I really do try and update every week…

…but things have been hectic! The weather this past few weeks has been quite mad. High winds, heavy rain and generally storm conditions means we haven’t been doing as much as we might like. Good news: he’s put on some weight. They’ve got hay in the field now and he’s still getting a pile in his stable so that seems to have turned the corner *phew*. He’s a couple of months into the new supplements which is too early to tell really whether it’s making a difference but it’s all going into the pony which is a good start.

We have been riding a bit! Here we are in a very high wind (his mane is usually on the left of his neck…) which he didn’t much like but he seems comfortable in his feet and isn’t moving too badly.

We’ve also been doing lots of clicker and agility. Judith was in London so we had a lesson a few weeks back and started working on flags. He was so good! We were concentrating on a few things:

  • Making sure I give him the treat in front of him and not to his side
  • Treating more often! This was something I needed to work on before
  • Using multiple clicks, partly to help manage his anticipation and help prevent him getting too ‘high energy’ (he gets quite excited about clicker)
  • Reinforcing quietly standing, without waving his front legs around. This is a really ingrained habit he has and Judith thinks he almost doesn’t understand he’s doing it. It’s simply a reflex, which makes it really hard to stop. We need to focus on clicking for calm relaxation and think about whether to introduce a cue for standing with both feet on the ground. Still thinking about this!

We’re getting good at targeting flags now! I missed the second video competition deadline but I’m hopeful we’ll get something in for the March/April one.

I’ve also been continuing my own work on my riding with Sue and Douglas the simulator. We had a good session this weekend. I allowed to ride in the ‘school’ (so I could make the horse go where I wanted on the screen, rather than being in ‘training’ mode – hard to explain!). The takeaway points from this were:

  • I need to focus on not blocking the head movement with my shoulders. I need to think about them being relaxed and widened, tucking my chin in and letting the weight fall into my elbows
  • For turning I need to think about my shoulders to his shoulders, my hips to his hips (she said this several times and every time all I could think it ‘my mind to your mind’ from Star Trek) So if I turn my shoulders the rest of my body should naturally do what it needs to to turn the horse – my hips will follow and then his hips too.
  • Overall she thinks I’m improving though which is good! I wish I could have actual lessons with her on Dino!!

Hopefully the weather will be a bit more sane now, the schools will dry out and we can make some progress. I’m really looking forward to getting started with the Connection Training Groundwork Course. I’ve done the theory bit and the rest of the course is really well put together so I’m excited to get going! I shall try to update more often.

Ups and Downs…

I’ve been slacking again with the Dino updates…. It’s been a tough few weeks if I’m honest. Personally difficult things have been happening, work hasn’t been straight-forward either and in the midst of all that it’s taken me ages to get on top of Dino’s weight loss issues. At the very end of January I had the vet take some blood just to make sure there was nothing untoward going on and it was all clear so I’ve upped his feed *again* and this week, FINALLY, he’s started to gain weight again. Now to make sure he doesn’t gain too much too quickly, LOL.

Because of the weight issue he’s been mostly off work. I’ve been doing horse agility stuff with him and a bit of lunging with an Equicore, but no ridden work since Emma came out a few weeks ago. Hope to get back on this week though!

David (Osteopath) was out this morning and said the lack of work doesn’t seem to have done much harm; his usual stiffness in the right lumbar spine is present but no worse than usual. Trimmer also came out today and she didn’t think he was entirely even behind but he he’s not landing toe first or looking footy at all. So that’s good. He’s on his new diet now so hopefully that will be reaping benefits for overall vitamin and mineral balance soon, as well as just putting on more calories.

Hopefully we’ll back to decent work under saddle again soon!

Meanwhile we’re still doing agility training. Missed the deadline for Jan/Feb started competition entry as we haven’t yet mastered the curtain, but we’re making progress! He can now go through with some bits touching him but he’s very unsure. Hopefully we’ll have a go at the February course in time to get that one into the competition! This is as much as we can manage at the moment… Watch this space for more progress!

Another session with Douglas!

Made it out to Suffolk again today for another session with Sue Gould-Wright on the wonderfully patient Douglas. This week we were working on transitions which are super challenging if you do them right! So much to think about in downward and upward transitions. For downwards I need to concentrate on:

  • Tilting my pelvis back and not letting it rock forward
  • Gently widening across my shoulders
  • Sitting taller and bringing my head and neck gently back
  • Using the muscles in my sides to gently squeeze my arm pits down, whilst still sitting up through the spine (this is a bit confusing!!)
  • Gently letting the elbows drift back into a downward transition

Upwards we did a lot of work about using the legs. This is through contracting the muscles up the whole length of the leg, rather than just trying to use the calves/lower leg which is not necessarily in contact with the horse. I found this very very hard! Especially on the left side where my hip is very stiff. It’s also very hard not to clench my bum whilst doing this and therefore block the motion and stop the horse. Definitely need more practice!

