Booking Arena Time

I teach at numerous yards, and right from the beginning of my self employed career I decided that my clients needed to be responsible for ensuring that we had somewhere to ride as I didn’t want to have to liaise with half a dozen yard managers. 

It’s been interesting to observe different yard rules, and how they try to ensure liveries are kept happy.

One yard has a white board where liveries write their name in the time slots to book the arena out. This means that others can check if they can ride in the arena or not. I have heard of people rubbing others off the board at other yards, but I think this reflects badly on the people, not the system.

Another yard has the rule “no lessons between 4 and 7 on weekdays”. Now this leads to antisocial teaching hours for instructors, but when I thought about it, many people now work weekends and shift work, so they can organise lessons during the day in the week. It is a sensible rule for a yard of adults with limited arena space as it means everyone can exercise their horses after work.

Other yards just seem to muddle along, with the person having the lesson sharing the arena, yet having priority. This is usually pretty straightforward for an instructor to adapt their lesson content, but it does require sensible riders who are aware of the rules of the school. Flat lessons are more easily adapted to a shared arena.

Then of course is the case of paying for hiring the arena. For some yards livery bills are broken down into “stable/grass livery” and “arena use” which means that retired or happy hackers save £50 a month. Others include arena use in the standard fee. Then some yards charge extra to hire the arena for a lesson, whilst others feel that you’ve already paid to use the arena in your monthly bill.

I still haven’t worked out the best approach to booking out arenas but I do know that ….

A) everyone wants to know if there has been a booking so they don’t plan to ride at 2pm only to find the arena is full.

B) if there is an extra charge for hiring out the arena then people want to feel that they have the space to themselves and all the facilities, such as jumps, are available for use.

C) liveries who don’t have lessons  still want to opportunity to ride at peak times and not feel like second class citizens.

I think if I had my own yard I would ensure I had a large enough arena, or two, that if someone is having a lesson there is space for others to ride too. Then I would look into limiting or ignoring lessons at peak times; it would depend on my audience as to the exact times, and of course my facilities, but I think this is really helpful in keeping liveries happy. After all, they ride for pleasure and to take away the blues so making riding difficult means liveries become grumpy and stressed. 

I think dividing a livery bill up into components is really useful too as you can ensure that it is fair, and people can choose the exact package they want, with no grey areas. Then of course I wouldn’t charge extra to book the arena if they are already paying to use the arena.

I’d really like to know other yard policies and how liveries feel they work, or don’t work if that’s they case!

Clipping Season

I was talking to a client earlier this week and we were discussing clipping, and the joys of getting the lines even and symmetrical. I spend ages trying to get the lines level, and ensuring that when you look from the front and behind the horse looks symmetrical. Once I feel happy with the lines I have to remind myself not to look too closely as I will over analyse every single curve or angle.

The clip I dread doing is the chaser clip. You can look from one side and it looks brilliant; smooth and flattering to the horse`s conformation. The other side looks just as good. And then you climb aboard. And shock horror! The right side is significantly higher than the left!

It happened once to me after I`d clipped and hogged a riding school horse. The next time I rode him I nearly died in horror when I saw the difference in the curves of each line of his side, accentuated by the hogged mane.

Either I refused to ride him until the clip had grown out, or I insisted on clipping him again sharpish.

Now I try to check any horses I clip by standing above them to check the view from the rider`s perspective.

The client I was talking to about this clipping then went on to say how she could just about pull manes. Another topic that I have several stories about!

The first, which I told her at the time, was when my teenage friend began pulling her pony`s mane yet only got the first couple of inches done before she went on holiday. She left her friend with instructions to continue pulling the mane until it was four inches long – about half it`s initial length. This friend continued from the bottom of the neck up, towards the poll. Unfortunately, by the time she got to the poll the mane was only one and a half inches long! So this friend called in the help of another friend, who did an emergency repair job.

I don`t think the owner of the pony was very impressed when she returned from her holidays to find her pony sporting a Mohican!

The other story that is usually brushed under the mat involves me.

