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  1. JJ in bedAfter my last Blog I have had people contact me asking how the lesson went and what I am doing next, so for this blog I will add day by day as to what we are doing.
    Saturday 21 May- My lesson! JJ had the <BLOG_BREAK>morning in the field, then loaded up just fine, and travelled silently. He was just a little excited when he arrived, but nothing detrimental, just keen to get on with the job, and also to meet whatever horses were at the new yard. I like Selina's yard as it is fully enclosed and gated, with an indoor school to aid in our concentration for this, our first outing.
    Selina liked JJ, he was good the entire lesson, and jumped with enthuseasm. We only jumped a few jumps, 16 in total I think, but even though they were not big JJ makes me laugh out loud as he bounces along. To my surprise he was quiet as quiet could be, obedient and relaxed. We could have done a lot more, but hey, this was our first outing, and, as I say, I like to have a history of little successes to build confidence, and today was a success.
    Sunday 22 May- I was teaching today so JJ started the day turned out. Gosh windy? It was gale force! I had intended to ride out as we worked in a school yesterday, but with the high winds I chose to ride in my own school. Hmmmm, well, the fancy gizmo tack has got to come off sometime, so we did today's session in a dressage saddle and a simple bridle, with a loose ring snaffle and plain loose noseband.
    JJ is funny when schooing, you could say he really has no enthuseasm for the job. He is obedient, but does not have that alive feel like when he is jumping. I need to think my way around this, I would like for JJ to enjoy this experience, not least because I like schooling and I would like for him to enjoy it too.
    I decided that JJ's physical ability was in advance of his emotional ability to school. It is funny I have recently come accross two situations where people have wished they were further on than they were with their own abilities. We have had a discussion and it is clear that to make progress then firstly you have to see and accept where you are. I have discribed the ideal frame of mind as being happy with where you are at, but keen to improve. If I try to hide where we are with our schooling and press on regardless then JJ will not develop. Oh, I dare say I could develop his physical abilities, but unless he enjoys the dance then it will always be lacklustre.
    So, I am sitting on JJ, walking around my school, and I decide to look objectively at where we are at. I decide that JJ does not move forwards off my leg, in a warmup that is the very first thing I ask for (other than to stand still while I get on!), and really, it is not wholehearted. Hmmmm, wholehearted, I have come accross that word with JJ before. Oh yes, approaching a fence, he is wholehearted. But lungeing, oh no, as I said in my last blog he was not, he preferred to shorten his topline and did not move forward with engagement. This is what is missing in his ridden school work too.
    I guess it is hard to install a sense of purpose to walking in the school if the horse does not really see the point. Also, with JJ I experimented and found that when asked to go forwards, in an outline, he became less relaxed. So, we are at JJ being reticent to go forwards, and this is a horse that is fit and athletic, with huge energy. I started to just ask JJ forwards with a touch of my leg. When he did I did not attempt to keep an outline, the ONLY emphasis was on forwards. We built forwards wave on wave, with me asking for more just before the last wave of increased walk died.
    After a few minutes we were walking, and I mean swinging along. As soon as I asked for him to relax his neck with my reins then that seemed to create some tension, so I would re-establish the walk swinging and ask for just a little bit of contact to be accepted. It got better.
    For this session I finished with just a little trot, again on a very relaxed contact. I know I could have got a more "correct" look, more "on the bit", but I did not ask for this. I have broken it right down to just asking for a response from "forwards". It is almost like JJ "gets" the "forwards", but when you ask for some flexion then he thinks "slow" again, like he does not move his body through. And you can get over this with more leg, but then he seems to lose some of the enjoyment.
    This session was just 20 minutes long, mostly at walk. I guess to have him enjoy what he currectly sees as a pointless task then short sessions will be the way to go.
    I must have enjoyed this playing on the school (even though the wind at times was so strong I was actually bracing myself just to stay upright in the saddle!), as afterwards I cleaned ALL my tack, swept the tack room, grooming bay and hay store. I guess that is me investing in my new horse!
    Monday 23 May- Today I am going to dance Tango this evening after work, for the first time since I saw JJ. Gosh, I had been dancing 3 times a week, but since JJ I have been so occupied, I find having a new horse so emotionally draining. I look forward to dancing as it is only a week until I go to America, leaving David with JJ. So, today JJ will be out in his field, and that will be that.
    This is the end of JJ's first week. To say that he came as "quirky", so far he has not been at all quirky. In fact he has been spookily quiet. I would venture to say he has actually been the easiest horse I have had for the first week in a new home. I always regard "spookily quiet" horses with some suspicion though, I actually prefer a little more feedback on where they are at mentally so they do not suddenly wake up and take me by surprise.
    Still, I can hardly complain that the horse has not put a foot wrong!
    Oh, I have twice seen how he can "wake up", both times have been in his stable when he has heard something strange, and on those occasions I have actually heard his heart pounding from outside the stable as he has "made like a statue". The only other things I would like to investigate are his teeth, as he has been dropping some feed. He does not ride like he has any tooth pain, but I would like to check it out. Also I have booked the chiropractor. JJ has always been sound, but in the morning he seems a little stiff, and I would like that looked at too. I don't think there is any major problem, as he is so athletic when jumping, he has never done an uneven step. Its just the routine manintenence, I just like to check it out.
    Ha Ha, I went out to turn JJ out and found he had gone back to bed for 40 winks. And, when I went out he did not get up, he just looked at me. I even went back and got the camera and took a photo, in fact that photo will become the "blog photo". It seems like JJ is feeling very comfortable in his new home with his new mum.
