Ok the truth is I am bit of a coward. I love pony camp. I HATE the ‘hideous riding accident’ stories that seem such a feature of the social side of camp. Please don’t give me MORE things to worry about! Eventing and fear of falling are not really very good combinations as one does tend to lead to the other. But in my view the safest way to ride is to ride a safe horse. Now you can buy a safe horse – a dope on a rope who will look after your tiny child and your granny. But they don’t tend to be very good at eventing….
So my holy grail of horsemanship is to combine the safety of a dope on a rope with the athleticism, power and willingness of a horse who can event well. You might be lucky enough to just find a horse or pony that comes like that – with rideability factory installed. But they are pretty rare and I don’t have any of those in my current herd. So I am going to need to make one like that. If I can.
For me rideability means I have control of speed, direction and destination (in the words of Mark Rashid) or I have control of all 4 feet – as Buck Brannaman might say. In any gait, at any speed, over any terrain. I used to think rideability was just something that came with schooling, experience and age. But I have been on enough hacks now with older horses to believe that it isn’t. I believe good riders control hot horses using huge amounts of sensitivity, timing, balance, clarity , feel, skill and courage that I just don’t currently have. So instead of becoming a hugely skilled rider, I want my horses to become very easy to ride instead!
I have had hacks with Max when some people wanted to go down the steps at Somerford and I (being a wuss) wanted to ride round them. All he was expected to do was walk calmly round for about 100 yards and then meet up with his friends again. Cue rearing, plunging, cantering on the spot! He threw me off TWICE that day. On another hack I wanted to stay behind the lead horse on a canter. Cue the embarrassing “sorrrreeeee can’t stop” as his TB genes kicked in and he charged past. I didn’t have control AT ALL.
I have had hacks with Amber where she is not capable of standing still. I could only stop her moving off because I kept her circling. I had control of her destination but not of her feet.
Then there is XC schooling with Oscar when he is expected to wait and he dances around like a jack in the box – ‘my turn, my turn, my turn, MY TURN!’ I love his enthusiasm but Katie is not in control of his feet. My only real tool currently for horses who get strong XC is a stronger bit. But the problem is not their mouth. They are choosing to run with their minds and acting on that choice with their feet.
Looking around at the horse world, the person who seems at the forefront of the ‘control the feet’ – and thereby control the mind of the horse ethos is Buck Brannaman. But as he is kind of a rockstar cowbow, he was never going to come to Derbyshire to teach a small group of people! so I invited a long-time student of Buck’s to come and teach a clinic at our yard without really expecting that she would. But she did and it was very interesting.
Groundwork is a big thing in that world. Unfortunately Amber hates it. Really does. She is a very expressive horse and her expression clearly communicates ‘oh God it’s this cr@p again. Can we go and jump stuff now’. I don’t want to aggravate my horse. So I don’t really plan to follow through on that side of things much. But under saddle she is much more willing. As far as I can work out, there are a series of very precise ‘moves’ a horse has to be able to make as part of his core training. After that he can go off and specialise in anything but this is seen as foundational. Hind end and front end, with correct lateral and vertical flexion and correct bend. Once you have these moves done in good balance with good rhythm and very precisely (perhaps it’s like the discipline of the ‘positions’ in ballet??? ) – then all other moves become possible. They can move forward backwards, laterally. And you have total control of shoulders, quarters, head/neck, bend and all 4 feet. Plus the horse’s mind as they have to be so attentive. Plus it supples and strengthens the horse and moves them off the forehand as the weight has to be right back on the haunches most of the time. And crucially for me, that kind of close, precise control at walk allegedly carries over to trot, canter, gallop so you can then gain close, precise control of your horse at ANY speed. They don’t go ‘yee ha time to just do my own thing” when the pace increases or there are distractions like other horses galloping off in front. Which is exactly what my horses all currently do to some degree or other.
It is intriguing enough for me to give it a go. The good news is you can work on this in parallel with other tracks of learning – like dressage schooling, and grid work and XC schooling and just going out for a blast on a hack. Which is good as just walking small circles with my horse for the next 5 years to get good at small circles in walk would do both our heads in! And is especially good as next week I am going to Somerford for a Gemma Tatersall eventing clinic. I suspect the pace of life will be somewhat different next week to this. EEEEEEK!!!