Sunday, 21 December 2014

The Last Manu Mclean Clinic for 2014

Well, Manu did not disappoint in her last clinic for the year. Well, only a little and it wasn't really her fault!

I decided to take both the girls, Rose and Annie, if I could get the four lessons as I had reached a plateau with Rose and Annie is obviously very much a challenge! I had opted for all shared lessons as my budget was already stretched to breaking with two horses and Heidi's failed attempts at pregnancy (more on that later!), and that's always a bit of a risk if you don't have another person you know to share with. It's hard for clinic organisers to match people, especially when they don't really know the horses involved.

Anyway, first lesson was with Annie and we shared with a lovely lady named Deb. The new thing to try with Manu was carrying the hands very low, literally with a hand either side of the neck, in front of the wither. The tips of the thumbs just touch over the neck and the flat of the knuckles (ie the fingers between the first and second joints) rests against the neck. This creates very stable and strong hands that really don't move - kind of side reins, if you will.

The idea is to provide the horse with stability and certainty. When she is in the right fram with the right flexion and self-carriage, the reins are soft. When she resists or overbends or flexs, the hands provide resistance that is not easily moved. This helped Annie, given her very hard right side of her mouth. It was completely exhausting as she just pulled and pulled against my right hand!

Manu had us start manipulating the nuchal ligament:

This ligament, as you can see, is quite an integral part of the horse's neck anatomy and must play a very important role in the way a horse goes in a frame. By using the knuckles to push and massage the nuchal ligament, we can encourage the horse to flex and come rounder without having to pull or use the bit. It was a very interesting experiment, as I started pushing my knuckles really quite hard into the base of Annie's neck (about an inch or two vertically below the topline) and watched in amazement as she flexed her head towards the side I was pressing, followed by a lowering of the head, at which point I released the pressure. She became very quick and responsive at halt to that stimulation.

At walk it was a little harder as she assumes her 'camel' pose almost straight away - clearly an effect of the training she had received before. Manu had me push Annie out using my knee, hip and pushing the inside fist into her neck to simultaneously flex her in and push her out. After quite a while of this (my arm was aching) she finally dropped her head and flexed. Relief! She cottoned on to this pretty quickly after a few repetitions and we started to get some nice, forward round walk.

Annie is tricky, though, as she really is still quite unsure of the purpose of the bit and needed to be constantly halted and stepped back if she pulled hard, or halted if it was a medium resistance, or simply turned if she was a little heavy. This worked very well and actually started to train her to keep her head in a constant frame instead of throwing it up when given the aid to move forward or up a gait. Between that and flexing her with my lowered hands and nuchal trick, I was dripping in sweat by the end of the lesson!

Rose was easier, but had other issues, obviously. Not staying in a consisten rhythm was one and this was overcome with essentially the same exercises. Lots of slowing, halting, turning using indirect turns and the nuchal ligament flexion got her moving fairly consistently. She, too was a bit hard on the right rein, but nowhere near as heavy as Annie! I felt more confident in my turns and setting her up for changes in direction and gait, but she was still a little tense.

After the first day, I was rooted! I can't imagine how these crazy professional event riders ride 7 horses at a single comp.

Second day was really the highlight. Annie and I lucked out through the misfortuned of my intended lesson-mate and got a private. It was a real corner-turning lesson, with lots of good progress made. I finally got many strides of soft, round horse, rather than two or three before her head would go up or her back would go stiff. The three levels of resistance training was really the breakthrough and Annie responded very well to being halted if I gave her the trot aid from a halt and she put her head up. Within two or three repetitions she was simply trotting off, round and light. If she leant on my hands, she was walked or halted. Then trotted again. If she pulled or threw her head up, she was halted and backed a couple of steps. Often flexed to the rein she was pulling with. She got so relaxed her ears started flopping back and forth! It was really great.

We even tried a canter. It was pretty heinous! Manu had be really focus on getting a crisp, obedient transition, not letting her run and run into the canter. Letting her run meant letting her build up speed and the resultant canter was very fast, out of control and tense. I need to get her responding to canter from an aid, lightly and obediently. More homework!

Rose was fabulous on the second day. Another share but better than the last one. Buliding on the previous day's work, I was able to get Rose really supple and bending properly, even leg yielding at the trot which I'd never done before with her. Getting her straight and keeping her straight was very much helped by the hands on the neck routine, thought my lats and biceps were killing me!

Manu taught me to encourage lengthening by opening my fingers and pushing forward with my pelvis on each rise, tapping with my legs to increase the stride length. All of sudden, Rose was powering down the long side in a lovely lengthened trot. It felt awesome. She even pulled off one very light and balanced transition back to working trot! Yey!

Canter was actually not too bad. I have been having a lot of trouble with Rose simply charging off and being very hard to slow or stop. Manu had me come on a 20m circle and use my indirect turn to make the circle smaller, forcing her to balance and slow. It worked, and she started rounding and slowing, getting lighter. No straight lines for Rose for a little while, until we can establish and maintain that canter.

What a great end to the year for the girls and I. I am so excited about Annie's progress and prospects. I feel a great connection with her and can't wait to get into some jumping! Rose, though for sale and therefore a bit more distant from me emotionally now, is still dear to my heart and tries so hard. Manu's lessons are such good learning opportunities and Rose helps me get the most out of them!

After our little break, it'll be back into it in mid-Jan for Annie, preparing for our first comp at Wallaby Hill Intro on 7-8 Feb, then Lucinda's clinic on 11-12 Feb and Canberra HT two weeks later. No rest for the wicked!

Saturday, 20 December 2014

Merry Christmas!

Well, it's been far too long, again. So much has been happening I just haven't found time to thump out a post. My bad!

The last few weeks have been super busy and just a bit crazy. We had a quarter of our annual rainfall in less than a week, with dams overflowing and very soggy ponies. It was nuts, but you wouldn't even know it had happened now. We're back to rock hard ground, though at least the grass is green!

We took the decision to buy in some large round bales of meadow hay and I bought a big Gutzbusta haynet to go over it. The results were quite amazing. From wasting what seemed like about a fifth of a bale every time to them pissing and pooing and trampling on the hay, the remainder of a bale once eaten is less than half a small bale's worth. One of the best buys I've made in ages!

Work has been slow but steady on my arena over the last couple of months. The deluge of rain has slowed things considerably but at least now we've got the majority of the posts in place, holes filled in and ready to start attaching the rails.
Phoebe dog hard at work supervising

My super effort digging the holes out after the Dingo dug them, cutting the posts and putting them in
The idea is to keep the grass and really cultivate it like lawn, eventually putting some sand down just to provide some grip and support. The latest studies indicate that, for barefoot horses, grass with a thin sand application is the best surface to work on. Lucky it's cheap too!

Annie is coming along in leaps and bounds (not literally, thank god) and is really starting to do some good work. She's slowly getting some topline and working more consistently in a correct frame, and her transitions are improving all the time. Here she is a few weeks ago, she's even nicer looking now:
Annie's feet are just amazing. I'm absolutely impressed with how well she's transitioned from shoes to barefoot. Here is her nearside fore before the last trim:
And after:
Still a bit pointy at the toe but that will take a couple more trims to get the right shape. Interestingly, there was some bruising in that toe area which is apparently caused by having too long a toe.

And Rose is getting better and better too. She is quite different to ride in that she's so much chunkier with a shorter stride, but she's more supple and consistent than Annie. This is her (and me with my bloody eventer's elbows!):
Had a great clinic with Manu Mclean that ended a couple of days ago - that'll have to be a separate post methinks. Too long to put in one post!

So, the girls are on holiday for a few weeks and we're off to Western Australia for a week over Christmas. So excited! When we get back it'll be time for young Timmy to be started so there'll be some pics to come of that.

More pics in the next post. My laptop is dying, I think, and I'm having trouble transferring pics from my phone to it. Bastarding technology!

Have a happy and safe holiday and watch out for my post about the latest Manu clinic!

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Blue-arsed fly

What a crazy time of year this is! A horse event every weekend for about three months straight, lots of farm jobs including no less than 4 broody chicken to be looked after, and the downhill stretch to Christmas and holidays! I have no earthly idea how we will survive the rest of the year, but the old adage 'take it one day at a time' seems to help.

Annie is coming along in leaps and bounds (luckily not literally) and is settling into the Dragonwood lifestyle beautifully. She's a very laid-back girl with a friendly attitude and not as much assertiveness as her foster-sister, Rose. The extra hundred kilos Rose has on her might play some part in that!

I've only started riding Annie the past few days as she is now at a weight where I felt it was ok to give her a bit of work. She's on very good pasture at the moment and is down to daily, rather than twice-daily feeds. I've put her on Hygain Tru Gain which is really helping her gain weight but with no fizz. The sunflower seeds are putting a bit of shine in her summer coat which has started to come through very fast. I suppose as she gets healthier her old dead winter coat will be released and that seems to be happening already.

Her feet are holding up very well and she's already comfortable on most surfaces, including our gravel driveway. She's amazing.

My rides have focused mostly on re-training her stop button. As with many horses, Annie had been essentially taught that bit pressure can mean 'head down' as well as 'stop'. So, when I closed my fingers she just dropped her head and pushed through it. I had to be very conscious only to release pressure when she slowed her legs rather than changed the position of her head. She was very, very hollow anyway and very unhappy in the contact.

