Thursday, December 31, 2009

is it over yet?

Oh la la, I've drowned in festivities and can't wait for life to return to normal. I'm stuffed like the christmas turkey on Thai seafood delights and too much fizz. Bah humbug, the mask is seriously slipping. Did I mention I'm not a fan of Christmas and New Year? May you all  have good things awaiting in the new year and if you don't...? then pray you be granted the good humour to cope. Did I mention I'm not a fan of.......

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

je ne mange pas de cheval/I don't eat horse

Well only once and that was accidental and I was on a school trip to France! I'm not so horrified about folks eating horse (although it doesn't sit well with me) but I am deeply concerned about the way these horses are travelled to slaughter. Hours and hours, days even, without food or water and pregnant mares and those with foals at foot . Sorry it's in french but if you can follow it do sign the petition.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

and about time too

The weather has been kinder these past few days, today we even had sun and warmth, hooray.
Finally got to play with my new pink bosal (pressie from Lydia) and both Moo and Chapsi seem to be very happy in it. Today I rode in the bosal and in spite of Moo being just a little bit full of himself  it went really well.
Chapsi was a little full on in the school today, we even had an unplanned halt to canter tranny (hehehe) but it's hardly surprising as he's out less, in more and just full of teenager 'beans'.

The neighbouring horse and pone left for pastures new today. I fear for them but can't do anything more, I've fed them hay the past few weeks and we had a nuzzle and a carrot on christmas day. I pray they fare well but I don't have high hopes :-(

Saturday, December 26, 2009


It was lovely to spend time with Di and Jim today. The 'big kid' in Di took a boing on Lydia's christmas pressie. I'm looking forward to getting back to work with the horses tomorrow...hope this dry spell holds.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Happy Crimbo Everyone

I've OD'd on seafood and not sure if I have room for the foret noire buche. Have a very happy Christmas holiday everyone. Be your only problems those of over indulgence!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Thawed out

After a week of cold weather and being stuck at home because of snow and ice (thank heavens I had been shopping) it was nice to wake to temperatures on the +ve side of the scale today. All the snow was gone but in it's place a heavy, grey, rainy day. Although with the milder temperatures I could turn on the waterers in the stables and save myself an age getting water.
Not much serious work done these last days, just enough to keep them ticking over. It honestly takes so long just to do morning stables and then with Christmas almost on us I'm finding it hard to find much time. Maybe next year I'll just give them December off.
How do you guys like Kate and HofC manage , do you get to work your horses much in these wintery conditions? I'm just missing my indoor school I guess.

Friday, December 18, 2009

there's no business like snow business

I know lots of you bloggers live in colder parts but this is our first significant fall in a couple of years. Above the neighbours neds come to tell me they would like more hay.

Below is Chaps and Cacahuete enjoying themselves.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Jaile, the story finished

As winter fast approached it was time to up the ante and get on with the job in hand.
Now as I mentioned I was a total novice in the art of catching the uncatchable (that is excepting age 6 when my first welshie took the pee for 3 weeks when we got him home and refused to give in even when I wept).
I felt a book was in order so sent off for Kelly Marks, Handling the Untouched Horse. The book was full of good common sense.
The basic procedure was join up. I'd done a little of this type of stuff but never with an untrained horse, let alone one I'd never caught. So I constructed the pen and a track leading to it from the stable that he had been using. So he could be in the pen or in the stable. Off we went to the pen, shooed him down into it and...
Hey, I was good! I had join up in five minutes (ah yes pride, fall etc).
He joined up, did the licky chewy stuff and I walked up with my rope. He ran off. We joined up (he was like a bee to a honey pot), he legged it.
Now being rather dim I took this to heart and re-read my Kelly book (lucky it was short). I was NEVER going to get near him holding a rope so what the hell was I going to do?
Day two and more join up. I now realise this was a bad move. He wasn't unhappy to join up and he had 'got it', what he didn't get was contact.
Now had I been clever I would have quickly put two and two together and realised that he did the same thing in the field with the other horses. He would stick close, follow them around the field but the second they turned to him he backed way off.
As I said I was blind to what he was telling me, I do hope that today I would have picked up the signals quicker. In any case it finally clicked (after days spent in the pen, talking, walking and making it gradually smaller) that something more extreme maybe required.
I put guided him into the stable. I had a plan and I got all my tools to hand.I went into the adjoining stable and clambered (via the manger) onto the adjoining wall. I took my long rope in my right hand and hurled it through the rails on top of the wall. I fed a good bit of the rope through the rails and over his neck and then used a garden hoe to 'pick up' the loose end of the rope dangling by his feet. I fed the loose part back through the rails to my hand.
The amazing thing was that whilst I did this he showed no fear, he just stood stock still and stared at me.
So now I had him but I was still in the next stable (scratch head, I suppose I hadn't thought this would work so I hadn't planned too far ahead, doh). I decided to leave the rope over the wall, through the rails and try going into his stable to grab them. The gods were on my side and I managed to grab one end of the rope before he turned away. The rest is a bit foggy. I'm a girl I probably cried or at the very least misted over. I got the head collar on with no fuss and I reckon Jaile just breathed a huge sigh of relief.
It wasn't the most technically brilliant catching of an untamed horse and I definitely won't be selling any books off the back of it but it did teach me some big lessons. Lessons in humility and communication. I should have worked it out sooner that the poor chap just couldn't bridge the gap between closeness and contact?
Within a week he was in the stables across the lane, farrier had trimmed him (with little fuss) and he would lead around the place like a lamb.
Over the winter we worked on the ground, in-hand and lunging (wish I'd known clicker then) and he would wear his bridle and saddle with no fuss. I had lots of work with three of my own plus liveries to work but fate was at hand. I had met a lovely lady called Lou and being very interested in horses she asked could she come round and see ours.
To cut a long story shorter she met Jaile, I explained his history and she asked what I would do with him now I had caught him. The truth was that I had not got enough time for him but there and then I offered him to Lou. Jaile was free but I was insistant that she had a companion for him when she took him home to her place. We worked further with Jaile for a couple of months until Lou was confident to take him home.
Lou and her family are still friends and I still see Jaile from time to time, he blossomed into a calm horse, suitable for Lou AND her kids to ride. He hacks out on the quiet chemins where they live and shares his life with two mares. For me a very happy ending to his story.
Oh dear, I'm misting again.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Jaile's story

Well I was hoping to be able to tidy up the 'loose ends' these last few days of the year. I want to finish the early clicker training threads but in this freeeeezing weather I haven't braved the video camera, hopefully soon though.
I still have the stuff on turning to complete too but I want to try out my new bitless bridling before I put that to bed.
For the new year my 'fundamental' list will be making an appearance but as always it isn't quite what I thought...a list? More like a blinkin' thesis. Still it keeps the grey matter from decomposing to quickly.

So tonight? I'm going to tell, briefly, the tale of Jaile.

When we bought our last house, moving over the channel from England to France, the property came with a horse. In 2003 we moved in and 'acquired' a purebred, 6 year old arab by the name of Jaile de Moulin. When we signed on the house it was made clear that this pretty chestnut horse was not able to be caught, had never had the farrier. He had dreadlocks any rastafarian would be proud of and would wander near just as long as there was a fence between you.
Jaile had been born at Moulin de Cros, our new home. We learned snippets about his past; let's just say the vendors were a little vague with the truth. It seemed that he was left to the vendors as a yearling by the previous owners who had bred him. For two years our vendors had travelled back and forth from Holland before finally moving to the farm when Jaile was about three. In this time we believe he was on his own. At some point a 'whisperer' chap had caught him and and then they left him with a headcollar on...they never managed to catch him again and the headcollar disintegrated.
Jaile was kept out with their other horses and a 'steering' fence had been built so that when the others came in to the stables, Jaile went through a separate gate and wandered along his track that lead directly into his stable! Never touched and with rotten great cracks in his feet he was truly a project.
With the enormous task of settling humans, equines, canines and felines into a new home; not to mention brushing up the french enough to teach and starting a new business, Jaile was left on the back burner for 3 months.
He had been turned out with our horses about two weeks after they arrived but winter loomed and I wanted to put mine in the stables alongside the school so that winter working would be easier. This caused a headache as Jaile couldn't be caught and the school/stables were across the lane.
I've worked with problem horses and started youngsters but I had (and never have again) tried to catch a feral one. In the three months we'd known each other I had spent many moments across the fence from him but the second I reached my hand over he would back off and leave.
I'll conclude this tomorrow.

Sunday, December 13, 2009


I am not a believer in ''methods''. I'm a believer in fundamentals. So reads the first lines of Jack Nicklaus' book 'My Way'.

