Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Swallow Tales

.... yes tales and not tails! Our feedroom was a stable until last year. So when the swallows returned this year they got a shock to see all the feedroom bins, tack and paraphenalia! I guess they probably thought that a "council estate" had been built on their lovely home!

Anyway, despite all that, the male managed to persuade a female to take up residence in our feedroom and yesterday I arrived to see one swallow fledgling standing on the edge of the nest. This brood have been very quiet and I actually thought perhaps there was only one chick. But yesterday evening, Cora called to me to come and look and this is what we saw!

4 swallow chicks perched on Zeffy's best leather headcollar! This morning they were on a feedbucket at the other side of the room. I talked to them as I got the boys breakfast "It's alright babies. I know I look like a big scary monster but I mean you no harm and I'll be out of your house as soon as possible!" They just sat quietly and stared at me!

Not a lot more today. Some family crap devouring me at the mo! But the horses are well and Zeffy is looking great. Watched Ruth riding him on Sunday and I'm thrilled with his progress!

Thursday, 18 June 2009

Dancing between the pillars.....

It just keeps getting better and better! Thanks to P, I'm truly starting to understand and, more importantly, apply equitation! Unlocking a lifetime of bad habits is slow but bit by bit my equitation has improved and I'm now at the point where I can influence the horse in a good way. Don't get me wrong, still very much a work in progress, but now I know what I have to do and I constantly check my body (and the horses) from top to bottom making corrections. I now have the key to unlocking the horses body and making it dance!! Yahoo!!!!

So, more soundbites from my lesson on Bruce last Saturday. My elbows - or rather lack of them! have been a huge hole in my equitation. My entrenched habit is to give my elbows foreward ..... and of course put the horse straight onto its forehand. So now I'm able to "keep" my elbows more consistently the rewards are amazing!! P from our lesson: ".... he dances and trots and passages and levades and does all sorts of wonderful things between the pillars of your elbows. ....because he's a horse. And every horse can do those wonderful things if the rider could please have two elbows!" (I'd obviously lost them again!!)

"Bad riders do this with their hands. Good riders do this with the elbows and back because that changes the seat."

I watched some of the video from this lesson yesterday. There were times when Bruce and I truly were dancing together! I added some music! Wonderful!! This morning, with the picture of us dancing together, I rode Bruce in the school. Started by slowing his shoulders, concentrating on equalising the rythym of back and front legs. (Now I also understand exactly what "counted walk" is! It's all about slowing the front legs and allowing the back legs to catch up.) Then I played with activating the back legs, without allowing the front to rush, to extend the walk. I found that circles, loops and serpentines helped my aiding. Then some SI, counter SI, haunches in. Wow! It just felt effortless! Then the same in trot! Again effortless! My 750kg horse moving round the arena like a ballerina! His footfall so light I could barely hear it!

Now of course there were some sticky moments too. But mainly due to me and I could understand what transition I needed to make to improve. Both Bruce and I were tired after around 15 minutes so we went for a relaxed walk round the ride with Millie. Big smiles on our faces.

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Postcard from Zeffy!

Feeling pretty relaxed ..... and not missing any of you - human or horse!

Went to visit yesterday afternoon. Ruth was away for a couple of days so I'd arranged to go and have a little play at "relaxing the neck". When we arrived Debbie showed me the "lying down" pic she'd taken! Just like at home, if Z's lying down you can pretty much do anything round him and he won't move!

Zeffy was very chilled and (I hate to admit this!!) his manners have improved. When you go to enter the stable he immediately steps back away from the door (I always had to ask for this!) Had a grooming session - insisting on a relaxed neck throughout - and then a little session in the school on the lunge. Same exercise - stay soft and relaxed through your neck while we work. And then time to go out for the night, wearing his new grazing muzzle. Not very keen on this, understandably, but he marched straight to the water trough for a drink and then started eating so he's managing fine with the muzzle on. (In fact I think it's probably more stressful for me than him!) A couple of pics of him in it:

