. To my surprise I was instantly traumatised, my eyes actually filled, I felt that sinking feeling. Those of you who know me will know that I experienced a collecting ring phobia.

I had discussions with various people about how to “cure” the phobia, and there were many options. I considered NLP mind exercises, tapping, hypnosis. The NLP I am qualified to do with other people, and I have been trained to do hypnosis too. I don’t know why, but none of these options  felt right for me, now. On reflection I do know why, it is back to the feeling that collecting rings are indeed dangerous places. I have had a number of uncomfortable experiences in collecting rings, it seems that a lot of people do not train their horses for the collecting ring, and then their horses misbehave and can hurt me or Jay, or could upset Jay so he then misbehaves. I have also been on the other end of the equation, with a horse that was uptight in collecting rings, so I know they can be unpredictable.

Jay is an active horse, but is not phobic about collecting rings. So, if I were NLP’d into feeling better it would most likely be OK. But, still that option did not feel right, as I wanted to be in control of the situation, not just changed so it did not feel like "a situation". Having a year off with a sore hip has not left me at my most robust, I think.

The thought of even going to a small jumping show did not feel good. It was when discussing this with a client that it all became clear (thank you Jo). Jo asked how I would tackle the problem if it were her experiencing these feelings. Wow, that pulled me out of my own “pity party” where I was swimming about in my own recriminations, and gave me back my ability to think.

I very much believe that if you are scared, there is probably a very good reason to be scared. Look at my situation, collecting rings have proved dangerous to me (and some of my clients) in the past. I am recovering from an injury and not at my strongest, and Jay is out of practice. The fear is there to keep me safe, and is not therefore best ignored. HOWEVER I do wish to compete, and to do that, then I need to be able to use a collecting ring. Other people use the collecting ring, I have used it in the past. I just need some recent experience of a safe collecting ring from which to revise my judgement on what is safe and appropriate for us now.

The million dollar question was....... “What do I feel comfortable doing NOW, that is toward my goal”. In the past, with other people who are fearful of collecting rings, or shows in general (yep, this one is not just my fear, it happens to other people too), we have started with hiring the show venue on a non show day, or hiring the venue with another horse, or two. Or, even starting by just inviting a horse to join you schooling session on home ground. This has you and your horse in an increasingly similar environment to a show, practicing the feeling, sights and sounds, making new judgements on what is now safe and appropriate. Hmmm, actually these scenarios would feel very safe to me, I am not sure I needed to go that far.

I decided I would feel safe enough in a DRESSAGE collecting ring, as long as there were only a few people in it, and if it were in an arena that we have been in before. So, I set about making it happen, entered a dressage at Port Royal, asking for a late time, so I was the last competitor of the day.

An extract from an email I sent that evening.......

“To be fair I had played it clever and did a quick lunge first thing at home (just 20 minutes) and we were last in the class, so there were only 3 horses in the warm-up by the time we were there. We did Novice 28, Judges comments- “ super obliging horse, produced a good consistent test. Has good active paces- could show a little more engagement but much to like and work with”. Score 68.75% , Place 2nd.

After we had finished Jay showed interest in going to have a look at the jumping in the second arena, they were walking the course for the 90cm. I led him into the busy area next to the actual warm up, where about 10 horses were standing and being led around. This is one of my dislikes, other horses near to my boy, but Jay held my hand, and assured me that he was safe. We watched the start of the warm up, some of the horses in the arena were naughty, but Jay looked so chilled I wished I had taken my jump saddle so we could have joined in.”

So, competition no 1 successfully completed, and me even looking at a jumping competition! I had still been (controllably) nervous (I prefer to call it "thrilled" or "excited"), so for our second competition I chose a quieter venue, Sykehouse Arena, but more in the middle of the day. The organiser knew about what I was working on, and she kindly placed us after a break. (thank you Di). Once again just three or four in the collecting ring, very relaxed. Jay won the class (N24) with 70.77%. Comments “A lovely willing and obedient horse showing great promise, a pleasure to see”. He was about 3% above the second place, and there were some nice eventers in the class.

Now I felt ready for a jumping show. Hmmmm. OK, I decided on a show a show at Port Royal, the same venue as the first dressage, this time for the first jumping class of the day, in the same arena where I had been tempted to join in before. I arrived early and walked the course before the show actually started, then I warmed Jay up while everyone else was walking the course. So, we had the walk, trot and canter covered while the collecting ring was empty. Then, as other people were doing the walk, trot and canter we were jumping, and before anyone else was jumping we were in the arena and away. After our round we returned to the standing area so we could both watch the other horses warming up, while we were still in the jumping mood. Our round......http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wsdpR6L2v2M&list=UU0lJP-CVlvm1ywFllb-umLQ&index=10 I walked the course for the Discovery too, and felt that it was well within our possibilities, but one class was enough for the first day. Again I left thinking we could do more, very encourageing.

