glenatron: (Iris)
We're back from a long trek across the country to ride in a clinic with legendary horseman Joe Wolter and it was about as good as one could possibly hope for.

I'm not going to go into a lot of detail on it right now, I'm sure Sari will have more to say later and these days a full write-up is more likely to go into the magazine ( we actually have an interview/feature planned for a couple of issues time ) but I do want to talk a little about one core theme that was very directly significant to Iris and me.

Joe talked early on about the horse's self-preservation, how important he feels it is to compromise on that - if the horse thinks they need to look around and check out what is going on, that's alright. They need it. If they spook just go with them, but then start offering some direction so that you're going together and you can help them out without forcing your decisions on them. I realised that because Iris stops so well I have been shutting down her spooks thinking I was helping her to understand they were unnecessary, but really that was just locking that bad feeling inside and making it hard to feel she was allowed to go forward. She was getting more anxious and harder to ride in new environments and I think that by not just letting her move out a little more and going with her I have been making that worse.

Yesterday, during the last afternoon of the clinic, we were doing some work around the outside of the arena ( Iris preferred to avoid the edges most of the time because the world was out there and there is a lot of it and it's all rather bothersome to a grey mare ) and Joe was asking us to work on doing the slowest possible walk and then speeding up. I asked Iris to slow down as we came around past the audience - it's an exercise we use from time to time, so she is fairly good at it - but something spooked her and she sprang off to trot most of the way around the arena. After about three quarters of a circle she found a place where she felt safe enough to walk and she immediately dropped into the slowest walk I have ever seen or experienced a horse doing, it would be easy to think she had stopped if you couldn't feel the glacial drift of her balance forward in between extraordinarily stately steps. It was unbelievable.

The thing that chokes me up every time I think about that is that she knew what I was asking her for and she just needed me to go with her first because she just couldn't do it there - when I let her take me somewhere she felt safe she tried her heart out.

She has always been trying that hard for me. I just needed Joe's clear, patient, teaching and his explanation of how every time our horse offers us forward movement it is an opportunity. That finally got me to a place where I could give her the chance to show me.
glenatron: (Iris)
There are relatively few horse trainers I am interested in learning from that I haven't ridden with by this point, but until this autumn Harry Whitney topped that list. I was first introduced to him by reading some of Tom Moates' articles in Eclectic Horseman and later his books about learning with Harry, which are well worth reading. At the same time I was reading Ross Jacobs' work and that also referenced Harry on a fairly routine basis. Sari and I rode with Ross in Australia a few years back and he strongly recommended that we visit with Harry if possible. Last winter was supposed to be the last time Harry was teaching at his place in Arizona, but ( luckily for us ) the sale they had lined up fell through and he is teaching there for one more season. As we have worked hard this year I thought we qualified for a bit of travel.

Consequently we found ourselves with a five day clinic at Harry's gorgeous Arizona set-up with some charming borrowed horses for us to ride and a couple of mules taking part as well. An excellent proposition.

If you want an introduction to Harry's approach, which looks more similar to what other trainers do than it is, you could read this article on round pen work (pdf) and this book. In essence Harry's work starts from a single point- learning to direct the horse's thought. When you are directing the horse's mind rather than their body, there is no resistance and they will work as well as they possibly can. Most problems we run into come from trying to make the horse physically do something rather than asking them to act mentally.

Day-by-day write-up. Illustrated, of course )

