Transition Exercise’s For Your Horse

You may have noticed or seen over on our Instagram all my talk about transition work. Well they are the holy grail of everything when it come to putting manners on Dante, that and my instructor gave me loads of homework to do before our next lesson unamused face 

I have been focusing a lot on transition work when it comes to my lessons at home, and in my warm ups for competition. It is so beneficial not only for building up hind muscle but for using them as a form of putting manners on your horse when needed. I will admit I have been slacking slightly and have been letting Dante away with sloppy downward transitions, but keep reading to find out an exercise that I have done to help not only him but me in fixing this problem.

What I use Transitions For during my training sessions: 

  • To gain more control before & after fences
  • To get Dante to work off my leg more efficiently 
  • Getting Dante to listen & focus
  • Improving balance
  • Improve his hind end muscle

If your horse like mine has developed bad habits such as playing-up or taking off after jumps, I say give transition work a go. Using transitions after you land a jump can help you gather your horse, getting them to listen to you instead of taking off on their own accord. This in turn will help not only help with keeping a steady balanced canter after you jump, but in turn will help your horse find his feet and gain a more balanced canter. 

See below a great exercise I have been doing lately, helping me gain control by using my legs and seat over being to “handsy” during some of Dante’s outbursts of energy after jumping! 

How To Ride this Exercise: 

Step 1: Set up your arena as follows, simply two wings and a 2 poles in the center of the arena. If you wish to ride this exercise with a ground pole, that is fine, but I decided to incorporate a vertical to add a bit more of challenge for myself & for Dante.  

Step 2: Picking up canter, approach your fence, sitting still using your seat, legs to control the rhythm. I have been told by my trainer to use less hands, Still a fear of lacking in control that I am getting used to, but basically to keep a light contact into the fence, letting Dante do his job as I guide him in with my legs.

Fact: How I managed to get sprung with this exercise, well Dante was falling into his trot while transitioning down into canter after fences, or should I say me not focusing on the finer detail and letting him do it! 

Step 3: On your approach to the fence, you should preempt the rein you are going to land on so as when you land, two strides afterwards, you start your horse on a 10-15 meter circle keeping them in the canter. Once you come back on the original landing line prepare to bring your horse to a complete halt. This can be quite tricky, as with some horses with bad habits of rushing off, they will need time to adjust & get used to not being able to take control from the rider. 

Tip: Focus on using your legs & seat when asking your horse to come to an immediate halt. Sit back in the saddle, and apply pressure with your heel, if you wish to vocally say the word halt/stop this may help your horse piece that aids together. Remember to drop all aids and release pressure once your horse reacts to what you are asking them to do. This will act as a reward & make it easier for them to learn quicker. 

Step 4: Reward your horse. Reward & praise your horse when he(eventually!!) comes to a halt. repeat the exercise choosing to land on the opposite rein repeating the same steps. If your horse lands on the wrong lead, dont panic, push your horse to keep moving forward. This will help your horse to learn from themselves & learn about what leads they should be landing on. If your horse lands on the wrong lead just increase your landing circle size so that you give them more space. 

Tip: Don’t expect your horse to come to a complete halt on the first go, this will take practice as their muscles get used to what it is your asking them to do. It is best to start with canter to trot/walk transitions. Don’t be too hard on yourself, the first time I tried this with Dante, he tried to rear and take of into a fence!! 

This is also a great exercise to do on a simple 20metre circle, or if you want more of a challenge a 10m circle. Using various points of your circle to work on downward & upward transitions. Be sure to pick different points each time, and to mix the transitions up so that your horse doesn’t anticipate the exercise.

The Benefits & the outcomes

  • Help with Dante’s balance
  • Leg changes after fences, he will need to learn to balance himself by changing to the correct lead
  • Maintain a steady & consitant canter after I jump
  • Help build up his hind end, increasing his hind power
  • Relying on my leg aids more efficiently
  • Will make Darielle’s legs extremely strong (LOL)

Have you any specific transition exercises that you do? This is one I felt quite sceptical about at first especially when it came to posting it here, but look everyone has different ways of doing things. It works for me and that’s all that matters! 

