Believe in Yourself

Today’s post is a bit late, I’m sorry, but I didn’t get home until nine o’clock and then I needed to eat dinner and replenish my energy levels with the left overs of a giant yummy homemade cheesecake, in a too-small bowl as the washing up fairy hadn’t been…

Recently I’ve been very frustrated with my riding and general performance at competitions.

Dressage always used to be mine and Otis’s strong point, but this season I’ve had very average scores which has led me to be frustrated for a number of reasons.

  1. I know I can ride better that this.
  2. I know Otis can work better than this.
  3. I’m riding other people’s horses better than my own.
  4. Other people are riding Otis better than I am.
  5. What am I missing to get the higher marks?

I get intimidated quite easily in life, and usually compare myself to others and then feel rubbish in comparison. I can usually keep this under control, but combine it with the tension and angst I feel because dressage is letting us down, and it comes back with a vengeance. 

I think I’m riding clients horses better because I don’t feel any competition pressure, but that doesn’t solve my problems with Otis.

So I decided to do something about it; either take a break from competing or get some serious help. After a couple of dressage lessons which made me feel like I’d started to go backwards even more I enlisted the help of a friend.

After a couple of sessions which positively focused on my weaknesses and left me with plenty to think about and everything started to slot back into place again.

So I’ve been totally focused on my riding this week; practising at every opportunity and being completely focused on this weekend’s ODE dressage test. Things have been going better with Otis, and I felt a bit more confident.

Then on Thursday I received a compliment. People always tell you to remember any compliments you receive and forget about the bad –  easier said than done!

Anyway, I was jumping a friends very green young horse in only his second proper jumping session. We worked through a related distance and although he wobbled between the fences he negotiated them well. I just had to stick close to my line between the fences. A livery at this yard, who happens to have represented her country in the 1994 Olympics was watching, and said “well done, you’re making a good of a very green horse.”

High praise indeed. Without being big headed, this was just what I needed. As I reflected on my ride I realised that I should believe in myself a bit more. That young horse wasn’t the easiest as he’s a bit small for me, wobbles towards the fences, and finds it hard to maintain the rhythm on both the approach and after the fence.

Things were looking up, but I was still really nervous about the weekend. I like competing anonymously, i.e. Not against friends. I think it goes back to my whole insecurity thing. A few girls were going to the same competition and I felt like I could be under scrutiny. However, remembering my compliment from earlier in the week and my new found confidence with Otis on the flat, I became determined.

So today dawned muggy and cloudy, with the threat of rain. I enjoyed my lie in as I wasn’t on until the afternoon. It drizzled whilst I warmed up for the dressage, but I found myself in my own bubble, totally focused on Otis and myself. It was intense, but I was relaxed too. We went in and when the horn went I began.

It felt good. It felt more than good, it felt great. Otis was relaxed, to a consistent contact, very rhythmical, and I found my position improved because I was just riding what I was feeling, not over thinking things. Looking back at the video there is room for improvement – deeper corners, rounder transition into walk, etc. but overall I was thrilled with his test. I hoped the marks would reflect this, and they did. 28.3 penalties, with 8s for my centre lines, and nothing below a seven. Comments were that Otis was a lovely, honest horse who needs to be slightly more supple on each rein. I was over the moon! I felt like I was back on track.

Unfortunately the showjumping was running very late, and the ground was beginning to get churned up. Otis warmed up well and jumped nicely until the final fence, where he took a hold towards home, got on the forehand and got too close. We frequently have a pole down so it doesn’t bother me particularly, but I did feel his technique was cleaner and the only reason this one went wrong was because we had a disagreement about the approach! It wasn’t ideal conditions but he jumped well.

With the cross country running even later, I was first out on course. Otis is always sticky over the first couple, but he felt fantastic. He negotiated the complexes easily, followed my lines to cut the corners and save time, leapt everything, and only came home without a shoe. We had a couple of time penalties, but galloping isn’t his strong point and with last week’s poor weather I hadn’t done much fast work. We’re getting closer to the optimum time though, and when he’s more confident over the 100cm fences he won’t slow on the approach as much, and jump out of his gallop more. This comes with practice though, and the fact he felt so confident around it was enough for me.