It was a really good clinic. Really good. Harry is as good as people say he is- he has a depth of knowledge and an aptitude for explanation that make him an excellent teacher and by the end of the clinic I felt as though I had so much more understanding of the reasoning behind a lot of techniques that I was already using or that I knew to work but had never seriously thought through why they worked. That underpinning is probably the biggest part of what I will be bringing home with me from this clinic and I can't wait to begin introducing it to my horses and seeing where it will take us. I can already see numerous ways that I think it will help Iris to feel more confident in me and in the world. It feels to me that this was a thing I was ready for in my horsemanship and also something I needed. If you ever get the chance to see or ride with Harry, you should take it. You will be pleased that you did.
glenatron: (Iris)
A few weeks ago I finally got to ride a clinic with Buck. If you aren't familiar with the name, you should probably watch the film about him ( a good enough film that non-horsey folk can enjoy it too ) to get an idea of his work. Buck is one of the people who spent a lot of time learning with Ray Hunt and Tom Dorrance long before anyone thought to try and sell their approach as "natural horsemanship." This is the starting point for the horsemanship I have been working on for a long time now and most of the people I have learned from have either spent time with Buck or know him personally, so he's certainly connected to the path I am on.

Now he was teaching one of only two clinics in this country and it was about ten miles from where I live so although rider places were pricey it seemed worth it to me to take part in this one. The clinic was a new double format, with Buck teaching in the morning and Melanie Smith-Taylor who works with an understanding of the approach that Buck teaches but comes from more of a showjumping direction. It made for long days, but a very interesting combination.

Three days and thirty riders in the big arena )
glenatron: (Iris)
Kathleen was one of the first clinicians I ever wrote an LJ report about and seven years on from that, it was nice to ride with her. We've both progressed a lot in that time- Kathleen was very much teaching like Mark Rashid who she had been travelling with for a few years prior to working in her own right. Since then she has been studying with a lot of different teachers including people like Martin Black and Buster McLaury, focussing lately on Buck and Jeff Sanders ( that guy again ) so very much travelling in the direction that I want to be. Because she has a background in English riding and jumper hunting she also has more in common with the average rider here than many trainers who come directly from that western tradition, so she is in a good position to bring concepts across.

Clinic write-up, some pictures )

It was really nice to be riding with someone who is teaching the good stuff and having had two clinics ( my year's supply for this year ) within a fairly short period has set me up with plenty of homework for the year ahead. This time next year, I hope to have a horse who is consistently soft and relaxed through her topline and able to move smoothly from forward into lateral movement with no loss of power.
glenatron: (Iris)
Last weekend was our Silversand clinic with Steve Halfpenny for the year. He stayed back in Australia last year, so this was the first time I have been able to ride with him for some time- although I took Cash to a clinic in 2012 he wasn't ridable so last time I actually spent much time horseback with Steve was three years ago.

One of the things that is interesting about Steve is that he never stands still - he is always working to improve his own horsemanship and recently he has been learning with Jeff Sanders and Manolo Mendez which has helped him develop into even more refinement. The great thing is that having ridden with these top level riders, Steve has the skills to see exactly what they are doing ( which is not always the same as what people say, or even believe, they are doing ) and the ability to translate that into a version that is comprehensible to us mere mortals.

If you look back through my clinics tag you will notice that I used to do epic write-ups of clinics going through the work we did and the progress we made in great detail.

I'm afraid I don't do that as much these days, partly because it is immensely time consuming and I don't know that many people read them, but also because these days I am mostly exploring a feeling, which isn't necessarily something I can express in a meaningful way. So instead maybe I'll share some pictures and talk a little about them.
illustrated version )
glenatron: (Emo Zorro)
So after a week's worth of posts largely consisting of unleavened text, you probably need a few pictures to lighten the load.
Illustrated version )
glenatron: (Cash)
Our last day began with some liberty riding- we rode Riley in the round pen with no bridle or halter while Ross moved him along. This worked a little like a lunge lesson, except with more in the way of sharp turns. This is a pretty good exercise for focusing on your own seat and feeling the horse underneath you.

In the afternoon we took the ponies out to ride around some different areas of the property. It was nice to just take the ponies some different places and try riding out there. They were a little less confident out in the more distant areas of the farm and we got to work on helping them to feel less rushy, using the same bend and release approach that we used on previous days. It was a nice way to round off a really enjoyable visit.

