Top 5 Flatwork Exercises that Everyone Must Do!

Flatwork by far is one of the most important things to focus on with any horse young or old. It’s benefits are not only rewarding, but with a good Flatwork foundation you will in turn see massive improvements in your jumping.

Check out some of my go to exercises hat I have been focusing on the last few weeks, while there are adjusted to Dante & his ways, I am sure you will all find something to add to your Flatwork routines!

Bend Left, Bend Right

Having a big horse can have its hardships & challenges. Getting them to be supple even to do it whilst being relaxed is tough. Then try move on to bending them correctly, or flexing those neck muscles, this is where you come into difficulties especially if they are not used to it. But I have learned a way to help loosen Dante out, and this short yet effective exercise really helps me out before I start any jumping.

Exercise: After a good warm up, I let Dante have a 5 minute stretch on a long rein. When gathering up my reins to go back into work, I make sure both reins are even. Remaining in walk I bring Dante to the left circling him back to the right & I continue this pattern until he is accepting the contact and turning with a slight feel of the rein. Be sure to maintain a even contact on both reins, using your hips and body movements to back up your aids. It is all about backing everything with your legs also. In the long run I eventually will hopefully be able to do this with the pressure of my legs rather than using my reins as direction pointers.

Push On the Long, Hold on The Short

This is by far one of my most feared exercises. But one that has a fantastic effect on Dante. With him being so big and floppy he finds it hard to hold himself together. This exercise is brilliant to help him maintain his balance, & it really helps him grow his topline.

I will warn you, doing this with a horse for the first time be sure to remember to grip with your lower legs, this will help you keep your balance. To ride this, you are basically using the long sides of your arena to push & lenghten out your horses canter, using the short sides of the arena to shorten & really focus on collecting your canter.

Your legs will feel this exercise for sure as will your hips! Try using the motion of your hips to push your horse forward, you really want to be able to use this when you are jumping a round of fences, being able to push your horse for the longer stride is something we all want to do, as well as having to sit back and hold your horse for the shorter stride without your horse falling into canter.

One downside, your horse will take time to adjust to this exercise. They are clever animals, they will start to anticipate the exercise by remembering. So keep the exercise frequent enough that you can start to see the difference. I tend to keep this as an exercise I do in my jumping warm ups its helps get that extra bit of fizz out too!

Leg Yield – Lateral Work

Something I thought I would never have the patience for, let alone a horse that would actually cooperate with me to do it. I now finally understand the art of lateral work & the magic that it can create when you really begin to incorporate it into your weekly flatwork sessions.

We have started off simple with Dante. We have almost nearly mastered this in the walk, & only dabble in doing some lateral work in trot always trying to finish him when he does it correctly. I find this a great exercise to do toward the end of my flatwork sessions, as he is already loose & moving forward, I find it easier to get him soft & collected. Other times though, I use this exercise at the beginning of my sessions to get him to soften slightly, it depends on his moods!

How I Ride this: Starting in walk, from A in your arena i come in 1/2 meters from the outside track. The main thing is to keep riding Dante straight before I start asking him to do anything. Once I am happy I then begin to ask Dante to move over on to the outside track. Making sure Dante has his neck flexed away from the track, you should always be able to see your horses eye, I then open out my outside rein using my inside leg to push him over. Always make sure not to drop the contact on you inside rein as you need this to keep your contact. I have been using my schooling whip to reinforce my aids. When your horse reaches the outside track the most important thing to remember is to ride your horse straight! What i normally do is push Dante forward into trot remaining in that contact for a few strides once he is straight on the track.

20 Meter Circles – Push in, Push Out

Canter work can be boring, there are only so many times you can do those laps around the arena before you tend to get quite fed up. So instead of aimlessly cantering around your arena how about we add in some lateral work to your canter circles.

This is a great exercise to do, it also helps with getting your horse moving away from your leg. I do this exercise in trot to begin with then I move it up into canter.

