Tag Archives: riding

Back to life

I have been busy and very neglectful of this blog.  I don’t think I have ever let so much time pass since posting.

It has been a strange winter: long, Spring creeping up and catching me by surprise.  And storm lashed.  We lost six trees in hurricane force winds, one of those trees crashing on my trailer so I am now without transport for Ben and Cloud (and for emergency trips to the Mart for hay).  But we have got off lightly here.  Generous friends have offered loans of their trailers when needed.  I have neighbours who have had to reach their house by crossing three fields for weeks now.  The west of the county has been badly battered by the sea.  Houses have been damaged by flooding.

But there has been very few opportunities to take Ben and Cloud out.  Cloud has been stranded with post-laminitis recovery and with a teenager who has a full life of exams, music and friends and a diminishing interest in a pony who requires such careful management.

So Cloud is mine now.  I have to put it that way and embrace this pony who is so different to Ben and somehow find a way into his heart and mind.  I remind myself that I struggled with Ben in the early days.  Easy to forget when communication between us seems to be telepathic now.  We have managed a couple of nice Spring rides, or rather rides and walks as Ben is not fit enough for riding of any length.  But he has enjoyed them, rewarding me with a lick on the cheek afterwards.

A couple of weekends ago I drove north to attend a workshop given by Nic Barker (of Rockley Farm blog fame) which was very interesting and encouraging in allowing horses self trim.  She made the point that we should never judge hooves on photos alone, but to take videos, slow them down and look at the footfall.  I did just that when I came home.  Both Ben and Cloud had heel first landings!  (Ben’s slow motion was gorgeous – such hairy legs clopping down majestically on the yard.)

Some things stay the same – each year, no matter in what manner Spring has approached, by the end of March the primroses appear and the hairiest cob in Ireland sheds wheelbarrow loads of hair, day after day after day.  I become slightly obsessed with currying those long silky slides of hair, and no matter how much I remove there is no discernible difference; and yet there will be, suddenly the bones of his legs will reappear, his belly will seem higher off the ground and his face will be beardless once again.  But for now, he rolls and covers the ground in his hair, rubs and leaves hair caught on the bark of trees, and is starting to walk away when he sees me approaching with the rubber curry comb.

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Filed under a year in the life, hoof care, riding

Keep it simple

I blame You Tube. There are so many attractive videos out there – dancing with horses, playing with horses, riding horses bareback and so on. And I wish – and in those wishes I wish for a different horse to Ben. Because Ben tells me to ‘keep it simple. Find me a well-fitting saddle and take me on long rides. And if you want to add in a jump or two I’ll do that too. Just stop making things complicated.’

Saddle fit reared its ugly head again. I had doubts over my lovely Stubben in terms of giving Ben sufficient freedom of shoulder movement. So I researched and trialled a saddle made by a company that specialises in native ponies and cobs and found one that fits well and has a much straighter cut.

Here is the field we had use of for July and August. Ben and Cloud shared it with some calves and, for a few days, some sheep and it is almost too well grazed but I was glad of it, as was daughter, who dragged in jump poles and thought I should jump too.

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Ben liked to see me in the field and would leave his grazing to come up to me and walk with me, his head at my shoulder, all round the field.  Sometimes I would stop or change direction or weave complicated patterns and he would stick with me, head at my shoulder all the time.  That was our version of dancing together.  And it was good.

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Filed under liberty, riding, tack

Late summer riding

Dusk: Ben walks on, head stretched low, walk purposeful, ignoring shadows and rustling as we make our way home. For it is August and the evenings are drawing in. We took a chance this evening and rode the longer circuit, knowing that the safer roads were on the way home. How Ben loves to ride out!

We have had the use of a field for July and August. It is behind us, craggy and hilly, great to ride in but with quite poor grazing. Ben and Cloud share it with some calves. We have galloped in this field, jumped (yes, even I have faced those coloured poles, dragged in by my daughter). We had a very useful lesson in the field and I learned to control Ben’s pace, for he rushes and becomes quite herd bound in the field, typical possibly for an ex-hunting cob, and butterfly inducing for me ever since I saw him out of control, bucking daughter off in a lesson. We have been having occasional lessons from an instructor who has been teaching in-hand work and talked me through calming Ben (and me) down. Because Ben charged forward, then started to plunge but gradually came back to me and gave a beautiful, collected panther walk. Ben’s response to this lesson? A lick of my hand as I led him away, a rare gesture of appreciation from him.