Slowing the shoulders

Trudi asked "How are you slowing the forehand?" And prompted me to rewatch the video of my lesson on Moss. Just to recap, Moss is a Hunt Master's horse. He's 16 years old and his job has been to go forward, fast, jumping and leading the chase. And to take responsibility for his rider. To be on sentinel duty. Because of his age he is being kept "ticking over" during the off-season instead of letting him down. My lesson on him was the first time probably in his life that he'd been asked to do gymnastic work ..... so he had no idea what it was all about. When I got on him, he was rushing. Front legs faster than hind. Hind legs trailing. Not picking me up. This was his "normal" bodystate. And consquently his mind was on constant alert to the outside world. Not listening to me. And his whole back end was swaying from side to side like a camel. I admit to being fairly clueless about what to do but the key was to slow the shoulders to allow the hind legs to catch up. And it was like magic! His mind came "back inside his body" and his whole way of going changed - no more fishtailing!

Here's a potted version of what P had us do (probably far too much detail for you Trudi! But a useful exercise for me!)

First: Slowing his shoulders until I felt they were in the same rythym as his hind legs. (The best way to do this will depend on the horse.) With this horse, who had no idea what I was after, I started by riding a square and using my seat to slow one shoulder at a time. P warned me: "Remember, he's no idea about this work at all. So as you slow his shoulders, he's going to go to the opposite evasion and say "Well I can't possibly go at all!" So as well as slowing the shoulders I had to keep his hind legs active.

Counting - first the front legs, then the back - really helped me to slow the front. More from P: "Interrupt him! Slower .... until his little mind comes back inside his body. Everytime you get his front and back legs in the same rythym you can kinda feel his mind comes back into his body. As soon as the hind legs catch up, so will his brain."

Another exercise which helped explain to Moss initially - halt, walk (one stride), halt, walk (one stride), etc. This really helped him to understand that he was no longer required to rush. Interrupting him.

The transformation in Moss was amazing! P warned me to keep my antannae up for "when he leaves the building. And when he does, a quick aid that says 'Hello! Wait - and stay with me.'"

"It can be an aid of bend, it can be alternating rein aids, it can be seat to the front of the saddle. It can be any of the tools in your kit which slow the shoulders. There's no absolute about which thing to use. You have to use your repertoire until you find a balance that's the most efficient."

(I found it most effective to use my seat, one side at a time, to slow his shoulders, mostly seat but backed up by rein aids. But I also had to keep his hind leg active so I guess really lots of "half halts". P again "Alternate the shoulder aids to say 'How about your hind legs catch up.'" "Not holding - just interrupting."

And another thought which helped me was the importance of energy "So that if you simply lightened your seat and kicked you'd be in gallop in 2 strides."

P explained "Simple, simple principles. Always the same work. No horse any different."

We did quite a bit of the same work in trot. And finished, in trot: "Give both hands forward and he'll stay with you." And he did!!!

(Sorry Trudi far more words than you need but useful for me to put this down!!)

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

Saturday's lesson

Last Saturday, we took Bruce and Gunner to P's clinic just the other side of Newark (around 2 hours in the lorry). Both Mike and I had a lesson on Bruce, Cora on Gunner.

My lesson was first (of our group!) P asked me to recap my lesson from the night before for the audience. It was useful to think again of the lessons learned and how I could use them to benefit Bruce and me. I started by slowing down his front legs to allow the back ones to catch up. We moved around the school, small circles, loops, serpentines. When my equitation was correct Bruce transformed and we were dancing together. But the thing I need to work on most is my torso/upper arm. In particular my unconscious habit is to let my elbows foreward! Soundbites from P to help me! "Think of your upper arms like the pillars of the SRS." "Good riders use their elbows, not hands" (i.e. never slow/stop the horse by pulling back!) "Connect your pointy elbows to his hind leg". Sorry guys - not very helpful in isolation but mean something to me! I really feel that I'm much more consistent nowadays. In fact P said that my equitation from the waistband down is good! (Only half my body to sort then!!!!) After my lesson I was so confident that P will not have to keep reminding me about my upper arm/elbows that I've pledged £1 for every "elbow transgression" at our next lesson! ..... the layers of the onion are peeling much more easily these days! And Bruce was so up and balanced that I even mistook counter for true canter!!

Lunch and lecture after my lesson. Lecture write up later!