I read this quote a while back and it hit me bang between the eyes. Although he is talking about golf, this could so easily apply to equestrianism.
Top trainers sell books and clinics off the back of methods. The thing that has hit me this last 12 months (yes it's almost that long since I started blogging) is that methods don't matter. Fundamentals are what count. I'm going to create a list of fundamentals over the next few weeks and the bad news? I shall bore you with them, lol. Any thoughts will be gratefully received (as always) and I shall look on them in the new year as if they were resolutions.

Back to the mundane, too windy still for Moo (blimey he's a handful coming in, very polite but bronc-ing all over).
Chapsi and I took a windswept walk down to the bottom of the property and he just about held on to himself and so we returned and did some work in the yard with me standing on the bucket and leaning over...he is quite happy with this work now.

Friday, December 11, 2009


The wind that is. Not only a stiff breeze but some hefty gusts thrown in for good measure. Sunny though!
There were high jinks on turn out this morning, well behaved walking out but cavorting about when released. Bringing them in an hour ago and Moralejo was on two legs (he couldn't decide which two he preferred so we may be in the running for Stricly Come Dancing next series) :-o

I almost didn't work Chapsi because it was so windy but I'm so desperate I did, lol!
He was a bit jumpy going down (the tarp on the leveller was blowing about) but I unhooked him, said a prayer to Epona and off we went.
He was very good, a bit edgy but came back to me every time (even trotted back twice) and backed, walked on, halted, targeted and all the usual. Just twenty minutes but I'm glad I bothered.

Unlikely to do anything tomorrow as I have to be the perfect mother and take out daughter and friends for her birthday treat...think of me friends!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

back to school

Lovely mild day today so I worked Moo in hand, just mobilising the shoulders and haunches, halting, backing and a little shoulder-in. Oh it felt good to be back in school! Weird but his spanish walk was bold and energetic and he offered alternate legs with no encouragement...maybe he's been mulling it over whilst I've been laid up.

I've just taken the last antibiotic, yay, and can now ponder the benefits of being grotty. The major one being that I've shed the soft bits (5.5kg) and am back to my 60 kg fighting weight. I'm still being good in the hope that I can shed another kilo or two before christmas...and then I can put it all back on over the festive season!

The best benefit though is the proof that I still love working with the boys, I missed it so much. It will make the winter slog worthwhile I hope.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009


It’s 2 1/2 weeks since I did any work with the boys. Today I got my fix!
Chapsi and I headed up the hill through the village, saying hi to Beethoven (the St Bernard) on the way. I decided that, instead of moaning about how little passing traffic there is, I would turn up towards the farm and go visit Christophe’s yard (he’s my neighbour the builder). We did lots of snorting at heaps of sand and other aggregates and then did some targeting of the lorry, diggers and trailers. He coped very well and so we headed home, stopping on the way to chat to a neighbour. The only blotting of his copybook was a big snorting dragon impression at the neighbours barrow filled with hedge clippings. Still very pleased with him though as he hasn’t done a thing for so long. The targeting has made him very brave; he will snort first and then creep up to the offending object and touch it with his nose. He’s quite upset that this doesn’t automatically lead to a click if I haven’t given the touch cue; horses are so much cleverer than us eh?

Monday, December 7, 2009

On the up

I'm definitely feeling lots better and if it hadn't been for the dire weather I would have worked one of the boys today.
So I have nothing thrilling to report. There has been a good debate going on over at HorseofCourse see here and here regarding trainers and students, so go take a look whilst I'm quiet on here!
It's an interesting thought, just what makes the perfect trainer/student partnership. I think a perfect relationship is actually a chemistry that builds between the two. It has to be based on trust and respect. I worry that some students almost worship their trainers in a weird 'cult' way, not healthy and a place I've been (on the receiving end I would add) and wouldn't want to return to.
Hopefully normal service will resume here soon :-)

Thursday, December 3, 2009

hurrah for friends

I've had a lovely day today. Di came over and brought food parcels...homemade soup, crusty bread and we lunched well on delicious grub and put the world to rights! I had forty winks on the sofa when Di left and now I'm feeling beautifully rested and about to go and do hay etc.
Thanks Di it was great and really cheered me up.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009


Exciting today, first thing we noticed that next door's pone had escaped (again) and was eating our grass! Put him back and made contact with the neighbour (he only visits once in a while and doesn't live here) who told me he thought he was jumping out, LOL. I said 'if he jumped that fence then I'll buy him!' of course the crafty little monkey had shimmied under (not difficult with one strand placed so high). It appears that he has sold the place to some more Engleesh :-( just hope they're nice and friendly.
Finally had to go to the docs as Patrick said he wouldn't help me any more if I didn't! Turns out I have bronchitis and pneumonia (just in the left lung at the mo :-)) so hardly surprising I wasn't feeling too good. Ah well, I have some antibiotics and other goodies and best bit, Di's coming over tomorrow to see me.
Don't think working horses will happen soon but if I can be well for the festive season I'll be content.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

all lurgied out

I've had quite enough of this lurgy now. It's been ten days and in spite of a real improvement on Friday/Saturday I seem to have flatlined again and although mucking out is going better it leaves me too kncked to do anything else.
So sorry that this is just a moan but I've done nothing with my pones for so long and I've had enough.
Tomorrow will be beter I'm sure.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

more clicking

It was interesting to have a play at some CT yesterday with Lydia and Peanut. Just as location is to a business or property, timing is to clicker training. So the three most important facets of CT are timing, timing and timing! For an 8 year old, buoyed up by her first lesson in CT it is hard to hold on to the concept of timing. Trying to give the click at the perfect time whilst having her mind on offering the treat proved too much at times! Still, the pone is such a star that he played the targeting game.
I want to move on to the 'wait' because I found it really important with Chapsi to teach him to wait for the treat, not move towards me in anticipation. It is also really helpful to counter a horse that tries to rob (mug) treats, bite pockets or generally nip at you. However I think it is easier explained with some vid. As I'm still feeling like I did ten rounds with Mike Tyson then it will have to wait...hopefully tomorrow.
I've been thinking about the old NH and horse whispering malarky these few days that I've been too knacked to do any more than think. Why is it that almost all the 'gurus' in this field are fellas? There must be lots more ladies than men ride and I know lots of lady coaches/trainers but not many of the book writing, spiritually aware few seem to be ladies. I have my own thoughts on this but wondered what yours were?
May the new week bring sun and energy for all!

Friday, November 27, 2009

Clicker work (aka too many biscuits)

Clicker Training
This is especially for my daughter Lydia; I hope she will be as enthusiastic about clicker training as me.

First the disclaimer; I am not an expert of any kind on any subject! What I know of clicker for horses has been gleaned from my horses and the odd bit of hearsay. I have neither read a book about nor taken lessons in clicker training horses. These are my opinions based on what has worked for me.

I first heard of clicker training in dogs, about 12years ago when I took our last puppy to training club. It worked with our Jack Russell puppy and as most dog trainers will tell you JR’s are not the most biddable of dogs. Sadly we stopped at the sit/lie/stay stage and took our preliminary certificate and ran!

Fast-forward a decade. We have moved into our new home, horses have arrived but no school to work in except the 8 x 12m barn. At the same time I’m hearing clicker training mentioned on the horse forums and my interest is piqued.

I started with targeting and head down, as these were the things I heard people were doing. This was the start of my learning curve.

Popular Clicker Myths

My horse will bite me if I train him with treats.

It’s cheating.

My horse won’t respect me.

It makes me less of a horse trainer.

It’s bribery.

So what IS clicker

It is a simple system to reward a stance/behaviour/effort offered by a horse. It is accurate and engaging. It is a positive reward system that can be added on to your existing training with great effect.

Flipside…what isn’t clicker

It isn’t a quick fix; it doesn’t make you a good trainer (although it can help make you a better trainer). It isn’t discipline specific; it can be used in any sphere. It ain’t soppy or ‘hippy’. It isn’t a ‘replacement’ i.e. it is complementary to your existing work. It does not create biters or ‘muggers’ unless it is administered incorrectly.

Tools for Clicker

Treats…something palatable, easily given and stored. Experimentation has led me to Lucerne nuts for regular work and chopped carrot or apple as ‘specials’.

A click…you can buy animal training ‘clickers’ on line. Personally I use ‘my’ click (i.e. my tongue) because I can always be assured of having it with me and it is also less cumbersome than carrying a mechanical clicker. You could actually use any word or sound (and indeed I have two ‘words’ in my clicker work as well as a click). Personally I like to tongue click because it’s good and snappy and easily offered. However, if you are a habitual clicker when looking for forward movement in your horse then you’ll have to wean yourself off or the poor horse will be mighty confused.

Storage for treats
…this isn’t essential for all clicker work, I store treats in my pocket when I’m riding. A bum bag or equally suitable easy access bag is easier when working from the ground. The minute you put it on the horse knows what’s coming.

Targeting objects…balls, sticks, cones or blocks, just about anything can be targeted.

Human attributes…patience and wide-open eyes!

