My Toothpaste Analogy 

Sometimes it’s hard for a rider, especially a young rider, to understand the feel required on the approach to a fence: the difference between the horse taking you into a fence and rushing to the fence.

 Last week I came up with an analogy, which will come into force this week – you have been warned, clients!

When you’re riding a horse you want to feel that they’re taking you into a fence, in front of the leg. If they aren’t, then there tends to be two outcomes. 

Which can be likened to a tube of toothpaste.

Imagine a tube of toothpaste, fairly full, with the lid off. Now, clap your hand down on the toothpaste and watch the paste spurt out. This is the equivalent to giving a horse a big kick a few strides away from the fence. Some horses don’t mind this, and would prefer the definite feel of commitment and “let’s go” from the rider. Others get pushed out of rhythm and put off their stride and can cause a refusal.

Let’s go back to the toothpaste scenario. This time, you’re going to push gently with your fingers, akin to squeezing with the leg. The paste smoothly glides out of the nozzle. This is the equivalent of the horse feeling reassured by the rider’s commitment to the jump and moving in front of the leg; perhaps a slight lengthen of stride but ultimately engagement of the hindquarters to give the canter a bit more power whilst maintaining the rhythm and the horse’s stride. Then the horse feels confident to jump the fence.

When approaching a fence you want the horse to feel that they’re taking you into the fence, and if you feel them back off it’s important to reassure them without putting them off their stride. So don’t spurt the toothpaste otherwise they may start to doubt themselves and refuse. 

Singing A Tune

I had a challenge and a half this week, which definitely got me rummaging around my tool box for solutions.

I have a young rider who suffers from first-jump-itis. She flies through grids, and any related distances but as soon as I put a course together she falls apart.

In her first lesson this week, a bit later in the evening because of the heat, I built a course as she warmed up on the flat. Then I warmed her up over a cross pole then upright, and then started putting a couple of the lines of my course together. The jumps were well within their comfort zone and she was riding well. We had the odd dodgy jump when she was a bit restrictive with her hands (something we’ve been working on) but her lines between fences was superb. 

Once she’d jumped nearly all of them, bar a couple of island fences, I explained the course. And it went wrong. She had a stop at the first one and promptly slid out the side door. Remounted, she rode it again successfully and the rest of the course got better – it flowed more and she looked more comfortable as she went through.

I upped some of the jumps; still within her comfort zone – especially the first one and she did it again. The first jump was still an issue so once they’d ridden the course with a sticky first jump I suggested we did the course one last time, to crack the first-jump-itis. After all, she’d jumped it a few times now and I think repetition was needed to stop her overthinking it. They had a good breather and then off they went. 

And it all went wrong. The pony stopped, she fell off, then she over rode and got in front of the movement, and then her pony started anticipating and stopping even when she gave him a fair approach. Then she froze and pulled with her hands into the fence. Even lowering the jump didn’t help.

Then of course we’re in this vicious cycle where everyone gets hot and bothered. So I told them to have a walk break and moved onto another fence, and made that a little cross. They stumbled over it and I could see my rider was just in a panic.

I’ve said before, that teenagers can be tricky if there’s an external problem or if they’re a bit hormonal or whatever, it can be hard to solve a problem. Thankfully I know this rider very well, so jokingly checked there were no boy problems, or anything else she wanted to tell me. There wasn’t, so I told her to serenade me the next time she jumped. She laughed despite herself, and moaned that she wasn’t very good at singing. But just her laughter caused her to relax a bit and break the tension. 

She went again, and on the approach to the cross pole started singing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. They instantly improved, relaxing and she had the handbrake off so her pony sorted the jump out himself. I made her repeat it a couple more times, singing loudly. 

Then I made it an upright and continued with the singing approach, finding it made her breathing more even and meant my rider sat more like a passenger, which she needed to do so that she didn’t interfere with her pony’s jumping.

That went smoothly so as she landed  I told her to maintain the canter and approach the original jump. Unfortunately getting them up and running didn’t mean that they negotiated the problem jump. Usually breaking the cycle and establishing a flow helps overcome psychological refusals. But I noticed my rider stopped singing on the approach, and freezing her body.

I took the jump right down and got them singing and trotting, then cantering, over it until they’d done the original fence. The important part was that she continued singing and stayed relaxed. As soon as they’d succeeded we finished the lesson … to be continued tomorrow.

