Lee Pearson and the inoffensive sandwich

The night before the Lee Pearson lesson we noticed that Nutmeg was washing his tummy with too much interest.

Nutmeg

Nutmeg

On inspection he had some really concerning open wounds. It looked to me like he’d gone over a fence with a nail in and got caught and one in particular looked deep. It didn’t justify an emergency vet call out, but it did need checking by a professional sooner rather than later. But of course it was Friday night and the vets was closed for the night. They do open 9-12 on a Saturday morning, but it is by appointment and obviously we  didn’t have one. The surgery opens at 9.00 and I needed to get to the stables in good time to prepare myself and Drifter for the lesson with Lee at 11.30.

Which is how I came to be dressed in my riding gear, with a cat in a crate, waiting on the doorstep for the vets to open, begging them to see me in the next hour because I had to get to a lesson with a paralympian! I was prepared to take Nutmeg with me to the stables if I had to, to let me wait a little longer for the vet.

The receptionist said that they were pretty much booked up, but that as the vet working was the quick one, there should be a chance at some point. I settled in for a wait, distracted by a boisterous labrador who was so excited by everything and his owners didn’t have any real control over him. Luckily, the second appointment of the day didn’t turn up and we were seen much quicker than I’d dared to hope.

The vet provided pain-killers, antibiotics and a cone collar, the latter to be used at our discretion! He didn’t seem too worried by the injuries themselves, but said that they were almost certainly bites from another cat. We were aware that there are new cats in the area and that there were serious tensions, but not that things were this bad. Hopefully now Nutmeg’s lost this round he’ll back off next time.

I had plenty of time to drop him back home and get out to the stables. Hurray!

As I walked onto the yard, two members of staff were discussing sandwiches. One demanded of me to tell them what an offensive sandwich would be. Thoughts swam through my head, and I almost said “Sardine and jam”, which I think would fit the bill, but taking the question seriously and thinking about what people are offended by, the answer I came up with was, “A penis sandwich would be offensive.”

One nearly fell in her muck wheelbarrow laughing.

Once they’d recovered they explained they were really trying to establish what would be an inoffensive sandwich, but they disagreed over what would constitute an offensive one, for comparison. They did agree that a penis sandwich would definitely not be inoffensive although they found my thought processes rather surprising.

I went to groom, hot cloth, swipe the saddle over (the time for a proper cleaning there was spent on a vet trip) and tack up.

The rain was torrential but it was boiling, so the grooming and tacking up was characterised by a great deal of putting my coat on to fetch something from the tack room and then taking it off again as soon as I stepped into the stable. Thank heaven they always give Lee the indoor school to teach in.

We were tacked up just in time. I put my raincoat back on and his big waterproof turnout over the saddle and we went round for the lesson. Lee was running to time so I went straight in, which was very welcome!

I got linked up with the earpiece so I would be able to hear Lee and hopped on. Drifter was in quite a cooperative mood and as we warmed up started going reasonably round, by our standards, which was handy. Lee asked for a quick update, and on hearing about my rejection of jumping shared that he doesn’t jump for pretty much the same reasons. It doesn’t appeal and, he said, “I can’t see a stride to save my life.” Well I take that with a pinch of salt 😉 But once again it’s really nice to be reminded that there are plenty of “real riders” who choose not to jump.

We showed our paces, and Lee said that once again we’d be focussing on canter, because that seemed to be our biggest problem.

The plan was to get from the fast scramble-canter with his head in the air to something softer and more manageable. The key to this? Transitions and lots of them. While I’ve got into the habit of doing lots of trot-walk, walk-trot transitions in quick successions I’ve never done quick canter transitions. Someone early on in our canter story told us he wasn’t the kind to be able to go quickly back into canter after he’d come into trot and I accepted that, and didn’t try canter – trot – canter very often, but with Lee quick transitions between canter and trot were exactly what we did. I realise now that if he finds a thing hard that’s exactly what we should work on, so that person wasn’t being helpful. I think it probably came from the riding school mentality of trying to improve just the rider rather than the horse or the partnership.

Anyway, we came onto a 20m circle and stayed on it while doing lots of quick transitions between canter and trot. At first every upward transition to canter took us from a submissive “dressage-pony” outline to a giraffe impression, but as we kept working we a few transitions where it was like we hardly changed between the two. That was amazing and I’ve never felt that on any horse before.

