Has it really been almost 2 months since I last blogged?! Where is the summer going!! Well there have been a few weeks of same old, same old (Amber over-jumping everything; me getting lost on XC courses at BE events and riding like a nervous novice in dressage tests grrrrrrr)
But last weekend we tried something new at
I have no interest in Western riding but I do like the overall ethos of Buck Brannaman/Mark Rashid/Guy Robertson etc who all seem to work much more with the horse’s mind than the trainers I usually use who focus on the technical aspects more. Which I also love but this just adds something else I think.
So Amber and I headed to Yorkshire for a horsemanship clinic.
The overall aim of the weekend was to work on confidence (the horse’s confidence in you and in general), control (being able to control the horse’s body and life so you can move in any direction at any gait or speed) and purpose: motivating the horse by making the work feel important to him or her. Giving the horse a job.
We did 4 sessions of 2 hours each which all aimed to achieve 1 or more of those aims above.
Session 1 was groundwork. A key message was being particular about what you want. At any given moment a horse has a job to do. That job might be standing patiently in her own space while you talk to someone. (Or examine a fence, or doctor a cow, or look at a map). So lesson 1 in session 1 was ‘parking’ your horse. Some found this harder than others! Amber was pretty good at ‘parking’ as she used to be terrible at it and necessity meant I had to teach her to stand still. But a timely reminder that a lot of horses lack basics like this and are forever nudging you, stepping away or into or over you, wandering off in search of grass etc. The ground work then moved on to leading with the horse mirroring your feet. You move, they move. You speed up, they speed up. Stop dead, they stop dead. Walk backwards, they back up too. All with a float in the lead rope. Then we worked on backing up in straight lines and circles, figure eights. Then yields – hind and front quarters and rib cage. So by the end of the session the horse moved in any direction off soft cues which was aimed at establishing both leadership and control.
Session 2 was ridden in the arena and continued the theme of control. But first came getting on. The horse’s job was to pick you up from the mounting block or fence or wherever. So you’d stand where you could to get on and they would position themselves next to you and stand still till you were on board, however long you chose to stay on top of the mounting block or fence first. Again something Amber used to be appalling at, riders having only ever been legged up as she was trotting off down the road in her formative years!
Once we were on board the focus was on clarity and precision eg cue the horse to stop as the front inside foot leaves the ground and that foot should then land and stop. The transition should be both instant and smooth. Another good exercise was 2 trotting poles parallel to each other a horse’s width apart over X. Trot a figure 8 passing through the poles each time in walk. You needed to be completely straight through the poles then change bend as you left the poles. Smooth and instant transitions to walk as you enter the poles and back to trot as you leave. The repeat with canter-walk transitions. And if your horse starts anticipating the left lead (for example) go right. Then it was walk-trot-canter-trot-walk transitions in a straight line transitioning at cones spaced fairly close together and choosing which canter lead you wanted each time. Basically complete control over hindquarters, ribs, shoulders, head and neck, gait and speed!
Session 3 was with obstacles – putting the precise body control into practice with things like bending in and out of cones, side passing over things etc. This began to build the horse’s sense of purpose. Ie the horse recognising these movements aren’t random or pointless – there is a job to do. And finally cow working to further build the sense of purpose.
Amber has only seen cows once when we were followed by them on a hack and they freaked her out but I think all the previous work over the weekend meant she was curious not fearful, confident in me and task focused! So she was brilliant. Went into a herd, cut one out, guided it into the arena and then in a team with another horse we were guiding it round cones in a figure of 8 and finally penning it. If it made a break back to the herd Amber had to canter after it to head it back and she totally got it! She was alert, focused, willing and calm. A lot of fun.
Overall the exercises seemed to be about getting Amber to feel confident in my leadership (through clarity and consistency) to be accurate in her movements (through being very particular about this – not accepting a 3 stride delay before halting or leaning into the bit or being sluggish off the leg etc) and having a sense of purpose by being focused and task oriented. The cow work gave ME a sense of purpose which communicated itself to her. But you can communicate a sense of purpose just by the focus and commitment you feel about a task. As Guy said to someone who’s horse was slow off the leg ‘imagine you’re on a level crossing and a train is coming’. The horse moved!
I’m want to be an event rider not a cowgirl and I am not interested in Western riding but this sort of work feels really useful for any horse in any discipline, so I will definitely be going back one day…… and next time I meet some cows out hacking hopefully it will be a little less, erm… interesting than it was the last time!!