Youngster Exercise Series – The Circle Challenge

Here’s another exercise that is a bit more challenging but excellent for a young horse to take on. I did this one with Cosmo before we went into complete lockdown in March. It was tough but very rewarding when we got it right.


WHAT IS THIS EXERCISE GOOD FOR?

  • Building topline
  • Encouraging self-carriage
  • Making your horse more sure-footed
  • Improving balance

HOW TO SET IT UP

For this exercise you’re going to want a large amount of space. I set mine up in the middle of the arena but it could be set-up at either end of the arena too.

For the Trot Poles:

  • Two sets of 3 x raised trot poles – 5 footsteps between each pole
  • Each set should be placed at opposite sides of a 10m circle

For the Canter Poles:

  • 4 x poles
  • Placed on a 20m circle at 3 – 6 – 9 – 12 as if on a clock face

You should place your canter poles around the outside of your trot poles.

HOW TO RIDE IT

Riding the Trot Poles:

To ride the trot poles you want to make sure you have a nice forward trot with a good even contact on the reins to help balance your horse.

  • Start by riding a circle around the outside of the trot poles, encouraging your horse to bend its body around your leg
  • Once you establish a nice even rhythm, ride your horse into the first set of trot poles, making sure to keep the bend over the poles. You may find that your horse will struggle the first few times over the poles but if you can maintain consistency in your rhythm and contact, they’ll get there themselves.
  • After doing the first set of poles on each rein a few times, its time to complete the circle and include your second set of poles. You may find the circle a bit tight initially but again, once you maintain a consistent rhythm, your horse should flow through both sets of poles.
  • This is quite a tough enough exercise for a young horse who is still developing their topline so be sure to give your horse plenty of breaks when doing this exercise.

For the Canter Poles:

The canter element of this exercise is much more simple but equally as challenging especially if you have a horse who struggles to hold themselves together in the canter.

  • Similar to the trot poles, start by riding a larger circle around the outside of the canter poles to help establish a rhythm. You want to settle your horse into a nice forward canter with a slight bend through their body.
  • Once you’re ready, start over your first pole focusing on maintaining your rhythm and keeping your horse up in your hands to encourage them off the forehand as you ride the full circle of poles.
  • Do this on both reins while making sure to give your horse plenty of breaks.

Check out a quick video of Cosmo giving this Circle Challenge a go!


I definitely found the trot pole element of this layout way more difficult than the canter poles but I felt both myself and Cosmo settled into it in the end and we got some really lovely results. Our biggest problem with canter work is that Cosmo tends to lean on the forehand quite a bit so I sometimes have a hard time keeping him up and light in my hands. I definitely felt an improvement by the time we finished up with this exercise though.

Thanks for reading,

ORLA

Fear of the Fall

For such a common eventuality among horse riders, this is something I don’t see too many people talk about. This sport we do is pretty high up there in the ‘dangerous sports’ category – a quick google search of the most dangerous sports will show you that horse riding (or sports involving riding horses eg. Polo, jousting, racing etc) is always listed in the top 10. This doesn’t surprise me one bit and I’m sure it doesn’t surprise you.

In most other sports, people are putting their trust in their own abilities to complete the task they’ve given themselves. They train hard to build their strength and skills to ensure they can perform their job. Yes, we equestrians need to do the same for ourselves, but there’s an additional element that is unique to our sport. We are choosing an animal as our partner. These animals have their own minds and they’re not afraid to remind us of that. Our horses are athletes and they demand the respect of being treated as such. They require immense care along with strict training and diet plans to ensure they are given everything they need to perform the tasks we ask of them. This is the element of our sport that provides the danger.

Some may compare a horse to a race car and yes, in the sense that a vehicle can have an unknown broken part which can malfunction at the worst possible time, there is an element of risk. However, at the end of the day, a vehicle does not have feelings. A vehicle cannot be in a bad mood. A vehicle cannot feel that its back is sore. A vehicle cannot feel the nerves of its driver just before a race starts. Horses feel all of this and more and just like us humans, they have the freedom and right to react to all of this as they see fit. This is where, in my opinion, our sport has no equal comparison. To make matters even more dangerous, we put ourselves in the position where we’re actually sitting on this animal’s back, 5 feet off the ground.

