Tuesday, 11 July 2017

Tolerance to pressure, travelling circles and responsibilities



In June, our favourite instructor Jo Bates, Inspired Natural Horsemanship (website http://jobates.net/) came to visit us for a holiday and to give private lessons to me and Seraphina. Here are some of the concepts we played with during our sessions.

Testing tolerance to pressure in a learning situation
The idea of seeing if the horse can be more tolerant to pressure so that I can ask with more energy without her becoming worried about it, when I want her to respond with more energy or greater effort. Playing with this to find out where her thresholds are, knowing that I can always lift off, and if necessary go back to less until confidence is restored. I realised here is the difference from this time last year, our relationship is more solid, more confident, and so more experiment becomes possible.
She has become less of a nervous but willing pupil and more of a partner, more confident and interactive in a learning situation, we are holding a dialogue, with either of us able to say, "hey, steady on, watch what you're doing" or "that felt good!".

If you are always afraid to try, or to push the horse to offer more, you will never advance to amazing levels. Maybe some people don't want to, or are happy where they are... (Really?) I am not talking about competitions or winning prizes, but relationship and connection, partnership, great horsemanship. Living the dream.

Be particular without being critical. 

Ask less, expect more.

Responsibility of the horse to maintain gait and direction.
We played with this on the circle, using travelling circles, and also at liberty in the paddock instead of in the round pen, an indication of how we have moved on since last year. 

Doing circles at liberty in the rectangular paddock meant that Fina had first to understand what we wanted and to relate to the pattern she had been taught, the circle. Without the help of being in the round pen, which provides the limit but the horse then has less responsibility to find and maintain the pattern for themselves. At first of course, she does not understand, and Jo helped by being a fence, or I had to go and reconnect with Fina if she went to the shed or Lucie. What we looked for Fina "owning" the circle, that is, to recognise the desired pattern and to seek comfort and confidence from it and maintain connection mentally with me in the centre. Once she did this, and I could remain neutral as she circled around me at liberty, maintaining gait (trot) and direction, I could start to ask for transitions or changes of direction. From this, I would then be able to add in other elements, move up to canter, more frequent transitions, as well as looking for purity of gait and rhythm. Lots to play with there! For the two sessions, we looked at changing direction at trot, using draw, without disengaging, and resending in the other direction.

Travelling circles is going to be a useful and exciting pattern which I have tried before but not developed, now I have lots of ideas of how to use it. This is on line, on the 22' rope, although as we progress, a longer one would enable us to do bigger circles in the big field. We set it up in the square field above the shelter, where unfortunately the bramble patches I keep meaning to clear kept snagging the rope, but the idea is to send the horse onto a circle around me, and then I walk forward and around the field, as the horse circles around me, their responsibility being to maintain gait and direction until asked for something else. At first we are looking for comfort, confidence and consistency, of course it is a bit ragged at first until we establish the pattern. We started in trot, and it is so good to see Fina find rhythm and tempo, and really start using her powerful little frame. She was not even hot or blowing after our two circuits of the field, in circles at trot. This is also going to be something energetic I can do with her so she gets a bit more work than Lucie, and I can make a programme of it.

Travelling circles, notes:
- anticlockwise round field, then clockwise
- start and end in the same place
- manage rope so there is less drag
- make a programme of it
- allow the pattern and programme to make changes in the horse
- keep doing it in trot until consistent rhythm
- look for rhythm and relaxation in trot before cantering
- maintain gait
- when adding in canter, start with doing one side in canter, other in trot
- once you have consistency and purity of gait, play with transitions

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Pressure, stress, timing...

The subject of pressure is a fascinating one. For me, discovering how to use pressure and release (it is the release that teaches) as a training method has been a revelation. Why did nobody tell me before? It simplifies - and complicates - everything. Because it goes hand in hand with timing, and phases. Good timing can be learned, some people have it and some of us have to work on it.

Understanding how to apply pressure in phases sounds simple, at first, but the more skilled and experienced you get with this technique, the more you find to it. You get into questioning the type of pressure - physical, mental, implied, direct, distance, thought... How little it takes, how much is too much. What is a try, what is a release, or a micro release... ?

While the very word "pressure" sends some horse owners into declarations of horror of the idea that they might be putting stress on our horses, it brings a smile to my face as I think of how this invaluable technique has transformed my horsemanship and taken it to new levels, and degrees of refinement I didn't know I had or desired.

Pressure can be as light as a thought or the air, or it can be heavy and dulling, or threatening, or mind blowing. It all depends how you use it, like a cudgel or like a magic wand. While horses, as humans, cannot learn while under stress, they also cannot learn without motivation. Pressure motivates. Too much pressure stresses. Everything has to be taught. Leaders teach. Mothers are leaders. Mares teach their foals, to follow, to move, to yield. Horses use pressure and release to teach and move each other.