My Mum always used to trim the wispy pieces at the base of my pony`s mane with scissors. Which one day, I decided to do too. However, I always wanted to be a hairdresser and had previous convictions of cutting my brother`s fringe and my own hair, so I got carried away and cut my pony`s mane into a beautifully ruler-straight line.

With great panic, I and my little friend called one of the older girls on the yard and begged her for help. With great skill, she managed to soften the edge, but it still didn`t look like it had been pulled properly.

A week or so later I was leading my pony in from the field and my instructor said to me “Partner`s mane looks very straight.”

“I used a solo comb.” I parroted, the line fed to me by my saviour mane-tidying-upper friend!

Blind Canines

No, not guide dogs for the blind, nor  poor sighted dogs in need of a human guide, I’m talking about canine teeth. In particular, the canine teeth of a horse.

A horse’s canine teeth are supposedly a throwback to when they were carnivores, or another theory is that they were fighting teeth, but now only males  tend to have them – I guess their development is linked to testosterone or other hormone levels. They erupt when geldings or stallions are between four and five years old.

I’ve noticed that this year plaque has started developing on Otis’s canine teeth, and apparently that’s usual from the age of eight or nine, so they just need cleaning regularly.

Back to the blind part of canines.

One of my clients had the dentist to her pony last week, and the dentist told her that the mare has blind canines. That is, she has unerupted canine teeth sitting just below the gum, causing it to be sore and bruised. The right one is much more prominent so the dentist recommended trying a thinner bit. Someone I saw today also suggested lifting the bit in the pony’s mouth so that it is less likely to bang against the blind canines when the reins are given and retaken.

The dentist also had a couple of interesting facts to say about blind canines. Apparently mares who have canines are subject to higher levels of testosterone in the womb. They also tend to be a more balanced nature and more talented.

Whilst I can’t talk about testosterone levels in the womb, I can say that this little mare has a very gelding-like personality. And yes, she is also talented when she puts her mind to it!

I also learnt today that canines can take longer to appear in mares, so it is worth monitoring the mare’s  mouth closely until she is eight or so for any changes to the canines.

It’s always so interesting to see horses with against the normal physiology, and it’s interesting to see how their working life can be affected and how moderations to tack and equipment can help solve the problem.

First Rides

Over the weekend I took my (nearly) niece for her first riding lesson. Well, not so much of a lesson but an introduction to ponies as she’s only two and a half years old.

I asked a friend if I could borrow her Shetland, and with a bit of encouragement, my niece patted and helped brush the hairy pony. I think initially she was overawed, but she soon cheered up when she saw the funky “princess” hat that she got to wear. I think the fact it was pink leant itself to being a hat suitable for a princess. Which complimented my niece’s new Frozen wellies, which she refused to get wet by walking around the yard!

She chatted away to me while I tacked the Shetland up – I don’t think I will ever get used to handling something so low to the ground! And then we went into the school to get on and walk around. She was a bit scared of the movement at first, and held on tightly, but soon I managed to get her to just hold the reins loosely.

We also had a couple of short, very bouncy trots, to which she giggled mercilessly to. Then we went for a little walk around the village.

I thought it was a great sign that she didn’t want to get off at the end! But we persuaded her that she had other jobs to do, like brush her pony and feed him an apple. This time she was much more confident around the pony, who seemed to thoroughly enjoy the attention.

This “experience” is to me what should happen to all young children when they go for riding lessons. So often parents expect instructors to teach their pre-schooler, who’s fingers are so tiny they can’t grasp the reins, and they have little understanding of  daily conversation, let alone adding in the weird and wonderful compendium of equine terminology. I think it’s best to get kids interacting with the pony, finding their balance in the saddle, and the just enjoying the rhythm and noise their pony makes.

Of course, some children are immersed in horses as soon as they come out of the womb and teaching them can be much easier – one friend I have has a two year old who can do an excellent, BHS worthy demonstration of the correct mounting procedure. But she watches Mummy daily, and rides most days. For these kids learning to ride is like learning to walk. For others, they need to learn at their own pace, and take in little nuggets of information, piece by piece. You can’t compare their progress, neither can you compare their academic progress as it is so heavily influenced by their development – cognitive, physical and social.