I hope that by this point all you equestrians reading this are nodding your heads in agreement. I mean, when you look at all of this together you have to wonder what went wrong in our lives that we seem to have a death wish?! I’m not going to keep going on about the dangers of our sport, we all know that this hobby is a risk sport and we have consciously made the decision to partake in it. What I want to talk about is the fact that despite knowing all of this, we have decided to do this sport knowing there is a high chance we could die or, at the very least, end up in a wheelchair and yet, we continue despite having the fear of the fall. To be more specific, the fear of THAT fall.

We know that falling off is an inevitable element of our sport and a lot would argue that falling makes you a better rider and this is something I wholeheartedly agree with. The only way to learn is by making mistakes and unfortunately falling off tends to be the result of making mistakes while horse riding. The aim is to ensure you get back up and keeping going – something that is not always possible depending on how bad the fall was. But we know we at least have to try because we love what we do. Unfortunately the getting back up part is not always easy. Sometimes you physically cant because you’ve sustained an injury, other times it’s the straw that broke the camel’s back and we just can’t do it anymore.

Anyone who’s been following NBW over the last year or two will know that I’ve had my fair share of falls. From April 2018 to June 2019, I had fallen off Coco 6 times. Not all the falls were bad, for the first few I was able to get back up and keep going to an extent, but fall number 3 was particularly bad – enough for me to drag myself to A&E on Christmas Eve. This one really shattered my confidence and it took some work to build myself back up and to get back out jumping. Unfortunately after regaining my confidence, the falls just kept coming until my last one in June 2019 which resulted in a broken foot, and me being out of the saddle for an entire summer. By then I had reached a point where I realised I was no longer enjoying riding so I made the difficult decision to sell Coco.

Enter Cosmo.

Even though he was young, Cosmo was to be my brave companion. The first time I rode him ended up being the first time I jumped since the fall that broke my foot (which happened while jumping). I didn’t think that first time leaving the ground was going to be on a very green 4yo, but low and behold this gem of a horse took me confidently over a red roadblock and I made the decision that he was going to be my next horse. He’s been exactly what I wanted from a horse – brave, trusting and incredibly talented. However, being a 4yo (now 5yo) he of course still needs the correct training to ensure he becomes the horse I know he can be.

After my litany of falls the previous year, I was of course very aware that a fall from Cosmo was inevitable. I briefly mentioned before about the cause of a fall. A lot of the time, just knowing what caused the fall can be enough to get you back going again. If you know you did something that impacted your horse to make them stop at the fence then you know what you have to work on. Unfortunately not all falls have this explanation. Sometimes it’s just bad luck. Sometimes neither of you did anything wrong. And this is what happened to me and Cosmo a few months ago.

We were doing some jumping at home over some small cross poles and Cosmo went for an off stride and ended up tripping over the fence. He tried his hardest but he just couldn’t get his footing and we both ended up going down. I flipped over his head, landing quite hard on my shoulder and I needed to keep rolling to ensure I got out from underneath him. We were both pretty shaken but thankfully we both walked away with no serious injuries. While I was well enough to get back in the saddle a week later, it took quite a good 3 months before I could jump again (partly due to the pandemic to be fair).

This fall was the one that I had feared the most. I’ve seen so many other horse and rider combinations take similar falls and they are always horrifying to watch. I’ve heard so many awful stories that I always dreaded it ever happening to me. And then it did. And despite the fact that we managed to escape physically unscathed, it was just as terrifying as I imagined. The ‘what if’ of the situation is ingrained in me and the possibility that it could happen again sends a cold shiver down my spine.

Our horses are our escape, the silencers of our minds for the few hours we spend with them.

This fall really got into my head. It was only when I really thought about all of this that I realised what an impact my recent falls have had on me mentally. Most of us do this sport as our hobby and our way of decompressing. Our horses are our escape, the silencers of our minds for the few hours we spend with them. But when fear and anxiety set in and you find yourself no longer enjoying your time in the saddle, or constantly worrying that you’re not doing what you ‘should’ be doing, it can really take its toll on your mental health. Something that I grew to accept was that I may get to a point where I decide that jumping just isn’t for me anymore. And if I do reach that point, that’s ok. As I know if I do make that choice, I’ll be happier in myself.