Exercise: A good starting point to really open your eyes to this exercise is to place an object in the middle of your 20 meter circle, this can be a cone, a mounting block or your instructor! Start by riding your 20 meter circle, once you pass your starting point start using your outside leg to push your horse in toward the object you have placed in the middle, keeping on your circle, then begin to use you inside leg to start pushing your horse back out on your original circle. Remember to keep an even contact, try using your legs to do all the work with your reins as a back up. And the most important thing to remember, you should always be able to see the white of your horses eye as they bend & flex in around your leg.

Start Walking

Start Walking. Who would of thought it, how important can your horses walk be? Well trust me it is an important one. How else are you going to get good marks in your dressage test ehh!! It is a gait that is always forgotten, but I love focusing on Dante’s walk. This may be because this is the hardest one to get a steady rhythm in.

At the beginning of almost all of our riding sessions, Dante does this little skip & a hop out of slight protest against walking forward. He finds it hard to hold a contact a gather himself in an outline in walk, which worries me but also challenges me. I have learned that if I focus in our walking half way through our flatwork session or at the end I get a much better reaction.

While I focus on keeping Dante held together, I also do a lot of walk to halt transitions, using my legs & seat to push him forward. Focusing on your own position at this time is also vital. your seat in walk should be the same in all other gaits, so I take those 5-10 minutes to focus on keeping my shoulders back, my heels down and my leg positioned correctly just behind the girth. The say your muscles have great memory, & I feel like practicing in walk is one least liable to end in an accident!


Now that you have my 5 go to flatwork exercises, try piecing them together in one of your training sessions & you will have yourself a hardcore workout plan with some amazing results.

I pick days at the start of the week & the end to really focus on my flatwork, keeping things fun & exciting in between with field hacks & some jumping lessons. There is also no harm in ending any of your flatwork exercises with a small jump. If your horse loves jumping, it will certainly leave them on a good note doing something they love, who knows they may even start to think that if they perform their flatwork well they will be rewarded with that jump at the end of their session!

If you give any of the above a go, be sure to tag us in any videos, or if you have any go to flatwork exercises, be sure to write them in the comments below, I am becoming ever so fond of learning new flatwork techniques!

Until Next Time,

Darielle

How Do I Long Rein/Drive My Horse?

As requested by you all,  read below all about how I long rein Dante, or as the majority of the world likes to call it “Driving your horse”.

You may have guessed that I am new to this, so what I have written below is a guide from what I have learned over the last few days, my perspective on how to do it.

I hope you enjoy, and take this as a warning, your arms will be like jelly afterwards! I am just about able to type. And yes incase you notice, the majority of the pictures you are correct I am wearing my pyjamas!! 

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Equipment Needed

2 x Lunge Ropes, a roller, padding under your roller if required, a bridle with a snaffle bit, & a saddle depending on your chosen lunging option & last but not least a lead rope. 

To long rein you horse, you can do it two different ways

Option 1 You can tack your horse up fully, bridle & saddle. Using your two lunge lines,Photo 16-08-2018, 22 56 40 thread them through your stirrups & attach them to the bit on either side.  To keep the stirrups secure,  tie your two stirrups together with a lead rope by threading it around one stirrup, put it under your horses stomach and looping it around the stirrup on the other side securing it with a knot. This stops your stirrups from flapping around or moving back & forward while you are long reining/driving. 

Photo 16-08-2018, 21 21 30Option 2 Just like above, except instead of tacking your horse up fully, put your horses bridle on, and instead of a saddle put your roller on. Using your two lunge lines again thread them through the bottom loop on either side of your roller (halfway between withers & your horses stomach) & attach them to the bit on either side.

