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. 

A Daunting Task

I taught a very daunting lesson earlier this week with a guinea pig rider.

She entered the arena with a rather snazzy looking Spanish horse, bedecked in a double bridle. 

The rider was very confident, as she was legged up onto the jogging mare. I made the necessary enquiries to tick the box:

  • What’s the rider’s name, riding experience, qualifications, medical history.
  • What’s the horse’s name, experience, history and medical history.
  • What was the horse and rider relationship.

This girl was a Stage IV rider and this was her new horse, recently come over from Spain. It could do all the lateral movements but didn’t have a competition record.

Gulp.

What on earth should I teach them?!

I admit, I felt slightly out of my depth. I take a while to get into my groove, especially with confident riders because I get a bit intimidated. The horse was also a far higher calibre than I’ve taught before.

I started the session by watching them warm up. It gave me time to think. The trot was choppy and short striding; the canter was bouncy and tense and this rider said that whilst the horse didn’t feel like she was going to bolt, she was strong. The mare tried to evade the contact by tucking her nose to her chest. The rider had a good balanced position, and secure lower leg. If I’m going to be really picky, she was a bit collapsed in her upper body, and had a tendency to fix her hands.

I had a plan. Despite the horse’s high level of training, there were some basic elements that we could improve. Equally though, the mare was hot and quick thinking, so needed to be kept mentally stimulated. 

I explained to my rider that I felt we should work on relaxing the mare, and getting her to take the contact forwards, instead of tucking behind the bridle. As the mare was a busy type, I suggested we used leg yield to get the mare stepping under with her inside hind leg and taking the contact forwards. Our focus being on the neck staying long and the mare relaxing.

We started in walk, and immediately it was obvious that the mare is very talented with an extravagant crossover. She easily leg yielded from the three-quarter line to the track. However, as with any big mover, she had the tendency to escape from her rider – in the leg yield the rider tends to lose her outside shoulder. 

Once we moved into the trot the loss of the outside shoulder was more noticeable, so I brought my riders   attention to her outside rein contact, making sure it prevented too much inside flexion and supported the outside shoulder. Then I highlighted how she was pinning her inside rein by the wither, so encouraging the mare to turn to the inside and fall through the outside shoulder. As soon as that hand was carried forwards the leg yield improved because they were straight. Then we turned our attention to keeping the trot rhythm consistent through the movement.

After working on both reins I felt there was a slight improvement; the rider was more in tune with the horse, who was starting to lengthen her neck and was moving laterally in a more relaxed manner.

I didn’t want to work on the canter – no need to over complicate matters – so we moved on to zig zag leg yielding. This was to ensure the mare wasn’t anticipating going from the three-quarter line to the track, and was responsive to the riders outside leg. The rider also had to make more subtle aids and change her position slowly as she changed direction so as to help maintain their balance. We talked about which direction was easier: the left leg yield was more extravagant but felt less controlled, than the right which had less crossing but was straighter and with no rushing. 

By the end of the session I felt the mare was much improved, with a longer trot stride, and more relaxed and consistent in her frame. I did mention to her rider about trying her in just a snaffle bridle to establish a consistent contact, and to get the horse seeking it more, but I think as it’s early days in their relationship it might be an exercise for the future. This rider gave me positive feedback, and seemed to understand the lesson concept and reasoning behind it, so hopefully I’ve helped her. 

Now that I’ve been thrown in the deep end, and managed to survive I actually reflect on that lesson in a positive light, and would quite like to teach this pair in the future.

Neckstraps

I read an article a couple of weeks ago about William Fox-Pitt and neckstraps. He was advocating their use, and never goes cross country without them.


Unfortunately neckstraps are seen as a weakness, and for beginners. One of my friends had a mother who used one when riding, calling it her “chicken strap” as she grabbed it whenever she felt nervous. It became a bit of a joke, but it definitely helped her.

There are a number of “chicken straps” designed to be safety nets when riders get butterflies. There are grab straps, which are short straps that attach to the D-rings in front of the saddle, those Rs-tor handles which hang at the front of the saddle to name just a couple.

Whilst we’re on the subject of Rs-tors, can anyone who uses them tell me why or how they work? I can only see that holding onto a handle gives the rider a psychological boost of confidence but I’ve only seen riders holding the handle with the webbing strap slack. It might be that it was in neutral and redundant at that moment in time, but I’d like to know the appeal of them.

