A chilled Filly

Friday, 17 June 2016

The responsibility of learning

There are many many responsibilities to owning and caring for a horse. Grooming, feeding, mucking out, hoof care, physical fitness, cleaning the field etc etc. But I think one overlooked responsibility is that of making ourselves better horsemen. Not better riders, though that is part of it, but better horsemen. After all Pat Parelli says that riding is the mere act of not falling off, horsemanship is everything else.
So how to become a better horseman.
Experience is of course a large part of this. Experience of playing and riding ones own horses. Experience (and the privelage) of playing or riding other peoples horses. Watching other people, good and bad ride or play with their horses. You can learn from either.
The experience of someone else riding/playing your horse, particularly if that horseman is very good and can show you what your horse can do.
But not all of us have the time to be with our horses as much as we would like. I for one spend many days working such that I can't go and see my horse at all for days on end. 6 days in my current block of work :( . So how do we improve our horsemanship if we can't be with horses ?
That's where studying and learning come in. I probably spend more hours studying horsemanship than I actually spend with Filly. Not a state I like, but one that is imposed upon me by my job. Even when I have a day off it is really only practical to be with her for 2 or 3 hours.
But that studying must be effective or it is just a waste of time and can be confusing. That's part of the reason I have selected a particular style of horsemanship that I find fascinating and so studying it is not a drudgery but something I actually look forward to doing. Fortunately for the vaquero / natural horsemanship style there is probably more good quality material available than there is for many other styles. For example I am currently reading Mike Bridges book "The Art of Making a California-Style Vaquero Bridle Horse" again and finding I understand just that bit more this time. I'm also watching Buck Brannamans' "7 Clinics" again and his "The Making of a Bridle Horse" series. With the DVDs I'm now noticing many little nuances I missed the first 2 times I watched them. Yes I'm watching them for the 3rd time now.
Now I've read the books and watched the DVDs several times I find that I don't watch/read them for very long in each session. Maybe just 10 minutes. Then I find that whenever my mind has little to do I know the content well enough to really ponder the meaning of that 10 minutes of information and how I can actually use it. That way it sinks in and gets used rather than just washing over me to be forgotten next time I'm with Filly.
In the "7 Clinics" DVDs there are several interviews with a lady called "Betty". She's a dressage rider but a student of Bucks'. In the section where they are describing "hooking on" she makes a very strong point. She says that once you have got your horse to hook on and look to you as a leader it is your responsibility to ensure that you are a good leader for that horse for the rest of it's life. They have placed their trust in you and you must not break that trust. For me that means I must become the best horseman I can be to honour the trust Filly has placed in me and that involves learning something new everyday.

Wednesday, 20 April 2016

Feet update

It's been a while since I last showed pictures of Filly's feet so I though a quick update might be in order. As followers of this blog will know a few years ago Filly was very lame. She was diagnosed with navicular syndrome. An MRI showed chips on both front navicular bones. The outlook was not great with the possibility of using injections to control the problem and maybe get a few years of useful work from her. As you can imagine this was an emotionally painful time with much worry, and yes, tears.
By nature I've never been shy at trying something radical to get a good outcome rather than play it safe to get a so so outcome. Following lots of research I came across mention of Nic Barker at Rockley Farm. After visiting her I sent Filly there for three months of rehab on her amazing track system. I could write reams about Nic's method but you're far better off heading over to her blog and reading her key posts here Rockley Farm Key posts
When Filly came home she was still not sound. My farrier threatened us with the RSPCA which was stressful. But I could see a big change in the shape of her feet and it was that change that would ultimately enable the hoof to start to heal itself from the inside. So after some more dark and emotional days and many many hours of walking Filly in hand around the local roads to literally grind her hooves to the shape she needed we started to see her movement improving and could breath again.
Now, as you all know, I'm riding Filly again and doing lots of fun stuff together. We still go for in hand walks around the local lanes. Not because I can't ride her but because I found I really enjoy walking out with her when I need some exercise. We do hack out more conventionally as well ;).