Steps For Long Reining/Driving Your Horse

  1. Start of by tacking up with your chosen option as listed above.
  2. Hold the left lunge line in your left hand and your right lunge line in your right, start of by standing at least a horse & a half’s distance behind your horse. (Just incase he kicks!)
  3. As if you were lunging your horse, pick up a light but firm contact on the lunge lines & ask your horse to walk forward by telling them to “walk on” or a command that your horse is used to hearing. 
  4. Feed out the lunge lines as he moves forward still allowing a gentle but firm contact through both lunge lines.
  5. As you get the feel for your horse, don’t be afraid to start turning your horse getting them to bend and flex on both their left & right side. The more they do, the more flexible your horse will become.
  6. After mastering the walk, start to practice walk to Halt transitions. This will also keep your horse from anticipating their work. To do this, give your horse  a voice command he is used to, such as “whoa,”  & gently give a pull on both lunge lines at the same time, apply this pressure to the lines until he comes to a complete stop. Once he does, always make sure to Reward him by releasing the pressure and a voice command of “good boy”
  7. It is cruel to be kind sometimes, so don’t be afraid to give your horse a tap of one of the lines on the bum if they are hesitant to move forward! You want them working themselves not slumming around in a lazy walk.
  8. If you are feeling brave or should I say, if you trust your horse is capable of trotting try asking them to trot using the same technique as if you were asking your horse to walk on, be careful not to pull on their mouths too much as they take off. If you feel like running behind your horse is too much, you can use the lunge lines to circle your horse with you standing in the middle.
  9. Finishing up, direct your horse back to the yard or in my case the archway outside his stable. You should always make your horse stands still without him moving until he is untacked unless you instruct them to move otherwise. This is something that will benefit you massively with small things such as mounting & dismounting. 

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Additional Tips to go by:  

  • If your horse hasn’t done this before, I would recommend that you start with a quick lunge beforehand,  ease them into it. 
  •  Use your inside lunge line to give your horse directions & use the outside lunge line to push him forward
  •  Don’t be afraid to play around with the bit in your hands this will help soften their mouths
  • Keep an eye on your lunge lines, don’t let them drag behind you or loop too low, last thing you want is to trip over.  
  •  Use a snaffle bit ONLY. This exercise is all about softening your horses mouth, anything other than a snaffle will harden them
  •  If you are unsure have someone walk along side you on the ground, even better if it is someone with experience that can guide you through everything.


So there you have it, how you long rein or as most people like to call it drive your horse. It is a great basic exercise that can be done with any horse at any age, it is certainly not just for breakers.

Sometimes bringing your horse back a few steps or going back to basics will help fine tune them that bit more! The good thing about this exercise is that you can do it anywhere you wish, well within reason!

So go get out, walk around your yard, in your arena if you are allowed or out in the field, the benefits are massive, and don’t be to hard on yourself about technique either, always remember that practice makes perfect! I barely done this before and even at that I was helping or watching, so it is like a new learning curve even for myself.

I hope you enjoyed, if you have any tips or tricks you have of your own be sure to share them, I could do with them all! 

