Saturday, 25 January 2014

AEBC Intensive - Day 4.2

This took 24 hours longer to write than I anticipated, mainly due to the unbelievably exhausting drive home yesterday in the pouring rain. More on that later...

So our last lesson was at 7:30am yesterday morning after Manu very kindly offered to put my last private with her off to the next day. It turned out to be a great move, though even then both Jedi and I were still pretty sore and tired! Jedi's feet were also a little sore after the challenges of the week so I think it was a bit harder for him.

We started off really well, though, consolidating all the week's learning. Squish is really becoming useful at halt to get him out of his habit of setting his jaw and looking like a camel. It's hard to do much about that using any pressure like reins as that means step back. The squish is now working within a couple of seconds to bring him round and soft, attentive and now he shuffles around a bit so he's square. Produces a really nice transition into walk or trot too.

We worked a bit on his laterals, moving him around from the indirect turn and a proper leg yield. He's really improved in both, though he still finds it challenging not to bend his neck and fall out. A lot.

We spent a long time on 'little trot' to help his suppleness, rhythm and start to produce some longer trot. Little trot is basically slow and short steps, a jog really. It helps just slow everything down and give all parties a lot more time to work on contact, roundness, straightness and relaxation. For Jedi it also results in more swing and more forward, which seemed counter-intuitive.

In little trot, we worked on pushing right into the corners of the arena, feeling his inside hind really step under him and his hocks finally starting to lift and push his legs under him. It was a great feeling, despite his tiredness. He also rounded and maintained the contact much better, though started to lean as it got a bit harder. Manu just told me to lift my hands and his head came up a little. Sorted.

We worked again on circles - the 10 o'clock, 2 o'clock, 6 o'clock exercise. A fairly strong turn in at each of those points on the circle, resulting in a kind of spiral really, and a bit of a kick or whip tap straight after each turn, and he was soon striding forward in a lovely soft frame. Correct bend and all. Sorted.

He was tired enough that we moved on to a bit of canter. It was interesting as I had been literally doing trot/canter transitions over and over at home, with some success but some definite tension. Manu was not at all concerned about his few steps of running into the canter (though only a few steps were permitted, not half a circle!), and suggested we try a new exercise. I put him into canter then slowed and slowed til he almost trotted, then gave him the canter aid again to keep him cantering. This had the dual benefit of solidifying the aid for canter while not revving him up. He gets worried about canter as he often strikes off on the wrong lead and gets pulled up. I think he's been confused about it. This will help a lot with that issue I think.

We tried a few more little things to work on at home. Soon we can do canter, 4 strides of trot then back to canter. Trot for eight strides, walk for eight steps, back to trot for eight steps. Lots of changes, adjustability while holding line, self-carriage and relaxation. All good things!

We took off home on our big drive ASAP after the lesson. It started raining just as we started driving and it just got heavier and heavier until it was absolutely torrential by the time we got to Holbrook. I pulled into Holbrook for a wee break and had to up a rug on Jedi in the float as he was soaked and shivering. It simply poured down all the way from there. So hard we had to either slow down to 60 or pull over entirely. Unbelievable. Lucky I brought it all the way home with me and it poured on our very dry little farm.

What a fantastic week. Apart from the odd injury (did I tell you I slipped on the steps in Andrew and Manu's house the night before we left, landed fair on my hip and elbow, smashing my beer into their fish tank and ending up with a bruise the size if a grape fruit on my thigh? No? Don't ask...), we had a great time. Jedi was amazing. What a tops pony he is. Really looking forward to getting him out and about!

Thursday, 23 January 2014

AEBC Intensive - Day 4.1

A big day for me more than Jedi today. It was hot (34 deg) and the ponies and students alike were feeling it. We had a cross county lesson on our own with Andrew today - what a bonus! It's great doing stuff on green and young horses with Andrew as he leaves you alone if you're doing ok but always seems to know just when to step in and help.

Jedi was super. He jumped logs, brightly coloured barrels and tyres, banks, ditches, even a solid apex and a drop down into a puddle. He had a bit of a runout at a couple of things but was very willing and happy once he was able to have a look. Andrew and I discussed the merits of flogging horses over things like we used to in the old days but we both agreed this was just so much calmer and less fraught, letting them look and take their time. When you know better, you do better, as they say.

I tried clicker training for the first time today. It was amazingly cool. Jedi is quite food motivated so it was very important to maintain the groundwork rules so he didn't just run all over me! But within a short time he was offering behaviours that I wanted. Turning his head away, even 'smiling'! He started doing the Flemen response so I clicked it and said, 'smile', giving him a treat. Within a few goes he was smiling in command! Very funny.