I mulled over the conundrum overnight, and the following day realised that it’s been very hot this week and the adults I teach bring their own water to lessons. Parents bring water for their kids in their lessons. I don’t take water with me unless I have multiple lessons because I just end up leaving it in arenas. But this young rider had come down to her lesson alone – Dad was poo picking (how well trained!) – so her performance was probably affected in the last third of the lesson because of thirst or heat. I had a gap in my diary just before her lesson and was feeling quite thirsty myself so headed to Costa and bought two iced fruit coolers, assuming my rider wouldn’t have a drink.

She seemed very pleased with the drink, and I think it definitely helped her having frequent slurps through the lesson. I changed the course slightly to make a three jump grid, which I kept as little crosses and got her jumping through in a relaxed and positive way to warm up. I also got her to jump the grid with one arm out to the side, just to highlight how tense her arms get on the approach, particularly when she’s worried. This also built her pony’s confidence back up.

With the grid going well I then used it as the first element on a course. This was to help her establish the rhythm and get into the zone before continuing on to the courses. I still made her sing loudly, and I was pleased to hear her doing it on her own accord. With her breathing and being more relaxed, and me reminding her to release her hands on the approach, the lines flowed a bit smoother. 

We had a couple of minor blips but overall a much more positive session. They jumped the grid then onto the course a couple of times successfully and then I called it a day. I felt it was more important to finish on a good note than to change the course in any way and ask any more questions. After all, there were a few little things for them both to go away and reflect on. 

Lessons to learn are for me to double check everyone brings water or refreshments to lessons in hot weather. To use grids the next couple of lessons to establish my rider’s rhythm and get her in the zone. To make her sing to every jump because each time she stopped singing she had a more frantic approach and not such a good take off or bascule. I’m also tempted to do some lunging without reins, and more grids without reins so that I stop her using the handbrake. Then hopefully we can break the cycle and they get back on top of their game. 

My ITT Exam

I had a blog topic all lined up for you tonight, but as I had the very exciting news in the post today that I passed my BHS Intermediate Teaching Test, which together with my Stage IV that I got a few years ago, I’m now a BHS Intermediate Instructor! Yay!! So instead tonight I’m going to bore you with the details of my exam, and my other story will just have to wait – apologies in advance!


I had a very early start to get to my exam in order to avoid the M25 at rush hour, but when I got there with plenty of time I buddied up with another girl, who seemed confident and knew what we were supposed to be doing! Off we went to the indoor schools; to walk the simulated cross country and showjumping courses. We would be teaching one of those lessons, but would only be told in the briefing at 8.15am. The cross country course looked fairly straightforward and walked well. However the showjumping had slightly dodgy striding, which would mean we’d need to adjust it during the lesson. 

Our five examiners all seemed very nice – approachable and friendly. If not slight batty. But I think that happens to everyone in the horse world at some point! They put us at ease anyway, and once all the paperwork and everything was filled out we started the exam.

First up, I had presentations and equitation theory. I think I was quite glad to get the presentations out the way because it was definitely an area that worried me. In the ITT exam you prepare nine presentations on coaching topics, and present a random one. I was given “non-rider injury prevention”. Not my favourite, but also by no means the hardest one! I had to present it to the two other ladies in my group, who got nicely involved. I think the main point of the presentations is that the examiner can see that you engage with your audience and have a discussion more than a lecture.

The equitation theory covered training horses up to elementary standard, describing how to ride various dressage movements, and how you would develop both horse and rider over fences. As well as preparing them for their first competition. All of my friends’ quizzing the week before paid off as I felt quite happy answering questions. I was cut off a couple of times, which always worries you, but I think that was because the examiner was happy with my answer and wanted another candidate to give their thoughts. Overall, I left that section feeling nicely focused and confident, which I think made me feel better for the flat private lesson, which was next!

Two candidates took this unit of the exam simultaneously, so there were two horses ready for us. One, I recognised from my training day as being the quirky one who changed canter lead behind every half dozen strides. To my relief, I had the slightly daunting Spanish horse complete in double bridle … there’s a post somewhere already about that. Here it is!

Anyway, I felt I got a good rapport with the rider and made some tweaks to both horse and rider. I managed to answer the examiner’s questions after and she seemed happy enough so I felt that went alright. I also felt quite confident that this rider would give positive and fair feedback to the examiner.

