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  1. Up to the markThe month started out with snow again! Jay was once more out of work, just as I was home from being away....... just after he had some time off....... Sometimes things just seem to conspire against you. I bear in  mind though that no-one knows the <BLOG_BREAK>whole picture, so what seems to be “against” me in the short term may well be in my favour, if I knew the whole picture!

    We had temperatures down to -16, and it was the middle of the month before Jay was back in work, any later and my saddle pressure, rider/ horse analysis session would have been at risk of having to be cancelled.  At least the down-time gave me opportunity to scan the internet for information and inspiration. I read an interesting article on learning, achievement and effort. It came as part of an e mail last week, and I have already passed it on. I will reproduce part of it here..

    An article by Po Bronson, posted in New York Magazine, states that certain types of praise can have a negative effect on the behaviour of people. (For the entire article, go here: http://nymag.com/news/features/27840/.)

    A study was done that indicated that if a child is constantly told they are "smart" or "talented" or "the best," it can create a situation in their minds that makes them "risk adversant." They become so sensitive to any task that isn't immediately easy, that they stop trying. They won't take risks that might prove to their parent(s) or teacher(s) that they don't have the natural talent or brains with which they've been labelled. In equestrian terms, it takes away their "try."

    I found the actual article well worth reading.

    Yeah, riding again. I lunged a circle in the snow on the Sunday, then Monday the snow had all but gone, I did another 20 minute lunge and 10 minutes riding, then Tuesday we had a walk in-hand around the village for half an hour and then  20 minutes riding in the school. That was it, back to work after a fair break. Jay is a star, he shows me where I am at. I was practicing the inner strength (as in core muscles) that Mary and Andrew (Tango teacher) have been insisting on. I have found what I was doing wrong, a bit of my innards was not supporting, and to compensate I have learned to fix a few vertebrae in my back, and then I had to rock to keep in balance. Funnily enough causing problems in both riding and Tango, and making me less flexible.

    We were fully prepared for the horse and rider gait analysis and saddle pressure analysis later that week. The day was part of the research for the Saddle Research Trust, and it was heartening to see firsthand that all the research they talk about really does take place.

    Jay and I were firstly marked up with tape to show our centre lines, so we could be filmed for computer analysis. I like this idea actually, it was very revealing, and it is something that most riders could easily organise to do themselves, with a standard video camera. The tape really showed any differences, as shown in the photo at the header for this blog. Even without a computer analysis, the symmetry (or not) is plain to see.

    During the day I tried a few different saddles on Jay, with different set-ups under the saddle to balance them. It was interesting to me that different saddles made a difference to how straight the horse goes. One learning point for me was how a simple saddle pad could make a big difference to the pressure points, but the stark learning point was even more simple than that.

    I learned (now come on, I know I KNEW this already!) that Jay tells me when his Saddlery is comfortable - or not! When he is comfortable he moves straighter, and is smoother and more “forward”. If the saddle was showing a high pressure then I did not need the computer to tell me, Jay just quits on the job! To all intents and purposes it looks like Jay shows nappyness, but I KNOW him better than that, and this was borne out by the fact that every time he was miserable, it was accompanied by a less than optimal saddle fit.

    Not that pressure analysis is not valuable, by using the equipment it could be seen how the fit could be improved quickly without having to upset the horse. Also, not all horses are as expressive as Jay, I know a lot of horses who can get quite sore with a badly fitting saddle but who soldier on regardless, needing to show visible physical symptoms before the rider knows about it.

    The week after the analysis Jay and I competed at our first competition of the year, at a local dressage. Jay was happy to be out, and despite it being our first Novice test, we got 74.4% and won! Happy days.

    I knew, however, that our saddle fit is not as it could be, so I set about researching saddles. I decided to let Jay be the judge, and I would buy the saddle that he was comfortable in regardless of the aesthetics, or price. It was like a princess trying on the glass slipper. Meanwhile we started jumping again, just 90cm as it is before Xmas since we last jumped. Jay was, of course, a star. We even hired a XC course, and just hacked around, and got the feel of cantering on grass again, finishing up with a few 90cm fences.

    The next week I was so tired from paid work that I just did not have the energy to ride Jay. So, Jay and I had a walk in-hand around the village, then we just played in the school. He had a game of football with the giant big green ball, then I got a plastic sack and tied it to a lunge whip. That was so funny I went back for a video camera, and the video is on this link...




    The way Jay is behaving does make me question that horses are not predators after all, he is like a kitten, stalking the rubble sack, pouncing on the rubble sack, ripping the rubble sack.....!

    My saddle research paid off, and I found a saddle that I thought would fit Jay. The man who made it came and fitted it to Jay, so it was a perfect fit. It is a Barrie Swain “Semiflex” saddle, and Jay loves it! From the very first time he wore it he relaxed and some of our schooling “issues” just disappeared. The terms are that I have the saddle for a month and then either buy it or send it back. That is a confident manufacturer, and I can assure you now that it will not be going back!

    In fact Jay was SO different in this saddle that I have decided to sell my jump saddle too, so all 3 of my old saddles have just been sold on eBay! I can’t jump now for 3 weeks until the new jump saddle arrives, so we are concentrating on Dressage for the moment.

    Concentrating on Dressage...... In fact the saddle arrived just in time, as I went on a weekend dressage clinic with a clinician called Jody Heartstone. Jody is a NZ Grand Prix Dressage Rider, and also works with the methods of Andrew  Mclean, who I learned so much off last year. In fact Jody has a set of videos on YouTube, about 24 short videos about training your horse with Andrew’s methods. The first one can be found from this link http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MXEEYUCtIrA.