Moving onto grab straps. They’re commonly seen in riding schools, and I like them for little kids and beginners because they’re small enough to wrap little fingers around. Additionally, having the hand just in front of the saddle keeps the rider in a more upright position. Again, these straps are good for psychologically boosting a rider’s confidence, but I do think they can help them stay on if the horse or pony spooks. My problem is that because I wasn’t brought up with one it’s not my natural instinct to grab it in an emergency. 

The alternative to a grab strap is just holding onto the pommel. This is how we had our first lessons. We learnt to rise by pushing up with our hands on the pommel, which gave our weak legs some help until they’d strengthened. Then we held onto the front of the saddle for our first canters. The restriction here is that there is no give between the movement of the horse’s back, and the rider so it can be a bit jarring and not allow you to absorb the movement of the horse. 

Let’s get back to neckstraps. In riding schools, and indeed my friend’s mum, they’re often old stirrup leathers. These are too thick for children to grasp with reins, and the excess strap can be cumbersome. I also find that old stirrup leathers can sit quite high up the neck. So beginners reach forwards for the neck strap, come out the saddle, tip their weight forwards and can end up in a much more fragile position. For this reason I prefer grab straps for beginner riders.

The best type of neck strap I’ve seen, and it’s what William F-P uses, is the neck strap of a martingale. As it’s not attached it can move up the neck, but is thin enough to comfortably hold alongside the reins and whip. They also seem to sit better on the neck, closer to the base and the rider. I think William Fox-Pitt has his made from plain leather reins – perhaps there’s a market for these?

As I said at the beginning, he uses a neckstrap to go cross country. If there’s a big jump, an awkward fence, or he feels left behind; he wraps his fingers around the strap to stop him pulling his horse in the mouth. We can all learn something here. Firstly, that even the best occasionally sock their horse in the mouth. Secondly, don’t be afraid to use a neckstrap to stabilise your hands because in the long run it’s better to do that then to have a horse who starts refusing fences.

When we learnt to jump we held onto a fistful of mane “halfway up the pony’s neck” which I have sometimes said to children who don’t have any straps to grab and don’t give with their hands when jumping. Holding the mane can be risky if said pony has low head carriage, and it can encourage riders to throw themselves too far up the pony’s neck. 

I’ve also suggested that people wrap fingers around their martingale strap to help stabilise their hands, but over larger fences they can end up restricting the neck of the horse because the martingale or breastplate is immovable. Which leads us back to neckstraps, so the rider learns to give the hands is a forwards motion and for them to stop snatching back with the arms (a natural reaction if you’re worried).

I think I prefer grab straps when teaching beginners or nervous riders as their position is less compromised, but when learning to jump (or indeed forever jumping) a thin neckstrap is the best option. 


To read the original article, Click here

An Old Tale

I love hearing stories of days gone by. Gasping in horror, cringing at the political incorrectness, wishing I was born before the era of Health and Safety.

 Dad used to regale tales of him and his brother causing mayhem – crashing their canal boat into a “modern” cruiser to reveal the owner sitting on the toilet; or the toddler (I forget which brother it was) cycling on his tricycle through the Armistice Parade on his way to his grandparents while his parents hid their faces; or the more recent ones which include my Mum. And the hammer and her dislocated finger.

One day, I’ll become famous for writing these stories down and causing people to cry with laughter.

One lady at my yard has just as many stories as my Dad. Most of them include escapades out hunting (in reference to yesterday’s blog, perhaps that’s why I’m not so keen on going hunting) and she often tells us about her riding school in the 80s.

A couple of weeks ago we were talking about our plans for the day and I said, “my task for today is to wear the Duracell Bunny out”. 

We moved on to talking about energy levels and how best to take it out of them. N.B. I found that medium trot for ten minutes in the school with Matt last week stopped him spooking at ghosts.

She then told me the following story. 

There was a livery on my yard who had an Irish horse. Little horse, but bags of energy. He never seemed to tire. 

Then one day she came to me and asked if I’d take him on working livery. Her job had changed, or she had less time. Whatever the reason was. 

Now I didn’t really want him in my school. Who could ride him? So I said “okay, I’ll have him on a weeks trial”.

That Saturday this horse escorted a hack at 9am with one of my grooms, a girl like you. Competent. Then at 10am another groom took him on the next hack. Then at 11am he did a lesson.

We had half an hour break for lunch at 12, and he did another three lessons after lunch. He was knackered! 

But I tell you what, I never had a problem with him in all the years he was in the riding school.

I gulped. That was a pretty intensive workout for anyone, and I was very glad the Duracell Bunny I had to ride wasn’t as fully charged as that one! 

