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)
This weekend has been another clinic with Jeff Sanders, which has been pretty amazing. The thing about Jeff is that he builds you up from the start towards work that is at least equivalent to high school, and talks about it like it is just bread and butter riding. And the thing is, that to him it really is. That is a pretty inspiring environment to be working in - admittedly most of what we were actually working on was shoulder in/out ( mostly on four-tracks, like Gueriniere intended ), travers, renvers and then working onto half-pass and rollbacks. Everything is working towards flexibility and collection and also towards subtle riding - Jeff characterised me at the last clinic as suffering from "hand tourettes" and I've been working on trying to do less with my hands, which is paying off gradually but I still need to do less.

Jeff is very big on working in the bosal and Iris never seemed to like that, shaking her head and losing focus when wearing it, so I have barely used it. Jeff was suggesting that it might be easier to move forward with that than the snaffle - he doesn't use a snaffle bit at all with most horses - and I was keen to try so we spent our session this afternoon trying to get her more used to it. Jeff looked at how she responded, retied my mecate so there was a bit more length on the knot end and it wasn't tickling her chin. With this done Iris was quite happy with it, which is pretty great and I don't know if it would ever have occurred to me that this was the problem. So maybe Iris will make it as a hackamore horse after all.

Just like last time, I feel very inspired and immensely proud of my horse who was exemplary throughout. Iris is teaching me so much and with the expert guidance of brilliant human teachers it feels like we could achieve anything*.

*Except a nice peaceful trail ride, which is apparently beyond the limits possibility.
glenatron: (Iris)
Rode a clinic with Jeff Sanders last weekend, another of the top trainers I really wanted to ride with and I may be only bumbling around the borders of being a horseman, but I will allow that I am well advised in the people I ride with because Jeff is an extraordinary horseman both in his expertise and his willingness to openly share an approach that has been a guarded secret over many generations. I came away pleased with Iris and with the work we had begun to build up and very much inspired about our future direction. A really good weekend. If you are involved in horses at all and you get the chance to watch one of Jeff's clinics I heartily recommend it. Really good stuff.
glenatron: (Iris)
Those of you who have followed my horsey writing for a while will be aware that I'm quite a fan of the work of Ross Jacobs, to the point that Sari and I went and spent a week riding with him back in May.

I'm hoping that we can persuade him to come over and teach here in the UK next summer, so if you're in this country and potentially interested in having an opportunity to ride with him please fill in this form ( over on my other blog ) so we can find out whether we have enough people to justify it.

He's an excellent horseman and an excellent teacher, which is the ideal combination in a clinician.
glenatron: (Emo Zorro)
A consequence of having Iris in my life for the last few weeks is that in having a green but fundamentally uncomplicated horse to ride I have really recovered so much of my horsemanship mojo. I didn't stop teaching, but I had only really kept working with Anne, who I have been working with for a couple of years now. After coming back from Australia I went over and visited with [ profile] ellie_equus and her pony Chester ( who both did great ) and in the last few weeks I have picked up another regular student with someone else having got in touch the other day. I haven't really been pushing my services, so it's interesting that this should happen now.

Extended horse related rambling, mildly illustrated )
glenatron: (Cash)
Last weekend was the non-clinic with Ross Jacobs - in the end it worked out as a mixture of a few private lessons and a sort of half-clinic, which worked out well. I certainly learned a lot from watching him work and the sessions we did with Cash, although I didn't get back in the saddle- Ross was of the opinion that if I want to be safe with the little guy I need to get his anxiety levels really low before I think about getting back on. If that cup of anxiety is nearly full, then it's not going to take much to push him over into a panic, if I can get it close to empty, there will be more margin for error.

Rather than a coherent write-up, I have a bunch of things I noticed and that seemed important at the time, no doubt it only makes sense in parts and probably Ross would be sorry to see his work thus misconstrued, but this is some of what I got:

  • The only thing you do when you are training a horse is direct their thought. Through the mind to the body to the feet. Horses have very few reflexive movements, so almost everything they do, even spooking, starts with a thought.
  • When you ask for something and your horse is trying something different to what you are asking for, make it clear to them that is not what you want so they look for something else quickly. Don't give them too long feeling lost or coming up with their own ideas, keep them searching for the thing you are looking for.
  • Leading, don't let the horse drag behind, don't let them get ahead, keep them in the spot where they can be with you. When a horse is dragging, Ross will keep the tension in the rope by just keeping walking at the same speed and then smack his leg with the rope ( he wears noisy chaps that help with this ) to put in more energy. It may seem counter-intuitive to make a fuss in the direction you are asking the horse to go, but they need to be able to handle it, so this has a kind of double purpose. With a more experienced horse the noise is more of an "excuse me, please pay attention" so you don't want them getting too anxious about it. Ross is of the opinion that you shouldn't wait for your horse, just expect them to come with you and ensure there is a consequence for not doing.
  • There is a big difference between directing and driving a horse- when you drive, you set up something that you want them to move away from, when you direct, you give them somewhere to go.
  • Ross does all his desensitisation type stuff, swinging the rope over the horse's back and so on, at walk. If they are stood still they can kind of plant their feet and shut the world out a bit, but if they are moving they will express their feelings more clearly and once they are calm on the move they are probably alright with whatever you are getting them used to.
  • On a circle, you know a horse is straight if their shoulder and hip are the same difference from you. Ross has found no evidence that a horse can curve their spine behind the wither as it is often suggested they can on tomes of dressage expertise, but the shoulder and hip are the points on the circle so should be equidistant. See the line the horse is on, and keep them there. If the hip is dropping in their thought is moving out of the circle, if the shoulder is dropping in they are either pushing on you a little or their thought is moving out in that direction, either way you want to get them thinking back onto the circle.
  • If you want to keep your horse thinking you must keep the work varied. They will find patterns that they can fall into without thinking if they possibly can.
  • Never quit asking for something until you have a change of thought. Just moving the feet is not enough- if you ask for a left turn you need the horse to think to the left then move their feet. You should be able to ask them to look left with no mental pushback to the right, once you have that, they will be able to step left really easily.
  • Don't tell a horse to drop a thought if you don't have a different one to offer them. If you just say "don't do that, don't do that, don't do that" you're going to create problems. "Don't do that, do this instead" helps them to find what you are looking for.
  • Ross teaches hindquarter yields starting with the horse bent around until they actually bring their thought around with the rein. This is not the eventual goal, but they need to bend without trying to pull back at all and connect that bend to the feet. As the horse understands the cue you should have the rein connecting to the feet with much less bend. Ross looks for the inside foot stepping under.
  • Start out controlling the hindquarter with your rein, with the goal being to get the horse to yield their hindquarter with your leg and the reins totally slack. If you are using your leg but the horse moves forward without support from the rein, they haven't understood that work yet, stick with the rein.
  • Help a horse soften their neck in trot ( or walk, canter, but trot is easiest to start ) by lifting the inside rein straight up until they start looking for something different, as soon as they offer a lowered head, follow them down. Once they can relax down easily and consistently you can begin picking them up and asking them to carry themselves better, but that can only be done from a relaxed and long back. If their nose drops below their knee, they are starting to evade, just ask them not to do that.
  • Never accept anything because anyone told you to. Always question why you should do something a different way. Test ideas, don't just accept them. Ross often asks people why he has told them to do something- he's really determined that you learn to figure things out for yourself.
  • Observe everything about your horse- the tightness of their mouth, the shape of their nostrils, how much they are blinking, how they are moving- all these things are indicative of where they are at mentally.
  • On voice cues: "A horse has a vocabulary of around nine or ten sounds, so sound isn't very meaningful to them. You can teach them to walk, trot and canter off sounds, but the walk you get will always be the walk they give you, the same for trot, the same for canter. I never heard of a horse who could do collected trot, medium trot, extended trot and so on from vocal cues."

Feel free to ask away about anything that doesn't make sense there, or go over to Ross' site and get him to clarify...
glenatron: (Emo Zorro)
I was working with Cash this evening, helping him to figure out back-up under saddle. He's doing so great now- we're approaching the point where the main thing he will need is just miles on the clock.

But it got me thinking about teaching back-up and it's kind of a microcosm of where I'm at with my horsemanship in general. There are several components to a good back-up - it needs to be relaxed, the horse's head needs to be low with the shoulders lifted, the movement needs to come from the hind feet so the horse is pulling themselves back rather than pushing with their front legs and the movement needs to be free and smooth.

With a baby like Cash I am constantly finding the balance point between the different things he needs, trying to do enough to keep everything clear and enough nuance in the signal I'm offering him that he can recognise every backward step as being the right response to this cue, but I still have headroom to ask him to do it in a more correct way, without pushing on the bit and dropping his shoulders. If there is too much pressure on the rein he's either going to feel constricted and get scared or he's going to learn to pull on me so I have to make sure that I am doing enough to provide signal, but not so much that he feels pulled on and then be ready to change things if he tries to run through the cues. If I'm going to do that it needs to happen in a way that doesn't conflict with what I'm trying to help him to figure out, ideally by giving him the impression that he has run into his own pressure rather than it being something I am actively doing.