Here is a link to her original blog post from Rockley farm so you can see what the hooves looked liked as they came out of shoes

Fillys blog at Rockley

And here are some photos of her feet now

Friday, 11 March 2016

Experimenting with the timing

Since the revelation of being able to really feel the feet I've been experimenting with the timing of the aids. For example : when to ask for a sideways step, a hind quarter yield and a fore quarter yield. And so far this is what I have discovered, guided with how light Filly moves in the direction I ask for and whether or not the tail swishes.
She is such a good teacher with that tail. Ask at the right moment and it's quiet, ask at the wrong moment and hear that swish behind me. Whether it's of anger or disappointment I don't know :(

Lots of the timing of the feet comes from feeling her hips and her barrel. This is covered in detail in Mark Rashids "Understanding Footfall" DVD. A superb explanation even if you need a strong pot of coffee to get through it :)

To understand footfall can I also recommend this video. Came across it researching this post and it is superb : Footfall video
I had never looked at the walk as a diagonal gait before this !

Remember the gait pattern at walk is

left hind
left front
right hind
right front

So when the left hind swings forward it is getting closer to the left front which is still on the ground. To make room for both legs being under the body the barrel swings to the right. So as the barrel starts to swing right I know the left hind has just left the ground so this would be a good time to cue the left hind leg to move over if we want indirect rein (or hind quarter yield). Cueing at any other time makes the move impossible and the tail gives feedback that I got it wrong !
To move the front left leg over I need it to be about to leave the ground and now I know this happens just as the barrel starts to move from the right back over to the left as there is a gap opening up between the left front  and left hind for it to fit in. So the horses legs move further apart as the front leg moves giving room for the barrel to swing into and the legs squeeze the barrel out of the way as the hind leg moves forwards.
This gives a basic understanding of the footfall and the timing of the cues. However I have found it a little more subtle than that. Once I could feel the barrel movement I found that I could feel the hip and shoulder movement. With that I had an even more accurate timing on the feet and so my cueing got even better.

Now I know pretty accurately when the legs are moving I'm playing with getting the timing ever more precise. Buck Brannamans DVDs suggest that to move a front leg over you have to cue just before it leaves the ground, not when it is already in flight. He likens the reins to pieces of string attached to the hooves. So to move the left front over you pick up the left front with the left rein move it over then drop it on the ground where you want it. Then move the rein back to wards the middle to get ready for the next step. If the hoof is already in flight it is difficult to redirect as it already has momentum in the wrong direction and the penalty is another tail swish.
Of course this applies to the left hind as well. I've found that its best to cue just before the hoof leaves the ground (with leg and hand) pick that hoof up with the indirect rein and swing over under her, then set it down. To do this the hand has to come up and in towards the center of course, just as the Parelli program teaches. A shame it does not use this idea as it would be so much easier to learn than the way they do at the moment.
Of course all this timing of the feet does make for a lot of work for the rider. To turn left for example you can't just pull on the left rein and leave it at that. I now try to squeeze the rein each time I want to redirect a foot. For a circle that is many many times. The upside is that Filly is now way more responsive and happy in her work. She's also flexing much softer than in the past so we can start working towards picking up a soft feel which will build to collection

I think the others at the yard think I'm mad, by the way, which may be a downside when you start this. They are all trotting and cantering around, jumping over big jumps etc. All I'm doing is going around in seemingly random patterns at a walk, jumping off and saying "that was a fantastic ride". They are wondering what is so fantastic about walking in circles and when I mention timing the feet their eyes kind of glaze over. I guess this is a pretty esoteric part of horsemanship and you could probably get along without knowing it. But I doubt you'd ever produce a bridle horse without knowing it or a horse that can be as light as it is possible to get.

I have been told twice now that a very light horse is not desirable for dressage as they will be responding to the slightest error in your movement and you'll loose points as the horse does not walk straight. For me though I have no desire to compete, just the addiction to lightness and I want to see how far I can take it.

Sunday, 6 March 2016

Timing the feet gives relaxation

I've been working on timing my cues to Filly's feet for a while now and finally it's beginning to come. Well, for the front feet anyway !
I've always known that this desirable but having watched the Buck Brannaman DVDs the idea has taken on a whole new level of importance for me. Buck does say that learning the skill is demanding and frustrating but also states that once acquired it will change the way you ride forever. So I figured "what's a few months of hard work compared to being a better rider for the rest of my life" ?

And yes it has been frustrating and hard and... did I mention frustrating ? To start with I would feel the magic for just a few strides and cues and the feeling was worth striving for. Today I suddenly found I could really really feel that inside front foot and it happened is the most unlikely of situations.