We finished fifth, which was great. However, we were a showjumping pole away from winning! Frustrating, but at the same time satisfying that we’re so close after the rubbish way that I’ve been riding and feeling recently! Today has also made me remember how lucky I am to have such an amazing horse who tries to please all the time!

Onwards and upwards, I now can’t wait until our next event in a couple of weeks. 

Just remember everyone, that believing in yourself is paramount.


In Hand Work

A fairly new friend, who has had a lot of dressage training both in the UK and Germany,  does a lot of in hand work with her horses.

One day I watched, couldn’t make head or tail of it, but realised it would be useful to learn and to try to do it with mine. So I asked for some lessons on in hand work with Otis.

Otis is amenable, but when I tried after a lunge one day he just looked at me as though I was mad. We needed someone who knew what they were doing to teach him and then teach me.

My friend started by lunging Otis in walk and trot to warm him up and so that she could assess him. She used side reins, which I haven’t used much with him. When I tried them when he was younger I found he did a giraffe impression to avoid them so I turned to the Pessoa. Now, I can see that lunging in side reins will be really useful for encouraging him to take the contact consistently, which is a big problem for us.

After the warm up my friend stood Otis in the centre of the school and asked him for turn on the forehand. She used the handle end to push where the inside leg would go and the lunge line through the bit prevented any forwards movement. Otis obliged happily, after all it’s familiar from when we shut the field gates when bringing him in.

After turn on the forehand in both directions, he was led up the long side of the school and leg yielded towards the fence. Tapping the lunge line against his inside hind cannon bone caused him to kick out at it initially, but he soon leg yielded.

He was given lots of short breaks and pats, and soon walked shoulder in and leg yield easily on both reins.

The next day I had a play! I began with Llani, which probably wasn’t my best idea as I was still fumbling around and he was clueless. Anyway, we’ve done it a few times now and Llani prefers the schooling whip instead of the lunge whip – when I used the lunge whip he did beautiful turn on the forehand instead of leg yield as he tried to run away from the red snake! Llani finds shoulder in quite easy, but the leg yield is taking its time coming.

However, after doing turn on the forehand in hand he has now mastered it under saddle.

A couple of days ago I came across the following article – Here it is!

Which mentioned rein back and square halts. So guess what Llani learnt after being lunged this week?

He reined back beautifully in hand, but struggled when I tried when I rode the next day, so I hopped off and did it from the floor before getting on and doing it instantly. I could have done with having someone on the ground to help link rein back in hand to rein back under saddle. 

What I’ve learnt, doing all these ground work exercises with both horses is that Otis is far more sensitive and responsive -a mere touch of the whip will send him over or back. Llani meanwhile, can be over dramatic in his response, but it takes four or five hard taps with the stick to get that response. When I asked him to stand square I was tapping the resting hind leg for about three minutes before he lifted it up angrily and stamped it back down in a square halt. He’s almost like a stroppy teenager, who ignores his parents before huffing and puffing at them as he does as he’s told! 

It’s quite fun doing a bit of ground work, so I might look at getting a book to give me more hints and tips, but it adds variety to their work as well as allowing you to see any lateral movement from the ground. So next time you lunge, have a go at getting a square halt and turn on the forehand!

Turn On The Forehand

I’ve recently been re-enlightened in the uses of turn on the forehand.

I remember teaching it to our ponies as kids, but we were more interested in the fact we could then open gates within seconds using it, than for any other reasons.

Then I remember reading a disparaging article that said turn on the forehand encourages the horse onto his forehand so shouldn’t be used that often. It’s also never used in British Dressage dressage tests, which I think makes a lot of people forget about it.

Anyway, I’ve not used turn on the forehand much in my riding, leaving it for gate-opening duties, and when I’m looking for something different to do today.