Why not give it a go if you have a horse that rushes around courses, or a horse that you simply want to tell that you are the boss, Let me know in the comments below what you think, and what exercises you do

As always, thank you for reading,

Darielle 

6 Top Confidence Tips for Riders

Confidence plays a massive part in your riding, this applies to literally everyone no matter what stage or level you are at. 

I am sure you as a reader have many tips, or go to rituals you do with your horse on or off the ground to get your confidence up!  Have a read below of our Top 6 tips,  be sure to add in your thoughts or any confidence tips you have in the comments below! 

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Reassurance

Whether you are starting back from scratch  or getting back in the saddle after an extended break, everyone need reassurance. But first of all you need to reassure yourself that almost every rider of all levels get those nervous feels or gets slight anxiety when it comes to riding horses. It concurs every rider at some point in their riding journey, so you are not alone. Quite often nervous riders make themselves feel worse by believing that every other rider is full of confidence, this is defiantly NOT the case! 

Dont Exaggerate The Problem

Quite simply – Don’t over exaggerate the problem. If you are having difficulties with certain aspects of riding, whether it be perfecting your rising trot, getting the correct canter lead or learning flying changes, most of the time when you sit back, relax and stop thinking of the problem they begin to fix themselves properly. Speak with your instructor, make a lesson plan based on the problems you want to fix. Aiming & working towards perfecting & fixing things will give you a new self found confidence.

Persistence is Key

Never give up. I have heard stories about instructors walking out on clients, giving up on the horses saying it is a waste of time. Well my advice, get rid of that instructor & don’t look back! To bond & get the most out of any horse, you must be persistent. And with persistence, you must have the will to practice & practice until you make perfect. If you want something you will get it, isn’t that how the saying goes! So don’t let anyone or any instructor make you feel any less of a rider, or give an excuse for not being able to teach you because your horse “isn’t suited”, any good instructor will find a way to get the best out of horse & rider no matter how difficult it may be. 

Take your time

Don’t ever rush into things, take things at your own speed. This could mean walking around the arena for two weeks being led by a friend, if this is what gives you your confidence then that is what you should be doing. Don’t let anyone rush you into things if you don’t want to do them. Find yourself an instructor that understands your needs, go back to the basics if you must instead of trying to get ahead of yourself. 

Relax

Sit back & relax. This may be harder said than done at times, but once you relax your trusty steed underneath you will begin to also. Riding with tension in your body not only causes your muscles to stiffen up but your horse can sense it straight away. The fear, your the lack of confidence it will ooze out of you & your horse will be the first one to pick up on it. So drop your shoulders loosen your hands and stretch those legs down, sit there & feel the movement of your horse, move with him & you will begin to see a huge difference.

Surround yourself with good people

Surround yourself with positive people. Nobody wants a “negative Nelly” constantly giving out all the time. Going to your horse, to the yard, it is a safe place for most people, you go there to unwind, relax & to spend time with your horse. You want to surround yourself with positive people, good friends, people you can watch & learn from. Sometimes watching people ride well can give you quite the confidence boost in itself as well as a learning boost! 


I will let you in on one tip that I live by, one that over the years has given me confidence but has also give me a heads up on keeping my hands close to that neck strap!Photo 15-09-2018, 17 29 51

I am forever looking at Dante’s ears, if anyone rides him and they ask for any advice before they get on board, the one thing I tell them, LOOK AT HIS EARS!  His facial expressions give away your answers to everything! He is literally the definition of a stroppy child! 

When he is relaxed & drooping his ears it is a massive confidence boost in itself, it makes me feel like I am doing something right! It lets me concentrate on focusing on getting some proper work done rather than having to deal with the strops of a grumpy horse.

Have you got any go special quirkes you live by to gain your confidence when you get up on your horse?

Let me know in the comments below!

