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  1. Dancing in the snowSnow, snow and more snow. I seem to have spent a lot of this week shovelling.
    While the snow was very bad Sherlock was a model citizen and just strolled around. Today he decided that <BLOG_BREAK>the snow is only half as deep as it was and enough was enough, and he needed to move his body! Snow without shoes has proved much better than with, and I have just fetched him in safe and sound. Some days he plays a whole lot more, but than I have to decide video or still camera, and I do like Photos!
    I have a mix of both photos and video, and Sherlock dancing for us as opposed to us dancing around him. I made a music video of Sherlock dancing in the snow, click the link below. Enjoy!
    When the snow was at it's worst we had controlled exercise, for last year's blog comment on the games Sherlock and I play to keep each other sane in these conditions, click on the link below.
    I also have a link to a set of three training videos that you may like to look at if you are inside and unable to ride. I found them interesting and well explained, from connecting the horse, to the walk, to suppling the horse. Click on the link below....
    The link works at the moment, but it is a time limited opportunity to see the videos for free.
    I am studying my home study for the NLP, and am finding it hard going. The material is full of big words that I don't know (yes, I know, that sounds like a joke, but it is not, there really are a lot of big words that I don't know!) and it is teaching me to no panic when I feel overawed by the subject matter.
    A few years ago I did a similar coaching workshop at the BHS HQ at Stoneleigh, and in that workshop we covered a lot of the techniques. That course was very much practical based, with someone showing us how to do the technique in a live situation and then we did the technique, under supervision, also live. I found that course fun, effective and easy to do, as I do not seem to have stage fright in that way and I connected with the material in a practical setting.
    I have a load of reading material and CDs to cover at present, and it is not proving "fun" to me at the moment. I am, however, being kind to myself and giving myself points for persistance. The course ends with a 7 day practical element, which I think I will find fun, but meanwhile.......
    Other than that I am using the "snow time" to work on my Tango Dancing again. As I promised myself, I have started to take private lessons so I can avoid the confusion and disorientation I felt in a class for beginners. I am treating myself to a learning experience that feels good, rather than berating myself for not feeling good in a class situation. Treating myself feels good!



    This update is following a “comment” to this blog, see the comment in the "comments" section below.


    .........Thanks Gail. The promise of the 7 day practical element is what is keeping me going!

     I started this Practitioner course as I already know some of the benefits of NLP. The biggest way it has affected me personally so far is by listening to how I speak to myself. I found that in the past I was quite rude and destructive to myself, eg, I would say to myself "Aaaagh I am so STUPID" if I made a mistake. It was through some NLP training that I learned to be more specific but less personal when I made a mistake, such as "Oh, I did not recognise that I had so much tension in my right hand, I will monitor this in the future and see how that affects Sherlock".

    It is because the NLP that I have done has made such a difference to me, and finding that my experience then translates to recognise when people that I teach are also being hard on themselves and to be able to help them with that, that I am so keen to learn more.

    I have chosen a training provider who I have spoken to and trust. The NLP course and practitioner qualification itself is not an equestrian based thing, but this provider is basing the 7 day element at an equestrian centre so we can practice the practical elements with fears/ blocks/ phobias that are equine based. It will also probably mean that the other people taking the course are interested in equestrianism, I would imagine a fair few will also be professional trainers. Meeting with other professional trainers is always fun, a hotbed of learning all of its own.

    The disappointment that I have had has been with the generic material, some of which rubs up against my ethics. I have actually been a little disappointed to see just how easily we, as humans, can have our minds “bent” by clever timing and words, I guess I always thought I was more of an independent thinker than that.

    I am concerned that it is possible to “remove” fear. I prefer to examine the fear to see what our inner guidance is actually telling us. Often that is something that has been blown out of proportion, and by seeing where fears came from we can rationally put them to bed, sometimes when we examine them there is actually something that we need to attend to for our own safety. Both of these are, indeed, covered in NLP, but also covered is the ability to just shrink fear away, which I think used wrongly could be a dangerous tool.

    The other ethical thing that has really quite affected me is the section on selling. Learning the ways that sales people know to bend your mind and will to sell you something. As I said this course is not equine based, and the information is the same that someone in sales would learn. And it is powerful. And I am not sure that I like to have that much information on how to bend someone’s thinking. The good part of this is that it is making me more aware of how I do affect other people, and I know I will only use the information ethically.