Lee explained that although Drifter’s physically much stronger than he was and so doing much better in canter, he’s still a bit weak and underconfident about it, so he goes really fast to keep going and drops back to trot if I don’t let him go really fast. Lee said that lots of horses are insecure about the transition but fine about the canter itself but D’s insecure about both. For this reason the more we practice the transition the more he learns that it’s not a big deal and he can do it, while strengthening the muscles to make it easier in future. I realise as l write this that I am also a little less confident than I would like about canter transitions so practicing loads will be good for me too.

As we were working on the transitions the door opened and in came one of the staff members from the sandwich conversation, bearing a plate. “I’ve bought you an inoffensive sandwich,” she declared and both she and I burst out laughing, which did little for the quality of my transitions, I have to say. I had no idea that the conversation earlier had been about what sandwich they should buy for Lee!

Of course unusual hilarity about a sandwich must be explained, so she filled him in as I cantered about still laughing. When he heard about the penis sandwich conversation he declared that he didn’t want the cheese and ham she offered, could she take it away and get him a penis sandwich instead!?

As she couldn’t actually fulfil this order he did accept the ham and cheese inoffensive sandwich instead, and we got back to work.

Towards the end of the lesson we even did some counter flexion in canter – something it would never have occurred to me to try and I wouldn’t have thought we could do. The purpose of this was to encourage D to let me have his head and neck in different positions that his usual “Oh **** I’m cantering!” giraffe position.

Another point he made was that I’ve got to stop letting D get away with tossing his head when he doesn’t like what I’ve asked him to do. He mentioned it last time as well but I’ve not really made much progress there. Must try harder.

By the time we finished we were dripping with sweat, but at least it had finished raining.

I’m delighted with the progress we made with the transitions. Like most (all?) of our previous lessons with Lee we came out and I realised I’d done things I didn’t know I/we could do. We had some stunning canter transitions that I just didn’t think we were capable of and some really nice bits of canter between them. We have loads to work on, but plenty achieved and plenty to be proud of. I certainly hope we’ll be having another Lee lesson in another couple of months and I can’t wait!

Another update: now with 20% more cantering

Things continue to go well for us. This is what horse owning is supposed to be like. Mr S is very much enjoying that at lately he knows what mood I’ll be in when I get back from the stables – a good one.

Everything is so much easier when you’re on the same page as your horse. At last we seem to be getting things together. We had one ride this week where he was so switched on and I could have whichever canter lead I wanted as soon as I asked and anywhere in the school I chose. My seat in general and in canter specifically is much stiller and, perhaps as a consequence, I think I’m starting to get some speed changes within the canter, even sometimes on the fast right rein, which usually comes in two flavours : “ridiculously fast” or “oops, no, that’s a trot again.”

I told you before that I had become a canter whore, but I think it’s really only in the last fortnight that it’s really kicked in. Before now my favourite gait was trot. Now it’s definitely canter, and if you tell us we can’t canter, we both get a little frustrated. The canters are the meat of our workouts now. And we’re really working!

That said, I did a little sitting trot work today and had a few pleasing moments. I need to practice more, but I find it hard to plan a workout for both crazy cantering with his brain switched to “reactive” and also the sitting trot work for which he has to tone his trot down to something that barely moves to give me a chance, and then block out the bouncing thing on his back, which necessitates switching his brain to “ignore.”

Despite our intense canter work, in our jump lessons we’re still mostly jumping from trot. We had a lesson yesterday and it went really well. We worked up to a little course of 8 jumps, mostly crosspoles. We had a couple of occasions where we went around rather than over the jumps but they were minor blips and although I know they happened and they were undesirable, they didn’t touch my confidence, which was really rather high. As it was a Saturday lesson there were spectators, many of whom haven’t seen me jump since I last did the group lesson, and several people seemed rather impressed with my progress. I got the feeling my instructor was quite surprised at how well we did, especially as she threw some steering challenges into the course – one of which caught me out the first time, but after that gave me no problems.

I’m glad to say she didn’t 09506-500x500make us jump what she’d made some of the others jump that day – a skinny wooden frame with this road sign attached, which I think was about 1 m wide, to give you an idea of scale. Actually I think we were in no danger of being asked to jump at as it was taller than anything we’ve tried so far, but it was leant up against the fence of the school and apparently was one of the spookiest things imaginable for D. We had many many passes by it in our warm up and still had issues with it later on in the lesson. Actually the owner had made the sign into a jump purely because so many horses had spooked at it out hacking, so she thought it would be good for a challenge for those riders ready for one! I’m not looking forward to the day I’m asked to jump it though, but maybe by the time that day comes I’ll be up for it. I have to say I’ll really struggle not to stare at the jump when it’s that eye catching.