Thanks for reading, 

Darielle 

Sustaining Our Confidence – Jumping

Both Orla & I have run into problems jumping both Dante & Coco in the past. We’re definitely making progress but we never stop learning when it comes to these two horses. And we can definitely say without a doubt that our confidence has been tested on a number of occasions when it came to putting these horses over a jump!

So have a read below and let us know what you think of our Jumping Edition. Let us know if you have any tips or tricks we could test out, considering the two horses are so freakishly opposite, it makes for a very interesting read with a lot of variety! 

Dante

Dante have become quite a freak show to jump the last few months. Jumping a course of fences on him started to become such a pain because of all the problems he began picking up. Learning from past experiences, I stopped before the problems became permanent problems & instead worked on getting rid of them! Just last week Myself and Dante got back into jumping courses & the change in him was huge. The difference 3 weeks of focused work does to him is phenomenal, his jumping techniques have improved, along with his overall attitude, read below & find out my techniques! 

Rushing Fences & Running with The Contact

Dear god, Dante used to demolish fences he still does just not as bad as he did before! He is still so unbalanced that any slight drop into a fence from me & he practically falls to pieces. Dante has started Rushing into pretty much everything, a problem caused more than likely because he is weak and doesn’t have the muscle to hold himself together & the fact that I cant support him enough into fences!  So with a few weeks of trotting poles, and transition work we began jumping again. This rushing problem crept up on us again, my hands would be ripped off me when it came to jumping single fences with him. I had dealt with a lot of behavioural issues with him recently, and I feel like his jumping was kind of ignored. 

It was such a horrible experience. Imagine yourself on your horse, approaching a fence, then 3-4 strides away literally them cocking their jaw up so high that you have zero control. Sitting there was all I could do. It was not pleasant. 

How I solved the issue:

Exercise 1 Jumping on a tight circle. Giving Dante little opportunity to rush or charge towards the fence. Keeping the circle tight ensured that he began to listen to me. He also had to start getting himself out of trouble when it came to his approach. Getting to close to the fence would only make him learn, likewise if he ever ran into the fence completely.  As he improved with this exercise, we made the circle bigger, and increased it in and out to whatever suited his performance

Exercise 2 Some people may not agree with this technique but it worked for Dante, well the penny eventually dropped in Dante’s head after 4/5 attempts. We set up a fence with a canter pole either side. As I approached the fence I would then ask Dante to come to a hault before the first placing pole preparing for the hault transition no sooner than 4/5 strides away. The aim was for him to realise rushing wasn’t the answer, slow and steady was what we wanted. This exercise was difficult to begin with, one or two tantrums also thrown in the mix but he eventually realised what I was asking him to do and began to slow down on approach to the fence. 

Exercise 3 Well this isn’t an exercise but more like a trick I figured out to slow him down, that I though be best to share with you all so you could give it a try. Talk to your horse, let them know your there. Dante is such a needy horse, I think he forgets I am riding him at times, recently I discovered that if I scratch him half way up him neck and literally tell him woahh’ him slows down tremendously! I honestly thought it was a fluke the first time until at every corner before I approached a fence I would do it and he would come back to me! So give it a go with your horse! see if it makes a difference, Dante gets flustered easily its almost like he forgets where he is and what he’s doing, I guess the reassurance that I’m there is all he needs at times! 

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Careless Jumping, not lifting his Legs

Dante Is a big horse with a lot of scope, but to be honest that is not an excuse for him to jump big fences all the time. He gets very careless and sloppy from time to time, knocking poles and often dragging them along with him. He definitely does not respect a small jump, stepping over some occasionally, but if I was to jump big fences with the way he carries on it could land us in a lot of trouble. 

I have put open boots on Dante, literally 3 thin leather straps is all that protects his front legs, in hope that him knocking poles will hurt him & make him want to lift him legs, but no, nothing phased him at all. He is one hardy horse I tell you! But we did come to one conclusion, one exercise that seemed to do the trick!