Tomorrow we are on our way back towards Sydney and before we know it we'll be making for home again.
glenatron: (Cash)
This morning we visited sunny Inverell, which is the nearest town of any size. It was a very pleasant morning and nice to see the local area. Australia's wildlife remains extraordinary - the most everyday birds are so bright and colourful and there are so many of them. Also there were lizards and butterflies and bright autumn trees.

In the afternoon we swapped horses, so I was working with Birch. She's only a touch over 14 hands high but a sturdy quarter horse type and quite happy to carry me. Working with her on the ground I immediately felt that she was a lot easier to work with - if she finds something disagreeable she'll let you know rather than internalising it the way that Riley does, which I find quite easy to handle. She was also much quicker to tune into my life so I was able to present things to her that she could pick up on quite easily.

One realisation I had somewhere between yesterday's work and today's was that although a lot of the work that Ross does looks very similar to what I have done in the past and seen done often, it is different in its substance. The thinking underlying it is a little different.

An example of this is the work I was doing with Birch in the trot- we were tending to motorbike around the corners with her dropping all her weight on the inside shoulder. She was slightly working counterbent as well, so Ross suggested that I pick up the inside rein to create a bend around the circle but then place it against her neck to ask her to balance up and get her weight off the inside shoulder. If necessary we needed to forget the trot as long as we got the bend sorted out. Once it was fixed, the important thing was not to try to hold her in place- if she wanted to drop in again, I would just fix it up again. That way she could figure out that every time she started loading that inside shoulder I would ask her to pick it back up again. After a little while she stopped dropping in. The job here was to make the thing she wanted to do less easy, but not impossible- she could make her decision, but I would try to guide her to the decision I was asking her for.

Interestingly, Sari got on very well with big Riley horse, finding him a lot easier to ride than I do.
glenatron: (Cash)
We spent most of today riding, which I think means that this is the most actual time I have spent on horseback since Zorro went lame in September 2011. Turns out riding is some kind of actual exercise! Who knew?

Today my goal was to work on relaxation, aiming to get Riley working more softly and with less tension in him. Helping a horse to lose their concerns by getting to a place where they can allow the human to direct their thought is a major aspect of the type of horsemanship Ross practices so this seemed a really good opportunity as far as I was concerned.

I am starting to get a better grasp on the idea of directing a horse's thought and what it means in practice- it is not always technically very different from a more typical "Natural Horsemanship" approach of driving a horse, but the underlying philosophy diverges in that you are never trying to send the horse away from something, you are trying to direct them to something. So when we work on the circle we don't send the horse forward, we direct them towards a point in front of them. If we put more energy in by tapping the rope on our leg or waving a hand or whatever, it's not to drive them it is simply to ask them to follow the direction we have already offered and to interrupt whatever ideas they have about what they would prefer to be doing.

We started out working on the basics- stop and go, steering and forequarter and hindquarter yields. On the ground I noticed that Riley was tending to lack smoothness in his upwards transitions, bouncing into trot and hollowing as he did so. Ross explained that he was holding back in the walk, so that he wasn't ready to move into the trot. He was a little concerned because he couldn't give in to the idea of going forward so he was making decisions about how much to hold back. If I could get him to a place where he was happy for me to make that decision, he would be able to make the transition more easily.

Riding I did some work on asking Riley to focus on what I was asking, taking my direction and being ready for a change. We did a bit of backing up where Ross suggested I give plenty of rein, then pick up a little to ask for back up. If the back-up didn't happen or was sticky I was to take up the rein more strongly for a moment then release it and ask again with the weight of the reins. The stronger take up didn't need to happen for long, just enough to get the horse thinking about the situation so the next time I presented that softer feel it would be easier to accept.

We also worked on his trot, which tends to be hollow, bouncy and uncomfortable. In this we began by getting him happy to walk with me at different speeds, so that there was no bump upwards into trot, but we could find a walk from which trot was an easier option. As we picked up the energy a little, Riley would tend to lose focus and so Ross had me using the inside rein to change his bend and direction until Riley was able to accept faster movement and we could get some cleaner transitions.

