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!