Once we established what the bit cue was for (ie only for slowing the legs), I started using some indirect turns to straighten her. Pushing the outside rein into the neck after pushing the outside knee into her side, I waited for two steps to see if she would move away, then opened my inside rein quite obviously when she didn't. She was soon moving away from the rein pressure, keeping her neck straight and softening her outline until she was quite round and forward and straight. Awesome!

After two rides, just doing that at the walk and trot, including lots of slow walk and slow trot to help give her time to think and move her legs, I was really pleased with her progress. This morning, we skipped most of the stargazing tension and moved straight into relaxed forward walk. Go Annie. :)

The Manu trick of halting her and giving her a loose rein has really paid dividends I think. She struggled with the concept of not moving her legs for the first two days, thinking that releasing bit pressure meant go forward. But this morning she moved very little and was completely still after the first two goes at it. She is quite active with stretching her neck, shaking her head, chewing and yawning and blowing. After she's finished, she must stand as I re-take rein contact and wait to be asked to move. She's getting a lot better with that too.

Canter.....was messy but improved. She's a big girl with a big stride, so it will take a lot of balance and strength that she simply does not have yet. The pig-rooting into canter was quite funny but she'll quit that in a while, I'm sure.

Half the farm is quite green and lush at the moment and the other half is good but the grasses are obviously of a different species. We're going to pilot a small area of native grass mix in the next few weeks and hopefully develop that grass across the rest of the property. Low in sugars and high in starch, it's perfect for barefoot horses and those prone to laminitis. Just what we need!

Young Timmy is off at Hillydale being started and is going great guns. You can read about him on their facebook page:!/pages/Hillydale-Equine-Training-and-Sales/704025642964665?fref=ts Some lovely pics too.

Heidi, our broodmare, is about to be AI'd with Contenda semen and I'm very excited about the potential for this little baby. Should be a truly athletic horse and fingers crossed all goes to plan.

Jedi is getting some good piloting from young Maddy Reisner. They had a good showing at the NSW Eventing Champs last weekend. He really excelled in the showjumping rather than either of the other two phases, so we're going to take him out showjumping for a bit and see if someone might buy him as a showjumper. I really want to move him on to his next home as I've essentially stopped riding him now and I've already emotionally separated, if you know what I mean.

So, a lesson on Annie for me and on Jedi for Maddy at Ben Netterfield's this weekend, then it's a bit of judging, bit of showjumping, bit of dressage and then Berrima Horse Trials in just over a month. Good times!

Sunday, 12 October 2014

Meet Annie

Well, it's been a pretty big week for this little duck and the horses at Dragonwood Farm. We've recovered from Canberra Horse Trials and Jedi is now getting ridden by an up and coming junior at Lynton and is working really well with her. They had a fang around the Canberra course yesterday and she was pretty happy with how that went. Jedi may well have landed on his feet! Let's hope he catches someone's eye at Lynton now he's being ridden in a manner more to his liking....

Timmy the Connemara/TB went off to Hillydale Ponies for foundation training (aka breaking in). Cath at Hillydale uses the Equitation Science approach and the Mclean method of training, so Timmy will be in great hands and should be a super little young dude when he comes home in a few weeks. We got lost on the way there and ended up four-wheel driving through the bush out the back of Bungonia and he just stood like a rock in the float. Even when he got out he parked beautifully (made me look great!) and just calmly went into the paddock to eat in his new environment. Really got high hopes for him going to an ambitious young rider or small adult to bring on.

Which brings us to Annie. Annie was a bit of an 'accidental' purchase. I had gone up to look at her as a bit of a curiousity trial with no intention of buying her. She was well over-priced as a rising 5 year old green ISH mare and the photos didn't inspire confidence. She was even worse in person, significantly underweight with a cut mouth and a big saddle sore. She'd just come back from 4 weeks with a well-known professional event rider so I was pretty taken aback at her condition. Clearly, she was not being fed or looked after well at all.

She rode very green, with a hard mouth and no real understanding of roundness or softness. She was forward with a super big trot and lovely canter. I only worked her for 10 mins as the arena we were on was very deep, it was hot and she was just not conditioned to cope with much. She was getting tired.

Still, I walked away really liking her attitude and her work ethic, not to mention her movement. One day, I thought, she'll be a star in the right hands. But given her asking price, those hands were not going to be mine until her price came down!

My mate Jo, the legend that she is to come traipsing up to Bowral with me, and I chatted about her on the way home. We both agreed that was probably the worst presentation of a horse in the price bracket we'd ever seen and we also both agreed Annie was the sweetest horse with quite a bit of talent. We only hoped she'd go to a good home.

That afternoon, I texted the owner to tell her I really liked Annie but couldn't offer her the kind of money she was looking for. After a bit of pushing from the owner to make an offer, I ended up offering half the asking price, which I still thought was probably a bit generous. To my open-mouthed surprise she accepted straight away. Shit, I thought, now what do I do?? Luckily, I have the best husband in the world and he said, just do it, but you can't have your arena until Jedi and Timmy are sold. Deal, says I.

Vet check was a bit of a nailbiter for me - I really didn't think she'd pass in that condition. But the vet was quite happy with her, at least soundness-wise. No issues at flexion, but anaemic, malnourished, with a sore wither and dull coat. Poor Annie.

So, after dropping Timmy off at Hillydale, the intrepid Jo and I headed up to Bowral to pick up Annie. She actually looked worse than the week before. She loaded great (hoeing into her hay with gusto) and we headed home. We never heard a peep out of her.

This is Annie the day after she arrived at Dragonwood Farm:

As you can see, no topline, prominent ribs and hips, dull bleached coat. But she's already looking a little better on 2 modest feeds a day of Micrbeet, lucerne chaff, Hygain Ice and Equilibrium with sunflower seeds. Not to mention spring grass!

Kirsten the wonder trimmer came out yesterday to pull her shoes and we were pleasantly surprised by the health of her hooves and frogs. This could be an easy transition - no thrush or seedy toe found and a big frog to help cushion those sensitive tootsies.

For some reason my pics won't rotate....but that's her off fore.

Off hind. The squared off shoes were used so the farrier could 'dump' the toe to help stop her forging.

Freshly pulled and rasped near hind. The white hoof makes it easy to see what Kirsten did.

Freshly pulled and rasped off fore. A bit pointy at the toe but otherwise suprisingly good.

So, Annie has good feet and should transition well to barefoot. I'll keep you posted on her progress. So far she's been a bit sensitive on the gravel road (completely understandably) but otherwise fine on the grass and dirt. She'll keep landing toe-first for a while but will gradually start moving properly as her feet get less sensitive and her body gets used to the different feel.

Monday, 6 October 2014

Canberra Horse Trials 2014

What a big weekend! The sun was out in force and the spring weather was just glorious for the event. We had a long weekend too, so I got to pack even more stuff in!

Here's the rundown....

Judging 20 or so Intro juniors from 8am on the Saturday was a pretty sweet gig. The class was actually of a really high standard, considering half the kids looked about 8! Having a good mate pencil with you certainly makes the day go quicker and I received some lovely feedback later in the day about the positive comments I give to riders. The opposite would be keenly felt by me as the rider later in the day and I was once again really conscious of giving riders constructive and positive feedback, rather than just telling them what they did wrong by way of a cutting one word comment.

Which take me to Jedi's dressage....

Let me first say it was a definite improvement on the last few outings. The warm up was better, though still really tense, especially in the canter. I used the two tools Manu had given me at the clinic - the indirect turn to step the front leg out, and the halt on a loose rein - to good effect and I really think both tools made a dramatic difference. I also concentrated on keeping my seat light and forward which also helped.

He was just a complete prick in the canter. The transitions were actually not bad, but then he would be off pig-rooting with his head so high he was practically hitting me in the face! Grunting, to boot. It was NOT fun or pretty and, while he eventually settled in the warm up, he did exactly the same thing through the WHOLE of the canter movements.

The entry was crooked but he was forward and round. The trot work was actually not bad, I thought. Yes, a little tense, but he was working in a nice frame, forward and supple. He even pulled off some nice lengthening across the diagonal, so I was really pleased with over half the test.

Now, you might expect, as I did, that our marks would reflect this improvement and apparent good work. Not so much. Once again, we scored 50%. An average mark of 5. When I got the test back I was not happy that the good work was not rewarded while the really awful work was not penalised. Why not use the whole scoring scale available?? I would have been giving me 7s for the trot work and 4s for the canter work. Instead, I got 5s and the odd 6 for the trot (with a 7 for the halt), and 5s for the canter. Bizarre. Not to mention disappointing.

Anyway, last again...ho hum.

The showjumping course was a very odd design and very difficult given the level of the class. The jumps were not big, at least they didn't seem to be almost a metre, but the first half of the course was like a snake - jump 1, turn right 180 degrees to jump 2, turn left 180 degrees to 3a and b, turn right 180 degrees to jump 4, turn left up the hill to jump went on like that. Jedi clobbered the first and got quite upset and dropped 3 more for a cricket score of 16. I was really disappointed for him as I wanted him to have a confidence-building round. The last two jumps were quite good, though, so I'm hoping that's what's stuck with him.

So, after dressage and showjumping we were still last. But still in the game!

The cross country course was great - the National Capital Horse Trials Association had built new fences and mixed it up a bit to create a lovely flowing course with some good questions. I uploaded the course onto the Cross Country App if you have it.

The Sunday dawned pretty hot with a hot wind blowing. It easily made 28 degrees and felt like the first licks of summer. Welcome to eventing, Australian-style!