I think this is a sign* that my confidence is rising – I do believe there will be a day when we’re ready to try scary fillers (although I’m hoping we’ll start with the painted pigs with the big staring eyes first, they’re much smaller and less intimidating.) Only months ago I was wondering if I’ll ever be able to do a walk-trot-canter dressage test; now I’m wondering how high we can jump together, one day, when we’re ready. I even caught myself wondering whether we might go out and try cross-country one day in the far off future. I’m not sure about that one though – cross-country seems a bit on the terrifying side to me 🙂 But who knows? Anything’s possible.

 

*Pun intended 😉

Image from: http://www.lastingimpressionsonline.co.uk/road-flooded-sign-09506

Update on the week: jumping & flatwork

 

 

 

Things have been going very well under saddle. Apart, that is, from the saddle itself, which is almost certainly now too snug for the horse who has muscled up so well since he was fitted for that saddle. We have a saddle fitter booked who is coming to see us in about 3 weeks, with a van full of saddles and the smile that comes from knowing there’s very little chance the existing saddle can be made to fit, so it’s probably going to have to be another saddle rather than a little re-flock. Slipping my fingers under the pommel when I’m onboard, I’m pretty sure it’s digging in, and pretty sure that’s the un-adjustable tree of the saddle that I can feel. I have asked them to bring out any second-hand saddles that would do for us as well as the new ones, but I won’t count my chickens that any of the second-hand ones will fit.

I also have the unease that comes of riding him in a saddle I know doesn’t fit as well as it should. He’s not showing any negative signs from it though, so it obviously doesn’t feel as bad as when the flocking compacted this time last year, when he would only move in straight lines because it dug in if he bent to go around a corner.

Anyway, although I am concerned about the saddle and the expense of a replacement, the balance is that other things are going very well for Drifter and I. In terms of my riding and his way of going, we continue to make great progress. When I saw Lee Pearson, which I think was only last week (can that be right?) I rode in a running martingale. While it’s not dressage legal, so I wasn’t sure what he’d think, I wanted to present us as we train, which lately has been with the martingale. Lee had no problem with that, and said that if it worked for us as a training aid, by all means ride with it. I said I felt I couldn’t get him on the bit consistently without the martingale yet and I felt it was better to get him working well and developing his muscles in it, and then take it off in the future. He agreed with that, but he also said I should make sure that from time to time I  take it off and see what we can manage without it. He said he thought I’d be able to do without it sooner than I might think.

I had a couple of flatwork sessions alone in the days after the session with Lee, and felt like I worked well on the pointers he’d given us. For the first time I realised that I had a soft, elastic contact; a supple yielding frame. Drifter went to lean through my left hand and as I corrected him for it I realised what I was experiencing prior to that attempt to lean. Rather than the constant tug of war at the front end we had achieved the goal. He was on the bit without tension, moving well from behind, into my hand, but not against my hand. This is new for us. In fact it’s new for me. I’ve never felt this on any horse before. Aside from the occasional blip, and the erratic variables that our canters are made from, we managed to keep that feeling a constant presence until our private jump lesson on Thursday.

On Thursday the tug of war was back, but he does get very excited jumping, and to be soft in the hand for jumping would be a lot to ask just yet. And so we jumped. It was excellent. We had no disagreements and no hairy moments, although there was one massive leap which shook me forward over his neck and caused the instructor to dryly comment, “This one can really jump!” Apparently he thought he needed to take off very early, necessitating the huge jump to be sure to clear the tiny cross-pole. As we were in trot at the time I’m not sure quite why, but maybe if I could have seen what he did it would have made more sense.

One of the new things that we did was to have two cross pole jumps with two strides between them; jump the first from trot and then pick up the canter on landing so we would jump the second from canter.

I found the concept of picking up canter without a corner rather a novel idea, and being naturally suspicious of novelty, I asked if I could try getting a canter on the straight without a jump first. The instructor agreed, and had me try picking up the canter on the long sides of the school rather than in the corners or on a circle (which were the only places I’d picked up canter in the past). Once I’d had a go at that we tried it with the jumps in and it went well. I did it on the first attempt but couldn’t manage it again until the fourth attempt. Nevertheless I was very pleased. She left me with a homework flatwork exercise: Trot down the centre line and decide whether you’re going to pick up left or right canter. Over X, canter on the lead you decided, continuing on the centre line and tracking right or left depending on which canter you chose. She told me it would be hard but it would be a really useful exercise.