    In fact we will have learned a lot about each other. I have learned that JJ is friendly and affectionate. He loves his mirror. He hates it if I drop his front feet when I have picked them out, he prefers them to be lowered gently to the floor. I learned that he macerates his poohs into his bed so I can't find them. I also know he does many small poohs, unlike sherlock who did few poohs but they looked like elephant poohs! I learned that he was in beautiful condition when he came, but it was a fit and lean condition, and even in this week he has "filled out". I must confess that both Sherlock and Charlie were overweight, and I will have to watch that JJ does not got he same way. I learned that JJ likes sugar beet in his feed, but does not like garlic. I learned that he drinks a lot of water in the day, but not at night.
    All of these things are important to know so I can monitor any differences, pick up any potential problem, before it becomes a real problem.
    Monday evening now, and my Tango lesson was cancelled. So, I came home and JJ and I went out to our canter field. I could tell that he did not do much "work" yesterday, plus it is again very windy. We tacked up and went out, and had a lovely time. JJ stood well as I dismounted to open the gate, both on the way in and out of the field, and even stood for me to re-mount both times. Because he felt fresh I did a fair bit of trot before we cantered. We looked at the barking dog, and the man with the lawnmower, but it was all OK, he just looked, offered to react, and took my advice when I asked him to keep his attention and his movement forwards. 
    Tuesday- Hey, I thought the weather forecasters said this wind was going to drop??? Another very blustery morning, and today we have booked to go and ride at Sykehouse Arena. It is only just down the road, so we ride over, and spend a bit of time socialising with Di and Julie. Then, to work.
    The yard area at Sykehouse is quite sheltered, and as we walked down the car park to the small arena we got the full force of the wind. Russ had been putting jumps out for the BS Show tomorrow, and JJ was very nosey to see the course being built. In fact I decided that he was looking for something to jump at, so I directed his attention forwards again. Then, he saw the HORSES, a small herd of horses in the big field, and  he became on high alert, and.....just at that moment.....der de der der.... a chain rattled against the fence and took JJ by surprise. One second we were facing one way, then next we were not. That was it. No fuss, no running off, no buck or rear, no real upset. I turned to the original direction, he was walking as if he was also crouching because SOMETHING had been scary and he did not know what, so I asked him to get on with the job, and we went smartly into the arena, and started work.
    The work was better than before, more forwards. I would like to think that was my schooling, but I suspect the new surroundings, the high winds, the jumps, and the possible presence of an unknown scary chink-ey thing was the real cause of the extra energy. But, don't look a gift horse in the mouth, we did some nice work, in fact I made up a dressage test and rode it.
    After his work JJ was relaxed, even in the high winds. I am learning that when he relaxes he blows his nose. We walked around the arena on the buckle end, scary monsters forgotten.
    I did not have much time before work, but as we were having fun I did walk JJ off round the short block. By the end of this, on the quiet lane, we were on the buckle end, swinging along and relaxed. JJ also met what I suspect would be his very first bunch of balloons tied to the neighbour's gate. Three bunches waving in the wind in fact. He showed polite interest, and strolled on by. Champion.
    JJ is now out in his field munching away. Happy horse!
    Wednesday 25 May- Today JJ went to his first show with me! It was a lovely sunny morning, and Sykehouse Arena had a BS Affilliated show, but before that they do a 80cm Clear Round class.
    I actually had not jumped a full course of fences on JJ before, but, again, I hear what I have said to other people coming full circle back to myself. Entering a show does not make it compulsory to DO anything! It just gives you permission to go into the collecting ring, if you would like to. And then, at the appointed time, to go into the arena. And even if you choose to do so then you don't HAVE to jump any jumps. You could just have a trot or canter round then go out again!
    As I am at work this afternoon we were at the show as it started, and there were actually only two other competitors there. They were still tacking up as we warmed up, and even after we had finished there were no other competitors mounted. So, it was low key! But, Hey, I was in the fancy white jodhpurs and blue jacket, we were dressed to party!
    JJ was lazy if anything! I had taken the precaution of doing 20 minutes on ground work and lungeing before we left home. In fact I did some static turns around the forehand to see if we can start to work on that lazy left hing leg he has shown. Again he moves it a lot better when he is warmed up.
    In the collecting ring we did a walk/ trot/ canter and when we trotted at the first fence JJ was so lazy and flat-footed he knocked it down- our first knock down ever! My mother had to fix the fence, then we roused ourselves into some form of action, and cantered a few fences in the collecting ring. JJ was fine, a little flat in his stride, but beautifully behaved, C'ome on JJ WAKE UP!
    Once in the main arena we did a lap of canter in each direction, had a bit of a look at the banners, but in a very mannerly way, and started. JJ is FAB in front of a fence, keen and bouncy. But around the edges he cruises in a rather lazy way, I think I am going to have to learn to use my leg some.
    We were clear, JJ gives a really good feel, he found 80 cm VERY easy, even with a new mummy on board. We got a rosette, our first, I chose a blue one!
    JJ is now grazing in his field, and I need to rush and get changed for work.
    Thursday 26 May 2011- A big day planned today, and it turned out to be not a big day at all! This morning JJ had his teeth done by the horse- dentist. There were some sharp edges which were taken off and JJ was just as good as gold. I choose my horse dentist by how good he is at handling the horse as much as anything else, most crucially he gives the horse a break BEFORE he gets upset and "naughty".
    Some people wait until the horse gets stressed then give it a break. They insdvertantly teach the horse that if he "plays up" then the nasty procedure will stop. This dentist is a horseman, and he started with very short bits of work, even at first just feeling around then resting, before JJ was upset. This teaches the horse that to make the unpleasant stuff stop then he just has to stand still. As this idea is reinforced then the amount of "work" can be extended. and the horse will stand good as gold, as he knows that this is how to make the unpleasant work stop.
    After this JJ was turned out, while I went and did some teaching!