First Steps

As I said earlier I haven’t been trained in this work, I’ve felt my way and been guided by my horses. I don’t take this approach because I think I’m clever, far from it. I have allowed clicker to organically develop because it seems the best way to truly learn all the possibilities. As soon as I read a book on a subject then I feel compelled to follow rather than discover and develop. Make any sense? If it does then stop reading here and go off and develop yourself; when you come back we can share notes!
Each horse is different but one really good place I have found to start is training to target. If you yourself have never tried clicker training then you will probably find it easier to start with the targeting exercise…later it becomes clear that in order of priority the ‘wait’ lesson is most important but in order to teach that the horse has to be able to associate clicking with treating.

To train any kind of behaviour it must be broken down into small pieces. Don’t continue until it goes wrong or the horse becomes bored. Put 10 treats in your bag, when they’re finished you finish!

You can use an object or indeed your hand (although I do teach this a bit later myself) to target. I use a double tap on the object coupled with the word ‘touch’ immediately afterwards. To begin with you can hold the object and then, after giving the aid to touch, bring the object to touch the horse’s nose. The instant that the horse’s nose makes contact with the object you should click and, as quickly as you can, treat immediately afterwards. Otherwise you could just hang around and wait for him to be interested enough in the object (they're damned nosey creatures) and click when he touches it.
Gradually reduce the speed that you move the object towards the horse after giving the aid to touch and as if by magic the horse will start to move his nose towards the object from choice. This may take one or multiple sessions to establish. Don’t be disappointed if your initial progress is slow, all horses learn in their own timeframe.
More next time, happy clicking.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

running on empty

Haven't blogged for days due to the elephant that had taken up residence on my chest evolving into some rotten flu bug :-(
Anyway, we've all had it and finally I'm starting to feel a little more like myself. Reading anything (even on the computer) was out of the question as it just made my head hurt more. I managed to turn out, muck out and bring in every day (with a little help pushing the barrow on Monday) but they have been sadly neglected (do they care!) and not had a brush near them since saturday.
Today was definitely the best day for a while and I mustered up the energy to groom Chapsi when they came in.
I then took my big green bucket in his stable and we targeted. We then stood still while I chucked the upturned bucket into position by his side and then stomped on it;  I stood on it and rested a little of my weight over his back. All work clicked and treated (or biscuited Allison, lol). To finish I stood on the bucket and asked him to walk towards me (as if approaching a mounting block) and then walked him a little too far past me and asked him to back up. He has met the green bucket once before but I was pleased with his attitude!
Roll on some more energy.
I'm going to try and find time to blog some thoughts on clicker training later or maybe over the week-end.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

atta boy

Oh boy, blogging twice in one day; sorry.

I wasn't going to do anything today due to a stinky chest cold, the things one's husband shares with you! However I felt much better once outdoors and so I groomed Chapsi and took him off up the lane. I had no intention of going as far as last Sunday as the hills wear you out when you're fit but with an elephant camped on your chest they are nigh on impossible. We stopped at the first neighbours, backed and halted a couple of times and then on again. Round the corner we met Beethoven (yes he is a St Bernard, lol) and then a gaggle of humans...very small child on mini-moto with grandmère screaming at him to stop because of the approaching horse, larger child on push bike, Cristelle with babe in her arms, Christophe with one of his vans spilling machinery onto the road, Naomi the black retriever and two unidentified adults. Of course Chapsi stopped dead; bad idea I thought (especially as the push bike was now behind us following us up the road whilst chatting to me) but the boy took a hold of every nerve in his body and continued. We had a pat from Mum and baby and a chat with Christophe (who promises he IS coming down soon to finish the hard standing outside the yard). At the risk of being gushy...I am so proud of my boy :-)

the lazy mare took the stairs

OK I finally went uspstairs and did the youtube bit with the other vid from yesterday. He disappears three times out of the area of influence. The first time I handled it badly, I instinctively followed him out and brought him back, still at liberty, but not right. The second and third times I stayed put and he chose to come back; this is what should happen but I guess we're all human. AND just because I know Di will ask me WHY I have to let him come back...well it's about choices. He has the choice to stay or not and in time I'm hoping he'll stay always. It also gives him a chance to say 'I'm bored' or 'I'm peeved' and his deaf trainer may get the point!!
I'm still carrying the whip for the trot transitions, the physical cue to go forwards being to touch the sweet spot where one day my leg will be. I think this will go next week as he is requiring very little more than voice at the moment.

Friday, November 20, 2009

walk on by

I'm whispering this in case Horse of Course has unblocked her ears! shhh ''it's been another gorgeous day''
So, I rode Moo early and we walked. He was chilled but rather active so we worked on slowing the walk (cue the cordeo, how fab is it to be able to slow the shoulder) with the seat taking energy up rather than letting it forwards. Lots of lateral work and he didn't seem stiff at all.
Chapsi worked at liberty again and I took some vid, mainly from the fence, but for some reason the second two vids haven't uploaded to youtube yet and I can't be bothered to move my backside upstairs to check the other computer to find out why. So here are the first two to be going on with...

Thursday, November 19, 2009


Sunshine always makes things feel good. Today was sunny. Not just sunny but warm with hardly a breath of wind to give you any idea that winter is on it's way. Eighteen degrees at four o'clock is hardly seasonal for November. Today was just one of those 'bonus' days curtesy of the universe; thank you universe.

Started work early and worked all three. Moo first, worked in-hand with lots of stretching and opening up with shoulder yields etc. and by the end he seemed to be loose and showing no stiffness. We'll try riding tomorrow and see if he really is feeling less tight.

The pony's box comes next so he works next. He is so amenable is Peanut. He is also the cleanest equine on the planet with regards to his box. I wish he could share his secret with the others! Peanut started in-hand; we're on the very basics...halt, walk on by myself (him not me that is) and moving away from me ie the very beginnings of giravolta/moving turn on the forehand. He isn't a super star andnever will be but boy does he try. Finished on the lunge and I'm thinking that he MAY stretch down one day. I'm also thinking that he's almost good enough to be able to lunge Looby on him soon.

Last up was Chapsi (maybe I should write that as Chapsy Claire, hehe I hadn't thought of Maria's EE name). For the first time yet the boy chose not to play to start with. As usual we started loose and he just took himself off to play ALONE. In the past I think this would have upset me, enough perhaps to have gone and hooked him up to, at the very least, the cordeo. I'm not impatient, or at least I don't think I am, but I just know that I couldn't have coped as well as I did today. I think my horses are having a very positive effect on me :-)
I got out some cones and made us an area of influence. We had some poles to target and walk over and a couple of cones to target and bend around. Of course he could walk away whenever (and he did a couple of times) but after ten minutes he was quite intent on playing together. I think clicker helped me out big time because of his desire to please (and of course get his treat); I'm not sure if I'm relying on it too much but by the end of our session the reward of him walk/trot/walking on a circle at liberty around me was worth the risk.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

twinkle toes

Gareth the trimmer came by today, all the boys are doing well but I'm especially pleased that Chapsi (after just four trims) is pretty much back to where he would have been without my ex-farrier's rubbish trimming :-(  he now has tight white lines and has lost the nasty flares :-)
It's always lots of chat and some trimming and Gareth really is a source of great info regarding lots of equine matters. He's a good listener too and I answered some of my own questions literally by airing my thoughts.
Moo is going to be a longer job because he had been badly trimmed for much longer but he is on the road and doing well.
I am so stupid not to have taken some 'photos right at the start, doh, so you'll just have to take my word for it. I may post some of them now just as a reference for me.
It was too late to work them after we had finished but they all went out to eat grass, soak up the sun and get INCREDIBLY filthy rolling, bless 'um.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

the cherry on the cake

I haven't worked Moo the last few days (trying not to have too great expectations) but I've had two good seesions in the school with Chapsi.
We start our school sessions at liberty; stopping, starting, backing up and using voice and body as aids. Yesterday we then played with the cordeo; introducing stopping and backing from a light upwards touch. We continued with in-hand trot transitions and finished eating some lush grass on the way back up to the yard.
Today we continued with some work on the ground tying. This is so very hard for a four year old with a busy brain...but that's just the reason it is important. We finished again with the trot transitions but this time at liberty, oh he can be such a good boy.
One of the upsides of this work is that when I lead Chapsi and Peanut pone down to the furthest grazing spot they are well behaved and walk out well, neither of them pulling or trailing.
Oh, nearly forgot, the cherry on the cake. When I was set the challenge of long reining with one unattached rein (see here) it started a conversation on the french bitless association about lunging and where it fits in to the horses education. It was suggested that lunging, far from being the initial means of exercising a horse, is actually the cherry on the cake...the final piece of the jigsaw. I'm not sure that I immediately grasped the importance of this statement BUT as I see my young horse develop on so many different levels I comprehend this better with each passing day.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

bloggin' along with the chook man

I'm logged into the Klaus (anti-rollkur) broadcast as I type so I'm truly multi-tasking. I'm surprised at his common sense, in a good way mind you.
'Horses are a mirror of how society is at that moment in time' couldn't agree more Klaus! The loser is the dignity of the horse...he has so many sound bites.Oh and did he mention his new book out in the new year? You bet ;-)
Oh dear we have disappeared a bit down the chook man's own agenda road :-(  I may have to log off if he continues to tell me how good he is.

