A hastily arranged talk with Maxine Easey and Christine Worthington at Whitchurch on The Performance Trail Horse was very well attended and I think everyone went home knowing better what they needed to do to prepare themselves and their horses. Maxine also introduced the concept of Positive Reinforcement training and this would seem an excellent way to go about some of those preparations! We have now managed to secure a weekend in June here at The Chestnuts for an intensive 2 day course on "How Do Horses Learn?" which Maxine has presented all over the country and even draws repeat students as there is just so much content to take in. See diary page for more details.
It seemed like forever since I last saddled and rode my young horse Patrick, the plan was to continue riding as near to Christmas as possible before turning him away to grow on, but an early dose of a Flu virus brought that forward to October so he has had nearly 5 months off during which time he has grown upwards and outwards though frustratingly still needs to push his wither through to match his bum! The long awaited change in the weather along with more daylight hours has finally got me back out there and this week after slithering on bareback on day 1 he progressed to his first hack out on day 5 performing like a real star when we met an unexpected hazard https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hsXKBMGBzKg The plan for him is to be ready to take part in Martin Blacks clinic at Doncaster at the end of May and for 2 intensive months with Dave Stuart through July and August.
Bookings for Dave’s clinic here at The Chestnuts in August have been coming in this last few weeks and we are down to only a few spaces now so if you have been hanging back I suggest you need to get the form filled in and off to Tina asap to avoid being disappointed.
· Thursday 27th March – we still have a few tickets left for the talk “The Performance Trail Horse” with Max Easey and Christine Worthington – poster attached.
"We will be covering, in a light-hearted presentation (chock full of pictures of lovely horses on the trail) what it takes to create the perfect partnership of The Performance Trail Horse and Rider. If you are weary of being labelled a "just a happy hacker", simply because you do not want to compete, it's time to stand up and be counted! There are no limits to what a horse and rider can do out on the trail.
We will look at the physical care of the horse, the kinds of skills a horse and rider need, and ways to use simple positive reinforcement (reward based) techniques to build confidence and boldness of your horse. With will finish up looking at rider confidence and ideas to help you maintain and grow the confidence you need to become an intrepid trail rider. With the skills, and the knowledge of how to apply scientifically proven techniques to build confidence in both your horse and yourself, you too can be the horse and rider partnership that can go anywhere and do anything. In the year of the horse this is the start of a movement to "big up" and recognise the unsurpassed talents and skills of the adventurous horse and rider. Performance is not all about competing. It's all about excellence!
Some more dates now in the diary, hope that something will take your fancy and you will come along and join us.
· Saturday May 3rd – Lessons with Tina Griffin
· Saturday May 10th – Lessons with Parelli 3* Instructor Sally Brett
· Saturday May 17th – Talk and Demo with Vanessa Yates – http://www.naturesroots.co.uk/ Zoopharmacognosy – now I know it’s a mouthful and difficult to get your tongue around but if you haven’t had chance to look into this previously then I cannot recommend it highly enough. It is really interesting and informative. See attached poster
· Sunday 1st June – Demo Day with Parelli 3* Instructor Sally Brett – A new format to the day this year starting with a theory session, then Sally will play the seven games with a horse new to them before showing us where it all leads with the lovely Bertie. The day will finish with lessons with a group students. Limited horse places but a great day to come and spectate. And obviously we will need a horse who hasn’t been exposed to Parelli previously.
· 4th to 6th July – Camp Weekend with Josh Steer – arrive Friday - option for support from Niki Hardwick in the afternoon or just chill with your horses in the arena/round pen. Josh will teach Saturday and Sunday before he heads off to spend 2 months with Dave Stuart.
Please get in touch asap for any of the above as it helps to gauge numbers as we go along. Hope to see you soon!
Don't miss the talk in Whitchurch from Maxine Easey and Christine Worthington "The Performance Trail Horse" and we now how set dates for Tina Griffin and Sally Brett teaching here at The Chestnuts early in May - check out the Diary Dates page for details. On a personal level my young horse Patrick had his 4th ride today and should be venturing out up the lanes tomorrow - isn't it wonderful how a change in the weather can affect your motivation!