    The 7 day practical element will be fun and exciting I think, because I will be working with a firm that I trust, and it will be concentrating on how to help people. Helping people with real live blocks to learning, real concerns, and hopefully making real progress. Now that is worth spending hours learning the stuff that does not thrill me quite so much.

    Thank you for your comment Gail, it has made me think some more, see the bigger picture, and I am actually looking forward to picking up a book today.

  2. Charlie's Barrell This month Charlie has been a little star. He has not been in much work, other than to stroll around the lanes, for a few years now. But, needs must, and we had a play with some jumping. Arn't old horses great? I decided to see if Charlie would jump a single barrell, full size and upright. I saw it done on a lecture demo a few years back. Well, Charlie did <BLOG_BREAK>not disappoint, he is so obliging and honest. We used guide poles to explain the exercise, then took the poles away and Charles did a leap of faith. Stunning! He is also taking full responsibility on our ride and lead expiditions. 
    Sherlock continues to make good progress without his shoes, he is walking out for half an hour three times a week, and ridden in the school at walk too, we are almost ready to start some trot work.
    I had a few requests for advice re clipping lately, and I thought it would be good to put up a link to Sherlock's Clipping Diary. It is from 2008 when Sherlock did not like clipping. We spent two weeks playing at it, and he has been good at clipping ever since. Last year we went straight for a full clip, legs off, and just half a face on. All in 2 hours, no fuss, no upset. Plus we clip his heels and topknot every few weeks year round.
    This is not really a "how to", it is just what Sherlock and I worked out with each other.
    To read the clipping diary, follow this link.....
    Full clip 2009The photo shown is the new, improved clip from 2009. Looks good to me!
    The "Your Horse Live" expo was fantastic, I saw 5 demonstrations, any one of which I would have travelled to see on it's own. A wonderful day of horses.
    Also new, I am currently studying NLP in order to become an NLP practicioner, hopefully in January 2011. NLP, short for Neuro Linguistic Programming, is a way to help people reframe their experiences using a variety of techniques, so your mind is working with you, not against.  It is not primarily equine based, but as horses pick up on our inner thoughts, it makes sense to be more aware of what is being transmitted to them! The techniques can also help with fears, although my basis for teaching remains to trust that if you have a fear there is something to be learned from this, not to simply ignore the fear. I have been interested in NLP for about 5 years, and have studied it informally, but this course includes practical and tested elements, plus a recognised qualification if I am successful.
    I am having fun learning about the human unconcious mind, and seeing parrallels with how the horse operates. For example our unconcious mind sees all, even what we do not conciously know about. For instance we can recollect details under hypnosis that we can't just by thinking with our concious mind, recollect things we did not even conciously know we knew. This see-all conciousness does remind me of the way a horse is aware, as humans we focus on things far better than we are aware of a wider surrounding, whereas horses see more around them, especially things that have changed since the last time they saw the same area.
    I also like the idea that our unconcious mind does not process negatives. For instance if I say to you "don't think of a blue tree" the first thing your unconcious mind will do is conjure up an image of a blue tree, before your concious mind can counteract that. And even then we cannot "concentrate" on not thinking of a blue tree, instead we have to concentrate on something else to banish the blue tree. I believe this is also true with horses, for instance if we are riding and think "don't buck" or "don't shy" I believe the horses pick up on the "buck" and "shy" part first, and only when we have put counter measures in place do we avoid these actions. Much better to tell the horse what we DO want them to do, directing positively, like walk forward to here, or trot actively with even steps. .
    Our unconcious mind needs repetition until a habit is formed, I guess that reminds me of the requirement for consistent training of the horse. It also enjoys serving, and feels happy when there are clear orders to follow. Hmmm, sound familiar? Also the unconcious mind is programmed to seek more and more, well that seems familiar to me too with horses, ever thought about a horse that if you give him an inch they will take a mile? Not in a bad way, but if you let a behaviour slip, like pushing into your space (to play with zips, search for food etc) horses are wired to see just how far they can go.
    I have also looked at how we can play with language. For instance suggesting an idea to someone with a sentence involving presuppositions. Say a salesman is trying to sell you a car, and he asks "would you like the red or the blue paintwork?" his question sugggests to your mind that you are in fact having the car, the only question is in the colour of the paintwork. Or ask a child "would you like to go to bed at 7.30pm or 8.00pm" suggests to the child that they are, in fact, going to bed, done deal. By asking which detail you are having to the concious mind, then the unconcious mind is presupposing that the other thing is happening, the only question is in the detailing. 
    Now, I KNOW I use this technique in training horses to accept "scary" nuisances. This happened recently with a horse that a client was introducing to various scary things in a school, with the intention of firstly having the horse, a young inexperienced mare, less spooky to strange sights and sounds, but also so the client could learn to work with the horse when they were presented with anything strange while they were out hacking. Also just for building understanding and a partnership.
    We firstly worked the horse so she was in a "thinking" state of mind, we worked on transitions, and in the detail of the transition so the horse was working with a lowered head and slow feet (this is as opposed to high, tense head carriage and fast, "flight" feet).
    We then introduced some obstacles into the school. The owner of the horse believed, as I think most people would, that the best and correct thing to do would be to stop work and let the horse watch the obstacles be laid out, so she could see them. I work on the idea that if we do that then we are drawing attention to the POSSIBILITY that the obstacles are scary, we are in effect asking the horse to make a judgement. Instead the rider rode the horse as before, concentrating on the quality of the transitions, by concentrating on the details, the horse never questioned that we were still going over HERE, the negotiation was in the size and speed of the steps, and the quality of the transitions, not in the acceptance of the toys. 
    I do allow the horse to look at the obstacles, but to glance at them rather than GAWP!  Because we have some mighty important transitions going on here.
    We did not force the horse over to the obstacles, she merely worked around the circles and school figures. At the end we wanted to clear the school, and again we made the negotiating point be that the horse followed behind the rider, and as she collected the obstacles the horse was not invited in to play, the point was that the rider was busy collecting (as in MY toys, not yours) while the horse was busy staying at her elbow or behind. She collected flags, a tarpaulin, bin lid-cymbols, an umbrella, all carried while the horse stayed at her elbow.
    The little mare did great, working around and collecting up the obstacles as if she had worked with them all of her life. I believe that if we had actually presented the obstacles as a "problem" for the horse to "decide" about then the acclimitising would have taken longer, and would have been more dramatic. By giving the horse the choices involved in the details of the perfect transition or the perfect follow, the horse just accepted, or pre-supposed, that the toys were safe.
    Horses and the unconcious mind, hmmm, I can see some parallels already.
  3. Rally SchoolLast weekend I went on my rally driving day, to a Rally School in South Wales.