    In ther afternoon we had a short ride on the school again. David tooks some photos. Again I find JJ a bit "one paced". He has a trot, and if you try to change it then he gets a bit confused, and starts to "go slow". He disconnects. We only stayed on the school 20 minutes or so, and as before the emphasis was on "forwards" with bit by bit picking up some contact. JJ is a bit "downhill" at present, but until he can stay connected whilst going forard into a contact then I am not in a position to correct this.
    I still do not feel that I have truly got a handle on his lack of interest in schooling, but short and cheerful sessions are a good start either way.
    JJ in a snaffle bridle!
    Straight from here and JJ was whisked into his lorry to visit the farrier. Gary absolutely loves JJ's feet! They look wonderful, and were wonderfully shod. JJ himself was great to load, travel, and at the farrier's itself. He tied up, he tried to undo the farrier's velcro on his chaps, he tried to unpack the tool box. He was bright and clever and interested, and VERY well behaved!
    Just a couple of times he showed the unusual way he has at stepping his foot under his body. But, he is sound, as ever.
    Back home JJ showed how relaxed he is, while I was tying up his haynet, he was rolling! He then got up and did his other side. JJ sure does like to roll!
    Friday 27 May- Gosh, JJ knows how to engratiate himself with his mother! I have just today to do one last shift at work, then I am off on holiday to go to America, and today's shift is quite an early one.
    I went out to feed JJ his breakfast, and found him still curled up in bed, and when he saw me he looked pleased, but he did not get up. When I went in to get his breakfast dish he reached his pretty face over to me, and I went over and sat with him for a kiss and a fuss. Even though it was breakfast time he wanted 5 minutes with me. What a lovely horse! All of my horses have liked a cuddle in bed, but this is the first one who is willing to delay breakfast to do so!
    JJ spent the majority of the day in his field, he is now accustomed to the grass, and there is already a bit less of it, so we are finding an equlibrium.
    This evening I wanted to take JJ for a canter in our field in preperation for tomorrow, ehen we are going for our first spin cross country. I know that the last time JJ saw XC jumps he got somewhat overwrought,  and I wish to do all I can to prepare him so this time we just have a nice time! Even though JJ did not do much work yesterday I felt confident to try him out and about in "normal" tack rather than his usual collection of gizmos and gadgets, as we have been on the field twice already, and he has been great. We even wore the dressage saddle, and I wanted to see if we could get it together in a field a bit more with our schooling rather than the dis-interest I feel in the sand school.
    I could feel that JJ was a little more reactive than when he has been hard at work, but he was very good, and contained himself. We had a fab time, and even had a "schooling breakthrough". JJ was indeed more forward. We had better work. I cannot decide if that is because he was fresher generally or if he just finds playing in a field more interesting than playing in a sand school. It could be that at the moment JJ finds engaging his bum in circling, bringing one hind leg under more to take the weight, and also in plain engagement because I have asked for it, maybe both at once is too much. He can either do nice circles, or engage a bit more.
    Who knows the answer? But right now I know I have found a little keyhole to unlock some better work. Plus, we both had fun, and that is the whole point. Playing out
    Saturday 28 May- Today was XC day. JJ was turned out while I did some teaching, then before we went I took the precaution of lungeing him. I was glad I did, in fact, as he certainly had some excess energy that I was glad he used whilst harmlessly circling the school!
    As ever JJ loaded and travelled well, and he was great to tack up and mount. I guess in the past 2 weeks he has had 4 lorry trips, so it is a routine we have made together. I was even glad to see that he drank some water on the lorry, just a sip, but I am always happier when they drink.
    We started our XC schooling with a hack around the Osberton Estate. When we started there were some other horses in the car park, that were loading up after their lesson, and I was pleased to see that JJ left them cheerfully. We had a nice trot up a sweeping grassy hillside, and then did some of the wooded tracks. Finally we went to a schooling field, where someone else was finishing their lesson.
    As we rounded the corner JJ stopped suddenly, and I smiled at him. I often find that I repeat lessons I have given to other people back to myself, and this was one of those times. I have recently discussed with someone what to do if your horse stops and refuses to move. You have to make a value judgement, weather to kick and insist the horse moves as it is being nappy, or weather to be a bit more sympathetic and give the horse a minute to compose his thoughts.
    If you allow a horse that is just being nappy to stand and wait then the nappyness will get worse, but if you kick forwards a horse that is genuinely startled then you may get an explosion that is more than you bargained for.
    What I look for is weather I feel the horse has stopped because of "treacle feet" or "electro magnet" feet. A nappy horse feels like it is wading through treacle as it slows down, and needs kicking on. A genuinely startled horse feels more as if the world just became a giant electro magnet, and the feet are suddenly, sharply and firmly fixed to the floor. To move them the horse has to soften until the feet are free.
    JJ had electro magnet feet, we were still at such a distance that I am not sure he could work out that it was, in fact, just a grey horse cantering through the trees. After about 20 seconde he worked it out, sighed, and was ready to go back to work.
    We walked down to near the schooling area, and did some trot warm-up. When the other horse left we went to the schooling area and joined Mark Cavell, who was giving the lesson. I had talked to him on the phone already, and explained that JJ can get overwrought easily, and that for our first XC schooling session we just wanted a "nice time". No fancy fences, just to get the feel of working together, in the open, and by the end of the session to jump a small course of XC fences in a rhythm, through the woods.
    As the other horse went out of sight JJ was a bit fidgety, but I just directed him into some walk circles as we talked, and soon the other horse was forgotten. 
    The session went just as planned, we had fun, jumped some fences, nothing over 75cm, no fancy fences. To finish we strung together a small course of 7 fences, and the last 2 were downhill then uphill, and JJ was so excited I went up the last hill wearing his tail like a hat! I did not know I had bought an arab horse (!). 