Riley's trot would tend to get faster and less comfortable as he got more concerned, so as I felt him hollowing it was my job to take up a little inside bend ( or a lot, as necessary ) and wait for him to offer to lower his head. When he wanted to drop through the inside shoulder I could lay the rein on his neck to help him to come back into balance. When he offered a little drop of his head I would just follow the rein down as he began to lower and stretch out his back. It was interesting work and although I didn't achieve the consistency one might be looking for, I did get some good changes.
glenatron: (Cash)
Today we started out doing a little more groundwork. Ross started Sari working on turns on the forehand and hindquarters. The hindquarter yield operates as a very tight turn where the front feet stay more or less in place and the hindquarters move around them. The goal is to direct the horse around the circle- if their shoulders fall out then their thought is moving around that way, not being directed. The two things that one is looking for in this movement are the hind feet stepping underneath the body and a smooth bend in the neck with no resistance. If the step is too bumpy or there is resistance to the rein then it's important not to release but to just stick with the horse in the same position relative to them and wait until they can offer a smooth step with a relaxed bend.

They moved onto turns on the hindquarter ( or forequarter yields ) where the horse walks the forequarters around the hind feet. Ross teaches this with the inside front foot stepping ahead of the outside front, rather than behind as I have learned to do it in the past- neither is incorrect, but they are slightly different. A horse should be able to do either. The forequarter yield requires the horse to move their balance back a little before they can move their forequarters around. Ross takes the rein wide and asks the horse to look where they are going ( because where a horse is looking is a good idea of where they are thinking ) then follow that thought with their feet.

I did a bit of round pen work, first with Riley, just so I could get an idea of how Ross expects things to work out in a round pen and then with their little welsh pony May. She is a little sceptical of people in general so we used our session as a chance to try and help her feel better about my presence.

The way Ross works with a more concerned horse in a round pen is a little different from what you might have seen other trainers do and almost the exact opposite of what someone with a Monty Roberts ( or other Natural Horsemanship type background ) might expect.

When I let May off the halter, she immediately wandered off to the far side of the pen and had a sniff of the grass and a look out at the other ponies. Ross suggested I make a bit of noise by popping the tail of the rope on my chaps and she stopped and looked at me. Then we stood there for a while, me quite still, pony staring at me, both of her tiny fuzzy ears pointed my way. After a while she went back to watching something in the distance so I popped the rope on my chaps again and this time she looked at me and took a couple of steps forward. We formed a kind of impasse then, her watching me and me waiting for her to change so Ross suggested doing something to ask for a change again. A bit of movement or noise was enough for her to keep watching me and take another step forward. By this point she was about six metres away and Ross explained that the reason she hadn't come any closer was simply that she didn't feel safe to. She was confident enough to approach me that far, but she wasn't able to get any closer because she hadn't decided whether or not I was a danger to her.

After giving her a little more time Ross suggested I walk across and around her, not getting any closer but not getting further away either and changing the angle between us. After a long moment of contemplation, May turned around to face me. I gave her some thinking time then arced around the other way, maintaining distance again and this time when she turned to face me she took a few steps further forward. By now we were quite close so Ross suggested I go up and rub on her a bit. I gave her a rub and then walked away, but I was a little abrupt so she didn't come with me. After a couple more arcs we met in the middle and I rubbed on her a whole lot, giving her lots of scratchies for being the bravest little pony mare.

The whole process took quite a while- maybe forty minutes- and for most of it nothing was happening at all. The importance of moving and popping the rope against my chaps was simply that they interrupted May's thought, asking her to make some kind of change. He talked with Sari about working with a horse like her Pepsi and how that might be different in what the horse offered- some are much more keen to run, others want to stand like May, and Pepsi would probably just ignore anyone else and eat, but the principle of interrupting the horse's thought and allowing the horse to make their own decision to approach is consistent.

