We have been in lockdown for five weeks now and although riding has not been banned riders were asked to consider whether riding was really essential for us and our horses. Obviously, the answer is different for all of us but for me personally the answer is, ‘probably not’. The ponies are not hugely fit event horses and they have plenty of turnout so have no problem in stretching their legs. I have therefore not ridden since the morning of 23rd March.
That doesn’t mean the ponies are just lazing about getting fat though. They are bound to be less fit than usual – and I know I am – but I am trying to make a habit of getting them out to do some form of exercise or different activity every day. Mostly that has meant lunging, although we have been for some nice walks together over the fields and I am planning on building ourselves some trec style obstacles this week.
When I first started trying to lunge them years ago I had completely opposite problems with them. Galahad was so scared of me that he would take off, whilst Cookster would just stand and stare at me, completely bewildered. No amount of talking, waving or being led round by someone else had any effect – he would just stand there.
Now they are both much better and go round me quite happily. In fact, Cookster is now the one who can be a bit too forward and he has got very good at leaning out of the circle and pulling me with him if I’m not careful. I find that much easier to cope with than the nothing we had before though!
A couple of weeks ago my riding club got to visit a local event rider’s yard for a demo. I jumped at the chance to go as I love watching how other people ride. You can learn so much from them – one of the most interesting parts of the Wilton Horse Trials was watching all of those very famous riders in the warm-up ring and seeing what they were doing.
It was a fascinating evening. We had a little course walk and were given some tips about working in the warm-up ring at competitions. We also watched two horses being ridden – one much greener than the other – and it was very interesting to see the way they each developed.
As you can see, the light was not great for photographs!
It was a freezing cold evening so I was very grateful for the hot cup of tea in a warm room halfway through! I was also encouraged when things went wrong – not the fact that they had gone wrong but the way any errors were explained. For example, when a pole was knocked down we were told that it was because the horse hadn’t been presented quite straight at the fence. I always appreciate riders who don’t blame the horse for any errors and of course it is always good to know that mistakes can happen to anyone.
It was a great evening and I do hope we will have more like it.
On Friday evening I went out to see a demonstration by Emma Massingale. I have been a fan of hers for several years now but had never managed to see a demo so I was very much looking forward to it – I bought the ticket way back in May!
I had wanted to get a hot chocolate to keep myself warm but I only had five minutes to spare when I arrived and didn’t want to miss the beginning. It was so cold though – it took me ages to warm up when I got home.
The demo was brilliant. The bond Emma has with her ponies is wonderful to see and something I would love to achieve with my own ponies. Not that Galahad and I don’t have a bond but it could be so much more.
Emma worked with several ponies individually to show us their various stages of experience. She reinforced something which really I already knew but which is easy to forget sometimes – it is much better to stop working on something once it has been successful than to keep repeating it because the first time might have been a fluke. I can certainly be guilt of doing that sometimes.
She also said something which I found very interesting – she doesn’t want to be the herd leader because, although the other ponies do what the leader tells them, they don’t actually like him very much. She had left her leader at home and the ponies she had brought didn’t really care. Emma said she wants to be the ponies’ friend and that seems like a much better attitude to me.
The work with the liberty team was great to watch too. The way she can get the ponies to work together and then send one off to do something by himself is just incredible.
I had such an enjoyable evening (despite the cold!) – if you get the chance to see one of Emma’s demos I would highly recommend it.
Yesterday I went to have a lesson on a mechanical horse.
The riding club have organised several of these days but I have never before managed to get there so I was very excited to finally be able to have a go. I was more than a little nervous as well though as I really didn’t know what to expect.
I honestly do not know what I’m doing with my hands here. I can only assume I am describing something but I cannot remember what!
This particular mechanical horse is people powered so it is the rider using their weight correctly which makes the horse move in different gaits. It’s incredibly clever and means that if you do something wrong you can really feel it because the horse stops what it should be doing. At one point I was trying to get the horse to canter and instead managed to make it buck!
It was such a fun experience and extremely interesting too. I learnt a lot about how to use my body more effectively in the saddle and got some useful pointers about my feet too – they always want to turn out! Being sat on a mechanical horse rather than a real one means you can concentrate properly on how your body is working rather than on what the horse might be doing. I woud definitely recommend the experience if you get the chance.
