A chilled Filly

Tuesday, 3 January 2017

Great ride today

For all those who have followed my story with Filly, the ups and the depths of down I'm pleased to report that finally (touch wood) it all seems to be coming good at last.
Her left canter has always been a cause for concern and this is what lead to the original navicular diagnosis. But recently she has been getting better and better.

Today we went to the school and just played around slowly getting her used to the spurs as a signal which is going really well. To start with, a couple of rides ago, she hated them and kept trying to bite my boot. But I patiently just rubbed her with them. They are a western spur with a very short rowl. Nothing sharp, a bit like a massage roller. So I just sat and rubbed her up and down until she went "actually that's quite nice really". Then there was the spot where she said "they are nice but you are not using those things to tell me what to do !!". Then there was acceptance that actually they made my leg signals far less confusing and we can work together with them.
The result has been a very much more active Filly who can now see merit in not pushing on my leg but acting as a partner and following my feel.

Once the other two riders left the school we moved up into trot and then canter on the right lead. And what a canter. Fast and relaxed with lovely flowing corners. And so smooth :) :) . Not collected or even flexed as yet, I'm still working on rhythm and relaxation at canter but that will come in time.

Switched to left canter. Not as smooth as right but about as good as right was not long ago. Again very fast and with a sense she was trying to relax but couldn't quite find it.

All in all a great ride which has left me smiling from ear to ear.

Monday, 2 January 2017

Lesson with Becca

Things have been going really well with Filly and I. The sarcoid has now fallen off with just a little tug from the vet to get the last bit off. This seems to have freed up her movement a fair bit and even left canter lead seems smoother as a result. This is something we've been striving for for a while now.

Becca came over and gave us a lesson a few days ago. It all went very well. We played with neutral lateral flexion whilst walking forwards. This just means getting the neck to flex laterally whilst traveling in a straight line. Sound simple but as usual simple things aren't easy. We got there in the end. Then we played with vertical flexion of the head and neck. This was pretty good but it took a while for Filly to get the idea that a quick head nod was not enough. She had to keep it there. A light squeeze with the legs helped with that.

We did a little canter on both leads just to see how she was going. It all seemed so much smoother than in the past. So it is definitely going in the right direction.

There is an interesting difference between our two horses. With Bonitao he can get worried when learning something new and needs lots of reassurance. Filly gets angry and fights anything new but "correction" does not work. You just have to be patient and persistent until she eventually sees the merit in what you are teaching and the resistance melts away. This can be told by the activity of the tail :(

The new Facebook group is going well. Those interested in joining should let me know and I'll sign you up. It's the UK Bridle Horse group for the discussion of the training of horses in the Bridle Horse tradition.

Thursday, 1 December 2016

Be careful what you wish for !

Be careful what you wish for !
I've continued to work on follow the rail. It's getting really really good. I find that being aware of the bend in Filly's body and correcting that early have been key. So it's not about pushing her shoulder to the rail but feeling her ribs bulge to the outside and pushing them to straight again before the shoulder moves off the line. So James was right about using outside leg isolations to keep her on the rail. It just took me a while to get the sensitivity needed to understand that. We can do whole laps without touching the reins now :)
So yesterday we were following the rail and decided to change rein. Hind quarters to the inside, step front end through. All going well. The school has a post and rail fence and they have fixed metal dressage letters to the top rail. But they hang below the top rail and as she stepped her fore quarters through my right knee got caught behind the edge of the metal marker. So my leg got left behind and I couldn't get it free. So I was pulled off the right side. So I grabbed the loop on the pad to help get upright again, desperate not to come off so close to the fence. This rotated the whole saddle around her. Now I have no choice but to come off, fortunately gently.
So this morning I have a very sore tendon in my left elbow and can't do the washing up :( ! Right hip just a little bruised but otherwise fine. Likewise with right knee.
Prior to this I had decided I would get a breast plate but the sarcoid prevents it at the moment. Definitely getting one though as soon as she is better and it won't rub her.
I'm very very proud of Filly. As I came off she hopped two steps away and then stood there very quietly with saddle hanging off her side and now very tight. Fortunately I use a packers knot on the girth, not the buckle. It was still difficult to undo the knot however. I buckle would have been impossible. Also fortunately I put the mecate end through my belt which pulled free as I fell off. If it had been tied to the saddle that would have really complicated things.
Through all my pulling and pushing at the saddle she did not move a muscle and then stood quietly as I put it all back on. Rode around a while longer after which Ritchie (Regina) had a ride on her.
Like I said I'm so proud she coped with all that :)

Sunday, 13 November 2016

Mike Bridges Clinic and weight shift (again !)

