A Journey

Buying a horse isn’t like buying a car. You may like the test drive, but unlike a car (unless it’s a second hand car sold by Harry Wormwood) you are only beginning the journey. A new horse will be affected by changes to his environment, diet, tack, routine, and needs to build a relationship with their new owner. The first few months are always a journey, and I get such satisfaction seeing a pair coming together and developing a relationship, especially if I’ve been involved in the purchasing process.

In October a friend and client bought a little cob. Emphasis on the little. He’s only about 13.2hh, but is wider than he is tall, so easily carries a small adult. He hadn’t done much in his previous home, but is a safe and sensible leg at each corner type.

We started by gentle schooling and hacking, to build his fitness. Poles and little jumps as necessary. He also had the usual checks and changes – saddle check, chiropractor, clip etc. In hindsight, we probably rushed this process, as he was quiet and accepting but in reality they were all new experiences for him. He had a new saddle within weeks, we changed the bit to discourage him from going behind the vertical, he was fully clipped.

Then he started broncing. Not the odd buck, but head between the knees, coiled like a spring, and not what he appeared to be when he arrived. We stripped everything back to how he came (with the exception of his clip), and came to the conclusion over Christmas that his cheeky behaviour was a combination of being stabled for the first time in his life, being a little too attached to his neighbour, and being clipped – his behaviour was better on calm, milder days. He also had his teeth rasped in January, which were definitely overdue so that was possibly a contributing factor.

Unfortunately, you can’t stick hair back on, so we’ve had to ride out the freshness, and let the clip regrow. He definitely doesn’t like being completely naked so in the autumn, he can just have a blanket clip, which I think will be better suited to his work load and living out.

The last three months have been a steady progression of building his confidence out hacking, having him shod because he got a little footsore, and encouraging him to lengthen his compact little frame.

I’ve been really pleased with his and his owners progress. They’re developing a strong relationship, he’s working nicely for both her and me. He feels stronger in the school. Right canter was non-existent and left very unbalanced, but now we get right canter more often than left and both are three time and rhythmical. Below are two photos to show the difference in the pony’s posture and condition. His neck has muscled up nicely and his short back has become strong, with toned hindquarters. He’s a curvaceous type so will never look like an event horse, but he’s definitely more muscle than fat now.

It’s not been the fastest or smoothest transformation, but the pair have a solid foundation for the next few months as we look at sponsored rides, more jumping, and maybe some online dressage tests…

Pole Triangles

This is a pole layout I did a few weeks ago now with clients, which had numerous exercises within it to benefit a wide range of horses and riders. Lay out a triangle of poles, then place a pole four foot away from each pole. Then build another triangle with outer poles next to it, so that there are three trotting poles in the centre.

The first exercise I used with my riders was in their warm up, getting them to trot and canter between a pair of poles. This really helped identify any crookedness in the horse, and encouraged the riders to minimise their inside rein aids. Initially, I only had them riding through one pair of poles but towards the end of the warm up I got some riders to ride an arc through the two tramlines on one side of the formation, a bit like a shallow loop. This started to get the horses stepping under with the inside hind and using it correctly because they couldn’t drift through their outside shoulder due to the second pair of poles.

Just by using these poles in the warm up I found both horse and rider were more focused and their way of going improved by making them straighter.

The next exercise I utilised was getting my combinations to trot over the tramlines and then over the apex of the triangle. The tramlines were set as trot poles, and both horse and rider had to be accurate to the apex. I had my riders ride across the pole layout from various points, integrating the poles into their flatwork circles and shapes. This means the horses are less likely to anticipate the exercise and the rider can then take the benefit of the polework onto their flatwork and feel the improvement immediately.

If a horse persistently drifts one way or the other over the poles it tells you which hind leg is stronger, which leads me to developing some exercises to improve them. Likewise, it can help to identify any asymmetry in the rider’s seat or aids.

You can also ride from the apex to the trot poles, which is a harder accuracy question because the poles draw the horse away from the point, rather then funnelling them towards the apex.

With my more balanced horses and riders I rolled the tramlines out so they were nine foot apart, which meant they could canter over the poles and apexes.