    I have driven cars, including professionally, in many different circumstances, and 20 odd years ago my training even included instruction on a skid pan to learn to control spins in both front and rear wheel drive cars. This rally driving day was to revisit this and be an “experience”, I actually wanted to just plain have fun.

    So, as soon as we arrived I was given an explanation of how to stay safe on a rally stage, in very greasy ground conditions. We started with a briefing, how to read maps, how to go sideways<BLOG_BREAK>, and the owner of the school, Phil Price, explained that not many cars are rear wheel drive these days, but sideways is safer and fun, and as novices rear wheel drive is easier to achieve that, so we would spend most of the day whizzing round the practice area in Mk 2 Escorts as they are so fun. We could also practice in his red Subaru, which is 4 wheel drive, but biased towards the rear wheels, but apparently that is not half so much fun.

    Hmmm, sideways is safer? Not sure I get that! Most of my initial professional driver training was on how to control a skid, but that was in order to bring the car “back under control”, as in to stop the skid! This man seemed to be telling me that he wanted me to learn to flick the car from one direction to another, staying in a sideways skid all of the time. He even showed a video of a Rally accident, and he broke the accident down so we could see that while the car was sideways it was safe, but when the driver went to change bend (that is the equine term, not sure of the Rally equivalent!) the wheels became straight, the wheels got grip, then when he lost the grip again he was off the track and crashed.

    I left the briefing open to the idea, but still a bit puzzled that I was going to learn to get the car to slide, and then not try to recapture the equilibrium. Hmmm.

    The rally school has two training areas, the one where we drove the Escorts was a flattish area,  surrounded by tyres to make a safe haven. There was also a rally stage on the hill, which most of the Rally Teams use to fine tune their cars, this included big drops and trees, to lose control in this area would not be so safe! In the afternoon, having been trained on sideways, I was to do the rally stage in the Subaru, yes, me driving.

