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  1. Sherls in snowSnow, snow and more snow. It makes it challenging to keep the horses healthy and <BLOG_BREAK> sane. Sherlock and Charlie are very different characters. Sherlock has a very active personality, he needs to know who is in charge, and if you don’t step up to the job, then he is quite happy to take charge for you. Charlie is a whole lot more laid back, he is happy to be off work for a long time, and you can hop onto his back and go for a nice ride, and the worst you will get is a bit of jogging. With Sherlock, he has no malice but he likes no grey areas either, he is better off either in work, or out of work on a turnout regime.

    That is where we are this winter, Charlie in a bit of fun work, Sherlock on arena turnout as the fields are out of action October to May. No horse of mine has ever had a day purely in the stable. They are either worked or turned out daily, no exceptions, it is one of my “things”.

    This month we have had the snow. The arena has  frozen solid, I am mostly working during the daylight, and I have two horses to keep sane. This week has been educational for both me and Sherlock, as I have had to think on how to structure his mental workouts as he will quite quickly get a handful if he is not occupied. What I have found is that it is not only his physical exercise that needs work. As long as he has reduced feed and  is walked in hand for 20 minutes- ½ an hour each day that does seem to keep his body ticking over, but not his mind. What has worked for us has been small “mental challenges” that I have set for him.

    Take today, all is frozen, and we have just a small area of the yard suitable for walking on. So, we have him out, groomed, booted, and we walk. But not just walk. We play too, firstly we play at “shadows”. When I walk, he walks. When I stop, he stops. And, if he oversteps his mark he is reversed up and corrected. For this to work as an exercise, ALL of my attention has to be on this job. Fresh out of the stable Sherlock is wanting to look over at the road for something more exciting to occupy him. The exercise HAS to matter to me so that it will matter to him. He has a bit of a strop when he is first reversed into place, but I am not angry or frustrated by this, I am too busy concentrating on having his feet EXACTLY where they should be, and as it is so important to me he soon joins me in the quest for perfection.

    It is SUCH a different feel when this happens. Sherlock loses the high head carriage and taut muscles, he lowers his head and feels almost submissive. His muscles are soft, and he is mentally concentrating. We only have this small area not covered in ice, so I up the stakes by bringing out an old doormat, but I suppose an old towel would do the job equally well. We now work on having Sherlock walk to the doormat and step on it with one foot. At first there is some “to-ing and fro-ing”, he again needs his focus bringing to the task in hand, then we are there, a foot on the mat. Big rubs on his neck and we walk away from the “puzzle” although I think he knows he has done well simply by the delight in my voice!

    Hmm, next task, BOTH front feet on the mat simultaneously. This takes more doing, I am very aware to use my hand on the halter as a SIGNAL to Sherlock for what I want rather than using it to bodily MOVE him into position. That would be a case of me becoming “task orientated” rather than seeing the truer benefit of each part of the exercise in communication and focus. The first time for this was slow! Sherlock was not “scared” of the mat, so one foot on was not a problem, but the other foot kept stepping OVER the mat, rather than joining its partner ON the mat. I have found that Sherlock will not find the answer while he is “locked out” on me, that is when his head is high, maybe a defiant shake of his head. The real “play” is in finding how to soften the whole outlook, so he can understand.

    Soon both front feet were on, big pats, delighted voice and a walk around the yard. A couple of repeats and Sherlock is almost saying “OK, I get it, feet on the mat, got it”.

    Hmmm, the front feet are sorted, how about the BACK feet? Oh dear, THIS has not computed! The back feet take longer than the front ones did, Sherlock manages to find frustration again when he realises that what WAS the answer is no longer the WHOLE answer, as we start each exercise with the front feet, the move on to do the back feet. We go sideways, too far forwards, resist the reverse backwards. My job is to not join him in his frustration, but to explain the task to the best of my ability and allow him to work it out. I find the frustration occurs in him if he is told that he has not found the right answer too often, so I break the problem down into manageable “bits”, like at first it is “right” to just step a small way off the mat. And when the first back foot makes it square on the mat you would think he had just won the Grand National, delight and a walk around the yard.