On a more mundane note, Chapsi and I took another walk today EVEN though it was raining, lol. We went further today, up to the old school and back, meeting a car en route which was a first. Silly b*gger (driver not my pone) kept driving towards this mad, hi-viz clad Engleesh bird in spite of her being in the middle of the tiniest lane. ARRRGGGHHH. Oh that feels better. So I raised my hand to indicate that it would please me if he stopped and he finally did. There was barely space to pass but the boy just calmly walked on as if he had done it many times. He was a bit excited on the road home, not impossibly so and we stopped and clicked a few times and he calmed himself.
Back home we put a saddle on and loosely did the girth up, he was a bit twitchy but focussed on his clicks and coped brilliantly. A good day.
I should maybe mention our situation here. We have absolutely zero passing traffic and hardly a thing changes in the horses lives from day to day, this is going to make it tricky as I start traffic proofing and experience building. The positives of living somewhere like this though, for me, far outweigh the negatives.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

where you wheelie bin?

A rather unpromising morning gave way to a gloriously sunny afternoon. Chapsi and I headed up the lane past the village and into the woods. Wheelie bins are pretty scary but we targetted and clicked and then he wanted to lift the lids and check out the insides, lol. I just love his deep breathing as we go but he didn't put a foot wrong.

Friday, November 13, 2009

what a difference a day makes...

... Twenty-four little hours
Brought the sun and the flowers
Where there used to be rain

My yesterday was blue, dear
Today I'm a part of you, dear
My lonely nights are through, dear
Since you said you were mine

What a difference a day makes
There's a rainbow before me
Skies above can't be stormy
Since that moment of bliss, that thrilling kiss

It's heaven when you find horses on your menu
What a difference a day made
And the difference is you

What a difference a day makes
There's a rainbow before me
Skies above can't be stormy
Since that moment of bliss, that thrilling kiss

It's heaven when you find horses on your menu
What a difference a day made
And the difference is you

LOL, I'm definitely feeling better. Had Moo tacked up by 9.00 and then worked the pone and Chaps in hand; it certainly helps having some lovely sunshine to work in.
The only downer is that Moo is still 'beaned' up, bugger! The walk work was again great but the trot, oh dear me he's certainly high on something. The merest touch on the reins and he was head throwing and he's not in the mood to work off a piece of string. Oh well he made me laugh but a winter in walk wasn't exactly what I had planned.

Thursday, November 12, 2009


No horse work today, feeling fed up which isn't really me so I made this to cheer me up, lol

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

autumn and it's memories

Oh heck it's autumn all of a sudden. The weather has turned grey and damp and it has that Guy Fawkes night feel; damp and smokey. The boys are most definitely in every night and dinner has turned from grilled to baked, salad to stodge; well that's NOT going to help my soft bits even if the mucking out helps with the fitness.
There's funghi to be had in the fields; field mushrooms (button to flat cap depending on maturity)and some bolets....the elusive cèpes are well, just eluding me.

I always feel so much better at this time of the year if I can work the horses; all that mucking out has to have an upside. Inspite of the autumnal weather I've worked Moo daily and Chapiro once or twice weekly, I've now added the pone (Cacahuète aka Peanut) as Lydia really doesn't get enough time to keep him fit enough now that the nights have drawn in.

Chapiro is four today, still such a baby but maturing nicely and so we'll keep the work going lightly until springtime and then perhaps we'll be ready for riding.

Cacahuète, on the other hand, is the old man of the gang; twenty years old and seen the lot. In the past I've kept him going over winter with a bit of lunging, nothing special just enough to get the blood running. This year I've started working him in hand too and he's very responsive to the clicker work...oh well something else to keep me interested, wish he was a bit bigger I'd ride him.

Moralejo has been really calm in-hand and on the lunge this last week. The in-hand with the cordeo/head collar is good and it IS possible to get a good shape in the neck without a bit. We can work shoulder-in to counter shoulder-in but travers is tricky unless I change sides. His spanish walk is coming on and the trot work in-hand isn't bad...he just needs to be more forward in the upwards transition.
Today was a riding day and he had nervous energy, this is the first time in ages that he has been rather tense to start and maybe it was because we were in the hackamore? The tension soon went with some lateral work and the cordeo is just excellent as an extra aid. Not only does he now accept this as a slowing down aid but you can also use it to influenec the shoulder. This is especially helpful in say the renvers on the right rein which he finds more difficult. It means you can bring the shoulder in with the cordeo and then ask for flexion with the rein and bend with the leg. This is very exciting for a lateral work nerd like me and we had some of our best lateral work today because of it. He was on speed in the trot work to begin with but we did calm it down enough to have a good stretch to finish.

Today we remembered the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month 1918 and the signing of the armistice between the allies and Germany that marked the end of the first world war. In our tiny commune of Jumilhac le Grand there were over one hundred and twenty causualties to that war. In true French style we remembered the fallen in the square today albeit 20 minutes late!

This poem by Alan Seeger, a young man who himself fell in that war, is loved on both sides of the channel....

J'ai un rendez-vous avec la Mort
Sur quelque barricade âprement disputée,
Quand le printemps revient avec son ombre frémissante
Et quand l'air est rempli des fleurs du pommier.

J'ai un rendez-vous avec la Mort
Quand le printemps ramène les beaux jours bleus.
Il se peut qu'elle prenne ma main
Et me conduise dans son pays ténébreux
Et ferme mes yeux et éteigne mon souffle.
Il se peut qu'elle passe encore sans m'atteindre.

J'ai un rendez-vous avec la Mort
Sur quelque pente d'une colline battue par les balles
Quand le printemps reparaît cette année
Et qu'apparaissent les premières fleurs des prairies.

Dieu sait qu'il vaudrait mieux être au profond
Des oreillers de soie et de duvet parfumé
Où l'Amour palpite dans le plus délicieux sommeil,
Pouls contre pouls et souffle contre souffle,
Où les réveils apaisés sont doux.

Mais j'ai un rendez-vous avec la Mort
A minuit, dans quelque ville en flammes,
Quand le printemps d'un pas léger revient vers le nord cette année
Et je suis fidèle à ma parole:
Je ne manquerai pas à ce rendez-vous-là.
I have a rendezvous with Death
At some disputed barricade,
When Spring comes back with rustling shade
And apple-blossoms fill the air
I have a rendezvous with Death
When Spring brings back blue days and fair.
It may be he shall take my hand
And lead me into his dark land
And close my eyes and quench my breath
It may be I shall pass him still.

I have a rendezvous with Death
On some scarred slope of battered hill
When Spring comes round again this year
And the first meadow-flowers appear.

God knows 'twere better to be deep
Pillowed in silk and scented down, Where Love throbs out in blissful sleep,
Pulse nigh to pulse, and breath to breath,
Where hushed awakenings are dear . . .

But I've a rendezvous with Death
At midnight in some flaming town,
When Spring trips north again this year,
And I to my pledged word am true,
I shall not fail that rendezvous.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Friday, November 6, 2009

string brakes or is that breaks?

Today we tested the prototype side pull. Not the clearest 'pic with his lordship being almost white now *rolls eyes*

Now I can tell you that a year ago nothing would have got me to ride on a cold damp morning with a piece of string for brakes! Coupled with the next door equines being mighty interested in our presence and then doing handstands and bombing about to show off, lol. I think that if I learn nothing from this exercise it will have brought about a deeper respect and trust between the two of us. I don't expect it to lead to nothing in any case but just in case.....
What I'm hoping to find is a bridle that can position the head with no tilt, no curl back, no excessive neck bend but with the squeeze of the fingers elicits a soft incurvation from nose to wither. Blimey, it does what I hoped for! I am so amazed and really can't believe how well he went. Downsides...the headcollar doesn't sit securely when you use the rein (totally fixable) the cord reins are just too thin. Now I thought thin would be good and it is but I think they're just too thin and the feel I get from using my old curb reins (very thin for leather) is actually a nicer feel. I want to keep them as thin as possible though because it always makes me want to be delicate in my feel with a lighter rein.
Halting is working well with the cordeo alone and some weight aid to back it up, rein-back is brilliant from the cordeo too. What I found really pleasing was that if I raised my hands and thus the bridle reins then he came up and open, not trying to curl back and down. Shoulder-in, counter s-i, travers all worked well and leg yield with a little shoulder aid through the cordeo worked a treat too. Oh well in for a penny as they say...and trot transitions; not sure if he really did feel looser or just that I felt slightly 'heady' with the thought of a piece of string for brakes but it was incredible. Crap bending on the left but after some tweaking we worked out a system of shoulder guiding with the cordeo and head flexion with the rein, balanced with some leg/weight aids for the other end; conversely no surprise that his right rein wasn't bad at all.
An excellent start, LOADS to work on and improve and more trawling the net to decide on which sidepull (I still like the Enduro but it's only rope and Patrick has promised to try constructing one for me).
The moral of this yourself to see the good in your horse and work with it.
Di asked me the other day about the cone targeting and *stuff* like that and what it's worth was in the general day to day business of riding/working your horse. Well I only got to mention the fact that it helped with trust and confidence before we rolled onto the next topic. I forgot to mention though that without a bit and especially in the liberty and cordeo work you need to find a way to guide the nose (so that you can have inside bend), ie following your finger/hand and crucially targeting is a build up to that.
Hey, I'm on a roll again ;-)