But before I finish. Other things I need to work on: my "sense of urgency" - is there a trot, a canter, a gallop available? And my work ethic - I need to practice!! Bruce had Sunday off, hacked yesterday but "training" as we hacked. And today I rode him for 20 minutes in the school and then a short hack. I felt that we'd really got "it". He felt great. And the biggest proof was a final canter up a bank, through the wood and over a small jump! No big deal, but Bruce usually protests about walking or trotting over poles!! So it was a major breakthrough for him to confidently pop a jump without hesitating!

Making the most of being "Zeffyless"

Before I write about Saturday's lessons .... I've been enjoying spending "quality time" with Captain without the pressure of "doing stuff" with Zeffy too. It was a lovely sunny day here on Sunday so Captain had a nose to tail shampoo (a rare occurrence for any of my horses!) which he seemed to enjoy. And then we went for an in-hand hack to the nearest village with Esther and her horse Merrick.

Normally I would put a rope halter on Captain but it's gone with Zeffy so I put a cavesson on his head instead. Big mistake!!! When he wanted to use me as a rubbing post to get rid of the tiresome flies it hurt!!! (I'll get the rope halter back next time I go to visit Zeffy 'cos I'm sure Ruth won't need it anyway.)

No pics, but on our hack we passed a lovely brick wall with a faded, arched wooden gate in it, complete with rose tumbling over the top! Perfect picture - I must remember to visit with my camera!

Bruce and Captain often stick their noses in Zeffy's empty stable to see if he's reappeared. I'm sure they're missing him more than he's missing them!

Monday, 15 June 2009

Lesson report

Another wonderful weekend with P. I had a lesson at Ruth's on Friday and then one on Saturday at the clinic near Newark.

Friday I went mainly to visit Zeffy, but asked Ruth if I could have a lesson on one of her horses as P was teaching there late afternoon/evening. The new yard is connected to the Hunt and so I had a lesson on Moss, the hunt master's horse. Of course Moss is used to going fast, jumping and looking after his rider. Not sure of his breeding but I would guess TBxID or something heavier. So Moss really had even less idea than me about dressage!! My first job was to engage his mind. Being a hunt horse he was on high alert sentinel duty and I had to persuade him that he could hand responsibility for his body over to me. I spent a few minutes asking for longitudinal relaxation via aiding and school figures. Easy to get but quickly reverting back to "sentinel" so took a little while to get consistently.

P asked for my feedback on Moss's "bodystate". My first thoughts were that it was like riding a camel! Wish I'd taken a travel sickness pill!! Back legs "fishtailing" from side to side. I just thought it was "the way he moves" but P asked me to count - first the speed of his front legs then back. His front legs were going much faster than the back so of course he was pulling his back end along and was on the forehand. P told me to slow his forehand to allow the back legs to catch up. Magic!!! The camel transformed into a dressage horse!! Both Moss and I were amazed!! (And P said that it was very similar with Bruce!)

Moss and P - both brilliant teachers! Major soundbites "Always address the horse's bodystate first to access both is body and mind." "Whatever the horse, the work is always the same" (of course the exercises will vary appropriately.)

Ruth had a lesson on Calisto which was really interesting (advanced stuff!!)

And then P helped Ruth with Zeffy. Concentrating on a soft topline (in fact insisting on a soft topline before, during and after mounting. I certainly hadn't been aware of the importance of this and so Z, although compliant, was blocking through his neck (really hard muscles!). P said that whatever we were doing with Z, grooming, leading, in-hand or riding - getting his neck relaxed and down was essential and would carry on to his ridden work and make it all much easier.

Cora came with me and it was 9pm when we left so a quick divert to Bakewell for Fish and Chips and then home! (Will write up Saturday later!)

Sunday, 14 June 2009

A learning weekend!

