Friday, 28 October 2011

Dark nights and drunken loops

Amalie who has possibly the biggest floppiest ears ever!  I seem to have a landing strip on my head :)
So the nights are drawing in - boo hiss - I always struggle to adjust to riding under the lights at night. I have been subtly trilling like a bad Janis Joplin whenever my husband is in earshot, 'Oh lord won't you buy me a Mercedes Benz' transposing the words 'an indoor school' for the make of car. No luck though, he appears to be quite deaf to my tuneless pleas. In the summer I think nothing of doing a days work, getting tea for the kids then riding until 10pm but there is something about dark, chilly, Scottish nights that saps my enthusiasm somewhat! Oh well I will soon get over this -  I will just have to hope for gorgeous, sunny autumn mornings so I can ride before work.

 The horses and I have been busy doing all sorts of things recently. I had some productive jumping sessions with Ernest Dillon, Garth and I are still working on our corners in the ring - something I fear we may be doing for evermore. I have a tendency to land and not sit up as quickly as I should which allows him to run on a bit and as he loves to think he is in control of which point of the compass we are heading for, this leads to corner cutting. We are really improving though and I was delighted at our last show when we jumped a twisty 1.15m nearly perfectly. I have also been helped by a trick that a young trainer friend of mine, David Harland, has taught me, which works a treat on my intelligent grey and that is to go a little further around the corner than normal, then do a square turn back to the fence. This has a twofold effect on Garth, it fools him into not anticipating the turn as he thinks he is going somewhere else, I have to sit up more to make a tighter turn which sits him back on his hocks more. So rather than rolling around the corner like a bowling ball we make a much more balanced turn.
Ernest was also pleased with Amalies progress and declared us ready to do a bit more jumping. He said that now her balance is improving she is ready to 'learn to take me to a fence'. With that in mind we trotted over a pole to an upright then practised cantering on five even strides to a double. I had to make minimal adjustments, if any at all, as he wants her to learn to look after herself on the way to and over, the fences. I always find it quite difficult to sit absolutely still - I confess to an urge to fiddle on the way in, so I had to be really strict with myself and, apart from keeping her straight, not do much else. By the end she had slowed herself down to make the five strides easily and had stopped making up too much distance and was giving herself time to jump into and out of the double.

Flatwork for the rusty
I then had a great training day at home with Eric Mackechnie, a super flatwork teacher. I first met Eric years ago when he was training at Gleneagles as a student. He stood out among the his peers as a rider with feel and ability and a wicked sense of humour. He went on to do wow the dressage world riding a Highland pony stallion, Kincardine Ben Macdhui where he was an unusual sight amidst a sea of warmbloods.
It is ages since I really concentrated on some flatwork lessons and I'd forgotten just how hard a good dressage trainer makes you work during a session.
First up was Garth whom I thought was going really well on the flat - Eric had other ideas and, after watching me 'pootle' around, proceeded to make us work. So what I thought was an extended trot turned out to be only just worthy of a good 'novice test trot'. And my best effort at a medium canter was only just a 'decent working canter'. Phew - one hour later Garth was really trying hard and my cheeks were glowing with effort.

Tara - ok mum, I did all that work, where's the polos?

Quick tack up and then onto project horse Tara, in her first ever lesson with me. Eric asked me her history as I walked around to settle her. When I told him she was by Jazz and that she is a hot ride he said that many of the stallion's offspring are like this. Eric noticed her slightly unusually shaped hind end and I explained she is a shiverer, as he watched her work he said that this had obviously affected the musculature on her hind end as it is very tight at the moment. He put us to work on a diamond shape, rather than a circle, explaining that the turns onto a new straight line would make her use her backend and help build up her strength. He is confident that if I do correct school work alongside hillwork in our fields, that in time, I will both strengthen and at the same time relax the large, tight hindquarter muscles. At the end of the day I know that shivering is a nerve condition and there are no guarantees that work will help but I don't think that it is going to hurt.
 I was thrilled with her as she settled and concentrated beautifully. The thing that she finds most difficult is working on her own. It worries her to be away from her friends which means she can start work quite tense but she is an intelligent mare I get the feeling that she is enjoying being asked questions.
As she would walk over hot coals for food she really appreciates the handful of horse nuts she gets after each training session. No different to me looking forward to a custard cream with my coffee then.

Schooling on Champagne
Last up was Ams and Eric spotted immediately that a problem with her, due to her length and size, comes when she blocks me with her head and neck which stiffens her back and loses the connection from the back to the front. He then came up with a genius exercise for us which involves us weaving around the school in loops as if I had downed a few bottle of Champagne. The constant change of bend and from one set of outside aids to the other soon had her stepping under with a lovely free back. All my transitions also had to be made on a loop so that she couldn't block. He told me though to do all my cantering on straight lines but all my downward transitions were to immediately take me back onto the bend of a loop. Changes of the rein were all made on drunken lines, weaving from one side to the other. Anyone watching would have been getting me breathalyzed! It worked a treat though and continuing the work this week the mare has found it easier and easier to do correctly. I am really looking forward to his next visit to take this work forward it will help me get fitter too if he makes me work like that every time.

Travelling a shiverer
One thing that is worrying me with Tara is that a journey in the horsebox last week really exacerbated her shivering symptoms for a day or so. I would love any comments from anyone else who has a shiverer - did you find that journeys made the condition worse? Did you keep journey times to a minimum or was there anything you did that helped. Any comments here would be welcome. 

Weekend plans
This weekend I have some jumping lessons and then am off to cheer my son on at a rugby match. Next weekend I aim to go jumping somewhere but before that Garth will need to be transformed from a mud monster into a gleaming grey!


  1. Hi from Haynet! Your blog has been named Haynet Blog of the Day today - come and have a look:

  2. You are lucky to have such a great trainer now all you need in that indoor school. LOL
    Working on the diamond sounds sensible maybe with the added strength to her muscles she won't suffer so much travelling. But then I'm wondering if it's the stress of leaving the yard making her tense which makes it all hard on her.
    Oh and congrats on making Blog of the Day

  3. You are doing well,absorbing all the advise that is being given.