Thursday, November 5, 2009

lost in thought

This has been the longest time I haven't blogged without good reason. I'm not entirely sure why, usually it's a part of my day that I look forward to; updating the progress we've (hopefully) made. I think the problem at the moment is that every answer I find leads me to another question. So I'm not sitting on my butt and doing nothing but as yet I'm still deep in thought (mmm, I think I'm also driving Di mad, sorry).
I have cobbled together a very basic halter to ride in, it worked like a dream in-hand today when I used it with the cordeo. We worked on some transitions to start and then rein-back to walk, then some shoulder-in/counter shoulder-in and travers. The trick is to use the cordeo as a shoulder guide and halting device and only using the reins of the halter for flexion. We finished with some trot work which he really seems to love in-hand, rein-back to trot is one big energy boost, lol.
The cordeo works on the base of the neck to re-balance the horse rearwards, as you watch the process from the ground it's interesting to see the way the neck lifts but without hollowing the back.
Lots more to come but just a touching base blog night :-)

Friday, October 30, 2009


It's interesting that I seem to have a completely different set of expectations depending on whom I'm working with. With Moo I expect him to comprehend more easily because he has been learning for longer and conversely I expect less from Chaps because he is only just starting out. I'm guessing though that maybe I should expect to be surprised sometimes and not without reason. Chaps is 'uncluttered' whereas Moo has so much white noise buzzing about that my guess is that he is sometimes almost 'deaf' to my blabbering.
So it was frustrating (albeit enlightening) that Moo couldn't translate my aid for halt when ground driving at liberty when Chaps could even take the next step of staying front facing during this halt. Also interesting (although I'm not actually certain of it's meaning OR relevance as yet) that Moo gets unclipped in the school and goes roll and mooch for 2 minutes until he comes over to work whereas Chaps is 'with' me from the first second.
Note to self..just shut up around the horses, less truly is more or they will (like children) just stop listening!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

sense and sensitivity

Another glorious day with temperatures in the low twenties, incredible for nearly November but very welcome. The flies aren't too bad so I was able to continue working with Chapiro again today. Even though the sessions will remain short I will up the frequency towards Christmas now that he's almost four.
Today Chapiro worked a little on desensitizing; targeting cones and then targeting a big sheet of corrugated cardboard (to start with targeting with the mouth and then the hoof) and ultimately getting him to walk over the cardboard.
We continued to take direction from pointing a finger and he will now weave in and out of the cones without following me but taking direction from the pointing. We finished with some liberty driving; firstly getting him to comprehend standing still while I walk around him as this is important when you want to take up the driving position. This is real "brainwork" for him because in some exercises I ask him to move from my body cues and others, like this one, I ask him to stand and wait. He is so clever and takes it all in his stride. He will happily walk on now from the driving position directly behind him and will halt (obviously from the voice command because he as at liberty during all this work) although he does turn to face me on the halt so we'll have to work on him staying forward facing next!
It is a crucial time as I see it. I want to reward common sense and calmness whilst retaining the sensitivity that the Andalusian breed has in abundance. I want him to think for himself yet translate my cues correctly...big weight on both our shoulders. This is uncharted territory for me, it's all in my subconscious and I can feel where I want to go but I need him to show me that I'm not making a big c*ck up; knowing the Andalusians, he sure as hell is going to let me know, lol.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009


Well this morning I picked up the family at the airport and Looby and I had a sob, I didn't actually realise I'd missed them. So it's been a day of mega-cuddles with my baby and a bit of horse time too.
Moralejo had been ridden two days (and reasonably hard yesterday) so we went down to the bottom fields for a wander. Those fields are all on quite a slope but with a series of steps which are good for him to work on. We had a walk and a trot and he settled not too badly but was generally rather tense. We headed back up the track and past the yard and onto the lane...woohoo he was striding out and didn't stop, really keen and forward until we got to the last bit of our hamlet and he slammed on the anchors, bum. I tried to urge him on and we got piaffe, bit more and he felt horribly tight so I got off and led him up to the place where the bridleway turns off and got back on. He was still tentative but we managed the triangle  (only about 15 minutes) without another stop and didn't have any hassle when the fuel lorry came by us on the lane. Lucky the weather is gorgeous and my patience knows no bounds, lol.

Chapiro was a total babe on our first solo walk up the lane. Patrick says he could hear him snorting from inside the house but he didn't stop once except when we exchanged greetings with our neighbour and her dog and I felt it only polite to stand for a few seconds whilst chatting.
We had ten minutes in the school when we got back and he is so accomodating and lovely to be with.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

While the cat's away

...the girls will play.

Patrick and Lydia are in the UK for a few days which has left me free to play ponies and catch up with friends. Yesterday Di came over with the treeless saddle so we put it through it's paces. Bev joined us for lunch and we had a great chin-wag and a bit of a giggle and probably too much wine!!

The treeless feels very comfortable but puts you in a slight 'chair' position but to be fair to the saddle it's not a dressage model. Moralejo went really well in it and it remained balanced even in canter.
Di took lots of 'photos but there's something blocking me from uploading them on here or video to youtube, my browser just keeps closing the page down or the computer grinds to a halt. I managed to email a couple to Patrick's computer so here they are. The canter is definitely improving since I started working with the idea of the AI (area of influence) I think I probably drove Di mad with my enthusiasm but it is just so exciting to have found a way to ride my gorgeous boy WITHOUT him being persistently behind the vertical. We now have decent enough canter transitions, OK running on in the downwards transition but he's not tucking back and disappearing up his own rear!!
Today we had another great session and rode in excess of 30 canter transitions from trot, walk or through rein-back to walk and then canter. I interspersed them with the walk and trot work and each time he calmed down and worked sensibly in the new pace. We worked on the canter transition on the long side, no bend, and he was correct each time in his lead and I even got counter canter on the long side (it took a few goes before he trusted that he understood that I was asking the 'wrong' lead lol).
I'm scared that we're having too much fun, he LOVES this work, and that he may not stay sound; oh well live for today and today (and yesterday thanks girls) was just excellent.

Photos of Moo in canter up and open at the front, YAY!!!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

FEI petition against rollkur

Please sign the petition online and pass it on to friends.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

this made me cry :-(

Someone on EE brought this to our makes me sick to the core, I have no words to express the depth of my despair....

KWPN Stallion Watermill Scandic ridden by Swedish Patrik Kittel during a two hour session of various degrees of hyperflexion at the World Cup dressage qualifier in Odense, Denmark. Early on in the session, the horse's tongue has turned blue and limp and flops out of the stallion's mouth. Stopping the horse, the rider leans forward and fixes the problem, using the hand furthest from the camera. After this, the session is continued for a minimum of 90 minutes in the same way. This pair is trained by Dutch chef d'equipe, Sjef Janssen, who was present at the warm up arena.