Yesterday we went to see the Mike Bridges clinic just west of Birmingham. It was great to see so many familiar faces we have grown up with in the Parelli world there. I think Pat would have been proud as well. He always says that his program provides the foundation and then we should branch out and seek good instructors in whatever discipline we wish to follow. The knowledge Parelli provided lead me to the Bridle Horse discipline, which I love, and Mike is one of the best instructors in the world for that. Along with Buck I guess, but less well known and therefore a little more accessible.

The format of the clinic was the usual format of a set of riders in the morning and a different set in the afternoon. It was great watching David Zund riding on his little Spanish mare. I was stunned to learn later that the mare is 20 years old !! She was easily the best performing horse all day, but then she had David on board ;)

During the clinic I was getting thoroughly confused about weight shift again, especially after what I had learnt in Montana. So I sought out Mike during the lunch break for some clarification.
He said that what I had learnt in Montana was good for a juvenile horse just learning to move with our aids as it made it super obvious where to go. However it also caused them trouble with regaining balance after the move. So weighting the outside stirrup during a fore quarter turn did make it obvious to move the shoulders away from that side but once the horses legs had moved that way then they would struggle to regain balance. So what I was told in Montana was a way of getting the movement started in a horse that was still in the training phase but not appropriate for a more advanced horse.

Then he came up with what he called the golden rule which comes from classical dressage.
"Move your seat in the direction of travel and over the engaged leg"

He gave the example of a leg yield. If leg yielding to the left then your seat needed to move over to the left side of the horse. That confused me because the most engaged leg in the leg yield is the right hind. But he said the right hind should be stretching across under the mid line of the horse so your weight should be over where that engaged leg is going to strike the ground which is again to the left of the mid line.

I asked about how to position my weight for hind quarter disengagement. He looked a little aghast and asked why on earth I would want to teach the horse to disengage. Everything should be about engagement. I take his point and maybe for a rider of his calibre that is fair enough.
For me I want to be sure that I can quickly disengage the hind legs of Filly. She is a race horse and hates cows at the moment so for me that is a safety issue even if it reduces her performance a little.

Sunday, 6 November 2016

Montana Holiday Part 3 : Weight Distribution

One of the reasons for going on to this ranch was to be able to ride with people who had been brought up around the form of horsemanship we are studying. One of those people was Ben.

Ben is, I believe, around 34 years old and has been riding all his life. He has ridden with many of the great horsemen such as Ronnie Willis, Buck Brannaman, Martin Black etc etc. He made a living for many years as a travelling cowboy working on a variety of ranches.

This has lead him to be exposed to many styles of riding in the western tradition. For example he can describe and demonstrate the difference between the Nevada, Texas and Californio style. He also described the reasons that each style originated in each area. Often down to climate it turns out.

If you are riding in the Californio style then you probably have more time as the climate is more predictable than the Texas style where the job has to be done now before the afternoon storms hit.

So I was pretty keen to ride with Ben and was lucky enough to have some one on one tuition with him. For this he either rode his finished bridle horse or maybe his developing hackemore horse.

What I really learnt from Ben was to be a more active rider. Coming from the UK we are used to sitting pretty square in the saddle and central. Hands are kept fairly low and central. From James Roberts, Josh and others I had learnt that maybe when developing a horse in a hackemore the hands need to be more active but Ben put some refinement on that.

To start with the riders weight in the saddle is the main cue for the horse, but we all know that already. What is less clear is how to distribute that weight for a particular manoeuvre. Lets take the simple hind quarter yield as an example.

