Introducing Leon

A few weeks ago, I ended my loan agreement with Bob. There were various reasons for this, one of which was that I didn’t feel as if he was enough of a challenge for me if I wanted to keep progressing. Over the summer he helped me to build my confidence up with hacking out and jumping and also allowed me to have a chance to get used to something that wasn’t as tall and leggy as the horses I have been riding for the past couple of years. 

Shortly before I stopped helping out with him, a lady at the same yard offered that I could start schooling her youngster, so this seemed like an ideal time to make the transition onto something more difficult.

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My new ride goes by the name of Leon – he is six years old and is mostly cob, although his owner has reason to believe that there may be a trace of Arab in him as well. I actually helped with Leon two years ago when he was just four years old, but at that time I lacked a lot of skill in my riding and it was a bit of a struggle at times.

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Taking my coat off while on Leon – he’s pretty bombproof for his age!

Having spent the last six months working on my position and effectiveness in the saddle, I considered myself pretty well prepared for getting back on. As it turned out, this wasn’t quite as easy as I had expected.

In the past two years, Leon has been broken to drive and is now driven out regularly by his owner. He also had some professional schooling for a short time. Despite this, he is still very green and doesn’t seem to understand what is expected of him in the school.

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One problem that became apparent to me when I started riding him was that he was incredibly dead to the leg – no amount of kicking, flapping or flicking him with a whip had any effect. Getting him to move forward was incredibly difficult; I tried talking to him as this is what he is used to when out driving and when this didn’t do anything I moved onto growling. He still showed the same lack of enthusiasm when in the school (I haven’t hacked him much yet but have been on another horse out with him – he can be very forward going when he wants to be!)

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Last week I had my first lesson on Leon with the same instructor who has taught me on Dusty. She watched me ride around for a few minutes, before stopping me and readjusting pretty much every part of my body – I’d slipped into some pretty bad habits.

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The pictures below show me a couple of weeks before the lesson, and then me after the lesson. There’s still a lot to work on, but I feel like I’ve made a step in the right direction. 

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Of course, every part of my body is linked and a mistake in one area can create more problems elsewhere. The fact that I was resting a lot of weight in my stirrups was causing my seat to shift further back, so that I was actually slightly behind the movement of the horse – this is a security thing that I picked up a few years ago – in reality I should be more ‘up’ on my seat bones and the majority of my weight should rest on my thighs/knees. I had broken this habit with Dusty and have really developed my lower leg position on him as well, however I do tend to revert back to my old habits when I start riding new horses.

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Lowering my hands is another habit of mine which has proven incredibly hard to break: it actually communicates to the horse that he needs to slow down, especially with Leon as he has a curb chain on his bridle (this is because of how forward he can be out hacking; he doesn’t really need it for schooling). Having the constant reminder to lift my hands up during my lesson showed me how much more forward Leon can be if he is ridden in a way that allows it. 

The issue with my elbows is not something that I have noticed before. I believe that it has surfaced with Leon because he is so green, and when asking him to turn I tend to overdo it and really pull the rein wide with a low hand. I’m now working to break this habit by keeping my elbows pinned into my sides and thinking of the turn as ‘opening a door’ to allow him to step through. This kind of visualisation is used a lot in the ‘ride with your mind’ techniques that I am being taught, and although it may sound slightly crazy it actually proves to be very helpful when I’m in the saddle.

I will of course continue to gather photos and videos of what I am up to over the coming weeks – for more regular updates you can find me on Instagram (@wildcallblog) or on YouTube (follow the link in the menu at the top of the page). 

I write about several subjects such as horses, dog agility and wildlife, so if there is anything that you would like to see more of then please do let me know in the comments. 

Thank you for reading! 

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An update on Bob

I’ve had Bob on part-loan for a couple of months now, so I thought I’d write a post to explain what we’ve been getting up to.

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Initially I was just riding him in the school while I got to know him – we just focused on flatwork and I worked on being able to encourage him into an outline. He did used to really over-bend when I rode him and I noticed that his head carriage was very inconsistent, varying from being right up in the air to being tucked down towards his chest.