KWPN-hingsten Watermill Scandic under en to timer lang træning i varierende grader af hyperfleksion ved World Cup-kvalifikationsstævnet i Odense. På et forholdsvis tidligt tidspunkt bliver hestens tunge slap, og blå og hænger ud af munden. Rytteren parerer hesten, og ordner problemet med hånden længst væk fra kameraet. Derefter rides der videre i mindst halvanden time på samme måde. Ekvipagen trænes af den hollandske landstræner, Sjef Janssen, som var til stede på opvarmningsbanen.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Area of influence

I think I mentioned yesterday that I've been letting Moo help me plan Chaps early training days. Part of this difficult task has been to ascertain exactly what I need to be training. In my previous life it was easy, lol, written down in every classical dressage book ever written. Now truly not much has changed except the lack of contact inside the mouth (to be fair that's quite a biggy if you talk to a true classicist) and many (read that as most) of the tenets that have always bound me to my training are still in place. No, what really has changed is the how, the method in other words. My buzz words are still ...light, energy, soft, together, power, engage and so on but now I have to reinvent my methods of achieving this nirvana.
I would love to sit here and just spew, it's all in my head but not beautifully formed as yet. I imagine I'll manage to put my thoughts down better when Moo has explained them more fully to me (rolley eye smiley just here). So I will try to give a general feel of what we've been working on and specifics as and when. I was hoping to have some video for tonight but as Claire so kindly sent me her rain it wasn't really the weather for filming.
I was given the task on the bitless forum of becoming more precise on my exercises, maybe using poles and markers to stop/turn at very specific points. Now I see the benefit of this but I also see the huge downsides; go look at Parelli type 'gamed' horses (sorry to all Parelli type trainers but the horses look dead and physically unhingeds to me) and that's one reason I don't want to be getting over accurate at this point in time. I still want there to be room for us to converse rather than beating ourselves with a ground pole (scuse the pun).
So I have marked out an area in the school with cones; it's roughly circle shaped but it could really be any shape. It doesn't touch the sides or the ends and sits roughly central in the school about 12/14 meters diameter. This is what I'm going to call my 'area of influence' and I started using it in-hand to begin with and then lunging and finally ridden. The rules are simple, you can only apply any aids/cues within the area of influence, outside of the area the horse gets to think for himself and develop the  balance required to perform the task in hand; outside of the area you must not use any influence except body turning in the case of riding; no contact AT ALL through the hand (I am still using the cordeo in conjunction with the bitless). You can mark the area with anything, cones, poles, ropes etc, basically anything low level and relatively inconspicuous. It's not the size of the marker that trains the exercise but the intent of the rider. I'm finding cones work best as I use them for yielding around, turning and so on but different things would be good just to keep it bright and alive.
The main benefits of the area of influence are rider focussed (well most training is) but the big plus is the confidence the horse gains when working for the periods outside of the area. Things that seem to work well within the area (unsurprisingly) are transitions (direct and within the gait), reinback, turn on the forehand/giravolta, yielding (through the shoulder, through the quarters or leg yielding), any lateral movements.
Yesterday I played more with this and had an incredible session with Moo. We worked on changes of direction in the area through a transition and sometimes reinback (figure of eight) and it all got so light that he 'offered' a walk/canter transition that was so light and with bags of energy...I'm still smiling.
If you have lasted this long then take a medal, it's just really to help my memory but feel free to feedback, god knows I need all the help I can get ;-)

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Chapiro diary 'the plan'

I’ve been putting some thoughts together regarding Chapiro; basically where has my bitless delving left me with regards to his early work. I’ve enlisted Moralejo to help me with this project as he has gone back to the beginning again (in many senses) and has had problems that have made me look at my training and myself in a new light.

I know that sometimes I have been guilty of getting bogged down in the detail BUT it is all IN the detail. For instance, if I’m thinking about transitions and how to improve them I can’t just go out and ride hundreds; I have to drip feed information to my horse and assess the feedback. In Beudant’s words; observe and reflect. So this last week I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting, OK I can hear the groans guys!

Some really simple observations when working with Moralejo…. he goes brilliantly off my voice and body aids when used in combination, not so good off each separately. The cordeo and liberty work really highlight this because he can pretty much walk off whenever he chooses; although remarkably he doesn’t. He may not walk away and in fact he seems to choose to interact with me but he isn’t as finely tuned unless I use voice and body. I’ve therefore set out to correct this and we’re working on voice only to begin with, it’s quite a slow process because I want it to be right, no having to go back and do it again. This is definitely something I want to do with Chaps although it will be in much smaller chunks as he has no ‘data’ stored like Moo; mind you that could be a good thing.

So with Chaps the work we already have in place covers the basics of forwards, stopping, turning, backing and moving away from a cue. The next logical step would therefore involve separating the aiding systems (voice and body) and then fine tuning them. Importantly, I feel, the work is of short duration; no more than 15 minutes and no more than twice a week. He remains a real baby in spite of being less than a month away from his 4th birthday. I’m in no hurry but the ‘loose’ plan would be to progress this in-hand/liberty work to eventually include lunging; plus some despooking, walking out on the lanes and tracks and other confidence exercises.

I am not intending to use a bit but should I change my mind I can always introduce one at a later date-it’s important to keep an open mind.

I had an excellent ridden session with Moo today but I’m too tired now to write it up…it will keep.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

quelle histoire

Lydia rides at a nearby centre equestre and this morning we popped back to watch the last ten minutes of her lesson.
Now ponies are always amusing, they have such personalities! Today was no exception, amusement came calling!! At the end of the lesson the kids turn , as a ride, across  the centre line and halt; so far so good. Then they do 'round the world' (le moulin here) and dismount...cue two big Friesians (on holiday livery) breaking the fence with a helluva "crash" and cavorting with neighbouring horse. The sound of the crash sent the ponies in all directions, half of them (the half seated backwards at the moment of the crash) got dumped and the other half dived for the ground. It was utter carnage, pony and child spaghetti, lol. One little girl landed with a nasty thud but kids seem able to take the knocks and she's fine. Lydia was giggling and all the girls (why don't boys ride??) had to have a good old conflab in the tack room. Don't they say never work with children or animals?

Kate asked about Etienne Beudant's book from which I quoted, his major work Extérieur et Haute école was first published in1921 and his other work still in print Vallerine (when no longer able to ride his horse Vallerine, he wrote to the friend he gave her to and this is the resulting book) I believe he wrote another but I'm not sure this is still available in French or English. He was a student of Faverot de Kerbrech (himself a student of Baucher) and well regarded by the great Decarpentry.


Thursday, October 15, 2009

fuzzy felt horses

Winter seems to be the golden thread linking most horsey blogs at the moment and so I'll join the throng. Tonight the boys are in the barn; it didn't get above 10 degrees in spite of the glorious sunshine and there was a raw wind that made their coats stand up like fuzzy felt boards.
I was overjoyed to see Moo walk up the field sound and then up the steep hill with no problem, the blip , for now, seems to have passed. It seemed a good plan to work him dismounted again and we had an excellent seesion, no expectations is generally a good plan and it certainly was today.
The spanish walk has now progressed to raising both legs (mostly in the right order,lol) and he's got the idea of keeping it forwards too. We did some more pole work and some good stretching down in the trot, the rhythm is good and after using the poles he has a real lift in his back. Excellent stretches again to finish.
Don't want to tempt fate by looking forward to the next session.
My thoughts for the day, week, maybe even the year are Etienne Beudant's words 'Observe and Reflect' taken from  ''Observer le cheval libre, réfléchir et tâcher de bien faire soi-même au lieu d'accuser la mauvaise volonté ou les tares de son cheval.
                   La réussite d'un dressage ne s'obtient que par l'observation et la réflexion sans s'écarter des lois de la nature, tandis que l'application mécanique des théories est rarement juste.
                   Le succès équestre n'échoit qu'à ceux qui observent et réfléchissent.''

This tells me that in order to succeed I must observe my horse's nature (the way he moves, why he moves, from what he moves etc) and reflect upon it to find the true 'dressage' solution for us...the mechanical application of theories is rarely just (as in correct). Beudant rocks ;-)

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Finally I'm breaking the surface and gasping some air. The bitless malarkey has opened so many doors in my mind and most of them not actually directly related to bitless; it makes me feel pretty inadequate in my training and will, I hope, spur me on to be better.
I've been making real progress with Moo and had some good ridden canter in the school on Saturday, the first time since his problems in July. We got really clean transitions and although he was rushing, what's new, he wasn't hanging onto my hand and felt quite nice. We've groundworked or ridden every day except Monday and he seemed to be stretching well in his exercises afterwards.
I had planned to ride today but when I brought him in ihe was very tight through his shoulder/wither on the right side. I'm as paranoid about him as I am about my back, one twinge and I have visions of the surgeon's knife glinting.
So it was a change of plan and after some massage we groundworked, first a little in-hand opening up the shoulders with some yielding and then the same with the quarters. We walked over our pyramid of poles, which he did as ably as usual, and then on to some gentle lunging in walk and trot. In these sessions I pretty much let him dictate the pace and although he looked tight to start with, he did end up long, relaxed and stretching. His stretches back in the yard were the best ever, he was very cooperative. If I was a religious person I'd be praying tonight that he is good in the morning, I don't want to slide back down that slippery slope again.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The End