To add a layer of difficulty to this route, some riders rode curves through the triangles, entering over the trot poles of one triangle, trotting the three trot poles in the centre before either trotting out over the apex, or left or right over another pair of poles.

The final route I had my riders take was along the length of the pole formation; trotting over an apex, over three trot poles and then over the other apex. This was a good test of their straightness, and by removing the middle pole of the trio it could be cantered.

Basically, have a play around with these pole triangles, taking as many different routes as you can, focusing on riding rhythmically, accurately, aiming to the centre of each pole, and straight. You should feel your horse’s cadence and balance improve as they start to lift their feet higher over the poles, lift through their abdominals, lighten the forehand, improve their proprioception and become more interested in their work.


As much as I like seeing my clients go out competing and succeeding, I also love helping horses and riders overcome physical problems and improve their posture, or way of going, so that they get more pleasure from their work and have a longer active life.

I've been working with a new client and her horse, who has a series of back and hock problems. The first couple of lessons were about rebalancing the trot, slowing it down and creating a consistent rhythm. We've started a little bit of suppling work, and established a quiet, still hand. The mare has shown glimpses of starting to work over her back, which is great because it's not manufactured in any way.

However, the mare is crooked through her body which I think will prevent us from improving her suppleness and getting her to release over her back. So a couple of weeks ago I gave my client some homework; to think about and try to develop an awareness of where the hindquarters were in relation to the rest of her body.

The next time I saw my client she had watched her horse under saddle, and clocked the fact her hindquarters were always slightly to the right. When she rode though, it felt normal and it took a while for her to identify the crookedness. Which is understandable; when you only ride one horse you get used to them as being normal, whether it be a crookedness, an unbalanced saddle, or one sided contact. My job is to reeducate both of them so that straight becomes the new normal.

On the left rein, where the quarters sit to the outside, we spent a bit of time feeling how her body moved on straight lines and around corners. On a straight line the hindquarters were slightly to the right, and the head and neck were also turned so they were looking out too – in a classic banana shape.

Dividing the body into two halves, we focused on straightening the hindquarters first. My rider brought her outside leg back behind the girth, keeping her inside leg on the girth, she tried pushing the mare's hindquarters in, so the they followed the tracks of the forelegs. Initially I wanted the reins to support the shoulders and neck, stopping them from wiggling out of their natural position. If the mare tried to fall in, the inside leg prevented this. The mare was very obliging, and soon the majority of the long sides were ridden with her body straight. You could see if was difficult for her, hence why we kept it in walk. Now my rider could feel this straightness, which all helps to improve the mare because she will be able to more quickly correct and straighten her.

Once the straightness on straight lines was achieved, we had a look at how the corners felt. With the mare in right banana, her hindquarters tend to swing out around corners and she doesn't look around the corner with her forehand. Now ideally, we'd get her bent around the left, inside, leg. But Rome wasn't built in a day and because of her previous medical history I want to take it slowly with her. So I just asked my rider to exaggerate her outside leg behind the girth around the corners to hopefully prevent the hindquarters swinging out. We did this a few times and it started to fall into place, so we changed the rein.

On the right rein, the mare has her quarters in, and they almost lead around the corners, so we started off having the inside leg slightly further back on straight lines to align her spine. I was really pleased to see that the straightness work on the other rein was already having an effect because my rider didn't have to correct the hindquarters as much. Just by having the horse straight before a corner, improved her balance around the turn, but now it was time to look at the straightness of the forehand.

We were on the rein that the mare naturally bends to, but where she is a little bit tight through her rib cage her outside shoulder was pointing slightly towards the fence. This is hard to explain. The hindquarters were towards the middle, but the barrel straight, causing the outside shoulder to point towards the fence and then the neck to turn in, towards the direction of movement. The easiest way to improve the suppleness of the barrel, after all the neck is already bending the correct way, is to focus on riding the outside shoulder around the turns. The outside rein works against the neck, and prevents the neck flexing too much, and the outside leg is closer to the girth to influence the shoulder more than the haunches. The inside leg is ready to support the hindquarters if they fall in, and the inside rein indicates the direction of turn, but is a very positive aid to discourage too much flexion in the neck.