    We spent most of the morning in the rear wheel drive escorts, learning to go sideways. Not really knowing what to expect, I set off with gusto, as I did not wish to look as if I was out doing my weekly shopping! In this mud that meant that I was soon sliding. As soon as I was in a skid I watched in amazement as my hands started to do a dance on the steering wheel, like they were controlled by someone else, and I was, as they say, steering into the skid, and soon we were out of the skid and around the corner, once more composed.

    I was actually feeling pretty pleased about this, watching my dancing hands, repeating a skill that I have not practiced for 20 years, and I did not even have to think about it. Then the instructor started to teach me, no, they did not want me to control the skid in that way, I was to keep skidding, and control the turn by the pressing of the accelerator. More power = more offset skidding, less power = less offset skidding, but I was not to allow the car to straighten  up entirely.

    After a while I could drift around the corner, but I was still doing too much with my steering wheel apparently, I should be controlling the car more from the back end, less with my hands. Hmm, is this starting to sound familiar equine-wise?????

    One by one we were taken out to tour the rally stage hill at a steady speed, to learn to read the terrain. Hill? No, it looked more like a mountain to me, a slippery, slidey, rock and tree and drop infested DANGEROUS road. Ya want me to practice my sideways on THAT???

    Lunch next, and contemplation at the task ahead.

    After lunch more practice at sideways on the mud, practicing with gusto and concentration as one at a time Phil took us out in the Red Subaru to go on the circuit. He has a completely dual control car, two wheels and everything, he uses it to train foreigners so the wheel is on the correct side for them, and also so we novices can get up some speed, and if we are about to leave the mountain he can bring it back under control.  

    I LOVED the practice area, learning a new skill, but HATED the rally stage! Here was I, next to a man I don’t know, with helmets and a microphone, being told, 60Left, tightening to 100, whilst wrestling a car sideways, trying to work out what on earth he means, which I do know, only it takes a moment to process. And I was having to drive faster than I can see, which I hate. I really hate the crests, where he says it is 45 Right, but I can’t see a thing, and I did commit the sin of not trusting and slowing down! Hey, I have only been doing this sideways thing for a few hours, the mountain side thing seemed just a step or two too soon. With more time I would have loved it I think, but not just at that moment!

    Twice the man had to save me from the mountain, he really can wrestle the wheel. I think I kept allowing the car to be “true”, as in how I would like it driving on the road. At times I did look as if I was out doing my shopping, particularly on the steep, slippery downhill.

    After we had all driven on the mountain Phil got out his Blue Subaru, and gave demo drives with clients in the passenger seat. I gave my spot to David, and Andy had a spot too. That car does not seem to touch the floor much when Phil drives it! I thought David and Andy would be underwhelmed, but I was wrong. Apparently Phil takes car control to a new level, they were....... er...... “gobsmacked” would not be too strong a word for it. I could see it from the viewing area, the car set off from a standstill, and from then on it drifted on its way, like it was on a carpet of air, sideways like a hover craft. But totally, but totally in control.

    Hmmm, something to learn here, I asked the instructor in the practice area to drive a demo drive for me, so I could feel that feeling in the safe area, in a car where I would have time and the trainer to get it right. Oh yes, when the trainer got the car to move, it sang. Even an aged Ford Escort, flicking from side to side. I took the wheel with a new set of expectations, kind of imprinted the feeling in my mind and then went for the drift.

    I got it a time or two. The BEST bit was when there was a sustained bend, I could drift around it, with the wheels not needing much adjustment, and I could have the car offset more with a tickle of the accelerator. Then, Off the power, as soon as the car was straightening, just ¼ of a turn from the wheel, and a tickle of power and the car slides from offset to the right to offset to the left, in one smooth movement, no moment of straight traction, and again I was drifting round the opposite bend smoothly.

    It started to become a familiar feeling, passing power from one side to the other, controlling the speed by the angle of the car.