 Exercise 1 Jumping out in the field. Taking Dante out of the arena, a place he was never fond off to begin with. Cross country fences were the answer to all our troubles. He literally needed to lift his legs up over the fence or he would literally stumble and fall over himself. If he started to jump them carelessly he soon found out the consequences. As horrible as it sounds it works. Hitting an XC fences is not like hitting a pole in the arena, cross country fences don’t just fall to the ground or roll away, they don’t move. The improvement I am seeing in his jumping is huge, I often finish a session in the field after doing arena work if his jumping is careless in the arena.

Exercise 2 Grid work, and loads of it. Making sure to incorporate a lot of bounces. This is a great exercise not only for them to lift them legs, but it rounds there jump up and helps them jump from their hind which is what you want them to be doing. 

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Less hands, More Seat & Leg

I my as well just get rid of my reins all together!! The more I interfere with Dante’s mouth, the more he tries to fight back with me. This may be the result in his running with the contact problem and with him cocking the jaw. Most problems come from the rider and unfortunately this one did come from me, But I am fixing it!

Riding with a soft contact is freakin scary, holding onto my reins tightly was what I done when he had a tantrum, reared or took off, so it was a safety net of mine. Getting rid of it wasn’t just going to happen after one or two lessons. For the last 3-4 weeks I have been constantly at myself whilst riding soften the contact, and the difference I am seeing is insane. 

Pushing Dante into my hands from my leg has become a lot easier, bearing in mind he is still building up the muscle to be able to carry himself correctly but at the minute I am not too worried about that as he has a lot more growing and muscle gaining to do. 

If you have confidence issues with this, or if you are scared shitless like I was, it literally felt like I was giving him the freedom to run free, I found doing grid work a nice transition into less hands’. Not only does doing grid work help your horses jumping technique, but it also gets them to think for themselves. They have to find their feet whilst doing a grid with that leg guidance from you of course, if you interfere with your hands during a grid,  you will soon learn its easier to give the horse his head!

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Coco

I recently wrote a post about mine and Coco’s journey into the world of jumping. I briefly discussed the various issues that I faced but I never really went into much detail of how I actually dealt with the problems and how I managed to keep my own confidence to be able to push through it.

Bunny-Hopping to avoid jumping

So we’ve all heard about Coco’s bunny-hopping problems but what can you actually do when your horse is already thinking about avoiding jumping before they’ve even started their approach? These are a few things I tried with Coco.

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Exercise 1 Cut the Approach Short

Sometimes giving your horse less time to think before the jump is the simplest answer. Shave two or three strides off your approach by coming in at a tighter turn, opening your inside hand to give them space while keeping a strong outside leg to push them around and into the fence. This one worked for a while with Coco until she started figuring out what I was doing and began anticipating the turn.

Exercise 2 Stop them dead and push them on

Sometimes I couldn’t even get Coco to turn into the approach before she started bunny-hopping out. So when it became impossible I would stop her dead in her tracks, face her towards the fence and pushing her up into canter and straight into the jump. There were times when she literally went from halt to canter from 5 strides out and jumped perfectly. It was crazy how well this worked.

Exercise 3 Chase them into it

This wouldn’t be everyones favourite tactic but sometimes you have to be tough. There were times when I had gotten so fed up with Coco’s attitude that all I wanted was to get her over that fence. As she started to run out, I would push her right into the base of the fence and give her a smack on the outside shoulder when she ignored my outside leg. There were times when I did this and when I brought her back around to jump the fence again, she wouldn’t even think twice. And then there were other times when no matter what, every time was just a struggle so it really depends on what stage you and your horse is at.

When it comes to this type of behaviour, some horses can be just trying it on whereas other horses are doing it for valid reasons. In Coco’s case, she needed a new saddle so it’s always good to rule out anything like this before jumping straight to the ‘behaviour problem’ solutions.

Picking the Wrong Stride

Finding the right stride has been a persistent problem I’ve had throughout my years of horse riding. It’s not so much an issue when you’re on a horse who has been schooled well enough to find its own strides but when you’re teaching a young horse it’s really something you need to be able to do. My problem isn’t that I can’t see a stride, it’s that I struggle to adjust a stride correctly when I know I’m not going to meet the fence right. I never know whether I’m better off holding and asking for the short stride or pushing to ask for the long stride. So I end up panicking, putting my leg on and leaving my horse to figure it out for themselves which isn’t exactly ideal!