Filly and I had been having fun in the school doing some nice trot circles getting her to turn the forehand with leg aids. It had been going pretty well so I decided we needed a change of scene. We left the school and headed out down the track. I haven't been doing much hacking out recently so the aim was pretty modest. Just to the end of the dirt track leading to the yard and back. On the way out she was good and we played with sideways from one side of the track to the other. With timing of course :). At the end of the track there is a very small loop we can make which involves going down a tiny slope onto another track and then back around onto the original track. She was finding the few steps down a bit worrying and was rushing them. I thought "no problem, we've just been working circles in the school so we'll just work them here". After three or four circles she settled and took time and care as she stepped down.

I decided to head back to the yard. She was getting a bit tense and too forwards so I circled her in small circles on the track. Filly kept pushing into my hand as we turned away from home.
Then suddenly I could feel her feet and my timing on the rein got way way better. After another few circles she started to really settle down. We rode back along the track doing circles and figures of 8 with the emphasis on the timing. She became more and more relaxed. The circles were no longer a battle but we sort of drifted around them. I'm not saying they were pretty dressage circles, they weren't but 90% of her resistance to them had gone. I actually felt in real harmony with her feet for the first time for an extended period. I can't help but think that this better feel I could give her now helped her to find confidence in me as a leader and thus relaxation in herself.

Such a magical feeling I can't wait to experience it again.

Tuesday, 23 February 2016

More about Buck

I've been spending a lot of time watching the Buck Brannaman Seven clinics DVDs lately. I have to confess that in the past I've been a little wary of Buck as some of the online video I've seen of him struck me as a little harsh. How wrong I was !! Having now watched 10 hours of DVD, lots of it multiple times I have come to realise that he's actually a very very gentle horseman and those incidents posted online have just been folks putting up some video they thought would be exciting to watch.

Having said that he is very much a no-nonsense horseman but always fair on horse and human. He offers the opportunity for the horse to follow his feel but if it doesn't he comes in as firm as needed to get the point over. However it is rare on the DVDs to see him have to get firm at all.

The reason for this is that he has amazing timing with hands and feet. Fortunately the DVD player in my computer has a slow motion mode so I can slow the action down and watch exactly when he times the cues. They are always timed to the feet. As a result the horse is free to move in the direction the cue is asking and so there is no resistance and no fight. From this comes harmony and relaxation. The horse knows that in Buck they have a dependable leader who will never ask them to do something they physically cannot do. And I mean cannot do in this micro-second. The foot he is directing as available to move when he adds the cue so it moves. No fuss or fight as there is nothing to fuss or fight over !

For me this has been the biggest thing to take away from the DVDs. I've always tried to time my cues to the feet, but when things are a little difficult that timing has been off. This has caused more confusion in the horse as she is being asked to do something she knows is physically impossible capable of doing so. But she knows she should try and do something with the cue so does something she can do to see if that is the answer to the question. Of course in my mind it isn't so I wonder why she isn't doing what I want and add more pressure. As you can imagine this can escalate in a few seconds to a total misunderstanding which can appear to be disrespect.

Even worse is that when the foot is finally available to move as I desire if I've started with the cue at the wrong time she's probably already discounted the desired motion as the wrong one as at the time of asking it was impossible so why try it again ?

Even writing about this is confusing for me so imagine how it feels for her at the time !!

So, whilst I've always been attempting to get in time with the feet in the past it has now become another addiction to add to the one about finding lightness. Fortunately they will be mutually supporting addictions and will therefore just grow stronger over time.

More importantly I now fully realise that in general any perceived disobedience from Filly is almost always going to be a lack of timing on my part. This has made me lighten up on Filly but get much harder on myself.

Now I'm suggesting that all undesirable behaviour in Filly is  the result of poor timing on my part. But quite a bit of it is. The other evening I was riding her before she had her dinner. Not a good time to ride Filly. She was incredibly strongly drawn to the barn end of the school. Not surprising really as there is not a lot of grass in the fields at them moment and she was hungry. So we had a few issues to work through which went well and we had a nice ride in the end. However I can't help feeling that if my timing was as good as Bucks' then maybe she would have been happier hanging around with me as her "leader" would have been less frustrating for her.

I'll write much more about Buck as I understand more. Largely to keep the ideas straight and honest in my mind as much as anything else. In the meantime I would highly recommend that anyone delving into the world of Natural Horsemanship should have this DVD set on their shelf and watch them many times.

I'm not saying that the Buck DVDs are a replacement for the Parelli program. There are many things in them that without at least a foundation in Parelli I would not have understood as well. They would still be very watch-able and valuable without that background, but I think you would get only 50% of the true value they contain. However I think they also contain some vital elements that the Parelli program has not emphasised sufficiently (or left out altogether) and as such they are a very valuable addition to your knowledge.