    We finished and I went to hack back across the estate to my lorry. We were swinging along and all was well when suddenly JJ heard something in the hedge, and leaped forwards. Gosh, JJ is Sooooooo athletic. Have you ever seen the trick when a table cloth is pulled so quickly and sharply off a table that the table cloth leaves the table, but all the plates and cutlery stay there? Well, that was me! JJ was away from under me, and I felt the saddle leave me, and I could visualise that in another split second I was going to actually be sitting on JJ's rump, so I took a huge pull on his reins to help me find the saddle again.
    I found the saddle and immediatly loosed the reins again, but I thought to myself, if JJ was going to rear, then now would be the time. And.........he walked on, and stayed walking as I sorted myself out with the correct complement of a rein in each hand and a stirrup on each foot again!
    JJ had not been "naughty". He had just been startled. There was no follow up. He waited for me. But, I realise that with THAT speed and athleticism, he will at some point have me off! But, when he does then that will be my fault for not keeping up, he has shown no ill manner or malice. 
    We were soon back at the box, once more walking on a loose rein, and JJ was excellent, he tied to the box while I untacked and washed him off. I had travelled on my own, and I could easily manage him. He is a very cooperative horse.
    Yet again JJ has been a superstar! 
    Hey, I found a series of 3 videos that are good to watch, the first is on http://equisense.squarespace.com/video-1/ .
    They are time limited, but available right now. They are about contact, the seat, and sitting the trot. The lady is very "all American" and watching someone on an "equiciser" is just bizarre, but there is some good information.
    Sunday 29 May- Today JJ looked even stiffer than normal, which surprised me as we did not do THAT much yesterday. I even took a video of his funny movement to show the chiropractor tomorrow. However, he was in high spirits, and as we left the stable for a hack out he did the biggest, deepest cat stretch I ever did see a horse do.
    I mounted up and went to do our yard gate mounted for the first time. JJ parked up, and I unlatched the gate, but, silly me, I sould have realised that as he cannot cross his hing legs under easily, he also cannot do a turn on the forehand to open the gate. He did not do anything worng, other than not be able to step through but I don't want to push him until he has been Chiropractor'ed, so I dismounted, did the gate, remounted and went for our ride.
    JJ was fresh, but was a real gent, I would not say he strolled around the village, he marched more like, but no shying, no bad behaviour. A couple of times he was taken unawares, like when a group of horses in a field leaped up from a lying down position to a trotting to see JJ position, but all he did was dip, pause, then continue to walk.
    I will be a lot happier when the chiropractor has been, as, so far JJ has proved the perfect horse temperamentally.
    Monday 29 May- Rain rain rain......I just got up early to go and do some schooling and it is really raining. So, I had an extra cup of coffee, and had time to have a look at my computer and I found this quote. It is about mounteneering, but it resonates with me.......
    “The pleasure of risk is in the control needed to ride it with assurance so that what appears dangerous to the outsider is, to the participant, simply a matter of intelligence, skill, intuition, coordination… in a word, experience. Climbing in particular is a paradoxically intellectual pastime, but with this difference: you have to think with your body. Every move has to be worked out in terms of playing chess with your body. If I make a mistake the consequences are immediate, obvious, embarrassing, and possibly painful. For a brief period I am directly responsible for my actions. In that beautiful, silent, world of mountains, it seems to me worth a little risk.” – A. Alvarez
    I like that. I have had people tell me I am brave (or stupid) for jumping some of the bigger fences I have, or for riding some of the horses with unhelpful behaviour patterns. The first line in particular says how I tackle this, I wait and think, and work out what I CAN do, and take it from there, with risk controlled to my satisfaction, and me feeling in control.
    I am really NOT brave. If I don't feel in control of the risk level, I don't do it!
    Then, JJ. He was in a really sweet mood today, despite the rain. We dressed for Dressage, and went in our school.
    JJ is still obsessed with his reflection in his stable mirror, well, now he has found that his good buddy also joins him on the school, in the reflection of the French Doors to the house! I let him pose to himself, he makes me laugh. When I decided it was time for work though, I was strict and posing was well and truly over for the session, and he had to pay attention.
    Yeah, we are making progress. The walk was more forward, with definate steps from the outset. At first he did try to come behind my leg, but he was more easily corrected, and while I was correcting him he just took the correction without the ears back and tension. Wow, BIG progress! In fact we did at least 15 minutes just celebrating the positive swinging walk, and improving the contact.
    JJ previously had a way of going that was nice, he was quiet in his mouth, which I do not want to change, and he drew the rein forward. But, here he was stuck. Today I realised that his stuck-ness was because he was not really giving and drawing forwards with all of his joints, he was dropping his head all in one piece from the withers downwards, giving a bit of a dead feel. Today we had various head carriages, on request, with all of his joints adjusting, and the feel was so much more "alive" with adjustment, but still with the quiet mouth.
    Nect we worked an his halt. I find that when I ask for halt JJ comes back against the contact (unless you have draw reins on, but for me that defeats the object). If I tried to fiddle for a contact then he came back even more, with ears back too, like he was confused.
    Hmmm, so I asked for a halt, then put my reins to a length where he could stand comfortably, but with a contact, and fixed my hands to the saddle so he could not pull them around and initiate an argument, like a pair of fairly generous side reins, and I just sat and left it with him while he felt his way around the problem, and as soon as he relaxed into that rein length I gave him the rein, and we walked off.
    This one is still a work in progress, but one thing I know with JJ is that he will be thinking about it!
    We just did a quiet trot on each rein too, again asking for him to stay in front of my leg, without just dropping his head and neck in one piece, asking for some more flexibility and adjustment.
    One thing I have left is any lateral flexion, I don't want to look at this until after he has been seen by the Chiropractor this evening, as I believe if he has difficulty stepping laterally under in the stable, then he will have difficulty ridden in the school too. This week I have asked him a few steps a day in-hand, and he has had some massage, other than that I have left well alone.
    JJ is now in the field, again happy as Larry!
    Evening time now.