Counting Strides to a Jump

When learning to jump it can be difficult to meet jumps on the correct stride and to learn the feel of a good jump, so instructors use placing poles to assist the horse in finding the correct take-off point, thus enabling the rider to focus on their position and the feel. However, sometimes the riders and horses can over focus on the pole and it doesn`t help improve the jumping technique.

I`m a big believer in the rider getting the correct canter on the approach and then allowing the horse to adjust themselves to find the right stride. Additionally, I find that novice jumpers have enough to worry about without trying to “see a stride” and position the horse themselves. One of the exercises we used to do as children was counting down to a jump. I could never get my head around it. I could always see the stride but I struggled to count “3,2,1,jump” on the last four strides before a fence. Perhaps my instincts worked quicker than my brain?

Moving on. Counting canter strides is important, but instead of counting down the strides, counting in threes or fours, will help stabilise the canter rhythm and the rider is thinking positively because they are counting upwards.

Even on the flat counting canter strides can help improve the canter rhythm. I`ve done it so many times that it has become autonomic. I often find myself mid-canter saying “twenty one, twenty two, twenty three … What am I doing?” because I`ve subconsciously been counting canter strides and reached a ridiculous figure.

A couple of weeks ago I introduced a client to the idea of counting her strides towards a jump. Her horse has quite a big, scopey stride so can do a mini-leap over poles which tends to complicate jumping as she gets left behind or he gets too close to the fence. To try to prevent my rider having too many dodgy jumps, and to instil the correct feeling and hopefully teach my rider to see where her horse will take off over fences so she can go stay in sync with him over jumps. This will make courses flow more smoothly.

Before she started counting her strides a few yards before the jump the horse either backed off slightly or lengthened his stride too much. Then my rider tried to correct the canter, but it was too late. When she was counting her canter strides, “1,2,3,1,2,3” she noticed instantly when the canter changed and could apply her leg, a half halt, or adjust her upper body position to regain the canter. I felt that she was then attacking the fence a bit more – I don`t mean chasing her horse towards the jump, but closing the leg and riding positively towards the fence instead of having the hand brake on. From then on, every jump was met on a good stride.

Now that the canter is becoming autonomic and consistent, I want to build up to riding lines between fences, around corners, and through combinations so that courses become flowing and smooth.

 

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It`s Pony Club Camp

Today is the first day of Pony Club Camp – how exciting!

The forecast for the week looks warm (not as hot as last week thankfully) but overcast so hopefully it will all go smoothly and there won`t be too much running for cover.

This will be the third year that I`ve taught at this camp, and I have to say it is extremely well organised. A couple of weeks ago all the instructors met up for supper and were given our folders, which list all the different rides, some information on the levels of the individual riders, the individual tack and turnout, and report sheets. And most importantly, the timetable for the week. That’s right. At this camp I know what I am doing on the last day before I even get there! Normally camps are organising their instructors as the kids mount the ponies! We have a meeting every morning over breakfast to discuss the day, make changes if necessary, and generally gossip.

However, this camp does have a huge advantage over many other clubs, in that their camp is held on an idyllic private estate. That means that there is no sharing of facilities with liveries or riding school lessons, and the riding arenas are set up the week before, and stay up for the week (just think of how much time you save not moving fences every lesson!) Additionally, they have space. Acres of it. In the riding field there are usually three dressage arenas, a junior showjumping course, a senior showjumping course, a gridwork arena, an arena cross country arena, the senior musical ride arena (juniors do theirs in the menage) and half the cross country course! I will be walking miles – better charge my fitbit!

I`m sure this week will be totally exhausting, given that my riders are six years old; filled with laughter, that happens when you mix kids and ponies anyway; a few eyeball rolling moments (well, I do have four boys to contend with); and hopefully a bit of learning thrown in too. Everyone particularly looks forwards to the last day, when there are dressage, showjumping, handy pony (for the little ones anyway) competitions and the highly anticipated fancy dress musical ride.

I’m sure it will be a blast, and will provide plenty of anecdotes for The Rubber Curry Comb.

Wish me luck!

 

Who`s To Blame?

This is more of a debate really, and down to you guys for your input.

When things go wrong with your horse, be it at a competition, in a schooling session, or just on the ground, who do you blame?

Do you blame yourself?

Do you blame your horse?

Do you blame external factors, such as the venue, the weather, the rest of the competition?

Or is it a mixture depending on what the problem is?

One thing I`ve learnt about myself recently is that I blame myself. Unless there`s a blatently obvious reason, such a hailstorm during my dressage test, I come away from a competition being very hard on myself. Even if it`s not achieving an aim in a lesson with Otis, or even a client not completely understanding a concept during a lesson, I go away and beat myself up about it, feeling like a failure.

