February 2015

Where to begin this month? We have had a day of snow (which was better than the forecasted sleet), rain, sunshine (but cold), warm weather (but wet), frozen fields, sopping wet fields (even the dogs stopped wanting to go across them) and overcast days with damp air that just sucks the oomph out of you. We have been riding in-between the weather, but hibernating the rest of the time.

Professor Pony is immensely pleased to have had his first book review posted on Amazon: 5 stars of course (out of 5) from a very happy customer. Not sure why more people don’t do reviews, but if you have enjoyed either his book From the Other Side of the Saddle, or the other ebook Equine Behaviour Explained, then please post a review as it helps his ratings overall.

There is a letter about an equine dentist on the Prof’s  Dear Abbey page. Do you get your horse’s teeth checked by a qualified dentist regularly? Many people think it is only needed if the horse is old or has a problem, but all three horses here had sharp points causing ulcers on the insides of their cheeks up the back. Diva, who’s only 5, had wolf teeth removed as they were interfering with the bit (she was very mouthy when she came, so this would have been part of the problem). She then had 10 days off for convalescence, so hasn’t been doing much. Mind you, Carol has been having trouble fighting off one of winter lurgies, which keeps coming and going, so probably just as well in this weather.

Lexi (16yo) has never shown any outward signs of sharp points and a sore mouth (and it certainly doesn’t affect her eating!), while Jester had the sharpest points of all and he is only 8. He was highly suspicious of the whole process (we don’t think he has ever been done before) and had quite a shocked expression on his face! I doubt they ever really understand why humans do such strange things, but they put up with a lot.

Lexi usually reminds me every now and then about how important communication is between rider and horse, and what a poor job us humans do. Being somewhat quirky, she soon lets you know if your leg or hand moves without you being aware of it. Anyway, one week she gave me an epiphany. We hadn’t done any medium trot for quite some time, as I had been focussing on the canter and other things, but once warmed up she normally powers off into medium as soon as she has been given the aids. However, after several attempts nothing happened. She knew I wanted something, but couldn’t work out what. I checked my aids, which seemed fine, and I tried different aids, which still didn’t work well. After a few tries, rather than confuse her (which gets her upset, as she doesn’t like humans who don’t get it right), I stopped trying while I had some thinking time.

So, what was the solution? She only does a proper medium trot if asked from sitting trot, not from rising trot. Which is simple and logical (based on her history), but I had forgotten. Current results? She powers off at medium trot whenever asked, although I have to stop her after half a dozen strides as my sitting trot isn’t up to doing more than a short distance (guess what I am practising now!).

Of course, not all horses are this sensitive, and some horses will try to give you what you want if you only vaguely give the correct aids, but horses like Lexi remind us of how important it is to get the language between the horse and rider correct, and the emphasis is on the rider to do this, not the poor horse. If you have been following our training series, then have a look at the next couple of articles on communication.

On the general news front: a big congratulations to Eleanor on getting her BHS Stage IV. Not being content with that though, she is now aiming for her Pony Club A and possibly her PTT, so will be studying hard over the summer. Jester has been to another dressage day and, although a bit fresh in the first test, is continuing to improve each time – even the judge said she loved him, but then how could you not!

Carol has been doing some dressage judging, and has seen some lovely horses and tests. However, she has also noticed that many riders lose marks because of their ‘ringcraft’, rather than how well they and their horse are going. Ringcraft refers to how you use the arena and perform the movements, e.g. whether you turn correctly onto the centre line at the end of the test, or if you get the circles the right shape. Although it is less important than the rest of the quality of the test, it can make a big difference overall. For example, if you lost just one mark per movement for not being accurate, this equals 10% of the available marks! So, imagine improving your dressage mark by 10% without having to work very hard or do a lot of schooling! Okay, it’s more likely to be about 5% (speaking from personal experience here), but it is very easy to do and an accurate test will often beat one that has more flair but is less accurate.

There are tips to help with accuracy, so Carol and I will be holding a Masterclass on ringcraft for dressage tests. It will involve a demo, with Carol giving a dialogue of how to ride different movements and what the judge looks for. For those of you who have ‘written’ for a dressage judge, you will realise that what the judge sees is not always what the rider feels! You can sit in the viewing box if wet, and it will be followed by tea/coffee and biccies, so not to be missed. Keep an eye on the website for the date, but we will also be posting notices around the local feed and horse stores etc.

That’s all the news for this month: keep warm and keep on riding.

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