Did Zeffy miss me? Late Friday afternoon, Cora and I drove to see Zeffy for the first time since I dropped him off the previous weekend. We arrived around 4.30, wonderful greeting from Ruth & Debbie's three dogs and two cats! Walked past the first section of stables where Ruth's own horses are to the livery section to see Zeffy curious as to whether he'd be pleased to see me. No Zeffy! I'd raced ahead of Cora in my eagerness to see my boy so I walked back thinking he must be in the field ..... and then I spotted him! In "Ruth's" barn next to his new friend Calisto. Looking very very chilled and completely indifferent to my arrival!! I was actually very pleased that Zeffy is far more attached to feeling safe and well looked after than individual humans like me! Far more healthy for him. Here's a couple of pics - first of him in his stable and, just before we left, out for the night with Cal.

Our trainer P arrived shortly after us and so I have lesson reports from Friday and yesterday. But later!

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Captain greedyguts, Ellie aka Topsy and Zeffy Goodboy!

First off Captain! It's nice to be able to give him a little extra attention (actually not really extra attention, I just get home earlier without Zeffy as well!!) On Monday, Lizzie came to the yard and he looked good enough for her to have a walk on. So we set off round the ride; Cora on Gunner, Lizzie on Captain and, as Mike was schooling Bruce, me on shanksies pony (is that how it's spelt?) Captain had a lovely time and you can see from the following pic of his exploits how he came to pull me off Bruce last week! Cora took the pic with her mobile and nearly fell off laughing at his antics!!

Millie accompanied us was met with shrieks of disgust (at the smell!!) when she arrived back at the yard! (Fox s**t) Cold hose, no mercy!!

The boys are back out 24/7 as it's been dry so last night Captain came in for a couple of fly free hours, a groom and an acupressure session. He stood eating his hay while I treated him but at least he didn't move away.

Now for the latest on Zeffy. Yesterday I sent Ruth a link to the video of Zeffy having a little canter and buck. And she replied with an update:

"Hi Jane,

Video is cool, bless him he didn't want to get left behind!

I've ridden him today, ( just lunged him yesterday so he could check school out!) He was a very good boy, and did some trotting and lots of circles and changes of direction. You have done a really good job with him! There is a hint though I think of what you felt and he is questioning a little, but thats normal! He is soo similar to Cal in his mind! Really interesting!

Hope you are coping without him!!


Calisto is Ruth's first Iberian (Andalucian) - he was literally a gift horse. She's used to Warmbloods and Sports Horses. Personally I think Cal and Zeffy are like chalk and cheese (and I've ridden Cal a few times). Can't wait to chat to Ruth about this when I go to visit on Friday.

Finally, haven't been to the yard yet today so Ellie may have foaled - she's certainly not far off now! Last night I took these pics of her in her stable with newly made to measure mini-shetland door and forelock in a bobble to keep the hair out of her eyes. Rather cute!

Monday, 8 June 2009

Zzzzzzzzeffy update!

Just had a text from Ruth:

Hi! He's fine this morning, was laid down in stable yesterday when we got back having a sleep! He's out with his Uncle Cal so not on his own. Been a good boy.

Calisto is an Andalucian so I guess they're talking a mixture of Portuguese and Spanish!!

My (other) boys are in at night at the moment due to the heavy rain storms. When I got them in last night they didn't even look for Zeffy. But Gunner is in their barn and I did ask him to explain to B & C where Z was and that he'd be back!

Hacked Bruce this morning, he was a little hyper and I think I know why! My usual feed store was closed when I went to stock up on Saturday. The boys just have a bit of chaff to mix their supplements with and I've been using Molliechaff Calmer. I mistakenly bought Molliechop instead of Molliechaff. Yuk - full of mollasses!!! So I guess Bruce was suffering from a sugar rush! Hoping they'll exchange the unopened sacks but won't be feeding anymore of it.

The only other news is that Ellie (the deadly miniature shetland) is looking like she'll foal at any minute so my camera is ready in my car! She's in at night until the foal's born so that Jane (yard owner) can keep an eye on her so Rob (Jane's OH) has changed her door so she can see over it.

Sunday, 7 June 2009

Zeffy's Adventures in the Derbyshire Dales

Well Zeffy's installed in his new temporary home. And in typical Zeffy style took it all in his stride. Ate some hay and went to sleep. Woke up and said hello to his new neighbour with a friendly nip!