    On the hill earlier when I was driving the Subaru, we were told to be very careful with the brakes, they are set up with most of the braking to the rear, and downhill you don’t have much weight on the rear, so the brakes don’t work well. When I watched Phil drive down the hill he had huge speed, but also a tight turn at the bottom, and he could not brake hard. Instead he offset the car, drifted down the scary hill sideways, even though the hill was fairly straight, and used the special Rally tyres to brake him using the edges of the tyres. He had shown us the special tyres earlier, they have strong tyre walls with ridges especially for sideways drift braking. Coming down the hill in this way the engine was still engaged, he was still driving forwards, and the turn came easily as he was already set up for it. Hmmm, that is sounding a bit familiar equine wise as well.

    Its funny, when I went Tango Dancing I was expecting to learn something to help me in my understanding of the horse/human relationship. In my blog last month I said how I did indeed find that. In this car driving I was not expecting to learn some about horses. Two people dancing, that is about two beings tuning in and working together like horse and rider, but a car? No, that is just a machine, I was not expecting to learn about tuning in to a horse by driving a car. But now, in my contemplations of that day I realise I was wrong, and also that in the dancing I missed something.

    When the car drifts and I am controlling it by the use of the engine then it feels funny, like I am tuned in. It feels different than when all of the wheels have traction. In fact, in the driving conditions we had that day, it felt more PONDEROUS to have traction, and there were more possibilities open to me when we were in a controlled drift.

    This feels to me to be kind of similar to when a horse is working “on” or “off” the bit. Some people think that “working on the bit” relates to where the horse’s head is and how much contact you hold, but to me there is a whole different feel to it. Driving that car helped me realise that it may be more to do with the tuning in, the being poised, in fact the feeling that the possibility of movement in any direction is open to me.

    Hmmm, I had that feel in the dancing too. When we swapped partners and “took the stance” if we just stood it felt heavy, and I had no idea which direction we would move off in. Some partners started with a forwards step, some a backwards, some a step to my right, but we did not discuss it, we had to “follow”. But if we just stood heavy on the floor it was impossible for me, there was no “connection” even though our hands may be touching, and we had a hand on the other’s shoulder. There was no movement in the other, nothing to “follow”.

    As a pure novice I actually needed a big movement to tune in to my partner, we did this by starting a sway as soon as the music started. It was so big a sway you could see it, but it put us “with” our partner, raised our energy, tuned us in, and made any direction a possibility for me to follow.

    With the car too, when it is driving normally, forwards is available, but sideways is not. It is a completely different feel when the wheels lose some of their traction, sideways is a possibility, the power and energy is there to be used and guided.

    So I feel it with the horses too. When you get on a horse and walk it around without engagement, the energy is not contained, and the horse feels flat. As I walk along the canter, or a side pass, or a pirouette, are not available. When the horse is worked “on the bit” and with the energy collected it can then be immediately be guided wherever I wish. I can stop on a dime, turn on the rear end, move sideways, diagonally, increase speed. Everything is available and open to me.

    “On the bit” is not such a good way to name this feel to me. In America, with the cutting horses, they had this “available energy” feeling and there was absolutely NO contact on the bit at all, but the horse and I were working from our cores. I wonder if “From the Core” would be a better expression to use?

    Looking at horses, take a downward transition, say from canter to walk. An experienced rider has the horse working from the core, to transition the horse will lower the quarters and “sit”, staying engaged, and ready for any possibility when in walk, such as to canter again, to go sideways. Hmmm, sounds like that rally car down the hill, sitting down still when Phil was slowing down with the engine still engaged......

    But the take the horse, maybe with a less experienced rider doing the canter to walk transition, if the rider and horse are not connected and moving from their core, then the horse will weight the front end to stop (hmmm, like the rally car with me driving!), the stop will take longer, and even when the walk has been achieved the weight is all scattered, and there are few possibilities open.

    I guess it’s also just like the novice dancer (me!), where often my mind is in my feet, deciding where they have to go, I am unable to “follow”. Whereas in the few fleeting moments where I “got it” I was holding myself higher, moving from my core, all possibilities are open to me and “following” is suddenly possible.

    I always presumed that this feel was unique to the balance between two living beings, I was not expecting to find it with a car! I guess that was short sighted, just look at a world class gymnast, when they move they too have all available options open to them, they are athletic. But maybe, just maybe, when they first get out of bed after a hard day, just maybe they too walk looking just a little earthbound? Like the horse with an unbalanced rider. When performing they too are working “from the core”. They do not need to interact with another living being to do this, it is from inside themselves.