Does anybody else dare to think that Spring may be around the corner? Light until well after 5pm and horses shedding coats? All good news as even if we do get a touch of the cold stuff now then surely it won’t last long. We have a few fun things coming up that I hope you will support. See below
The Performance Trail Horse
We have set up a talk near Whitchurch on Thursday 27th March. It will be presented by Maxine Easey and Christine Worthington who many of you will know. The venue is The Horse & Jockey at Grindley Brook and if you want to make an evening of it they serve some lovely food which you can maybe have before the talk or pre-order and they will serve at the end. So if you would love be able to hack your horse out and about whether for an hour up the lanes or on a trek taking a week across country then come along and pick up some fabulous information which will help you both enjoy yourselves and be safe.
Josh Steer from JRFS has agreed to run a weekend fun camp in July here at The Chestnuts. Details are taking shape but it’s not too late to make any special requests or suggestions.
Camp Weekend 2014 - July 4th to 6th
Fun (hopefully in the sun!) with Josh Steer from JRFS. To suit all levels.
Arrive Friday at a time convenient to you, settle your horse into an individual turnout paddock and get yourself unpacked and set up your tents. Use the large all weather arena and round pen to play in during the afternoon if you wish and then enjoy a nice meal at the Dog and Bull just a few yards across the road in the evening.
On Saturday and Sunday you will be split into 2 groups to play/spectate in the morning and afternoon. Subject to ground conditions we can use the round pen and the playground which has various fixed obstacles, tyre squeeze and steps, bank complex, water ditch and jumps. Light Breakfast and Lunch provided.
On Saturday evening we can eat again at the pub, order a take-away for delivery or alternatively you can BBQ around a camp fire.
Numbers strictly limited. If you prefer a solid 4 walls to sleep between there is a local B&B a few miles away recommended by previous students and also a self contained cottage/annexe about the same distance (this also has horse accommodation if you think they need 4 walls as well). The plan is to have a mobile shower unit in place as well as a portaloo for those roughing it J
Format may change to suit numbers, weather etc – if you have any suggestions or requests please get in touch and we’ll see what we can do. Friday is unsupervised but if you would prefer we can ask another instructor to attend.
We are hopeful we can do this for between £250 and £300 per person depending on numbers and the plan for Friday so please let me have your thoughts.
I am happy to set up dates in the coming months for clinics with Tina Griffin and Sally Brett so if you are interested in either of these as individuals or sharing a lesson with someone else please let me know and I will keep you informed.
That’s all for now folks
Hope to see you soon
It seems a long time since I last mailed but if I recall correctly we were already developing webbed feet then. I’m onto my second pair of wellies of the season and feel I have just about perfected the technique of mud surfing. Anyway I feel it’s time now to look forward not back and at least my all weather arena has liked the rain and actually benefits from it J
In a matter of weeks for the first time we will be welcoming Josh Steer from JRFS who is has agreed to spend a day teaching/helping with any issues you have on Friday 21st Feb so I hope many of you will be able to come along even if only to spectate (or meet him if you haven’t had the opportunity previously). Individual hour £30. Shared lesson costs (1/2/3 or 6 hours) will depend on total numbers and how they can be grouped for the day, but estimating from £20 up. Lessons will be Online and/or Freestyle. http://www.jr-foundationstation.co.uk/Story-of-Josh
I have also got some potential dates when Sally Brett can come over http://sallybrett.com/ , please let me know if any of these would work for you and I will try to set some up:
· Friday Jan 31st
· Thursday 6th Feb
· Sunday 9th Feb
· Thursday 13th Feb
· Friday 28th Feb
· Sunday 2nd Mar
Tina Griffin is also proving a popular instructor combining an understanding of horse behaviour with classical dressage, and straightness training in hand and ridden. I am sure we can convince Tina to visit at a date to suit you so let me know if you want to come along and when you are able. http://www.totalhorsemanship.co.uk/
That’s all for now – I’m a bit rushed as usual. I look forward to seeing many of you and soon – with or without wellies!
ps I intend to add some blogs and articles below which were previously published elsewhere, hope you enjoy them. Newest at the top so you may want to start reading at the other end!
