A chilled Filly

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.

Saturday, 21 November 2015

Bridleless with a purpose

Yesterday I had a very interesting and fun ride on Filly. I've been working on circles in corners and to be honest they haven't been going that well. Coming out of the corner Filly showed a marked reluctance to go back into the corner again. She wanted to head off across the school to the corner nearest her stable and stand there. She had become barn sweet.
I worked for some time in the bosal on the circle. The principle in my mind was to make my inside hand stay on the track I had in mind. So if she drifted out on the circle I took my hand further and further to the inside so that my hand stayed near the track I wanted to be on. Being a bosal if she pushed into the hand I bumped her lightly with the bosal to bring her around. Never apply steady pressure with a bosal is one of the prime directives to riding in one. I don't mean hard tugs, just light bumps.
This was working to a degree but she still drifted sideways out of the circle in the direction she wanted to go in. I needed her to stop pushing through my outside leg and stay between both my reins and my legs.
The best way to stop her pushing through my leg would be to back up the leg pressure with pressure from something else, like a coil of rope. If she then tries to push through my leg I can tap the coil of rope on my leg until she comes off the leg. If she persists then I move the coil forwards and tap her neck. All done in a progressive manner with time for each phase to take effect. You have to have a very relaxed attitude as to where she is actually going in the school for this to work ! Don't worry about the circle.
So I needed to isolate the yielding to the leg as this was now the primary problem. I felt the best way to achieve this was to remove the reins. Then I couldn't accidentally apply unwanted cues on the reins and the signal from me leg/seat would be purer. So off came the bosal and reins and out came the 45 foot rope split into separate coils for the left and right hands. Neutral is just having my hands relaxed by my sides. Active is lifting up a set of coils and moving them to a position where I can tap my leg (phase 1), tapping my leg (phase 2), moving the coils forwards to tap her neck (phase 3 and 4).

I started by forgetting about the circle in the corner and just wandering around the school occasionally asking for just a step over with the front legs then back to wandering around randomly again. Slowly we established (again :( ) what my outside leg meant and she would step over nicely. So back to the circle.

To start with she again pushed away from the circle and into my leg, but slowly she started to come around on the circle closer to where I wanted us to be. I had markers set out on the ground to define a perfect circle in the corner so I could easily tell that things were improving. Then we picked up a trot and a remarkable thing happened. She suddenly accepted the circle and with no asking from me, I had no reins, she also came into vertical flexion. This was after quite a long period of trotting and I think she figured this was an easier way to travel so adopted it.

With that I jumped off her, whilst still on the circle, and made a fuss of her. Saddle off and she went for a nice roll.

I see on videos many many folks riding bridleless as it is a cool fun thing to do. And it is. I love it myself.
I do wonder how many people also think of bridleless riding as an important tool in our arsenal. One that can take us right back to basics and ask the question "is the horse listening to my body or just being pulled around by the reins ?". It was of course James, and latterly Josh, who have impressed this on me. But maybe last night the lesson finally sank in.

Wednesday, 4 November 2015

Moose Mountain

A few weeks ago I was again in Calgary. I try to never let an opportunity to enjoy the outdoors there pass me by so I had booked a ride at Moose Mountain.
Moose Mountain is just outside Bragg Creek and borders the Kananaskis range which can be seen a little way off.
When I arrived I was not sure what I was going to ride or how many would be going out that day. As it happened I was the only rider for the morning and I got given a lovely horse called Heart to ride. He was a wide black Percheron cross. And I mean wide !! But he was a lovely, well mannered boy and even after being ridden by a lot of riders of varying standards all summer he was still pretty light and fun to ride.
The ride we went on was around 16km long and 3 1/2 hours. We started on a gravel road past some pretty impressive houses and then passed through a barbed wire fence into national forest land. Here the going got a bit more fun. This is the foothills of the Rocky Mountains after all. We passed through forest and meadow accompanied by a dog from the stables. In the forest there were a lot of cattle that the local ranches allow to roam the land. I can see that here you would need horses to round up the cattle. I can't think of any vehicle that could do the job. Heart was a little nervous about the cattle at times, but soon got over it.
The route took us up onto a ridge line that gave great views of a small lake and the mountains in the middle distance.