In short, Jedi was a gun and I was a fat blob. He galloped around that track, jumping everything in sight, including the water, the ditch, the drop - the lot. And I got really tired about halfway around and could do nothing to help him. I don't know what was happening - I have been a bit sick this week so maybe that was the cause, but I was so bad I actually thought I might have to pull up. First time ever. But Jedi looked after me and carried me round. What a champion. We got a few time pens but I don't care. He was great. :)

So, yes, we finished last, but this was a big improvement on Harden and his behaviour in the warm up for both showjumping and cross country was vastly improved.

It was a really great weekend and a wonderfully professional event. The organisers run a friendly, fun event with lots to see and do even when you're not competing. And I'm always well looked-after by the Committee when I'm judging and riding. It makes it a pleasure to give your time and energy.

Bring on Lynton!!

Monday, 29 September 2014

Another Mclean Clinic - an epiphany....a hard one, but a good one

So, another Mcleans clinic for the history books. This time, both Andrew and Manuela were in attendance and it was such a great couple of days. What a difference it makes having the clinic over a long weekend in spring. Lots of people turned up to hear Andrew's lecture and watch his demonstration with a young horse that pulls back. And it was a good vibe, as always.

My lessons were pretty all over the place and, as I am a firm believer that confusion and disappointment are the great drivers of positive change, I'm going to chalk this clinic up to being a bloody Lamborghini for positive change! The first lesson with Andrew on Jedi was bloody awful. I didn't really have enough time to warm up. Andrew was running late because his plane was late so I thought I had ten more minutes than I did. Ah, well, my bad.

Jedi started very tense and didn't really get better. He was at his worst with his head tossing, pig-rooting, tail-swishing and rushing the jumps. He is really not usually like this and I was disappointed. Andrew, quite rightly, told me I shouldn't be jumping him higher than the piddly jumps he had set up and that, frankly, I was not suited to hot horses. I ride too heavily for sensitive Jedi and am really pissing him off. Sigh. Not that I didn't always know that in the back of my mind but it was a hard thing to hear, especially when he was misbehaving to a far greater degree than normal.

That being said, Andrew and I go back almost 30 years, so he wasn't just being an arsehole. He knows I appreciate honesty and I really think he's right. We worked on me having a more forward seat to be more balanced and subtle, allowing him to round rather than hollow under my weight. Things improved marginally, but it was a pretty crappy lesson. I was on the phone to my two best horse sales contacts within 15 minutes of the end of the lesson letting them know Jedi was up for sale.

Rose was pretty tense to start with Manu, but that soon dissipated as we worked on straightness (equal cheekpieces) and getting a slow walk. Lots of halting and even stepping back as she has a tendency to get strong and haul me around! Manu commented on my seat too, asking me to lean forward more. I was astounded - I reckon my whole riding life I've been told to 'sit up' and 'sit back' as I always had a tendency to be too forward. Now, I've over-compensated (probably from riding crazy Tux and now slightly nutty Jedi), and my posture is too defensive. This causes my seat/pelvis to literally drive down against the wither and into both horses' shoulders, creating soreness and discomfort.

As I started leaning forward (at least, that's what it felt like - I was really only sitting upright!), Rose's demeanour changed and she was less chargey and more rhythmic. It was quite counter-intuitive and will obviously take me ages to learn.

The other really great tool I picked up this time was the 'time-out box'. Manu has been experimenting with halting the horse, holding contact with hand and leg (neutral) for 5 seconds (the same amount of time in a halt/salute or halt at C) before letting the horse stand with the reins on the buckle. The horse is not allowed to move its legs out of this 'box' but may do anything else it likes - chewing, head-shaking, stretching forward, blowing). This opportunity to stretch and relax seems to make a huge difference and, after 15 seconds or so, the horse is ready to move on again. Best results are obtained if you do it in the same place everytime.

The major difference between doing this and, say, walking on a loose rein, is that walking on a long rein is an actual movement in dressage, something that must be trained. It is not really possible to relax the horse by walking on a long rein when it is also something the horse must do at a march, on a contact. I really like this idea and it seemed to have great results with both horses.

We never got out of walk in that first lesson with Manu on Rose! But it was a pretty great foundation.

I was lucky to get another privated with Manu the following day after someone had to cancel. I rode Jedi first as he is usually the most exhausting - not this time! He was practically dopey! I was almost disappointed as I wanted Manu to see him when he is tense. He did turn it on a bit later so she was able to see, but I think she knew what I was saying and could see his adrenalisation.

Leaning forward was one key and I worked on that. The second was active walk into slow trot for 8 steps, back to active walk. I also didn't take a dressage whip. This 20 min repetition of walk to slow trot, gradually developing from a dribbling sitting trot to a good working trot, rising, was genius.

Manu had me do a lot of a particular exercise involving strong indirect turns to the outside. These start when the horse is no longer straight or concentrating. The sequence goes, inside knee pushes in to the horse, followed by the inside hand locking against the wither - pressing the inside rein into the horse's neck. The horse should step out with the outside front leg ie open that leg. If not, the outside rein is opened wide to help the horse get the message. The key is not to release that inside rein, maintaining flexion to the inside. Once the horse steps out, all aids go back to neutral to reward the horse.

After some repetitions of this exercise, both horses started to round, lift through the back, swing across the hindquarter and go 'gooey', as Manu says. It can be repeated as often as you like and seems to really focus them on the rider.

We had a great lesson and I was really grateful I had that opportunity with Manu. I feel a lot less useless!

Rose's second lesson was really a duplication of Jedi's lesson, but Rose has a lot less strength and balance. She also pulls like a train when she wants so we had some serious halting and stepping back to do! I had been having trouble leg-yielding to the left on Rose - she would run, get stressed and toss her head. So, Manu had me slow down, then if Rose got heavy at all during the yield I would ask her to step back a step or two, then immediately push her into leg yield. After a few repetitions she was really quite good.

So, that's another exhausting clinic full of learning and sweating! Lots to work on and Jedi is now officially for sale. We'll be doing Canberra and Lynton Horse Trials in the coming two weeks, hopefully with a respectable dressage score to kick us off. I'm really aiming for calmness and 50%! Like always.....keep you posted!

Thursday, 4 September 2014

Spring has sprung!

Well it has certainly been an eventful few weeks in Barefooteventer-land. After the appalling dressage at Harden, I decided to take Jedi to a local dressage club event with Rose, the newly broken in Irish Sport Horse. Rose has just received her very own WOW saddle and looks rather fetching in it, if she does say so herself!

We had a middling day. The sun was bright and the mood was pretty jolly, but Jedi was very hot again and, after about an hour of riding, still pulled off a tense test. Much improved on Harden (we scored about 58.5% and finished 5th), but still very frustrating and worrying. I was convinced I was doing something really awful and was creating yet another Tux.

Rose was truly wonderful, however, just to confuse me even more! Considering she'd been ridden about 20 times ever, she was such a gem and coped really well in the noisy atmosphere. This was her second time in a dressage arena, even! So, she did a lovely test for 57.5% with a 7 for paces and scored herself a red ribbon to boot.

Needless to say, it was a very thoughtful drive home with the two of them as I kept going over my riding, my training, Jedi's reactivity and so on. I decided to simply cut all of Jedi's food out (which is incredibly hard to do - just try it!) and let him just eat grass for a bit. I reasoned I could quickly rule out diet if his behaviour stayed the same, even if he lost a bit of weight while that happened.

Imagine my relief when, only 5 days later, I had the calmest ride I'd had in literally months. He was almost lazy! The one thing that I'd truly managed to eliminate was the lucerne/meadow hay that he'd had for the whole of winter. We'd bought the big bales from a local guy and didn't know they were half lucerne til they arrived. I wasn't happy about it but didn't think it would be too detrimental.

How wrong I was! The horses had literally finished it up the weekend of the dressage comp and were eating only grass and hard feed (Micrbeet, lucerne chaff, Equilibrium and for Jedi, some Gastrocoat). I added Hygain Ice to the mix with no ill-effects. Now he's really quite lazy and calm. The relief is unbelievable. I'm even looking forward to our next event now I feel less likely I'll be thrown off!
We have two new additions to Dragonwood now - call it a bit of a window shopping moment gone awry! I went out to look at a lovely-looking broodmare called Heidi, and somehow ended up with Heidi AND her yearling by Ballycastle Cruisin' called Pocket. He's just a bit cute:

 So, there's lots happening in the next month. In a couple of weeks Andrew and Manu Mclean are coming up for a clinic. Hoping to take both Rose and Jedi for some lessons. I'm needing some serious help with trot/canter transitions on both of them. Jumping with Andrew is always pretty fun!

It's also time to complete young Timmy's foundation training and back him. He's three now and I'm quite excited about his prospects. He's growing into a really super young pony with very uphill paces and a real presence about him. Everyone asks 'who's that?' when they come to visit. He'll be up for sale in a few months, especially after I take him to Alastair Mclean's clinic in November. That being said, he's so lovely to have around, I won't be in any hurry to sell him!
Timmy in the rain
I'm also off to Albury at the end of September to judge at the NSW Pony Club Eventing Champs which will be so much fun. It's always such an honour to be asked to judge at junior events. These guys are the future of our sport and I welcome the opportunity to give them positive feedback when I can.

Then it's Canberra Horse Trials the first weekend of October, followed by Lynton - the NSW Eventing Champs two weeks later. This will be my first time competing at Lynton and I'm very keen to give it a redhot go.