I also know that I definitely haven’t gotten there yet. I have had a few lessons over the last few months which have shown me that I still love jumping and Cosmo is far too talented to not be jumping. I still have a lot of fight in me to push through these confidence issues. I’ve done it before and I can do it again and I’m too excited to see where me and Cosmo could go to give up just yet. But knowing that I can decide to take the pressure off myself and just enjoy my horse brings a sense of relief but also a sense of determination, when I realised that I’m not quite ready for that.

For anyone else who may be struggling with similar fears, doubts, anxiety; just know that you can decide to do whatever you feel is right for you. If that means giving up jumping for a while then so be it. If it means stopping riding altogether and just spending some quality time lounging in the field with your horse, then that’s ok too. Just do what you know is the best thing for you and you really can’t go wrong.

Thanks for reading,

ORLA

Youngster Exercise Series – Straighten Out

As you may be realising, Cosmo has a bit of a straightness issue so I came up with this series of poles to help work on this problem. It’s relatively simple but enough for a young brain to get to grips with.


WHAT IS THIS EXERCISE GOOD FOR?

  • Straightness
  • Rhythm
  • Seeing a stride

HOW TO SET IT UP?

For this exercise you’ll need pretty much your full arena and the following:

For the Trot Poles:

  • Two sets of 3 x trot poles – 4 and a half footsteps between each pole
  • A pair of straightening poles set up either side of both sets of trot poles

For the Canter Poles:

  • One set of canter poles – 6 strides, 4 large steps per stride
  • A pair of straightening poles at the start and end of the line
  • Two wings/blocks at the half way point down your line

Your trot poles should be set up on the long-sides, while your canter poles should be set up down the centreline.

HOW TO RIDE IT

The straightening poles within these layouts will ensure your horse goes over the poles as straight as possible however there are other things you can do to help get your horse there:

  • If your horse tends to drift to one particular side more than the other, then consider cutting your corner on your approach or turning a little later. This will help ensure you’re straight by the time you hit your poles.
  • Keep your hands wide to provide a type of tunnel contact between your hands and the horse’s mouth.
  • Focus on keeping even pressure on your horse’s sides with your legs.

Check out some GoPro footage of me and Cosmo giving the canter poles a go…


Cosmo’s weakest gait is canter so we can sometimes struggle to even get through a set of canter poles without breaking to trot but he did quite well with this one all things considered. I’ve definitely seen a big improvement in Cosmo’s straightness since starting these exercises so do give them a go if you’re having the same problems as me.

Thanks for reading,

ORLA

Youngster Exercise Series ~ Circle of Support

Well, it has been some time since I’ve written a post and for that I apologise but I’m getting back into the swing of things and to kick me back into gear, I’ve got a brand new exercise series specifically aimed at young horses.

To start the series, I’ve got a nice simple pole exercise that incorporates some concepts that are vital to your horse’s development.


WHAT IS THIS EXERCISE GOOD FOR?

  • Improving balance
  • Encouraging roundness and self-carriage
  • Strengthening the hind end
  • Improving rhythm

HOW TO SET IT UP

Ideally you want to have someone on the ground to help adjust poles but if that’s not possible then you can set this exercise up in two different corners of the arena.

Trot Pole Setup:

  • Set out 3 trot poles in a fan with 4 small footsteps between the middle of each pole
  • Place one pole vertically on the outside of the fan as a guide pole
  • Place another guide pole vertically on the inside of the fan

Canter Pole Setup:

  • Lay a single pole out on a bend
  • Place a guide pole vertically on either side of the canter pole, again one on the outside and one on the inside

HOW TO RIDE IT

Hold the outside rein while opening the inside hand to support through the circle

TROT POLES

  • First, make sure you have an active and engaged trot with your horse moving forward and off the leg.
  • Bring them onto a circle, but going around the exercise to start. This is to get you and your horse in the circle ‘mind-frame’ and allows you the time to ask for an inside bend.
  • Once happy with how your horse is moving, bring them into your set of trot poles, starting over the centre of the poles first.
  • The placing of the guide poles, will help keep your horse on track before and after the trot poles.
  • Do this a few times before you start asking your horse to move out on the circle, aiming for the outside of the trot poles.
  • Next work your way back in until you’re riding over the inside of the trot poles.
  • Make sure to repeat the above on the other rein to give both reins a good workout