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As I don’t often take lessons, this was the point where I had to evaluate my riding to try to find where I was going wrong. I do have a habit of shortening my reins up too much during the ride, and following a suggestion from Bob’s owner I began to lengthen and shorten my reins throughout the schooling session until I found a length that he was comfortable with and would work properly over his back with.

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After this I started to see a much more consistent outline from Bob, and I decided to incorporate more canter work into our schooling. From here his fitness began to increase and we also began hacking out more with a friend from the yard.

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Our first long hack together had got us off to a bit of a hairy start – the two horses we were out with took off at a gallop in front of us, but when I started to let Bob go with them he threw his head down. I thought he was going to buck so started to pull him up: he didn’t like this as he wanted to keep up with the others, so then he really did start bucking! I didn’t fall but it wasn’t exactly the most reassuring beginning for us. 

Shortly after that I came off Dusty on the road while I was out on my own, so my confidence took a bit of a knock. I became quite tense when riding Bob outside of the school and continually shortened my reins up, which didn’t help at all! Once I realised what I was doing, I made a huge effort to keep my reins a little longer and to keep my hands soft – this was the turning point for us and we began to actually have fun on our hacks.

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Our past couple of hacks in particular have been fantastic: we’re usually out for a couple of hours and with the recent harvest there are lots of stubble fields to canter on. 

The increase in Bob’s fitness resulted in him losing some weight, so I could finally use his proper saddle (instead of the treeless one we’d had before). This made me feel much more secure, and I began to set out canter poles in the school. 

Before I knew it, canter poles became cross poles, and cross poles became straights! After a six month break from jumping I have decided to take it up again, and Bob is the most fantastic confidence giver. I pop him over a few small jumps once a week – last week I got really brave and jumped 70cm with him! (In the picture below we were just doing tiny jumps as he was quite spooky that day).

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I was told that Bob could spook quite badly; initially I didn’t see this side of him (just the occasional ‘look’ at things) but I do now know what was meant. He doesn’t spook particularly often (unless it is very windy), but a couple of times he’s nearly had me off. 

An example of this was two weeks ago on our hack; we were walking along with loose reins after having a canter when a bird flew up out of the hedgerow next to us. Bob span and tried to take off across the field – luckily I reacted quickly enough stop him, but I lost my stirrups and left the saddle for a few brief moments!

Overall, I’m having a great time with this little horse and he’s really helping me to improve my riding – I hope that I can continue to progress with him into the autumn.

Dressage with Dusty

On Sunday, Dusty and I went to our second dressage show together. This was my third time ever competing in ridden classes and I made the decision to try my first prelim test as well as an intro test.

Until about three weeks ago Dusty and I had only been working in walk and trot, so if we were going to do a prelim I had to start cantering again pretty quickly! I wasn’t entirely sure how he would react to cantering again, so to begin with I put him in his hacking bridle to give me better brakes should he become too strong.

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(His hacking bridle at the time had a Waterford mouthpiece – this is a metal chain with beads on it – this basically means that he can’t lean on the bit and pull. Recently his owner has been experimenting with different bits for his hacking, but I may do another blog post about that soon as there is too much to write in here.)

The first canter was fine, but when I began cantering him in the snaffle I did start to feel that he was getting away from me a bit. However I found that my posture was really affecting him (I’m still trying to break my habit of hunching over as I ask for canter) and if I sat up and pushed my shoulders back I could control the pace without having to use my hands so much.

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By the time the competition came around, both of us had got used to cantering again and I was starting to be able to ask Dusty for a little bit more of an outline in this pace. I felt fairly confident that we would be fine to do the prelim.

On the morning of the show I headed down to the field to prepare Dusty… and promptly realised that I couldn’t remember either of my tests… cue me jogging round the field pretending to be Dusty!

Our intro test was at around eleven so we headed over to the venue in plenty of time in order to get Dusty warmed up properly. Whilst he was good in the warm up, Dusty really switched on once we were in the ring. It is amazing how much more he is prepared to give when he is on a proper surface!

