A beautiful monster,self discipline and this is what I live for

Published by Eventing Connect 

When you work alone a lot-in any job-self discipline is key. In some areas I have none whatsoever,hence the battle with the scales and an undying passion for chocolate. In other areas however,I am a disciplinary queen. Part of becoming a more mature and thinking rider is paying attention to yourself. In time,you correct yourself as often as you correct the horse and these minor alterations are where the real daily learning takes place. A recent example comes from my older horse. He is 13, he has his problems and he’s as odd as two left feet but no one else has ridden him other than me. This means he is the blueprint for my faults and also my corrections. He struggles on the left rein and tries to block with his shoulder,effectively turning his body into a ‘Z’ shape and making him lead with his quarters on the left side. He struggles to work in a stretched frame on the left,but finds it very easy on the right. I battled away with this for quite some time before one day in desperation I offered the outside rein and asked for a lot of bend through his rib cage,really opening the door for him. It’s not orthodox and goes against my dressage education,but this horse filled his boots and immediately dropped into a stretch. I was able to take the outside rein back softly and hold him on my inside leg. This did two things-he showed me how he needed to be ridden to perform this task,and I showed him that I was happy to do so. Jobs oxo.For those of you who are still actually awake,I’ll move on-I forget that this shit is deathly boring reading…..

I have mentioned Sunshine in a previous blog. She is a 4 yr old hannovarian x tb mare with a gigantic ego and a vast quantity of talent. She is an enigma, a puzzle and as terrifying as she is brilliant. She teaches me daily,she is always telling me things. (Now I sound truly batshit,I know) Last night,she put paid to my genius idea of her staying out at night by jumping a very big mains electric fence wire in the dark and wearing three rugs. Today I thought ‘well if you want to jump,you can jump then’,so we did. She has been having some physio and also last week she had fairly major dental work done too. Today we just worked down a simple 2 stride grid,nothing complex or exciting. Il get back to this in a moment.

A key piece of knowledge I was once given was that if you are producing a young horse and it stops or runs out,NEVER punish it. Stop,look at what you are doing and think it through. Was what you asked the horse to do fair? Does he understand? Did you build up gradually and in steps to make it easy for him? Is he physically and mentally ready for the task? Is he comfortable and relaxed? Is he looking at what he is required to do?  If you back track and go back a step,you can almost always find the solution. Punishing a horse will make him panic,Rush and stop thinking. He might have rails down,his jump will tighten and flatten and you may compound the issue.It will set you back months in your training. If you have planned to achieve a goal today and the horse performs brilliantly early on,don’t be afraid to stop. If the horse is struggling,don’t be afraid to stop. Think of other ways to help him be ready for this question. ALWAYS THINK.

So Sunshine-she was popping away down the grid quite well and I slowly increased the height of the vertical. She was finding the 10 yard distance surprisingly tight but then she jumps with a lot of scope.She suddenly and without warning decided to jump both the place pole and the cross pole together at the start of the grid,so she landed short and I had to really move her to make the vertical. The next time she approached the grid,she over compensated with a huge jump in and then very sharply dived right and ran out at the vertical. I had to think for a moment so I let her walk and I passed no remark on it at all. She is a horse so careful that she would rather stop than hang herself. She was well prepared for the task and doing it well to that point. She jumped in too big and ran out of room. She needed a minute to think.She was finding it tight,despite the grid being set on the generous side of regular and her being relaxed and not rushing. Ok. I moved the place pole on the way in out to just over 3 yards. I moved the grid out to 11 yards. Yes she will have to learn to handle ‘normal’ distances, but today was not that day. Preserving her relaxed attitude and huge jump is key at this stage. So we started again,and she was foot perfect every time. She finished over a 1m oxer easily and happily. Her enormous scopey jump creates ‘hang time’ and I can’t get enough of it. So my hope is that today I listened to my horse and I worked out what she needed,and that I put her in the best possible position to do her job well and to gain confidence from the task. For me,it’s always back to the same-‘ Try to put the horse in to a position where the response he gives you is the response you were looking for to begin with’.  I read another pearl today courtesy of Buck Brannaman-‘Don’t treat him as he is. Treat him as you want him to be.’ Applicable to horses and humans alike. 


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I am a Sports horse producer based in Ireland. That sounds very grand....the reality is that life here is crazy-trying to fit four horses,200 cattle,a baby and a husband into a day results in tales of the insane and a feeling of lurching through life with no clue what's going on. I have a keen interest in everything from planets to bones to quantum mechanics,and am a perpetual asker of the question 'why?'.

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