    The chiropractor has just been to see JJ, and as I suspected there is a physical reason why he may not find engaging and lateral work easy, the same reason he has an abnormal way of doing his lateral turns in the stable.

    JJ is quite straight conformationally in his back leg, and because of this he is sometimes mechanically having difficulty in moving his stifle forwards and inwards. She thinks that if we strengthen the front of his leg (quads) then this will ease, to do this we are to do hill work (drat, we live in the “flatlands”), and also to do some ground poles so he has to really lift his leg up and forwards.

    Basically he needs to be stronger in this particular place before we try more engagement or lateral work, as, frankly, at the moment he would find it VERY difficult to do. He is good at pushing back to take off for a fence, but not strong to extend the hind limb forwards.

    JJ was a superstar to treat, at one point I had to assist by leaning on his back, at which point JJ took charge of holding the horse, with the lunge rein looped up in his mouth. Bless!

    I am packed ready to go to America in the morning, David has taken time off to look after “Horse and Home”. When I get back we have a lesson with Jane Bartle, a ride out somewhere new in the lorry, and we have just entered our first dressage competition.

    Even though JJ currently lacks engagement, his paces are still very nice, smooth and with swing. If he can hold himself together mentally I think we should score OK. Even if not, I hope we have a grand day out!
    Tuesday 31 May- Just been out and fed, will go and turn out in a moment then fly. I have enjoyed "blogging" about JJ's first two weeks, but I guess the "superblogging" is done now!
    It has been a better two weeks that I thought, I was expecting major bad behaviour as the horse has a history of this. I am sure he will go through a "stage" of this in due course, but, this first two weeks we have lunged, hacked, schooled, been for a SJ lesson, been to a show, been XC schooling, had his teeth, back, shoes done.
    I now know what may have been causing him a difficulty some aspects of his work, a possible explanation for the previous undesireable behaviour, and we have exercises to strenthen him to make his work easier.
    JJ has been a total supestar, he has been funny and kind. Full of Character, with no bad manners. Smart and intelligent, willing and  athletic. What a horse!
  2. Looking forward to JJs future I have found a new horse. A new partner, playmate, confidant,  my new legs and speed, a new being to join and run and jump and read and interact with. Meet Jay Jay, henceforth known as “JJ” as I am too lazy to type the lot out each time.