Last week a friend of mine came over to teach me and Otis some in hand work – blog coming up on this soon! After lunging him for a couple of minutes she brought him in and got him to do turn on the forehand. 

Then the penny dropped. Turn on the forehand is a really good exercise for stretching and warming up the lateral muscles in the hindquarters, and for teaching the horse to cross his hind legs, as he would in leg yield.

I can’t believe I was stupid enough to not connect turn on the forehand with other lateral work.

Of course, now my brain is functioning I realised that the exercise I did a couple of weeks ago in my lesson is basically a glorified turn around the forehand, encouraging the inside hind to step underneath the horse – You can read about it here.

Both exercises work on the muscles needed for lateral work, but used at different times in a horse’s training and exercise routine.

For those who can’t remember this movement, I should clarify that turn on the forehand is ridden from halt, and the hind quarters execute a circle around the inside front leg, which pivots without lifting up – most useful when opening gates. A turn about the forehand is most often used for dressage training and is when the front legs walk in the correct walk rhythm, but on a very small circle, whilst the hind legs scribe a bigger circle.

The two get interchanged a lot, so it’s worth making sure that you can differentiate between them. Currently Llani has just learnt to pivot on his inside front leg, but he is sidestepping nicely with the hind legs so his lateral work is improving.

To ride a turn on/about the forehand you want to establish a good walk and then square halt, maintaining the rein contact. Turn your body in the direction you want to turn and apply that leg just behind the girth, to push the horse’s hindquarters away. I find dropping a little bit of weight into the inside seat bone can help too. The steps should be even and rhythmical. A lot of people pull with the inside hind, but the horse will drop the inside shoulder and fall away to the outside.

I’ve used this movement on squares, but I read somewhere that triangles are good progressions as instead of turning ninety degrees at each corner, the horse has to turn one hundred and twenty degrees… If my maths is correct …

Since my dressage lesson with the glorified turn around the forehand exercise I have started using turn on the forehand in my warm ups, and now that I’ve started doing a little bit of in hand work I will be trying it from the floor. 

Here are a couple of articles I found on the topic:

A Coach or Teacher?

Recently I’ve discovered a bit more about myself. You could say I’ve been on a journey of self discovery, but that makes it sound like a whole street lighted up, when in actual fact it’s just a lonely lightbulb.

I’ve been having showjumping lessons at a new local venue. I first went there to practice jumping at a different venue with lots of colourful fillers. 

The instructor who runs it has a very calm manner and is fairly dictatorial but in a positive way – trot a circle, change the rein, relax your knee, bend the elbow – and it’s very relaxing and really let’s you empty your mind of life’s clutter.

The warm up is pretty basic with the odd positional correction and suggestion to improve the way the horse is going. During the warm up you discuss how the jumping has been going and any concerns. Then this instructor builds an exercise and you ride through it with comments and chance to improve.

Personally I find it relaxing, I think I actually thoroughly enjoy the learning process, and find that I focus completely on the moment, and having critique whilst I ride the course, or the feedback after, allows me to make any adjustment which is shown by the improvement in the second attempt. The end of the lesson always ends on a positive note and you go away believing in yourself, knowing what to practise, and confident for the next lesson.

Sometimes I find that if you’re doing an exercise in a lesson that you’re familiar with, the instructor running through the aids makes you pay attention, and check each one so that you ride the movement correctly. Even if you can list the aids it can be helpful to have someone reminding you in case the effort of thinking about your inside leg means that your outside rein has gone walkabouts.

Now I think I teach in a similar manner. Or at least I like to think I do. 

On the other side of the coin I recently had a dressage lesson and the approach was definitely coaching, rather than teaching. I came away from the lesson quite disparaged. I felt like I wasn’t capable of achieving, and that I was wasting my time and efforts. It wasn’t the instructor’s fault at all, but I realised its my reactions.

When I’m told to do something which I find difficult, for example I know I drop my shoulders, but repeatedly telling my to bring them back makes me retreat into my shell. I get tense and obviously rolling my shoulders back becomes impossible. Then the cycle continues. And of course Otis picks up on my tension.