    Such different experiences, the very differences leave one thought clear to me. For “that feeling”, that “equine-on-the-bit” or that “Rally-drifting” or that “Tango-one-ness” there is a common thread. It is not about flat energy. It is about accepting the energy and movement, embracing and directing it, not seeking to truncate it.

    I have heard myself say that with horses a time or two, like when Sherlock first went to competition, he had energy and it could not be “turned off”, but when softly directed we came together and magic was possible. I have also noticed that sometimes, with an inexperienced rider, the first time they feel a horse "working from it's core" or "on the bit" they just don't like it. There is too much of a feeling of power, and to direct all that power can initially make people feel overawed. Like me initially trying to "correct" the drift, back to a "safer" feel.

    I also noticed with the car how I physically reacted. The driving was good for me as I have few preconceived ideas on how “well” I should do on drifting around a corner. Until the morning briefing I did not even realise that drifting was good, I thought I should “control” and “stop” it!  I could monitor that at first my left leg was braced and tense, funny as we did not use the clutch once when we were out on the circuit. No, that was me not being relaxed, and that leg was pretty tense and sore before I even  realised what I was doing. The sore leg reminded me to check my breathing, and yes, I was holding my breath. “Tuning in” is a substantial thing once you have it, but it is a very insubstantial thing to chase! I can’t just internally think “RELAX” and expect that to happen!

    I found with this driving experience that I did best to just notice that it had happened, smile at myself, then move onto another thought. Once I was truly absorbed in feeling for the balance of the car, then we were doing the drifting and flicking, and the breathing just came.

    Wow, so much to think about from a blast of a day!

    Sherlock continues with his rest time, daily turnout, and a three times a week ride-and lead. His feet look great. Is he sound? I don’t know, he looks to be walking OK, but I have not yet trotted him up. There is time yet.....

      Ride and Lead


    What next? Well, next weekend I am off to the "Your Horse Live" exhibition. See http://www.yourhorse.co.uk/your-horse-live-2010/ for details. A day of horsey heaven, demos, experts, horses and shopping. Maybe I will see you there?

  4. Opening doors 

    One of my favourite saying is

    When one door closes, another always opens.

    But that is only half the story. And on its own the saying is pretty hollow. The full saying has more though....

    When one door closes, another always opens. But most people spend so long looking at the door that has just closed that they miss the one that is now open.

    Well, with Sherlock off the road it certainly feels like a door has closed, and it has

  5. SherlockThis last month or so the thought “Responsibility” has been a recurring theme.

    Our season was going well really, the first two events felt fantastic, we came second in both. Then when we were warming up for the dressage on the third event it felt like Sherlock faltered in his stride, and then <BLOG_BREAK>he was just slightly lame. We walked around a bit as we were due in, and he seemed OK so we rode our test. For most of it he was OK, but there were just a few strides that were not. Our score of 34 reflected that our test was a bit “off”, I was expecting a sub-30 score, he was not “lame” but he was not “right”.

    I put Sherlock away and was going to withdraw, but when he came out for Show Jumping he felt fine, I decided he had probably just trodden on a stone, and in fact did an OK round, see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q0A9GO6zGUE  . The jumping was OK for that time, it was just the scary flowers that had fallen off a jump that jumped out and scared him! The cross country was fantastic, he felt strong.

    He seemed fine after this day, so we went ahead and entered our first Novice, at Aston Le Walls. Wow, Show Jumping up to 1.15m. Again he felt a bit off in the dressage, the ground was a bit hard, and we did not score well. He seemed OK, so we went on to do OK Show Jumping. On the XC he felt a little surprised at the added difficulty, and we made an error early on, but the further we went the better it felt, we grew up together as we went along.

    After this event Sherlock did not feel comfortable, but we had a visit from the Chiropractor, and he went completely sound after this. So, enter Sommerford BE100 class, a bit lower in height so we can see how we feel.

    Sherlock felt sound, had a flap at the scary bushes at the entrance to the dressage, jumped OK (see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tLGs4kDqSVU ), and the XC was good too. We then went on to do a couple of BSJA Discoveries ( see Port Royal http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9EKviLurjhg&feature=related and Sykehouse http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3Hlwv_mcfqk&feature=related , and all seemed well.

    But I knew that it was not.