The next time I rode, unfortunately, although we were alone we were in a school full of jumps, and the centre-line was entirely blocked. So we weren’t able to try out our new idea. Because the school was full of jumps, Drifter had his excited jumping head on, so I decided to make the best of what I had to work with. We had a workout weaving in and out between the jumps, picking up canter in random places, trying to steady the canter despite his excitement. About half way through we had some unexpected lateral work, when some lightweight plastic numbers, which had been used to number the jumps and then left on the fence, blew straight at us as we cantered past. It was the largest spook I’ve experienced from him, but it didn’t unbalance me and I brought him back to them to show him they weren’t scary. Which would have gone better if another gust hadn’t thrown another 3 straight at him. Oops, bad human. But this time he wasn’t nearly as worried or surprised and I hopped off, gathered them up and weighted them down and we continued. I was pleased with the way it all turned out, because it hadn’t been an ideal situation but nothing bad had happened and I hadn’t been worried or shaken by it. 

When I rode this morning we did not have to dodge jumps, but we did have a relatively short time and we were sharing a school, so I had limited opportunity to try the new “canter at X and go straight” idea. I did have a few goes though. I had expected to find it easier on the his easy left rein and harder on the traditionally weak right rein, but he surprised me. On the right rein I asked for the bend, asked for the canter, got it pretty much on X, kept straight-ish and turned right at the end of the school. All good. On the left rein though, it was another story. It was hard for me to get the bend right before asking for the canter. He is stiffer that way and it really exposed it. He even went on the wrong leg, i.e. he took the difficult right lead, upon which he is still unbalanced, presumably because I couldn’t get the bend right. Eventually we did get the correct left lead just after X but I could not keep him anywhere near the centre line and we veered off to the left cutting off about a third of the length of the school. Still, that was an improvement on the previous attempts and I had to leave it there.

Aside from when he got a bit over excited from the cantering, throughout today’s ride we had softness in the contact and he was carrying himself well. In all of the walk and trot work I felt he was in a nice outline. At no point did he try to lift his head, but stayed seeking the bit. Very nice. What I haven’t told you yet is that we weren’t using the martingale. I thought I’d take Lee’s advice and try without it, even though I thought we still needed it, just to get a ground-line on where we were. But apparently I can do without it! I’ll still use it for jumping, because when there are jumps there is every chance that he’ll get over excited, throw his head up and go like a giraffe every now and then, but when it comes to dressage, we can get that outline without the forbidden martingale. Hurray!

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Change of plans

So the physio was going to come on Monday while I was at work and make my wonky pony all straight again. She came … and said she hadn’t time to see him, implying to the staff that I had not contacted her.

I was disproportionately upset. But there wasn’t a lot I could do except wait another fortnight for her to come back. So we’re still waiting. However, as he went surprisingly well on Sunday for the Biomechanics session I hoped we’d be able to continue working that well. And so far we have.

On Tuesday I had the day off work, as they owed me many hours, and went to ride in the daytime. Unexpectedly there were lessons on, so I had to wait hours to get the indoor school (the outdoor is a bit drowned at the moment), but I spent the time chatting to one of the instructors about everything under the sun and had rather a nice time even though it hadn’t been what I’d planned. While I was there I caught the owner for a minute, between schooling her horses, and asked if she will teach me for private jump lessons instead of me coming to the group. Not only did she agree, she struck while the iron was hot and we arranged a lesson for Thursday night, i.e. today!

I managed to get into the indoor school eventually and had it to myself for well over an hour. During that time we had a wonderful workout. The weather was only a few degrees above freezing but I worked hard enough that I wished I could take off more layers  than were decent. Drifter ended the session a very sweaty boy too. We did a little sitting trot practice and I had a few moments of really “getting it,” but mostly I was focusing on steering in canter. I’d been hoping to work with the cones, but they were all round at the other schools and having waited so long to get in the school, I was not going to go all the way back for them. So I picked up vaguely recognisable chunks of school surface and marked points that I hoped would give me 4 points of an even-ish circle to steer round. This was a very useful exercise (i.e. challenging for us!). I also tried cantering down the three-quarter lines to work on turning onto them, spiraling in and out on a circle (which it had never before occurred to me could be done in canter) and trying to slow the canter down. Slowing didn’t go as well as the other goals. But there was only one time when he was on the wrong leg.