New shoes!

We’ve continued working on agility stuff this week and we bought some new trainers for hacking! Very exciting! Size smaller than his last ones as his hooves have got a it narrower as they’ve been trimmed better. Hoping to road test these on Wednesday with Sam 🙂

Overall we’ve had a sticky week. He seems a tiny bit footy and he’s still losing weight. I’m giving him a week off being ridden and focusing on lunging with his Equicore this week to start some strengthening work. His saddler will be out to check his saddle on Saturday which is a bit overdue and I need to look at his diet again as what we’re doing at the moment clear doesn’t work for him. A quick run of his current diet through FeedXL shows it might be a bit lacking in places – going to have a think about putting him on different (but more expensive!) vitamins and mins and more linseed to try and stop the weight coming off. Very weird to be trying to keep weight on him when usually the problem is the other way!

Small bits of progress!

This week we have been working on the standing with our front feet in a hoop bit of the starter agility. We have nailed it…sometimes. I even manged it at liberty on Thursday night! (see picture). We also had a hack out on Wednesday so this is just the sort of week we need to keep having 🙂

Not much ‘hard work’ though and I’m still not 100% convinced I’ve got his diet right. I’ve been reading some Pete Ramey (expert barefoot trimmer. Like, if he doesn’t know it literally no-one else is in the whole world probably will expert) about diet which has set me musing again. Excess iron can be a bit problem in horses. I had no idea! So I need to sign up for another month of FeedXL and see if a different set of supplements might work better. Ho hum.

There will be less fun stuff this week. I don’t see where we can fit a hack in, but hopefully we can have some agility fun on Wednesday. I have ordered a curtain from the agility people as my home made one wasn’t up to snuff! I hope that will arrive quickly and we can get practising! Other than that I’m hoping for three nice calm schooling sessions to work on transitions this week. Watch this space.

New Year Reflections

It’s that time of year for a bit of reflection on what’s going well and what lessons have been learned. The Connection Training folk put up a useful framing for this exercise and I’m having a look through the blog posts from this time last year which is fascinating!

For a start I can see that the field lake was already formed at this point! Check out the picture here This year things have been pretty wet, and there is a small lake in the field but nothing like that size. And things are drying a bit now as the past couple of weeks have been better. I’m really hoping the weather stays dry and cold now for a bit. I don’t mind that so much.

So the questions then:
Q 1: What are you most proud of from last year?
Hm. Tricky one! There’s lots of places where I feel like we’ve made as much progress as I had hoped but there are some things we have cracked. We used clicker training to sort out his aversion to being groomed and now he mostly stands still and calm although we could do more work. I’m also pleased I’ve started work with Sue Gould-Wright to sort my riding out which is I think a big part of what’s holding us back under saddle! (Post about that here) We’ve also managed to get out hacking more. Not weekly as I’m aiming for eventually but we did something at the end of September, and then had a good long ride a week or so ago. That’s a big achievement.

Q 2: What was your most useful lesson from last year?
I think I need to adjust *my* attitude. I’m too hung up on ‘getting somewhere’ with him and I think he needs a less pressured approach. But he also really needs to move to keep his hips and pelvis working which is a challenge as getting him to move without piling the pressure on doesn’t really happen! I certainly think we get better results with a clear plan, but I need to work out how to stick to one.

Q 3: What is the number 1 thing you’d like to achieve with your horse in the coming year?
I would like to understand Dino better so we can train better together. I have some fairly concrete goals for things I want to do but I feel like there’s a fundamental attitude thing (mine – not his!) that needs cracking that might unlock all of it…. My list of things is:
1. Compete in the online horse agility league
2. Compete in a prelim dressage competition
3. Do a clear round jumping competition
4. Get out hacking at least once per month
I also think he would benefit from working the core activation carrot stretches and some Masterson into his routine properly!

So there’s lots to do and I’m feeling in a better place for making plans than this time last year. The school is dry for the time being, and the pony is in decent shape I think. We’ve joined the Horse Agility Club to give the monthly video competitions a go and I hope this might give us a sense of progress and achievement. I’m already the yard weirdo so trotting along today with a hula hoop and a football in addition to the pony didn’t raise too many eyebrows! And hopefully we’ll do more of this… (hacking in Epping Forest!)

Getting better…

Managed to get out for a short hack today! Big thanks to Sam and Wood-face who are a both amazing. Just a 35 min walk round Gunpowder but it was lovely to get out again. Hopefully we’ll manage to make this more of a regular thing which I think will help Dino a lot. 

Schooling this week has been a bit ploddy again. Even though the school did dry out a bit later in the week he’s still really uncertain about the footing and not keen to move forwards but we did have a few nice moments. I would settle for colder and dry right now though I have to say! Forecast for this coming week is better so I guess we’ll see!!