All systems go for summer....bring it on!

Monday, 4 August 2014

I'm back!

Firstly, I apologise for my extreme slackness. It's what happens when you stop being so get slack about all the other balls you have up in the air. Well, that's my experience.

A little bit has been happening but in the freezing dark of a Canberra winter, it's really not as much as probably should be happening.

Firstly, the Sam Lyle clinic was a good confidence boost and has held us in good stead over the last couple of months of only intermittent riding and some motivation issues. Getting up to go riding in the dark has been a real struggle and sadly that has had quite a bit to do with Jedi.

Jedi had been getting increasingly tense and 'hot' over the past few months. I originally put it down to only riding on weekends, and I do think that has a little to do with it. However, he just seemed to be very stressed, weeing before rides, being difficult to catch and bucking and carrying on when we canter.

I thought it might be the ulcers settling and that has certainly been a noticeable improvement over the past three weeks. I've been feeding Gastrocoat (Kohnke's) and that seems to work well. No more kicking at his stomach and trying to eat all the time. Still a little humpy when I get on but getting better.

Julia from WOW came out to refit both saddles a week ago and commented that maybe I should stop feeding him Easiresult - it can make them a bit nutty. So, I quit feeding that, gave him Micrbeet instead and started on Equilibrium Blue to see if that might calm him down. I'm yet to see any improvement. :)

We had a really great Manu Mclean clinic a couple of weeks ago and it was quite a breakthrough. Straightness was pretty much the only thing we focused on and we tried a new technique Manu is teaching using the cheekpieces of the bridle as a guide. If you can see both cheekpieces, your horse is traveling straight. If one cheekpiece disappears you're heading for trouble and need to do an immediate indirect turn using the rein on the side you can't see the cheekpiece. So, can't see the right cheekpiece? Use your right rein to do a pretty sharp indirect turn. Keep going until the horse's head drops, he softens his body and 'gives' himself under you. Release and travel straight then ask for a bit more forward. It was working really beautifully in about 15 minutes.

Needless to say, it didn't stay that way. I find Manu lessons (or any lessons, now I think about it!) can be like going to the hairdresser. It doesn't work at home like it did in the salon!

But straightness got better. I only had three or four rides until the last comp - Harden Horse Trials last weekend. I think we didn't cement our straightness! Here's how it went down....

Warming up for dressage he was tense for the first 15-20 mins but gradually started to settle. He was coping pretty well with horses cantering past and was actually ok. A bit touchy, but ok. Certainly better than both Berrima and Wallaby Hill. And we hadn't been out amongst other horses for a while so I was pretty happy.

He was really crooked when he was tense but I did a lot of indirect turns a la Manu and he got straighter and more relaxed. Bingo, I thought. Computer says no....

It turns out the Harden officials had kicked off the Prelim showjumping in the arena right next to the remaining Prelim dressage. Like, 10 metres from the dressage arena was jump one. With the cantering and jumping and rails flying and heads tossing....Jedi saw this from a while away and I felt him start to get stressed again. My heart sank. And of course, just as we were walking down the long side to go in the horse in the jumping arena took out the entirety of jump one, right next to us. Jedi's little mind exploded and we just never got back on track.

Needless to say, our average mark was a 4. Probably the worse test I've ever done. He never settled from start to finish and threw in some completely awesome bucks just for effect. I was so disappointed and angry at the end. I just can't seem to nail this dressage thing, and especially as he had started doing some really nice work at home.

Ah, well, on to phase two, which is normally my alltime nightmare phase given how scared I am of showjumping. However, after such an awful dressage, the pressure was off, really. And I've started trusting Jedi to always jump, especially in showjumping. I concentrated hard on leaving him alone, keeping my hands elastic and up, sitting tall (Ben Netterfield) and letting him land and take a stride before steadying him (Sam Lyle).

Worked pretty well, though he was still a bit of a nutcase from the dressage. We had two rails down, both in the double to single related line. He hasn't really got the hang of related lines, yet, and tends to get a bit rattled by seeing the jump after the one in front of him. He gets flat and drops the first element (or two!) but clears the last. More practice required!

We were in last place though I didn't confirm this til the following day when a mate laughingly told me I had claimed the wooden spoon from her. Well, at least we perform a charitable service to other riders!

Cross country had walked interestingly. It was a funny course (as Harden really is), with a lot of twists, turns and drops, and the course designer has been a bit dodgy and simply not flagged combination elements that we really did have to jump if we were to be safe and training our horses correctly. Jump 8A-B was a pop up a little bank, over a rolltop and then down off a little drop less than a stride away. Didn't flag the drop so it was technically a double. Jump 10A-B was a post and rail which led straight to a big drop (at least Pre-Nov) two strides away, but they'd flagged the drop to the right of that (smaller) so you needed to angle 10A quite considerably to get a good line to the drop. Then a wrench around while traveling downhill to 11, a sizeable and spooky 'blackboard'. A bit of a challenge!

Even funnier were the two waters. The first was a little jump in, two strides and up over a little jump out (not flagged for Prelim but part of the course for the lower grades), then a few strides over the B element. Really a treble....The second water was quite technical for Prelim, I thought. A was barrels, two-three strides to a rolltop down into the water (B), through the water and out over a rolltop (C) and then only two strides away in a straight line was the Pre-Nov D element, a bigger rolltop. No way was I pulling Jedi off that - he already had to unlearn that when I did that to him at Sam Lyle's clinic. So, we jumped all four.

The going was pretty good, though I was worried about the mud on the very steep landings and the quick turns we'd need to pull off. I filed 3 'cleats' into each front hoof starting just at the base of the bars and working forward to end just on the widest part of his hooves. Worked a treat. No slipping at all, and there were some horses that fell right over. Go barefoot!!

The course was demanding for both of us - fitness is something I definitely need to work on! Jedi appeared quite fit enough, despite no fitness work (I DO love that about TBs), but he was really challenged by a lot of the jumping. Lots of things he hadn't seen before and not much time to process it. The jumps come thick and fast with no real stretches of easy galloping in between. It was hard work but he really jumped his heart out and we got around clear, though with quite a bit of time. I was happy with that for our first Prelim.

So, that was Harden. An exhausting weekend but great to get that first step up a grade under our belts. I'm going to take him to some dressage comps over the coming weeks just to give him more exposure to comps without the adrenaline of jumping too. No doubt it won't be pretty!! And I'll keep you posted :)

Sunday, 1 June 2014

Sam Lyle Clinic, among other things

Time has taken off again and suddenly it's weeks since I last posted! Jedi and I were lucky enough to do the jumping clinic Sam Lyle ran with the National Capital Horse Trials Association at Equestrian Park the weekend before last (lucky because the weather has seriously turned since then!). We went with the Prelim group and ended up jumping Pre-Novice half the time! Big weekend.....

Showjumping on Saturday was really interesting. Jedi felt a bit off on the sand and he normally is like this for the first ten minutes or so. I think his soles are still quite sensitive and the sand is uncomfortable. He was also quite stressed and pig-rooted heaps. Not to mention being a complete tool coming up to the jumps - chucking his head up and getting stressed out!

Several problems were identified - a major one by Sam and two smaller ones by me. Firstly, I have a tendency (from Tux no doubt) to grab at Jedi's mouth straight after we land, rather than letting him travel on a couple of strides before getting him back together. As soon as I quit doing that, he settled heaps coming in to the jumps.

After Heidi the Vet Chiro (that always sounds like a Chiro for Vets to me!) had suggested ulcers, I have been keeping an eye on him for symptoms. This was the day that made me positive he has them. For starters, going out anywhere is stressful for any horse, no matter how quiet. Jedi copes well when we go out but he's a naturally stressy guy so this was no exception. He started humping and pig-rooting even while I was walking him around before I got on! Not a good sign. It got no better once I got on board! Then he was kicking at his tummy, doing very loose poo, wanting to eat grass (which he never does) and generally being grumpy.

But did he stop jumping? Hell no! That horse seems to really enjoy it....

The other thing that has come to light, which may also explain his lameness of a few weeks ago, is a nasty case of thrush in his near fore. His frog is quite manky and clearly sore, with a big crack up the middle that goes up between his heels. Kirsten the Wonder Trimmer put some cool powder in and I'll be treating it for the next few weeks with the same stuff. Will get details of the powder when I see Kirsten again.

We were jumping at least a metre so it was still a pretty awesome day.

Cross country day was even better. He was grumpy but a lot more chilled out and forward. And jumped really well! We had two issues and both were minor. Having never jumped an apex in his life before (well, maybe a small one!) and me having jumped very few of them, we had a couple of issues getting over the Pre-Novice apex. My problem was taking too shallow a line and giving him a big door to duck out of, and his was simply not understanding how to jump the angle. We got it after just slowing it all down and giving him more time to see it.

The other issue was the ditch - two strides- rolltop. We got the ditch (the smaller one), no worries, and the rolltop was obviously no problem for him. But the ditch got 50% bigger and he did an enormous jump over it so I lost all my knitting and pulled him out of the rolltop. Stupidly. Then he just thought that was what I wanted! Took a few goes but we got there.

Great day and a big confidence booster for both of us!

Poor Timmy the Connie/TB has had the worst abscess I've seen in ages. After 10 days of increasing lameness, including 2 days on 3 legs, it finally burst through the coronet band (SO stinky!) and has been oozing for the past 48 hours. He's still a little lame but I've been phlegmon-ing the hole and it seems to be draining well. Poor little dude.

