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  1. Step by step 

    We progress! I always say progress is done best in bite sized chunks, step by step. Well, JJ’s progress has been made in the greatest part LITERALLY step by step, after the chiropractor gave us the pole work exercises. David set up an obstacle course on the lawn, and JJ has been doing his “step class” every <BLOG_BREAK>day since. After just a week and a half, plus half a week of extra stretching exercises, JJ is 80 % improved already in his ability to step comfortably and effectively under himself.

    In fact I think the week break for JJ while I went tripping around America was just at the right time, and I really enjoyed my trip too! Staying with Cordy and Rick was great, as well as re-connecting with all of the other friends that made my trip fab. Bob fixed my back that has been a bit grumpy for years, we danced, I luxuriated in the whirlpool in the forest and there were lessons in the Arizona sunshine. In fact a group of people got together and videoed their lessons so they can refer back to them, which seems like an excellent idea.

    On returning home I had made a decision, to ride “JJ the Horse” rather than “JJ and his reputation”. So, the day I returned I lunged him for 20 minutes to see where we were, I was delighted to see the improvement in his movement. The next day I hired an arena away from home, and went without all the gubbins he was ridden in! We just did some flat and pole work as I have decided that his current jump saddle is not a suitable fit, and it will be a week or so before we can arrange another.

    All was going well, JJ ignored the flappy tarpaulin at the side of the arena, ignored the other horses around the place, ignored the flappy signs and banners, and we were doing great with our trot poles, doing 5 in a row with balance, rhythm and style, even with JJ giving some energy,  when.......... an incident occurred and I fell off!

    It was absolutely NOT JJ’s fault! We were trotting towards the poles, when......we were ATTACKED by something unknown, and I mean we were hit by an invisible something from the side, whipped, and smacked. I don’t think either of us knew what had attacked us, JJ spun to the side, I slipped and went foetal myself as we were being hit. JJ realised I was falling, and bless him he tried to stop, but then he was smacked twice more up his bum, and he had to run. I rolled to the floor, and I was still being hit by something, and it was a moment before I realised that the arena irrigation system had accidently come on. The jet of water was a high pressure pulsing jet, noisy and wet, and hit JJ and me by total surprise, from just a few feet away!

    Poor JJ ran up and down the arena, splatted wet and whinnying. As soon as the water had been turned off I called him and he ran to me and buried his face in my chest. This was good, JJ obviously thought of me as a place of safety, and he was happy to be with me after the traumatic event.

    I re-mounted (after making sure the water would not come on again), and although it took a few minutes for JJ to trust me again to go near the banners etc, he did come round. We did the poles as good as before, and I decided to leave it there and travel him home.

    The next day we had our first Dressage lesson with Jane Bartle. She has given me a whole load of help with the dead end I was feeling with JJ’s schooling, where long and low, with little energy, seemed all that JJ had to offer. I will reproduce my notes, which are just my impression of the lesson.........

    Once we started instruction I could start to hear and feel where we can progress to next. I am not to allow JJ to drop down his “comfort hole” with his head stretched down, I am to encourage his head up even if this means we are no longer working at all on the bit. JJ does not like to feel the hand against him, and if he feels it he offers forwards, in actual fact I thought he coped well with me having him higher and resisting with my hand until he gave a yielding feeling with his head higher.

    I could feel that when he works up here he is much better in balance. He still feels lazy, but I am not fooled, I know JJ well enough to be sure that he is not intrinsically a lazy horse, he feels lazy when he is unsure, when he is running up against a problem where he does not know the answer. He really does have a problem with moving forwards into a contact, but I can see now that it is because he has reached a dead end where his energy goes, with his head stretched down, and his balance very much on his forehand. Once we had worked some time with him more “up” it started to feel better there.

    Transitions...... JJ has been slow in his transitions, then I have rushed him, and he jumps through the transition. I am to spend longer in the transition. Apparently when a horse settles into a proper 4 time walk he drops his fetlocks and utilises part of the “stray apparatus” to keep the walk earthbound. Before he can take up trot he has to release the stay apparatus, and he has difficulty with this. We worked on building up the walk to a trot, and the transitions were better. Hey, I can SIT to JJ’s trot!!!

    Hmmmmm..... Halt transitions...... I have already worked on these as at first JJ NEEDED a completely loose rein in halt or he would get anxious. I have fixed my hands to try to stop him snatching. Jane showed me that this was perhaps better than straight fighting, but there are times when he manages to snatch, and I was replacing my hands as soon as possible. This was having the effect of me snatching back at JJ, and it was as soon as he stopped snatching, so in effect I was punishing him for relaxing (in JJ’s world). I am to have the halt and BEFORE he feels the need to snatch, while we are having the conversation, to actually ASK him to yield with a fair clear ask, then when he does I relax to him, rewarding him for the relax.