The “other stuff” Jay and I do has continued to be important; here is a video of Jay learning to get all four feet on the podium, using a clicker. As he was initially a little wary of this I am not really “asking” him to do anything, just rewarding when he tries something in the direction of what I want. Jay is very quick, and I have to constantly change the rules if I am not to have Jay learning to bang the podium like a drum, constantly upping the expectation, in a non pressure environment. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aWdhHE-ybzQ&list=UU0lJP-CVlvm1ywFllb-umLQ&index=9

I like the podium, it stretches Jay mentally and physically; it has him use his core, has him thinking in his feet, as in where his feet are rather than what is going on in the next county.

As the weather cleared up Jay and I went on a trip to Osberton country estate to hack and pop a few fences (thank you Mark). I bought a “head cam” for £35 off Amazon, and wore it for our ride. It is great as you just set it recording on your hat, and forget it as it records an hour and a half. When I got home I watched the video and laughed, I had NO IDEA how much I talk to Jay, sing to Jay, have whole conversations with Jay....... The video (very edited) is on http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1tOzNvUfuu4  Ha Ha, oh my, I sound a complete £”!*()&”**!!.

Next up was working in the collecting ring while someone else was jumping...... where would I now feel comfortable?......I found a BE (British Eventing) “Jump Training” show. This is an ingenious format where all competitors have a course walk by a BE trainer, then have help with a warm up, then go jump a course watched by a BE trainer, then we are told how we could improve, then jump another round, and we are judged on our style as well as how many jumps we leave standing.  I reckoned with all that jumping and talking and jumping again there would not be many in the collecting ring, as each competitor had a “start time”, plus the collecting ring was regulated by a trainer, perfect.

On the day I was still (a controllable) nervous, so Jay was his ever helpful self, and steadied up so he was quiet as a church mouse. It was a perfect outing for us as only one person was jumping at once, although up to six people were warming up. Very civilised.  The video shows the collecting ring as well as he rounds, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=92dW4vXqaWg

I now felt more than ready for a “proper” collecting ring in a less controlled environment, as so far my recent experience has been that collecting rings are safe and fun, and I have felt in control of the situation.  Again I played it clever, and entered a show at Bishop Burton, which has a HUGE collecting ring. This show was a “back to front” show, with the class before my 90cm class being for the 1.40 horses. This may mean spirited horses, but it also means trained horses, and professional riders. I did our walk/trot/canter warm-up while the 1.40 class was still on. There were some other 90cm horses there too, some of which were being naughty. I managed to stay on track, Jay was great, in nanny mode, and we had a great time.

In the arena I actually got eliminated, and the email I sent out was “We got eliminated, and it was FANTASTIC”. That is because it WAS fantastic, the elimination was because I took a wrong fence, but we were both having fun, and THAT is what it is all about. There is a video. The jumping is not as good as at my lessons, but in a lesson we have not done more than 4 fences on a course, so I was well pleased.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZCYOH-k-ZUw&list=UU0lJP-CVlvm1ywFllb-umLQ&index=6 . The photo on this blog header is fence no 3 on the course, photo courtesy of Trafford Photography.

During all this time our jumping lessons had continued; we were even up to jumping courses of up to 1.05/ 1.10, wooo-hoooo! Selina volunteered to wear the head cam for our lesson, thank you Selina. The picture quality is not FAB, but I can see what she sees, and hear what she is saying. I am surprised when I recap the lesson how much I just did not hear at the time. There is a video of a round first from the head cam, then from the side. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tI5CYrpEHAc&list=UU0lJP-CVlvm1ywFllb-umLQ&index=4

I now had a week off work, supposedly to work on Jay outdoors, in an open field environment and at XC courses, to prepare us for eventing. Apart from the odd hack, and the time at Osberton Jay has not really WORKED in an open environment since 2011. It has been that long since he has jumped a ditch or step or water. My "week off" was was this week, and it has....... rained (flooding all courses), then frozen and now it has also snowed. All my lessons and practices were cancelled. Pah!

By default I have therefore used this week to further improve our work in an arena! We went to Yorkshire Riding Centre to have a lesson with Jane. We started with some dressage, which was great as I have not had a dressage lesson with Jane since before the Olympics. During the lesson Jane was her usual enthusiastic, energetic self, and the lesson was videoed (thank you Andy). It was great to see that Jay and I have done the work that Jane has set us, he is less on his forehand, and is not working as "deep".

We went on to the second half of the lesson, to do some arena XC. This was just over portable fences, and although it was in the arena, the actual arena is huge and in turn open to the field. Again we are blurring the line between what we are familiar with (arena jumping) and what we are not (open land jumping).  What became obvious in the huge arena was how we are so underpowered in the canter, and Jay is obliging but quite behind my leg....

We started to work on this by practicing “start box starts” where I had 20 yards to have Jay in walk-Trot-Canter and in front of my leg after just 20 yards. Oh dear, Jay likes everything to be his idea, and when told “faster” he took that as an insult, it was quite frightening for him. More work, and by the end of the session he was happy that he knew what was required. He was more than happy to put in the extra work too, once it had all been explained to him.