    Just occasionally Sherlock was dropping a stride or two in his warm-up. Never quite lame, but not right either. Not enough to analyse. I had already entered another Novice at Llanymynech. Just to be sure Sherlock would be comfortable we had another chiropractor appointment, which made Sherlock completely sound and we went.

    Dressage was great, we had a 28.5. The ground was a bit firm though, and when we came to warm up for the Show Jumping he was not lame, but he felt a bit flat. The show jumping was not good, Sherlock and I resisted each other  and the picture was not harmonious. We did complete the event, and the cross country was the best we ever have done, the Novice course felt easy, it was smooth, powerful, and the water jump was quite the stiffest I have seen at Novice level.

    Novice water
    Sherlock had a few days off, and the chiropractor, and I set to work at the issue of not “being harmonious” and in fact had the pleasure of watching a seminar given by an Olympic Dressage rider. The thing I most realised from watching the sessions was that I was recognising that our canter was not “good enough” and was then riding extra hard to “make” the canter better. I was not setting Sherlock up to “allow” the better work and then leaving him to it. I was trying to take all of the responsibility, and was then doing too much, setting up tension. I worked in our schooling field on asking for the canter, slowing it down, and leaving it as Sherlock’s responsibility to keep whatever canter I set. I could “help” him to re-balance, I could “ask” for more speed, or less speed, or more impulsion, but once I had given the direction, then I had to stay still again and hand the responsibility to Sherlock to keep it.

    Not that Sherlock always got it right, in fact at the start he often did not. When he did not get it right, I just asked him to do it different than he had just done. It all felt so calm, and yes, “harmonious” and I was doing far less, and then I was sitting better with no tension, and you know, when I was not “at him” all the time Sherlock could actually “hear” what I was saying when I did say something! Hmmmm, I think I wrote about that with one of the top Show Jumpers in a previous blog, that he said very little to his horse, he just made corrections when necessary, and how he was so relaxed (including in his face!), but when he did have something to say the horse knew to really listen as the rider was not giving “white noise” all of the time.

    I did a session in the school over small jumps, and when we are both relaxed it feels as though Sherlock “unlocks” his back, and then he can really move, and I don’t feel that we need to fight.

    You know I was really looking forward to our next two events, one BE100 regional final to hopefully qualify for the Grassroots final at Badminton 2011, and a Novice at Oasby. I was feeling pretty confident about both, truth be told!

    After this Sherlock did just one more schooling jumping competition, where again he was not lame, but he was obviously to me not comfortable. It just showed in resistance, and stiffness, and crookedness. I know that these are difficult as they present as schooling issues, but I cannot seem to erase the issues, yet when he has a chiropractor appointment they melt away. I called the Chiropractor, previously she had recommended to keep working Sherlock as we adjusted him, to strengthen him up, but on this occasion she was more guarded, yes she could probably make him “sound” again, but she felt that his chiropractic issues were probably secondary to another problem, that we may be masking.

    I decided to be quick now to “take responsibility” for Sherlock’s welfare. He was not “lame”, and with a chiropractic treatment he would again be “comfortable” so we could compete. But now, with the possibility that we could be doing damage to an unknown injury I had to pull the plug. I took Sherlock out of work. We visited the Farrier, and he could find no issue in his “external” feet.

    I called the vet. I actually called a vet that is a specialist in diagnostics of horses who are not performing, but who are not “lame”. I had to admit that if I fetched Sherlock to him them he would probably trot up sound. He would probably lunge sound too. He would drop the odd stride when changing rein when warming up, other than that he was working quite crooked, but he was not “lame” in the accepted sense.

    The vet explained that in order to diagnose Sherlock he would need more. We could do diagnostic nerve blocks, but he would have to be consistently short striding to know when we had found the spot, so we could X ray, find a problem, then know how to treat it. I would have to work Sherlock hard enough to produce a lameness, so we could know how to treat the lameness.

    Then followed the worst week I have had since owning Sherlock, deliberately making him lame. I had studied him this season and I know that he feels less comfortable when he is shod, when he wears studs, and when he is concussed. The simplest way to have him lame seemed to be to trot on the roads, which is not something that I generally do.