I'm going to use clicker training a lot and see what I can train. I think it will help things like his rushing out of the float, or even coming when called. I really want to use it with the young horses to help train good responses more quickly. Essentially, it's a really consistent way of letting the horse know they're offering the right response, accurately timed. The clicker seems only to be limited by your ability to click in its application. I can't wait to try it out at home!

My lesson with Manu has been postponed to early tomorrow morning. With the heat, Jedi's obvious tiredness and mine, it seemed like a good idea. Pity I stacked on the steps at the Mclean's house tonight when I was over for dinner and now have some decent bruising that should be super uncomfortable to ride on tomorrow. Good effort.

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

AEBC Intensive - Day 3

A massive day for poor young Jedi with two ridden lessons after a big couple of days being pushed fairly hard. When I think about the changes we have made to his way of going, the straightening, the forward-ness, the transitions, the roundness, it's been a really big ask for him at such an early stage in his training. He's not very strong or fit yet so I think he must be finding this all a bit challenging!

Nonetheless, today we did some more really good stuff. Manu had us doing a very interesting exercise with circles off the wall in today's lesson. We need more power through the entirety of our circles as he tends to stall coming off a turn. So, each circle was broken down into turns followed by whip taps and then heel taps. The idea was to train a slight acceleration off a turn which, when I watched it happening in other lessons, simply translates into no loss of tempo or speed during the circle. It also creates a forward, supple horse throughout the circle.

Manu also had us trying for some lengthen, not Jedi's forte by any means! Basically, we established a nice trot and started giving him whip taps on his belly. He started just going faster and faster with more whip taps. Then he just maxed out his speed and started going longer. It was seriously uncomfortable and felt ridiculous but it worked to give him a fairly good idea of what was being asked for. Once he produced a step of longer the whip taps ceased. One to practice at home. A bit less running would be nice!

Canter still needs a bit of work, especially the transitions in and out. But keeping him straight and making him wait before doing anything once my outside leg goes back were big themes. We tried a bit if lateral work at the canter, just indirect turns on and off the wall and he was really very good. Some solid tries.

I had a jumping lesson with Andrew in the afternoon with one other person.  She was on a far more experienced mare who would throw in some wicked stops. I worked mainly on a grid in between watching her and Andrew work with this mare. Jedi was really great. He approaches jumping with a lot of confidence for an inexperienced horse, no doubt a product of his two weeks with James Arkins.

He's got some serious pop and seemed to find the grid relatively easy. I am enjoying riding a horse that doesn't freak out with his jumping and that genuinely seems to enjoy it.

He did find the sand arena uncomfortable on his feet though, which I was pretty surprised about. He was very short and choppy. He copes well on the indoor surface but that is deeper and has rubber chips. Overall, his feet are coming along well, though we still have a long way to go.

One more day to go and we all went out for dinner with the whole crew, including Andrew and Manu. I found out Andrew keeps pigeons that tumble in the air and has done since he was 8. He also believes he can hyperventilate his way to passing breath tests.

It was quite amusing following Andrew and Manu driving home with two Dutch students in the car at 11o'clock at night. On the country road leading to AEBC the brake lights of the car some 200m ahead suddenly went on, followed by the reverse lights. I thought they were drunk until I passed the spot they'd been and saw a big wombat on the side of the road. Okay, I thought, they were avoiding the wombat. Then the brakes went on again and the car slowly swerved on to the wrong side of the road, headlights illuminating a kangaroo. Not avoiding it, I, what?

It was only when the car swerved towards another wombat and parked for a few seconds, lights illuminating the wombat that I realised it was Andrew driving and he was showing the two Dutchies some choice aussie wildlife! Lucky I saw them too or it could have been a bit messy...

Last day tomorrow. It's been a big week but a cracker. The people have been so fun and some of the horses are

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

AEBC Intensive - Day 2

Another great lesson, and a lot learned by watching others - professional and non-professional.

We worked again on poll straightness, but then we worked quite a bit on 'squish'. Squish is a technical term describing the 'switching on' the core, the backs of the inner thighs, the top of the inner calves and essentially turning your body into a solid pillar of rock solid immoveability. The idea of squish is to prepare the horse for the best thing. It is, for all practical purposes, a very well-defined half halt. When squished, the horse must wait for the next cue, "bubbling and boiling," as Manu puts it. Not literally. That would stink.

When squished, Jedi became quite tense, head up, tight through the back, anticipating ang trying to respond to what he thought must be an aid. But within a shirt time of holding the squish and waiting for Jedi to just stand to attention, Manu pointed out his slow squaring up, until he was standing square, on the bit, ready to spring into action.