 Darielle 

First Aid In The Yard – The Rider

Writing about rider first aid in the yard, well I could literally go on forever! Everyone has their stories, some more vile than others, but the majority of equestrians are quite knowledgeable and smart when it comes to injuries and rider safety. To be quite blunt,  unfortunately there are some idiots who also that think they are invincible when it comes to riding their horse and my advice, steer clear of them. Putting yourself at risk is not ideal, as you may be setting both yourself & your horse up for a very serious injury. 
What to do if you fall from your horse…
First things first, don’t panic. Falling is all part of this sport we so desperately love so we have to expect it at some point or another. The main thing is ensuring you take all the right steps after you’ve fallen as the last thing you want to do is cause more damage by exacerbating any injuries you may have sustained.
In over 15 years of riding I have had many unscheduled dismounts, as some people so pleasantly like to call it. The biggest thing I’ve learned is to give yourself a minute. After I’ve fallen I tend to lie still for a second and take a few breaths before trying to get back up. This gives you a chance to get your head together and check for any injuries. If you feel you’re ok to keep riding I would always recommend getting straight back up. Just don’t be a hero and ignore any obvious signs of a more serious injury as you will only make it worse.
If you’ve fallen and you think you’ve done some serious damage, don’t move if you can avoid it. Try to get to your phone to call for help – your yard manager should never be too far away. This brings me to probably one of the most important points of this whole post *ALWAYS HAVE A MOBILE PHONE WITH YOU WHEN YOU’RE RIDING*. You never know what can happen so be prepared for the worst and have a mobile with you incase you ever need to call for help in an emergency.
What to do if you witness someone else fall from their horse…
Again, don’t panic. If you witness someone falling, it can be quite scary. Reacting to a fall or reacting to watching someone fall can be extremely difficult, people automatically go into panic mode, sometimes it can be like watching a gang of headless chickens running around the place, add in a worried parent to the situation then that is were the chaos begins, I don’t blame the parents, it can be scary! My mother still cant watch me ride without her heart being in her mouth!
Anyone who works on a yard, or any livery on a private yard should defiantly know where the first aid kit is kept, this will assist in helping get quick and efficient care to the rider asap if it is needed when they fall. But lets be realistic here, not many falls from a horse end up in a plaster stuck onto your head, the majority of falls unfortunately end up being serious or a bad concussion.
Being a rider, you really do put your life into the hands of a 50 tonne beast, and well they cant always keep you safe. 
If you happen to be present during a fall in the yard depending on the severity ,the below are a few guidelines to follow: 
  • Call your yard manager ASAP to inform them of what has happened
  • Assess your surroundings to ensure it’s safe for you to help. Make sure there are no horses running around (eg the horse the rider fell from). If possible, get someone to catch him and put him in his stable.
  • Assess the injured person. Ask them if anywhere hurts, if they can feel their arms and legs etc, if they feel they can move. If they say yes, give them a hand and advise them to move very slowly incase they have sustained an injury that they don’t realise yet. Adrenaline can kick in and mask injuries so if the fall looked particularly bad, be confident the person is ok before allowing them to get up.
  • If the person is struggling to answer your questions, struggling to get to their feet, complaining of a sore back, neck pain or a sore head then you should call an ambulance immediately & explain what has happened. Most importantly, NEVER move the injured person as this could make the injury worse. The operator will stay on the phone with you and tell you how to proceed until the paramedics arrive on the scene. 
  • Calm down the injured person, ask them questions to keep them focused on you
  • Dealing with onlookers or big crowds, keep everything as relaxed as possible making sure the injured person has enough privacy & space.
Concussions
I am going to raise my hand up here and say there have been one or two occasions where I have fallen and hit my head, but out of stubbornness I said I was fine, only to have a throbbing headache for two days after the fall, wondering where the headache even came from.
Concussions are a serious thing and can do an awful lot of damage if they are not seen to properly. If you suspect you have a concussion always get yourself to an emergency room just to be on the safe side. It’s just not worth the risk to ignore your body when it’s telling you to stop and slow down. 
Above I have only mentioned a few injuries, I myself have broken fingers , sprained ankles, I have even broken my femur (my leg). Funny story there actually but my instructor at the time tried to make me get back on my horse, not believing me when I said I was in pain, keeping in mind that my entire leg had been turned around backwards, whatever way I fell! But I am pretty sure they only sent me to the hospital to keep me quiet. I remember being shoved into the backseat of my dads car, only to find out a few hours later that I had actually broken my Femur, all whilst falling off going over a trot pole!
It just goes to show how simple these accidents can happen and the difference 18 years makes, in a sense of how much more seriously people react to injuries when they happen.
I myself am quite lucky to also be fully qualified in CPR & Basic First Aid. I am trained & know how to react in these situations. Praying that I never have to use my knowledge in any situation, but I am lucky to have the qualifications incase anything bad does ever happen around the yard. 

*** Important Information Alert ***

If you are riding alone, bring a phone with you, if you are hacking or going out to the field inform people to let them know.  Be smart, and use your head. Don’t ride carelessly if the weather conditions have been dreadful. Being a rider, you have to think ahead with these things, not only for your safety but for the risk of injuring your horse or any other riders out with you. Careless riding in my opinion is uncalled for, if you don’t have the common knowledge or sense to ride safely you shouldn’t be riding at all.
There have been so many freak accidents you hear about that I would hate anyone to be involved in. Our health & the safety and the health and safety of others around us is vital.
Remember, that most yards have rules & regulations in place for a reason, whether it be that you have to wear a back protector jumping in the arena or that you’re not allowed enter certain areas with your horse due to safety concerns, your yard Owner & Managers are simply looking out for your safety so please respect them! 
Thanks for Reading,
Darielle

Bonding With Your Horse

Spending time with your horse on the ground is good for you, it is a proven fact that petting animals can lower your stress levels!! It can also be very rewarding & beneficial when it comes to your riding. Getting to know your horse, their quirks, their likes and dislikes will only improve your bond together and your horse’s overall trust in you. 