The next day I was working in the afternoon, but entered Jay in a dressage at Sykehouse in the morning. Because I had to be finished by lunchtime Jay was demoted to the Prelim class. Despite it being a very busy day with 2 rings running for the Trailblazer Regionals, I was feeling quite laid back about the whole trip. So much so that in the time I should have been learning my test and warming Jay up I was actually making a video of my lesson, setting Jane's expressive explanations to the "Harlem Shake" music. The video shows Jay moving beautifully, but I think Jane is moving just as well. The video is on Youtube (with Jane's permission before uploading of course, it was meant as an expression of appreciation of her teaching style, thank you Jane for being such a sport) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cAIL5qQGnto .

After doing the video I quickly read the dressage test, tacked up and arrived at the showground just 20 minutes before my test. The collecting ring was no problem, and then I entered the arena and...... forgot the test. Ooops. I remembered it as soon as the judge rang the bell, got back in position and continued, and went well, until the rather fresh Jay saw "something" behind the hedge, and screeched to a sudden halt during a canter/trot transition. I had to laugh, and persuaded Jay to re-join dressage. It is testament to the horse that despite the fact that I chalked up a 2 mark penalty for forgetting the test, and scored a 4 for the botched transition, he still won the competition with 72%. Bless that horse. 

I then booked another 2 (indoor) lessons with Selina to implement what I had learned XC to our SJ. The lessons were great and Jay started to open up and be confident to move forward rather than play it safe and be slow and stuffy. We even incorporated “start box starts”. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AmAhP-yyuv0

Finally, we re-attended at Bishop Burton to do another jumping show, now 3 lessons the wiser on opening up, and keen to be more forward in thought. It is a fine balance between being more open in the stride and forward thinking and over pushing, putting Jay on his forehand. The actual round was a bit hit and miss, a bit between two thoughts, but I am happy. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wrABUhUfRUU Oh, and by the way, the dratted collecting ring was the last thing on my mind, I was concentrating on implementing what we had learned. In fact our jumping in the collecting ring was great, Phew! It seems taking my own medicine has been effective.

Yesterday we had a hack around Osberton again, but this time was a little different to last time.

We had the big event field to play on, but there was a Pony Club Rally going on in the next field to our left. I guess that may not have mattered if there was not a Car Rally going on in a fenced off area to the right of the field. Not a Vintage Car Rally, oh no, I mean where they make a tight dirt course and rev the engines, and slide sideways type of rally. Plus Marquees and people. And, the field I was in had a marquee in it too, and a car and trailer bouncing along clearing jumps up from a show yesterday. Oh, and Mark was giving a XC lesson to 4 people simultaneously in front of us (and galloping past us), actually  IN the field I was in. Then, we had people hacking by at canter in the lane just to our rear. Jay was astonished by stuff at all four corners and was not very confident.

It is not that Jay was “naughty” exactly; it was just like riding an electric eel. He was tense, grinding his teeth, and anything I asked felt magnified by 1000 volts. He did “bunny runs”, leaping like a spring lamb a couple of times, and cantering a bit fast. We were there for over an hour, and he did not really improve enough to feel settled enough to jump. He did manage some half decent trot work, and some rather erratic canter. He also did nothing to hurt me or put me in danger.

I guess the whole situation was just a bit too much for a little ginger horse, who is getting fitter, is on a lot of feed, and who has not really worked out in the open much since 2011. He was at least foot perfect hacking back to the box, even though he had to leave the other 4 horses. I am happy that Jay was not “naughty”, but sad that I put him in a situation where he was not confident. The other 4 horses having their lesson were settled and working well, but then they are at a different stage of their path than Jay and I. Jay and I are usually on the same page, happy and confident together. Nothing really “happened” yesterday, it just did not feel “good”.

I guess with Jay’s past history, coping with all that activity with just a few bunny runs is a success in itself. I have not really processed how it went, but would suspect that if we hire a few XC courses on quieter days and build him up to a busy situation he will be just fine, and he will be ready to compete in  an event....... when he is ready to compete in an event. Horses not having a timetable, and being true to their feelings..... Taking my own medicine again.

Sometimes we are where we are, and on the road to where we want to be, but not quite there yet. I do know that taking a shortcut will occasionally work, but more often than not leads to a whole new place where you just don't want to go!

Next? Well, that depends on the weather! Today, the last day of my week off, it is white over with snow outside. I feel a podium day coming on!!!

Jay prepares for the floods

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  1. Andy Cooper

    I as you know have had the opportunity to watch a little of the progress over the last few weeks, it has actually been a joy to watch, it is sometimes comforting to see an expert have to work at it , get it wrong, find a way to put it right and try again along with the obvious fun of watching the likes of Jane teach who exudes enthusiasm and inspires! Loads of fun!

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