Well it's the boring bit (hehe) for me...just a list to remind me where we are in October 2009, lots of bitless options out there in the world and with price tags from 20€ to 200 € you need to choose wisely.
Let's start with the cordeo which is basically just a rope around the base of the neck. It can be used for cuing/aiding but it has to be a very refined system. I will be using this regularly but I doubt for hacking!
Halters which can be very effective yet very simple, the bosal, rope hackamore (the original hackamore) and the next one on the list for me to try...the australian Enduro bridle (not really a bridle but more of a halter with uni-lateral rein possibilities PLUS a lifting under the jaw when the hands are raised together) has reins attached on both sides of the nose piece whereas the bosal/hackamore have one place rein attachments under the chin.
Sidepulls allow you to 'place' the head with unilateral rein aids rather like a noseband with reins...there are many different brands out there made from rope/leather/synthetic materials. Some have a direct 'pull' whilst others attach to the nose piece via a ring to give a firmer pull across the nose/behind the chin like the Scawbrig. There are others that cross over the nose and allegedly are good for pokey nosers (mmm, don't like the sound of that one).
The Dr Cook bitlessbridle specially designed to move the whole head to unilateral rein aids, the crossunder cheekpieces give a 'whole head hug' feel that I didn't like but then Moo doesn't like to feel enclosed around the head and to be fair this bridle is highly recommended by many.
Mechanical bitless solutions like the English and German hackamore are often the first step to bitless and sometimes used for horses that are showing obvious problems when ridden bitted. Their leverage action is believed to be rather severe but the English hackamore, in the right hands, is in my opinion like a curb bit and can enable some precise aiding. I am going to add the LG bitless in here although to be fair the leverage option is only one it offers.It has a 'wheel' type attachment which can offer a rang of aiding possibilities acting on either/or the nose/poll/chin area. I would certainly give this a try.
Here are some names you'll find in the marketplace just google away.
Enduro bridle
Dr Cook's bitless bridle
The Micklem Multi bridle (can as others do, take a bit or not)
Dually (more a training aid)
The LG bitless bridle
The Nutural Bridle
The Be Kind bridle
Barefoot range of bitless bridles Walnut, Amber etc (nicely made and super kid's sidepull to get them started young!!)
Oh the list is endless and more products are coming on the market all the time, please let me know if you hear of new concepts (I'm waiting to learn more of Cabruze's) and I'll add them to the list.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

let's put this to bed

Not for a permanent sleep because I can tell you for certain that I'll be boring you some more over the following months but for the moment it's done.
My conclusions (well Claire pretty much said it on her comment before) are pretty inconclusive, lol! I  now need to study some of the options to take my own work forward but I've learned a lot (thanks to some generous people who have posted interesting stuff on the web) and I think the important thing I've learned is to let my horse follow his nose...quite literally if I can 'place' his nose (or head) then I can direct him, if I can place his nose I can stop him (if my voice and seat fail).
Working bitless in it's truest form (at liberty) takes a patience and vision for the future that not everyone can/wants to sign up to. I began this search thinking that these NH (still makes me shudder) types are living in cuckoo land and training horses that look drugged at best, turned off at worst. Of course there are bitless solutions that fall in the middle ground between bitted and liberty and I'll give an overview of the options available in my final post. What I think I've discovered (well in truth this is something I already felt but bitless takes you one step further)  is that the true sense of horse training is finding the most simple solution to getting the best results; by stripping down your training system you can find it's weak spots BUT, most importantly, find a confidence within your horse/human relationship that is uplifting if not magical. So it is simplicity, clarity, confidence and sincerity that work WITH either bitted or bitless and your horse truly is an image of you, he is what you make him. Of course the old 'less is more' has never been truer.
Will I ever use a bit again...probably.
Do I despise bits and the people that use them...absolutely not.
Do I think the  haute école movements are possible bitless...yes but it's only a gut feeling.
Will I bit my youngster Chapiro? Hopefully not.
Am I good enough to train my horses bitless, probably not but then if I can't do it without then I probably can't do it with.
I am so glad I started this I will never be the same but then hopefully that's a positive!
I'll finish with a round up of the marketplace tomorrow and may I say a big thanks for all of your input.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

grown up stuff

I make it a rule not to spout about stuff that I know nowt about, as I have never trained a horse to GP then I can't begin to suggest that it may be possible bitless. I read recently (and Di shows a video here) that there are very few folks who ride bitless at the highest level and any that do are previously trained bitted so it's not quite the same as starting at the beginning. I have trained passage and piaffe with a couple of my horses in the past and I think the energetic, hot blooded ones could possibly have been able to be trained without a bit but I'll just never know so I'll not try to surmise.
Let's just say that I'm finding depths to my training that I hadn't thought possible and if I was twenty years younger I might have the time and energy to prove the theory; as it is I'll just rely on someone else to prove it to me.
Just short and sweet tonight but next I'll have a quick look at some of the bitless options.

Friday, October 9, 2009

the next steps

My plan was to develop my thoughts towards the next stage of training. That is the work that follows the basics, if you think of it in terms of competition levels then it's elementary/medium (sorry you overseas guys but the stuff like medium trot, half pass, shoulder-in simple/flying changes etc). This is when we expect to see the horse in true self carriage, able to perform lateral work with ease, with energy and in an unceasing rhythm. The engagement is upped and collection has started to be the focus of our training but only enough to perform the required tasks. This is the exciting point for me, so much promise and some good work already under the belt, and the horse...about 7-8 years old and strong enough to continue to even more collection when asked.
Whilst I will throw a few words in the direction of the uber advanced work in a later post, at the moment I think this is where bitless has lead me and will leave me (until Moo gets his knickers straight and we progress in rapidity ,lol) 
So we're a little off target (Moo being 13 now) and we have some higher level work in place because of our past lives but really we're working on the elementary work of basic collection.So I'll share our previous few days work to give an idea where all this bitless info has sent me!
Aside from hacking off down the fields or up through the village we spend on average 3 hours a week in the school. After my  first experience with the cordeo I was hugely impressed, this is for me the biggest test of your aids and determines whether your horse is 'in tune' with you.
So every session starts with some in-hand work in the cordeo, the biggest problem initially being how to influence the head and neck to achieve inside (or indeed outside) bend. The cordeo really doesn't give any idea of bend and so it has to be a vocal or visual cue and I've found a finger pointing to where I want the nose to be is the best method yet. Basically I ask for direction indicating (with a pointing finger) from a standstill via a walk on and then click/treat the desired behaviour. This is like magic!
Riding today I used the cordeo but with the bitless backup (like a second pair of reins) to stop in a hurry if necessary.
What was truly amazing was the fact that I could practice my hands on the cordeo without upsetting his mouth and at the same time I knew for sure he had nothing in the hand as long as I rode only off the cordeo. EVERYONE should ride like this at leastonce in a while. Off for beauty sleep now, xxx Trudi

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Classical trainer sacked for not using a bit

Well now comes the tricky bit. I’ve always struggled with describing myself as ‘classical’ but it is the tag that probably describes my training best. That is about to change; it is one of the biggest cardinal sins to believe one can train ‘classically’ without a bit. So I hereby renounce all previous claims that I may be classical in my approach. I am not classical, there, said it and I feel better already. So what am I really trying to achieve with my training? Not great success in competition arenas that’s for sure. A horse trained to Grand Prix? Get real Trudi, lol. No I’m not actually goal driven much at all, I used to be but then I suppose that has mellowed with age. All I really want it to enjoy the time I spend with my horses and for them to enjoy the time they spend being and working with me and for us all to keep fit enough that we can continue to a ripe old age.

Take yesterday as an example; I had one of the best days! Did we find more engagement in our half pass? Move effortlessly from shoulder-in to counter shoulder-in? No, we trotted a figure of eight keeping rhythm through rein changes and with Moralejo not rushing or leaning. It was a joy that we could do this simple thing with zero contact but 100% concentration…we were both in the zone and it made me want to cry, partly because I’ve waited so long but partly because I’m realising I’ve been up a blind alley for way too long. I haven’t felt his back swing so freely or seen his head so quiet ever and to finish we went down the hill and trotted home in the same trot, no hands, just him finding his balance.

So I ask myself again, what do I want from my training? I want that smile from yesterday, I want it too feel like I’ll burst with pride in my boy because we achieved balance together but at the same time independently…like dancers, touching and blending with each other but not leaning on each other.

My old favourite Paul Belasik says that dressage isn’t dressage without a bit, it’s a reference point for propriocentric (had to add that one to my spell checker, lol Mr B) balancing i.e. a static reference point (Cabruze and I already confused each other with this idea of ‘static’) that the horse senses in order to balance himself over his feet. I’m not sure about this statement but I’d like Mr B to substantiate his belief with some science, alas I doubt it will be forthcoming.

Dr Thomas Ritter writes ‘you can't produce the same level of suppleness and throughness with a bitless bridle as with a classical bridle.

None of the classical traditions use bitless bridles. None of the classical schools use bitless bridles.’ Mmm, lacking in science again I’m afraid.

Did I say afraid?? Well do you know I think that’s just the problem, the classicists believe that there is a process one must go through, believe in, to achieve a ‘classically’ trained horse and are pretty terrified that someone comes onto their turf and asks too many questions. The answer…blind them with art, well that’s not good enough for me any more ;-)

Oh this is tiring, I’m going to call it a night, I need to choose my words carefully. So I guess it's back to my tongue in cheek title of a while back...I'm a 'living' trainer (well it's better than being a dead one) and open to ALL things based on believable science, dusted with a little art and being of benefit to my horse and at the moment I don't see a big reason to use a bit. I think tomorrow I'm going to talk about the cordeo work I'm doing with Moo, the lateral work and baby moments of collection (yes without a bit).
Night, night.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Meat for Di

Before I gather my thoughts on advancing the horse I want to put some meat (there you go Di, meatballs for you!!) on the bones of the method.