Buck (Nov 13)
I feel very privileged to have spent 3 days watching Buck Brannaman, Horseman in Cologne this last weekend. Got to share the whole experience with good friends Jo Wightman,Clare MacLeod and Tina Griffen and it's fair to say we had a blast during our time out as well. Bucks training is simple, honest and always "for the horse". He only frustrations are with the humans when we fail to uphold our responsibilities to our four legged friends. It was wonderful to see the transformation in the horse that he worked with over the 3 days and also the changes in the students who put themselves out there in what many would find a very challenging situation and environment. My heart was melted by the little coloured cob who was loaned to one of the riders who to the uninitiated would have appeared as lazy, willful, pushy and miserable. He set about tilting his neck and setting out to lose Buck - of course he'd not met this "Buck" person before and seemed a little shocked that this 2 legged person had feet that were not for moving - but after only a few minutes on the other end of the line he changed his expression totally and began to offer movement at the lightest of asks (the "good deal" as Buck calls it). When hearing he was 15 years old Bucks comment that he'd waited long enough to be treated in a better way had my eyes filling and overflowing.
A few quotes that stand out for me:
"You can't teach a troubled horse, they can't remember things"
"when trained under stress, the horse may default to that move to save themselves, to find some peace"
"if a horse is dull to the legs it is guaranteed he will never be light to your hand"
"the further down the riders legs works, the more primitive the rider"
"never block over-achieving, encourage when under-achieving"
"try to create movement before creating the decision"
"prepare to understand, then ask"
on soft feel - "think of it as a wave from the rein down to the feet"
"say what you mean, do what you say, and mean it"
and my favourite - not word for word but you should get the idea:
"Dressage derived from the military and need to ride/control horses in wartimes, they had to ride (well) with one hand only on the reins (for obvious reasons) and thereby in most cases we can conclude that a well trained horse and rider stood a chance of survival whereas if you were poor you only got to go to war once, hence...
NATURAL SELECTION ELIMINATED BAD DRESSAGE RIDERS
unfortunately this is no longer the case and they now even get to reproduce"
Heartbroken (May 13)
I've lost my beautiful Zac. We found him this morning with catastrophic damage to tendons in his back leg. We think he was kicked. On Sunday he gave me the most perfect of rides and if by some premonition I thanked him at the time and said that if I never got to ride him again I would always remember it. He taught me such a lot in such a short time, with David Stuart 's help he made it through the massive challenges that befell him with saddling in particular. It seems so unfair that at just 5 years old and as we had earned his trust that he is gone. We had such great plans. RIP Steadychex King Dude aka Zac. Thank you for choosing me as your pupil - we'll all miss you little guy x
New Beginnings (Feb 13)
I guess most of us do the New Year Resolutions bit but I have long stopped setting myself up for failure with the likes of “This Year I will lose weight/stop eating chocolate/go to the gym” promises and now I try to be less prescriptive but give myself an overall target. This year it is mainly one of consolidation, making the most of the opportunities I already have at hand but being mindful of the challenges which may mean being even more flexible as I try to do so. Of course I have plenty of dreams and hopes; being realistic doesn’t mean I can’t keep aiming high.
So with the horses the focus this year will switch to my young Quarter Horse whilst Juno will spend more time just chilling with the already retired Ryan both 22 this time. Many of you have heard of the Horsemanship challenges Zac has already presented but despite the physical setbacks last year of firstly impaling himself on a gate fastener, then developing MRSA in the wound and shortly afterwards doing damage to a suspensory branch we finished the year on a high with several demanding rides over challenging countryside, hacking out alone and in company when he came home and also completing a 2 and 3 day clinic which both involved working in an arena all day which is not something he gets the point of just yet. I had intended to continue riding him into November and December but his holiday was brought forward when the weather deteriorated and then we had the dreadful news that one of our mentors James Roberts had been killed in a car accident. I wrote an article in one of last years magazines about a visit to his Foundation Station in Wiltshire some may recall. Only 34 years old and as well as being a truly talented young man he was a top bloke with a smile constantly etched on his face. All those who met him are still struggling to accept he has gone, he had so much more work to do here and it seems totally unjust to be taken away in his prime. His passenger and the driver of the other oncoming car who had clipped a kerb walked away with scratches while James died instantly. It certainly has been a reminder that life can be far too short and therefore is not to be wasted. If there is something positive we can take from this it is that James certainly had lived his life to the full and in his short time truly did make a difference. Hundreds attended his funeral most of whom wore cowboy attire as requested. The sight of a sea of hats moving along the main road following his fiancé Vicky and brother Paul riding 2 of his horses behind the hearse is something I will never forget. The support from the villagers and shopkeepers who stood on the roadside as the procession made its way to the church in the neighbouring village was testament to the respect everyone had for him. Police had stopped the traffic for probably half an hour and yet drivers including delivery vans waiting quietly as we passed. RIP James gone but never forgotten.