When it came to working with Dante, working on the ground and translating things up into our riding became our go to routine at the beginning, and let me say it worked! He got over whelmed quickly and simply didn’t understand what it was I was asking of him, it came to a stage where you could nearly hear a sigh of relief from him when I used to stop to scratch him on the neck to calm him down whilst riding, it was as if he forgot I was on him at times! From lunging techniques to simply doing in hand walking exercises with him the techniques” were extremely helpful but when it came down to things, literally standing in the stable and putting time into getting to know Dante was all I really needed to do to really get a good grasp of his personality. 

When it comes to bonding with your horse bonding techniques” would be a term I would throw around loosely. Sometimes getting to know each other & gaining each others respect and trust can be the start of a blossoming relationship! I have listed a few things below, keeping in mind horses vary, different things work for different horse, but hey thats what this post is all about! Learning about your horse, and what he likes! 

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Body Language when to Give your Horse some Space

Your horse is capable of doing a lot more than you think. He will show you signs of aggression & aggravation way before you have a chance to pick up on them. From pinned back ears, tail swishing to foot stomping and one of the most obvious his facial expressions. Learn how to react & how to avoid these reaction as soon as you can. 

Stomping of the feet or pawing at the ground can simply be from being bored tied up to the wall, but at the same time your horse has to learn how to behave in these situations, and learn how to stand still. 

When your horse swishes his tail, he could be swatting away flies, during the summer the tail swish” is literally constant! So I wouldn’t pay too much attention to this, it is normally a slow and easy going back and forth swish, way different to the aggressive type. If your horse is feeling agitated that tail will be flicking everywhere, if your horse does this, give your horse some space, give him 5 10 minutes to relax and calm down, with a reassuring pat on the neck. If your horse is reacting to something, for example being tacked up or being touched in certain spots, the aggression is communication from your horse. Without noticing your horse is forever giving you indications of things, it’s a matter of paying attention to them and taking that time to notice. Do remember to stay calm, if you loose the plot in these situations your horses emotions can escalate, turning simple situations into very dangerous problems very quickly. 

Facial expressions on your horse, well these can simply be learned by watching their reactions. Give your horse something he doesn’t like the smell of and straight away you will get the lip curl and teeth showing goofy face! If your horse is afraid & alert, the ears will be pricked forward eyes wide and alert with their head high up in the air.

Getting to know your horse over time will give you an idea of what they like & dislike, looking at your horses ears while you’re riding can also be another massive indication of their mood or attitude to the work their doing! It has certainly helped me!! 

In Hand Work

I love in hand work, it can be so relaxing! Dont treat this as a job for them either, keep everything simple and chilled. Please always remember to put a head collar & a lead rope on your horse for the love of god, you dont want to get your hand stuck in a head collar if your horse spooks and runs off!!  

Walking your horse around the place, as ridiculous as it may sound, but it can be the answer to some major problems. Does your horse always spook at a certain object in the yard? Walk him in hand up to them and let him sniff it out for himself, hold him on a loose line and dont interfere! You are technically bonding with him during this situation, you are both facing his fear head on, you are there with your horse reassuring him. 

Recently I have started putting Dante on a lunge line & literally sat in a field with him as he ate grass around me! The grass I would  walk him out to would be the long luscious grass that he wouldn’t normally have in his paddock, so its almost like a reward for him. Its crazy to sit back and observe him, I bring out a bucket to sit on and while he may be in a daze eating away, he will never come too close to me, he seems cautious of my personal space! 

 

Watch Your Horses Stance

From reading the above section about in-hand work, it is also important to notice how your horse is approaching certain things, their stand their expression certainly gives a lot away!

For instance, if your horse is trembling/shaking, or hesitant to move forward they are telling you that they are absolutely petrified of something either in front, behind or beside them. One of the most obvious stances to watch out for is if your horse lifts one of his front or back legs or starts swinging his hindquarters. This simply means that they are getting ready to kick. So get the hell out of the way, move as far back from your horse as possible to prevent hurting yourself.