This is actually something I’m playing with now so it won’t be hypothetical but of course it’s only (at best) a two-horse study and hardly proof that the method works but I’m happy to share my thoughts.

In-hand work is something I’m actually not bad at, I learned lots when I was not able to ride after a back op and it kept me sane. The most important aids for groundwork are surely body position and voice? Well yes I think they are but I would also add touch (hand or maybe whip), hand cues (by this I mean pointing or arm sweeping which can obviously be great for giving directional aids) and all helped by clicker work. Before starting the serious groundwork I would ‘play’ in the stables with some basic clicker training and ‘get outa my space’ stuff but this is important for all horses ridden or not and makes them nice to handle.

In the early days of groundwork before we even think of riding we will want to have all the basic aids well learned. Starting and stopping are obvious firsts and they will be revisited and refined forever more, they are THE FOUNDATION STONES UPON WHICH ALL ELSE RESTS. I get really hacked off when folks make up every excuse under the sun why horses can’t do these rudimentary basics well…but never blame themselves. My dog is untrained, woefully so but it’s not HER fault it’s MINE. Horses weren’t born knowing these things and their lives and ours will be happier if we can at least concur on the basics.

Lunging and long reining will follow the close up ground work and again this is something that I’ve done bitless for a number of years and truly I just don’t ‘get’ side reins, the human fixing the horses head, trying to ‘connect’ with the front end…I have heard the classical reasoning for bits and side reins in this work (read someone like Paul Belasik for a great explanation) but personally I feel if the head is the barometer for what goes on behind then why would you ‘fix’ it and loose this communication?

When we move on to mounted work these simple ideas of moving forwards when prompted, stopping or slowing on cue and turning will be solidly in place. Now this work was often performed in the cavesson, no bit, and indeed it’s heartening to know that this still continues with the transition to bit being made after the horse is initially mounted in the cavesson.

Moving into the ridden work is a natural progression from the groundwork and so the same directional rein aids/voice/touch/clicker will be more than handy when our seat and weight is at first just an unbalancing confusion. This is the point at which I feel the bit is LEAST needed. If our previous work (taking months) has been patient and logical then this is just a small  but important step. What if we loose our balance and grab the reins just a little too roughly or our youngster jumps a little at some noise in the hedge? Well it surely makes the whole bitting process somewhat more difficult? I have stopped offering the bit to Chapiro (did so about 6 times) and at present I have no intention of reintroducing this work but I will be documenting his progress as we go so watch this space.

Straightforward riding in the early days, little, regular and varied will build up the horses musculature and general ability to carry us without compromising his own balance and still I can’t see a reason that one HAS to do this with a bit. Gradually the seat and weight will take a bigger role in the work and the hand will remain just an indicator of direction. Many horse’s (Moralejo for one) come to rely on the hand too early and the using the ‘fifth’ leg to balance can become a hard habit to break Ah but… then the horse could lean/rely on the bitless hand I hear you cry. Yes, absolutely true, except that the whole concept of riding bitless is more likely to produce a horse that is truly working ‘away’ from the hand because the hand is not capable of such brutality (yes I KNOW none of you are like this but some (plenty) of folk are) and if the hand attached to the bit can be so light and kind, what happens to it and why do we see little of this type of riding later on? Where do all the pully pushy yanky riders emerge from? It’s even rife in the classical world; remember the classical girlie’s video I posted? Well they don’t come much more classical than her.

OK, ranting over and just to recap…at the moment I don’t believe in the early days of training a horse we need to introduce a bit. Some of this work I have almost never used a bit for anyway and the rest I now believe it is not necessary for either.

This is defo now spaghetti and meat BALLS but I am really giving some form to the ideas in my head so it’s helping me but probably driving you guys (if you got this far) nuts.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009


Sorry this is possibly late as I've had my head up my derrière but a big welcome and thanks to my two new followers Molly and Vectormom....hi both and you're very welcome.

raw material


I could just go and pick up a book and quote a definition but first I’d like to explore my own head a little. Horses don’t need collection to carry a rider, they need self- carriage (or let’s say it makes for a nicer ride if they have), it’s helpful (I’d say almost essential), that a horse has a naturally good conformation. It’s neck and head coming out of and at a good angle to it’s well sloping shoulder. A strong, not overly long, back and quarters that balance well with the front end. Of course it would be a whole other subject for me to go into greater detail but suffice to say that a horse with the correct raw material will find collection way easier than a horse that was born on it’s forehand.

Before riding our beautifully put together steed we will prepare with groundwork to strengthen and enable him to grow accustomed to our bizarre human behaviour. Once mounted for the first time we will begin to allow him time to rediscover his balance whilst carrying his wieldy load. There are many ways of starting horses but most will use this type of progression. After a period of time we will ask more of our horse through transitions, changes of direction and the beginnings of lateral work. We will take him out for hacks and walks to further increase his confidence and strength and after (ideally at least) two years we may begin the serious work. That isn’t to say that we have had zero collection before this time but any collection should have come through the horses own desire to perform a task better and not by us asking for it. What should be obvious to the onlooker by now is the fact that the horse can carry himself and his rider, he is relaxed and able to stretch down and he can keep a good rhythm.

Aside from being able to place the head left or right to turn and maybe some rudimentary stopping (as a last resort) why would we need a bit? Do we need a bit for these basic commands?

Next I want to look at the journey from the ‘straight line horse’ that has no collection to the horse that begins to engage his hinds and step under himself.

That is, however, for another day.

Monday, October 5, 2009

The first bit

The beginning bit (excuse the pun)

Since learning to ride at the age of five I have spent the majority of my hours in the saddle relying on a bit for control; that is to say directing my steed and regulating his speed. As a five year old I believed the main function of the bit was to enable me to hoist up my pony’s head once he had a mouth sufficiently stuffed with grass. The kids today, riding in arenas with no chance to munch don’t know they are born.

As I grew up I learned the good old four pounds of weight in the reins rule, along with a damned good gripping with the knees and backside (anatomically impossible to do both simultaneously but what the heck, that didn’t stop my pony club teachers trying).

By the time I was a teenager I had seen a ‘new’ way after I was given Waldemar Seunig’s great tome, Horsemanship, which left me with more questions than answers but then that’s the story of my life.

Bumbling along trying to fathom contact, submission and relaxation all in the same breath, I finally ‘broke’ when a trainer had me slap on draw reins and wind in my horse’s head. Science told me that this was way more than four pounds of pressure and I’m proud to say I broke down and cried with frustration and in desperation. Looking back this may well have been the start of me changing paths; it was more than 10 ago and it set off a big alarm bell in my head.

So as you can see I took a very traditional path towards horsemanship, as have literally hundreds of thousands of us throughout the world. What I’m interested in here is not so much (although I will focus on it later) which bit/bitless works but more the really fundamental question…

Do we really need a bit?

To begin then this question begs yet another question; Why did some humans decide to train their horses to wear a bit?

Well from my research so far it would appear that it was the quickest and most successful way to train a prey animal to stay put and do your bidding (be that war or work). It’s a fact that if you have the horse’s head you have the horse (that would apply in a physical and mental capacity) and bits made of metal, bone and other materials were used to this end. I believe at one time they even tried nose rings but this was abandoned as a useless practice.

So it was the efficacious way to train a horse, tie a piece of metal into it’s mouth and hey presto CONTROL!

Now what you need to bear in mind is that this started before the birth of Christ and I’m left wondering how many other practices are still hanging around since those days? Certainly our world is much changed from even that of say one hundred years ago yet metal bits have endured.

My quest then is to try and fathom why we aren’t all bitless these days and why not one of my dressage training books (of which I have a few) mentions the idea that one could achieve collection without a bit. Indeed I find it odd that for centuries trainers have justified, yet never questioned, the use of a bit.

My thoughts over the next few bitless blog entries will focus on just that, do we really need a bit to achieve collection? Do the very small voices of those who believe in bitless collection really count against the worldwide dressage community? And does it really matter?

Stay with me if you can bear it and please chuck as much as you like into the pot…hopefully it will lead me somewhere.

Here are some links I’ve found useful, I shall round them all up at the end and put them in the bitless gadget box for ease.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

unravel the spaghetti

Well it ain't finished but I get the feeling if I don't start soon then I never will. I have added a gadget to the side of the blog where I will add each link to the bitless posts as I create them. Tonight is just a paperwork exercise, getting my desk straight as it were but I would like to open by referencing a blog friends  post on this subject.
HorseofCourse  and to urge you all to use the www to find out more, you too may then have spaghetti brain syndrome like me.