I’d realised that for jumping we need to be accurate and maneuverable in canter. All of my previous lessons involving canter have been all about getting the canter and virtually none on what I do when I’m in canter! Until I went into the session with Lee Pearson I’d never been asked to canter anything more challenging than a 20 m circle. Until I went into the jump lesson I’d never been asked to come off the track in canter except to do a circle. I need to remedy this, and practice cantering other shapes. Unfortunately when sharing a small school with other riders, unpredictable figures are dangerous, so a lot of the time staying on the track or circling is the only safe option, but when I manage to ride alone, I intend to be inventive.

I realised that I now have the capacity to do a figure of 8 in canter with simple changes. So I did one. I used to dream of that being possible for us and now it is. Pretty cool. I want a copy of the walk-trot-canter dressage test now, because I’m sure we could do that. I’m also sure it would lead to him getting excited and everything in the test after the canter part being a conversation like this:

D: Canter now?

Me: No. Get back here. Slow down that crazy trot.

D: Canter here?

Me: No. You are supposed to be trotting.

D: Well…  you must want canter now! – I trotted nice and round for a bit so now it’s time to canter.

Me: No. Walking now.

D: Don’t understand. Why am I not supposed to be cantering? Oh it must be time to stop work. I will go very lazy now. What do you mean trot? I am resting if we are not going to canter.

Me: No, no, no! When you go lazy you are not straight and we’ve got to get down that center line vaguely straight to have any chance of halting facing the judge!*

D: You’re mean.

Me: I know. Life sucks.

*I don’t bother dreaming of a square halt, but one facing the right direction is always nice I think.

I digress.

So tonight we have our first private jump lesson. It has been snowing today, although it hasn’t settled yet. Officially all jumping must take place outside at the moment, but I’m not sure if that holds true with lessons after dark and/or in the snow. It would be nice if it’s inside, but I shan’t hold my breath. I’m hopeful that Drifter will continue to move as well as he has for the last few rides. I wonder if the stiffness and wonkiness he was experiencing was not the recurrence of his usual problems, but something else, because he seems to have got better of his own accord. He’ll still see the physio in a fortnight (I hope!) but I’m hopeful that he’ll be reasonably balanced to jump tonight. Wish us luck!

Shhh! Don’t tell the universe…

Shhh! Don’t tell the universe…

… but things are actually going quite well for me and Drifter at the moment.

I’ve been putting off posting because I felt like as soon as I typed those words we’d immediately be visited by terrible lameness, hideous infection, a meteor crash or all of the above.

Perhaps I’d better ring the stable to check on him …

Paranoia aside, stuff is good!

  • Drifter seems to have got both his head and his legs around the canter-lead business. He’s probably gone from being wrong 90% of the time to being right 90% of the time.
  • I am getting the hang of feeling the canter lead. How easy I find it depends on his balance, speed and what sort of shape we’re on, but I’m making progress.
  • On Saturday we jumped 3 little jumps with a single stride between each and on one attempt  at this I actually managed to be upright when I should be and folded when I should be, which is a surprising amount of coordination for me (or most of our jump class to be honest). The people watching clapped and I waved to my audience. Happy days.
  • He is working rounder. I put his running martingale on him for jumping and am too lazy to take it off the reins again to do flat work, so we’ve been in the martingale all the time and I reluctantly have to admit that it suits him. My reluctance is because I want to get him dressage-round without the non-dressage-legal martingale. But I think I have to accept that he is developing better muscle working in the martingale all the time than working without it. I am starting to see that he is a show-jumping horse at heart and by his training and so he has probably spent most of his working life in a martingale of some kind. If it works for him I should use it. If he spends enough time working nicely, building the relevant muscles to carry himself then hopefully when I take it off him for a dressage competition the habit of moving well will carry over. If not, who cares? I’d rather have a horse carrying himself well 99% of the time and badly in a dressage test (that really means nothing) than carrying himself badly all the time while I fuss about why he won’t put his head down. I did not buy him as a competition horse. I bought him for the 99% of the time when I’m not competing.
  • Because he’s working rounder everything is easier for us both. Balance is better, suppleness, responsiveness, communication between us.
  • Because we can work in the canter rather than working to get the canter we’re both getting more exercise
  • I’ve twigged that the reason I get out of breath quickly in the canter is because I’m not breathing normally. So now I’m making an effort to breathe in relation to his canter strides, e.g. in for 2 out for 2 which is helping with my breathing and my canter stride counting for when we jump. I think it’s also calming him not to have me gasping on top.
  • I can’t actually remember the last time we had a bad ride.

So you see, stuff is going well for us!