Causes for your horse to lash out or to kick out at you can be literally a mile long, they could be uncomfortable, you could be in their personal space, some horse may even lash out with their front legs if you go near them when they are eating food, every horse is different! It is a matter of learning the body language of your horse, and realising moments to get up and walk away from them or to calmly reassure them with your voice!

Grooming Your Horse

Grooming is one of the key tasks when it comes to bonding with your horse, not only does it give you some quality time together but you get to find out spots your horse dislikes, and spots your horse likes. Grooming and touching your horse all over for just a few minutes each day, even if its before you tack up,  will not only gain your horses trust, but by being gentle with him you show him respect in-turn he will only want to return in, making that bond stronger! 

Grooming your horse will not only teach your horse about personal space, but he will learn boundaries, young horses in particular may try to groom you back so be aware of this when you go to groom them! I have had a few nips on the shoulder from Dante trying to scratch me back when I give him rubs on the neck or on his withers, it is up to you to teach them that they cannot do that either! Its all about personal space, they need to learn where they stand, establish those boundaries!! 

If you are working with a young horse, one who is only getting used to human touch, start by touching him all over with just your hands. Doing this everyday will get him used to your touch. Be aware of the areas where he doesn’t feel comfortable being touched, some horses can be particular with their legs, but take it step by step and slowly begin to introduce grooming brushes, do let your horse sniff and snort and suss them out before hand, it will let them know that the object is safe, that it wont hurt them! 

Always try to focus on the areas your horse likes when your grooming, Many horses enjoy being touched around their withers and mane. Remember you are trying to bond with your horse its a different situation when your vigorously trying to get them cleaned up for a show! 

Remember that horses are social herd animals. They establish a social hierarchy in a herd, meaning that one horse will lead and the others will follow. You want to aim to be that herd leader, through consistent ground training, earning each others respect and bonding with each other you can establish the same type of leadership role that your horse will respond to and want to follow.

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Working at Liberty

Orla here, jumping in with one of my own helpful tips for growing that bond with your horse. Over the last few months I have started to work with Coco at liberty. For me, this essentially means that I let her off in the arena to wander and do her own thing. It originally started as a way for me to get some energy out of her without keeping her confined to a small space meaning she’s much less likely to hurt herself. But it has now turned into more of a bonding exercise for us.

I start these sessions by sending her off to go for a trot and a canter around the arena. This usually turns into a full on gallop run until she decides she’s ready to calm down. When I first started doing this, she would stop and stay out around the outside of the arena but the more we did it, the more she gradually started to come into me in the middle of the arena instead. It was like when she decided she was done having her fun, she was ready to come in and spend some time with me. From there I could walk anywhere around the arena and she would follow me. She’s gotten better and better each time and we are working our way up to her following me over jumps but it’s incredible how much of a difference it’s made. For such a basic exercise, it is quite effective. I definitely feel like she has much more trust in me now.

Bonding_Coco

If you have the opportunity this is definitely something I would recommend trying. Of course liberty work can go so much farther than what I’ve detailed here. Coco has responded so well to what we’ve done so far, I’m contemplating learning more about it and maybe seeing how far we can go with it. But for now, Ill be happy to keep doing our little bonding sessions.


5 Simple Ways To bond with Your Horse

  1. Treat them to a massage! They may not technically need one, but who doesn’t love a good muscle rub out every now & then! I know Dante always feels like a new horse afterwards.
  2. Establish a routine & stick to it, If your horse can rely on you for certain things such as feeding him at a certain hour and bringing him in from the field the same time every day, they will rely on you & therefore you will earn a bucket full of trust.
  3. Have fun with your horse, go for that hack, bring them out of the yard for the day horses love & appreciate the adventure. And it will prevent boredom, as well as bond you together as a team, going out of the yard, you & your horse have literally only each other to rely on!
  4. Stable toys! Its winter, your horse is more than likely in that bit longer, tie a few carrots on strings and hang them from the roof, or throw in a few turnips they are guaranteed to give him an hour at least of chasing around after it!
  5. Be firm, consistent & patient. Stick to your guns! don’t give out to your horse for eating out of the haynet before you hang it up one day and then let him do it the next.