Untwangling yet again

Another three months has whizzed past and David was back out to untwangle the pony on Saturday. This time he was jammed up through the *right* hip, instead of the left. So….that’s a bit disappointing. I mean his hips are always a bit dodge but I feel like we need to have a better action plan to strengthen him as otherwise we get to a point and he starts to struggle with the canter.

David says the key is polework! We should be working him until he sweats a bit, at least on his neck, 5 times per week. This is a considerable step up from what we have been doing! I asked on Facebook for some possible polework exercises and here are some links:

So what’s the plan then? How do I construct a 45 mins schooling session? We’re also supposed to do a decent hack at least once per week so we’ll need to crack on with that a bit too. I’ll post a schooling plan separately.

I don’t have a picture of Dino for you all today so have this picture of Urban upside-down instead:

Where does the time go???

I’ve lost momentum with these updates again, sorry! Not that anyone but me is reading, LOL.

I do feel like I’ve been making progress, but I don’t feel like I have clear plan and work is a nightmare at the moment so I’ve been working a lot. The pony is beginning to be more forward, although I’ve started to encounter some resistance again so I think I need to circle back and recover the basics as a refresher. He will pop into a reasonably forward trot though, which is good. The canter is a bit of a mess though! I need to work on his (and my) core strength I think.

I did have a second simulator lesson with Sue Gould-Wright this week and it was great! We did a lot more work on trot and canter. I haven’t really been doing my stretches so my hip flexors are still an issue. I need to revamp my schedule so these get priority. It’s so hard to sit with my upper body tall and still but let my lower body and my legs completely relax and absorb the movement! But she thinks I’m making progress so that’s good. I need to get back out there again in December. Katie (instructor) seems to have abandoned me which is a bit annoying. I need to catch up with her again but I’m so busy at the moment maybe a break is in order. I’d love to pop out to a competition or two but it’s just not on the cards right now sadly.

I did take some video the other week where you can see he’s more forward, but you can also see how much I’m rowing in the canter and my legs are all over the place! Definitely work in progress:

Simulator lesson with Sue Gould-Wright

Had an absolutely fascinating session on Douglas, Sue Gould-Wright’s Racewood eventing simulator over in Suffolk today. Sue teaches pilates and approaches correct riding from a very anatomical viewpoint, which works really well for me as my hypermobility leads to a number of issues that I feel I’ve never really got a grip on with other instructors. The use of a simulator is also great as Douglas is super obedient and just carries on with what he’s supposed to be doing and let’s me work out what I’m supposed to be doing!

This is Douglas: https://www.facebook.com/equestrianpilatesuk/videos/1848953155132473/

Douglas gives a very detailed reading whilst you have him in ‘perfecting your seat’ mode. You can just about make out the screen at about the 1 min mark in this promotional video:

He has a bunch of sensors so in his back, on his sides and round his mouth so you can see if you are sitting squarely and moving straight or if you’re a bit wonky and blocking your horses movement! We very quickly discovered how my hips are affecting Dino’s ability to move freely. I have very tight hip flexors which are tipping my pelvis forward and causing me to clench my buttcheeks a lot (glamorous this, no?). Once my pelvis is tipped forward I’m not really able to move my spine very freely so I’m not absorbing his movement, my lower legs are waggling about and my chest and shoulders are moving more than they should. No wonder the pony doesn’t walk forward very smartly!

So, I need to concentrate on:

  • Released my clench bum muscles and gently rotate the pelvis back so I’m sitting squarely on my seat bones
  • Allowing my thigh to turn inward, bringing the inside of me knee into contact with the horse and then wrapping my whole leg quietly around the pony
  • Relaxing all of this, and my lower spine so I can abosrb the horses movement
  • This should allow my feet to more naturally turn forwards and rest my feet in the stirrups, not jam them down
  • THEN I need to concentrate on keeping my shoulders and head stiller, bringing the bottom of my rib cage gently toward my spine (but not clenching those butt cheeks!)
  • Finally (!) I need to widen my shoulders slightly, dropping the weight into my elbows and bring my head back so my chin isn’t sticking out

Ok then! After an hour mostly at walk I could sit quite nicely on Douglas’s collected trot:

Back to Barnfields and hopped onto the real pony, in the rain, and I can certainly feel the difference!! And so can Dino!! It was very much coming and going, as I ‘got it’ for a bit and then tightened and lost it but when I ‘had it’ Dino was moving much better and offering to hop into trot without really being asked. The key question is keep asking is ‘where I am using more effort than I should? What’s tense that shouldn’t be?’. So I shall be doing some practising but I will need to go back a few times over the next three months I think so really get to grips with this ‘new’ way of riding. Also I need to get to grips with rising trot and canter! But a wonderful lesson and well worth the cost and the drive. Maybe I can actually learn to ride after all these years….