Monday, 6 May 2013

The Hay diet

Gump has lost LOADS of weight. He is looking very trim,  compared with last year when his stomach was so huge J's legs barely reached the bottom of the saddle!

Sunday, 28 April 2013

The ponies have landed...

The ponies have arrived, they travelled fine and are LOVING the Aude - there is lots of grass outside their (huge) "corral" for them to graze on together, and inside they drown in fantastic mountain hay beneath the pine trees, with lots of neighbours to talk to.

May has decided that she is not sure about Ficelle, the huge cow that is her neighbour on one side, she has never seen a cow before and when she goes past she does some very pretty traditional fjord dancing, quite uncomfortable for the rider though. Gump can't understand the problem, he just mooches past, heading for that lovely long grass.

We are looking forward to some fantastic riding here - we have done a couple of short rides out and the views are incredible and the ground is great for barefoot horses, we are all very happy.

Thursday, 18 April 2013

Off to the Aude

We are moving - three humans, three cats, one dog, two horses - to the Aude.

The Old Nag will be blogging from the Ranch "Les Appaloosas du Pech" in Montouliers (which is in the Herault, in fact) where Gump and May will be living.

It will be all change - from dressage to reining and from schooling to trail riding.

We like change....

Riding on a shoestring...

So we have taken our next huge step on the ethology/natural horsemanship trail. We have been working for some months now on improving our communication (between May and I, you understand) from the ground, with a rope halter and long lead. May has been amazing and now disengages her haunches and shoulders at a look and backs up, turns right and left and does little jumps and slaloms all from just a twitch on a rope from 10 feet away. Its all quite amazing but this week we took it to the next level and started riding with just the halter and rope, no bridle, no hackamore, no bit, no rein on either side. All we have is the thin rope halter plus the lead rope knotted under her chin to make one big looped rein.

We started off practising ceding to pressure on the rope from either side, and disengaging the hindquarters from a touch behind the girth. There is no pulling or pushing, just gentle pressure on the rope until May relaxes into the "ask" or moves away from the touch. Once May had got the hang of it I mounted up and off we went.

As usual, she is was so willing and kind that it didn't take us long to work out how to do an "emergency stop" - by my opening/widening one arm and  pushing her hindquarters over with my leg - the most important command to learn for obvious reasons. After this we did turns on the haunches - me using my toe to push her shoulders across to turn, the complete opposite of our years of using the leg behind the girth to manage the quarters rather than now pushing the shoulders across. Its quite weird and my brain had some trouble for a bit. We also learned how to walk forwards, slow down and go straight into reverse and then off forwards into trot without a halt in between. Wow, it was amazing. After riding for nearly forty years "classic" style, to find my horse backing up off a rope under her chin was just sooo cool.

We even cantered, on a completely loose rope, quite a big thing given the last accident, again, no problems and May is stopping almost immediately just from me lifting one or other of my hands and touching behind the girth with the same foot.

We have a way to go but before long we will no doubt be riding out on a shoestring too!

"Give me carrots NOW!!!"

Wednesday, 27 February 2013


May and I have been taking courses in natural horsemanship - known as ethologie in french and sometimes as "horse whispering" in english. But the idea is basically to communicate with your horse in a mutually comprehensible language without the use of force or fear  and to build partnership, trust and "lightness". This idea of lightness is aimed at being able to use the lightest touch and command/request and get an instant response, thus avoiding the use of harsh tones of voice, kicking when riding, tugging on a bit in a horses's mouth etc.

May, as you all know, is a pure-bred fjord pony. Fjords have a reputation for being a bit strong-willed and stubborn, although also great all-rounders. But they are draught horses, albeit small ones, the kind of horse one would not associate with being sensitive, unlike flighty thoroughbreds for example. But it turns out that May is in face very sensitive, and I am also delighted that this hasn't been dulled by her years in a riding school (a credit to our club, where the horses really are treated well and good standards of horsemanship are insisted upon). After our first go at ethology May was reversing away from me (respecting my space) at the lightest touch on her nose. I was very surprised, and we have quickly advanced to working on a long line with a carrot stick as an extension of my arm, so that she can complete tasks without being touched.

I decided to use our new techniques to work on our differences about puddles. We like doing trec competitions but May does not like water (the photo below shows her making sure she kept her feet dry in a competition last year) and there are usually water obstacles involved. If she sees a puddle on our routes, she makes sure she avoids them, however hard I try to push her in a straight line through them. Of course from a horse's point of view, a puddle could be 20 feet deep, they can't tell it is safe to go through so it is a matter of trusting the rider.