    We repeat this quite a few times until we can come to the side of the mat even, and side pass onto it. That did take some doing on my behalf, I had to realise that in forward motion Sherlock is quite confident. He is OK about back too, it is in sideways that Sherlock does not seem so confident, and tends to go too far, or if I am too demanding he locks up and actually comes back INTO the pressure. This is a good exercise in concentration and observation for me, and very bond building for the two of us.

    Once we have done this a few times Sherlock and I are both exhausted, just as if we had completed a difficult schooling session! He has been exercised in a very small area geographically, as that is the only safe area we have to work in. Sherlock goes back into his stable happy and relaxed, his mind fully exercised, and he is feeling submissive and I think protected and cared for. This is because today his mother was a leader!

    Other times this week we have been in this situation, we have worked on various exercises. For example Sherlock is not keen on having his beard trimmed, so we have worked on that, mentally exercised without even leaving the stable! The one cautionary note I would give is that if the horse is “phobic” about any particular task then the time he is in a heightened mental state by enforced rest is not the time to work on this! So, we work on tasks that I believe I am not being “greedy” in asking for.

    There is more I can do. This afternoon Sherlock had his rug off while the day was at its warmest and he had a massage and a thorough groom. I WOULD have done some “carrot stretches” but actually Sherlock is a bit TOO competitive with those, I have found that food is best kept OUT of his training environment. I guess if this icy weather continues I COULD work on devising a way for the carrot stretches to be initiated by some reward other than FOOD!

    I have spoken to other people in this time of bad weather, dark evenings and ice on the floor, and people all round report that their horses take on a different persona. I believe that it is not only the reduced exercise that does this, it is also the need for having a firm leader. For example how many of us get home late at night and fetch the horses in from their turn out area, and allow little “misdemeanours” when leading that we would not normally allow, but because it is cold/raining/late we allow a little bit to slip, like jogging, barging pulling on the rope. I believe that the horses soon feel less settled with us when we do not expect consistent behaviour OF them, they see that as us being inconsistent WITH them. And an inconsistent leader is not a strong leader, and horses with spirit like Sherlock see that as a reason for them to become the leaders themselves.

    Personally I have found this “down time” a fertile ground for finding out more about Sherlock and myself, our relationship and power dynamic. And all that from having to lead in hand for half an hour! Or I COULD have chosen to just walk around for half an hour, cursing the weather conditions.

  2. Out with the old- In with the new!

      ruth santaWell, its the end of 2009, and what a year that has been. Teaching and helping so many people, some working at their relationship <BLOG_BREAK> with their horses, some wrestling with the demons within, and finding that once confronted those demons were not real after all! Some people moving on competitively and some happy now to hack out, enjoying time with their horses.

    There was the American clinic, thanks to Cordy and Lee for making that so “Alive”, a wonderful experience. Thanks to Andy for being there, photographing and blazing on his own journey, and to Giles for being there with his support.

    It has been a FAB year with Sherlock, a real journey for both of us. From 3 years off to Sherlock’s own competitive journey, with 5 placings out of 11 British Eventing starts, and a win in his final event.  That year can be seen by this link http://www.upbeatequestrian.co.uk/sherlocksdiaries.html

    Next year? Well, Sherlock threw a splint at the end of the season, he was just a little sore, so had the required 6 weeks off, then the ground froze, and it still is frozen! I am due to go to Las Vegas with my mother at the start of January, we are meeting up with Cordy and Lee if we can arrange it (burning fires of inspiration for the 2010 clinics!), so I have decided to leave bringing Sherlock back into work until after I get back. Then he will have light schooling and road work to get fit, after that back into training.