    That feel than started to make sense with his general ridden work, up to then allowing him to take my hand forward to stretch down was the only reward I had found. Now I worked him in a higher outline, and before he was anxious I was asking with a resisting fingers, and as he relaxed I could relax, so the reward was given within the frame, no dropping down the hole.

    We did do some canter, and JJ was lazy, but I know that means he is unbalanced or confused.

    We finished there as JJ had been as obliging as he could be, he had tried to absorb the lessons, there was no naughty behaviour. We finished with a walk around the track, right up to the sheep, and he was FAB.

    Next day and JJ was surprised to be tripping out on the lorry yet again, we went to a lovely place near Selby, where we did just a short ride out. JJ was immaculately behaved, but I am seeing a very funny side to his character.

    When JJ has any kind of “scary” situation he slams on the breaks, and says that if I force him, he will have to spin round. Well, at the moment I am not in a rush, and I can afford him a few moments to assess his situation, and each time I have done this he has then, quite suddenly, gained his confidence and MARCHED over to investigate the previously scary thing.

    We have had this with scary haylage bales in a gateway the day before, he could not go through the gateway, but when I allowed him to pause I then had to stop him ripping the nearest bale open with his teeth. After which the gateway was no longer an issue.

    On our ride, with some cyclists coming towards us he had to stop and assess them, but by the third cyclist I had to stop him intercepting the cyclist. With some geese in a shelter he had to stop dead and could not POSSIBLY pass, but after a very few seconds I had to tell him that no, it is NOT convenient for us to enter the geese’s shelter!

    So, if he is allowed a moment or two to assess without pressure JJ turns into a VERY brave boy.

    This is being quite a brave move on my behalf, I am sure a lot of people would think that I am allowing him too much slack to allow him to stop, but when I ride him around and about he does feel very young, and I have a few seconds to spare to help him feel more comfortable. I will not allow the stopping to become a habit for no reason, and if I ask him to move on he must always do so, but right now I assess that JJ is trying his absolute best to please.

    Today, to JJ’s surprise, we were out on the lorry AGAIN to go to his very first proper competition, a local Dressage competition. JJ was FAB, well behaved in the warm-up, with other horses cantering right towards and past him, and it was the first time I have shared an arena with other horses.

    He again felt “Lazy”, but I am recognising this is not in fact laziness, he feels withdrawn from a lack of confidence, and so he shuts down a bit. So, rather than “shake the hornet’s nest” (which I think would have caused some rather undesirable behaviour, and I feel it would also have broken his heart), I thanked him for what little movement he felt he could give me, and when we were on an even keel, asked for a little bit more.

    In the arena he did a smooth test, and in fact scored VERY well, and when we left he was standing second, with 67%. JJ feels like a still pool. But deep. JJ had never even done some of the required movements, such as trot up a centre line and halt, and as yet I am not sure he even realised that “dressage” is in fact a competition. The photos are not technically brilliant, to have good feel to the picture the horse has to create the energy which flows forwards and then I can connect to it and shape and recycle the energy, and then I look as if I am floating and be connected and elegant.

    As he was withdrawn inside I am not able to just sit and receive/shape what he gives me, as he is just not giving me very much. I am encouraging more and trying to not “force” more, this has me less than smooth and composed. Nevertheless I am VERY pleased! He is now home and eating grass in his field, which he was VERY keen to get to!

    First dressage 

     Newsflash...... Monday, and I was back at work today. As JJ had eaten a lot of the grass off his middle paddock we had changed him to the larger end paddock a few days ago. We monitored him as we know that in his old home, JJ chose where he went out, and would be quite happy to jump to whichever field he chose.
    In this home we started with just an hour or so in his field when we first bought him, and built it up, so JJ had a NEW history of NOT jumping out. So, when we changed fields we started again, 2 hours first day, 2 days of 4 hours, then TODAY I was at work, I left him in the third field, and when I came back he had jumped the five foot gate into the middle one, and apparantly he was miserable as his water was still in the third one!
    Naughty JJ, he does NOT have permission to jump out. Hmmmm, whatever, I guess all the fields are his, so we have decided to fix the gate open so he can have BOTH!
    Also, five ft gate, and he did not touch it, quite impressive! BUT I dare not just shut him in a field he does not want, just imagine how miserable I would be if he jumped again, but this time mis-jumped and hurt himself. OK JJ, you win this one, either field is fine by me!



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