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  1. JackMarch has been a mixed month. We finally got to start jumping, and it felt FAB, but almost as soon as we started Sherlock just felt a bit “wrong”. Not lame, but “wrong”. You can imagine the shock/horror, we relaxed the work schedule, had treatments of daily massage, a magnet rug, arnica, TLC, and the visit of a Chiropractor.

    Now we are fine again, the cause being he was sore in his left SI joint, I suspect as a result of a slip on a ground pole when we lunged-jumped the day before he started to feel “off”. We are once more ready to step the work back up. I have realised that <BLOG_BREAK>as we kept him in some form of work we have actually increased the fitness without having to jump big fences, so we are not as far behind as I may have thought. The important thing is that it was a “minor”, Sherlock will be good as new.

    While our schedule has been more relaxed I have been looking forward and planning my America Trip 2010. Once again I will be travelling with friend and photographer Andy Cooper, and he will be recording big adventure. In doing this planning I went over the last trip, and made a big realisation.

    As a child I saw the images of the cowboys, and thought “Cowboys Are Cruel”. There were these beautiful horses, and they were ridden in big cowboy spurs and harsh curb bits. Sure looks cruel to me! Especially when you would see the cowboys on the films, and they would kick their horses into a standing start gallop, then pull them to a sliding stop with their heads in the air. Proof, they have these big bits and spurs, and the horses look to be in pain.

    Then I started to go on these trips to America, and I rode horses on clinics in Western Saddles, and western bridles. I found the saddles to be very heavy and solid to ride in, and I learned that if you dropped a rein, it would end up on the floor as they are split reins (in case cattle get their feet caught up in the English style reins). In these clinics though the horses I rode were in snaffle bits, and they went well in a soft contact, on the bit,  did  lateral work and jumped (although apparently not all of them had done this before- and the horn on the front of the Western saddle was a bit inconvenient at times!), and we even practiced flying lead changes.

    When I got home I was asked what it was like to “Ride Western” and I thought about it. I certainly felt like I had “Ridden Western”, the horses were quarter horses, or Mustangs, they had Western Saddles and Bridles, Heck, I had even rounded up cattle, driven them and penned them up, that’s “Riding Western” isn’t it????? So, I thought about it and all I could tell people was that “Riding Western” was very much like “Riding English” but with different tack! Oh yes, I had done more one handed riding, but other than that it was like riding obliging, well schooled English horses. They were relaxed and responsive, but not so "different" than I was used to. I guess it was like riding English, with added softness! I do know now that those horses did more, the surprise addition of a slide stop one day was the hint to that, but I just did not see it at the time.

    Last year I did a clinic with Lee Hop, who was introduced to me by good friend Cordy Coupland. Lee is a Farrier by trade, but he is also a Bona Fide Cowboy! Lee and I did a two day clinic, co-training under the banner of “Good Horsemanship is Universal” to compare the similarities and differences in English and Western styles of riding. Lee has never had a lesson in his life, he has learned Western Riding from the generations of Ranch Workers and their families that he has worked with. I, on the other hand have come from a background of no Equestrianism, and so have been schooled in a more formal way, until I had enough knowledge to go out and experiment for myself. The clinic format was a GOOD idea, Lee providing the Western input, and me with the English input.

    I was, however, just a little worried when I met Lee. I know that Cordy really rated him, and she values and loves her horses, she is knowledgeable, so I guess that anyone who she recommends would be OK, BUT Lee was a COWBOY! And, from a young age I had formed the opinion that “Cowboys are Cruel”!!!

    It was so funny when I first spoke to Lee, it was more like speaking to a brother, we had so many of the same ideas with horses. We put it different ways, but I was relieved that our philosophies on horses and training were so similar. Hmmm, I thought, this might just be OK. Big spurs and curb bits notwithstanding!

    The morning of the clinic arrived, and Lee brought two horses. Clinicians in America do seem to do most of their teaching from horseback, and Lee was loaning me one of his horses so we could teach the group in the pasture. Both of Lee’s horses were big, over 16hands, and they looked spirited. Lee hoisted on the Western saddles, his other horse was tacked up in the usual long shank curb bit, but on my horse “Jack” I asked if I could use my own Western Bridle that Lee and Cordy had given to me as a fantastic present the night before. This bridle was fitted up with a snaffle bit ready for Sherlock. Lee said  that Jack had not been ridden in a snaffle bit for many years, but that does not mean that he will not be OK with it, and yes, I could use whatever bridle I liked.              

    I went to get on, and Lee asked if I was not wearing spurs. No, I don’t tend to use them as a matter of course. Lee looked surprised, but was fine with everything, so I had 20 minutes before the clinic to start  to get a feel for Jack.

    We rode out onto the pasture, just on a loose rein at first, and I started circles and bends to loosen up and get Jack’s attention on me and not the other horses who were still being tacked up by the barn. The sun was hot already, the western saddle hard and unyielding compared to an English one. I had a water bottle hung from the horn, the heat and an altitude of over 8,000 feet takes its toll, particularly if you are not well hydrated.