I’m aware of my faults so I respond better to subtle hints or reminders whilst we look at the bigger picture. Another thing I’ve realised is that I’m a bit of a perfectionist and live by the whole “practice makes perfect” ideal so I like the repetition of an exercise adding in another factor to think about each time, so the boundaries are pushed until it’s perfect. I don’t like switching between different exercises or just being given feedback for when I ride at home- I can’t remember it by then!

This is more of a coaching technique I  believe; critique what you observe on the day and prepare the rider for self teaching. 

Now, I enjoy teaching myself, and am self motivated, but I like homework and help with directing myself, otherwise I can’t decide which area to improve first so don’t make much progress.

These lessons, combined with watching some other lessons and instructors, has made me aware of the fact that there are hundreds of approaches to teaching and learning. As an instructor the ability to adapt your teaching style, whether it’s dogmatic or laissez-faire, to suit your client and enable them to best learn, is what makes you good.

As a client then, you shouldn’t be afraid to look at other approaches to teaching, or even other explanations, as it can give you a better and more complete understanding. However, us instructors do value loyalty! But doing a bit of research and asking questions can help your instructor explain or adapt their technique to you.

So all I’ve found out about myself is that I respond well to a quiet mannerism, and a style of teaching based on repetition so that I can digest and practice each element. I think this comes out in my teaching, so hopefully my clients like learning this way!

Perfect Ponies

This weekend has flown by and Pony Club Camp has been very successful for me. Just the one fall, which wasn’t really a fall as the boys were high fiving and one leant so far over he slid off!

I think a lot of the success was down to the ponies, who have been saints.

My pathfinder, the biggest and steadiest of the ponies who became my lead file instantly, was a 14hh Irish cob. He’s only seven but incredibly sensible. Goes into trot when asked, maintains the trot, goes approximately around the outside – doesn’t fall in or try to cut corners, but could get deeper into the corners. He just jumped the jumps with minimal effort, went straight over them, and was great cross country. The only flaw with this sedate pony was that as he got tired he got a bit nappy and just trotted back to the others. As soon as his rider learns to be bossy and not passively sit on his hands as they returned to the ride the cob would oblige and stay on course.

One of the two mares on my ride was a grey mare who was pretty quick off the leg and had a good jump. She was the only one I had to watch as she could kick out if other horses got too close. She was a bit fresh on the first day and headed rather quickly towards the jump, but she was soon tired and I couldn’t fault her behaviour. She jumped everything asked of her, cantered on command, was great cross country and in handy pony. Her rider wasn’t the most confident and, although she was quick, she looked after him very well.

Pony number three was a grey gelding with a large Irish head and an equally large beer belly. His rider tended to have long reins, but the pony seemed to understand the vague directives. He was steady enough that he wouldn’t catch up with the grumpy mare, but he wasn’t a kick-kick-kick pony. He was a bit quicker going towards home, and often reluctant to leave the pack, but very amicable and jumped 65cms in the Chase Me Charlie very willingly.

This next pony is a saint. He had been borrowed for his rider as his rider had only had a couple of lessons and wanted to go to camp like his big sister. This boy is deaf, has a myriad of health problems, and an almost total beginner. But this pony followed the tail in front, kept a steady speed, suffered long reins and a few bounces in canter, trotted away from the others willingly cross country, and put in the smoothest of skips over the tiny fences so that his rider stayed safe. Over the three days his rider had his first canter, first jump, learnt his diagonals, learnt sitting trot and went without stirrups for the first time. If I were the boy’s parents I would be making an offer on that pony!

My final pony was a little section A dun mare, ridden by a gutsy six  year old. The pony went on command, jumped everything asked, didn’t get any faster, kept its head up after jumps to push her rider back into the saddle, and was just faultless. They jumped 65cm too in the Chase Me Charlie.