To finish off, here’s the picture Julie requested in her comment on my last post: a unicorn, in the style of My Little Pony. For no extra cost I have also included wings.

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In which we do lots of lungeing

So, where were we, before we were rudely interrupted by my succumbing to yet another virus? Ah yes, Drifter was about to move across the yard.

He has now moved. This occasioned some stress for me, but apparently very little for him. He seemed entirely un-bothered about the experience. I realise all that happened is that he was walked from his old stable to a new one, in an area he’d seen before, with lots of horses he knew vaguely and one he knew well, but I thought he might be stressed. I forgot that this horse has 2 mottos:

I fear nothing but puddles*

As long as there is hay, all else is irrelevant

So he was fine.

Unfortunately I was not well enough to go and check he was fine, so worried about him a lot, but Mr S drove me out there one evening, literally to look at him and go home to bed again.

There was some hassle with keys to the tack room though, as I had known there would be. The process of getting a key went like this:

  1. Notice that all my tack & rugs had been moved out of the old tack room (where I’d been told it would remain for a week or two).
  2. Ask where my tack was.
  3. Having located it, ask if I could have a key to the locked building it was in…
  4. Be told there were no keys but some would be cut in the next few days
  5. Wait few days (as ill, not an issue)
  6. Harass owner about keys
  7. Be told there were still no keys as they had suffered a break-in and dealing with that had taken priority.**
  8. Wait few days more
  9. Receive a key, only to find that although it locks the door 100% of the time, it only unlocks about 10% of the time
  10. Return key, receive another one
  11. Find that new key locks 100% and unlocks 80% of the time, but there’s a knack to the other 20% that I think I can work with.
  12. Hope that knack always works!

Also his fly rug didn’t seem to have made the move. After asking the staff to look and hunting through all the other livery rugs I eventually found it with the school rugs… and someone had washed it!

Being unwell, I had to get Drifter some schooling, but I didn’t want to spend more on him than I had to and lunged him towards the end of the week when I felt I could manage driving a car again.*** I wasn’t really well enough though, and had to stop and sit down to rest several times during the grooming and tacking-up process. Lunging went OK, but he couldn’t get the canter on the right leg on the right rein. I didn’t really have the energy to care, but did note it as a backwards step.

I struggled home again, but I was pleased I’d managed to lunge him myself rather than paying out more.

On the Saturday Mr S offered to help. For the first time, he wanted to learn how to handle Drifter and get involved. He asked me to teach him to groom, tack him up and have a go at lungeing (or pony-on-a-string as I often call it).

So we did. I’d warned him that his first attempt at putting on a bridle probably wouldn’t be that easy, so he was prepared to find it difficult and so did rather well. Once Drifter was “dressed” we went out to the school. It became apparent that Drifter was going to take the mickey out of Mr S. When I lunge that horse, he always wants to trot, from the get go. He may do a circle or two in walk if he’s feeling particularly dozy, but really he just gets on with trotting if I don’t suggest anything to the contrary. For Mr S, instead of trotting round, he just stood there. Or took a few steps like he didn’t understand what he was supposed to be doing. I took over and “woke him up” a bit and then passed him back to Mr S, who got on a considerably better now Drifter wasn’t pretending to be stupid. We agreed it was best if Mr S didn’t ask for canter, so I had a quick spin of him in canter, and managed to about 3 good strikes-off into canter on the dodgy rein (I brought him back to trot quickly each time to work the transition not the canter itself) which I was really pleased with and then we cooled him down.

Mr S did well and particularly enjoyed grooming. He didn’t so much like how much time everything takes. I see his point.

I enjoyed having Mr S see what it is that takes my time (I think he thought I must spend all my time gossiping to spend so long at the stables) and have him get involved. It would be really nice if in the future when I’m ill we have the option for Mr S to go and lunge him, rather than having to pay.

I was surprised at Drifter taking the mickey out of Mr S – I know horses do that, but I didn’t know my horse did that 😉 For me he was always quite idiot-proof on the lunge, even though he was the first horse I ever lunged, back in December.

I had ordered a lunging aid very similar to a Pessoa (but considerably cheaper) from the tack shop.

Shires lunging aid advertising photo

Shires lunging aid advertising photo

This had just arrived, but obviously I hadn’t wanted to combine Mr S’s first attempt at lungeing with Drifter’s first attempt at going in a Pessoa-alike, so I saved that for the Sunday. On Sunday I was feeling better enough and keen enough to get out of the house that I spent most of the afternoon hanging around the yard, and, in between resting, gossiping and looking for the missing fly sheet, I fitted the lungeing aid to him in the stable. Having done my research, I felt confident that I knew what I was doing fitting the aid (the official Pessoa you-tube video below was very useful) and knew that he might freak out when I lowered the back portion down and around his back-end.