    Next year we hope to do just a few pre-novice events before upgrading to Novice events, now THAT will be exciting! There will be a lot of training, and for the extra effort at that level we will take it all a bit more seriously, for example hiring the Northern Racing College Gallops, so we can do faster work without straining or concussing Sherlock’s legs. I do love that facility, the good ground and the white “Racecourse” fencing allows me to be off in a flight of fancy, I am Frankie Dettori, training the Derby winner, obviously!

    As for the grey Charlie Horse, he may be in for an exciting 2010 too! Charlie is 15 years old now, and I retired him from eventing when he was 9 years old, as he did not seem to enjoy the cross country. He will jump anything unless he cannot see the ground on  landing side. Then he has to slow right down, and when he can see the landing he will jump. This tactic worked for Charlie at Intro and Pre Novice level, he often won a numnah! However, when we upgraded him to Novice the jump was just too wide to be jumped if he slowed down for a look, we did lots of training, including hunting and team chasing to “light the fire in his belly” for cross country, but no, it did not work. I could ORDER him to jump the jump, and we did get around a couple of Novice courses, but neither he or I enjoyed it so we stopped.

    Charlie retired sound, and has messed around a bit with some dressage and Show Jumping since, and David (my husband), and good friend Andy have been riding him too. Well, this year they would both like to start training towards doing a BE Intro Event.

    Andy has done 2 dressage competitions, and also a couple of Show Jumping competitions, up to 85 cm, but as yet has not done any cross country other than to escort me with Amber and Sherlock when we have been training. David has done 3 dressage competitions, and was even placed in one. David has not yet, however, learned to jump! Two years ago he started, and got to trot at a cross pole or two, but, no jumping since. So, lots of learning for David and Andy!

    On 21 March the real “Dog Whisperer” Cesar Millan is coming to Sheffield Arena, and Andy has kindly bought his wife Lorraine and I a ticket. I am SO looking forward to this, Cesar has much the same ideas of leadership and fairness with dogs as I feel is right with horses. I don’t know his work well, but intend to go with an open and enquiring mind to Learn Learn Learn!

    The “America 2010 Clinic” is set for June, watch this space for details when they become available. It amazes me how Lee and I, from such different backgrounds, have such similar thoughts on training horses. It is good to see how the experiences may be wildly different,  but as Lee says “Good Horsemanship Is Universal”.  

    At some point I am going for a Car Rally Driving Day, and I look forwards in trepidation to this! It will be a whole new set of skills to try, to put me out of my “comfort zone”, and probably to scare me half witless! I Love new experiences, a chance to “feel alive” and practice observing what is happening.

  3. Sherlock\\\\Hi, Christmas Day 2009, and no presents as yet as David is at work this morning. So, time for a leisurely coffee and to visit my web site, and maybe even learn to use this blog page!
     
    This page will take the place of the very popular "Sherlock's <BLOG_BREAK> diaries"  page, but the past exploits of Sherlock will still be available here.....
     
     
    I am continuing working on the UK Coaching Certificate level 3 qualification, not because I "need" any more "qualifications", it is because learning more about how to help people is fascinating to me. The emphasis is on helping people to access their own resources to learn rather than relying on me to "instruct" (although anyone watching me help Andy warm up for Dressage last week would agree that I have retained the ability to "INSTRUCT"!!! See photos on http://www.facebook.com/home.php?ref=home#/photo.php?pid=447007&id=1352978090).
     
    Later this morning Charlie and I are participating in the Legendary Sykehouse Christmas Ride, thank you to Di and Russ from Sykehouse Arena for organising that. So, a group ride out, laughter with friends, a glass of something warming at the pub, and hopefully Charlie will see me safely home! (Newsflash, this was FAB- see pictures on http://www.facebook.com/home.php?ref=home#/album.php?aid=26387&id=1352978090 )
     
    I will take this opportunity to wish all clients and friends a very Merry Christmas and a happy, fun 2010!

 


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