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

 

At the beginning of November I had a reading week so went home to Norfolk for a few days. I took my riding boots and hat back with me, and was glad that I did as I ended up riding Dusty four times while I was back!

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It was great to catch up with his owner and to hear about how he has been progressing since I last saw him in the summer. (A quick note – I have acquired a few more followers recently, so if you aren’t aware of Dusty’s back problem you can find a previous blog post about it using the menu on the left hand side).

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His owner has continued to be successful in getting him working over his back when out hacking and this has also begun to show in the school as well. We each had a lesson on him and I could see the improvement in him from watching him being ridden.

When I was riding him in the lesson and in the field on my own I still found him to be quite tricky but after a good forty-five minutes of warming up I could occasionally get him working nicely for a few strides…

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He often lacks energy when schooling, but with the cooler weather and him having not been ridden in the field for a couple of months he was a little bit more lively and even started to get quite strong with me at one point. I was able to use this to my advantage and it definitely made it easier for me to encourage him into an outline as he was stepping forwards with much more power. We also practised plenty of trot poles as these require him to engage his hindquarters more.

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After each ride we ask him to perform particular stretches using treats such as chunks of apple – these stretch his back and help him to develop muscle. Strengthening his back could alleviate the symptoms of kissing spine and reduce the need for surgery.

I wasn’t able to get very good images of Dusty stretching, but it generally includes him reach his head to his sides, to his hooves and to the tops of his front legs.

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The video below shows some short clips of us schooling and a couple of his stretches.

 

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.