What does that tell me about myself as a rider? That I`m a perfectionist? That I’m a workaholic? That I have low self-esteem? That I over-analyse things?

Who knows, I sure don`t. Except that I then have to make a firm plan to sort myself out!

But anyway, back to you guys. Who do you tend to blame when everything goes pear-shaped? And what do you think that tells you about yourself as a rider or horse owner? And how do you then plan to overcome this blip? More lessons, change of equipment, refuse to ever do that type of competition again, or refuse to visit a venue ever again?

Comment below with your thoughts.

On a lighter note, here is a headcam video of Otis flying today – click here

Sponsorship

Last week I had an email informing me about a competition to become a Blue Chip sponsored rider.

I deleted it. They`re only interested in those riding at a decent level of competition; going out every weekend, being affiliated, etc. Which is fine, but they are only advertising to other competitive riders. How many non-competitive riders are there who would still be interested in the goods?

Which led me to thinking that really one of the best ways to advertise your company`s clothes/feed/tack is for professionals to use them. I don’t just mean professional riders (We all know Mary King loves her Joules clothes) but farriers, instructors, vets, physiotherapists and dentists. After all, these people interact with the common horse riders.

From a personal point of view – if I was an amateur horse owner, perhaps in my first year of ownership – and saw my instructor wearing a particular brand of clothing and saying how warm they found their winter coat, I would take a closer look, feel the material, try it on for size, and go and order one. Likewise, if the yard owner at my livery yard used a certain brand of hard feed, I would be more influenced to try it. A couple of years ago Premier Equine rugs swept through the yard, triggered by one influential person. The type of person who should be targeted by equestrian companies.

I think the element that persuades me to buy something, especially with the advent of online shopping, is being able to try something on for size, or at least get the feel for the type of material or it`s weight. So, perhaps instead of focusing on sponsorship for competition riders, equestrian brands should try to get associations with professionals so that they reach out to everyday riders and horse owners who can see the items in use and then go and order them for themselves.

Have a little think about the number of people a farrier would see in one day. If they only shod ten horses a day that would be fifty people that they see in a five day week. And over a six week cycle of shoeing they would see three hundred clients. And that doesn`t include the people who walk past them on the yard, or friends of clients who happen to be chatting there on the day. Physiotherapists would see a similar number of individuals, if not more, and so would vets. They all, like me, visit different yards too, which increases the audience too.

As an instructor, I probably don`t see the widest range of people – I go to about ten different yards in a fortnight, and see about 30 clients a week. Yes, I see a lot of people week to week, but I am also one of the first people that they ask for recommendations in terms of riding boots, types of bits or tacks, or makes of clothing. I also have this blog and a social networking presence, which reaches out to many  I tend to recommend things that I use myself, such as my super comfy Sherwood Forest jodhpurs.

So perhaps companies would have more of a guarantee of recommendations if they formed formal associations with professionals, gave them some form of discount on their products in return for the professional using, recommending, and blogging about the products. That would ensure that the professional continued to use the products, and not opt for a different brand that is on sale when they go shopping. The company can also feature the professional in adverts, their website, and at tradeshows, which gives the professional free advertising and promotion.

When I looked at getting my personalised jacket, below, I thought that it would be good to get associations, or sponsors, who wanted their logo featured on my jacket. Perhaps the vet, farrier, physiotherapist that I use would give me a discount on their services in return for me wearing their logo on the sleeves of my jacket. I`ve just never gotten around to speaking to the individuals and looking at prices for embroidery on jackets or hoodies. Can anyone help me with this?

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Stop!

I was prepping one of my rides last week and saw one of the worst frustrations of a riding school instructor.

The ride of kids had just entered the arena on their ponies when one cheeky pony gave a full body shake, leaving his rider clinging on to his neck for dear life, doing a great impression of a sloth. Obedient as ever the pony continued to follow the tail in front of him, whilst his rider sobbed into the mane.

“Stop!” Called the instructor. The other kids looked at her in surprise, and have a feeble tug on the reins as the instructor tried to catch up with the meandering ride. Which hadn’t stopped.

She was too late. The sloth like rider tumbled gently to the side, finally giving in to the rolling motion of the walk.

Perhaps if the ride had stopped she would have been able to find her  saddle again. Or at least hung on until the instructor reached her, who would have got there quicker if the pony had stopped.

The instructor then began to lecture the rest of the ride about following instructions and stopping when told! I’ve been there, done that, got the t-shirt, and it’s not my most favourite of tshirts!