    Looking for a horse taught me some more “things” about myself. I guess the most startling thing was that <BLOG_BREAK>competitive success is not top of my agenda. I kind of knew that already, but I had it pointed out large and clear when selecting a horse. I have discovered that I like a horse to bring energy to the mix, to have a horse where there are some issues where the horse will not currently compromise, a problem for me to work on, a dance of will and understanding.

    I tried a fair few horses, all the ones I actually went to look at were quality animals that I would have been proud to own, but still, some actually had me make a decision of “no” in a very short space of time. I found that if the horse did not wish to engage with me, then I did not wish to engage  with him either. So, if the horse was disinterested in me then that was that. Also some horses physically just did not make me feel good, they were out too. I found that on some horses I felt like a raw novice rider, out of balance and out of time. That did not “do” it for me either.

    One horse in particular, it was just as I would have ordered, he was beautiful, he had some competition experience, he had a problem of sorts that I believe could have been easily overcome. He was smart, he jumped well, he was not too expensive. I felt competent when I rode him, in fact, he should have been perfect. As we left the yard I even told David that if it was instant success I wanted then this would be the horse for me. But, he was not. Oh, he was nice, and I even thought about going back again to see him in a different setting, like at a show venue. But it did not excite me THAT much to do so, and for me, that is just WRONG.

    That horse had a tough act to beat. I had already seen a horse that DID excite me. I advise people to take someone knowledgeable with them when they go and look at horses. I do this for other people and when I do I am the voice of reason. I can be objective, assess the horse for “faults” and see if the rider and horse are likely to be a harmonious match. For other people I can be objective and professional. For myself I go back to being an excited 14 year old with the chance of a new pony! I had picked my new horse “over the stable door” some three weeks before I actually got to ride him.


    While I tried horses I trawled the internet, asked friends, rang dealers, looked in Horse and Hound...... all the usual routes. I had also been recommended to see Vere Phillipps in Leicestershire. I was told that there would be a number of horses to view, and the facilities are fantastic, but most of all Vere has an eye for good horses, and for which horses will suit which person. So, we arrived and I described what I was looking for. We did a quick tour of the stables, during which I saw JJ over the stable door, and stopped to ask about him. I was informed that he could be difficult, and that I did not want him. I was a touch disappointed, but I was paying for Vere’s expertise as well as for a horse, so I duly continued and tried three nice horses, one of which I liked enough to arrange to come back and see once it had done a bit more work as it was a youngster just back in work after a winter off.

    At the end of the visit David and I went into Vere’s house to see some photos and videos of the horses, and as I watched the video a stunning horse came into the ring and started to jump round. Instant love, “Who is THAT? I LIKE him!”. I found that the stunning horse was none other than JJ in action. Wow, he jumps beautifully, active and buzzy but bouncy as a rubber ball. To my surprise Vere then told me that I had ridden the young horse that day really well, better than he thought I would, and having assessed me riding he thought I could ride JJ, and when I returned I would be able to try him.

    For the next 3 weeks I thought of little else, lovely red horse that I did not even know yet! I tried a few others too. I always think that trying horses should be fun, but when I am doing it, I hate it. Setting off each time in eager anticipation, and usually disappointed. Sometimes as soon as you see the horse over the stable door. Our cars clocked up some excessive mileage, and I felt the pinch from high diesel prices!

    FINALLY, the day to try JJ. One of the advantages of trying horses at Vere’s place is that if he doesn’t have anything suitable he will go to Ireland and find a horse or two to suit you, import it, and you can then try it with absolutely no obligation to buy. On my return I had 4 horses to try, one of which was the youngster I had tried last time, one was JJ, and the other two new horses selected in Ireland with me in mind.

    Of course I needed to try JJ first. If I had not then I would have not been trying the other horses wholeheartedly, I would have been comparing them to a dream, my dream of the perfect red horse.

    I approached JJ in the stable. After 3 weeks of waiting I was a little hasty for his liking though, and marched straight up to him. I found he felt a little crowded, and did a little withdraw, it was barely perceptible, but it was there. I slowed and relaxed, and he relaxed too, and I was there at his head. We looked at him in the stable, and then it was time to ride.

    JJ had a lot of tack on! In fact I would venture to say that he was wearing the most tack I have ever ridden a horse in. The deal with JJ was that I would ride him, and if Vere did not think I was up to it he would ask me to dismount, and that would be that. So, I zipped my mouth shut, and just rode! I was told that JJ does not like pressure, it can cause him to check out from his situation, so I rode smoothly and forward, asking just for walk, trot and canter. I knew I was doing OK on my “riding test” as Vere then removed some of the tack, so we were essentially in a snaffle bridle. I then did a bit of “work” as in some slight lateral feel to the work, some lengthening and shortening, all was well. I noted that JJ has a very quiet feel to him.