Patience is the key working with horses, especially when it comes to getting a that good bond with them. The moment you lose your patience or get aggressive with your horse, wave bye bye to that bond, you’re literally back to square one again! Horses will show you in many ways that they have a connection with you like running up to you in the field, neighing every time they see you (doesn’t count when they’re being fed!), to following you around the place, over time you will have your own specific bonding” rituals that will be unique to you both. So just be patient and do things you both like doing such as grooming or washing or even bringing him over to graze on the good lush bit of grass (one of Dante’s favourites!) 

Bonding with your horse is upto you, no one can do it for you, and unfortunately time will be the test of everything! 

Thanks for reading!

Darielle 

Sustaining My Confidence ~ Coco Edition

Following on from Darielle’s post last week about how she’s managed to sustain her confidence with Dante, I thought it would be good to look at how I’ve kept mine with Coco.

In the last year that I’ve had Coco, I’ve really found my confidence to be tested. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had plenty of experience riding young, green or difficult horses but that was when I was 14 years old and long before my 2 year break from horse riding while I was in college. I knew once I got back into the swing of things I’d find my confidence again but when I started working with Coco, it definitely got knocked from time to time.

There were a number of key issues I faced when I got Coco. They’re all very common problems seen in a lot of young horses but I never really thought about how I would deal with them until I faced them with Coco.

Lunging an excitable horse

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As basic as it sounds, this was one thing that has really freaked me out in the past. My lack of confidence with lunging started almost 8 years ago while I was leasing a thoroughbred gelding. I had to lunge him most days before I could ride him and there were days where he just got completely out of control and I didn’t know how to deal with it, so I always had to call someone in to help me.

When it came to Coco, I found she could be very excitable on the lunge as well so I knew I had to just learn to deal with her when she got like that. I’ve had numerous incidents with Coco on the lunge, from simple bucking with excitement and doing laps of the lunge arena in a full blown gallop, to her throwing her legs through the fence resulting in injury. But most recently, I had an incident with Coco that really showed me how much my confidence has grown when dealing with her on the lunge. 

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As some of you may know from my recent post, Coco suffered an injury to one of her legs a few weeks ago. Last week I decided it was time to bring her back into work with a light lunging session. Since her accident in the lunge arena, I don’t exercise her in there anymore so I brought her to one of the riding arenas. I started her out on the left rein and she was oddly calm and quiet for a horse who hadn’t been in work for 2 weeks. I’ve recently started her on a magnesium supplement so I assumed this was the reason. 

When I put her onto the right rein however, she kicked off straight away, bunny hopping to the side and turning herself around so she could go the opposite direction. I instantly felt like I had lost control. This wasn’t the first time Coco had tried this trick so luckily I knew I had to keep calm and move myself around her to get back into a position of control. Once in position, I asked her to move forward again but she was having none of it. This time she started bunny-hopping backwards, running away from me and I suddenly became very aware that she had a full arena to drag me around if she wanted to. I knew I needed to get her onto a circle so I kept walking around to the side of her, trying to get myself in the centre of her body. I managed to get there and was able to get her moving on a tight circle.

She took off in canter for a while and I thought the battle was won. She would canter the freshness out of herself and we could get back to work…but this was not the case. She suddenly stopped dead, turned around to face me head on and started walking towards me trying to make herself as big as possible. I knew she was trying to be the dominant one and there was no way I could let her win so I threw my arms up and told her to get out. She spooked away and took off cantering so again I moved myself back to the position until she realised what I was doing and stopped to try the dominant thing once more. Again, I stood tall as she started walking towards me, stamping her feet so I decided to stamp back. She spooked away on her canter circle again, I moved myself back into position and finally she gave up. She cantered and cantered on her circle, throwing a few bucks here and there as I slowly moved us back to where we started in the arena. Once the fizz was gone I allowed her to trot for a few circles and then back to walk and I finished her there. 

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What helped me deal with that situation was remaining calm, remembering what I know about lunging. It also helps that I’ve learned to read Coco over the last year and I knew in this situation she was just trying to get her own way so I had to win this one. It’s very easy for things to get out of control when you’re working with horses on the ground though so if you feel like you’re not getting anywhere then you’re better off stopping and calming everything down (which I have also had to do with Coco in the past). Give your horse a minute to chill, walk up to them, give them a pat and maybe walk them in hand for a minute. When you feel they’ve relaxed, you can try again. It can be very intimidating working with horses on the ground as they are such big animals that can very easily run you down if they wanted to so safety is always the number one priority. 