As I write this the weather is unseasonably mild and dare I say that some of the water underfoot is starting to drain away? I think the world has gone a little crazy since this is what they had at Grapevine Ranch in Southern Arizona last week close to the border with Mexico. Here’s hoping it stays on the other side of The Atlantic! In February I intend to start playing with Zac again and if all goes to plan will take him to Wiltshire before Easter for some serious trail riding on the Downs. Dave Stuart is only coming over to the UK for 3 months this year so by the time he arrives in June I aim to have Zac ready for the next part of his foundation development which may be include the introduction of a Bosal. He is already incredibly light to hand and leg so my promise is to stay out of his way and not mess that up!
Emotional Fitness (Sep 12)
As we came down the “goat trail” on the side of The Long Mynd I kept wittering sweet nothings at Juno; mostly telling him what a good boy he was being but interspersed with expletives as the ruddy track seemed to get narrower and steeper and why the hell did he feel the need to walk slightly above it where he needed to have one set of legs shorter than the other! Dave’s voice interrupted my terror enquiring who I was talking to which got me thinking that actually I didn’t care – talking meant I kept breathing and that was a good thing!
A week previous we had descended the same trail but knowing what was coming I had made the decision to get off and lead him down, that in its self wasn’t a comfortable experience, the ground was a bit wet and as we were tucked behind 2 other horses Juno wasn’t for hanging about. In the intervening time Dave had been coaching me on getting him to think down to his feet, slowing them down with lots of exercises in the arena, along the lanes and on simpler trails. Jeez if only I’d known this stuff 20 years ago, it actually works! As we neared the bottom I was able to reflect that I hadn’t actually taken hold of him via the reins all the way down, and he hadn’t felt the need to disagree with me, comfortable to respond to my energy and body signals.
After the massive adrenaline fuelled high of the descent, a week later and we were in the depths of despair as Juno just didn’t feel quite right. He appeared reasonably level but there was definitely a stiffness most noticeable at a canter which I found almost impossible to sit to. At 21 I was fearing that his age had caught up with him and this was to be the end of anything serious, I almost didn’t involve my vet as I had made up my mind it was arthritis in his hocks or hips and that would be that. With our final Flex Track course at Stoneleigh looming in a little over 2 weeks time, and after wallowing in self pity for a few hours, I came around to thinking that getting him checked out was the way to go as then we could make an informed decision on the future. A few days, multiple xrays and nerve blocks later and we had a prognosis, reverse rotation of the pedal bone in both back feet, most likely due to combination of age and size, as externally his foot balance appeared good. A week later and he was back in restricted work on firm ground wearing wedges, 10 days to go before Stoneleigh….
I confess I didn’t hold out much hope. I was told to expect that the condition would be corrected with 2 shoeings but his tendons were sore and there would be bruising as well. However he did feel fine during road work. I should never have doubted him though, he’s never been a wuss and when we returned to Campbell 10 days later he trotted up sound and was given the all clear to head to Stoneleigh.