After the last heavy rain there was an enormous (at least ten feet long and four across) puddle across one side of the round pen at the club, so May and I worked on small circles on the parelli long line, then larger circles incorporating the edges of the puddle and working larger and larger until she was walking happily through the puddle parallel to me as well as in circles. The principle of the work on a rope at distance, and her respect of my space meant that she was obliged to put her trust in me and try the puddle. Once she realised she was not going to drown, a big step, she got quite excited about the whole thing and considered having a roll but thought better of it in the end. I was really proud of us both, that I had merited her trust and that I was able to ask her to hear me at the end of long rope.

The next day we repeated the exercise, firstly in just the ethological rope headcollar and then saddled and bridled but still with the headcollar. Then I tried it mounted, and after a small hesitation May went straight through, both ways. I was so proud.

This isn't the same as being out on the trail though, but it rained again last week and we went out for a little ride, and although May avoided the first puddle, after that she went straight through them all. I am so happy. We have a competition again in March so we will see how she goes.

But it was great to prove to us both that the natural approach is effective, so often you see people whipping their horses through water obstacles, it is really ugly. More often than not the horse eventually gives in, showing us their huge generosity of heart, but how much nicer to work with your horse so that they are happy to go through the water with you, instead of because they are too scared of pain not to?

Friday, 15 February 2013

Back in the saddle, just

When I started this blog last year, I was in good health, had a new, calmer horse than the one I regularly fell off before, and was preparing for a new season of pony games, having won the regional championship with our fantastic team of mothers "Les Incroyables". My daughter had just got her first horse on loan and we were thinking about months of lovely rides out and competitions and therefore lots of news for this blog. Oh No, it SO did not work out like that.

First I got bitten by monster horse, which left me unable to ride for weeks, then my back went and I couldn't ride for months. Then the pony games season started.  At the second competition of the season la belle May, my lovely fjord mare, got so excited that we were winning one of our races that she put her head down between  her front legs, and gave a little shake of her shoulders, thereby putting her backside in the air, at full gallop, thus catapulting me into the air, causing me to knock myself out and break a rib. So I couldn't ride again for three months.

So here we are. I rode again for the first time since 2nd December last week just at walk, and again this week at all paces. Most of me seems to work still but I have sadly hung up my pony games hat and have exchanged it for the toughest, thickest cross-country jockey-type skull cap that money can buy. It is silver, and hot, and does not look unlike a large saucepan covering my head, from my eyebrows to the bottom of my neck. Roll on summer!!

But May is still lovely and while I have been on the ground we have started to do a lot of "natural horsemanship" or ethology as it is called here, working with your horse in its language and building the relationship to enable us to work together with the lightest of aids. No whips or spurs or bits, just lots of love and fun. It is great, and May has turned out to be much more sensitive than I realised under all her bravado. More on that later but it makes riding much more satisfying when you have a real bond with your horse.

Monday, 26 November 2012

Horsey Mums

OMG, I have turned into a stereotype. I have become an English Horsey Mum, without even realising it. It came to me in a blinding flash last week after coaching my daughter a bit on her horse. Terrifying. 

I am obviously dead cool, down with the kids and am unquestionably an original. But even if this is true the stereotype still fits (uncomfortably).

I wear an australian "cowboy" hat (albeit a real Barmah one), jeans, checked shirts, muddy boots, brightly coloured riding jackets and my hair is always a mess. I am of a certain age, comfortable size top and bottom and there is no question that I have a 'carrying' voice, (to put it mildly) with a slightly posh accent. I have a black labrador with me all the time. Also, I drive a VOLVO ESTATE WITH a tow bar, and I regularly pull a horse trailer in it. I can be seen at horse competitions on a regular basis shouting at my daughter while she competes in show jumping classes. 

But it is the volvo that clinches it I think, or maybe the labrador. 

I have NO IDEA how or when this happened. My daughter didn't even start riding until she was 13, two years ago, so I must have slipped into role very easily...

In my defence, having recently seen some other horsey mums screaming a diatribe of tellings-off at their kids when they miss a jump or fall off, or telling them before they enter the ring that they do not have the right to have a refusal or to knock down an obstacle, I think I am a very gentle type of horsey mum.

My screeches to my daughter when she is in the ring are always limited  to "BREATHE" and "ALLEZ" and my instructions before she enters the ring are only ever "Enjoy yourself" and "smile".

I am still a bit worried though, I don't really want to be a horsey mum at all...