My next stop was the private jump lesson, and I was in the showjumping arena. My rider was an ex-eventer but had never ridden this riding school horse before. I announced to the examiner that as they were an unknown combination I’d treat it as an assessment lesson so they could develop a relationship. So I lowered the fences a bit below standard. They warmed up and the horse was very honest and straightforward. Just crooked, and drifted left all the time. It was also stuffy so I shortened all the distances to build it’s confidence, and we put together the course in stages. There was a dog leg to the right, and we had a couple of problems with the horse drifting to the left and around the style. So I explained to my rider how to adjust her line so that she had as many straight strides as possible before the style. Then they flew it and the rest of the course no problem. When I spoke to the examiner afterwards I said I wouldn’t take them much over 80cm until the straightness and suppleness issues were sorted, which the examiner said she agreed wholeheartedly with. I felt this lesson went well generally, but I was slightly worried that I hadn’t jumped big enough. But then I’d provided a reason so that was the best I could do really.

After a really long lunch break because of the timetabling, I had business management. Again, I felt that went reasonably well and I answered all the questions; including the bonus one that DEFRA can randomly inspect yards to see if all horses have passports and if they haven’t you can be fined up to £1000 per horse – ouch! Some of these questions were a bit of common sense and some purely educated guesses so fingers crossed!

Then I had to teach a group of riders on the flat – thank god I didn’t need to test my grid distances because these riding school horses would struggle with competition distances and it would have upset my frame of mind. I had three riders and two stuffy horses, and one which didn’t bend. After watching them warm up I introduced a four loop serpentine (the arena was 70m long!) which would benefit all the horse’s suppleness and then I put in transitions to help those that were behind the leg. Then we did trot-canter-trot transitions to help improve the quality of the canter. Everyone seemed to improve and the riders gave me good feedback, which I hoped they’d reiterate to the examiner.

Finally, I had to do a lunge lesson. I felt fairly well prepared for this, but when I arrived I saw a rather dour looking woman. And I was reminded of the conversation over lunch … “I had X to teach. She wasn’t very helpful. She didn’t listen to anything I said.” 

I knew it was the same lady, so felt a bit put off. And I was also feeling a little tired by then, so I made a couple of mistakes – forgetting to undo the reins until the last minute as she was mounting, and not encouraging her to hold on to the saddle in her very bouncy trot without stirrups. So I came away slightly frustrated, but at least I thought I had raised a smile and she had complied with my instructions so hopefully she would give the examiner fair feedback. 

Thankfully I missed the rush hour back to get home in time for Pilates, and since then I’ve been reflecting and dissecting the whole day until today’s post! 

Along with my certificates I had feedback from the lessons, which is really great. The examiners all said I managed the lessons safely, improved the riders, developed a rapport, had good structure to my lessons, used open questions to engage my riders, and gave relevant technical knowledge – I’m so pleased!

So now I’ve bored you all to tears about my ITT exam, I’ll finish my glass of wine and make a start on the very large box of chocolates my long suffering husband bought home with some flowers. 

Solving The Myth of Washing Down Horses

Whilst the UK is in the midst of a heatwave, a discussion is going on about the best ways to cool horses down. Usually we don’t have this problem and almost any method is sufficient.

It makes me wonder how equestrians cope in hot climates. Would any readers from those countries care to enlighten me? I think I was told when I was in Dubai that the polo horses had air conditioned stables and were exercised very early in the morning. Horses from those climates also tend to be fine coated and thin skinned, unlike our hairy natives who are all struggling as the thermometer nudges thirty degrees Celsius.

Some people advocate hosing and scraping, others say to hose and let evaporation do the cooling down.

In fact, the best answer is to do a bit of both. Imagine you are standing next to a very sweaty horse. Quickly run the hose over him. Touch his side; the water is warm isn’t it?

Now comes the pseudo science part. By which I just mean I’m haphazarding a guess at the science but. Heat from the horse’s body transfers immediately to the water, so the water becomes the same temperature as the horse. The water then acts like an insulator (although scientists will say that water isn’t a particularly good insulator, some would say it’s enough of one in this case) so preventing the horse’s body from losing any more heat. At this point the horse can’t cool down until the water has evaporated.

Now, scrape the excess water off the horse and hose him again. Keep removing the warmed water until the water runs off cool. Now the horse’s surface temperature is returning to normal, but he still needs to continue cooling down. This happens when the cooler blood leaves the skin and goes to the hot muscles, so removing some heat from there.

It’s at this point that leaving cool water on the body to evaporate, mimicking the sweating process, is effective.
I found this explanation of why sweating cools you down:

Beads of sweat on your skin are in liquid form. When the water temperature rises, the molecules become more active and gain energy. When a molecule gains enough energy, it can break free from the bonds that hold the liquid together and transform into water vapor. This is evaporation. As the molecule evaporates, its energy — or heat — is removed from the sweat that remains on your body. This loss of energy cools the surface of your skin.