After a couple of turns like this, the mare was managing to be better balanced and stayed much straighter on the long sides. My rider could also feel the improvements through her body.

We returned to the left rein, the stiffer one, and this time monitored the effect that straightening the hindquarters had on the forehand. Due to the stiffness through the barrel, as the haunches went straight the left shoulder drifted in. So we forgot about the hindquarters for a moment, and flexed the mare's neck so that she was no longer looking to the outside, and was straighter through her shoulders and neck. Once my rider had learnt to feel and correct this, we started correcting the hindquarters again. For a few minutes we had to straighten the hindquarters, and then correct the forehand as it tried to compensate. Then check the straightness behind the saddle, and then in front again. And so on, until the mare found it easier to work with her spine, from poll to dock, straight.

All of this work was done in walk, and it's something that my client needs to be aware of and quietly correct when hacking and working in the school. Then the trot will start to automatically improve.

We finished the lesson with some trot work. I explained to my rider that I just wanted her to think about and feel the straightness, or lack of, in the trot and that we wouldn't do too much correcting today. However, I think because of this new awareness, my rider automatically corrected, or at least used her aids in a more straightening way, and we ended up trotting some balanced, round circles with the mare bending through her whole body. The straight lines and corners were much improved, and my rider could feel that when she changed the rein there was very little change to her mare's balance. Because she was more symmetrical, she didn't make big changes to her body to go from a left turn to a right turn. We even had a couple of strides where the mare suddenly felt a release of energy and surged forwards with a longer stride and more impulsion, and she also softened and rounded her neck and back for a couple of strides.

I was really pleased with their progress in just half an hour, and although we will need to keep building their muscle memory and strength to work in this straight way, I'm looking forwards to developing their circles and suppleness, as well as seeing the mare learn how easy it is to propel herself forwards when the hindquarters are straight and so the legs can push the body forwards effortlessly. Then I think she will work in self carriage nicely and they'll be able to achieve their aim of going to a local dressage competition.

Things To Do In The Cold

We’re into week three of unrelenting sub-zero temperatures and the trouble is that the ground is frozen to a deep level and is only superficially thawing each day.

Combined with freezing fog, limited turnout, and fewer daylight hours we’re restricted to the arena. Most of which at the moment are as hard as the roads.

Which leaves us only able to walk. The slowest, most boring gait!

After spending three hours schooling horses in walk this morning, I’ve come up with a list of exercises to occupy you and your horse.

  1. Long-reining. Yes it’s not riding, but whilst walking around behind your horse you keep nice and warm. It is also a different dimension to riding, particularly at slower fairs, to keep the horse interested in work. It also gives you chance to study the way your horse is working.
  2. In-hand work. This time of year is a good opportunity to introduce lateral work to your horse, or perhaps refresh their memories, and again you can study the correctness of the movements from the ground.
  3. De-sensitisation. If your horse tends to spook at different objects, or isn’t a fan of fillers, then scattering fillers, cones, and any other object (don’t have one that will flap and cause a big shy on the hard ground) and work your horse around these strange objects in walk so he learns to ignore them. Creating a tunnel of fillers can also be a useful exercise.
  4. Polework. Yes we’re only in walk, but using tunnels of poles to check your straightness, making zig zag tunnels to improve their proprioception, stepping over slightly raised poles on circles, all helps engage the mind and supple their joints.
  5. School movements. You can work on small circles, numerous-looped serpentines, 10m figure of eights, and any other school movement you can think of; being incredibly critical of yourself, your horse, and striving to ride it perfectly. After all, you have plenty of time to correct you both within the movement. Plus, on frosty days you can see your tracks so you can analyse precisely when you faltered.
  6. Quality of the walk. Really focus your attention on the four beat rhythm; tempo; balance; light, even rein contact; active, even strides; straightness; impulsion; outline/self carriage of the horse; and relaxed frame with a swinging back. You can also play around with extended walk and collected walk.
  7. Work without stirrups. It’s not as taxing as sitting trot without stirrups but it should highlight and crookedness in yourself, or twisting through any movements as well as allowing you to use your seat more to influence the horse, and feel the movement underneath you more.
  8. Transitions. Transitions can be between halt and walk or between the various types of walk. In all of them you are looking for the horse to be responsive to the aids, your aids to be as light as possible, the horse to stay straight and balanced, and the hind quarters engaged.
  9. Rein back. Incorporating rein back into your walk-halt transitions can stop your horse anticipating. Again, you’re looking to use the lightest aids possible; the rein back to be straight, relaxed, the back lifting and the neck staying nice and long with the diagonal legs stepping back in pairs. Many horses tense their neck, hollow their back and shuffle backwards, so take your time to improve this so your horse understands the concept and takes quality backwards steps.
  10. Lateral work. All too often we focus on lateral work in trot and canter to supple our horse, but these lateral movements are actually much harder to perfect in walk. Don’t stick with the typical “leg yield track to three quarter line”, but use the centre line, leg yield into shoulder in, zig zag leg yield. Be creative! Turn on the forehand is also a useful change of rein, and adding this to the mix of halting and rein back ensures your horse stays listening to you.
  11. Free walk on a long rein. Always worth double marks in dressage tests, it’s often a weak point for many riders, so use days like this to practice the transition from medium walk into free walk on a long rein. The free walk needs to stay four beat,  have active strides, show a good over track, maintain a rein contact despite the rein being longer, have the horse stretching their head and neck out and down, and be purposeful.
  12. If the roads aren’t icy, or you have fields to ride around, then take the opportunity when you can to have a change of scenery.