 

 

When it came to Coco the first step was figuring out what was the best way to jump her. Was she a better jumper when she was left alone to figure herself out? Did she need to be pushed on and revved up? Or did she need to be held right up to the fence? If you’re struggling when it comes to jumping your horse, it’s definitely worth trying all methods and comparing how well they jumped each time. In Coco’s case, she needs to be held the whole way to the fence.

Once I figured that out then I had a better idea of what type of rhythm I needed to set before starting my approach. As I have mentioned in previous posts, the age old tactic of simply counting your strides, 1-2-3-4, is definitely the best way to set up your rhythm. And you can put it into practice with a simple canter pole exercise. Set out some canter poles 4 strides apart and count every stride before, during and after the poles.

 

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Once you’ve nailed your four strides, try asking for 5 strides by shortening your horse up. Once you’ve done that successfully, try asking for 3 strides by stretching your horse out. By doing this you can really get a feel for the different paces and lengths of strides your horse has, making it much easier for you to feel your rhythm and adjust your stride as required when approaching a fence.

 

Dealing with my own Confidence

Between myself and Darielle, I am definitely not the ballsiest of the two of us. I fear the worst and end up in shock when it doesn’t happen. So when it came to jumping I knew I had to find a way of ignoring that fear and just push through it. I found that the best way to do this was to fake the confidence (until it became real) and trust in my own abilities. I know this is so much easier said than done but there’s a lot to be said for that whole mind over matter’ thing. When it comes to horses, things can always go wrong and that’s something we know from the get-go. We have to remember that we know our own abilities so it’s just a matter of trusting in those abilities. Once you can do that, your confidence will come naturally. 

 

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Hopefully you enjoyed reading our confidence post on jumping and even more importantly we hope you found it helpful! We all struggle with confidence issues every now and again so we hope it helps to know that you’re definitely not alone.

Please be sure to leave a comment! We’ve really enjoyed the feedback we’ve received on our last few posts and it’s always great hearing everyone else’s stories 🙂

#NeighNSlay

Orla & Darielle

 

Saddle Sores: Causes & Solutions

When I bought Coco she had a pretty nasty saddle sore on the top of her withers. It wasn’t huge but it was quite raw and would bleed after she was ridden. Once I bought her I decided I would give the sore a chance to heal by not riding her too much thinking the most she’d need would be about two weeks..unfortunately this was not the case. Anxious to get working with my new youngster, I took to the internet and spoke to friends at my yard to see what I could do to help move things along.

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I did a lot of lunging work with Coco when I first got her as I didn’t want to ride her while she had her saddle sore.

Before I get into solutions, it’s worth knowing what can cause saddle sores so you can do your best to avoid them altogether. The main cause of a saddle sore is a poorly fitted saddle. A saddle that doesn’t fit your horse properly can distribute pressure unevenly across your horses back, creating friction which causes hair loss and bald patches which can become raw. 

Did you know: When a saddle sore eventually heals, the hair will generally grow back white.

So what can you do to help your horse’s saddle sore heal up? Well I tried absolutely everything so one of these solutions is bound to work for you:

Let the air at it

The best thing for a saddle sore is to let it dry out. This will allow the wound to heal and the skin to harden and thicken up. Eventually the hair will begin to grow back.

Manuka Honey manuka honey

Unfortunately, I bought Coco just as it was time to start rugging up for the winter so I wasn’t having any luck letting the sore air out. Instead I had to turn to treatments. The first I tried was Manuka Honey. This is what her previous owner was using on the sore. I applied this to the sore once a day for a week. I saw progress but it was slow so I decided to try something else.