Which brings me on to the question; should riding schools offer riding lessons to under fives? Would they not be better off offering “pony experiences” for little ones to pat, cuddle and brush their pony before riding for fifteen minutes, and then having more pony cuddles? After all, I think my niece left the stables on Saturday confident and happy around ponies, with an interest in visiting again.




The Rubber Curry Comb is two years old today! In celebration, here is the first blog post that I wrote.

Originally posted on The Rubber Curry Comb:

Welcome Readers!

I would assume from the fact that you have found this blog that you are a horsey person, aka an equine specialist, or a horse owner, or even someone in the equine industry. If you are the former, I appreciate any technical knowledge, if you are the middle, then I hope to entertain you, and if you are the latter then feel free to share your similar experiences or thoughts.

I`ve been contemplating a blog for a while, but decided to go for it today after the last couple of busy days. I have so many stories and experiences, that people can learn by, and laugh at. Some gems are too good to forget about!!

My favourite story at the moment is the one about Dazzle, a cheeky cob whom I regularly teach with. At 14.2hh he has the personality of a 16.2! He is the king of…

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Improving Canter Transitions

I had a very rewarding morning with Llani today. I’ve done a lot of work both on and off the lunge on his canter transitions.

When I started working with him he used to do this funny jump into canter. His hindquarters are very powerful and pushed him into canter, yet his front end often didn’t go anywhere, so it was almost like sitting on a pogo stick.

Initially I did a lot of work on keeping the rein contact very light, almost non existent, in the transitions and he really improved, travelling forwards into the canter. This was a great improvement, so o focuses on other areas of his work for a while.

However, his trot work has stepped up to the next level, with him much more consistent to the contact and working over his back, and soft in the neck. However, Llani started finding the canter transitions difficult again, and reverted to his pogo stick imitation. I think the improved balance and trot work meant it was difficult for him to engage the correct muscles for a good upwards transitions. When I allowed the trot to revert to it’s old self he managed the transitions fine.

So I began focusing on the transitions on the lunge using side reins.

Today really showed how everything is coming together. I took him into the school and he gave me a cheeky look before trotting off onto the left rein. He came back to walk after a few strides, and I knew that he was trying to make a game out of “which way around the circle will I go?” He began trotting actively immediately, tracking up, and in a steady rhythm.  As with most horses the first couple of minutes can be spent focusing him on work, not doing as many circles as possible in the first two minutes. 

Anyway, I clipped the side reins up, which are fairly loose to encourage him to take the contact forwards, and not to restrict his head and neck. Then I worked on his trot on different sized circles, using a bit of leg yield as he stepped out onto a bigger circle to engage his inside hind leg. He was really focused on me,and not looking for any distractions from the yard, and from the ten metre circle he was on I asked for canter. He struck off correctly, uphill and moving forwards towards the contact into a really balanced canter. I let him come back to trot after half a circle and sent him out onto a bigger circle so he could rebalance. I brought him in again to repeat the exercise as he can be a bit inconsistent with the transitions and practice makes perfect. He cantered beautifully, this time maintaining his canter for longer as I asked him to move out onto the bigger circle. After a couple more transitions, all of which were very correct I worked his trot again, which hadn’t deteriorated between canters, and then brought him in to change the rein.

I gave him a big fuss and then sent him out onto the right rein, which is slightly weaker. Funnily enough, it used to be his left rein that was weaker! I spent a bit longer in trot getting the correct bend and engaging his right hind leg, getting him to soften over his back, before practising the canter transitions on the right rein. This is the rein that he is more likely to do a pogo stick impression on, and the first one was a little bit up and down, and not so forwards, but after a short canter I brought him back to rebalance his trot. The second transition was much better!  He was relaxed and stepped forwards to  the contact, looking a bit more free through his shoulders. I think previously he has been ridden with a very short rein and not been allowed to move through his shoulder. After a few transitions on this rein I let him trot to finish, before letting him walk around on a long rein to encourage him to stretch forwards towards the ground, another alien concept to him.

I was really pleased with his performance today as he was very focused on me, and really tried to do exactly as I asked. Hopefully I can build on this next time I ride him.