So we have used the field a lot, but hacked this evening as rain had made the grass slippy, and Ben confirmed what I already know – that he really, really, loves a good hack. I rode in the Micklem bitless bridle, reins dropped on his neck for the most part and he led Cloud all the way round as he likes to do. Despite living in the field for the last two months, no hoof boots were used and none were needed.

A satisfying evening.

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A lack of words

I wonder am I coming to the end of this blog. I find I have less and less to say and silence with both Ben and Cloud grows deeper and deeper. Yes of course I do things – I ride, I groom, I look after the track, I try to figure out how to get Cloud to eat his fair share of hay only and not Ben’s. I look at hooves, think about nutrition, think about mud; look at bodies, think about adequate exercise. I do not have to worry about spirit – they are contented ponies.

Grooming Ben before a ride, I gaze over the stable door with him and that silence we share stays with me for longer than the experience of the ride.

Today we brought them into the stables in preparation for a ride. Ben turned his head to the back wall. So unusual. So he didn’t go but stayed behind to munch hay in peace while I walked beside my daughter and Cloud. Towards the end I watched them canter away from me up the track that leads towards home. Near home, daughter turned Cloud back to wait for me. Cloud stayed with her, waiting, keeping himself there for her despite his obvious desire to continue home towards Ben. At the gate daughter dismounted and we watched Cloud walk along the track towards Ben in his stable, speeding up and throwing his legs up in a buck as he drew near.

He is such a good pony. He has bonded well with my daughter and quite obviously knows his job while she is riding him. I have absolutely no problem asking him to do this just as I have no problem in listening to Ben’s ‘no’. This is just part of how we relate to these ponies.

So, as I type I find some words. But more and more the most precious moments with the ponies are the moments beyond words and the moments that should probably remain beyond words; moments that are interspersed with mud and darkness and toil that are part of keeping ponies at home during a wet winter.

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Winter rides

I have a friend who is convinced that there are less hours in the day than there used to be. That is why, she says, we are always rushing, always catching up, always tired. Sometimes I see her point. How to find those moments of pause when time expands and and in that moment I am renewed?

We snatched a ride yesterday. Winter is here now. The leaves are nearly gone, the days are short and the land is wet. Outside rain was drifting across a landscape lit by low winter sunlight. Inside, younger daughter recovering from tonsillitis sat in front of a fire and planned Christmas decorations and a Santa list. Older daughter chatted as we rode also thinking of Christmas and a visit of friends forced recently to emigrate.

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Despite the rain that blew over and, it seemed, through us, we enjoyed the ride. The ponies were onwards, the land was gleaming and as I dropped my reins and let Ben walk out I found a moment of pause, relishing the cold, the freshness, the light and the companionship.

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Jumping!

A daughter with a pony wants to jump. Inevitable. Only she wants her mother with her cob to jump too. She has forensically examined every square metre of land we have. She has designed several courses.

And so, one Sunday afternoon, I find myself hauling jumps around part of our paddock. I worry about the ground, the slope, the trees, the rocks and generally about the very notion of leaving this solid earth with said cob.

I have no choice. Ground is chosen, jumps are planned. I suggest that pony and cob should be let in first to chew some of that grass or else they will have no interest in jumps, only in grass.

We chill on this lovely autumnal afternoon. I am relaxing, enjoying that feeling of nothing to do, when a teenage daughter’s impatient vibe finally penetrates. We go out.

Ben and Cloud watch as we assemble three jumps. They willingly come to us to be tacked up. I suggest we warm up first, with transitions and some suppling work. Ben wants none of this. I feel surprised. Why is he stalling? Then I realise he is looking at the jumps and, in true Ben style, wants to get on with things. I love Ben, he is so no-nonsense, get-on-with-it-woman, in his approach. Why focus on riding transitions and circles in a paddock where jumps have been assembled? You want us to jump? Just get on with it!