    Gosh, I was invited to JUMP! And, when I did, I laughed out loud, JJ is just FUN to jump. I got one jump VERY wrong, and he leaped us over, with just a short “bunny run” afterwards in protest. In fact there is a video of me trying JJ on http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cw67f4Z7VPw.
    Finally, for my test (to me it did feel that I was proving myself worthy of JJ, I had already decided that JJ was worthy to be my horse), I took him out hacking, on his own, on bin day, and to a field where we galloped. For some unknown reason, on JJ I felt competent, relaxed, in fact I felt like a child on a pony club pony, having fun. This is what it is all about to me.
    Ha, deal done. I tried JJ on the Wednesday, he was vetted on the Thursday, Funds cleared on the Friday, but it was Monday before I fetched him home. The photo is of his grand arrival.

    Arrival of JJ

    For the record JJ is 16hh, chestnut gelding, just 6 years old, he has not evented or dressaged (yet), but he has been and done some showjumping. In the main  he is easy, but when pressured or excited he can be sharp. Hence the large amount of tack. My problem will be that, in Eventing, the tack JJ is using is not legal even in the warmup areas. So, we will have to strip JJ bare of his tack, which will mean helping him to remain calm and confident in a variety of situations. Just up my street! Vere has done the majority of the work with him, but as an intelligent, energetic young horse JJ will doubtless feel it necessary to try me out at some stage.

    People have sometimes asked for advice on settling in a new horse, and it has been funny as this week I have heard my own words as I have advised myself! Before we set off to travel JJ back we had prepared his stable, a good shavings bed, water and a haylage net. This way if JJ should arrive home in an excited state we would be able to put him straight to bed to settle down. One extra that David had done for JJ though turned out to be a master stroke.

    I have kept two horses here on their own, but with both of those horses they started with company when they arrived, only living on their own once they were relaxed and settled on the yard. JJ, however, was leaving a busy yard, and coming straight living on his own in a strange environment. We had given this some thought, and I have heard that a stable mirror can offer some comfort to a horse on its own, so I bought a cheap one from Ebay! Just £9.99, it was like tough aluminium foil on a roll, and David fixed it up to some wooden board in his stable.

    JJ travelled well, offloaded like a gentleman, even posed for some photos. Then, he was stripped in the grooming parlour and put to bed. OH GOSH, he LOVES his mirror! He was straight over to it, consulting his reflection about his new situation. He went for some haylage, took a bite and went back to consult himself on his choice of food. He has continued every day, he poses in front of the mirror, pulls faces at the mirror, unfortunately he has even tried grooming the mirror, and the surface was not THAT tough, so it has marks on it now. In fact JJ loves the mirror so much we have ordered a much more expensive stainless steel one, that is optically like glass, so he can keep up with his new buddy!

    After a couple of hours to settle JJ was still looking a little anxious. From experience when horses have had a shot of adrenaline I have found that unless you give them an opportunity to move their bodies it can hang around and cause undesirable behaviour. So, I took JJ out, booted him up and took him onto our arena to lunge.

    Lungeing can be great, or a waste of time! A lot of people lunge fresh horses, but I have found that if you just chase the horse around you can end up with a very fit, and still fresh horse! A horse like JJ cannot be subdued by being tired, he needs to know where he is in life, as in I am the boss!

    Humans tend to show themselves as the leader by controlling the situation or opponents, we pin people down when fighting, we like to control. Horses are slightly different, they show themselves to be the leader by PUSHING, and having their counterpart driven away. So, lungeing can be done with a human mindset, with gadgets and tight circles controlling the horse, or with more a “horsie” slant, with the horse guided and “driven”.

    I very rarely lunge on a circle. We do circles, but I also drive the horse up and down the school. On this first lunge JJ was not really paying attention to me, he was more interested in looking at his surroundings, with his legs akimbo, and his head and tail in the air. Well, if we are to be successful at eventing, then JJ will need to feel that he can listen to me, whatever the circumstances, so this seemed like a good place to start. We just did 20 minutes, but by the end of the session JJ had realised that he could not just fly round looking at the scenery, he realised that we had a job to do, we were not just mindlessly circling, and I was a person who would require his attention. We finished with JJ paying attention, circling and going large, and his head was lowered, his topline relaxed.

    After the lungeing JJ was in a much better frame of mind. He was groomed off, rugged up and fed. David and I went in for a Champagne celebration!

    TUESDAY- up early, and out to find that JJ had not eaten his tea! When I have a new horse I feed low energy feed, we have molasses free chop with some low starch/ low sugar mix. He is also on a multivitamin supplement as his feed totals less than a whole scoop. I am not worried that his tea did not go, he has obviously been laid down in the night, and his haylage has all gone. I fed him again, and left him in peace. Hmmm, breakfast not gone either, I put some sugar beet to soak for the evening (molasses free!) to try to tempt him.

    I had intended to ride, but I also wanted to lunge first. We groomed and went out to lunge. I actually got so tied up with the leading and lungeing that I ran out of time for riding! JJ is fit and athletic. He did not, however, want to move in a  wholehearted way. He was happy to run round, no problem. But, with the circles and straight lines, I asked him for engagement and bend too, and JJ found THAT hard! We just did half an hour actual work, at the end of this time JJ was carrying himself much better, with no gadgets, more engagement. His attention was on me, success!