Lots of good stuff coming up. A little unofficial dressage day that I'm taking both Rose and Jedi too. The Berrima XC/SJ day the weekend after next for me and Jedi to fang around a bit of Prelim before Harden in August. Very exciting! And I've finished my degree so I have lots more headspace to think about horses!!! And get my stables finished and some kind of arena sorted. Lots to do :)

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Horse Chiro - not a career expo featured job, one imagines

This afternoon I got Heidi Douglas, vet chiro from Rockhampton QLD, out to look at the older neddies (I smugly call them 'performance horses' despite their only performances being more like 'endurances'). I was really curious about the differences between chiropractics and bodywork (there were many) and wanted another opinion about Rose and Jedi, mainly to see what differences there might be there too (there were few).

Suffice to say, Heidi is a seriously competent woman. You don't ride solo around the majority of Australia without some significant know-how and independence, so I liked her already. She was more taken with Uno than anyone else (she's coming to look at him next time - more on that later), but was able to give me some really good feedback on Rose.

Firstly, she found no issue with her elbows, at least she said practically nothing about them. She seemed non-plussed by my description of previous diagnoses. She listened to my description of Rose's pelvic injury and how she seemed since then. And then she said the following:
  • Rose's sacro-illiac joint is being prevented from a full range of motion by her brain. After her injury, her brain continued to tell her body that the joint must be protected and not moved excessively. So, she moves while holding her pelvis, and her rib cage, as still as possible.
  • Her rib cage was also quite 'stuck' and she was trying not to inflate her lungs to full capacity due to the same kind of problem.
  • There appears to be no other issue, no permanent injury or pathology, no symptoms of pain or chronic discomfort. All the same stuff Bec Walshe said.
Heidi gave me two exercises to do with Rose. The first is to help deepen the neural pathways regarding the free movement of her sacro-illiac joint. And the second is to help her inflate her lungs and basically stretch out her ribs. Awesome. Heidi will see her next time she's down in a couple of months.

Jedi was even more interesting. The funny humping and groaning he does when I saddle him may well be due to spasming muscle under the saddle and in the girth area. I cannot for the life of me remember its name....I probably wouldn't be able to spell it anyway! She gave me an exercise to help relieve the spasming, and once again train his brain to allow that muscle to relax. He also has stiff ribs and I will need to do the same rib cage expansion work with him.

Heidi told me about 30% of horses suffer fractured ribs during foaling - the rib cage is so well-developed and the birthing is so quick and powerful, it's not unusual for some damage to occur to the widest part of the foal. Ordinarily, this wouldn't be a problem for a horse running around the prairie doing his thing. But stick a saddle and a person on top and all of a sudden there's pain.

Heidi thinks it is highly likely Rose had a fracture of this kind, and that Uno is a prime candidate too. Given the size of both of them as foals this does not surprise me!

What a great experience, and a very genuine person with logical, evidence-based theories. Bodywork has been fantastic for my horses and I still think there's a place for it in my management, but I'm ready to add Heidi's expertise to my bow.

Sam Lyle clinic in a few days - will blog! 

Sunday, 18 May 2014

The only way is up!

What a great week it's been. A really positive horsey (and life!) week. I'll start at the beginning....

I had written Rose off as completely unrideable, even perhaps unable to have another foal. I thought her pelvis injury was really problematic - the way she is always resting a leg and looks so stiff and ungainly as she walks around. I also thought the osteoarthritis in her shoulders was enough to put her out for good. Such a big horse and with that constant wear and tear on that joint, I thought she'd be lame every time I rode her.

So, I bit the bullet and booked her in to see Bec Walshe at the Canberra Equine Hospital. I'm not sure if I'd begun my blog by the time I last took a horse to see her - Assegai the eternally grumpy gelding - but I've always found her knowledgeable, pragmatic, confidence-inspiring and very affordable. I'm sure there'll be some surprise out there for the last part but Bec only charges $100 for her time - usually an hour or so. Money well-spent, as it's turned out each time.

I fronted up on a gorgeous autumn day with the wonderful Rose. Unloaded herself, grew to about 18 hands as she looked around the CEH, then quickly settled as I gave her a wither scratch and stood close to her. I think, after having her for most of her life, Rose and I have a good bond. It's nice. :)

Bec gave her a pretty rigorous workout - lots of trotting on the bitumen road, fanging around the round yard and flexion tests. She was in two minds about the elbow action of the osteoarthritis. She described it as being 'loose action of a big young horse with low muscle tone'. I don't agree. I do think it's osteoarthritis as described by Sharon May-Davis. BUT, given the elbow flexion and serious trotting down the sloping bitumen road with no soreness, no unwillingness, no resentment, I am far more confident in Rose's soundness. The condition may degenerate over time (more likely will degenerate) but I wanted to know if I could ethically ride her right now, and that question has been answered.

The pelvis is altogether another thing. It was hard getting Rose to stand up square - she is quite set on resting one hind or the other while standing. But there was never a hint of unevenness or pain during the tests and exercise Bec had her do. Lots of strength work was the prescription. She's uncomfortable, yes, but see what a high-protein diet, riding and hillwork, poles and cavaletti do. Fair enough, said I.

So, poor Rose has been in pretty constant work since that day. I've ridden her three time for about 10-15 mins each time, with no soundness concerns or jacking up. Quite the opposite, actually. She is so trainable and so balanced for a big, unfit, green-broken horse. We only just started our first trotting work this week and she's doing really well.

I've bumped up her diet considerably to try to put more muscle and weight on her. She's now on Hygain Ice, Breeda, Micrbeet (couldn't get Speedibeet and Micrbeet is unmolassed, at least), Easiresult and lucerne chaff, with Equilbrium and MSM. I'll be phasing the Breeda out over the next week. She looks like this at the moment:
Her characteristic hind-leg resting and all bones and sinew. Not the most flattering pic, to be sure, but it's clear how much topline and muscle she needs to build. Lots to work on! And she's exhausted, poor love - look at that yawn!

Young Jedi is now clipped and recovered from his mysterious lameness. I do wonder if it was me shaving just a bit too much off his outside bar on his off fore hoof. It looked uneven so I took the rasp to it, not more than a day after Kirsten the Wonder Trimmer had been. Probably shoulda left it alone!

He's really starting to work in a forward, consistent frame, not getting too freaked out most of the time and producing some lovely cadenced trot work. Still being a bit of a tool in canter but that'll come. We had a tops jumping session today and I'm really looking forward to the Sam Lyle clinic next weekend. First Prelim clinic.

I've decided to sell Jedi by the end of the year, if I can. I want to concentrate on Rose and keep doing my judging/competing gigs. It really helps me afford to compete and I love giving back to my sport in this way. Not to mention that Jedi will help pay for my dressage arena!!

He's the gorgeous boy now. He's starting to look and feel like a real performance horse:
You said you had carrots...

Uno looks like the love child of a mule and a giraffe. He's just awful-looking right now! He's very fluffy, all legs and belly, SO unattractive. Just hoping he turns from ugly duckling into a swan. And he's gone back to being a complete Fantapants.

Luckily, he's got the most gorgeous temperament like his mum!

Here he is just before dinner:

Timmy is turning into a bit of a stunner. He's going to be a serious performance horse for a junior with skills or a small adult. Absolutely gorgeous. But so annoying!! He's always getting in your face and your space, pulling rugs off gates (or trying to pull Jedi's off his body!!), chasing dogs and chickens and kids just to play with them, breaking whatever he can. Such a teenager!

He's rising 3 so I'll back him in Spring and see what happens. I'm happy to keep him around. He's a VERY good doer and really very sweet. And Uno loves him. :)

So, next things coming up are the Sam Lyle clinic next weekend, then Berrima is hosting it's XC/SJ weekend and we're just heading up for the day to have a run around the Prelim SJ and XC courses. Manu Mclean is up in a month so I'm stoked I got a lesson each day on each horse. Better start saving!

Julia the WOW saddles lady will be coming back from Badminton where she watched her and her husband, John's, horse Algebra go around. Pity he and Nat Blundell had a stack but so many did. Less than half even completed the XC. Now that's a statistic I haven't seen for a long, long time. Anyway, Julia will be coming out to fit Rose for a dressage saddle (got some money from selling Charles' motorbike until tax time comes around), very exciting.

I've got a saddle fitter coming out in 3 weeks to look at whether the Pessoa jumping saddle might fit either Jedi or Rose. If it does, fantastic, I can get the WOW jump saddle fitted to the other horse. If not, well, Rose might not be doing too much jumping for a while. Then again, the WOWs are so forgiving, I'm using both the WOWs on both the horses with no problems. Just not the perfect fit for both.

And this week coming up is my last week of studying before I get admitted as a lawyer. I'm stoked. And exhausted!

Til next time!

Tuesday, 29 April 2014

It's been waaaaayyyy too long

So, I have been a bit crazy busy and I've completely neglected my blog. Which is a massive no-no for several reasons. One, you forget to acknowledge the achievements and progress you've made. Two, you forget most of what you've learned over the previous short while. And, three, most surprisingly, people actually start asking when you're going to write the next one. Like, they actually read it and everything.....nice ;)

It's been a pretty hectic (in a non-horsey) way. But also really hard to get some traction - and it seems to have been that way for most of us. What with the torrential rain we had (about 100mm in a month), kids having school holidays, and just losing a bit of motivation, it's been a funny old month or so.