In the same way, water and sweat evaporating from the horse’s skin will cool them down. 

A friend told me that endurance riders advocate washing and scraping until the water runs cool off their backs and then leave the rest to evaporate. Which makes me feel better in my hosing the horses until the water feels cool against my hand, then scraping off excess and then turning them out to roll and dry out naturally. 


I found the following article about the cooling process followed at the Beijing Olympics – Read it here – which makes the valid point that if you continue to apply water to the horse’s body then warmed water will be displaced so cold water is always next to the skin and heat will displace to the water. So scraping excess water away can be replaced by just continuous hosing. This article also points out that to maximise the cooling effect of washing down it’s important to cover as much of their body as possible to increase the area that is being cooled, so don’t just wash the sweaty shoulders, wash all the neck and hindquarters too. 

A Neurectomy

A neurectomy, or de-nerving operation, was offered to Otis a few months ago. Since then, it has been on my list of blog subjects, but has never made it to the top. But now here it is.

Neurectomies are sensitive subjects for a number of reasons. The procedure involves severing the problematic nerve leaving the horse pain free. This sounds great, but it`s solving the symptom of the problem, and not the root cause. I remember learning about different psychological treatments in psychology A-level and there was always a big debate about which methods simply covered up the problem and which got to the root cause. Similarly, with physical problems there are true symptoms, such as a broken leg, but also additional symptoms caused by walking with a limp, If you only solve the additional symptoms they`re just going to reoccur because the leg is still broken.

I`m going off on a tangent. Neurectomies are most commonly performed on horses suffering from navicular.

To me, a neurectomy is just stopping the horse feeling pain in the foot, and if they can`t feel the pain will continue to walk or use the limb incorrectly, which will cause problems in other areas of their body. Which will surely cause soundness issues down the line.

Horses can usually return to their normal workload after the surgery… but is it ethical to keep working a horse who has a numb foot? And like I said earlier, if they can`t feel that foot are they more likely to injure it by knocking it against jumps or in the field, and what other strains does it put on their body? I think it`s different if you are going to retire them, and just want them to live out their days pain free.

Onto the cons … although surgery has a higher success rate now due to technological and scientific advances, the nerve will regrow within a couple of years, leaving you in exactly the same position as before. And you can`t repeat the procedure.

Careful management and shoeing routines are needed to prevent further problems as the horse can`t feel his leg, so if he has a foot imbalance it will stress other connective tissue within the hoof capsule. Also, with a de-nerved foot they cannot feel the pain of a foot abscess, which could lead to you not treating it in time and them getting a bone infection.

Neurectomies aren`t traceable, which means that if the horse changes hands their new vet will not be able to identify that they’ve had this procedure, which can lead to mismanagement, or competing illegally.

This procedure seems complicated and has numerous potential complications, with varying success rates. I found an article in Dressage Today that explained it in a fairly non-biased way – check it out here.

I also found a video – watch it here – which was interesting, and augmented my view that it is a last-ditch resort.

In my personal view, I`d want to try every other viable option before a neurectomy because I don’t think it`s fair to expect a horse to be an athlete without the feeling in his foot, and the risk of complications or it being unsuccessful are a heavy weight to balance.

IMG_2509.JPG

 

 

Hydrotherapy

Last month I did some practice teaching at a yard which is also a rehab yard, and they have a water treadmill. The seed was sown, but I didn`t get any further than thinking it would be interesting to see a horse using the treadmill. Then a couple of weeks ago, a friend told me that she had been with another friend to use one at a new rehab centre, very locally to us. The types of horses the treadmill helps sounded similar to Otis, so she thought she`d share the knowledge with me.

As this rehab centre was a lot closer to me, and they had an introduction offer, I thought it would be interesting to take Otis along. It wouldn`t do him any harm, and it would be very interesting from my point of view. So I gave them a ring and booked him in.

I was telling my physio guru about the water treadmill, and she thought it was an excellent idea. She also told me that there had been a study that showed no difference between the effects of the treadmill between horses who travelled to use it, and those who were on a rehab livery programme. i.e. travelling to and from hydrotherapy didn`t reduce its positive effect. Which, to be honest, hadn`t even crossed my mind. But always good to know.

IMG_1982

Otis travelled as well as ever, and waited patiently whilst I filled out the relevant forms. Then he was introduced to the treadmill.

IMG_1983IMG_1985IMG_1986IMG_1988

Always the sceptic, and possibly because I was behind him, not leading him towards it, Otis had a good look at the strange contraption. However, as with most males, the way to his heart is through his stomach so a few pony nuts did the trick. I was really impressed with the quiet, patient approach. Otis was given as much time as he needed to take in the machine. Once he had stepped onto it, he was walked straight through the tunnel and around to go onto it again. The second time he was much more confident, and walked straight on.