The guide I was riding with was a young lady from Sweden. I'm sorry to say I forgot her name. But we had a lovely chat for those 3 1/2 hours. She had taken a degree in animal behaviour and was hoping to take a masters in Equine Behaviour. As a result we could chat about the benefits of positive reinforcement training vs to negative reinforcement and agreed that actually they were both equally valid and valuable depending on the circumstance. I think we both leaned towards PR for ground work and NR for ridden work, but only as a bias not as a rigid model.
We also chatted at length about the style I'm studying, vaquero, and she seemed pretty intrigued. She had ridden her horse in a bosal but had not really picked up on the finer points. This is something I'm beginning to realise about bosal riding. Many folks, especially in the USA, do it but very few have studied how to do it right. I find this a little worrying as the bosal does need a certain feel and technique to be effective and fair to the horse. But then again so does the bit I guess.
All in all it was a fun ride though having got off I found I had to do a fair bit of stretching to ease my legs back into their original shape !!

Monday, 19 October 2015

Clinic with Josh

So I finally get time to write about the clinic with Josh. Josh was James Roberts apprentice when he sadly passed on. After that he stayed at JRFS for a while before moving north to set up his own place. He has never obtained a driving licence as whenever he gets enough money together he spends it on a horsemanship course for himself. As a result he has ridden with many great horsemen. Dave Stewart, Russell Higgins, Buck Brannaman to name but a few.

As he can't drive I decided to go and collect him. 4 hours each way but it gave us time to catch up on news. It also let me see his yard. Very pleasant but best described as work in progress. However with his drive and vision I can see it being the perfect setup in the future.

So to the clinic itself.
There were 5 riders on the clinic and we decided to split it into three in the morning with Ritchie and I in the afternoon. This split was largely down to the fact that only Ritchie and I ride western with the emphasis on vaquero and we wanted a clinic on riding in the bosal. Josh is also keen on the vaquero style so he is a great instructor for us.

The ground work was very interesting. Josh had recently had Menolo Menedez staying with him for a couple of weeks. He learned a lot about reading the horse from the point of view of muscle tension and how getting a tense muscle to relax would not only allow the horse to move better but also change their mental and emotional state.

The main point with Filly that Josh immediately noticed was a small tense muscle in the neck. It just stood out a tiny bit. This was where she was holding mental tension which effected her whole movement. He also noticed that the hind quarters were a little tense. As he put it a relaxed muscle should flow like water as they move and you should see it shimmering. Her muscles were more static which showed the tension in them.

This was a nice and fortuitous connection to the Silke clinic where she has also worked on the idea of muscular relaxation.

Josh's way of remedying the problem was not with massage as Silke's was. It was achieved with the aid of bamboo poles.

Why bamboo ?  It's light and comes in a variety of lengths. It's more precise than a flag on a fishing pole as there is less whip in the end. It's cheap :)

To make a bamboo pole do the following
Buy bamboo
Bury in muck heap for two days
Hang from rafter with a weight on the end to keep it straight while it dries

The muck heap idea is to gently steam the bamboo which lightens it and also makes it less likely to splinter if it gets wrapped around a horses legs by mistake.

Armed with the bamboo we could now just draw a horses attention to a particular area by pointing or touching a very specific spot. Over time with that awareness came relaxation. For example to get Filly's hind quarters to relax I could just hover the stick over them and if necessary touch her with the stick until I saw a nice ripple appear in the muscle. Then remove the stick. In a way it is like Silke's idea of massaging the muscle and doing micro releases of the massage as the muscle relaxes, but done at a distance.

