Things have been pretty quiet here. Our glimpse of spring is over and for the last week we have had wet and windy conditions, which where particularly spectacular over the weekend. On my drive home from work on Friday I witnessed a young couple having a nasty crash, on a 100m stretch of road that had snow on it, with no other snow for miles around. Luckily they where able to walk away with very minor injuries, their car was not so lucky.
Due to the unpredictable weather, Dominica has been enjoying lots of hilly hacks. The ground at home is just too soggy to be able to school in the field and so we’ve been sticking to the many tracks and lanes that twist round the farm. As I mentioned in my previous blog, this feels really frustrating because things are not progressing as fast as I would like. But the sensible voice, very deep in the back of my brain, keeps reminding me that this is actually the work she needs to be doing just now. The slow, low impact work, up and down hills is all helping to improve her strength and help to build the muscles she needs not only to progress in terms of her way of going,but also the stronger I can get her by doing this low impact work, the lower the potential injury risk.
On Friday we headed off for our first visit to hire the local arena. It’s an outdoor arena probably about 30m x 60m, so is a good size for a baby. It is part of a local livery yard and has turnout paddocks all around and it just so happened that when I turned up on Friday, it was turning out time! What followed was not the structured training session I had hoped for, but more an exercise in how best to keep Dominica’s concentration. On reflexion, I had probably put a bit to much pressure and expectation on this first session. Having been away from home with Dominica a few times now and had an easy confidence giving experience each time, with the help of my trainer, I think I had expected that this would be an easy straightforward outing. All horses are different and for many reasons, prefer indoor or outdoor arenas better. Having only ever ridden Dominica outside on grass, with the exception of my lessons which are inside, I naively assumed that she would ‘prefer’ working outside as it is what she is most used to. WRONG! I don’t think its actually a case of what she does or doesn’t prefer, I think for her its that she finds it easier to focus inside because there’s nothing but walls to look at. She is so busy in her brain and finds what I’m asking her to do physically easy, that she is very easily distracted. Following this session I had some words of wisdom from owner Dedi Leech, who said ‘concentration comes with confidence’ Of course she is absolutely right and it’s yet another reminder that with young horses, it’s all about the long game and working towards the bigger picture, no amount of wishing or hoping or training can speed up these processes and its just about giving her the opportunities and support to feel more confident in new, strange and distracting environments for herself.
During this session I worked a lot on transitions, both in and out of the paces and also within them, never doing more than ten steps before changing what I was asking her to do. As I have said a lot before, she’s very intelligent and quick in her brain and by doing this I was able to hold her focus more effectively. I also tried to work her at the side or end of the arena where the horses were not being led, or at that time cartwheeling around the field. It wasn’t so much about trying to avoid the issue, more about using the space available to me and not making things any harder. The people on the yard needed to do their job and equally, it is useful to expose her to a distracting environment. At a show there can be multiple tests going on at once, lorries driving in and out and more often than not at lower level shows, someone getting a run for their money in the warm up! It’s just how life is going to be and so I need to tactfully and sympathetically introducing her to this. I did come away from the session feeling a bit down. I felt like I hadn’t ridden very well, I felt like the session had lacked structure and productivity. By the time I had got home and given myself a slap round the chops however & had got things more in perspective. Dominica is still only 5 years old, that was my first time taking her to an outdoor arena, the environment couldn’t have been much more challenging if I had tried and she had travelled and loaded beautifully. It’s still less than a month since our very first lesson and proper outing away from home. Basically I just needed to take a few sips from a can of harden up and pipe down!
With a few hacking days between and a day off on Sunday, we returned to the arena hire on Tuesday. When we arrived their was mass hysteria on the yard because one of the horses had colic…….I promptly moved the trailer to the opposite side of the premises in order to avoid being dragged into the drama. The arena was full of a course of jumps, which had me sweating a bit when I first saw, but I didn’t need to worry as Dominica couldn’t have cared less, perhaps she would rather be an eventer after all! Despite all that was going on, on the yard and the turnout paddocks around the arena being full of cheerful characters, I was able to have a much more productive session, with Dominica feeling much more attentive and relaxed from the get go.
Once I had got her swinging and through and relaxed, using my trot, walk, trot transitions and a bit of sitting trot every now and then I began to work on the canter. Having not been able to school much recently I don’t think its right for me to say that the canter work has regressed, I think it’s more that we had two good weeks of work, where it improved rapidly and now we are on a bit of a plateau. During the session on Friday and again on Tuesday there where a few dolphin moments in the canter. She also was struggling a bit with staying in canter for more than about 10 strides. I had a walk break and thought about what was going. I think that because the canter transitions have always had spectacular tendencies, in a subconscious attempt to smooth them out I have been freezing my seat, which of course is probably the worst thing I can do! With this in mind, I picked her back up and did ten more minutes working on the canter. I really tried to focus on staying relaxed and loose and keeping my balance so I don’t interfere with what she needs to say. This seemed to really help and the transitions where much more fluid and as she was more relaxed she was able to keep a better canter for longer. I think this situation is linked to two things. The first is that because I have been schooling less, when I have been able to, I have been putting pressure on myself to improve lots of things and by feeling that way I have been carrying more tension through my body, without even knowing, which has had a negative effect. I think the second thing, is that because I’ve had a couple of successful outings, I’ve glossed over in my mind a bit that she’s still a green 4year old and that all of this is still really new and alien to her. It’s definitely something I need to keep in mind for when she starts going to shows, trying to keep my crazy expectations and disgraceful competitiveness under control!
I know you like to hear updates on how Mowgli is. On Friday when I collected him from nursery, amongst his things I found bunny in a body bag. It was quite a shocking discovery! As with the discovery of a deceased pet, I really wished I had some warning. Poor bunny looked pretty terrible, swaddled in a polythene bag. It transpired he’d accidently found himself in the line of fire during a toilet trip and received a golden shower……..He definitely deserves a commendation and I do hope that Angus grows up to treat his friends with a little more respect.
I think the highlight of my week definitely has to be my trip to the local post office today. By local I mean, it’s twenty miles away. My sister has been having trouble with getting a saddle to fit her horse and so I offered to send a couple of mine for her to try. Today I trotted on down to the post office to prepare them to be couriered. When I squeezed through the door and popped the box down, I thought the lady was going to lose her mind. I did apologise for ruining her day but I was clearly dancing on her last nerve. She then proceeded to remove a set of shelves from in front of her scales and I tried really hard to balance a box about the same size as a small car onto a set of scales the size of an A4 piece of paper…… this was not going well. A very brief and frank discussion followed and two options where made available to me. Go home and get my bathroom scales, or drive a further 20 miles to the local town where they had larger scales. I struggled back out towards the door trying to lighten the mood by saying ‘I’m only trying to post my son, perhaps I’ll ask the doctors for advice’ This actually won me a smile and a phone call later, the doctors where part of the circus and I waddled down there for the weigh in. At 17.6kg and with me clearly slightly red in the face through not just exertion, the doctors surgery leant me a wheel chair for the return journey! With my posting complete and being awarded the accolade of largest parcel to ever pass through the village post office, I’m now fairly certain I am a local celebrity, but for all the wrong reasons.
Weather permitting we have a lesson tomorrow, Thursday and although I am nervous about exposing our lack of progression during the last fortnight. Physically I do think she is feeling stronger and straighter and those are two really important foundations for training. So whilst its harder to measure outwardly, deep down I know we are continuously improving. Apologise for the lack of photos too, my phone gave up on the cause so I lost lots of pictures from the week. I will make up for it in the next blog!