This time, because he stood quite contentedly on the treadmill, the front door was shut. And then the back door.

I think by then Otis was more interested in delving into the lady`s pocket. He was effectively cross tied, with me holding a rope on his right, and an assistant holding the rope to his left. This is to help keep him straight because apparently a lot of horses practically bounce from wall to wall the first time they use the treadmill.

The treadmill was turned on, and with a look of surprise Otis started walking. It moved at quite a pace so it took him a few minutes to find his rhythm and to stay in sync with it. But the nice thing was, there was no rush. The treadmill was noisy, but everyone was calm and reassuring him.

IMG_1997

There were two cameras to look at; one was above Otis, so you could see how straight he was walking, and see if there was any asymmetry in his back movement. The second was at hoof-level, and showed his stride pattern – the length and cadence. While he was getting into the swing of it, I had a good look at both cameras.

Next, the water was gradually let in. He didn`t change his pace and didn’t seem overly worried about the splashing around. The water rose until it was just above his fetlocks. I think you can adjust the depth of the water according to horse fitness as deeper water creates more drag so means they have to work harder. A couple of times Otis slacked off a bit, and ended up closer to the back of the treadmill, but a little encouragement and he caught up again.

IMG_2005IMG_2008

Watching the cameras now, I could see his stride had gotten longer and he was flexing his joints more to lift his legs higher out of the water. The water splashing on his belly also caused him to use his abdominal muscles too.

Water treadmills are increasingly popular with horses on rehab programmes because it allows you to increase their workload without stressing their joints or jarring their limbs.

I`m not sure how long Otis was walking in water for, probably about fifteen minutes. When it came to finishing, the water was drained out and the treadmill slowed until it stopped. After some treats for Otis, the front door was opened and he was led out. You could see his walk had improved already, and he almost looked a little run up from where he had been using his abdominals – a bit like me after a Pilates class!

His legs were washed off with the hose and then disinfectant sprayed over his legs. Just as a preventative measure as other horses use the treadmill. Of course, Otis stood perfectly still while he was being washed … none of the dancing around that he does with me!

IMG_2013

I haven`t booked to take him back yet as we`re having a hiccough with his rehab … I`ll tell you more when I’m emotionally strong enough. But once he`s back on track I will definitely be booking him in for some more as you could see an immediate benefit. Plus, I was eyeing up the vibrating weighbridge-looking thingy which is supposed to be good for healing collateral ligament damage.

Here is a video of Otis on the treadmill

My Introduction To Parelli

Some people advocate Parelli, others resent it. It’s had good press, it’s had bad press. Whatever. Each to their own. I’m not going to go into depth here – do some reading and develop your own opinion.

Anyway, I’ve never really had anything to do with Parelli, nor have I had a need to try it with my horses.  But when I went to do a practice lunge lesson with a riding club member last week I was horrified, embarrassed, whatever you want to say, that I couldn’t get the horse to lunge when I warmed her up.

“Oh, she’s Parelli trained” announced her owner as an explanation. That still didn’t help me, so she gave me a quick lesson on lunging the Parelli way.

Firstly, she explained that my belly button should be pointing in the direction I want the horse to go. So to send a horse forwards, turn to look (and point your belly button) in that direction. When you face the horse, they think you are wanting them to reverse. Which was the problem I was having. 

You can also fling your rein arm in the direction you want them to go, thus giving a clearer instruction. Once I’d got the hang of this then it did make a bit of sense and the mare responded well.

To slow a horse the Parelli way, you either put the whip out in front of their body, or waggle the lunge line. I found this part trickier, until I accidentally said the word “Good” at which point the mare stopped dead! Apparently that’s a cue word for the end of the session and tit bit time.

Parelli people also don’t use many words, as this lady told me. They expect to say go, and then say nothing until they want the horse to do something different. Which when we’re riding is something we should aim for so our aids remain subtle and clear, but most of us use a dialogue when lunging to either settle the horse, or to regulate their gait. 

The whip is also often used instead of the voice to get a horse to move off. Smack it on the ground behind the horse twice, and they should move forwards until told otherwise. This is more to do with the obedience aspect of Parelli, so apart from being told about it I didn’t use this technique.

Regardless of my views on Parelli, it was actually an interesting learning experience because it means I have another trick up my sleeve if I ever come across a horse who “won’t” lunge – I may just be talking the wrong language to them.