Cross Country Schooling 

Today I took Otis cross country schooling for the first time this year. 

I like to have at least one schooling session before my first competition because Otis can start off a bit sticky, and take a few jumps to find his stride. This way I can start off small and build him up steadily so that I know he’s ready for the first event.

Recently I’ve changed his bit, well put the rein onto the large ring of my Dutch gag, which has helped my showjumping because I can keep a firmer contact, and Otis won’t drop behind it on the approach to fences. So I kept the bit as it was for today, to see how he was. He wasn’t at all strong so my plan is to revert to a snaffle for all jumping now.

The other thing I need to work on, and it’s similar to my showjumping, is having him taking me towards fences more. Otis often backs off slightly and I can be slow to respond with my leg, so we get deep to the fence, and whilst he always jumps it’s time consuming and uncomfortable for me! In order for us to make the cross country times  at BE100 I need to keep a bigger canter to the fences for longer and jump off a bigger stride. For me, I need to encourage this and be quicker to correct Otis if he backs off. Each time today he jumped a bit awkwardly, i.e. getting deep, then I repeated it so that he was more confident and I cemented that feeling of jumping out of a bigger stride. Riding away from a fence is another way of saving time, but it’s really hard to make yourself do that when you aren’t jumping a full course. It is something to work on next time though.

The ground where we went was perfect. The last week has been dry so the ground was spongey, and ideal for our work as neither deep or hard. The jumps have been frequently moved all winter so the take off and landing points weren’t poached. Good ground made Otis’s job easy, and a nicer first time out.

As Otis isn’t that jumping fit, I focused on asking him questions, such as skinnies, drops, steps, corners, ditches, instead of height. When schooling I prefer to ride short courses, of varying heights, so that it isn’t intense and I can repeat any areas that need improvement. We did short courses with little rests so Otis wasn’t fatigued – that’s what my interval training is for – but I found that Otis was barely sweating (there was a cold wind) and he didn’t take too long to recover afterwards. To me, he seems to be of a good level of fitness. He could have been pushed more today, but he’d had a dressage competition yesterday and I don’t think training is the time for using all the energy reserves!

Whilst I was warming up I popped over some of the smaller jumps and I laughed at how these jumps felt big for us both when we first came, and how each time I go we do some different jumps; bigger or more complex. It’s good to feel that we have a solid foundation and can build on it each time. For example, last year I remember riding the skinny mushrooms and feeling that they were a test, but today Otis merely hopped over them.

After today I feel more ready for the season, and have fallen back in love with jumping – perhaps I won’t be focusing purely on dressage from now on!

 Onwards and upwards!

Watch our head can video here  

Riding to Assist Teaching

Now this is an interesting topic to debate. How important is it to either ride your clients horse to help you teach, or for your instructor to ride your horse to help you learn.