In the afternoon we rode together out in the arena ( which is a mowed area of paddock ) with Sari on Birch and me back on Riley ( at approximately 11hh, May would be a bit much horse for me. ) We started out working on our hindquarter yields from the saddle. I found this hard because the way Ross expects to take the rein is starting wide and smoothly coming around and in the past I have tended to take the indirect rein straight across my body. The aim of this is to guide the horse around rather than trying to make them come around. Riley was getting quite stuck, but as I learned to do less and soften my presentation Riley found he could follow it better.

Ross challenged us to tell him which front foot our horses would step away with when we were halted. Once we could call it accurately, he asked us to set things up so they set off with the other foot instead. This isn't a specifically important exercise, but it is important that as riders we can feel where the horse's feet are, where their balance is and how we can affect that.

We worked a bit on our lateral work too as I tried to understand how Ross teaches it to horses from the reins alone. I found it very difficult to avoid using my leg but I started to be able to get the feel of it- using the reins to contain the direction so that they closed the directions we didn't want to go and allowed the directions we do. We have been working in sidepulls when we ride which I've never used before but they're pretty easy to work with and don't present a very different feel to a bit.
glenatron: (Cash)
I'm not sure I really mentioned this, but [ profile] herecirm and I are in Australia at the moment. After a bit of tourist fun in the Sydney area and visiting the Blue Mountains, we have made our way a little further north. Back when I hosted Ross Jacobs teaching, he said if we ever wanted to stop by and visit with him and his wife Michelle, we would be welcome. He was probably quite confident that we wouldn't take him up on the offer, as they live some distance off the grid. However, it turns out that I can be surprisingly keen, especially when a chance to work with some horses comes along with the opportunity to go on an adventure with Sari.

We arrived at Ross and Michelle's comfortable off-grid property last night, after what felt like a long day of driving concluding in some pretty dark dirt roads.

This morning we got a start on working with the horses we will be playing with this week. Riley, who I will be working with, is a big chestnut thoroughbred who is quite resistant to moving forward. Sari is working with Birch, a chunky and slightly grumpy mare. Both horses belong to Ross and Michelle but haven't seen a lot of work over the last few months so there is plenty for us to work on.

This morning we started with some basic groundwork, giving us a chance to get to know one another. The main things I needed to work on were ( as ever ) getting more control of my energy and giving Riley more direction. Ross is particularly interested in giving the horse a place to go rather than asking them to move away from something and having used driving the horse as a big part of my way of working over the last few years so trying to do groundwork without that is a little like trying to knit with one hand behind my back right now but I need to be able to do it. A big thing that I noticed was that I needed to be paying attention to where we were going rather than looking at him. That made things way easier for Riley but commensurately harder for me.

Working with Birch, Sari was doing much the same work but with a different focus as Birch is a very different horse. Sari started out tending to wait too much for Birch who needed her to be more committed and insist that Birch keep up. Sari's background is quite different from this type of horsemanship and so this was her first time seriously working at it, it's challenging skill to learn and she was doing a great job of picking it up. What I noticed was how good things looked when they fell into place and how quickly she got a handle on things.

In the afternoon we rode, just getting an idea of where we and the horses were at. With Riley I was working to get him bending correctly- he was a bit stuck on the left rein. We also needed to work on moving forward smoothly- while he was dragging it was also marked by an uncertainty about how much he needed to hold back. Once he was able to just go forward he started to be able to relax and reach down, releasing the muscles in his back.

With Birch, Sari worked a lot on getting her to bend correctly in trot. Birch was tending to counterbend and Sari was learning to move her laterally using the rein, picking up an inside bend and asking the mare to stop dropping her shoulders in.

It was a good start to our visit and I will be very interested to see how we progress over the next few days. There are pictures to accompany this, but I don't want to eat too much of Ross' off-grid bandwidth so they will be posted later.
glenatron: (Emo Zorro)
Having managed to miss out altogether on writing up the June clinic, though I have some photos to share at some point, I am endeavouring to write up this one super-fast.