 

Sudocrem

Sudocrem-Antiseptic-Healing-Cream-125g-44131Tried and tested by both mums of horses and humans around the world, Sudocream is the go-to treatment for all types of sores. What’s particularly good about sudocream is that it can help dry out the wound quite well while also helping to relieve the pain. Downisde, it needs to be applied regularly so if you can’t get up to your horse every day it may not be as effective.

 

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This was particularly good for applying under the rug. The creams tend to rub off whereas the black powder sticks and acts as a hardening barrier which helps the sore to close and heal. 

 

 61tXaBD9vFL._SL1000_Mother Bee Sooth & Protect

I had heard about Mother Bee through a number of different sources so I decided to pick it up and give it a go. Well it didn’t disappoint. It was quick acting

 

 

No Riding

You can put as many different creams and ointments on a saddle sore as you want but most of the time the only thing that’s going to heal it up properly is time. Give it a chance to heal and don’t ride for a few weeks.

Tip: If you absolutely must ride don’t be tempted to double up on padding, this will just create more friction. Your best option is to cut a hole in an old numnah where the saddle sits on the sore. This didn’t work in Coco’s case but I have heard of it working for others.

Thankfully, since Coco’s sore healed up I haven’t had any more issues with saddle sores but it’s always good to have a solution on hand if ever the problem arises again.

Do you have a go-to treatment for saddle sores? Let me know in the comments. Always good to have more solutions!

Orla

Head Tossing: Causes & Solutions

Head Tossing can be one of the most frustrating habits a horse can have. To start, it’s just plain annoying! One minute your horse is working nice and forward and then BAM the head comes flying up and all the work you’ve done is gone and you’re back to square one. But mostly, it’s frustrating because it’s generally a sign that your horse is in pain and there are so many potential causes. 

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What can cause head tossing in horses:

  • Teeth problems
  • Back pain
  • Saddle issues
  • Bitting issues
  • Rider error

For the sake of this post I’m going to talk about my experience with Coco.

For the first few months that I had Coco I didn’t ride her too much as she had a pretty nasty saddle sore from before I bought her. I mostly kept her to lunge work and would only ride once or twice every two weeks. About 2 months into owning Coco she started head tossing. I quickly realised that any time I picked up the contact she would throw her head in the air so first thing I did was book the dentist. I had a 2 week wait for the dentist to come out so I decided not to ride her for those 2 weeks as she seemed so uncomfortable.

The dentist did her check and found that Coco had a sharp tooth which was cutting her gums. After some work from the dentist and a few days off I hopped up and the head tossing had stopped! Once Coco’s saddle sore was all healed up I started schooling her properly. Within a few weeks her head tossing had started back again. It was just as bad as the first time, if not worse. So once again, I called the dentist out and she found that Coco had lost some baby teeth and had some more sharp teeth which were causing her some pain. We fixed her up, I gave her a few days off, hopped up, picked up the contact and her head tossing had stopped…but only for the first 10 minutes of our riding session. Now it seemed Coco would start throwing her head when she was fed up and wanted to stop working. To be sure, I ran through the list above I had a quick check of her back, her saddle was fine, I ride her in a rubber snaffle that fits perfectly so the last thing to do was to get a professionals opinion. So I decided it was time to start lessons.

How to Break the Head Tossing habit:

Once you’re confident your horse isn’t head tossing out of pain there are a few things you can try to break the habit. Below are some different methods I was given to try during lessons with qualified instructors.

  1. Give her a loose rein and let her relax

The first thing I tried was giving Coco a loose rein to let her relax. The intention was to show her that I wasn’t asking her to work on the bit or to move a certain way. Unfortunately with Coco being a spooky and speedy youngster this just meant that I had minimal control and she had free rein to do whatever she wanted. Not really what I was going for.

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  1. Ask her to move forward into the contact while keeping a long rein

Next I tried encouraging Coco into the contact on a long rein by keeping a bend in the knee and squeezing on every stride. This also did not work.

  1. Correction when she head tosses

The last thing to try was correcting the behaviour. There were two different ways of correcting the behaviour the first was giving her a smack on the shoulder every time she tossed her head but that just seemed to wind her up and make her more anxious. The last thing I tried was giving her a quick chug on the inside rein every time the head went into the air. As soon as she softened in the contact I would give with the inside rein to reward her for keeping her head still. Out of everything I tried, this was the only thing that worked.