Meanwhile I also have to be noticing the changes of mind, when possible, or body and rewarding them with a break and thinking time so he is able to process what is going on. And there is no benefit in drilling on this and letting him jam up- once we have got something a little bit right we go back to some more forward work so he doesn't get his feet and mind all stuck.

I make allowances for where we are at, but I am still very aware of what I am asking for and exacting in my expectations of him. There is no point teaching him something now that I will need him to unlearn later, so sometimes I will hang in there when it might look as though things are alright because I know that we can be more correct very easily and that settling for less will help neither of us in the long run.

Today we got half a step of calm, relaxed back-up with his head low and his poll relaxed. I stopped the session on that.
glenatron: (Emo Zorro)
I mentioned Cash a couple of posts back. We've been working together each week now- basically a session every Sunday, so I guess this was our fifth. Last week happened largely in the field because he didn't want to be caught and the other horses in his field didn't want him to be caught so I spent a long time teaching him to catch me. Then we did a little work, put my saddle on him and once he had quit broncing ( his standard reaction to pressure around his middle, which he finds it very hard to accept ) he started to realise he could still move with it on and that was where we quit.

Our first ride, some photos )

glenatron: (Emo Zorro)
Cash belongs to one of my colleagues at work, who runs a livery yard when she's not being a cornerstone of our finance department. He's a little palomino horse who they are selling for a friend but they've run into a few problems with getting him working under saddle. He had a very scary moment as his owner was getting on a while ago and lost a lot of confidence, now he can barely bring himself to move under saddle. They weren't having any success with helping him change and as we had talked a lot about horses and the things I do, I was offered an introduction.

I went out to meet him last Sunday and we got started on doing some work to try to help him figure out going under saddle and being part of the world of humans again.

It was interesting work. His biggest problem is that he gets too scared to go forward. Well, his real problem is that he really doesn't know much about the world and he gets scared, but the problem I definitely identified was with moving forward. He could lead up if I was in front of him but if I asked him to move when I was level with his shoulder or further back back he would get jammed up. When I asked him to step on, he would hold his breath in little tight grunts rather than moving his feet.

Meeting Cash.

Last week we did some general desensitisation, to try and give him more confidence and let him understand that the world isn't going to harm him and that my tools and I aren't going to either. He is a very sweet fellow, gentle and good natured, just a little anxious.

We finished up on asking him to yield away and move out onto a circle forwards, rather than locking up or trying to run away backwards and we got there eventually.

He is very headshy as well, I think there is probably an old injury around his poll but maybe he has been ear-twitched and not enjoyed the experience. Either way we needed to do some work on setting things up so I could touch him around his head and ears, which was largely a case of gentle persistence.

This week we were able to pick up a little from where we left off last week. I wanted to focus on the forward initially, so we could get him to working in a better place mentally where he could connect moving his feet forward to the cue.

Cash backs up
At first he mostly wanted to go backwards. We don't have any pictures of his more anxious moments but they were a lot like this only much more so. My hands were a trifle warm, but there were a couple of times I was very glad to have my gloves on.

Cash on the line
But after a short time we started to get a bit of forward.

He tended to break into trot straight away, springing forward with a lot of tension in his body and although he settled I need him to be able to walk off in a relaxed way and stop with me. He also really wanted to put me in both eyes, which won't help when it comes to sitting on him, so we spent a while working on getting him to stay with me and walk with me beside him and my hand on his withers and stop when I did. It took a while to get there but we managed it, which was a big deal for him.

As part of preparation for accepting a saddle again, I spent a while getting him used to ropes around him and swinging them over his back, then moved on to using the 22' line to go around his middle where a girth will go and asking him to move off. He could handle that alright but when he stopped and tried to turn and face me, it put more pressure on the rope and he needed to run through it. The advantage of using a rope like this, just holding both ends in one hand, is that you can just release one end and it falls away without risking getting too tangled around the horse. It took a while to get him able to accept it better. What really helped when I realised that his real problem wasn't the presence of pressure, but that he didn't know what he was supposed to do about it, so I worked on getting him to step towards me through pressure on the girth. That seemed to really help and we ended up with some more gentle work.

We're a ways off where we need to be as yet, but this little guy is making awesome progress and it's a real pleasure to work with him and to help him feel better about the world.
glenatron: (Emo Zorro)
As I may have mentioned, a couple of months ago Steve took part in the colt starting demonstration/competition thing at Equitana in Australia. They took on the horse he worked with for training afterwards and also one of the other horses from the competition and Steve has been videoing the work he does with each one and posting it on his Youtube channel - you can also see the conclusion of the Equitana ride there. It's interesting to see how little foundation a horse has after a start in that kind of situation and nice to see Steve working to change that.