CANTER POLES

  • Depending on your horse’s weaknesses, you might find they struggle a bit more with this exercise in canter. You also might find that they have a rein that’s much weaker than the other so you’ll find this very beneficial for supporting them on that weaker side.
  • Similar to the trot poles, do a circle of canter around the exercise first so you can establish your rhythm on a circle.
  • Once ready, bring your horse over the canter pole making sure to support them with your outside rein and if needs be, opening your inside rein a bit wider to encourage them around the circle.
  • Do this a few times on each rein until you feel your horse is supporting themselves around the circle
  • Step it up by turning the canter pole into a raised cavaletti, ensuring your horse uses themselves effectively over the pole

Tips for this Exercise:

  • Keep a steady, even pace through the exercise, using half halts on the outside rein to manage your horse’s speed
  • If your horse is prone to drifting out through the shoulder, make sure to lift and keep a steady contact on the outside rein while supporting their body through the turns with a strong outside leg behind the girth
  • Use your guide poles! They’re there to help and support so use them to help guide your horse through the exercise.

Check out how I got on with Cosmo when we tackled this exercise…


As these exercises are aimed at young horses, they tend to be quite simple but also something that should challenge your youngster. Myself and Cosmo struggled with this canter part of the exercise way more than I thought we should but we got there in the end eventually.

Give it a go with your youngster and let me know how you get on!

Thanks for reading,

ORLA

Product Review – Hartog Lucerne-Mix Digest

Okay guys, to start off I wanted to give full disclosure – when I first started Cosmo on the Lucerne-Mix, I didn’t realise it was the Digest specific mix I had received. While I would have preferred to have put Cosmo on the normal Lucerne-Mix, I can’t deny the changes I’ve seen in him since starting him on the Lucerne-Mix Digest. So now, that that’s out of the way, its time to get on with the review…


What is Hartog Lucerne-Mix Digest?

Lucerne is another name for Alfalfa so the Lucerne-Mix is something that can be substituted for your regular Alfalfa brand. Lucerne-Mix Digest is promoted as a natural solution for avoiding stomach and intestinal problems. Personally, anything natural that can help with stomach issues in horses gets a thumbs up from me as I don’t believe it’s good for horse’s to be on constant supplements to solve those issues.

They specifically recommend this feed for sport horses, horses who suffer with ulcers and other intestinal issues or horses who are sensitive to stressful situations.

What is in Hartog Lucerne-Mix Digest?

The power in the Lucerne-Mix Digest comes from the appropriately named POWERSTART formula which is a special blend of natural micro elements and is combined with acid buffers, prebiotics and yeast cultures – for those of you who are like me and don’t really understand what all that means, these are basically all those good things that horsey tummies like.

All these ingredients help to resolve damage to your horse’s stomach while also providing a protective barrier to support better gut health. Apparently raw Lucerne can be quite bitter so they have also added liquorice along with fruit and vegetables, to make the mix more palatable for your horse.

Another important thing to note is that there is no grain, molasses or other energy-rich sweeteners used in this product so if you decide to swap this into your horse’s diet, keep note of your horse’s energy levels. It may suit them to the ground or they may need something extra for an energy boost. I’ve definitely found Cosmo to become quite sluggish since being on this feed.

How to feed Hartog Lucerne-Mix Digest

After giving the experts in Lucerne some info on Cosmo – his age, height, condition, work load and what he’s currently being fed – they were able to recommend exactly what he should be getting.

Cosmo’s Profile:

  • 16.2hh 4 year old Irish Sport Horse
  • Fed Twice a Day on GAIN Cool n Easy Mix (1 x scoop per feed), Beet Pulp (1 x scoop per feed) and Alfalfa (1 x handful per feed)
  • 3 x Haynets of Haylage per day and roughly 4 hours of grass turnout
  • Ridden 5 days a week – 2 days of hard work and the rest a mix of easy/hacking/field work
  • Good condition but he’s young and still very weak but starting to build muscle

After sending this across to the team, I was given so much information but for the sake of this post, the following is the summarised feedback:

  • I was doing a good job at what I was feeding Cosmo already
  • Horses should be fed 1-1.5kg of dry matter (or roughage) per 100kg, for Cosmo who is roughly 600kg it should be around 6-9kg per day.
  • No big changes to his feed other than to swap out my current alfalfa for the Lucerne-Mix Digest
  • Feed 1kg of the Lucerne-mix a day which measures out to approx. 2 x scoops per meal
  • Roughage is the basis

Feed the Lucerne-mix through the concentrates you give. When you do this your horse has to chew more, also on the concentrates, thanks to this the passage is slower and the nutrients will be better absorbed. Also, thanks to the extra chewing there will also be extra saliva which neutralizes the gastric juices and will prevent health issues.