Unlike our last trip there in June when I managed to lose my yard keys on the morning we were due to depart, having to send out for bolt cutters and running up a bill of nearly £70 for replacement locks, this time everything went absolutely to plan. It seems we had had our hiccups already. Juno settled into his stable like he’d never been away and then it was over to the campground to set up my lorry to provide the home from home feeling before meeting up with the instructors and other students and heading to the farm shop for lunch. We had a team of 4 instructors led by Michael Grohmann from Austria, along with Patricia Valdhaus also from Austria, Niki Hardwick from Stafford and Sarah Wearing from Wiltshire. Patricia provided us with daily inspiration having driven for 3 days with 2 horses to join us, she would cycle across the field to catch them each morning and cycle back leading and sometimes with one at liberty - I had enough trouble balancing on my bike just getting around the showground on the roads never mind trying it on rough ground with 2 horses attached!
This time we didn’t have to endure the opening tests as it was only a few months since the last ones so it was straight into coaching, demonstrations, and theory all wrapped up with a lot of laughs. Our first classroom session focused on energy and included simulation exercises which resulted in Michael being “whipped” – probably all a bit beyond the call of duty but the guy certainly got his message across!
The pace of the course picked up quickly, there was a lot to be covered in this final 2 weeks, learning in all 4 savvies, Online, Liberty, Freestyle and Finesse. The first few days were blighted by heavy rain and we feared it would be a repeat of the June course but thankfully halfway through week 1 the sun arrived and from then on it was a case of remembering the sun screen. I hit a low on the 2nd Monday when everything I did seemed to go wrong, it’s odd but this is a pattern that everyone seems to go through, as another instructor commented when summarising after one of his courses “Some people cried but nobody died, growing pains!” That puts it perfectly – get the picture?
Testing started on the final Wednesday (without warning may I add), as we thought we were just going to get to practice some Finesse riding in the main arena we saw the clipboards were out! Happily for me Finesse is probably my strongest area – I find precision pens (much like a 20 x 60 dressage arena) a place of comfort so doing lots of 10 and 20 metre circles with simple changes, leg yields and halts down centre line was right up my street. The tools and theory testing are now also a comfortable area for me so all in all Wednesday went very well. Thursday was always going to be tougher but overall I was happy with what we did though I know in a less stressful situation we could hopefully increase our scores.
We got to chill out in the playground for an hour on the Friday morning during which I spent time cantering Juno bareback in a halter around the outside of the honeycomb rails something I had only dared to dream about a few years ago. That’s something else ticked off our bucket list
Back in the classroom we shared our highlights, shed a few more tears – though this time through shared joy - and then individually had our reviews to discuss results and our next steps. Thanks to my wonderful brave and awesome horse I am now qualified to attend a 1* Instructor Course though I’m not quite sure whether I’ll be taking the option up just yet, so much still to learn and it seems my “teacher” may still have more time in him yet.
Nb The “goat trail” is probably more frequented by sheep but appears to be one of Dave Stuarts favourite tests on the edge of the Long Mynd. I did ride it with Zac last year as a 3yo but was far more confident with him than with Juno – I’d take a Dave Stuart started horse any day as I know he will have got the horse to connect mentally. Another is the “Black Slide” a descent which involved Ryan sitting on his bottom virtually all the way down a few years ago, and something I am led to believe resembles the bank at Hickstead – I’ve yet to be introduced to that one!
Testing, testing, testing… (Jun 12)
Juno and I have already spent 2 weeks at the UK Parelli centre at Stoneleigh this year and will be heading there again at the end of August for another 2 weeks study aiming to refine the foundation skills we have had so much fun with since entering the programme 3 and a half years ago. My “boy” continues to teach me so much about myself and seems to be patiently allowing me to grasp new things and then ups his game to take me to the next level. The 2 week courses we are entered on are part of a series which could qualify me to undertake Instructor training if I pass out with a sufficiently high score but they are not exclusively for students with professional goals and many of us are there just wanting to be good enough to take that path if we so desired but more interested in taking our relationship with our horses to a new level.
Natural Horsemanship specifically Parelli or maybe Monty Roberts often comes in for pretty tough criticism which I struggle to understand. I guess it can be perceived by some as being too commercial but I fail to see why that should be an issue, if you want to “buy into it” then you do and if you don’t, well you don’t have to do you? I actually spend less now than I ever used to. I’ve seen all sorts of criticism of methods on various forums but cannot understand why some people can be so opposed without even trying to understand what they are commenting on. If only closed minds came with closed mouths!