So I do.

I turn him towards the first jump and he takes charge. Up that slope, under the trees, he canters, I get disgracefully left behind and we are over that jump. Daughter is laughing. Pride dented, I think I can do this – indeed, in earlier years I have jumped a lot. Anyone who has learnt to ride in Ireland has done that. I am older now; two children later, I am not quite so gung-ho. In fact, I avoid jumping if I possibly can. And I would not be doing this if it were not for daughter.

We go again, and again, and again. We flow. I love it! I relax, give Ben a break. Put your head down, eat some grass. He won’t. He stands, waiting, four square, head up, ready for more. I barely touch him and we are off again. It – he – is a revelation. What have we been missing in the last three years?

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Continued clicker experiences

Alexandra Kurland is coming to Ireland in a few weeks time. It seems too good an opportunity to miss so Ben and I are booked on this clinic. In preparation, Mary from the Irish Clicker Centre came out to give a lesson to Sandra and I. The ground to be covered was what Alexandra Kurland calls the foundation lessons. I have had a session with Mary before. I stopped using clicker as I felt Ben was becoming too “snatchy” around food and he was focused on that alone.

It was helpful to have this lesson with Mary, but back at home, practising with Ben, he looked anxious for treats and yet expecting them and, even though I spent a lot of time with this, I was still not happy with how things were progressing. I thought that Ben’s behaviour would have convinced anyone watching that clicker training was not the way to go with a horse.

Last week we had another session with Mary. Things fell into place. First of all, it transpired that Ben’s anxious behaviour was for one activity only – standing on a mat. And once he was clicked and treated at a good rate for doing this, his anxiety disappeared. (He does not now need this rate of reinforcement.) Secondly, I was able to refine my aids and focus in on my body language and breathing. This made a huge difference.

Learning clicker, like any new skill, takes time. But it is not an end in itself. It is only a signal to say “that’s it”. But as I am new to it and to the specific rope handling techniques that Alexandra Kurland has developed for her exercises, it has been all too easy to forget the basics of energy, breath and body language. And most importantly, of intent.

So, at home, this is what using positive reinforcement has done for us:

Riding:

Ben walks to the back gate beside me, without his usual spookiness as we approach the gate.

Ben stands as I mount, without snatching at the lush green grass at his feet. (That alone deserves a “wow!”)

Ben walks from the start with an active pace. His point of relaxation – where he lets out a huge sigh – comes much sooner than before. The rest of the hack is with an active walk yet with Ben’s head long and low. Relaxed yet forward – what more could I ask from a ride out on the roads? (Okay, cantering up the back lane with a doberman bounding out from a field towards us loses this relaxation – but we regain it quickly.)

On the ground:

Ben stands still at liberty to be groomed.

Ben walks beside me at liberty.

Ben halts when I halt, walks on when I move. (Here is where I have been able to focus on my own energy and breathing again and Ben has responded to this. The clicker, or tongue cluck that I am using, has only been the “yes” to his response.)

There has been a lot more as well. I have needed the lessons. It is not as easy to master as it looks, it took a bit of persevering. What I have really liked is the emphasis Alexandra Kurland places on tai chi. I have done tai chi and chi kung and I am currently doing another course of chi kung lessons. Chi kung fits very well with being around horses. It emphasises balance. Horses pick everything up from us and Ben really likes it when I am in balance, not just mentally as I have always known, but physically too. He is a great teacher, because his response always tells me about myself.

My fear about clicker training was that it would come between my relationship with Ben. Well on Saturday evening, after our ride and Ben and Rosie’s feed, Ben came to stand with me in the yard. As I stood there in the gathering dark, with the neighbourhood sounds dying down and only the coots still talking on the lake, Ben tucked in behind me and we stayed together for as long as my back would let me. When I moved, he touched my hand with his nose and only when I left did he join his Rosie under the trees.

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Filed under ground work, riding, training