I'm very happy about my decision. I trust Ruth and Debbie implicitly and know he couldn't be in better hands. I do feel a little guilty that I delivered an overweight horse and brand new grazing muzzle!! So I'm hoping to have both a well schooled and slim Lusitano when he returns. I'm going to visit this Friday and will take some pics. Beautiful place in the Derbyshire Dales very close to Chatsworth. Idyllic scenery and a perfect yard. Huge stables with bars so the horses can talk to one another. They're in during the day, when Ruth and Debbie work them, then turned out all night so plenty of freedom.

And a big thank you to my friend Cora and her horse Gunner aka His Royal Orangeness, Cora for babysitting me and HRO for babysittling Zeffy on our journey.

When I got back to the yard Bruce Almighty voiced his most pathetic 12.2. pony whinny for Zeffy! Aah well!

Captain Fantastic

(The pic was taken last Summer when my niece and husband came to visit and Adam had a sit on Captain.)

Now for some wonderful news on my "Numero Uno", Captain! As I mentioned, I've put him on a Danillon a day as he seemed "stiffer" than usual. The vet came out last Monday to check him and after watching him walk and trot up (including flexion test to prove it was what I said - Spavin) pronounced him 3/10 lame. And I'm really pleased with that!! It really is an improvement! And he also agreed 100% with my decision to manage any pain with Danillon. I asked about any new and less harmful painkillers but he said Danillon was the best in his opinion.

And, on Tuesday evening I took him in the school for a little suppling session on the lunge. Mainly in walk but he looked so good that I asked - and he willing obliged with a trot on each rein. And he looked better in trot that I can remember for years!! Normally if I think he looks good enough to try, he trots for a stride or so and looks so awful that I stop him. But he looked virtually sound and stretched down long and low and looked very comfortable. So I'll proceed cautiously but certainly the Danillon has helped him.

On Wednesday, Lizzie came to see him early morning. I was about to hack Bruce. We looked at Captain walk up and decided Lizze would just lead him round with Bruce and me after his lunge session but hopefully this week she'll be able to ride him (in walk). Captain repaid her thoughtfullness by being really greedy and hauling her all over the place to reach the delicious grass and cow parsley! Naughty Captain!

Saturday, 6 June 2009

Zeffy's Off to School!

This week I made a big decision (for me!) and in a couple of hours I'm taking Zeffy to a friend who starts young horses professionally, to continue his education. So why such a big change? A mix of things, but mainly my self doubt; I don't want to spoil my dream boy! I think I've done a pretty good job so far but I just don't feel confident that I have the experience for the next important stage. And Zeffy is very intelligent, quick and sometimes challenging. If I communicate well with him and make things clear things generally go well but if Z doesn't understand or if I'm hesitant he will often "fill the void" with unwanted behaviour (e.g.barging, bucking, charging off). My teacher, P, drums into us that we should act bored with our horses. By this she means that we must be non-judgemental and unemotional. I just can't be "bored enough" with Zeffy. And I recognise that with this little horse if I'm not clear, quick and supremely confident it could all go wrong very quickly!

I'm very happy about where he's going. R is a long term pupil of P, her partner is an Intelligent Horsemanship RA (Recommended Associate). I trust them implicitly to continue Zeffy's education in his best interest. What's best for him will be their focus. And without my procrastination he should progress much more quickly! And I'll be able to visit and spend time with him of course.

I know this is the right thing to do but I'm a bit anxious! Particulary about him leaving his little herd and home.

A lovely couple of days!

Just read my last entry and can't believe it's only a week ago! So much seems to have happened! My Mum came to stay with us last Sunday through to Tuesday. The weather was perfect for a change! Hot, sunny but with a pleasant breeze. We spent a lot of the day in our own lovely garden on Sunday, followed by a trip to the horses. Mum hasn't been for a while and couldn't believe how much Zeffy had grown! On Monday, Lizzie (my niece, currently on holiday from University) came over and we visited Calke Abbey. Mike and I often used to go to Calke to walk the stunning parkland. It's been owned by the National Trust for some years (like many stately homes, the family could no longer afford its upkeep). We've never been inside the house itself or the gardens which have only been restored during the last 10 years or so. Mum is a very keen gardener so we decided to first walk the dogs and then visit the gardens. Here's some pics.