Pressure and release is balanced, it flows back and forth, it is alive, it is communication.

If I behave like a leader with my horse, and he perceives me as a leader, he will respect and follow my ideas. This concept works for me and I believe it works for my horses too. More on that one lcoming soon... ;)

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Sunny Sunday

I had a nice afternoon with the girls on Sunday. When I went down the field they were relaxing in the sunshine, Fina soon came ambling over but Lucie had a Do Not Disturb Me look. Fina is generally first to move towards me and be pleased to see me. When they walk across the field together towards me, Fina does so in a zigzag, cutting across Lucie, I guess so she can get to me first. Today as Lucie was busy with her siesta, when Fine got to me she kept looking back to see if Lucie was coming, which she did, slowly. No problem, no rush, take more time so it takes less time.

After a long grooming session, as there is a lot of loose hair especially from furry Fina, I do a bit of groundwork with each one in turn. Lucie does not think she should have to do this and I don't really spend enough time with her on this discussion, we have a clear relationship and respect, although I admit I let her get away with very subtley ignoring me occasionally until she pushes the respect issue too far and I pay attention to what's going on, and we have to have a little conversation about e.g. how quickly she needs to move when I ask, then she looks mildly surprised, but with a much nicer attitude. Even so, it is as hard as ever to get her to offer in the generous way that Fina does. So as usual I do stuff with Fina instead, it is much more rewarding and she is happy to be with me and easily gets involved in my little projects. We end up with driving from zones 3, 4 & 5 around the paddock then we all go for a walk and take it in turns who leads. Having the 3m lead ropes allows me to be behind, if they stop when I stop, and I can influence their movements and turn them, without any pull on the rope, then I know they are responsive and listening to me, bit like long reining but less micromanagement. And they do love it when it is their turn in front, ears pricked (flicking back from time to time to check on us behind); it also enables me to check how they are moving. Both are walking out well and making me puff keeping up! Time to get back in the saddle and out on the trail.

Unfortunately we find a group of fallen trees blocking one of our regular tracks, two large pines which have brought down a couple of young oak trees, so quite a job even for a chainsaw, and on a path nobody except us and the odd walkers uses so no chance of the hunt or local farmers needing to clear it, and a long way to bring OH and the chainsaw. We manage to find a way round the obstruction by going off piste into the woods. I will need to come back with secateurs at least, and clear a path.

Sunday, 8 January 2017

Relationships before goals

Does having a goal with your horse put pressure on them and you to achieve it?

Clearly, the answer is maybe, sometimes. There should be a difference in our minds between meeting a deadline like going to a comp, and knowing what we would like to achieve and having a plan. Plans can be changed. A good leader or organiser will be going somewhere and have a plan, a focus. It is important to ourselves and to our horses that there is purpose in what we are doing or trying to achieve. Most of us don't drift aimlessly through life, even if we don't have big ambitions we have everyday a plan or a purpose. In horsemanship, doing something with a purpose gives meaning and focus.

If you can't visualise what your intention is, and focus on it, it will to be harder for the horse to work out what you want. Find a way to do this. In a dressage clinic, I heard the instructor suggesting to riders that they imagine a conversation bubble above their head, saying what they wanted to achieve in shape, movement, etc. With the idea that if you don't know yourself what you want, how can you expect your horse to do it. I think this is true whether you are seeking a higher level of communication and connection, or just starting out, or doing a short groundwork session.

However, having an aim, intention or purpose doesn't mean you can't change it mid session, that would be being inflexible and putting pressure on yourself or your horse. That would be putting the goal before the relationship. Start with an idea of what you would like to achieve but be prepared to adapt and follow a different route, and if what you had in mind isn't working out you may need to break it down and fix the bit that isn't happening, or the horse may be getting frustrated in which case go back to something that restores confidence and connection, then reapproach; or isolate the element he was having trouble with. Don't allow others to pressurise you into a situation or doing something you don't want to like a competition or a group ride, or simply riding when you or the horse aren't ready for it.

Aims and goals need to change, be refreshed, adapt to where you are and what your horse is offering. 

Always deal with the horse in front of you, and be prepared to adapt, don't try to make the horse fit the goal, think of it as causing him to want to go there.

Sometimes you can take what your horse offers but don't let the horse take control. Be clear in what you want, accept a try or say thanks for offering that, now could we try my idea again. If it isn't happening, are you being clear and focusing on what you want.

Remember to think about whether you are teaching, reinforcing, refining or controlling.

It is true for me that sometimes when I go get my horse I don't start out with a clear idea of what I want, but somewhere in the routine of collecting the horse from the field, there will be a clue or something in their attitude will give me an idea. Sometimes it feels better to abandon my immediate plan for a ride or groundwork, and just hang out with them in the field. I can still say that I changed my plan, because if spending undemanding time, or giving scratches if asked for, or getting in the moment with them if they are busy eating or enjoying a sunny corner of the field, feels right, then that will do more for the relationship than insisting the horses do what you tell them. Sometimes they must do what you tell them, but you don't always have to be asking or forcing the horse into a human time scale.