Monday, 8 February 2016

Having lessons

Recently I've had a couple of riding lessons from Sue Edwards. That might not sound much of a revelation but they have been from a dressage instructor and I ride western style. But then good horsemanship is good horsemanship and done correctly there is not that much difference between the two styles. After all vaquero came partly from Spanish classic dressage.

I've had lessons before and have been asked to adopt various torture positions and stress my body into strange shapes. I've never really understood the reason for these odd positions as they a) hurt and b) prevent me from relaxing and becoming a part of the horse. So I was relieved when this top class instructor (up to Grand Prix dressage and an elite coach) told me this was all wrong. The first lesson was actaully about getting me to relax more.... and more!

She asked me to picture having to ride comfortably on a 50 mile hack. How would I sit. How would I relax and move with my horse. Was there any stress in any muscle, if so relax it. This didn't mean sitting like a sack of potatoes as I had to become one with the horses movements, but it did mean no muscular tension. None of that old "heels down, toes in chin up, chest out" nonsense. Just relax. And as I relaxed so did Filly. She stretched out her walk more and more and eventually sighed.

It's not all been about relaxation however. We have also been working on improving Fillys' responses to various cues. Particularly the ones to move her forequarters over and her ribs out. Sue does not teach moving the hind quarters around as she says that in dressage this can make the horse all "squirrelly" and difficult to keep straight. For what I want out of Filly, which isn't dressage, this is one area where I will differ from Sue and require good hind quarter yields.

Other than that there has been a lot I have gotten out of the lessons and the relaxation idea has certainly given me a much deeper seat. In fact I think I may have to let the stirrups down a hole or two.

One highlight was on the last ride. I was not having a good ride for whatever reason. We were working on getting Filly to move out on the circle with pressure from the inside leg, but I could not get the slightly odd position (to my mind) that Sue was asking for so it wasn't happening. Finally Sue asked if she could have a ride on Filly and see what the problem was. I was more than willing to let this top class rider ride her.

Sue actually rode her for around 1/2 hour in the end and eventually got some nice yields achieved. She rode at walk, trot and canter. I was a little worried that at some point she was going to stop, get off and pronounce her lame. However she never mentioned lameness. But I still wanted to know what she thought in case she was just being polite so I asked her straight out. "Do you feel any lameness as she's recovering from navicular syndrome". Sue replied that she could feel nothing wrong at all and that in fact once we had gotten her a bit straighter she had a very nice canter.

To say this made my day would have been an understatement. I now had the opinion of someone who would be very very sensitive to the action of a horse tell me Filly was ok.
I immediately texted Nic Barker and Ben (my vet) with the news and had a glass of something strong to celebrate. After all we have been through with folks telling me I was doing it all wrong, to the point of threatening me with the RSPCA, I finally had vindication that my faith in Nic was right and we had achieved our goal. Not that there aren't still issues to be sorted but I finally believe we are over the worst of it.

Tuesday, 22 December 2015

Buck Brannaman 7 Clinics

I have always wanted to have this set of videos since I saw the Buck film which is about Bucks life. When making that film the film makers took hundreds of hours of video. Obviously it did not all make it into the final movie. They realised that what was left over, whilst maybe not that interesting to a non horsey public, was great teaching material for those who do understand horses.

I quick search on ebay and I got a set for £39. A bargain, except it was coded to the USA. Fortunately my very old DVD player came out before coding so it plays without a problem. They arrived a few days ago and with excitement I've started to watch them.

All I can say is "WOW". This is like watching my old instructor James, but more so. The format is that they have taken the clips from 7 clinics held around the USA. They've then sorted them so that each chapter covers and individual topic with clips from more than one clinic. This is actually a brilliant format as you see the ideas explained several times, a demo or two from Buck and then students trying to emulate him. Listening to his comments as they work is very informative as you can learn as much from seeing mistakes as you can from perfection. Maybe more !

Most of the exercises and ideas Buck puts across are not new to me, but his presentation of those ideas makes them make even more sense. The areas he is particular on are also highlighted as is the lightness he expects from the horses. I suspect that I would not be getting as much out of the DVDs if I did not already know a fair bit about Natural Horsemanship, but even for the beginner there is plenty to see and try to understand.