Josh also made me use the 45 foot rope more for distance work. As he says with a 45 foot rope you have a whole tool kit in one bit of apparatus. I admit that I have been lax in my practice with it, but since the clinic it's fast becoming my favourite rope. No gloves of course to keep that soft feel ;)

As for the riding we did a lot of work on using the bosal more effectively, though Josh thought we were already pretty good with it. His way of running this section was just to watch us as we would normally ride and use patterns and then make suggestions as to how to improve. I like this idea as opposed to the instructor having a preconceived lesson plan. I find that style does not get carried through into riding after the clinic whereas Josh's style does.

Josh made me ride bridleless a fair bit. I was working on circles at walk and trot. I had many markers on the ground describing a precise circle to go around. After Filly was going well with the bosal we went bridleless and attempted the same pattern. Day 2 we started the ride bridleless on the pattern and put the bosal on later for even more precision work.

Josh also had Ritchie and I play games together. Games like having one of us start inside the marked circle and try to escape it whist the other rider had to position themselves to keep the first one inside the circle. This gave purpose to snappy turns and changes of gait. It was great fun to boot and I'm not going to divulge who won.

We also played a game of using the bamboo sticks to pick up the circle markers off the ground and pile them into a single pile. The winner was the one with most markers. Filly was very spooked when the first marker slid down the bamboo stick towards her as I scooped it up. Lots of friendly game later and she was fine but the time that took allowed Ritchie to amass a large stack of markers.

So very silly, fun games as is Josh's style but all had a purpose and made the learning fun for horse and rider.

Everyone had a great time. On the Saturday evening we went to a local village rock festival which added to the merriment.

We've already booked another clinic with Josh in November. After which I drive him to Heathrow airport as he is flying to New Zealand to spend a couple of months with Russell Higgins colt starting. Lucky sod !!

Here are some photos of the day taken by my friend and Aikido Sensei, David


Friday, 25 September 2015

British Rodeo Cowboys Association

A quick video to introduce this post :)

A few weeks ago some random googling took me to the home page of the BRCA. I had never heard of them before, but the write up sounded fun. As it happened they had an event the very next weekend in Kent. I suggested to Ritchie that we go along and watch for an hour or so. We wound up spending the whole day there.
The BRCA allows folks in the UK to participate on a proper rodeo day. I don't mean bucking horse riding and the like, but events involving precision riding horses and working with cows. I have heard of no other events in the UK that allow cow work as I believed the RSPCA were against it. I enquired and apparently the RSPCA had audited their activities and could not see any problems.

Anyway, we drove around the M25 and finally made our way to the Bar S Ranch. We were glad we had rang and asked for directions. As we drove past a white bungalow I remembered a white bungalow being mentioned in the directions. Sure enough as I looked closer I saw horse boxes parked behind the bungalow. This was the Bar S Ranch. I wondered what we had come to see !

On entering the ranch we found a nice arena at the back and horses already being ridden. Nervously we approached the riders and asked what was happening. They could not have been more welcoming. Everyone was already on horseback, and apart from lunch stayed there all day. The horses were all very chilled in a cramped area alongside the arena standing patiently whilst the riders chattered away and watched proceedings.

It was a competition, but to be honest the only person who seemed to take it at all seriously was Lesley, the judge. Everyone else was just have a good time whilst trying to improve there ranching skills.

The first event we saw was Ranch Trail. Basically and obstacle course including dragging logs, backing around a pattern, sideways over cones etc. During this we mingled and got to know the folks there and display our ignorance. They were keen to educate us and we soon began to understand what the day was all about.

Over lunch I got talking to Stewart who owns the farm. He was an older guy who started working cattle as he got fed up with having to ask friends to help him move cows around his farm. From that he developed an interest in vaquero and so we had a long chat about the style. He then showed me into his tack room which was full of bosals, spade and half breed bits etc. In the meantime I heard Lesley getting annoyed outside. It turned out that Stewart was supposed to be sorting out the pens in the arena for the cattle classes. To avoid him getting into more trouble Ritchie and I helped with the fence panels.

The cattle classes were the most fun and interesting to watch. The team sorting was particularly fascinating. There are two pens joined by an open gate. All the cows are in one pen and have numbers on their backs. The judge calls out a number and the team of two have to cut that cow out of the herd and get it into the other pen. Should the wrong cow get into the other pen then their time is up. They have 2 1/2 minutes and I think the best was 10 cows. The ones who did best were the quiet calm ones who just did the business with the minimum of fuss.