Having ridden for four years of clinics with Zorro, this time I took little Cash pony along to see how we would get along. I think it was a very good decision.

Cash for clinics )
glenatron: (Emo Zorro)
This was a nice weekend with a few different riders who usually take part in the Hereford clinics but had come to join us in Kent for this one. Also for most of the clinic Steve was riding one of Camilla’s big warmbloods, which meant he had a really good opportunity to show us things and also he could keep up with us and talk us through some of the faster stuff. Also good work for the horse, who did really well by it.

Further illustrated adventures )

You can find more about Steve Halfpenny and Silversand at the Silversand website. You can find the pictures from this report bigger over on Flickr.
glenatron: (Emo Zorro)
This was Steve’s first British clinic of the year and over the winter he had spent time watching Buck Brannaman and riding with Philip Nye as well as spending a lot of time with his own horses, so he was full of ideas to talk through with us.

Clinic write up, many illustrations )
You can find more about Steve Halfpenny and Silversand at the Silversand website. You can see pictures from this report bigger over on Flickr.
glenatron: (Emo Zorro)
Before 2010 grinds to a halt, I shall endeavour to catch up on some of the clinic write-ups I've been meaning to do all year. We'll start with the first, which was a horsemanship clinic with Tom and Sarah Widdicombe way back in April.
Blossom and distant rider
Straight on the circle )

You can find more about Tom and Sarah and what they teach over at their website - I think if you want to learn from them in person you will have to travel Devon now as they are preferring to teach at home.
glenatron: (Emo Zorro)
After the enormous effect that a month at Martin Black's horsemanship school had on me last year, I was really pleased when I saw that he was coming over to teach in Europe this summer. Although it was quite a distance to travel ( a little over 600 miles each way ) to the venue we decided this would be a good summer break to have, a chance for [ profile] sleepsy_mouse to meet one of the people who has had the most effect on my development as a horseman and a chance to sit back and watch some other people ride and learn. Martin has started thousands of young horses and his depth of experience in horse training, ranch roping and cow work is literally without equal.

It turns out that a format where the clinician has to be translated is one that makes taking notes a lot easier, so I took a lot of notes, the important parts of which I shall share here...
Clinic report, quite long, also pictures... )
Buckaroo gear
glenatron: (Emo Zorro)
I just realised that although I wrote this, it never got posted, so here is a catch up on the clinic with Tom and Sarah that we spectated way back in September.Nice to have some pictures to remind us of what blue skies look like.

Tom is not the kind of trainer who I think of as sitting on the fence. Except literally.
Three days of horsemanship clinic, with many pictures )

If you found that interesting or inspiring you can find out more about Tom and Sarah Widdicombe here - they will be back in Mayfield for clinics on April 22nd - 25th and July 1st - 4th, both Thursday - Sunday booking details here.
glenatron: (Emo Zorro)
This will be the fourth year we've ridden at Silversand horsemanship clinics with Steve Halfpenny and over that time I think [ profile] sleepsy_mouse and I have both made a whole lot of progress. This time around Small pony was too ill to travel ( his summer has been a catalogue of disasters ) and so in the end only Zorro and I were riding on the clinic and [ profile] sleepsy_mouse was spectating and making the epic commute home to look after Small Pony morning and night.

Clinic report, fairly detailed and lavishly illustrated )
glenatron: (Emo Zorro)
Last weekend we watched the last two days of a four day Tom and Sarah Widdicombe clinic. I forgot my notebook so I don't really have a lot of notes, but I do have a few pics...
Some friends from last year's clinics (illustrated edition) )
It was a really nice weekend, although we ended up having severe clinic envy on both our parts, and interesting to see the things that Tom and Sarah have changed over the last year in their work with horses.
glenatron: (Emo Zorro)
A couple of weeks ago we went on the first of our regular Steve Halfpenny clinics for this year.
It was brilliant, we have many pictures )
x-post with [ profile] horsemanship

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