So far I have only watched the ground school DVDs (two of them) and they have already made a difference for Filly and I. We have been experimenting with lightness on the halter to both back up and direction changes. Watching Bucks timing and the phases he uses has already made me more effective. I guess you could say that they have sharpened me up on both going up and down phases as needed and made me more particular, without being pushy, about what we are trying to achieve.

So if you've been thinking about getting this series I would not hesitate in recommending it.

Monday, 21 December 2015

Lightening up on the phases

As my last post indicated I have needed to go to phase 4 for a session or two to get Filly to listen to me. Phase 4 has been either a tap with the stick on her shoulder as I asked for the shoulder to move over, or more usually swinging the end of the mecate rope so that it tap her shoulder.

It occurred to me riding with two reins and trying to swing the rope at the same time was clumsy. When riding in a bosal you cannot just drop the reins if you intend to trot. The bosal will then bounce on their nose and cause them to stick their nose in the air to carry the bosal themselves and stop it bouncing. I do not want to encourage Filly to trot around with her nose in the air as it is exactly the opposite of what I need to get good collection in the future. So with that in mind I switched from riding in the bosal to riding in the rope halter with just the lead rope attached as a single rope, not as reins.

With this arrangement I can now use one hand to ask for the direct rein ( phase 3 of move your shoulder over) and the other hand to swing the rope (phase 4).

This idea of using equipment that is appropriate for the lesson we are working on is important to me. Unlike others I tend to remove tack off the horse if I find a problem rather than add stronger tack. By getting back to the purity of not having really strong equipment I feel that I can build greater lightness into the horse. Putting stronger tack on will just make the horse even heavier and may well mean I cannot go back to light tack once the lesson is learnt.
I also like to use the same "tack" as I do on ground work. Filly knows to move away from a swinging rope as that is how we do much of the online and even liberty work. I think of throwing energy out of the end of the rope as I swing it towards whichever bit of her I need to move away. So my using this when in the saddle is totally natural for her and she doesn't get upset or offended by it.

So the sequence is as before.
  • Phase one : eyes and belly button in the direction I want the shoulder to move
  • Phase two : leg and phase 2 1/2 heel 
  • Phase three : direct rein
  • Phase four : swing the end of the lead rope at her shoulder.

All of this timed with her feet of course ;) . Quite a difficult coordination task for me and if I was better at it then I'm sure we would have a nice light forehand turn by now.

However we have made progress. We are now getting some pretty nice turns. I've found that if I time the pressure of my seat with her movement it comes even better, but I'm not good at this yet. I still have to use phase 4 occasionally to remind her that I really do mean it and she really does have to step over. But a light phase 4 is usually enough to get the responsiveness back.

The one problem we do have is that having asked her to circle to the right she gets stuck on this pattern and it takes some time and often a higher phase to get her to turn left. I'm sure she thinks she is being a good girl by continuing in the direction I have set her in. Her "maintain direction" part of her responsibilities is almost too good ! So when asking for a change to the other circle I make sure that I have a lot of school ahead of me so that I can apply phase 1 for a loooong time before going to a higher phase. I also use an inside leg briefly to get her to bend onto the new circle then ask with the outside leg to maintain it.

Like I said we have a long way to go but I think we have started along the right road now and I look forward to her outside leg isolations being as light as her inside leg ones.

Thursday, 17 December 2015

Phase 4

I'm still working on getting those shoulders to move over nice and light. To say Filly is resistant to this is an understatement.

I had a lesson the other day from an instructor, Sue, who is new to us. She is not a Parelli instructor as such, but her teaching style is very similar and she intimately understands the Parelli approach.

The lesson started with just getting me more relaxed in the saddle, and I thought I was relaxed :( . "Imagine you have to ride for 50 miles, so get comfortable" was the imagery Sue wanted. As an image it did help and after a few minutes Sue said she could see a change in both me and Filly.

We then got to work on those front legs. As Sue explains it this is a very very important button we need to have working to even be able to walk a straight line. The button being to follow my hips/navel and step the front legs over in the direction my focus and navel are pointing. Remember "eyes, belly button, legs, reins". Well it's just the same but to a new level.

We started at the halt and and I slowly went up the phases until we got a response from Filly. Instead of rein we used the savvy string to back up my leg pressure (as my leg started to cramp!). We did get some nice steps over but at the cost of lots of savvy string waving. Basically Filly did not want to give up the dominance of her front legs.

So a couple of nights ago I revisited the same issue. All I was after was to walk in a straight line across the school and not veer towards the gate, or the cones (she loves playing with them) or away from the spooky spot. And ultimately I wanted a turn that just came off my outside leg.