This translated into walk, then trot, then eventually canter. Bloody awesome. It's quite a useful tool and soon Jedi was feeling quite comfortable that he'd be given enough warning if any changes and started really working through his back with long swinging strides. He was straight, he turned without resistance or fuss, and he even tried to leg yield when asked!  Squish is cool.

Canter was good. Low expectations are really important with young and green horses and I have been too focused on trying to get a strong, balanced, cadenced canter when I should have been focused on getting canter. At all. On the right leg.

One thing I found very helpful was a bit of a sequence in preparing for a transition.  Squish....wait...core on....drop elbows...then...transition when ready. That simple sequence produced some seriously nice turns and transitions and I will be quite conscious of preparing properly in future.  I'm constantly putting "more prep needed" in my judge's comments, so this is a way of ensuring I do it myself!

Jedi has been truly great to partner with and is proving to be a real keeper. Jumping tomorrow with Andrew. Keep you posted!

Monday, 20 January 2014

AEBC Intensive - Day 1

As promised, (almost) live blogging from the Australian Equine Behaviour Centre in Victoria where Jedi have come for what is essentially Pony Club camp for grown ups!

It was certainly a long, hot drive down from Dragonwood, for both horse and human. The temp topped 36 by the time we hit Holbrook and I took Jedi out for a little leg stretch and drink. This was the first long haul we had done together so I was very impressed with him when he stayed pretty chilled, drank a bucket of warm water and munched on some hay while I choked down a ham, cheese and tomato sandwich. Considering we'd parked next to a truck stop in heavy use he was downright awesome!

We got here around six at night and he went into a little yarddock (a paddock that's really the size of a very large yard!) while I met a couple of my clinic buds and settled in. First lesson at 9:45 am with Manuela Mclean.

The next morning, bright eyed and bushy tailed, I led Jedi into the arena. I was a little concerned how Jedi would go in the big indoor but he was a real star. A bit of a spook here and there but nothing catastrophic. I could release the breath I'd been holding since we got here.

I have to admit to being quite proud of how good Jedi has become at the basic stop, go, turn buttons. Considering how crappy and unfair my training has been (more on that later), he has shown remarkable train-ability and resilience. He was soft but not ducking behind the bit, attentive (in general!) and good off the leg.

Manu picked up immediately that he was not straight. She talked about needing to have his poll in line with his withers to ensure straightness and it was clear his was always a good few inches one way or the other!

The cure? Using the reins to turn him back to straightness. It worked a treat. He often carried his head to the outside when on the right rein (so, left), and Manu had me close my inside hand, open that rein off his neck at times and use the outside rein as a guide to hold him to his line. Within a few minutes he was straight and started slowing down of his own accord to a really nice rhythm.

Keeping him straight turned out to be the key to a range of Jedi annoyances like chucking his head around, resisting the leg, lengthening and tension. He was, after 20 mins, bloody supple compared to the horse I was used to riding!

She had me do a 'shoulder yield' using an indirect turn to push his shoulder over like a leg yield. No leg involved, just rein and the aim is to have shoulder leading across the diagonal line to the side of the arena. It was an interesting exercise as Jedi was great to the right but literally led with his quarters to the left. It took some very obvious and initially heavy direct turns left to get him to lead with his shoulders, like most horses would in a turn! Poor Jedi. But he got it fairly quickly and felt great once we got a couple right.

Back to my unfair training. The last few weeks I think I've been de-toxing from Tuxedo and this has flowed through to Jedi in a very negative way. Firstly, I have had such a high tolerance for tension and stress in the horse I'm sitting on that I barely notice when Jedi is tense or freaking out. Or, I do notice but don't give it much thought. It's normal to me. Or was. Jedi lost his mind completely just over a week ago, bucking and rearing, almost taking us through an electric fence until I fell off and he could get away.  He even jumped on my leg (with me literally having to roll out from under him as he panicked and kept jumping around). This, in hindsight, was completely avoidable had I simply rad the very obvious signs of increasing stress and gotten off him.

He was worried about leaving his herd and already quite adrenalised. Then I saddled him up and he finds the H girth quite aversive ( the back strap sits a bit further back than a normal girth and he had been humping a bit when it was done up). Then Murray the shed guy turned up just as I got on, with his loud truck and bits flapping on it. Jedi gave me lots and lots of warning, let me tell you! But I just ignored all those signals and gave him a kick to get him going forward. Idiot. But hindsight is 20/20 isn't it?

So, being insensitive has resulted in at least one training session where the end result was a very upset horse and a very frustrated rider. Not good.

The second big error I've been making is having a real lack of clarity about what I'm trying to achieve in my training. This flows into what I am asking Jedi to do and how I can reduce the complexity of that training rather than constantly trying to get him to learn 2 or 3 things at once. Poor training by me, for sure.

