A bright future

Firstly, apologies for such a long silence – I went away to Spain last week, and it’s been tough getting used to this weather again. Guess winter really is here now!

So, as I mentioned in my last post, we were taking Rodney to his first away-from-home-ridden-party, at a small eventing yard, about 45 minutes from us. He loaded fine, and travelled well (minus 5 minutes of leg scraping, not being entirely sure how to stand up, and being unable to eat his haynet, as usual). We went along with J and her new horse, so S didn’t have her hands full with trying to ride Malibu, while helping me with Rodney.

Once we arrived, Rodney turned into a devil pony. He carted S up and around the yard, dragging her wherever he fancied, and generally forgetting everything he’s learnt about walking nicely and standing still. However, between her and J, they managed to wrestle the bridle and saddle on, while I contemplated throwing up in the bushes/passing out/driving the lorry home alone.

I went over to speak to Simon, as I’ve never had a lesson with him, while S took Rodney for a walk around the school. He was tense (and so was I), and decided that many, many things were scary. At one point, I was chatting with the yard owner, when her eyebrows shot up, and exclaimed “OH, he’s a spirited one.” I continued standing with my back to him, and pretended I hadn’t heard her.

After five minutes of looping the school, Simon decided we were ready to start. S legged me up, and I started on our figures of eight (my never fail exercise when we’re both scared). He relaxed pretty quickly, and so did I (somehow), and we went on to have the best 40 minutes.

Simon is an incredible instructor, he does belittle you, confuse you, push you, or speak solely in technical language (I was being told to give legs aids “like a penguin moving its wings”). We had one fairly major spook, but I stayed on, and after that we both settled (I always calm down instantly when he’s got his ‘thing’ out of the way…).

As Rodney reverted to his ‘sorry I can’t possibly move any fast than this’ mood, Simon went and fetched a lunge whip.  I almost cried.

Instead, it was brilliant – Simon worked on keeping Rodney moving forward, and I was free to work on my position, Rodney’s position, and just about everything else that I usually can’t, due to asking him to move. We stayed doing fairly basic movements: lots of transitions, circles, and changing the rein, all with a beautifully active movement.

Afterwards, both Simon, and the woman who was running the sessions, commented on how well put together he was, and how he has the potential to go extremely far in dressage. This is something S and I have always thought, but to hear other people (and people who know what they’re talking about!) say it too, was wonderful.

We’ve now got a life goal of hitting Advanced-Medium (and PSG if we can get pirouettes sorted), and my confidence has soared.

Rodney the circus horse

So, Rodney’s taught himself a new trick at some point, and is well on his way to being sold as a circus horse.

Monday night we planned to do some pole work, and start his introduction to jumping properly, but due to S running late, and not having enough time to get the poles set up before it got dark, we just went in the school instead.

He was being a really good boy to start with, despite Loki being lunged in the field next door, and S and Malibu working at the other end of the school. We continued working in a long and low frame, and trying to get him in front of the leg. At one point, he started to feel a bit odd, his back was up, and was refusing to move forwards. S and I realised what he was doing at the same time: she yelled at me to get off, and just as I’d managed to kick my stirrups off, he was on the floor trying to roll.

Now, it’d be great to have a horse that’ll lie down on command. Dismounting after a long ride would be much easier, as would getting on and off when I’m slightly hungover. However, when your pony suddenly disappears from underneath you, almost trapping your foot, and then attempts to roll with his saddle on, it’s not so great.

Safe to say, he got a very big telling off, and I hopped back on again.

Round we went, this time in trot. We got to the same place, he stopped dead, I felt his legs buckled, and jumped off before he had to time to get down. He got another telling off, and then was made to trot around the school in-hand, about as fast as I could run. We checked the saddle, the girth and the numnah, and nothing appeared to be bothering him, so I got back on, and luckily he twigged that rolling = a telling off.

Skip to Wednesday. As S was running late, I had to crack on with Rodney alone – the first time I’d be getting him in the school by myself. J was still on the yard, and in earshot in case anything went wrong, but judging from how dopey he’d been on Monday, I thought he’d be ok.

Big  mistake.

He’s got a slight issue with the school mounting block, as in, he won’t stand still for it, even with S on the other side. The mounting block in the car park, which we use for hacking, is fine, he’s got that sorted. As we approached, I realised that this could take a while, and oh it did.