I need not have feared. As I may have mentioned, my horse has 2 mottos:

I fear nothing but puddles*

As long as there is hay, all else is irrelevant

There was hay and nothing to fear. So we were fine. He lifted his head a few times once I’d attached the lines along his sides, to & through the bit rings and down to the roller, but he was just finding out about it, and settled back to the hay.

At this point I wasn’t even sure I was going to lunge that day (he’d been out and so didn’t really need to be exercised, and I didn’t know when there’d be a free school, it being a busy teaching day) so I took it all off him again.

Later on I did decide to have a little go at lungeing him in it. I would follow the recommendation that for the first use he should just walk in it for 10 min. This sounded very sensible to me. I took him out un-trussed so that he could stretch out before I put it on.

Unfortunately I had an audience of 3 or 4 staff members who were waiting for the lesson in the next school to finish so they  could all pile on putting the jumps away quickly. Several of them expressed negative feelings towards myself using this type of lunging aid alone and inexperienced. I expressed my confidence and belief in my horse’s ability not to freak out. At least one implied that she was looking forwards to my being humbled on this count and that she’d stay well back, but another offered to hold him while I put the aid on and gave some advice. She agreed with me that the fit I’d set up for him in the stable was loose enough for getting used to it and then should be tightened once he was used to working in it regularly and I was pleased.

But have I mentioned my horse’s first motto?

I fear nothing but puddles*

He was utterly un-bothered, un-interested, un-stressed. He walked calmly round, boring the spectators to tears.

Ha. See?

It did occur to me that maybe he’d been lunged in this kind of aid before I got him, but regardless, I was proud of him.

On Monday we used it again. After a good few minutes of walking in each direction I asked him for 3 minutes of trotting in each direction, with trot/walk transitions to keep him awake as needed. I could see him concentrating during this, thinking about how to move in it, which made me feel that he hasn’t used this kind of aid before (so more proud of him). Again, he was calm, just with that “thinking” vibe he also gives off when we do trotting poles. We did his easy left rein first, and then switched to the right rein. I could see this was a lot harder for him because it was more demanding on his weak right hindquarter. On this side he was eager to drop back to walk after only a few meters in trot. Each time I kept him going a just a little further and then let him rest in walk. In the pessoa-alike it seemed more obvious that when he brings that weak leg under he leans on the opposite shoulder and the opposite side of the bit, which suddenly made sense of the way he leans on a rider’s left arm, which has been perplexing my instructor whenever she rides him (I notice less than she does because in some ways my left is stronger than my right). I’d known he would find it hard – it was for exactly this reason that I’d bought the aid to encourage him to bring his hind end underneath him. It did look even harder than I’d expected so I didn’t ask for much.

I think that maybe we pushed him too hard on the day we rode with the shiny dressage riders, because since then he has at times felt wiggly and a bit lop-sided under saddle, like he used to pre-physio and we’d struggled to get that canter, when he had been improving. I think maybe he hurt that weak quarter again. Also there was a day when in the cool-down I noticed he was tossing his head a tiny bit when that leg came under.

So I’m booking him in to see the physio again. Sigh.

So that was Monday.

On Tuesday (yesterday) I felt well enough to try getting back on board, at nearly a fortnight after I last rode him. I had very low expectations of both of us, which often leads to a good ride, and this was no exception. I wanted to keep it to just 20 min. so I didn’t get too tired. Perhaps as a result of the lunging aid he went on the bit without needing much persuading. He was generally responsive and I was too. The improvement in my riding that I had been seeing before I was ill had all settled and consolidated in the days I didn’t ride, and it felt good. I had thought we’d just walk and trot, but things were going so well. I didn’t want to ask for the challenging right canter, but I saw no reason not to have a little go on the easy left rein. On the Sunday, when I was loitering and watching some lessons I heard an instructor tell someone “you can’t steer in canter until you can produce your canter”. I felt that everything was going so well I’d be sure to manage to produce my canter, so I had a little go. We managed a pretty nice circle (by our standards) and came back to trot. It felt so good. I felt like having that idea of producing a canter made all the difference. I had complete control of the canter from before it started to after it ended. That had never happened for me before. It occurred to me that I’d probably have a bit of control over speed within the canter as well, so I had another go, this time going large and pushed him on down the long side of the school. It worked. I realised it was the first time I’d ever asked him to go faster in canter, because he wasn’t rushing, he was balanced. When I tried to slow him down again he broke back to trot – I think I needed more leg there, but it was an amazing feeling up until that point.