I think there is also a perception of Parelli in particular being aimed at nervous or novice riders and even that “Parelli people don’t ride their horses” but that is another myth really though I can honestly say it’s “way more than riding” as it genuinely does affect your outlook on life and how you deal with people as well as horses. Yes it can help less confident riders but also it’s about putting a solid foundation on our horses ensuring they too benefit.
Anyway, back to our course report. The first 2 days consisted of testing in theory, tools skills and practical horsemanship. This gave everyone a snapshot of where we were at. We were then assigned a personal coach to help set objectives and to create a personal development plan. The weekdays were filled with demonstrations, theory presentations and at least 4 hours a day playing with our horses. The weather was pretty unkind and there was a lot of drying out to be done at the end of each day but we were lucky to have use of the enormous all weather arena in the centre of the showground so rain never stopped play.
At the end of the 2 weeks were tested again and it was fantastic to see so much improvement from everyone. It had been hard work mentally and physically but above all else it had been great fun. Roll on August!
James Roberts Foundation Station – Experience Weeks (Apr 12)
….And what an Experience it was!
My first visit in 2010 was for a 2 day course, in 2011 we made it 7 days. it still wasn’t long enough so on March 25th we hit the road to Wiltshire to spend 2 whole weeks immersed in developing horsemanship skills learning from James Roberts.
James trained with the late John Pocklington, legendary show jumping trainer of the Magna Stud, helping develop show jumpers to top level, with the opportunity of working alongside Irish jumping champion, Dermot Lennon. James then went on to fulfil his dream of becoming a farrier, and was lucky enough to have the opportunity to train with one of the most respected training farriers in the world, Mr Stuart W. Spence. He spent 5 years at the famous Hose Forge, in Leicestershire, before setting up his own business as a qualified farrier. He still takes part in shoeing competitions when time allows during the Summer.
It was a challenging horse, afraid of farriers, which led James to Parelli Natural Horsemanship. After realising how little he really knew about horses, and how much there was to know, James took the decision to quit his successful business to embark on a new journey, starting with an apprenticeship with Dave Stuart, master horseman and former 5 star Parelli Professional and Charlotte Dennis, former 3 star Parelli professional and eventer. After graduating Level 3 of the Parelli Programme in 2003, James spent a total of 2 years at the Parelli Centres in Florida and Colorado under the tutelage of Pat Parelli and Linda Parelli. Parelli Natural Horsemanship has played a huge role in the development of James’s horsemanship and teachermanship, with opportunities to present all over the world, including America, Europe, Canada, and more recently, Kenya. Since his involvement with Parelli, James has had the chance to train horses for, and be trained by some of the world’s top horsemen, including Dave Stuart, Rob McAuliffe, Olympic dressage team member Jane Bredin, World Class Show jumper Robert Whitaker, polo legend Andrew Seavil, 3 day eventer Georgie Spence, and 2012 Eventing Olympics cross country course designer, Sue Benson
James and his partner Vicky have created a wonderful environment at Sands Farm, Easterton Sands just outside Devizes. Facilities include an indoor school, large outdoor arena, round pen, well drained turnout fields, and a farriers forge. An equine spa is due to be added shortly. Riding is straight onto green lanes and bridlepaths and out onto the Wiltshire Downs.
James is passionate about starting young horses believing it should be about confidence and understanding not fear, force and mechanics. Last year he was part of the Parelli Colt Starting team taking part in 2 events in the US that were transmitted across the world “Colt Starting Naturally” and “Wild Horse Taming”. You may have read an article in the February issue of Eventing in which James also featured sharing the story of Cathy Butler’s 2* horse Bee Animas who is ridden by Kitty King (If you missed it I have a copy you can borrow).