Dealing with spooking

In my opinion, spooking is probably one of the most annoying things horses do. It comes out of nowhere and frightens the life out of you. Coco is definitely one of the spookiest horses I’ve ever ridden. She’ll jump anything but if there’s something that’s not quite right about a bush there’s no way she’ll go near it. It definitely knocked my confidence as I never knew if I was going to be able to make it the full way around the arena without my heart jumping into my mouth from her spooking. I was constantly on edge any time I rode and it became really difficult to school Coco properly because any time we got going, she would spook and I would be back to square one. 

So how have I dealt with her spooking? Well the first thing was learning to sit a spook. 9 times of out 10, your horse will spook inwards so one thing I was taught was to prepare your body for the spook by putting more weight into your inside stirrup. This way, when your horse spooks your body is already where its going to end up so you’ve got much less risk of falling. I was sceptical of this at first but it totally worked. 

Next, was stopping her from spooking. Everyone has different ways of dealing with a spooky horse, some will show the horse what they’re afraid of so they know to expect itSustaining My Confidence_post5 next time (doesn’t work on Coco), and some will tirelessly drive their horse closer and closer to what they’re spooking at until they stop spooking (also doesn’t work with Coco). The only thing that has worked with Coco is keeping her head bent to the inside so she doesn’t have a chance to look at what’s spooking her because she’s too focused on what I’m asking her to do. Apparently this is a trick used by the Mounted Unit of An Garda Siochana (Irish Police) when training their horses and it definitely works!

Once I knew how to deal with her spooking, I was able to relax and enjoy riding Coco much more.

Napping

I find horses who nap just plain rude. They belligerently ignore what you’re asking them to do and try to find the best way of getting what they want. I know they do it for generally understandable reasons but it’s still incredibly frustrating. In Coco’s case, she bunny hops. I remember the very first day I rode her after I had bought her. The minute I put her on a circle she straight away started trying to nap to the gate by bunny hopping. In doing this she flung her head back and hit me square in the face. It really hurt.

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And so started my fun journey of dealing with Coco’s napping. She was quite bad for it. Any time I rode with other horses in the arena should would just want to follow them and had no interest in what I wanted her to do. There were days that she was quite dangerous. Being as fiery as she was, she would sometimes take off to the side and bunny hop until she got what she wanted. She never went into a full blown rear but she did go up quite high at times. For a while I really started to get scared of what she would do if I got on her and she wasn’t in the right frame of mind.

As she’s young, I knew I had to find a way of working her out of her napping so I did something that I picked up from my earlier riding days, I faked confidence. It’s amazing how well this works. I in no way felt that I knew what I was doing or if I was even capable of dealing with Coco’s behaviour but I couldn’t let her know that so I would sit tall, boot her on, stick my arse to the saddle and push her until she moved forward!

However there were days when this just didn’t cut it, the minute I mounted up she just didn’t want to work, she would do everything in her power to avoid moving forward and just hop on the spot and throw her head around. She had too much energy so I needed to do something to get her focused and to channel that energy. So before every session I would set out some poles and if I found Coco to be in one of those moods, I would bring her to the poles. I would rarely actually trot her directly over them but instead work her around them in every direction I could. I would keep her steady, tight and bending in different directions so she couldn’t figure out what I was going to ask her to do next. Once I felt she had relaxed I would then bring her away from the poles and see how she was.

This was such a handy trick that I picked up in my time with Coco. I genuinely don’t think we’d have gotten where we are now without this tactic.

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Confidence can get knocked by any number of things but for me I’ve found what’s really knocked mine was not knowing how to deal with the issue that knocked it in the first place. Once I knew how to fix the behaviour issue, I felt I was able to keep control and handle the situation much better. And when I didn’t know what to do, the best thing I could do was fake it until I had a better solution. It might not be perfect but it’s gotten us this far!

How has your confidence been tested? And how have you managed to pick it back up again? Let me know in the comments 🙂

Thanks for reading

Orla

#NBW