Another positive in the session was that I tried a little sitting trot. As I’ve mentioned before my sitting trot is atrocious, but I read somewhere that it’s almost impossible to sit well on a horse that isn’t offering his back to be sat on. I felt like he was offering his back, so I had a couple of very short attempts at sitting on it. While the result was still poor, I felt like there were moments when I managed to move with him, and that there might be hope for the future. I kept the attempts extremely short so that he wouldn’t get put off offering his back and he seemed to handle things OK.

All in all, it was the most enjoyable and “together” ride we’ve ever had.

Tonight we’re having a night off and basking in the glow of our last ride having been amazing.

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*And maybe small children. And the jump filler with painted pigs on it is slightly concerning.

**The thieves spent 2.5 hrs on the premises, according to the CCTV but were not interested in horses or horse-related stuff. They were interested in the owners’ house & cars and the vending machines, one of which had all of the jaffa cakes removed. I don’t know much more detail than this. But once they knew their horses & tack were safe, many of the liveries were very upset about the lack of jaffa cakes.

***And as I got a new, larger car only 4 or 5 days before I got ill, I was more worried about driving than usual, especially in the narrow lanes. But I was fine.

What am I?

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A woolly boy closeup!

I couldn’t get a full body shot that showed the hairiness as well as this. This is the current state of his neck, with the back of his jaw just at the right of the shot. The mud on his neck was removed after I took the shot, but I thought it might make it easier to see if I took the picture pre-grooming.

I know I said I was going to hold out, but he’s just getting so sweaty, so I’ve asked for him to be clipped at some point this week.

Sunday morning we had a lesson. Saturday night was his last night of Summer turnout pattern and it didn’t leave him in a good mood. There was little grass and the temperature was lower and all the horses came in cold, grumpy and hungry.* I arrived at 9.30 and he was already hungry enough for his 11.00 haynet to be kicking the door (and getting told off for it). He seemed so hungry that I actually checked he’d been fed! He had been: hard feed and morning haynet had been hoovered up. I put a fleece on him and he warmed up a bit before the lesson but he remained in a foul mood and had a good try at biting me when I girthed him, which he hasn’t tried for months and months.

It turned out there’d been a bit of a mix up with schools – there were lessons booked in all 3 and a lady had come to view and try 2 expensive dressage horses belonging to the dealer/trainer who works out of the yard. As mine was the lesson in the biggest school, I was the one who ended up sharing.**

2 beautiful, well-bred and well-trained young warmblood dressage horses, shining and groomed to the highest standards, with gleaming black tack and shining white exercise bandages entered the school, each being shown to their full advantage by dressage riders of a very high calibre. They joined me, my little, unbalanced extremely hairy cob, my very basic riding skills and my rather loud instructor. To say I felt outclassed would be somewhat of an understatement 😉 

But it was my lesson and I was having it. After a few minutes of  getting over the surprise we really started working. For the most part they avoided me and for the most part I forgot about them and got on with it. Once the trot work was going well we started by cantering on the good rein and managed 3 pretty good balanced circles that were surprisingly round. I was really pleased with the roundness of the circles – easily the best we’ve ever done, but they did take it out of us and then it was time to set up cantering to the right. His bad mood had been in evidence at points throughout the lesson, but now it really manifested, mainly in cantering on the spot (on the wrong leg) when I asked for a more ‘together’ trot, but also in napping, which he hasn’t tried for months. So I rode him. We got that canter lead eventually through sheer willpower on my part, and even managed to canter 1 good circle (and one terrible 3/4 of a circle) on the correct lead. By the time we were allowed to stop I was so out of breath all I could hear were my lungs and my heart. I assumed he was blowing too, but the cooldown was as much for me as for him! I realised I’d completely forgotten about the buyers watching, and only been conscious of the dressage horses enough to pass on the correct side and avoid crashing.

On the way back to the stable he tried to bite me again but I’m pretty grumpy when I’m hungry, so I rugged him and arranged for him to have an extra haynet.  We have another lesson on Tuesday so I hope we can keep building on this success, but also that he’ll be in a better mood by then!

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*I’m surprised he wasn’t rugged when I got there – this is the first time I’ve ever thought he should be rugged and he wasn’t.

**Also the first time I’ve heard of anyone having to share a school for a lesson.