Say we want to move the horses right hind leg under their body so we get a hind quarter yield to the left. If you watch this in the Parelli program you will see the rider lean a little forward and look down and back to the right hind leg. It appears that the riders weight in now over the right front leg.
However Ben showed me that actually you want to weight the left front leg so you put some of your weight in the left stirrup which has moved forwards a little. You do then look down and back at the right hind leg whilst moving your right leg back to ask for the yield. So weight is on your left leg, but intention is down the right side of the horse.
He explained that to achieve this I needed to bend my body to the right so that it felt as though my left side was stretching and my right ribs were crunched together. To an observer is might well look like I had leant to the right and weighted the right stirrup but that was not the case.

For a fore quarter yield to the right we want the weight over the left hind leg a little. So I need to weight the left stirrup with it slightly forward and lift my inside shoulder higher than the outside shoulder. )In fact this inside shoulder/hand being higher than the outside hand/shoulder was a common theme for many moves.) Then open out the right leg to make space for the horse to move into and close the left leg on or just in front of the girth.

The timing of the pressure and release for either manoeuvre must of course been in time with the horses feet but I trust by now that is taken as read ;)

What really interested me was the position of the inside hand during all this. When teaching a young horse this could be so high is was almost vertical off the nose. If the horse didn't respond to a cue don't pull harder, lift !
Watch Buck ride and you'll occasionally see this as well.

Backup was also interesting as to the body position. I had always thought, wrongly, that the weight needed to be a little back in the saddle to help the backup. However Ben said that was incorrect. Slightly back is to stop. To backup the weight should come up and forward a little into much the same position as a forward walk or sitting trot. However the legs come forward of the position for walk and trot. Having heard this I went and looked at Bucks 7 Clinics section on backing and that is exactly what he says in that.

Maria, Bens wife, neatly summarised the weight position for the fore quarter and hind quarter yields as "but your weight on the side of the horse opposite to the side their head has bent to". Makes it easy to remember for me !

Back at home riding Filly all this knowledge has made a difference, especially on the hind quarter yields. She would do them in the past but with a lot of tail swishing. She'll do them now with a quiet tail and is probably quietly thanking Ben for finally telling me what she has be yelling at me for for years.

Sunday, 30 October 2016

Montana Holiday Part 2 : The Round Pen

We arrived at Rocking Z ranch in the early afternoon on a Sunday. We hoped we might have time for a quick ride but weren't sure if that would fit in with the schedule. After all surely Maria and Ben had to have a day off, didn't they?

As it happens it appears they don't ! So after taking our bags to the lovely room we were soon down in the barn and with the horses. I had sent an email to Rocking Z prior to arriving outlining our experience and what we each wanted to get out of the week so Maria already had a plan as to what to do with us. This is a practise I would recommend to anyone going anywhere for a lesson. It saves time for all and allows the activities to be better tailored to the individual.

I had said that I wanted to hone my hackemore skills and progress on the path of learning the vaquero way of horsemanship. I also said that I was keen on interacting with several horses, not just one.

Maria selected a lovely quarter horse mare called Coco for our first session and had her waiting for me in the barn. Time was getting on a little so we decided not to tack up but to concentrate on ground skills.

The ranch has a honeycomb in one of its fields. For those not familiar with a honeycomb I'll try to describe it. Imagine a huge round pen made of post and round pole fencing with an entrance. Then imagine four normal sized round pens inside of the large one placed symmetrically. There is room on the outside of these inner round pens to allow one to easily ride around them whilst staying on the inside rail of the big round pen. Of course you can also ride between the smaller round pens as well. Here is a photo I found of the layout from the Parelli website
This is a brilliant system with an almost infinite variety of patterns and uses.

However today we were just using it as a set of round pens for the four of us who would be playing with horses.

One important aspect of the Rocking Z ranch in my mind is that they do not assume they know it all. They regularly have visiting clinicians and they themselves take part in the clinics. Martin Black goes there every year as does Dave and Jody Ellis. So they seek out top trainers to learn from and it shows.