Head Tossing_2

After one week of doing this, Coco had completely stopped her head tossing in trot. She did it in canter for a few more weeks but eventually it dwindled out. I have come to realise that Coco is more comfortable being held in a constant contact. She wants to feel that you’re there with her and this is why the first two methods didn’t work. Giving her the lighter contact seemed to make her more anxious whereas when I have a steady contact I can hold her together. Coco now works comfortably and happily in a positive contact and she only starts head tossing when she’s jumping or when she’s really wound up and looking to get her own way..while it has become a lot more manageable, I put this down to her being a youngster so eventually she’ll work out of this habit.

Have you ever had to deal with a head tosser? What did you try to fix it? Let me know in the comments!

Orla

A Young Horse in a New Environment ~ Lessons with Coco

For my third lesson with Sue Byrne I decided to mix it up a little bit…I brought Coco to Darielle’s yard. It was our first time doing a schooling session outside of home and it was definitely an experience…

A New Environment

Monday of the June bank holiday and it was lashing rain all afternoon. There was a show on at my own yard which I had been at since early afternoon so I was already pretty soaked before I’d even left my yard. I loaded Coco up and we headed over to meet Sue & Darielle who had just finished a lesson with Dante.

As soon as we arrived and I unloaded Coco, she was already sceptical about her surroundings. She had a look around, taking in her new surroundings, smells and sounds which is absolutely what I expected. I quickly tacked her up and began the walk up to the arena…this was not an easy walk. The whole way there she was looking at EVERYTHING. She spooked about 3 or 4 times, with me quickly moving out of her way each time for fear of being flattened! We eventually got to the arena and I hand walked her around the track a few times so she could check out the bushes, the corners and the signs on the fence. I did this until she began to relax which she did (thankfully). And so it was time to mount up…

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Before I go any further there’s one thing I feel you should know about Coco, something I have come to learn after 8 months with her: that which is not scary when I’m on the ground beside her can suddenly become the scariest thing in the world once I’m on her back. So I mounted up and of course everything became uber scary all over again. Now, it didn’t help that just as I started my lesson, someone decided to go into the trees in one of the corners and start chopping wood. (It’s actually amazing how many different sounds can come from chopping wood!) It also didn’t help that one of the dogs from the yard decided to bolt into the arena! And it reeeeally didn’t help that the rain started to get worse! BUT…these kind of new experiences is exactly what Coco needs to learn and grow so on we went with the lesson.

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Dealing with a spooky youngster:

Throughout the lesson Coco spooked at a lot of different things but there were two corners where she was adamant there was something trying to kill her. The corner with the man chopping wood and the corner with all the bushes.

We approached the corner with all the bushes first and at the first sign of spooking I straight away kicked her on and gave a lil GEET ON” to show her that I was not going to tolerate this sh*t. She walked on and I believed the battle of this corner was won.

On to the wood chopping corner which was just a nightmare. She wouldn’t even get within 10 metres of this corner. I brought her around on a circle a few times and each time she spooked away until Sue had the genius idea of walking over to the corner. Once Coco saw that Sue was there she walked over, hesitantly, but she walked over and into the corner with Sue leading the way. It was one of those moment that really reminded me that she is still such a baby (I think I even said that to Sue at the time). I really take for granted how good she is for a 4 year old. 

One massively helpful tip Sue gave me when dealing with a spooky corner is to bend her head to the inside so she can’t look at what’s spooking her. This has been a god send, however doing this and keeping her straight was no easy feat. Because she was spooking, her hind end would swing out so I would have to keep a really strong inside leg to make sure she didn’t just run to the inside through her shoulder. 

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Eventually we got to the point where we could do a few laps of canter past the corner and she would pretty much ride past it without the dramatics. At the start any time she got to that end of the school she would get very short and bunny-hoppy and try to nap to the gate but with some serious pushing on my end I was always able to push her forward. At some point the chopping stopped so we were able to relax and not worry about that anymore (THANK GOD!).