Recently I was asked to hop on during a lesson because my client was struggling with right canter. As soon as I’d sat on it became apparent that the horse was loading his left shoulder (more on that another say) which I couldn’t tell when watching the horse, which meant that it was harder for me to get them to ride a correct right canter transition.

It opened my eyes a bit to the fact that horses don’t always look how they feel. Which I knew deep down already – how often do you eye up a horse to ride, get on, then wish you could get off again?! 

So from an instructors perspective, sitting on can give you a feel for how the horse learns or his reactive they are to aids or position, which can help you adapt your method of teaching slightly so that it is most beneficial to the pair you are teaching.

Sometimes if you’re trying to teach a new movement it can be difficult to discover whether the rider is misunderstanding, or if the horse is. So an instructor sitting on will ensure that the horse learns the movement and aids, and then the rider can learn what they are feeling for and refine the movement. 

The same goes for if the pair are struggling to overcome a problem; separating them and correcting the horse and then correcting the rider on a different horse can cause the problem to disappear as the cycle is broken.

From the client’s point of view watching your instructor ride can have two effects – positive or negative.

On the positive side, seeing your horse behave, work nicely, or work to a higher level, can inspire you to improve – “yes he can leg yield: I just need to practice”. Or it can boost your confidence. If you’ve lost your nerve then watching your horse repeat the exercise without being cheeky or rude can give you the confidence to try it again.

Visual learners benefit from seeing a movement ridden, which will help them learn how to ride it when back on board.

Flipping over to the negative elements, the rider can think “I’m rubbish, she’s clearly capable of working properly, I’m holding her back. I give up.” But they should remember that the instructor has a vast range of experience so is more likely to find the buttons.

  • I personally think it is a fine balance, and up to the instructor to judge the client, their way of learning, and the horse, as to whether getting in the saddle is of benefit. I see my job as teaching people to work with, and get the best out of their horse as well as themselves, so I much prefer trying to get them to ride correctly and improve themselves with me on the ground to guide them so that they can reproduce it on their own. However, it can be so insightful to feel what the rider feels and can cause me to change my tack slightly.

But where does everyone else stand? Do you like watching your instructor school your horse? Or does it make you despondent?


All in a Muddle

I was teaching renvers yesterday, following on from last weeks counter flexion, and all of us got in a bit of a muddle.

My rider is competent with travers, which is quarters-in, so we started with that before moving on to renvers, which is quarters-out. Now, these two movements are siblings, being the mirror image of each other. The aids are the same, but are opposite. However, renvers is slightly more difficult to perfect because in order to have the hindquarters moving out the horse and rider needs to be on a slightly inner track, which means the fence isn’t there to support them and subsequently it’s harder to maintain the movement.

So with my client and horse we ran through renvers in walk and trot, and this is where we started to get our knickers in a twist.

When you’re riding around the arena your outside leg (or arm) is next to the fence. And the inside limbs are towards the middle of the circle. When your ride movements like shoulder in, travers, leg yield, your inside limbs are the ones the horse’s body bends around, and conveniently they are the same as if you were just travelling around the arena. So nobody gets confused!

However, if you were to ride renvers, or half pass, the inside leg, which the horse wraps around, is the one nearest to the fence … Confused yet? The way the horse is flexed takes priority over the relationship between your body and the arena fenceline.

Where my rider and I got confused, was when she rode travers for fifty percent of the long side before moving into renvers. This is a surprisingly difficult exercise as the horse must maintain rhythm whilst changing bends, so requiring a good level of suppleness and balance. We only did it in walk this week, but I want to take it up into trot next week. Anyway, back to my main topic. As my rider changed the bend we had to remember to change our terminology so that we didn’t confuse the sides or legs. In the end I reverted to good old left and right, to help correct her aids.

This suppling exercise is harder than the counter flexion of last week because the horse is moving off the two tracks and onto three or four tracks, so needing to flex more through their rib cage and body, without losing the quality of their work. The end result though, was an incredibly straight horse who trotted circles, serpentines and figures of eight without faltering on the change of bend.

It’s definitely a useful exercise, but beforehand you should clarify the inside and outside aids.