There was a lot of barging, biting and turning quarters in (on his part), and lots of raised arms and bolshiness (on mine), and finally I just  gave up and waited for J to come and help. Having failed to get on by myself (but managing to get him out of my space with lots of back ups), J helped me to stand him by the block, and then just legged me up when we realised he was slightly too far away.

From that moment, he was determined to have an argument. Every time I asked him to move forwards, he would buck. Every time I asked him to bend slightly, he would buck. In fact, everything I asked of him that evening was greeted by an annoyed whinny, a head toss and a buck, all ranging in different sizes. With J on the ground, I gathered all of my (not-so existent) confidence, and managed to get some nice work out of him (basically by giving him a kick or a tap just before he lifted his back end). We ended on a sort of positive note, but it was getting dark, and I had two horses to turn out, and one to bring in.

Yesterday, S put him on the lunge, and I rode Malibu, and closed my eyes whenever we circled past S and Rodney. The gymnastics he was displaying on the end of that rope made me feel slightly ill, and it was clear that he was still in a challenging mood. However, as usual, S worked on him until he started getting more submissive (i.e. tired and bored), and he was producing much nicer movements by the end (i.e. not standing on his front legs every three strides).

We’ve checked his saddle, and that’s not a problem, and he had his back done not long ago, so we’re putting it down to a change in weather, and the fact he’s been in all day this week. I’ve got a lesson on him on Saturday with S and J’s instructor, Simon Battram, and it’ll be his first time being ridden somewhere other than home…

Does anyone have any tips for helping young horses stand still at a mounting block? He really is perfect at the one in the car park, yet when it comes to this, he point blank refuses to, and will just barge his way through anyone.

Rodney’s dressage debut

I love my horse, I really do, but there are a couple of things we need to discuss, the first being that when he’s scared, it’s not the best idea to leap twice his height into the air, and then catapult me off.

The week prior to show day, S spent a lot of time going over the basics with me, and inadvertently changing how I ride Rodney completely – instead of almost holding his head up, I pretty much let go, and lengthened my reins a lot, asking him to work in a long and low frame – ideally what horses should be working in at intro/prelim level.

However, letting go of a horse that has a tendency to chuck his back end about was a big step for me, and something I wish I’d had more practice with before our dressage test, but hey ho we did it anyway, and it seems to be working well for the both of us.

We had to worm all of the boys over Friday and Saturday, so we spent a lot of time just hacking and going for canters around the woods. Rodney found fourth gear going up a hill: I’ve never felt the pony move so fast! It’s amazing thinking that just 12 weeks ago, he could barely make it around the housing estate without wobbling.

We spent Saturday afternoon plaiting him up in preparation for Sunday, and then put him out, after a small pep talk from S. By this point, I was ready to throw up from nerves, and we still had a good 12 hours until I had to get back on.

Sunday morning was a horrifically early start, we were both down the yard by 7, and ready to bundle up plaits, and add the finishing the touches. I was first on, which was good in one aspect – but the early times aren’t fun. He won’t be doing many more intros, neither of us can handle it!

Once I’d got into my jacket and jods, and Rodney was looking slightly more respectable, we headed out into the warm up field. We decided we’d warm up in the same field that the test was being done in, as it was much quieter, and there was a very fizzy big horse in the designated warm up field. We were joined by two other girls from the yard with their young-ish pony, and Rodney calmed down slightly. The field we were in is right next to the lorry park, so there was a load of commotion and noise going on constantly.

Rodney and I were both pretty tense, but we calmed down, warmed up nicely and he began to show some really nice moments. And then someone bashed about in their lorry, right behind us.

I’m not sure what happened: all I can remember is going airborne, and landing on the soaking wet grass, subsequently getting grass stains all over my clean jods. Sob. S took Rodney for a walk over to the lorries, and he did a wonderful impression of Valegro, lifting his hocks up into quite an impressive piaffe. Soon enough, she brought him over, and the conversation went like this:

Me: Can we do lead rein dressage now please?
S: *stared*
Me: Maybe?
S: Are you more scared of falling off him again, or me?
Me: Ok, leg up then.

Seeing as all this happened about two minutes before I had to go in, we had no time to calm either of us down again and get him working properly, so after convincing the judge that we were good to go, S let go, and we started.

Bless the pony, he got straight in between the boards, and started to calm down, so while the first half of the test was very slow, wobbly and an absolute train wreck due to me riding like an idiot, the second half I started to relax and push him a bit harder.

