A chilled Filly

Saturday, 1 October 2016

A funny incident

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

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

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

Thursday, 25 August 2016

Doing the best we can

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Playing on line or ridden

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

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

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

Monday, 15 August 2016

Point to Point part 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

Just an update : Using point to point

Its been too long since I last posted but things have been a little busy of late. I am just back from competing in the UK 15 meter Gliding National Championship in Lasham. I was overall 4th but that included two visiting Germans, so out of the British I was second. That puts me in a possible place to get back into the British National Gliding Team for next year in the European Championship. This is subject to how well the British Team do in the World Championship this winter in Australia. If one of them comes home with a medal then I don't get a place. As you can imagine preparing for such a competition, which is 9 days long, took up a fair bit of time with practise and logistics, hence why I've been a bit quiet.

All this does not mean I have not been out with the horses.

I had an interesting ride on my wife's horse Bonitao a couple of evenings ago for example.
We use point to point game a lot with our horses to get them motivated and forward thinking. Point to point involves going from one corner of the school to the next and then stopping and waiting a fair time. Then we go to the next corner and wait. The horses learn that the quicker they get to the next corner the longer the rest. Do this with either of our two and usually by the second point we are getting halt to canter transitions at the slightest ask.
Of course after a while you miss out corners and go around 2 , 3 or more before stopping. Then you can use other points in the school as rest spots like on the clover leaf pattern as you approach the fence at 90 degrees. Out on a hack you can have known points.... well you get the idea.

So, as I say, we can get halt to canter out of both of our two with ease. Bonitao is especially motivated by this game. I decided to up it a bit and see what else we could do with the pattern.

First up was back up to canter.
We started in a corner and then to Bonitao's surprise I asked him to back away from it along the fence. Once he was soft I then asked for trot to the next corner. After a few times he got the hang of this so then I asked for back up to canter. The corner helped with getting the correct lead. After just a couple of attempts where he seemed confused he was leaping forwards into the canter with a big push from his hind legs. It was a great feeling and once he was confident he seemed to really enjoy the task.

Next I thought about using the pattern to get a nice 180 degree turn to canter transition. This time we just cantered the rail, but on track 2 (i.e just away from the fence). As we approached the corner I then asked for a halt. Hind quarter yield for 90 degrees so we faced the fence, fore quarter yield for 90 degrees ( this rocks the weight onto his hind legs) and then canter back to the corner we started at. Again after a little confusion from him he got the hang of it and became really exuberant, for a Bonitao that is :). We were barely halting in the corner before the turn commenced and we were flying back whence we came.

Then we just wandered around the school doing some inside and outside leg isolations at walk as a cool down and to relax a little.

I think many folks see the patterns Parelli teach but then only use them as they are shown. But with a little thought they can be adapted for so much more.

Of course Parelli can't show all these adaptations. There is not enough time on a DVD, or even whole box of DVDs for that. This is when one of the most important Qualities of a Horseman comes in.


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.