Next, Coco started spooking at the bushes corner again (it obviously offended her at some point while she was dealing with the other corner). Again we used the method of bending her head to the inside which did work but it was hard to keep up so we decided not to dwell on this too much. A lot of the time the best way of dealing with Coco’s spookiness is to take her mind off it with some poles or even better JUMPING!

Jumping:

Sue put up a small upright with a trot pole before it so I brought her into that and she jumped it nicely. Where the jump was placed meant I had to ride into it from the corner with the bushes so I had to do my best to make sure she had a decent approach. This sometimes meant I had to turn for the jump a bit sooner than usual but generally it worked out. 

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Letting Coco figure the jump out for herself

We removed the trot pole and started cantering into the fence and as we got into it, Sue pointed out that I had a tendency to pull Coco back just before the fence. This was my reaction to her picking up the pace before the jump and me trying to place her so I had to force myself to stop this and let her figure the jump out for herself. When I did this it resulted in a flatter jump but it meant Coco had to figure out the stride without me which would make her a smarter jumper in the long run. 

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When the fear took over…

We started jumping the upright from the other direction and for some reason she just would not jump it. There was something freaking her out from this side so when I brought her into the fence she started drifting out to avoid jumping. I asked her to jump it 3 times and she refused every time. Eventually I realised I needed to get tough so I brought her into the fence, she was all over the place trying to avoid jumping but I kept my leg on and gave a bit of a shout to drive her over the fence and she finally jumped it! I gave her a big pat and a well done when we landed and brought her straight back into it. This time there was no holding her back..she launched herself into the jump clearly with new found confidence.

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As the lesson got on we tried her over a few different fences. One was a jump on the diagonal with a filler under it. I was expecting her to take a look at the very least but she didn’t bat an eyelid. She bombed herself over it which I was delighted with. She is seemingly a brave horse where it counts! Eventually we created a course of 4 fences. I did it a number of times as a way of testing how Coco jumps best. We tried 3 different methods…

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Don’t interfere

We did this the first time we jumped and it wasn’t our best round. I set Coco up in a nice rhythm and ensured my leg was always on but not pushing for a stride and that was it. She didn’t meet the jumps very well and got quite flat into some of them so we decided to try something different.

Moving her up and creating a fast pace

Next we tried the round at a faster pace. I moved Coco up and created some more energy into the fences while still letting her figure the jumps out for herself. We pretty much demolished the course!

Holding to the Fence

The last time we did it, I tried picking her up and holding Coco to the fence. The difference in her jump was incredible. She used herself properly and lifted her back legs clean over the fences whereas before she was dropping her hind legs and jumping with her fifth leg” as Sue called it! So this is definitely how I need to ride Coco around a course.

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One thing that I found from jumping our first course was that Coco is a bit of a drifter. Every time I landed after the second last fence and made my way way around to the last jump she would drift through her outside shoulder and start bunny-hopping away..almost as if my outside leg just didn’t exist! I never once made it from the second last fence to the last, one straight after the other. I always needed to circle her back around. So this is something we definitely need to work on.

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To wrap up, this was definitely the toughest lesson I’ve ever had with Coco but it was also the best. Coco was such a challenge but it just meant when she did something right it was so rewarding. I really got a glimpse of the talent she has and I also realised that I still have the determination I need to handle my youngster and push her to where she needs to be. 

What to work on for next time:

  • Set up course of poles with tight turns to try and tackle her drifting 
  • Coco’s canter transitions are still quite bad so I need to put more focus on fixing this issue
  • I need to plan more schooling session or just days out of the yard so Coco can get used to being in new surroundings and seeing that she’s not going to die!

Thank you to Darielle for standing in the rain and getting some videos for me! We were all well and truly drenched by the end of the day!!

Hope you enjoyed reading about my most recent lesson with Coco. It seems we’re just getting started!

Orla

#NeighNSlay