Other People’s Horses

A client has been on holiday for the last couple of weeks and asked me to exercise her horse a few times.

It all came about because we were discussing her mare’s (a veteran with a heart murmur) condition and fitness. Considering the time of year, the mare looks really well. A bit on the fat side, but she always drops weight like it’s going out of fashion in winter, but I wouldn’t want her to be carrying any more weight. Especially with a heart condition. She’s still exercised regularly, had has a good level of fitness, which the vet said would carry her in good stead. With her owner going away, this little horse will lose fitness rapidly, which we must bear in mind post holiday as it will take her longer than usual to regain her fitness.

The net result of this conversation was that I was asked to ride the chestnut mare every three days to keep her ticking over. No, she won’t keep her level of fitness, but at least her body still gets a regular workout. On a parting note, my client says “I wouldn’t trust anyone else to ride her. I know you’ll look after her.”

No pressure.

So on day one I took Granny for a hack. Once I’d worked out which route I could take, which didn’t involve a path she would try to gallop on. Her owner told me that if she felt like the needed a good canter, then let her, but be quick to bring her back when she slows. It’s not easy telling a stressy horse that they need to stop living in the fast lane. So off I went on my hack. We had a good open trot along one of the fields, and I checked myself three quarters of the way along to come back to walk. I’m so used to riding fit horses and trying to improve their fitness that I had to remember I need to let this mare tell me when she tires. After our trot we had an active walk along the roads and into the woods, where we cantered steadily along the path before having another long walk. Unfortunately Granny then started to get a bit excited as she knew we were on the way home. After another trot I encouraged her to stride out in the walk to stop any fizziness, and once she realised we weren’t going fast she settled. I let her canter up a little hill, which felt amazing. She really pushed with her hindquarters and she loved every moment of it. On this hill I would be pushing Otis to the summit and then the plateau, but with Granny we stopped before the summit and then we walked back to the yard on a long rein to cool off. By letting her canter on this hill, and not one closer to home I could ensure I gave her a really good cool down, which is important for those with heart conditions.

The next two times I rode her I schooled her. Again I was a bit concerned that I would forget and work her solidly for too long, and exhaust her, so I set my alarm to beep every five minutes to remind me of the time. I also planned my session so that I interspersed lateral work in walk to help give her a break. I also tried to make changes of rein in walk to give her another break. I was aiming to work her trot in seven minutes intervals.

The first session was very productive and Granny worked well over her back quite consistently, in trot, laterally, and in canter. Trying to give her a good cool down I took her for a walk around the block. Unfortunately in the second session I encountered the narky chestnut mare side of Granny. I had to work harder, and she was less consistent, but still tried hard, and I was pleased with the results.

I’ve always fully supported my client’s decision to work her mare, with her heart murmur, and to manage the mare’s fitness and to give her a good quality of life, but when it was my decision on what speed or duration we went at, I was terrified of overdoing it! However, in my defence I don’t know the mare very well so don’t know the little signs to tell me she’s tired, and she doesn’t belong to me! When my client returns I hope she can feel a difference in the mare’s way of going from our schooling sessions, and her fitness has not deteriorated too much.

Learning to Stretch

I`ve been working with a Welsh cob, Llani, who has done a fair bit of showing a couple of years ago and has some issues to overcome, and the last couple of days he`s really started making big steps forward.

He`s quite a forwards, spirited horse but he feels like he has been ridden with the handbrake on – from hand to leg as opposed to leg to hand. Initially I spent a couple of weeks lunging Llani naked, to let him feel free and unrestricted as well as improving his balance and suppleness. The first few sessions he trotted with his head in the air in a disjointed trot. You could see the muscles in his neck starting to relax and work properly, but when you reached his back the ripple of muscles stopped. I`ve only concentrated on walk and trot, with the odd canter to loosen him up, but also letting him trot over random poles to encourage him to lift and flex his back a bit more. Yesterday we had a breakthrough. Llani gave a snort and let his breath out, showing he was actually relaxing, and then his head dropped and the wither lifted. His stride is already very floaty, but it changed in cadence as he engaged the correct muscles. Finally, you could see his body rippling down from his ears to his dock. He only managed to keep this position for a stride before losing his balance and raising his head.