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He did spook when we first went in (benches are really scary apparently) and this took me by surprise and distracted me, so when we had completed the test I wasn’t sure that I had ridden as well as I would have liked. However seeing the video from this test made me feel much better and I am actually really pleased with how it went.

We received some lovely comments from the judge, who said that we were a ‘super combination’ and that we worked well together. There were three circles on the left rein in this test, and we got marks of 7.0, 8.0 and 8.0 for them – this was particularly pleasing as Dusty used to really struggle to bend on the left rein: he would turn his head but the rest of his body never followed through – but since his back surgery he has improved so much and seems a lot more comfortable with working over his back.

Our overall score for this test was 70% and I am thrilled to announce that we placed first! This marks the end of us doing intro tests now I think, as I need to challenge myself and am hoping to start moving up the levels.

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Due to my choice of classes, there was a four hour gap in between the two tests so we took Dusty back to his field for a couple of hours and I was able to walk Rusty and grab some lunch before we returned to the venue in the afternoon.

Our warm up began well, but as soon as I asked Dusty to canter I realised that things weren’t quite right. He started doing little hops and bucks accompanied by him throwing his head in the air – it was nothing major but he doesn’t usually react in that manner. His owner got on and asked him to canter several times with the same results.

In the end we decided that I would still go into the ring but explained to the judge beforehand that I may not ask him to canter in the test. I was a little disappointed about this as I had been looking forward to completing my first prelim, but there will be other opportunities and we have to figure out what is best for Dusty.

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We discussed the situation afterwards and have come to the conclusion that he may still need to build up more strength over his back, and after having a break for a couple of hours he may have stiffened up and become a little sore.

For the next couple of weeks we will take things easy and will continue to build his strength up. At the next competition we will go straight in for a prelim test and will just do the one (or two if they are close together and we can keep him moving in between).

Thank you for reading today’s post on Wild Call – I have more things to share over the next few weeks but in the meantime you can find me on YouTube and Instagram for more regular updates.

Introducing Bob (new horse!)

A lot has changed since the last time I wrote on this blog – I have now officially moved back home from Manchester, begun learning to drive and I’ve also started a new job, which so far I am really enjoying.

I have also been doing a lot of horse riding: things are really starting to come together with it now and I am becoming increasingly excited about my future with horses.

One thing that I want to avoid now that I am back home is riding the same horses all of the time. Whilst I am continually making progress with Dusty, in order to keep improving I really need to be gaining experience with a variety of different horses.

A few weeks ago I began searching for a potential horse to part loan… so, allow me to introduce Bob.

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He is a Welsh cob cross standing at 14.2hh and is probably about nine, although his exact age isn’t actually known.

I am very fortunate that he is actually kept at a yard I know well (the same yard where Flash, Buddy and Leon live) where there are lots of friendly people who I can ride out with and go to for advice.

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I have only ridden Bob four times so far and am still getting to know him, but I thought that I would talk a little about what he is like and how I am adjusting.

Due to his owner’s pregnancy, he has only been doing light hacking for the past few months and is fairly overweight at the moment. Unfortunately as a result of this, his actual saddle doesn’t fit him so I am having to exercise him in the one pictured below… I guess it is sort of like a bareback pad, only with a bit more support (and stirrups of course). It isn’t particularly comfortable and does tend to slip (we had a funny incident with that the other day where I had to do a quick dismount) but I suppose the upside to this is that it will work wonders for my balance!

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He’s been well schooled and I am starting to be able to encourage him into an outline, but he’s very soft-mouthed and doesn’t like the reins being held too tightly. If my reins are too short on him he over-bends, which I really don’t like to see, but at the same time I can’t have them too long as this doesn’t get us anywhere! I’ve been working on finding the length that he is happy with.

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I was warned that he can spook quite badly: so far I haven’t really seen this side of him – we’ve had a few instances where he’s taken a look at things but apart from that he hasn’t done much except for spooking at some chickens near the school. However to be on the safe side I won’t hack him alone until I know him better.