However, there have been happenings. Firstly, little (read 'massive') Uno is now weaned and it was a very easy and stress-free experience. He was used to mum being out of his paddock for an hour at a time for feeding every day and sometimes for longer if I took Rose for a bit of a walk. So, I just popped Rose and Jedi in a paddock together with Uno and Timmy (the absolutely spiffing little pony/TB) in an adjoining paddock. No running around panicking or carrying on. Just a bit of fence-walking when he wanted a drink but that stopped after an hour. Done deal.

Rose has started putting on some weight again and is looking a bit gorgeous. Her elbows have improved but not drastically. Her pelvis is still causing her some pain and stiffness so I've started a daily regime of the rehab she was doing when she first fractured it - walking along hillsides, over poles and doing carrot stretches. I'll be getting Robyn out soon to treat both the grown ups and fingers crossed the strengthening work will have paid off and I can start riding her.

I somehow doubt Rose will be the top eventer I was hoping for, but she might well be a decent dressage or showjumper with some serious management. She's such a lovely girl it's worth it.

Jedi is becoming a nice little dude, despite the limited riding he's been getting. I've been working hard on riding more forward, trying to keep my hands still and forward no matter what. I'm training myself to use my body and legs as my first aid, rather than pulling back and/or dropping my hands which is obviously not a good thing. It's resulting in a more relaxed, forward Jedi who stays more in a frame and is starting to lift through the back and become more supple.

Had a good lesson with Ben Netterfield last weekend, working on getting Jedi jumping with the same technique each time, especially over related fences (doubles, trebles). It went really well, with lots of Ben telling me to relax and breathe. I really don't love showjumping!

So, our first Prelim is Wagga in just over a week. Poor little Jedi will be clipped this weekend (he's really sweating during our morning work and I can't always just put a cotton on now it's getting colder through the day so I've made the call it needs to come off!), and I'm really looking forward to the step up. Berrima felt wonderful and kind of easy. Stuart Tinney always says the time to go up a grade is when it starts to feel easy. Might as well follow that advice!

Will post again soon with pics of the gorgeous Timmy and all the crew in their winter woolies.

Thursday, 27 March 2014

Berrima Horse Trials Autumn 2014

Well, it's been a few days but I thought I should record the weekend's events, for posterity if nothing else!

It was a hectic weekend, as these things always are when you're doing a few things at once! I had hit up my friend Kim to see if she wouldn't mind if I stayed the Saturday night with Jedi and, after a bit of discussion with my good friend and regular penciller, Jo (who's looking for a dressage horse to buy), next thing Jo's coming to! It seemed like a good idea - I would get a penciller I love hanging out with for hours cooped up in the car, and Jo would get to have a look over Kim's very nice young fillies. And Jo would get to have a weekend away! Well, that was the plan.....

Berrima were great and put me on at 11:15am for dressage. I even got there early. I don't really know what happened after that....I plaited his tail which looked quite awesome for the first tail plait in 15 years. Then, I hopped on and got a bit lost trying to weave my way around various bunting and fences and, by the time I got to the warm up area, the girl before me was going in! Poor Jedi was a bit overwhelmed by it all - it's only his second event after all - and, with 5 minutes to warm up, he really didn't do a good test. I was kicking myself, but lessons are always learned the hard way!

We were sitting 21st after dressage and I do think the judge was a little harsh. Don't we all! But, no time to sit around pondering - we had 40 mins to get Jedi set up in a yard, down some lunch and find our arena to start 3 hours of judging one of the Prelim classes. We made it, but only just!

The Prelim guys had some really nice horses. I'd judged quite a few of them the weekend before at Canberra and it is such a pleasure to watch calm, obedient and confident-looking horses at this level.

After judging, I flew off to saddle up Jedi and get our showjumping out of the way. Most annoyingly, they weren't running to times or in numbered order. It was a blackboard, like a Jump Club day! Grrrrr. I was all set to jump at my allocated time, but when I turned up, there was at least 30 mins of horses in front of me. Really pissed off. I hate sitting around on my horse just's uncomfortable and potentially damaging to the horses to do that. So, I hopped off and just walked him around until I was allowed to head into the warm up.

The warm up was pretty good. He started standing off as usual, but with a bit of stern 'wait' orders, he was soon meeting the fences really neatly and confidently. I hadn't been able to walk the course since I'd been judging, but it looked pretty straightforward. It always is at this level, I guess!

Jedi jumped an absolutely super round. We had a rail down at the first of the double but otherwise he was rhythmical, calm, jumped really athletically and met everything well. He even shortened for me and waited when I asked - a great development, showing his growing confidence in both he and I. The rail came down because he saw the 2nd jump behind it as he was taking off and dropped his legs. Just needs more practice.

Off to walk the cross country after settling Jedi in with some hay and water. That horse goes through a lot of water at comps, I tell you! The course was very long with some lovely galloping stretches that would absolutely suit my little ex-racehorse. The jumps were all pretty straightforward, no doubles or related lines and I got excited about riding it the next day.

Then packed up and headed off to the lovely Kim' and smoked trout awaited us and Jedi was put up in a lush paddock next to the house. A very pleasant evening of horse talk and wine, then an early night listening to the rain coming down with the storms outside. I was thinking of what the footing was going to be like as I drifted off to sleep....

Well, poor Jo woke with the cracking headache she'd gone to sleep nursing. I urged her to head home after a couple of hours as we were just hanging around until my cross country at 1:30pm. Luckily, she took my advice and headed off. She was starting to look like death!

After an increasingly boring few hours waiting, waiting for my cross country (watching horses jump obstacles gets a bit repetitive after 3 hours!), it was time. I was interested to see if he would be less crazy in the XC warm up after he's complete meltdown at Wallaby Hill. He started to get really tense as soon as he spied the horses all cantering around in the distance....tongue started lolling out the side of his mouth, jogging....but not quite the crazy bucking attempts from last time. I ended up taking him off away from everyone and warming him up with some transitions, cantering - faster - slower - faster - walking, til he was responsive and calmer.

I thought I should head back to the warm up and start and found him vastly improved in the tension stakes. He was good enough that I could have a quick canter around and a jump, and then even walked around on a loose rein for a while. Very good. Next time should be even better!

Soon we were in the box and off! The jumps came up well, he was into it and we were going bloody fast. The ditch was the only one I thought might be messy and it was, but only because he noticed that it was a ditch just as he took off! I just sat back, slipped the reins a little to let him look and held my leg on to give him no doubts what he was to do and he kept going. There was an interesting jump involving a steep mound to come up and over, then a stride or two and over a fairly wide roll top. No hesitation from Jedi, just point and shoot the whole way around. Even cantered through the water!!

The footing was quite interesting from a barefoot point of view. I think this is the one time that I would have preferred having studs in. The going was really loamy in places, like riding on chocolate cake! We had a little slip here and there and I think if we'd had studs in we wouldn't have had a problem. That being said, Jedi was quite handy and didn't seem worried by the going at all.

What a little star. I was so pleased and it felt easy - we were 22 seconds under time (and earned ourselves .8 time penalties!). We had also pulled ourselves up from 21st to 13th - quite respectable and almost in the top half which was my goal for the weekend.

Given how good it went, I'm pretty confident about going up to Prelim at the next event. There's really no point hanging around at Intro with Jedi. Our dressage needs a lot of work, but the Prelim test is really nice and not at all hard. Wagga is the next event for us and I can't wait!!

"Can we go home now?"

The background of Berrima - trucks and floats as far as the eye can see!

Thursday, 13 March 2014

Warning: Downer Alert!

Hey trusty Barefoot peeps. It's been a while so I thought I would at least post about the last few weeks on Dragonwood Farm.

There hasn't been much riding since Manu's clinic, I'm afraid. A pall of depression has washed over me, caused in large part by the (welcome) rain that's been bucketing down on an almost daily basis, and the tail end of daylight savings that causes us to rise in the dark at 7am!! Why do we have daylight savings drag on so long? Surely, by the time autumn has officially arrived we can just can it and swap over to getting up in the dayling again!

Jedi has been ridden fairly intermittently but has been, on the whole, pretty well-behaved. He's trying out some new conflict behaviours and my training hasn't been great, but we're always making a bit of improvement at the end of every session. Our jumping is way better, with a lot less head tossing and stressing.

I've focused a lot on being stiller and more forward with my seat and my hands. Not leaning forward, but thinking forward.My hands are my Charlotte Arms - straighter elbows, very still, forward but holding a contact. When he chucks or puts his head up I open my hands wider and he comes down - he doesn't get the reward of losing the contact from the throwing head that way. It's working nicely, but I have to be super-hard on myself about pulling back. It's the first thing I want to do when he throws his head and speeds up. But pulling doesn't work - he just pulls and gets tense and gets worse.

If I slow my body and hold the contact with wide hands, it gives him a really solid frame to come back into. It's been a big learning curve for both of us, but it does help with the fighting!

Otherwise, poor Rose has been a bit stiff, a bit funny with her dodgy elbows and her crooked pelvis. I got Robyn Larson-Shelton out to bodywork her and the prognosis was guarded. Essentially, the elbows will be permanent problems. They may cause her to be unsound or at least not 100% sound over her career. The problem appears to be lesions in the cartlidge of the elbow joint. No one knows how they come to be there, if it's injury-related or something else. And there's no treatment for it, though some things are showing some benefit - including particular joint support meds and, wait for it, barefoot trimming! So, if I can get Rose's feet back to how they were pre-baby, that might help.