We came last (surprisingly!) but only by 2% (we scored 54.34% overall), and we had some decent marks – mainly 5s and 6s, as well as one 7, which I was over the moon about. We got Best Turned Out, but considering the amount of grass over the both of us, I’m fairly sure it was a sympathy prize.

I’m so pleased with him, and even more pleased that I didn’t see what the buck was like – only after the test did S tell me that she wasn’t sure she was going to put me back on. Love the baby horse, and well, it can only get better!

10 steps forward & 10 steps back

Well, without a shadow of a doubt, Rodney is 100% better. Friday evening we planned to go through the dressage test start to finish, complete with a car horn and someone sat at C (or where we pretended C was), and as is the way with any plans, we didn’t quite make it.

From cantering sideways up from the field as I brought him in, to spooking at invisible monsters on the yard, I probably should have guessed that the mix of antibiotics and ventapulmin (a steroid known for sending horses a bit loopy) was having an effect. Either way, I tacked up and we headed out to the riding field, him jogging ahead slightly. S clearly could read the future, and brought her hat and lunging gear.

As soon as I was on, one of the horses that Rodney goes out in the field with left, cue squealing, head shaking and a small buck. We didn’t think anything of it: he loves Loki, and usually has tantrums when he goes somewhere without him. Soon enough, he settled down, and we started work on lateral movements, thoroughly taking advantage of how forward he was being, and how lovely and active his walk was.

Now, the next bit I’m not too clear about: I asked for left leg-yield, and all of a sudden he was leaping across the field, throwing his back end up for all he’s worth. I stayed on for a bit, but didn’t manage to grab my neckstrap in time, and ended up on the ground. He carried on broncing his way around the field, before settling in the furthest corner with a mouthful of grass.

S very quickly put him on the lunge and spent 20 minutes sending him round in trot and canter before he showed the slightest sign of tiring – I then hopped back on and re-did the exercises we’d been working on before he went for a joyride.

Saturday and Sunday we reserved for hacking, as it’s getting harder to do so after work, and he was one very tired pony, yet still managed to find enough energy for a long canter up the hill, as well as asking for canter on the flat for the first time (which he managed, yay).

Last night was my last lesson before the show on Sunday, and I was pretty nervous. My shoulder had only just started moving again after Friday, and my head still aches, so I wasn’t in the mood for falling off again. He was incredibly forward and active again, which was great, I hope this is going to be the standard for him. J set us to work on halting: similar to the idea that one squeeze from the leg means go, we worked on one firm squeeze on the reins means halt.

We had some amazing, powerful trots, and he really began to work over his back – as soon as J told me to “ride his ears over his nose” something clicked, and we both connected in an entirely different way. We ran through the movements in the test, and apart from a bit of nappiness, a buck and getting tired, he was fab.

Over four days I’ve realised that everything you do with a youngster is an extreme: you’re either a mile ahead of what you expected, or a mile behind all you’ve worked on. However, every high and every low is a hundred times more rewarding than anything I’ve done on a well-schooled horse – people don’t seem to understand how wildly it swings between joy and despair, until they’ve taken on a youngster. Through all of it, I wouldn’t change a thing: I’ve learnt so much about horses, him, and myself, and couldn’t have asked for a better partner. He really is the light of my life (although he didn’t appreciate me singing you are my sunshine at him for a good ten minutes.)

Call him Milton

We jumped! I don’t think I can really say much more.

(What a lie.)

So Rodney’s had a bit of a cough over the last few weeks, which has resulted in him being on Ventapulmin (again), a visit from the vet, and a week’s worth of antibiotics. He had the exact same cough exactly a year ago when he first arrived, and while that one cleared up over a week, this one is more persistent. We aren’t sure whether it’s an allergy, an infection, or something to do with the four oak trees in his old field, but it wasn’t nice to hear.

Due to this, this week he’s been on very light work – walking hacks and the like. However, as the evenings are getting dark horrendously fast (sob) hacking can take too long (when you have to walk everywhere), and we end up having to take the boys out to the field in the dark (against yard rules, and for good reason).

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S and I both arrived late-ish from work last night, so decided to sack off hacking and go and have a play in the field instead. I went down to get Rodney in from his new field, and had to psych myself up for a long walk. In their old field, there was barely any grass left, it wasn’t too big, and Rodney would always be waiting at the gate ready to come in. Now, however, they’re in a huge field, with plenty of grass, and when I arrived at the gate, he was across the other side. I gave him a couple of calls, and when he just stared and then carried on eating, gave up and started to trek over.