I’m sure you would agree that these ponies sound brilliant, and whilst I don’t often complain about ponies and their behaviour, sometimes teaching such a good set of ponies makes you realise how you quite often adapt your lessons to accommodate a quirk or two.


Boys on Ponies

The week I have a group of five boys aged six to eight at a mini Pony Club Camp. They are all off the lead rein in trot and canter, with the exception of one boy who has only just started riding and needs a bit of help from his sister. They could all jump but I was sure they overestimated the height when I asked!

On our first morning I assessed them on the flat, finding that they didn’t know what a twenty metre circle was, so we soon sorted that out. Sort of. Much to my relief they could keep trotting as a ride, which obviously makes life much easier for me and my helpers. I asked the junior instructor who was helping to explain trot diagonals to the boys, which she found difficult but they seemed to have all understood it. After a few canters we practiced jumping position over a pole and a tiny cross, during which I had to remind the boys that it wasn’t a race and that they had to fold over the fence.

I was pleased with the ability and teachability of the boys – right up my street! They all wanted to have fun but were also really supportive of each other.

After lunch I announced that they needed to be wearing body protectors as we were going cross country. This brought a few gasps of horror from mothers, whoops of glee from the boys, and then one wobble from the more nervous boy. 

To me, the first time going cross country doesn’t involve that much jumping, so I consoled the concerned as we walked across the trailer field. The first part of the cross country course we went to was a strip field where I could get the boys riding in the open field independently.

Firstly we discussed body position when going up and down hills, and had a practice, and then we walked over to the little water and individually the boys walked and then trotted through the water, remembering to lean back going down the hill and leaning forwards when coming out of the water and up the slope.

Next I had the boys trot away from the ride, along the strip field and around a log jump before trotting back. Here they could feel the lumps and bumps of the field, keeping their balance, and maintaining a constant trot – typically they were all slow going away from the ride but all the ponies picked up when they turned for home.

The ponies were being brilliant. One boy had a helper with him as he was a bit worried, but the others paired together so the little nappy pony who was a sheep in a past life followed the even littler dun pony, and then the sensible cob paired with the martyr pony looking after wobbly rider who also happens to be deaf. We had a couple of trots and then practised cross country position, and when I felt everyone was thoroughly warmed up and there was no chance of the ponies getting excited when we did some tiny logs we started jumping.

Initially the boys jumped over a tiny telegraph pole on the ground a few times until they were all straight on their approach and remembering their positions.

Then we moved back into the main cross country field and the boys jumped another log, then up a bank and then back down, avoiding the large Intermediate log at the bottom of the bank. The boy with the sensible cob then told me “I sometimes can’t control him after a jump so I’ll find it difficult to avoid that jump” I told him I was sure his cob wouldn’t try to jump it, and then sent a helper to sit on it!

Once they’d all done that I added in another log at the beginning, which was on a slight angle. They all navigated the little course really well – look at the position of the youngest boy and his dun on the bank! This turn was before the pony tried to take a detour down the step!

Finally, we moved on to a double of logs, which the boys all jumped brilliantly, although I did have to have the mothers standing in front of the ditch in case the ponies took matters into their own hands.

I did more on the cross country course than I expected we would do, and I was really pleased with the progress that the boys made and how much they concentrated and helped each other out.