    We moved into trot, Jack stepped forwards willingly, and I took up a contact. Jack stops again. Again to trot, contact and stop again. Lee calls over, tells me that Jack has NEVER been ridden on a contact.  Not that he doesn’t want me to try, just so I am aware of where Jack is coming from. I think “what? Never ridden on a contact in his LIFE???”. Now THAT is different to what I have experienced when I have “Ridden Western” before!

    Well Jack, on this trip I am primarily there to teach. We are doing a combined clinic and I am here to provide the English input. So, it would help me if you could learn to “Go English” quicksticks, in case I have to demonstrate something. Now, we need to go forwards. We go back to trot, and on the circles, bit by bit, I pick Jack up, using the bends and curves to explain what I want. Jack tries everything he can think of to provide a full release from the contact. Above the bridle, behind the bridle, slow down. He is confused. But at the same time he is telling me more about “Riding Western” than anyone could have explained to me. You see Jack did not once offer to harden himself to the bit. No “grabbing” or tensing, none of his strength or force used against me.

    Well, maybe he wouldn’t use his force against me if he was scared of a big curb bit in his mouth? No, it did not feel like that at all. Jack was not scared. If a horse is scared he may be light in the bit, but he will also be tense in his back and unable to think. Jack was free in his mind, calm and confident to try various solutions. Soon Jack found it pleased me to take the contact forwards in a soft way. Within 15 minutes we had achieved “Long and Low”. Now he had found the correct response and he would hold a soft contact so I could start to ride him up into it.

    You know within half an hour of getting on, this magnificent horse had changed himself from a horse ridden in no contact to a horse which could win Dressage competitions! We were just completing a credible Shoulder-in, three tracks, relaxed, bending through the body, when Lee rode up. It was nearly time for the clinic to start, the participants had started to walk their horses out to the pasture. Before we turned the microphones on though, Lee watched the Shoulder-in, and said they did something sort of similar, but he had never seen Jack do anything like THAT before! I asked to see what they did, and one handed, no pressure, Lee had his horse walking on the angle up the pasture. It was not a “Shoulder-in” but it was sideways, soft, active.

    And then we started the clinic! Microphones on! The clinic was fantastic, fun in the sun, learning and laughter. There are still photos from this great time on http://www.andycooper.fotopic.net/c1737789.html.

    On the second day I got to play some with Jack while the participants were tacking up. Sliding stops from a hand gallop to halt, no pulling. If Jack lifted his head some it was just to balance himself as his bum slid under. Mostly he did not lift his head at all! On the second day we all went for a ride in the forest. We did a flat out gallop through the trees, roots and stumps all around, the ground was uneven. By now I trusted Jack and Lee’s training of him, and I rode on and had a ball! A big beautiful, athletic horse doing well what he was trained to do. I felt very privileged. Galloping on this rough ground on a horse that could find his own balance, with no contact.

    I watched Lee during this clinic, a real life cowboy with big spurs and a big curb bit on his horse. There was no cruelty, it was a picture of two souls working together to get the job done. It was energy and softness. But no contact! I also saw in Lee the pride for his horses. I guess I would also say I saw love for his horses, although I bet he would deny that! But I don’t know..... The entire time his horses were confident and relaxed.

    In English riding there are good riders and bad, so the same must be true of Cowboys. I also know that I thought that I had “Ridden Western”, but that I had not. Nor have I still. There is a whole something, a big lot of something, that Lee had put into his horses that I do not yet understand.

    Last night I spoke to Lee on the phone, and asked about writing this blog. He said that in his experience sometimes giving people a snaffle bit is almost like giving them permission to hold and pull on the horse’s mouth. A curb bit ensures that you stay relaxed. I found that although what he said made sense as far as it went, my knowledge of just how he creates such balanced horses with no contact is so lacking that an explanation on the telephone alone will not help me to “get it”.

    We fly back out in June. This time I will make time to learn more about how to “Ride Western”, to train horses the “Western Way”, what it really means. I will be doing another combined "Western and English" clinic with Lee Hop, only this time I will be scrutinising and questioning all that Lee does! What a fantastic opportunity, to actually co-train with him.
    I also hope to go and see another Cowboy that Cordy is working with, who is a Cowboy born and raised and he also competes in cutting competitions. Cordy has sent me a fantastic link to a video of him training one of his horses to cut, just click on http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o2tX8Ebos8s. The video is just fantastic to see that even when involved in such precise, accurate and athletic work, there really is NO contact.
    I know that I am so fortunate have the possibility of the opportunity to learn something from both of these talented trainers, something that could help me hugely. Combining a Western start with a horse, and then bringing on into the “English” contact- now I could see great advantages in that. And I do LOVE learning!





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