Today Llani settled quicker into a steadier rhythm and started lifting and working over his back a bit quicker and holding the frame for longer periods, which is great news. The next task I have is teaching him to change the rein easily. As a show horse he was never led from the off side and when I turn to stand on his right, he spins on the forehand to look at me. It`s very frustrating because he doesn`t seem to learn! Once I can stand just behind his girth I can usually send Llani away from me, but timing is of the essence because if I spend too long by his side he reverses to look worriedly at me. I`ve taken to leading him from the off side too, to try and desensitise him. He`s getting better and tonight he keenly walked by my left shoulder, instead of dragging himself behind and to the right of me.

In terms of riding Llani I`ve been doing a lot of hacking to encourage him to take a more even rein contact and to be a bit straighter through his body. I`ve been getting him up in front of my leg so that he is less likely to spook at any ghosts, and this is also helping him take the contact forwards and stretch at the base of his neck. I`ve done bits and pieces of schooling with him, focusing on his rhythm and suppleness by riding hundreds of circles.

Below are some photos taken on the ground, at the beginning of the last schooling session, in the middle and then you can see Llani starting to stretch at the base of his neck in the last photo. He`s used to being held together in quite a collected outline, so all of this is very alien to him, but after the last couple of days work I`m hoping he`ll start to understand what I want from him more.
photo 1

Llani before being worked.

photo 2

photo 3

Slowly thinking about taking the contact forwards in walk.

photo 4

The first trot, when he likes to put his head in your face.

photo 5

Cooling down and learning how to stretch slowly.

Stuffy Horses

I have a horse in for schooling and selling; Llani-something-or other. It`s Welsh, so affectionately he`s known as Llani.

He`s an eight year old Welsh Section D 15.1hh gelding, who was shown as a youngster in hand and ridden until about four years ago when his owner started a family. Having sat in the field for the last few years shes decided to sell him. He`s been exercised since April regularly by some teenagers until he arrived with me.

The first day I got on, and yes I know he`d been travelling, but I wanted him to stretch his legs a bit whilst he was staying in for the mandatory forty-eight hours. I rode in the school for about twenty minutes as he is very unfit, and I found that he was really stuffy. You know that feeling when you start pulling away from the junction and the handbrake`s still on?

So the following morning I lunged him. Naked. With just a cavesson I wanted him to remember what it feels like to move freely. Over the course of the session I saw his back muscles relax and soon the muscles rippled all the way from his neck and shoulders, through his back and to his quarters. Initially the ripples of muscles stopped at the last rib.

So I`ve lunged him almost every day since last Wednesday and his paces are becoming more floaty and tension-free. I think it helps that he has settled in to his new routine and found a best friend in Apollo. I`ve also been teaching one of my helpers to lunge with him. She`s slowly getting the hang of using all the equipment, but is also finding it interesting being able to see how the horse moves and what muscles are working.

This morning I took Llani for a hack with a friend; my theory is that being out of the arena will also help get him thinking more forwards. It was an interesting experience; I`d forgotten it was dustbin day. And also that Llani has probably never been to a big village before. He was fine though, kept having the odd stop and try to turn tail, but when I growled at him he marched past whatever monsters he`d seen. We had a bit of a trot and he was powering along, which felt lovely – I just had to remember to watch out for signs and road markings as it meant we travelled sideways at a rate of knots!

After going through the village we turned down to some woods and had a canter. Unfortunately Llani`s canter is a bit bigger than our companions so we did a lot of medium trot. But it was still going forwards! At the next field I took the lead and we had a lovely canter; ears forward and back relaxed.

Unfortunately by the time we got back to the yard his feet were a little bit sore, so he`ll have front shoes on on Thursday as I want to do quite a bit more hacking with him to switch his brain on. In the meantime I can stick to lunging and going round the tracks on the estate.

Does anyone else have any other exercises for unstuffing a stuffy horse? I know he used to be very forwards and off the leg, so I`m hoping he`ll soon remember this and I`m trying to ride him on a fairly loose contact so he doesn`t feel restricted. Then I can start working towards getting him to take the contact forwards and work over his back again.