It was an emotionally trying session. I tried with just the aids I listed above but even then she would not yield away from my leg. I was using positive reinforcement throughout but to be honest the reward of another piece of carrot was not as strong as the reward of pushing through my pressure.

After a time I realised that actually this was just frustrating both of us. My phase 4 could not be strong enough to get the response I wanted with just a savvy string and as the saying goes "you get a light phase 1 from an effective phase 4". So with considerable sadness in my heart I decided I needed to use a stick, something I hardly ever need these days. Phase 4 was now to tap her on the shoulder with the stick if she still pushed through my leg.

This did not please her. It certainly wasn't hurting her (I'd tried it on my leg to make sure) but it was aggravating her and she let me know it was. But slowly the opposition withdrew and whilst I was still having to tap her she was moving away from the pressure with less attitude.

Then there came a long lick and chew and she responded to just my leg, then to just my belly button. I'm not saying we have got to the point where I light phase 1 is getting all the response I want but we have made progress.

Would I have liked to have made progress without the stick ? Of course I would. I hated using it.
But in the end I also think that using an effective phase 4 for a brief period was probably better than the effect that the drip drip effect of not being effective was having on our relationship.

Incidentally I found I needed to carry two sticks. One in each hand. As proof that Filly knew full well what the belly button and leg aids were for she would respond to them very well IF the single stick was in the appropriate hand. If it was in the other hand she would push through the pressure or ignore it altogether. Carrying two sticks meant she had to pay attention to which side the pressure was being applied on and respond appropriately.

Looking back to the past I had a similar problem when I was after the inside leg isolation (bending the body with pressure from the leg). She resisted giving to that pressure for a long time and getting an effective phase 4 was the key to unlocking the lightness we now have. As I can very effectively turn Filly with the inside leg I had been neglecting getting the outside leg to work well. Until it came to wanting to build to gentle spins and roll backs I simply hadn't needed that button.
As always James Roberts was right in his training scheme. He had always had "outside leg isolations" in his scheme and I had neglected them. Sorry James :( . But then maybe my knowledge needed to get to the level I'm now at to really understand what he was on about. As such James will keep teaching me for years to come yet :)

Did it damage our relationship ? In the end I believe it did not. It was emotionally tougher for me than her and when I got off she happily followed me around the school as I put things away. I don't think she would have done that if I had made her scared of me.

All in all an interesting exercise that maybe made me a little emotionally fitter as well.

Saturday, 5 December 2015


On recent rides with Filly I've been trying to get her to move individual feet. In other words if I ask the front legs to move around in a circle then I actually want the front legs to move ! Same with the hind legs. Basically I'm building up to be able to do true roll backs and turn arounds not to mention spins. But one thing at a time, I need to get the legs responding.

So last night I set to work on the front legs. Lots of ground preparation to get the forequarter driving and porcupine good. The porcupine applied to the area just on or in front of the girth as that will be were my legs contacts her, not the traditional Parelli ground work neck porcupine. Also the driving game was energy directed at her shoulder, not her neck.

So when riding I asked for the front legs to step over by using a direct rein (hopefully timed with her feet) and my leg on or just in front of the girth (again timed with the feet). This resulted in a half hearted step over. I was being patient and hoped that in time she would put more effort in. Even using positive reinforcement (which I have over a period of weeks) did little to improve her impulsion.

I felt that my leg and the rein were just not communicating the energy with which I wished to step over so needed to add energy from somewhere but without getting aggressive. That energy came from the get down rope of the mecate.

So the sequence became ask with the leg, ask with the hand, pick up the mecate, swing the mecate, tap myself on the leg with the mecate, tap Filly on the shoulder with the mecate. In fact I never had to tap Filly but the planned sequence was there in case.

This added energy seemed to give Filly the message that more effort was required and the turns quickly became pretty good. She has trouble stepping one front leg in front of the other one at the moment, but that is a physical practise issue not a "I won't" issue. This is something we can practise more on the ground to get her confident in her doing it without my weight on top which could cause confidence issues to start with.

So the communication I learnt was that communication is not just about direction but about the energy I expected to go in that direction as well.

Of course I always have that in mind when it comes to changes of gait, but the turns have always had enough energy to get the job done in the past. How much turning energy do you actually need for a 10 meter circle. Not much !
But for a spin or roll back you need lots of turning energy and it was that idea that I was missing when in the saddle.