Pressure, stress, timing...

The subject of pressure is a fascinating one. For me, discovering how to use pressure and release (it is the release that teaches) as a training method has been a revelation. Why did nobody tell me before? It simplifies - and complicates - everything. Because it goes hand in hand with timing, and phases. Good timing can be learned, some people have it and some of us have to work on it.

Understanding how to apply pressure in phases sounds simple, at first, but the more skilled and experienced you get with this technique, the more you find to it. You get into questioning the type of pressure - physical, mental, implied, direct, distance, thought... How little it takes, how much is too much. What is a try, what is a release or a micro release...

While the very word "pressure" sends some horse owners into declarations of horror of the idea of putting stress on our poor fragile horses, it brings a smile to my face as I think of how this invaluable technique has transformed my horsemanship and taken it to new levels, and degrees of refinement I didn't know I had or desired.

Pressure can be as light as a thought or the air, or it can be heavy and dulling, or threatening, or mind blowing. It all depends how you use it, like a cudgel or like a magic wand. While horses, as humans, cannot learn while under stress, they also cannot learn without motivation. Pressure motivates. Too much pressure stresses. Everything has to be taught. Leaders teach. Mothers are leaders. Mares teach their foals, to follow, to move, to yield. Horses use pressure and release to teach and move each other.

Pressure and release is balanced, it flows back and forth, it is alive, it is communication.

If I behave like a leader with my horse, and he perceives me as a leader, he will respect and follow my ideas. This concept works for me and I believe it works for my horses too.

Saturday, 31 December 2016

Year end summary 2016

It's been a good horsey year (if not so hot in many other respects...) with some great highlights - riding Lucie again after her years of lameness and being poneyed reluctantly from Seraphina; clinics, workshops and lessons with Denise O'Reilly, Susan Rainbird and Jo Bates; spectating the Pat Parelli Masterclass in the UK... Sad moments too, losing my dear friend Jakki Cunningham of the Sete-Lorient-London (White Horses) charity, to cancer in October, after staying with her in the Camargue in January for the Salon du Cheval at Avignon... where Lorenzo thrilled us with his horsemanship in the evening gala... Rides with friends - Jennie Free, Helen & Ali Barnes-Short, and getting my husband Dan back in the saddle (and a couple of times out of it)...



So as we turn our backs on 2016....


... and ride off into the sunset of another year... 
I look forward to many more happy horsey moments in 2017. 

Happy healthy positive new year 2017!

Sunday, 11 December 2016

Autumn rides

We have enjoyed a fine sunny long dry spell this back end of summer into autumn, right into December, and so some glorious colours on the vines and trees and wonderful rides.
A few images here:


Glorious colours near Callassou, 22 October

With Jennie on Fina, 22 October

With Dan on Fina, 1 December

Dan on Fina, 8 December
Me on Lucie, 8 December




Monday, 31 October 2016

Final long ride for a queen of the road



Jakki with Princesse and Printemps in 2012
My dear friend Jakki Cunningham died of cancer this month. She was President and founder of the SLL Sete-Lorient-London charity which I have helped and supported since they came riding across France and into my life, when the 4 horses and 3 riders including Jakki stayed overnight in June 2005. We remained friends ever since.

The SLL Charity (see website www.sllassoc.com) was set up by Jakki with the idea of buying horses in the  Camargue and using them to change the lives of young disadvantaged people as well as to help people with disabilities. In the 2008 and 2012 projects, known as Caravan of Hope, the horses were ridden and cared for by disadvantaged youngsters both French and English, who rode an amazing 1,800 kms on horseback from the Camargue in the South of France, via Brittany, then on to London. The expedition took 6 months, camping all the way. At the end of the journey, the horses were donated to centres for disabled riding or carriage driving in England and France. Contact with horses improves the physical and emotional well-being of people with disabilities, as practised by the Riding for the Disabled Association and similar groups in France.

Jakki created 4 similar projects, each one became more ambitious than the previous one, with more horses and more diverse aims. She rode or drove carriage horses on each of the projects, earning the distinction of membership of the elite Long Riders Guild, as well as handling most of the administration and correspondence. Latterly she was joined by and had the help of Fred Kermel, her right hand man and French vice president, however, the charity survived and operated through Jakki's energy and enthusiasm, with the help of a small group of loyal volunteers and trustees, and some generous sponsors and supporters.

Jakki died on 22 October 2016; she was living in the Camargue, which she had made her home since 2013.

RIP Jakki Cunningham
Sunset over l'Etang de Vaccarres
Saying goodbye...


www.sllassoc.com