I'm not beating myself up too much, though. I have been quite stressed with work, uni, life things and didn't give the thought and consideration to my horse training that I should have. That being said, I love the phrase, 'when you know better, do better' and I will certainly be doing better from now!

So, more blogging later today, hopefully with pictures! More in equitation theory and some interesting things I learned about tails too...

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

Happy New Year!

Well, it's been a lovely break in typical Aussie Christmas weather - hot and dry. Our place is very dry at the moment and we're all doing our rain dances in an attempt to bring on a mini-monsoon to fill our tanks. We just put in a huge 130,000L tank (not the best time of year, obviously!) and hope to get some water into it soon. One of our other three large tanks is already's a worry, that's for sure.

We drove down to Melbourne in our little car for Christmas and spent four days away from the farm and the furried and feathered kids. It was lovely to come home even though we had a great time. The kids were champions during the long drive and we all felt pretty chipper at the thought that 2013 was finally drawing to a close. Turning over a new year seems wonderfully refreshing!

On an equine note, Jedi seems to be doing better and better in his new barefoot state. It's already possible to see the ring of change just starting to show below the coronet band showing the stronger, harder, healthier hoof beginning to grow. It's only just gone 4 weeks since his shoes came off and I think he's doing smashingly. I'll post some pics of the changes in my next entry.

There are a couple of interesting developments in Jedi's hooves which I hadn't seen in Tux when he transitioned to barefoot. The first is the big changes in the soles of Jedi's feet. In the first couple of weeks, the soles seemed to become polished as they were exposed to the hard dry ground of our property for the first time. Then, in the last week, the front third (from 10 o'clock to 2 o'clock if the frog points to 12 o'clock) of the sole has been flaking off in quite thick chunks. I accidentally flicked off the first chunk with the hoofpick as I was cleaning out the channels either side of the frog known as the collateral grooves. I noticed dirt underneath other parts of the sole at the apex of the frog and those bits easily came off on the hoofpick too.

The sole underneath is quite pristine, no seedy toe or other fungal problems. I wonder if this is new sole growing under what would have been very packed calloused sole. He has been slightly more sensitive but not a lot so I'm going with that explanation. A thicker, healthier sole is the ultimate goal.

The other observation I've made is in the way Jedi moves. At the moment, he generally lands toe-first in the front and that is probably due to foot sensitivity. At least, that's what I've always been told. I'm not 100% convinced as I also noticed that, when he's being led over the gravel drive to get to his paddock, Jedi will walk correctly (ie heel-first), albeit gingerly. I actually wonder if being shod has changed the way he moves to a toe-first gait. I will watch this over the coming months and see if his movement improves.

The big gouges out his feet are slowly growing out and the seedy toe appears under control. The hot dry conditions definitely help here!

I rode him on the woodchip-covered arena at my friend's place over the road for the first time since my first proper ride with him barefoot and the change is massive. He showed barely any sensitivity on the surface and was putting out a lovely long-strided trot. Very heartening!

I have also found out a bit about his history, thanks to having his microchip number courtesy of my favourite vet, Rochelle Joyce. It turns out Jedi is indeed an unraced TB but has quite a decent pedigree, by racing standards. He is by Not A Single Doubt, a stallion by Redoute's Choice. He has a fair bit of Northern Dancer in his bloodlines too, and his dam is an Irish TB from some decent older lines. He was sold at the Magic Millions as a yearling for $91,600 (I was floored by the fact that he was only a mid-priced yearling - the money some people put into these nags!), but I am yet to find any reason why he didn't race. Maybe some more detective work is needed.....

The next few months will be pretty busy for us with the AEBC intensive clinic coming up in just over 2 weeks, followed by Wallaby Hill HT at the beginning of Feb, the Andrew Mclean/Lucinda Green clinic the week after, then Canberra HT mid-March and on and on it goes. Jedi ain't gonna know what hit him! And neither is my bank balance!

Uno is looking a picture (a very BIG picture) and seems completely recovered of that fracture. The swelling on the front of his fetlock stays, however, but he seems quite sound. Hopefully, that's the end of his dramatic injuries. Are you listening, Uno??

Uno's mum Rose is also looking lovely, though her feet are still dinner plates after pregnancy and some deliberate neglect as we couldn't put her through standing on 3 legs late in her pregnancy. But they're coming good, and she'll be starting some very light work in a month or so (which means I'll have to actually break her in - meh, she practically backed herself as a 2 year old!!). The plan is to just start walking her back and forth across the paddock on a hill for a few minutes each ride, building to 20 minutes or so just before Uno is weaned. That'll give her body a chance to strengthen slowly and it will help her pelvis stabilise and prepare for some work. Uno will benefit with that exercise too!

So, onwards into the new year. 2014 is shaping up to be a cracker!