Every 3 weeks a new intake of young horses arrive at JRFS for starting – the pattern is the same each time, first to accept the human – by the end of their first session allowing them to crawl up onto their backs, Day 2 accept the saddle – all are started in western saddles so find it easy to go into anything else afterwards, then accept the rider, and finally (maybe only a day before being handed back to their owners) accept the bit. Week 1 is about confidence and is usually spent in the arena or indoors or online in the savvy park (large playfield with jumps, ditches and obstacles) and also includes a full dental check-up and a visit from back specialist …… Week 2 sees the colts continuing their development learning to follow a light feel off the halter and off the riders leg and seat aids and take their first trail rides up onto the Downs. Week 3 is more fine tuning in readiness for the owners, including accepting multiple different riders, and popping small jumps. As well as the colts that arrive for starting there are usually some restarts or “problem” horses, or horses in for foundation training. The pattern is the same for the problem horses, their history is of no interest to James and his team as they diligently follow the same pattern, accept the human, accept the saddle, accept the rider, accept the bit. It is very unusual for a restart or problem horse not to be found to have health or pain issues so the health checks are critical. The other important part of the equation for restarts is the owner who is expected to attend for a week at the end of the process to make sure their partnership is established and they have a plan in place to go home with to prevent further problems.
We were able to witness weeks 2 and 3 of the cycle while we were there sharing some of those first trail rides up onto the Downs and watching James’ apprentices at work. Each day we had lessons on our own horses tailored to our abilities and aims. Sometimes we worked in what James describes as the best dressage arena in the world – a large grassy area up on the Downs with amazing views and the added interest on the other side that a military bombing range offers. Fascinating that the horses seemed totally unfazed even if at first we riders jumped a bit! On our weekend off Kath and I took our horses out online walking one of the riding routes allowing them to stop and graze along the way – very relaxing for all concerned J During the 2nd week Juno and I spent a lot of time fine tuning lower leg isolations culminating in taking off the bridle and moseying around the arena in walk trot and canter using just leg aids to turn and seat/energy aids to make transitions. At one point we even joined the others who were trotting over poles in the centre of the arena (with James shouting out as we went through that I looked like I was having way too much fun!). I still regret later not having popped over the barrels when it became a jump. Canter lead changes have always been a major issue for Juno as even when he is playing in the field on his own he will usually go disunited or in counter canter rather than making a clean change which should be easier for him, so when James suggested we work on changes I was less than hopeful. It was a major highlight (yes another one!) when we got a few on each rein over a pole and an even bigger one for James to highlight what our problem was and what we now need to work on to progress them further. We were blessed with beautiful weather and it truly was like a horsey heaven. We have already booked for another 2 weeks next year but it still won’t be long enough
Never Stop Dreaming (Nov 11)
I am finding hard to accept that the year has flown so fast – every year I say the same thing and every year it just goes faster though maybe it just seems that way as I keep trying to squeeze more into it? I've spent this year focusing on improving my overall horsemanship, not just the riding but trying to get into the heads of my horses. When I set out on this quest one of my earliest memories was an instructor asking me to visualize what my dream was. Having just finished watching a video of Pat Parelli riding bareback and bridleless over a course of cross country fences the image of me doing the same with Juno popped into my head, I laughed it off as that was NEVER going to happen, Juno was the horse who a few months earlier had given me the ride of my life around Kelsall but in between each and every fence I had had to sit back and yank on the reins to be able to approach the next fence at something less than a suicidal pace. Shortly into the Parelli program I discovered something huge, that he had major issues with his personal bubble from his shoulder back, he couldn't cope with “squeezing through” narrow places or indeed over obstacles without feeling the need to get through as quickly as possible. What I had previously seen as his “bravery” and him “enjoying himself” by adding in speed couldn't have been further from the truth. Despite those constantly pricked ears and with never a backward thought in his head I found I had a horse whose base instincts were telling him he wasn't safe in those situations and he just needed to get the hell out of there. What a contrast now, the numerous varieties of bits that I have collected for him over the years (none of which actually could be relied upon) are now collecting dust, after last year taking what was for me a major step in climbing on board him with just a rope halter, 12 months later we were able to take that off and ride in walk trot and canter in a 50m x 50m arena, using just energy and seat signals to get transitions up and down and to turn. We may not have made it around a cross country course yet and as he approaches his 21st birthday time is not on our side but I have learned amongst many other things “Never say never, don't always say always, usually say usually."