Jumping Out of Walk

When I was an apprentice one of my lessons with Otis consisted of jumping from walk.

At first we all looked at each other in confusion. How on earth can you jump in walk? And why bother?

Anyway, I remember at the time being surprised at how effective it was in improving the bascule, that I stored it in my lesson library. I checked it out once in a livery lesson and we had some giggles but the following day one of the mares catapulted her rider into outer space as he walked had over a large branch and she thought she’d better jump it!

So the exercise has been on the back burner for a while, but I did subject Llani to it, much to his horror.

Anyway, I decided it was time for one of the cheeky ponies to learn how to jump from walk earlier this week.

The mare is cheeky and has been a bit difficult on the flat recently – ignoring aids and daydreaming – but we had a breakthrough this week with her rider being more receptive to the clues that happen before a misendevour , such as the ear flick or the drop behind the bridle, and acting upon it. We also looked at the pony keeping the rein contact yet still trotting forwards and not jamming on the brakes.

So our next lesson I decided would be fun, and we did some trotting poles to a single pole on the floor to practise transitions between trot and canter, and not letting the pony fall onto the forehand. Surpringly tricky, it took a few attempts to master it, but it really helped focus the pony.

Then I made a small cross pole and asked my rider to approach in a bouncy, active walk, then just before the jump she needed to kick to encourage her pony to jump, not trundle over the cross.

The pony leapt about three foot! She rounded her back and tucked all her legs underneath her. My rider rode positively away from the fence and we repeated the exercise with an upright until the mare was more consistent in her technique. She was soon jogging into the approach however, so we moved onto putting everything into practice over a normal sized jump.

With the bigger jump my rider found she could create a better trot and canter on the approach, with the pony less on the forehand than she’s been previously. The jump came from the canter rhythm, and the pony didn’t chip in as she likes to do – we have been working on that recently. I also felt the two were looking more together than they have done previously, and the pony had a more correct technique. She always picks up well in front, but she can be lazy behind.

I also find this exercise is really useful for improving the walk, as the horses tend to get a bit more energetic and start swinging with their hindquarters. 


During  the summer a friend told me about an equestrian Pilates class she goes to. I’ve often thought I should try it as it’s supposed to be really good for riders. I got as far as asking for the DVD for Christmas last year but after a couple of tries in the living room feeling like a complete idiot and not really understanding how my leg is supposed to move there, I gave up.

Anyway, with the knowledge that this class was aimed at the horsey, and we all know how ungainly we can be without our horse holding us together, I signed myself up.

The lady who runs the classes was very friendly and gave me a quick low down before the class started so that I knew what the neutral position was and how to engage my core.

It would appear that I already know how to put my pelvis in neutral – so I did learn something from the DVD – and it stays there most of the time. The part I’m not so keen on is when we have to close our eyes to find out where the weight is in our body – whether we’re using one leg more or balancing on our heels more than the toe …

I understand the principle of removing vision as a sense for uprightness, but I hate closing my eyes in front of people. I feel like an idiot and worry someone is going to prank me …

I was surprised in the first session how taxing I found the exercises and the following day I definitely had an ache in my tummy from riding. And no, it wasn’t hunger pangs.

Anyway, over the last month I’ve found the exercises have gotten easier and I’m definitely more aware of asymmetry in my limb coordination and strength and my flexibility has improved. I’m yet to be able to place my hands flat on the floor with my legs straight like my Dad can, but the muscles in my neck and shoulders aren’t becoming as tight and tense.

In terms of my riding I think my posture has improved, but it’s quite hard to say really. I’ll have to have some photos taken so I can compare.

I’m going to keep going to Pilates as it’s also quite a nice way to relax in the evening – once you’ve rushed there of course – and I’d definitely recommend going if you have any aches and pains or want a gentle form of exercise, especially as there’s someone on hand to correct your technique. Or prod your bum to make sure you aren’t using your gluteals instead of your hamstring. Just be warned, some Grannies will show you up! And obviously there’s the social side of things, although I’m yet to say more than “hello” as I scuttle in to unroll my mat as the clock chimes eight o’clock.