Maria shared with us a very important concept in this session from Dave Ellis. She said that the implications of this had both shocked her and subsequently improved her horsemanship enormously. And it's such a simple idea.

Never Let you horse do something. Only Allow it to do something.

If you let the horse do something then the horse is taking over and is the leader. By allowing the horse to do something you have set up the suggestion and the horse should willingly comply with that suggestion.

Let me give you the example that Maria got me and Coco to play with to explain this profound idea more.

I asked Coco to do a driving game hind quarter yield by walking with intention towards her hind quarters from the side. Use the tail end of the lead rope or stick and string if your body intention is not enough. Having got the hind legs crossing over then continuing to walk in that direction causing Coco to continually yield the hind quarters. This is of course the friendly game. Horses should after all "Maintain Gait, Maintain Direction" without being asked. It's just that in this case the gait is a continuous hind quarter stepping over. So we are now allowing this movement and our body language of confident friendly game should make this clear.

Now however we want the motion to stop. So we prepare in our minds and then relax from the friendly game in motion to a relaxed "now stop" feeling.

This relaxed "now stop" is not friendly game. It's an instruction. It just so happens that the instruction comes from my body relaxing. The horse should then stop immediately. If they don't, but keep on moving, then we are letting them move and letting them ignore our request to stop. On several occasions Maria said that to her my "now stop" command had been very clear so Coco had clearly just decided to ignore it.

How does this work in practice ? With Coco I would decide that the next time the far hind leg (to me) hits the ground it must not move again. The other legs could adjust to let her come into balance but not the leg I had chosen to stop. I would prepare my mind at least one full step in advance so as to be ready then as the required foot hit the ground I would relax to a stop in my mind and body.

So what to do if they keep moving and take a step or two of "let" movement ? Then ask them to do more. Possibly much more ! "You want to move more, then let me help you". Then ask again for the stop. It didn't take long for Coco to get the idea and I could stop that hind foot 80% of the time.

Such a simple but profound idea. I now watch for all those little moments when a horse has taken over and I am letting them do something rather than allowing them to do something. And that does not just mean hind quarter yields !

Having played with that for a while Maria closed the rail to my round pen and I had a go at liberty with Coco.
My experience of round pen training is limited. I had done some in the past when Larissa kindly leant me Mini to play with at her yard. Trouble was that Mini could duck under the rail of that pen so I had learnt to be too quiet with him. A bit too much pressure and Mini left leaving me a long walk to collect him again :(

I therefore started with some quiet "stick to me". Maria said that looked kind of cute but I should up my game and get some life into Coco. Be more playful !
So I brought my energy up and instantly found what a playful girl Coco was. We soon had her cantering around the pen bucking, kicking and having a great time. To change direction I had a fundamentally bad habit. Standing in the middle of the pen with Coco on a left circle I would back away from her to block at the fence and turn her the other way. Trouble was I was backing on an arc away from her line of travel. Maria rapidly corrected this and had me back straight towards the fence. That tiny change made a huge difference in Coco's reaction and we got even more play drive. I have to say that initially it was a little intimidating being in a round pen with such a playful horse, but within a minute or two it just became exhilarating.

What was interesting was that when I let my energy down and backed slowly away to draw her in she came straight away but with a lovely playful trot and gleam in her eye. As Maria said if I had actually been worrying her she could easily have jumped out and left, but she stayed to play.

This was the horse that I mentioned in the last post as having come straight up to me the next morning in the corral. Whilst I acknowledge that is partly due to the feed they get when taken into the barn none of the other 70 horses did the same. Clearly Coco enjoyed being around me as well, or at least didn't hate the idea !!

All in all that was a great first session and opened my eyes to many new concepts. We don't have a round pen at our yard but I have tried to take the energy and enthusiasm I felt in that session into Filly and my online play. The difference has been tremendous. Much more athleticism from Filly. And from while I try to keep up with her new moves :)

Friday, 28 October 2016

Montana Holiday Part 1

I finally have a few minutes to write about the holiday we both enjoyed in Montana and Wyoming. Things have been a bit busy since I got home and I didn't want to write about the experience until I had time to fully digest what I learned.
There is so much to pass on this will have to happen in chapters !