Now I know how it should feel when I’m using it correctly – all I need to do is put it into practice when I’m riding the ponies!
Last Saturday Galahad and I went out for our first trec lesson. It was a beautiful morning but still really cold – I spent my entire lesson litterally shivering in the saddle. Which is probably why Galahad was a bit more spooky than he has been recently. He still behaved pretty well though and most of the obstacles went well.
We managed to do the neck rein obstacle in trot for the first time away from home. This time it was just a tear drop shape rather than the figure of eight we normally have but it still felt like a great achievement. Sadly there wasn’t a ditch this time so we couldn’t show how much we have been working on it.
The only obstacles we really struggled with were the gate and the maypole – where the rider picks up the end of a rope and carries it in a circle round the other end. Galahad has started having a problem with the rope but we really progressed during the lesson. To start with we couldn’t even stop near the stand holding the rope but we ended up being able to pick it up – just not move very far. We had better start working on that next!
We also had a mini competition at the end of the lesson. In the control of paces section Galahad shied out of the corridor we were meant to canter along and then broke into a trot right on the finish line when we were meant to be walking. The instructor found it hilarious! We really need to work on that too – we can get decent marks for the canter when we do it properly.
We still had a great day though and I am looking forward to doing it again.
After our ‘ditch’ troubles last Sunday I decided I really ought to practise those trec obstacles I can recreate at home so I went out and bought a couple of small trays we could school over. The first day I just put the trays across the doorway of Galahad’s stable. If he wanted his dinner he needed to walk over them. I just left him to it and although he thought about it he actually went in without too much trouble. Taking the pressure off sometimes works well for him.
I moved on to leading Galahad through a gap between the two trays. He did hesitate slightly but then walked through easily. I gradually moved the trays closer together and he didn’t object at all. I didn’t want to push it so left it at that.
In our next session I started lunging him through the gap – mainly because he is often braver when being led than he is when ridden. I wanted to make sure that he would go through without having me to follow. Obviously I was still asking him to go forward but then I would be when riding him as well.
Again he went through with no problems but when I closed the gap he was having none of it. I put in a couple of guide poles and suddenly it all clicked.
I realise he isn’t actually stepping in the trays but the point of the ditch in trec is for the horse to get over calmly – stepping all the way over is absolutely fine!
I am so pleased with the progress Galahad has made in just a couple of days. Now I just need to get on and ride him over!
This week has mostly been spent getting Galahad used to anything he might encounter at out trec event on Sunday. That even included wearing my new hat cover. I used to fall off a lot if I was wearing something new so I got into the habit of making sure that I never wear something for the first time at an event. It is a superstition that has stuck. It has meant that Cookster has been neglected a bit riding wise but I’ll make it up next week. Not that I suppose he minds!
I decided against using the saddle bags. Galahad was okay with them but he was definitely very aware of them and I thought that since everything will be very new to him anyway one less thing to worry about would probably be a good idea. Instead I will be using a backpack which I have worn on him several times before.
I did need to get him used to a map case though. Luckily, since we often take up our neighbour’s newspaper, he is used to me carrying flappy bits of paper and even having a sneaky read. He was not at all fazed by the map case and I was even able to open it and hold it when we were going along. Hopefully we will be able to make good use of that at the event. I think we are as prepared as we can be!
Galahad and I are planning to go to another trec event next weekend. This time we will just be doing the POR section, which is basically orienteering on horseback. It is a fun introductory event and apparently first timers – that’s me – will get a lot of help. My map reading is not bad but I have no very clear idea of how the event works so I am glad there will be help!
There are several things we have to carry with us (compass, waterproofs, first aid kits…) which means that we really need some kind of saddlebags. It is another new experience for Galahad as he has never worn them before. I started off leading him around the field with them on and making sure we went pretty fast to ensure they flapped as much as they were likely to. Galahad didn’t seem bothered by them at all. Hopefully that is a good sign of things to come.
We are also practising riding in a headcollar as we will need to do that on the day as well.