There does seem to be a bit of an aloof attitude with riders nowadays, both horse owners and beginners. When we were growing up if anyone had a problem you stopped. One yell from our instructor and we would go from canter to halt to create a quiet environment for the youngster who had spooked, or the pony who had done extended trot to catch up with the tail in front. After all, it will prevent the incident escalating. Someone halfway out the side door can climb back on a stationary horse, but not one still trotting round. If someone has fallen off then they won’t get trampled by other horses and the loose horse is less likely to cause another problem.

No one is to blame in that situation, it’s just important to prevent further problems and to make everyone as safe as possible, an element people often forget. In first aid courses we are told to make the area safe before attending to the casualty. Which means if one person has fallen off in a group lesson then everyone else needs to stop, the loose pony caught and then the rider checked over.

It’s also common courtesy.

The other week I was schooling and someone brought their horse in for light trot work as he’s on box rest recovering from an injury. I could see the horse was wired, as he bounced in the air, so I stayed in trot. Canter work could wait. And I stayed away from the horse so neither of us were endangered. When he was settled I asked if she minded me cantering, and then I cantered in front of her so the fresh horse wouldn’t be spooked from behind. 

It drives me mad when you see someone having a problem and everyone else continuing their riding with a slightly arrogant air. You don’t need to interfere, especially if you don’t know the horse or rider, but you could stay out of their way and give them a wide berth, or if it’s something the horse is spooking at, then offer to move the object. It doesn’t take much to avoid a rider who’s horse is unsettled, or to choose your canter transition so you aren’t careering up behind them, but believe me the rider will be thankful!

Riding With Mirrors

Who`s lucky enough to have mirrors in their arena?

Unfortunately I don`t have access to them at my yard, but one of the previous yards I`ve been at has them and they`re really useful for teaching lateral movements with, as well as self-checking your position and straightness.

It`s always funny the first time a horse is introduced to a mirror; they can often spook as they trot towards it! One winter I used to put Otis into the indoor arena whilst snow on the ground prevented turnout, and he used to spend ages gazing at his reflection in the mirrors! Usually letting a horse sniff and look at themselves in the mirror is enough for them to understand what they are, and soon they ignore them.

I find that horses who are used to working in company adapt to mirrors quicker than those who usually use the school alone. Those who aren`t worried about the proximity of others are the ones who don’t spook at their reflection as they trot parallel to the mirror, whereas the more claustrophobic ones are likely to sidestep away from their reflection.

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When I moved to a yard without mirrors I found that I way relying on my visual observations far more than I should, and I needed to redevelop my feeling for each movement. After all, in a dressage test you won`t necessarily do shoulder-in down the long side towards a mirror!

However, last weekend at a dressage competition I was warming up in the luxurious indoor arena, where they had mirrors across the full length of the short side (the short side being about 40m long!) I don`t usually do a lot of lateral work in my warm up unless its in the test because I risk Otis trying to leg yield one way or the other as we go up the centre line. However, with these beautiful mirrors gazing at me I couldn`t help myself, and did a bit of leg yield in walk (avoiding trot for the centre line reasons) and then some shoulder-in in both walk and trot. It was really useful because I could now see the slight difference between each rein and the comments from my last lesson made more sense.

Unfortunately though, mirrors are expensive and can be fairly difficult to install and position. In an indoor arena the walls are the obvious place to mount the mirrors but in an outdoor you need to find a sheltered area so that they aren`t battered by the wind, and you need to construct a board for the mirrors. Which obviously means that you need to have the correctly positioned outdoor ménage, with a couple of nice big hedges alongside!

Most arenas that have mirrors only have them on the short sides, reflecting the track. This is great for checking the lateral work in the beginnings, but one step better is to have a mirror reflecting the centre line. Then you can work on your straightness without the help of the fence line, check you are straight through transitions, and practice lateral work without the support of the fence. I think people are cottoning onto this idea, as I`m seeing more mirrors across the majority of the short side now.

Unfortunately the yard Otis is at currently is not a candidate for having mirrors installed in the outdoor arena because it is at the top of the hill and always has a breeze blowing through. Which is great for riding in summer and discouraging flies (Otis`s sweet itch has never been better). So I wouldn’t say that mirrors were a deciding factor in my choice of yards, but it would sway my decision about venues if I were travelling for a clinic or training session as I would want to maximise my learning.

Using the mirrors last week reminded me of their value when teaching, and whilst you can end up relying on them and forgetting to “feel” what is happening, it can be useful to check your way of going, especially if you cannot have lessons as frequently as you would like, and it can give you a real confidence boost to see that you are achieving your aims. Alternatively, getting a friend to video you in strategic positions can be useful for checking your and your horse`s way of going.