    I love the teaching as it de-mystifies a lot of “stuff”, and makes the material very understandable.

    Jay did really well on his clinic, on the first day Jody even (unprompted) said how evenly I ride him and how he has the exact correct bend on both reins- result... as this is one of the breakthroughs I had on my lesson with Mary Wanless!!! We also did variations within the pace, and cleared up some confusion for Jay about how unacceptable it is to push into the bit, even at halt.

    On the second day we learned about controlling his right foot. Apparently Jay is right footed, when I am initially warming up and he is fresh I have already worked out to do the initial warm-up on the right rein so we don’t spin (the fence is in the way!), but I did not really know why this worked, I had just observed that it is best. The second day of the clinic was outdoors and windy, and Jody had me feel when he was testing a push with his right foot, any thought of freshness tended to start there, and as soon as it occurred I had to slow the foot again to bring it back in line.

    The normally perfect Jay was, in fact, a naughty horsie a couple of days ago. David took time off work to get home early and bring him in, then pedal cycle to the top of the A19 to fetch the lorry from having a new exhaust fitted. Good David! Well, he got home and went for Jay, who was waiting next to the gate. You know Jay has his turnout fence at 6’6” as he LIKES jumping and a 5 bar gate is child’s play? Well that fence has been successful, so far!

    David greeted Jay, and unhooked the top tapes over the gates. He turned to pin them back, and heard hoof beats, looked around just in time to see Jay sailing the 5 bar gate, and setting off across the lawn. The mare from over the road then went mad, and Jay lit up and went on a XC course over our 3 fields, leaping backwards and forwards in glee. When David managed to catch him he had brushed and cut his leg, so David then spent half an hour cleaning and hosing, and cursing.

    After the poor man had then cycled to fetch the lorry and come back, I was home tidying the stable. Jay was feeling a bit abashed, and was being as sweet as he can be, using the pooper scooper, sweeping with the sweeping brush. Unfortunately I went to take the sweeping brush off Jay, and somehow he held on and tweaked it so poor David was hit hard in his shins.

    David LOVES horses!!!!!!

    The next day I schooled Jay. Jay is just going Sooooo well, we have been playing at slowing the trot down, right down. Then  keeping the rhythm and lengthening the trot, longer and shorter and longer, but keeping the rhythm steady throughout. Once Jay got the slow, long trot he seemed to LOVE it, he felt very posh, and he was pleased to work out what pleased me.

    Then, I turned him out. I followed all our new protocols, he went in and the electric tapes were put up BEFORE he was let loose.  All went well, and then he watched me walk away, then she started to stalk up and down the fence line, looking at the grass. Hmmmm, I was suspicious, so I watched some more, and he was obviously pleased with himself jumping the gate the day before, and he started to trot little circles and increase his pace at the gate and tapes, sort of dummy runs to go jump them.

    I was nearly as furious as David! The tape over the gate was not quite as tall as the rest of the fence, maybe 6ft instead of 6’6”. I could see that I needed to change it, so I took out some spare connectors and insulators, a new gate handle, a giant roll of tape, and a chair to stand on. I followed all safety protocols with the gate, and installed myself and my equipment on the inside. I went to the side of the gate and started to screw in an insulator to the very top of the fence, and Jay was being a pest, getting his nose into everything, so I told him to go away. He went over to the new reel of tape, and grabbed the end and set off like an “Andrex Puppy” across the school, the tape unwinding all the way.

    That got my attention, I re-attached the top tape so he would not jump out, and set off after him to make him put it down, as he looked with a cocked head, inviting me to play more. A bit more cussing and he got the message and dropped the end of the tape, so I went to get it. Meanwhile Jay doubled back and found my chair, so he grasped it between his teeth and made off with that instead.

    I tried to be mad, but Jay is just such a clown. I have created a monster!

    The new tape over the 5 bar gate is now 3 strands deep, to 6’6”, and electrified on all 3 strands. It is like living in “Jurassic Park”! Jay listens to the tic tic tic sound  to make sure it is turned on.

    Defeated Jay was then in a mood. He thought about removing his rug. He does this if I put a rug on that is too warm, he picks at the shoulders until he can pull it clean over his head. I decided that he needed occupational therapy, so I threw him a “Jolly Ball” and he had a fine game walking backwards, dribbling it backwards around the school. That makes a change, he usually holds the handle and beats himself around the head with it!

    I felt that Jay was a little board so I decided to ride him a second time, we went out around the village in the late afternoon sun, and he was great. Curious, sharp, generous, what a horse!

    Back at the yard I decided to hose his leg, he just nicked it by brushing when he went on his solo XC extravaganza the day before. I was on the yard, cold hosing away, when he grabbed the hose in his teeth and started to spay the water all over. He missed, but I did nearly get very wet. He then went to bed, with his teddy bear to terrorise. He is worse than a child.

    What next?

    Well, in the very short term, today we are tripping out to the farrier, near Harrogate. I think we will have another schooling session this morning, then after he is shod we will go for a lovely hack in the North Yorkshire countryside. There will be lambs to snort at, Jay has a morbid curiosity with sheep!

    Then, next week we have our first competition with British Dressage, Jay will be making his affiliated Dressage Debut. We will be doing the Novice 24 test.

    After that we hope our new saddle will arrive, and we can start jumping again. I look forward to that!


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