Hartog Recommends

The Results

I’ve had Cosmo on Lucerne for over a month now and I can absolutely see some differences in him. He’s filled out quite a bit already in some key places such as his shoulders and behind the saddle. He’s also got some really good healthy weight on him now too which he’s been able to maintain with his workload. It’s important to note, that while feeding your horse the correct feed will help them build muscle more efficiently, you won’t see any huge changes unless you’re doing the work and exercising them properly to complement what you’re feeding them.

All in all, even though this wasn’t the feed I had initially intended on giving Cosmo, it has definitely still impressed me with how well it’s kept him. The one thing I’ll say against it is that it does seem to have made him a bit more sluggish but some small adjustments to his other feed should help solve that problem easily.

The Details

Where can you find Lucerne-Mix in Ireland? Holmestead Saddlery are the only place I know of that stock it and are where I got mine. They have a store based in Co. Kildare, Ireland and another store based in Northern Ireland but if you’re not close to either, don’t fear as they also deliver!

Lucerne-Mix costs €19.99 so it is on the pricier side but I got two bags which I’m only now coming to the end of after 6 weeks and bear in mind, in that time I had 2 horses to feed for two and a half of those weeks so it’s lasted very well.


Hopefully I’ve given you all the information you need to decide whether the Lucerne-Mix Digest is the option for your horse or not. If there is anything else you’d like to know, drop us a comment below or you can message us on any of our social channels for more info. Otherwise, the team in Hartog are super friendly and helpful too.

As always, thanks for reading,

Orla

Two Simple Pole Exercises for Young Horses

Since buying Cosmo I’ve had to go back and re-hash some old exercises I used to do with Coco but with all the extra experience and knowledge I’ve gained over the years, I’ve also picked up a few new exercises that I think will be very beneficial to Cosmo’s development.

Polework is so important when schooling your youngster but its also important not to overdo it with anything too difficult or overly complicated. So below are two simple polework exercises I’ve done with Cosmo since I bought him.


Straight Line of 5

Probably one of the most basic pole exercises you can do but also one of the most beneficial. A simple straight line of 5 poles is great for working to build your horse’s topline. The extended line of poles encourages them to stretch out and work across their backs and you can create a deeper stretch by lengthening out the poles, even by just half a foot.

To take this exercise to the next level, gradually start raising the poles into low cavalettis, starting with the middle pole. Over time you should be able to get to a point where the middle three poles are raised and then you can begin to raise the height as your horse’s topline develops.

Serpentine of Poles

I found this particular layout very good for a variety of reasons. It’s a simple set up – one set of three trot poles on the diagonal and another set of five trot poles, connected to the first set, on the opposite diagonal.

When setting this up, make sure to place two of the trot poles within the set of five so that they create a funnel into the centre of the set of three. This helps maintain straightness when attempting the set of three. I also like to place the poles slightly further apart on the set of five to encourage Cosmo to stretch down and engage himself over the poles.

The full exercise should be done in a figure of 8 so the key thing to remember is rhythm. You want to maintain a consistent rhythm as you move from one set of poles to the next. It’s also important to remember not to interfere with your horse. When doing these kind of exercises with your youngster you want them to figure poles out for themselves so if they don’t meet the exercise perfectly to begin with, don’t worry, with repetition and a consistent rhythm, they will get the hang of it.

The last thing to focus on is straightness. Young horse’s tend to be quite wiggly with their arses swinging out behind them doing it’s own thing so make sure to do your best to support your horse’s body using your legs to keep him as straight as possible. You won’t always get it bang on but over time they’ll eventually learn.

Check out Cosmo taking on these exercises in our demonstration video below:


These are two very simple exercises that are perfect for introducing any horse to polework. They’re not overly complicated but they’re enough to get them thinking about where they’re putting their feet, and to really get them working across their back. Hopefully you’ll find these as useful as I did!

Thanks for reading,

Orla