He has been pretty fresh when schooling, and often when I sit to change my diagonal he tries to break into canter. This is something that I need to be prepared for so that I can prevent it from happening at all – at the moment it is sometimes taking me a good half circle before I can get him back to trot. Due to him being so soft-mouthed, this is where I am really having to ride with my seat more. I have found that a combination of small amounts of pressure with my thighs, a tiny bit of extra pressure on the reins and me talking to him keep him in a consistent rhythm.

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I am excited for the next few months with Bob: I think that I can learn a lot from him and it will be great to spend more time on such a friendly yard.

For more regular updates, you can find my YouTube channel using the menu at the top of this page or you can find me on Instagram (@wildcallblog).

Thanks for reading!

Dusty – kissing spines update

Some of the people who have been following my blog for a while may remember that I help out with a horse called Dusty. Last year he was diagnosed with kissing spines – this is where the spinous processes are too close together, causing pain for the horse.

As a result of the kissing spines, Dusty had several problems in his ridden work. These included him being reluctant to work in a proper outline (he would lower his head but wouldn’t actually be working over his back), he would struggle to bend and pick up canter on the left rein and would often trip up.

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Last Summer he had steroid injections in his back to alleviate the pain: these worked for a while and I think his owner made quite a bit of progress with him out hacking (I was still struggling with learning how to ride him properly!) However, after a few months the effects of this treatment wore off, so at the end of February this year Dusty went back to the vets to have his back operated on.

Initially I thought that the surgery would involve pieces of bone being cut away to create more space between the spinous processes (and I think this is what was originally suggested) but Dusty actually had a different type of surgery where the ligament in between the close spinous processes is cut.

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After his operation, Dusty then stayed at a yard in Burnham Market for six weeks of rehabilitation. This began by him going on the horse walker every day for four weeks (and yes, apparently he was bored by the end of it!), followed by him being lunged each day for two weeks. He was then ridden a couple of times at the yard before returning to the field.

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However, the rehabilitation does not stop there! It is important that Dusty now realises that he isn’t in pain anymore – he still has habits such as tossing his head and lifting a back leg when I go to tighten his girth, but seeing as he often does this before I’ve even started to do it up I think that this may be a learned response to the old pain.

I have been schooling him in the field since he returned home: he isn’t really allowed to canter yet but I’ve had so much to work on in walk and trot that I haven’t minded at all. We’ve been doing lots of circles of varying sizes – from large 20m circles to tiny loops around tyres laid on the ground. I also set out a variety of trotting pole exercises – as well as ordinary trotting poles in a straight line, I’ve had some at angles so that I can ask him to bend over them. Spacing the poles in an irregular fashion encourages him to think about where he is putting his feet more, which is also good for him.

Despite all of this (and my best efforts to correct the bad habits which I know have crept back into my riding) I still felt that I wasn’t quite ‘getting it’ – that he was still just putting his head in a pretty position and not actually working over his back.

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In an attempt to fix this, I had a lesson with Dusty yesterday at the field. The lady that taught me is a ‘ride with your mind’ instructor. It may sound a bit strange (or at least that’s what I thought when Dusty’s owner first told me about it) but since I had my first lesson a year ago it’s completely transformed the way I ride.

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Having begun my journey with horses in a riding school, I was constantly told ‘heels down, shoulders back and sit up’. This was fine when I started out, but when I wanted to learn more than how to go forwards, steer and stop it suddenly wasn’t enough and despite lots of help from various different people, I still really felt like there was something lacking in the way I rode.

I’m still a long way from where I want to be, but the ride with your mind techniques have brought me so much closer and as I discovered yesterday, when I am riding properly Dusty is able to work over his back correctly, without me fiddling with his mouth or kicking him.

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Over the next few weeks I am going to continue to practice what I learnt in my lesson and I will try to gather some more videos to share. The video below was taken two days before the lesson, so there are a few mistakes in there which I am going to work on but it shows some of what we’ve been up to…

Thanks for reading!