    After this we turned JJ out in the field. Our fields have a LOT of grass in them, so we decided that he could go out for just a few hours. From his field he can see the neighbour’s horse, and we found that he can have a vocal conversation with the neighbour’s horse too! He stayed settled though, perhaps because of the lungeing. The demeanour of a horse is controlled by its chemical state, as in hormones, adrenaline, etc, and we had set up a calm state, with endorphins and all the discharged adrenaline used to good effect. A horse can instantly recharge, but it is good to start an experience in the right frame of mind, and he stayed calm.

    Then, to work!!!

    WEDNESDAY- I took some time off so I could lunge to get the correct frame of mind, then ride! David was available today, but would not be tomorrow, so I decided to take the opportunity of riding out while I had a companion. With the addition of Sugar Beet JJ was now eating, phew!

    The lungeing went REALLY well, JJ is smart, and he now understand what I require from him. We added transitions to the mix. We started with a circle at each end in trot, with driving down the long sides. He no longer scoots off when being driven. Then we did 4 smaller circles in each corner, and driving on the sides. Finally we had the circles in walk, the short sides in working trot and the long sides in lengthened trot. Wow, quick fire changes of gait, that DID take some concentration! It also put JJ in a FAB frame of mind, head low, thinking rather than being reactive.

    I tacked up with most of the gizmos. I have decided to take them off slowly! It seems prudent to do each new experience with the tack on, and when I am confident that we are on the same page with our thinking then tack can be removed. We rode out. JJ was great. In fact David walked with us until we came off the main road, then he walked back the short way and I did the second part of the ride on my own.

    I think horses like to know what is beyond their own premises, like they are oriented in their world. JJ came home happy, and was turned out, no problems.

    THURSADY- On my own today, David was at work. Groomed and rode in the school. As I feel comfortable that JJ knows his school we did not lunge first, and he had less tack on. Here I came across my first problem. JJ was pig sick of being in the school! He was obedient, .....trot here...OK.....circle here.....OK......., but he was board. Oh OK, lets go out and explore! So, we went out and went to Sykehouse Arena. On the way we met a tractor, and JJ just said “Oh, a tractor”. Good or what??? We rode over, had a few minutes to socialise and then went home again. JJ was an angel. He was then turned out, still just 4 hours a day due to the excessive grass growth!

    FRIDAY- so far I have “done” JJ in the morning before work. Today I was on a different shift, so I turned him out in the morning. When I got home in the evening JJ was in his stable in a bit of anxiety. His summer sheet was ripped, his bed in disarray. There was a lorry in the street outside pumping liquid and making a big noise. I took him to the grooming parlour and removed the trashed rug, and tidied his bed. Meanwhile David got home and when JJ saw him walking up with his biker leathers and helmet on it was as though he had seen a “monster man”, and adrenaline was again up.

    Hmmm, so far JJ has been Mr supercool. My intention this evening was to go ride in my canter field, to have a canter workout. But, looking at the rigid horse, my plans had better change. He did settle once the helmet was off, but he was still very reactive. OK, lungeing it is then!

    So, last night I lunged. I did bear in mind that on Thursday JJ did very little work at all, we schooled for less than 10 minutes, and just rode 200 yards to socialise. But I don’t think it was just lack of exercise, he was also turned out for 5 hours. I am guessing he got his foot caught in the rug strap and had a bit of a panic, then the lorry and helmet (that I don’t think would normally have bothered him) just added to the adrenaline rush.  

    I don’t try to tire the horse out lungeing, but just to move the horse in a directed way so he can feel that I am in charge. 20 minutes later JJ was a different beast! We did introduce canter on the lunge for the first time, JJ had a lot of energy anyway, and he learned to circle and drive up and down at canter too.
    Lungeing JJ

    In fact the transformation from reactive to calm was so great that I tacked him up and we went for a lovely evening ride to our canter field. We did a great workout, just two round of trot and one of canter on each rein. Then a walk home in the fading sunlight.

    That was JJ’s first 5 days with us. Despite being a smart, athletic horse he has actually been very easy! So Far....!! He has not put a hoof out of place.... So far!!

    I have seen several horses fall apart when moving home. My mum says they look like little schoolchildren lost on their first day at school. They don’t know where they are, what the routine is, or who to follow. They feel anxious and have excess energy. They can be reactive rather than head lowered and thinking.

    JJ’s regime this week has been to introduce routine and familiarity as soon as possible. To help him realise who is running the show. To give him an outlet when he has excess energy from anxiety. To stop him feeling like a lost schoolboy, all frightened and disorientated.

    What is next? Well, in a few moment he will be turned out, then this afternoon I am taking him for our first lesson. We will travel about an hour in the lorry, to a gated yard, we will ride some. I am not bothered how much “work” we do as long as we have “good work” as in calm and thoughtful. Then we will travel home. I have found that this travelling away and then returning to the same place seems to impress that this is a new “home” and not somewhere JJ is just visiting.

    After that? I don’t know, I will just make it up as we go along!


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