The holiday was to Yellowstone for three full days and then to Rocking Z ranch in Montana for 5 1/2 days.

First Yellowstone
Brilliant is the best way to describe it. We went there to spot wildlife and do a bit of hiking. As a result we did not go to the favourite tourist spots this time. We saw Old Faithful last year.
The best place for wildlife spotting is the Lammar Valley so we stayed in Gardiner which is reasonably close by American standards. Up before dawn to get to the best viewing site by sunrise at the latest. The trick is to cruise along the road looking for lots of folks with spotting scopes and then park there.
We saw everything we wanted to from Brown Bear with cub, Black Bear, wolves, coyotes, etc etc. One tip if you are going there is to at least hire a good spotting scope. We bought one this year and it made a huge difference to what we saw compared to last year.

Rocking Z
This is a horsemanship blog so lets get onto the riding
Rocking Z is near Wolf Creek in Montana. There is another one in the USA so be careful you choose the right one! They are a 5th generation family on this land so know it rather well. Patty and Zac own the ranch but they leave the riding to their daughter Maria and her husband Ben.
Breakfast at 8am. Out to the horses around 9am. All the horses have come off the mountain by then and are in the big corral. All 70 of them together. A few bites and kicks, nothing serious, but other than that they all get along fine. So different to the custom in the UK to keep all the horses separate or maybe with a carefully chosen field mate. I have to say that given the choice I prefer the communal method, so much more natural for them and it avoids all the stable vices that so many in the UK system wind up with. The big advantage the USA have is space of course. I think the ranch was about 30,000 acres !!
So we then went to the corral to get the horse we where allocated for the day. On day 1 I spent some time playing online with a lovely quarter horse called Coco. A dapple grey. I was told to go and get her. Well there are 70 horses and several dapple greys. How do I find the right one !!!?
No problem. As I entered the corral Coco whinied and came straight up to me to stick her head in the halter. I like to think it's because she liked me. Actually those chosen get to go into the barn to be groomed and tacked up AND get given some grain. I guess they all know that so are desperate to be chosen.
We would then ride until around midday or just after before stopping for lunch. A leisurely lunch and then back out to the horses for another session of riding. Finally finishing around 6pm with dinner at 7pm. So all in all we got to ride for around 5 or 6 hours a day.
Very varied riding it was to. Some work in the school, more out in the big home fields. We also did some hacks into the surrounding hills where we found exactly what terrain horses can travel over. I'm too protective of Filly I've discovered. On the hacks we often herded a few stray cattle back to the field they should be in which made it all the more interesting.

That's all I have time for today, but I will be returning time and again to what I learnt in those 5 1/2 days. It's fair to say that I have entered a whole new area of conscious incompetence now and I'll write about my progress towards conscious competence and, you never know, even unconscious competence.

Would we go back to Rocking Z. Absolutely. But it isn't cheap, especially with the exchange rate now. Besides I have at least 2 years work ahead of me to assimilate what I've learnt.

Saturday, 1 October 2016

A funny incident

I've always been a little worried about cantering Filly on the left canter lead as she is unbalanced and stiff. I've always worried that it is causing her pain as she prefers the right lead so much. Recently I decided we had to find out one way or another so I've been gently cantering on the left lead and by the end of each session she has become smoother and less bouncy.

Yesterday we were cantering the rail on left lead in the school. We only do three sides of the school at a time. So the first side is to get a nice trot, then the first corner we get the left lead (sometimes !!) and we then continue on three sides to where we started. She has certainly got the idea of being on the rail now and I fear for by legs at times. Yesterday she surpassed herself in ingenuity and stupidity. Going along the second rail she decided her nose was itchy and needed a scratch. Without breaking gait she turned her nose to the rail and ran it along the wood to get a nice scratch. Fearing splinters I pulled her nose away of course and we continued to the stop corner were she had a good rub.