I also had Rochelle Joyce the vet out on the same day and the feedback was the same. Give her some months off, wait a couple of months after we've weaned Uno and let her get some muscle condition back. We can try Glucosamine supplements now or wait til I'm looking at starting to work her.

Either way, massive downer. She was always supposed to be the horse I would ride through the grades and she's one special lady. Fingers crossed we can get her sound but I would never want to event her if there's any likelihood of it being painful for her.

Otherwise, we're just preparing for winter now. Finishing the stockwater installations, starting our rotation grazing proper and seeing the benefits. The fencing is pretty good now, just need some stand-off wires to go in, but they're all looking a million dollars with the green grass.

We're going to establish an equine geriatric care centre for people to bring their very aged horses (25+ years with high-care needs) for us to look after. It seems there might be a need for it and it's a good way to bring some money into the property using the things we have in abundance - time, care and experience. I'll keep you posted!

I'm going to be purchasing some barefoot trimming tools and doing the youngsters feet myself. Money is getting tighter and it's time I cut the trimming bill in half! One file isn't going to cut it though, so I'm trying to decide how to buy and what to get. I'll let you know how that goes too!

Next event is Berrima next weekend. It'll be fun, just popping around Intro and judging in the afternoon. It's such a fun event and I'll finally get to actually ride it!

Sunday, 23 February 2014

Jedi Barefoot Update

I thought it was about time I post an update about the lovely Jedi's tootsies. It's been an interesting month of watching and worrying about the sensitivity he's experiencing on any one day. The structure of his hooves appears to have strengthened quite a bit, judging from these new pics, and the soles of all feet have been very busy peeling big chunks of dead sole.

I managed to take some pics as he was eating tonight, so only feet on ground at the moment, not any underneath photos at this stage. Just for interest's sake, he's now eating Hygain Ice with a small amount of lucerne chaff, 15g of MSM and one scoop of Equilibrium. They have a round bale of meadow hay in the paddock at the moment as they're in a sacrifice paddock for at least another couple of weeks to let the grass recover from our long hot dry summer, so he's on ad lib quality hay and it shows.

At the moment (as in, today!) he seems to be not too sensitive. I'm keeping a close eye on his 'footiness' with a couple of comps coming up in a month or so. But they're looking pretty good, as you'll see below:

NS Hind. You can see the old bruise above the little re-section that's working its way down. The foot isn't quite balanced yet, but the flare isn't as bad as before.

Same foot from the side showing a far more correct angle starting to happen. There is a clear ridge a couple of centimetres from the coronet band where the new hoof is growing down.

The hind feet from the back. The O/S hind is clearly still unbalanced with the outside heel higher but getting better. Both feet are much more correctly using the heels.

NS fore (forward while eating). Always the golden child of the four, looking very solid and balanced. The ridge halfway down is really clear and shows where the new hoof is growing in.

Same foot from the front. Interesting how the ring of new hoof lifts up on the inside, showing there was a bit of flare under that line.

NS fore (back while eating). Starting to look a lot better, heels coming up.

The re-section in that hoof is growing out and the seedy toe appears to be clearing up nicely. The flare is growing out well and the hoof above the ridge is tightening up really well.
So, onwards and upwards! Next comp is Canberra in three weeks, followed by Berrima the week after. I've decided to just stick with Intro for both, rather than push it with Jedi too quickly. No need to rush and I think he needs to build a lot more confidence before we make the leap (pun intended!) to Prelim at Albury. That's the plan!

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

'Charlotte Arms' and no, it's not a pub.

I am exhausted. Again! Manu Mclean came for a clinic yesterday and the day before and we were lucky to get a private and a shared lesson. And she made me work!! And poor little Jedi, who was a bit out there for both days. Very, very tense on the first day, then just tense yesterday!

Lesson 1....

Jedi was very short and choppy and a bit reactive. It was quite humid but not windy so I wondered whether his feet were a little sensitive after the trim he got on Sunday. Unfortunately, it stormed and poured during the trimming so no pics, sorry!

Manu had a chat with me about Lucinda's clinic and what she calls 'Lucinda arms'. Lucinda has a great technique for when you're riding a coffin or a trakehener or something equally demanding and the horse wants to really get his head down and look in that ditch (or agapanthus in Jedi's case), so you let the reins run through your fingers to allow him. But then you need steering as his head snaps back up to jump! So rather than lose your cool, you just open your hands wide and take up some of the slack with that big angle. Genius.

Then Manu started talking about 'Charlotte arms'. Manu is a great fan of Charlotte Dujardin (Olympic golden godess and generally considered one of the ones responsible for the resurgence in classical dressage training, along with her coach and sidekick Carl Hester) and really likes the way she holds her arms and hands. See this video for a good idea of what she does:

So, reins shorter, hands very forward, arms quite straight and don't pull back. The rule for Jedi, being not great on the contact at this point, and "quite tricky" was if I felt like I wanted to pull, widen my hands. The second part to 'Charlotte arms' is rather than leaning back to slow or stop, try sucking in my core just below my sternum. The result was quite impressive. Manu came up and held my rein to demonstrate as she pulled like Jedi would. Using 'Charlotte arms' I was pulled into the saddle. Without, I was just pulled forward. Amazeballs. But it's really hard work to start with!!

It was quite a technical lesson and I came out of it both a little overwhelmed and happy with the results. I really, really need to lose weight, though! I am getting there slowly, but I feel quite unwieldy and Jedi isn't a big horse. My fitness isn't actually too bad but yes, poor little dude could do without carrying ten extra kilos!

The big standouts were:
  1. Push his head down with my legs, don't pull. Whenever I felt him ignoring my leg give him a pony club kick or trot him (if we're walking). There is nothing to be gained by continually nagging him with my leg. Self-carriage is the goal.
  2. Push him til he's 'towing me forward'. Jedi has a tendency to duck behind the bit and avoid the contact, which leaves me with nothing to work with, then he chucks his head around when I'm trying to slow him. I had to keep kicking until it was all too messy and quick but only to start. Within about ten minutes he was doing a really nice long active trot and I had a consistent, solid contact. This will help with our crappy canter transitions too.
  3. Use Lucinda's idea of 'plugging in'. Lucinda talks about using your two seat bones and your pelvic bone like the plugs of an electrical socket and imagining plugging in to the saddle. It's quite a nice image and does help with that seat stability.

The next day was quite a different lesson and focused more on Jedi. He was quite spooky as it was windy and this lesson was a private so he was on his own. Manu had me go through the '5 repetitions' training in the corners where he was really freaking out:
  1. First walk through is LINE. His front legs must remain on the line I choose (ie as close as possible to the edge of the arena including deep in the corner). If he moves off that line I halt and move his shoulders over onto the line, then walk forward. This is done at a very controlled, slow walk.
  2. OBEDIENCE. He must maintain the line, though it can be a little stop/start. There must be a willingness to maintain the line.
  3. RHYTHM. He must walk on the line in the same rhythm, no slowing or speeding up at all.
  4. STRAIGHTNESS. His poll through to his quarters must be straight. No bending the neck or three track work.
  5. CONTACT. He must maintain a steady contact with no ducking above or behind the bit.
If there is a failure to attain the goal during that repetition, do it again until that goal is met. Ie, if he was obedient but then kept changing his rhythm, we need to do it again until he has rhythm. It was amazing how effective it was. Time-consuming, yes. But once we'd done the five reps he was absolutely solid in each corner. I asked Manu if I would need to do this every time I rode in that arena and she said to test him each time. He may come in at level 4 or 5 some days and 1 other days. Just have to be aware of it.

We worked on a great exercise involving using indirect turns across the diagonal (this was great because it is effectively the loop in the Prelim 1 eventing test). Get into a nice trot (that took a few minutes!), then come around the corner, start towards X (from H, say) and aim for a point 5m before X where you start to push your inside thigh across to move him away and change the bend. In this case it would be starting on the right rein with the idea of doing a loop through X and back to K - two changes of bend required. Left thigh pushes over and he starts to bend to the left. Ride through the turn and aim for a couple of metres before K. 5m before K start pushing with the right thigh to turn him right and he will change the bend, as you change your diagonal. By the time you hit K you've got a lovely bend to the right ready for that corner, and right in front of the judge's car! Tears of joy sprout from the judge's eyes!

It was a lovely exercise and after a few repetitions Jedi felt quite gooey and supple. Really nice. Manu has commented both this time and the last time she saw us that his hamstrings are quite tight so I'm looking into some massage techniques that might help. We did some leg yields (really nice ones apparently!) and she said that would help too.

The last exercise was canter. Manu kept reiterating that, whenever I wanted to, or felt I had to, change something, whether it be his way of going, the gait, the speed or the tempo, I needed to change my body first. This was a real lightbulb moment but really hard to do. Once I started being more aware of that Jedi became a lot more relaxed and switched on. It's exhausting though. At least, for now!

The canter was no different. "Canter your body", she says, so I do and he canters. He still runs a little but a lot less than usual. And he was always on the right leg. Gold. Then, "slow your canter bum" and I did, and he slowed. He found it hard and broke a few times but was quite unfazed and just picked up the canter again when asked. He used to run and chuck his head and get fizzy, but with the 'use your body' technique he started to understand. I guess it gives him a lot more clues and warning. All good things!