But, as usual, the best little man started to weave his way over, ears pricked, and belly nice and fat (bad week = almost cried at this).

Once we got into the riding field, with S and Malibu with us, and another girl and her horse in the school next door, Rodney was very ready to do work. The show is now under two weeks away, and I’m still not working hard enough on it as I should be. We set off doing lots of ‘warm-up area’ preparation: Malibu trotting while we walked, trotting up very close behind us, cutting us up, and generally doing everything that annoying people tend to do in warm-up enclosures. Rodney, surprise surprise, wasn’t bothered.

His nappiness is getting better: he’s trying it on stronger, but I’m correcting him quicker, so we settled down and did lots of lovely forward work, concentrating on circles and transitions. He’s getting so good at going straight off the leg, and his balance is improving in leaps (literally).

S and Malibu had a pop over some of the fences left in the field, and once they’d finished, S got off and knocked one of the smaller jumps down, just to a pole on the ground. We walked and trotted over it a few times (he’s a pro now, dontcha know), and S joked about doing a little jump with him.

Seeing as we’re going cross-country in less than a month’s time, S’ joke quickly turned into a crosspole, barely half a foot off the ground. We walked over it once, and Rodney managed to leave three legs behind, so when I popped him up into trot, I didn’t have great expectations.

Don’t need to say this do I, but in Rodney’s standard way, he blew every poor expectation out of the water. He had a lovely trot going up to it, responded to my leg and took off when I asked, and neatly jumped it as if he’s been doing it for all of life (he probably has, to be fair).

In our customary way, I nearly fell off hugging him, S nearly had a cry, Malibu nearly had a tantrum about not being able to jump too, and Rodney wanted to eat.

Every day that little Welsh market pony gives me a thousand reasons to smile, and about a trillion reasons to love him.

Welcome back winter

After three months of glorious sunny, hot (ish) weather, the rain and wind has signalled the return of the
British winter (i.e., the standard British weather for 9 months of the year). Last year’s summer was abysmal: it rained solidly for most of it; I think we got about 3 weeks at the end of August that was dry. The winter was just as bad, with more snow than I can remember (here in England, when it snows, the country goes into meltdown and stops functioning), and as spring rolled around, I was in my shorts as soon as the temperature hit double figures. You’ve gotta take your chances over here.

However, we did get a decent summer this year – I tanned (read: lost fluorescent glare), spent every available second outside, rode lots of ponies, went to many festivals and generally forgot that winter was coming. Until this week, when Britain said goodbye to a lovely, warm climate, and welcomed back the wind, rain and mud that we all know so well.

I’d forgotten what it’s like to ride in the rain (over the summer when it rained, we either dried off super quick, or didn’t, as the next day/hour was guaranteed to be nice). On the one hand, there’s something lovely about having a canter (YES, a canter, on my gorgeous baby pony) with the wind (and rain) in your hair/face, but then something altogether much worse about being dragged into a low-hanging oak tree branch, that then sends a torrent of water running down your top.

As Rodney was more or less turned away last winter, he wasn’t rugged until it got freezing, and had a lovely, thick winter coat to show for it, and despite coming into the spring on the skinny side, wintered out quite well. This year, however, I don’t fancy having to ride part-pony, part-mammoth, so he’s out in a lightweight rug when it rains, to try and minimise the amount of coat he grows through. We’ve also upped his feed, and bring him for a couple of hours each day for a haynet. He’s lost a bit of weight already, but seeing as his workload has gone up slightly, he’s still growing, and the weather has changed pretty dramatically, I’m not too worried.

We had a quick lesson on Saturday morning, before the rain came, and Rodney was slightly more opinionated than usual. J incorporated lots of poles and blocks into our dressage training, giving him something more to focus on. We also had a LOT of distraction: S and Malibu were in the school (we do all our riding in the field), the horses he goes out with were next door, and the lorry park was full of people. After a couple of tantrums, lots of pathetic whinnying, and the realisation that he can’t nap and stay upright on all four feet just yet, he settled down and did some lovely work.

Since we’ve started canter work, upped his feed, and grown more consistent with aids, he’s become far more forward going than a couple of weeks ago, and it’s taking a bit of getting used to (it’s much better than lazy Rodney though!). The competition is now in three weeks, and we’ve got a clinic the following weekend with J and S’s instructor, so it’s all go from now on!