    If anyone else knows a better way that I could have handled this then I would like to know so I could do better next time. I rode him at trot right round the village once, and he was not comfortable and I hated it. I did not want him to think that I could not recognise when he was not comfortable, or even worse he might think that I did not care. I hated that idea so much that for the rest of the time I did “ride and lead” riding either a pedal bike or Charlie so I did not have to ride Sherlock, but he could trot.
    The bike was funny. Sherlock has never liked bikes, I don't think he understands them, people just float along, that's not right! I knew he would not initially "be good" as he would not understand the brevity of the situation. I was right, his attention was elsewhere, he knocked me clean off the bike, then he scared himself, and pulled back, and I was on my backside with the bike ontop of me so I could not get up, and that scared him too, and then he felt the force of my energy that we WILL do this, and he realised its importance, and then he stood still while I got extracted from the situation, and sorted the bike back out. Then he really concentrated on what this new trick was, and he was brilliant, trotting along with a slack rope, realising the importance of keeping his nose level with my elbow. What a horse!
    By the end of it Sherlock was still pretty sound on the flat, but a bit “off” on a circle, enough to diagnose anyway.
    The upshot of the vets visit was that Sherlock has a problem in his coffin joint area, but the x rays of his navicular and coffin bones/joint are perfectly clear. So, he has a soft tissue injury, possibly his collateral ligament.
    Sherlock had had 3 years in a field when he arrived, and I did be SO careful with fittening him up, we started with a lot of steady walking and it must have been 6 months before we did any hard work. Even so he was little “off” at the end of last season, which cured itself when he was off with all the ice and snow. Again I was so careful to get him fit correctly, starting with straight line walking, and moving on slowly, even so, this year  he did just two events and was “off” again. I am betting that this little "off-ness" problem may be recurrent for our future if I do not radically change something in our management.

    The vets are quite positive, even for a return to eventing next year. We have injected into the coffin joint with steroids, Sherlock has had his shoes removed, and  is currently on box rest with a 20  minute walk out in hand every day. In fact we all enjoyed the “ride and lead” with Charlie that we are doing this as a daily feature. I don’t know why, but “ride and lead” always seems to make people smile.

     I did used to do a lot of ride and lead as a teenager- I was paid to keep half the livery yard fit, and this was just a good way to do it. I used to go out for 2 hours a pair, and some rides were in suburbia, and some rides were in the open where we would do 20 minutes of canter at a time. One time in a suburban ride I can remember a little girl of about 10 years old, who loudly exclaimed “Its not FAIR, I haven’t got a horse and SHE has TWO, and she isn’t even riding one of them!!!”

    For one of our early morning “ride and lead” adventures see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GRt5qPzZ4X8&playnext=1&videos=mXg_SO2z5LQ&feature=mfu_in_order

    I have decided to make the new Barefoot Sherlock a long term thing. I know that when he is shod this is a trigger for him to be uncomfortable, despite the fact that my farrier is amazingly fantastic. Barefoot would remove this shoeing trigger point. Studs is another trigger- now with no shoes there will be no studs! Concussion is the third trigger, well, with no shoes the foot is able to expand at the heels as nature intended, the frog and digital cushion come into play, and the concussion is reduced, some say by up to 70%

     I am also finding foot care to be fascinating. My wonderful farrier is quite prepared to help me learn to shape Sherlock’s feet myself, which is permitted for your own horse, and to back me up as I learn.

    So far we have done 3 weeks of regular 20 minute roadwork, at least 2 out of 3 days, and Sherlock’s feet are looking fantastic. We have our first farrier check-up tomorrow. Sherlock is sound again already. We have another  2 weeks of this regime before we start to make Sherlock’s life more interesting again. Then- well Who Knows?

    I have decided not to “mask” whatever is happening with Sherlock. The lameness is so slight, and has cleared up so quickly I am sure a lot of people would not be so worried. I think it is because this little horse has really invested his heart in ME, that I feel it is my responsibility to do my best for HIM. Even if that works out that we no longer event. I think it may mean a different, barefoot way, of managing his work. But who knows, if I feel he would be better off with shoes then he can have shoes!
    On a more lighthearted note....

    I have a video I have listed as “private” on youtube, it is my mum trying to entertain a poorly Sherlock while he is on box rest.




    I put it as private as she is, in fact, still in her dressing gown, so if that bothers you, don't watch it!  It is a fantastic video of my seventy something mother doing what she can to make a situation better, and showing that she knows how to have fun!!!


    Made me smile anyway!


    Ruth. Xx.


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