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!

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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!

Dusty – kissing spines

Back in June, I travelled to Newmarket with Dusty’s owner to collect the ‘beast’ (as he is commonly nicknamed). He had been staying at the vets whilst they checked his legs and back.

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The reason for this was because his owner decided he should be looked at due to there being several issues in his ridden work, such as the fact that he struggles to bend on the left rein and often can’t pick up his left lead canter. It is also incredibly difficult to get him to work over his back properly – he will hold his head on the vertical giving the false impression that he is working properly, whereas in reality he is still very much on the forehand.

At the vets it was discovered that he has kissing spines, although it is relatively mild compared with some cases. Kissing spines is where the vertebrae are too close and actually touch each other, causing pain for the horse.

We think that this comes as a result of Dusty hollowing his back when he is ridden – and his owner believes that a previous owner/loaner of him may have used some kind of gadget on him in an attempt to force the head carriage that they wanted (despite the fact that it is supposed to come from the hind end!) I remember when Dusty first came to stay with us that she remarked on how muscled the underside of his neck was, and explained that it could mean that someone had used draw reins on him…

The treatment options for Dusty are as follows: he can have steroid injections into his back every year, or he could have an operation where sections of the vertebrae are actually removed.

He was given one set of injections before he left Newmarket, and the plan is to see how he gets on over the next few months. The operation would be expensive and would be a traumatic experience for him, so it would be better if it could be avoided.

This is where training comes into play. If we can teach Dusty that stretching his back properly will no longer hurt him (now that he has had steroid injections) and actually encourage him to work over his back, it will help to prevent the kissing spines from becoming worse and could eliminate the need for the operation.

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However this is easier said than done, and we have been battling with the prospect for some time now!

We are not fussing with his head too much at this stage, and are focusing more on getting him to track up and use his hind legs more. We are using trotting poles a lot and have been practising slowing his trot down to the point where he is almost walking before asking him to pick up the pace again (this encourages him to shift more weight onto his hind end).

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Over recent months we have also been learning more about our positions in the saddle – we had a couple of lessons with a ‘ride with your mind’ instructor. At first I wasn’t really sure about the whole idea but it was actually incredibly helpful and has benefited my riding a huge amount.

It will not be a quick process with Dusty but his owner has already had success out hacking; he has a lot more energy to give when he is out of the school!DSC_0001

Although I will be leaving home soon, I will see Dusty when I come home to visit so will continue to follow his journey.

Training at Blandings

Today I travelled over to Blandings Farm in Suffolk with Flash and his owner, where we hired the facilities for the day and practised each of the three competition phases. We had visited Blandings previously a few months ago when we attended a competition, but today’s trip was very different as we could take as much time as we needed and there was no pressure to do everything perfectly.

The first thing that Flash’s owner did was to practise her dressage test – I don’t play much of a role in this phase so I sat at the side and took photographs, and set up the cones course next to the arena.

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After the dressage practise was done I set up the camera, hopped on the carriage and we navigated the cones. My job here was to be the back-stepper to balance the carriage around the tight turns.

Flash becomes quite excitable in this phase so his owner was trying to encourage him to slow down and take it at a more steady pace – he managed this incredibly well today but we did have a couple of accidental canters!

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Lastly we drove around some of the obstacles – again the aim here was to keep him steady. To begin with we just walked around the obstacles (a route had been planned for us in advance) and then progressed to trot. Flash became a little bit impatient at times and started bouncing, but for the majority of the time he behaved perfectly. His one issue is with upward slopes – it is easier for him to go faster up them and he has tendency to leap forwards into a very fast canter – being a strong horse it isn’t always easy for his owner to bring him back again…

Overall it was a good day and very beneficial to Flash’s training; having been helping with this horse since November and seeing him progress from his former crazy self to how he is now, I am aware of how far he has come and seeing his training has been very interesting for me.

My first dressage competition

This weekend I had the amazing opportunity to compete for the first time! I had never competed in any ridden competitions before so this was really exciting for me.

I decided to enter two tests, both of which were walk-trot – I had originally hoped to do a prelim test but changed my mind as it was my first competition and I didn’t want to overface myself.

Beforehand I practised the test in the field with Dusty’s owner acting as my judge, videoing me and giving me tips for improving the test. The video was really helpful to see where I was making mistakes.

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We also planned the warm-up that I would use on the day of the show – Dusty takes quite a long time to work in so I got on him in good time and rode him for about half an hour before we were due to be in the ring. Particular things that I included in the warm-up were: shortening his trot strides as much as I could and then letting him lengthen again, (as this really improves the quality of his trot) and we did have a couple of short canters to liven him up – with the atmosphere and the other horses around however he was pretty awake anyway!

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I had been worried about forgetting the tests and I did decide to have a caller for the second one as I couldn’t remember it. Because Dusty is weaker on his left rein I struggled to get him to bend on this side but we managed our circles without too much trouble – the judge commented that he fell in a couple of times (particularly on the left) and that I need to keep my hands still, but we did get some really positive feedback.

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In the first test I got a score of 62.61%, which wasn’t that great but we still came third.

I was incredibly happy to discover that in the second test we scored 71.74% and came first! Having been a very nervous rider in the past I have worked hard to get to this point and I am thrilled that it is finally paying off.

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My next goal in terms of dressage is to work on Dusty’s canter and attempt a prelim test with him.

My first ever carriage driving competition!

For the past few months I have been helping out with a driving horse called Flash; he is about eight and is a 14.3hh Trotter cross Welsh section C.

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His owner drives him out on the tracks near the yard and I go along as her groom, holding Flash whilst she climbs on and off of the carriage and helping with crossing roads.

The whole experience has been very exciting as Flash gets quite excited and often takes off in his huge extended trot (or occasionally breaks into canter)!

Recently I had the opportunity to accompany them to a driving competition…

This particular competition was fairly informal, so there wasn’t really a dress code and there were fewer obstacles than there would be at a larger show.

It was split into three phases – dressage, cones and obstacles.

In the dressage phase I didn’t really have to do anything as it was down to the driver to remember the test and control the horse, so I just stood on the back and observed. Due to him being half Trotter, dressage is Flash’s weakest phase – although he did score more highly for his extended trot!

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In the cones phase I had much more to keep me occupied – as the horse has to turn tightly at speed to negotiate the cones, the carriage must be balanced to prevent any wheels from lifting off the ground – this can be achieved by the back-stepper leaning on the inside of the bend to put more weight over the inside wheels.

The aim is to get around the course of cones without knocking any of the balls down: we went clear in this phase which boosted our score after the dressage.

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The final phase was the obstacles – in this my job was very much the same as with the cones – although some of the turns were tighter. Flash is amazingly good at dodging his way around the course, however apparently he can sometimes get too clever and try to decide his own route!

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Luckily it all went well and at the end of the day Flash came second.

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The video below shows our round – there were a couple of occasions when I forgot the route and didn’t lean the right way, but I thought for my first time as a back-stepper I did ok!