Maintaining a Rhythm


We finally had the follow up to this lesson this week and we made great progress!
I’ve been saving up a new exercise for this pony so that she goes off the aids, not five minutes later.
We began with a double on the ground with a leaving pole. They trotted through it keeping a forwards rhythm and then my rider had to ask for canter over the placing pole. She could then gauge the pony’s reaction and the pony learnt that going when told made the exercise a lot easier for her as the poles flowed in canter.
It took a few repeats for the pony to pick up canter accurately but you could see her beginning to focus more on the rider.
Then I out the first fence up to a small cross. Height wasn’t important, it was just to make the pony think a little bit more about her legs and canter when told to. Again, the first couple of times they tripped over the cross half trotting as the pony ignored her rider’s canter aids. So I suggested my rider became stricter. There’s no time for second chance in a jumping course. When the rider says “let’s go” the pony needed to say “okay!” So that they cleared the fence. The next time around, my rider asked for canter with the whip backing her leg up. The pony went! And cantered through the double nicely.
After riding the canter transitions a bit more forcefully my rider could then back off and ask with just the leg and got a response.
We build the double up to two crosses and two canter poles before the first jump. I’d built the double as a short one stride double but the pony kept creeping in an extra short stride, even though she was in the correct take-off zone. I think this was because her canter was much more balanced, rhythmical, a slightly more engaged behind so the little mare couldn’t make the distance comfortably as her hindquarters weren’t strong enough.
I didn’t want to chase the mare and rush her through the double as I felt it would jeopardise the good approach we were getting.
I changed the exercise slightly so that it was three canter poles to a single cross pole, which forced a rhythm from the pony, worked her hindquarters more than traipsing along, got her off the forehand, yet is easier than bounces which the mare finds difficult.
Again, it took a few attempts to get canter when requested, but the canter was much improved! The bascule was also more correct, with less pull from the shoulders, which helped my rider stay secure in the saddle.
Once this exercise became established and I’d built it up to an upright I took the poles away and we worked on keeping the much improved canter on the approach and after the fence.
The first time the canter lacked power, despite a brilliant rhythm, so there was a refusal. So I reminded my rider to use her leg a couple of strides out so the pony focused on the fence and wound up the canter slightly.
We finished with a beautiful jump out of a really balanced canter, with the pony ready and waiting for her rider’s aids, which she’s been a bit ignorant to previously. Next time I want to revisit combinations and linking fences with the same balanced canter.

Originally posted on The Rubber Curry Comb:

“Showjumping is dressage with speed bumps” is a phrase I have on the back of one of my hoodies, and it’s very true. Get a good rhythm and the jumps just happen smoothly.

However, things don’t usually go to plan. Recently I taught a girl and her pony, working on jumping a course with some scary fillers, so that we could focus on riding good lines and linking the fences together smoothly. We had a number of issues to overcome though.

The pony is a bit backwards thinking so can be slow to react to her rider’s legs, which means the canter loses its impulsion quite easily. So they do a lot of opening up the trot and lengthening and shortening strides in the warm up, and when her Mum rides, and try to be consistent and quick to back the leg up with a sharp tap with the stick…

View original 604 more words


So I was lunging a very fat, currently out of work, Haflinger for a client earlier this week. He’s as wide as he is tall, and is supposed to be undergoing a weight-loss-back-to-riding regime.

Anyway, they’ve been struggling to lunge him as he turns towards you and tries to come for a cuddle. He needs to lunging to build up a little bit of fitness and to try and lose some of the shoulder pads so his saddle fits.

He trotted out on the lunge sweetly enough but soon stopped and turned towards me, even though I was behind his shoulder. I waved the lunge line and my hands to push him out of my space and after a minute or two he got the message and trotted off again. We repeated this a few times and then he even picked up a bit of canter. I was surprised how easily he actually cantered the circle considering his level of fitness, but he soon became tired.

As he got tired he tried to turn in more, but when he wasn’t allowed to he found a new trick. Head towards the gate at a very fast trot! The first time I held the lunge line as he bounced off the wooden gate, and sent him round the circle again. He repeated the trick a couple more times and unfortunately there was no way my weight was any match for a 14.2hh square Haflinger so he got his way. Except that we didn’t finish the session.

I was trying to get two more circuits after the last gate charge before finishing the lunging so that we finished away from the gate and on my terms. But the Haflinger charged at the gate again, I held tight. Pulling the lunge line in my gloved (for once) hands, I managed to steady the charge.

Then there was a pop, and I felt myself punch myself in the stomach. With a groan and rubbing my tummy I looked at the remnants of the broken lunge line in my hands. The force of the horse as he charged across the school had snapped the lunge line clean in half!

So with a bruised tummy I had to call an end to the lunging. But just you wait, Mr Haflinger, I’ll be prepared next time!