I won't describe all the classes here as they can all be found on the BRCA
website. We have now joined the association and look forward to attending more events over the coming months and years. They also do clinics for those who have never rode like this before and we definitely need to go to some of those !!

Monday, 21 September 2015

Silke Clinic

We had seen Silke give demos several times at various Parelli meets and had always been very impressed. When the opportunity arose for Ritchie to take Bonitao on a clinic we jumped at it. Even better was that it was not that far away, just a couple of hours.

It was a two day clinic, though Silke was in the UK for longer travelling around. It started with a get together in the tea room to find out what everyone wanted to get out of the weekend. Always a good place to start I feel, rather than the instructor having a predetermined plan.

There was a general theme though which was to drum home the importance of the mantra "Mind, Flexion, Weight, Feet". I know we all know this mantra but using it effectively is a different matter.

For example to get the mind we were taught to use the friendly game. The version chosen was swinging the stick and string around until we got both the horses eyes looking at us, then quit. So the horse got relief from the annoyance by giving us their mind. The idea is to build this up so we are always aware of where the horses mind is and to get it back by asking for it. Not by asking the horse to move, or yield, but just to think about us. When riding I do this by picking up my attention and asking the horse to do the same with maybe a lift of the rein if needed. Until we have their mind it's not fair to ask them to do anything. In fact the cue for action will come as a bolt from the blue with a consequent unwelcome reaction if we don't have their mind to start with.

Having got their mind we then ask for the flexion that is needed in order to achieve the desired motion. We worked with forequarter yields to start with. So after the mind we asked for a little flexion of the neck in the desired direction. Not too much as that would dump weight on the inside hind leg pinning it to the ground. Just enough to get the mind thinking in the direction we wished to go.

The flexion helped set the weight in the right place to enable the horse to easily perform the action we were asking.

Once the weight was correct the horse could then move the feet as desired with ease. In fact having got the mind, weight and flexion right it was almost easier to move the feet as we desired rather than stand still.

Once we had the mantra well and truly embedded with various exercises we then looked at the idea of massaging the horse whilst it is in motion in order to get a nice long and low gait.

Again we needed to get the correct flexion so Silke showed us a reflex point at the base of the horses neck just in front of the shoulder which will cause the horse to flex it's neck towards the side pressed on. This was practised at standstill to start with. This then allowed the neck to be flexed without having to use the lead rope which would just pull the horse on top of the handler.
Once achieved the handlers then started circling their horses whilst moving with them by walking at their shoulder. On a left circle handler is on left side and lead rope is in left hand. This leaves the right hand free to ask for flexion by gently pressing on the reflex point, releasing as the horse flexes. Once the correct flexion was achieved then the handler massaged the horses neck whilst they moved and also stooped as they walked to mimic the long and low position we were looking for in the horse.
Some horses clearly found even gentle massage of the neck quite painful showing how much tension they were holding. Anyone who has had a trigger point massage on a tense muscle will now what I mean. If the horse showed any sign of relaxing then the massage was stopped briefly in a micro release of the pressure. This helped show the horse that relaxing the neck muscles would take the pressure away.

It was remarkable how quickly all the horses relaxed into long and low and how much snorting was going on in the group as they released the tension.

Once achieved at walk it was repeated at trot. This was quite hard work for the handlers. Maintaining the horses trot whilst running themselves in a stooped position, pressing on the bend reflex spot and massaging the neck with micro releases as they got it right was tough. But again the results were quick and spectacular.

The stooped posture of the handler was introduced so that in future it could be used as a cue to the horse to go long and low when the handler was not in a position to touch the horse physically.

I could give a detailed version of the rest of the clinic, but in fact it was then all about putting these skills into practise to achieve a huge variety of manoeuvres. Back up with flexion for example, or travers, roll backs .... all done on line with a concentration on the relaxation of muscle groups and of course