Both Jedi and I were pooped but I was really pleased with him. For a green ex-racehorse with only a couple of months' work under his belt I think he's doing super. He tries very hard and a lot of things have changed for him lately! I'm hoping the choppy striding (it was noticeable in the canter too) will fade away with a bit of time for his hooves to recover from the trim. I know Kirsten is leaving more wall than she normally would but I wonder if we need to leave even more. Only time and experience will tell! Luckily, we've got just under a month til Canberra for the wall to grow in. Pics next time, I promise!

Saturday, 15 February 2014

Lucinda Green hits Canberra

What an exhilarating, full-on, exhausting, amazing and sometimes dream-like couple of days I've just had. I have just finished my first ever Lucinda Green clinic and it certainly lived up to the hype! For starters, I got to meet and hang out with an absolute hero of mine, a rider I absolutely adored (and still do!) as a Pony Clubber on my little QH cross, and who I love hearing on my Burghley and Badminton DVDs. I couldn't believe I was breathing the same air, frankly!

But, when I got over my excitement (though it did flood back at various times during the clinic!), I learned an incredible amount in a way that I really enjoyed. As did everyone else I spoke with, young and, ahem, older. Lucinda, it turns out, is a seriously generous and encouraging human being who never once spoke down to anyone and treated everyone the same, whether they were sitting on a 1* horse or a green ex-racehorse.. And the riders responded in kind, really making an effort to lsoak up everything Lucinda had to offer in a way I haven't seen much before.

It was a very tiring couple of days - riding and organising a clinic is a ridiculous thing to do! Luckily, I had the great guys from the NCHTA providing the logistics like water, snacks and the equipment, so it was less stressful than it could have been.

Jedi was super and behaved just beautifully. After Robyn the bodyworker gave him the once over the Monday after Wallaby Hill, she said he was quite sore around the girth area where the buckles of the H girth sit. I tried a normal short elasticated girth on him for the first day of the clinic (first ride since Wallaby Hill!) and he was really happy in it. No tension or humpiness at all. Interesting!

Deep breath, let's dive into everything I learned (and retained long enough to write it down!) from Lucinda Green....

Lucinda has a strong belief that 'modern eventers' are over-controlled - she used the word 'dominated'. She thinks there is a real balancing act between control over all aspects of the horse's speed and direction, and the horse's own natural brilliant instincts to get over the jumps safely. She thinks we're being taught to get things perfect, get the stride right, set the horse up so he just has to lift his legs up, basically. But when things come unstuck and we make a mistake the horse has no skills to get himself and us out of trouble. We essentially leave him out to dry and Lucinda believes that is a big reason why eventing has seen the spate of fatal falls in the last ten to fifteen years. Horses are simply over-controlled and can't get themselves out of trouble when it goes wrong. So they crash.

Lucinda in full flight

She also wants to get us sitting back a hell of a lot more coming into the jump. Not interfering, just supporting and waiting for the jump to come. Letting the horse get his stride, not pushing, letting him 'tow' us into the jump - but not rush. We practiced 'bombing' (as she called it) into two fences (showjumps on the first day) and letting the horse meet the fence as he wanted. It was hard not to see a good stride and push/hold for it, but soon we were all trusting our horses and doing well.

I though I'd got it and was happily bombing away, sitting back much more than normal, letting Jedi work it out, then we nearly came a cropper and I got a good yelling at from Lucinda. Jedi just stood off and nearly landed in the middle of the oxer. Lucinda just kept jacking them up so we were jumping a good 90cm and it was not a nice moment. I realised on reflection that I had not sat up and kept my legs on and Jedi had lost his nerve and took a blind leap. Lucinda talks about feeling like your horse is in a tube between your legs and his eyeballs are attached by strings to your ankles. I didn't feel the tube and that mucked him up.

Lucinda started delving more into this idea of focusing your horse on the fence, how important it is with the technicality of the jumps we now face (skinnies, triple brushes, curving lines to arrowheads) to get the horse's eye on the fence early. She had set up what we thought were the most impossible lines - a wide apex and a bounce but not to be jumped that way. The idea was to jump one of the apex poles straight on then on to one part of the bounce, more than a 45 degree angle! It got a bit messy, but we all got the hang of it surprisingly quickly.
The set up. The idea is to jump the green/white on the right, then the black/white on the right. And vice versa.

An idea of the angle.
 Next minute, Lucinda had set up a little skinny (1.2m wide) for us to jump a few strides before the double. We were astounded how easily how horses all  the horses did it. No guiding poles, no walking over it on the ground, just getting on and doing it. Interesting....
Lucinda with one of the skinnies behind her

We put it all together in a bit of a course, practicing these pretty basic ideas of sitting up, holding, putting them in the tube, not interfering with the horse's ability to get over the jump the way he wants to. It was amazing - we were jumping pretty damn big, the biggest  most of us had jumped on our green horses, that's for sure! It was so much fun and Lucinda was so confidence-inspiring.

It's funny but I only really started to get it when I watched the two other groups. It's hard to assimilate the information while your horse is doing it at the same time, so I was much more clear on what Lucinda was getting at when I heard it two more times!

She is also a big believer in trying out different bits. This was a bit alien to me as I had always thought it was an issue with my training if my horse was not as responsive as he could be, especially cross country. But Lucinda sees bitting as a helpful tool, and thinks that a horse's personality and anatomy play a huge part in their ability to understand and obey the stop and turn aids. She was trying out bits on a couple of the horses with some positive outcomes.

Day two was really exciting after the day before. After a bit of a warm up and a bomb over some simple jumps we headed to the water straight up, for a 'play'. Lucinda had set up some white blocks at the edge of the water and, after a bit of a paddle, she sent us up the smallest bank at a walk. This was the first time most of us had even considered you could walk up a 70cm step from the water. Lucinda had us make sure the horses walked up the bank, on a loose rein (hands apart just in case they tried to piss off) but letting the horse work it out and scramble up completely on his own terms. She was adamant that the more we hold and push the more freaked out the horse will become, especially if he makes a mistake and leaves a leg. She said a horse that gets scared jumping up steps/banks is very difficult to re-train. Better not to set that up in the first place.

Anna going up the little bank.

Jedi was super-cool and found the whole thing quite ok. We were soon jumping out over the blocks  quite confidently, then halting in the middle of the water, turning left and trotting up the step then pushing on over the roll top a couple of strides away. Then jumping in over the blocks, through the water and up over a little roll top, up the little row of steps, halt at the top, turn around and come down at walk (Lucinda's emphasis). Then cantering over the roll top and down the drop into the water, out over the blocks. This is the playing Lucinda was talking about. Just setting up challenges, making sure the building blocks are solid before stepping up the difficulty. But she pushed our young ones pretty hard and they rose to the challenge. One of the mums of the girls in the last group said, 'they'd never let us do this at Pony Club!' And she's right - we really don't push ourselves and our horses like this as much as we probably could.
Maddy going over the blocks into the water.
On to the ditch. A very similar approach - walk over the ditch. The horse must be allowed to lower his head to look, as much as he wants. But he must not step back or try to piss off sideways. Hands wide to keep control and a good push or kick to keep him thinking of going over it. Lucinda was very disapproving of hitting the horse when he's looking at a new obstacle and working it out. She says it's completely counter-productive and makes horses frightened. This is quite different to a dirty stop at a straight-forward fence. That earns a fat smack.

Within a short time Lucinda had set up first one, then two skinnies - the same ones from the day before, one on either side of the ditch. This made a fun skinny-ditch-skinny combo that the horses had a bit of a challenge getting over. Jedi went really well. From over-jumping the ditch to comfortably jumping the skinnies and the ditch literally took two repetitions and no more. Other horses had more issues, including a lovely big showjumper who simply down tools and refused to move whenever things got a bit hard!

Lucinda had us link together a number of jumps to make a course for ourselves, getting us to practice putting our horse in the tube, letting them work out the different jumps. I made another mistake by not riding properly at a wall with a big drop on the other side and Jedi put in an enormous jump that nearly got me off. Lesson learned. Again. Sorry Jedi!

It was a truly thrilling lesson and we were fanging over some serious jumps for a horse that's only been jumping for a couple of months. I now wear spurs and Jedi wears a martingale on his breastplate, both of which improved our way of going. My confidence is sky-high after my lessons and we're on track for another Intro start at Canberra, then a shot at Prelim at Berrima the following weekend. Bloody wicked.

I was pleasantly surprised by Lucinda. Yes, she's opinionated and sure of herself, but she is absolutely not arrogant or belittling as many coaches at the top of the international game can be. She is quite self-deprecating, very funny and quite interested in us all. I loved ferrying her around and having funny conversations with her one on one. What a privilege. She said one thing that I thought was very interesting - we were talking about coaches who've come to Canberra in the last few years and the prevalence of coaches who teach us to be in 2-point seat coming into jumps, to be essentially with the horse's movement. She believes this is dangerous for 99% of riders, especially female riders and is a style of riding only advocated by men. Interesting huh? We women are not physiologically as capable of resisting the forward momentum of the horse if he were to chuck in a dirty stop or catch a leg, whereas men are stronger in leg and upper body and have more chance of hanging on.

So interesting. And really affirming. I found I already did a lot of what Lucinda teaches but was not conscious of it or why it works. This makes it easy for me to be convinced to abandon it. Not anymore. Back to my tried and true way of riding - sit in the saddle, leave the horse to do the jump, give him his head and neck whenever he needs it, be prepared for anything, keep the horse in front of my leg so when I give him a kick he always goes. Sounds easy, right?