I figure that any horse that is worried about an itchy nose does not have to much discomfort in the rest of their body so in some ways this was a relief. However to have a horse do something quite as dumb as that does worry me ;) . Maybe I need to teach her about rough wooden rails and splinter ? :) :)

Thursday, 25 August 2016

Doing the best we can

I've often wondered and also been asked "but what if I'm doing it wrong ?". This can lead to paralysis of progress in you horsemanship. The fear of not getting the timing as good as a Parelli or Brannaman can lead to a fear of trying.

Recently I've given this conundrum a lot of thought. After all I've been on standby duty from work and so have been painting my garages' wooden framework which has allowed a lot of time :(.

Finally I had a flash of inspiration yesterday as to the answer to this problem. Many folks seem to get along just fine without the Parelli or Brannaman knowledge and timing so why does it not matter that much ?

My conclusion was that what matters ultimately is not the timing or knowledge, they just make progress faster. What actually matters is the attitude of mind. If I'm trying as hard as I can to be at my absolute best then the focus that gives me is transmitted to the horse and I'm seen as a leader. Maybe not as good a leader as Pat or Buck, but a leader nonetheless.

So when I'm around the horses, not just in the school or out riding but all the time I'm with them, I'm trying to be the best horseman I can be. That's not the best horseman possible as there is so much I don't know yet. I'm sure there are many things that even Pat and Buck don't know yet but if you watch them they are always striving to be the best they can be now.

So what sort of things am I trying to do well ?
Picking out hooves

Poo picking (don't laugh. Mark Rashid has a section on striving for excellence in this on a DVD. The muscle memory of efficient balanced use of muscles then translates into riding)

Playing on line or ridden

In fact anything that can count as an interaction with horses. Even watching a DVD or reading a book counts as that creates an exercise for the mind.

Some of my friends and family think that makes me a little obsessive, and it probable does. But it also gives me a pride in my horsemanship and a sense of satisfaction that I'm doing everything in my power to make my partnership with horses as good for them as it can possibly be.

It also gives me the confidence to try things with horses that I might otherwise be worried to attempt.

Monday, 15 August 2016

Point to Point part 2

One of the things that Pat seems to say a lot is that people don't do the patterns for long enough. A session or two, then they get bored with the repetition and go on to other things. I'm determined not to fall into that category. I've been there and made that mistake in the past. As a result progress has been slower than it should have been.

So at the moment there are two patterns I use mostly. Point to point and the Stacey Westfall clover leaf pattern.

A session with Filly currently starts with a brief follow the rail at walk just to get her in rhythm, then we move onto the patterns. Follow the rail turns into point to point where we go through all the exercises I mentioned in my last post. The exercises ramp up in difficulty as we go along. So we might start with simple trotting between the points.
Then halt to canter transitions.
Then canter to backup (very keen on that one to get a soft canter stop).
Then backup, 180 degree turn, canter, stop, backup, 180 degree turn, canter etc. Pauses put in when required to get softness in body and mind for both of us.

As you can see the boring Point to Point pattern can be made really interesting and fun. In fact I make a point of having fun in my mind and body as this transmits itself to Filly and we get way more done.

Then for a quick change of gear we go to the Stacey Westfall pattern.
To do this place 5 markers on the ground with one central one and others arranged on a circle around it about 9 paces from the middle one. The pattern is NOT riding the circle though I do use the markers for that sometimes as well.
To start the pattern on the right rein. Middle marker to left side of outer marker then a hind quarter (indirect rein) turn towards the middle marker. Aim to left side of middle marker and make a direct rein turn through 90 degrees towards the left side of the next outer marker. Then an indirect rein turn back towards middle marker.
So if on the right rein all turns are 90 degrees around the middle marker, 180 degrees around the outer marker and all on the same rein.

Our favourite form of this is at trot with really sharp indirect turns around the outer marker, a surge of energy around the middle marker and keep going for the whole pattern. To make it really fun take the bridle off and do it bridleless. We miss the odd marker I must admit, but usually by the end we have it nailed.

These patterns seem to get Filly pretty motivated and also, because she knows what to expect, calm. I guess that's the power of patterns !