I thought I'd post this video of the third session with Myth, the horse he rode at the show, because it shows quite a lot about the way Steve works- he goes through a lot of the preparation to ride work and up as far as saddling and turning loose.

glenatron: (Emo Zorro)
Today has been hectic but really good fun. A month or so back [ profile] life_of_tom and I visited [ profile] allezbleu's yard on the way back from the Jackals event so I could have a bit of a play with her little cute pony Jess. She seemed quite happy with what I did that day because when one of her friends at the yard was having trouble with her mare [ profile] allezbleu suggested [ profile] sleepsy_mouse and I could maybe come over and visit with them to see if we could help. We chose this afternoon as a good time to go over so I've been checking the met office every five minutes for the last few days because I'm always excited to go and meet new horses and I was hoping someone would forecast some not rain for the afternoon.

As we knew we were busy in the afternoon we ended up trying to cram most of a day into the morning, so I did a bit of work with Zorro and we did a bit of riding bareback in the halter. We also did a little bit of playing at liberty, which [ profile] sleepsy_mouse got on video. It wasn't textbook but with him snapping at me, grabbing at moutfuls of grass on the go and me swinging away with the halter to try and persuade him forward it is pretty funny. I swear I have the most insubordinate horse ever. He's a pleasure to ride though, always a pleasure to ride.

After that we went to fetch our lorry back from the repair place. Oh yes! After only four months the horsebox is back on the road. In a day or two it will be back on eBay. That is enough of that!

Then [ profile] sleepsy_mouse brought in her Small pony and they did a bit of riding in the school. Just ten minutes, but it's great to see him able to work again and to see the smile on her face when he is.

Then it was off around the M25 to visit a mare.
There's enough here to justify a cut, I'm sure )
glenatron: (Emo Zorro)
One of the most endless and repetative discussions that turns up from time to time among Natural Horsemanship types is the conversation about Positive Reinforcement, which is an entirely reward-based way of training animals used very effectively by a lot of animal trainers. I think it's a great way of training animals in general, but not a particularly useful way of training horses specifically. In a reply to a discussion elsewhere I finally managed to put my thoughts on why it's not so great into a coherent order so I thought I'd crosspost here in case I my future self wants to know what my opinion is...

I think maybe if I could achieve something with a clicker that I wanted to achieve and couldn't do with my current approach it might appeal more to me, but when I watch the riders I aspire to be like they're doing fine without the extra stuff and it just seems a little unnecessary really.

It seems like it's very much a tool for a job, but I've never seen it used for a job that wasn't pretty easy to do in another fashion. I mean yes, you can use it effectively for helping a horse to pick up their feet or load into a horsebox or whatever, but actually a lot of people can do all those things anyway.

Once things do get complicated I'm not sure how it helps. For example, one thing I'm working on at the moment is asking for flexion and engagement of the hindquarters to build up a Travers type movement. When I'm working on that I need to be using the reins in both hands to ask for the flexion I want, certainly at first, so I wouldn't really have a hand free to operate a clicker ( sorry bridging folks, I'm not planning on shouting "sexsexsex" at my horse, I get enough funny looks for the zebra-print hat cover ) even if had enough braincells to manage asking for flexion with the rein, asking for engagement with my leg and operating a clicker when I felt the thing I was looking for. And then I'm having to fish around for treats so I lose all the flow of the work where I might have been able to turn it into something else useful. And also I have a "no treats by hand" clause in Zorro's loan agreement so even if I could do all that, my horse would get taken away

I don't find it disagreeable as a training concept and I'm sure it's great for dolphins and dogs and whathaveyou and probably essential for some trick-training type work, but when we start asking a bit more of ourselves in our riding I think we need to be in the moment focussing on the job in hand, rather than reflecting on our shaping plans and I can't see how this approach can avoid creating a layer of mental beaurocracy that could not help but create a layer of remove. I'm thinking that when you watch a really great rider working with their horse the rider's muscle memory and the horse's muscle memory are sort of connected so they flow into each other to a degree. I just can't see where a click-and-treat would fit into that. I'd love to see a proper behaviourist do a badminton run to match Olly Townend, outride William Funnell around Hickstead or turn in a dressage test to match that Andres Helgstrand one, but I'd also be surprised.

I'm not suggesting I can do any of that stuff either , I'm not there yet by any means- indeed I'm much further from there than most people on this forum - but as I begin to glimpse more technical riding the more I question where and whether a +R oriented training approach can be used to enable it.

This is all a bit theoretical for me, obviously, I've only really used a clicker for dog training ( the only time I tried it with my first pony he was scared of the "click" ) but I guess my feeling is that there comes a point where it has to stop coming from the tools and come from you instead and that some tools flow into that better than others.
glenatron: (zorro)
How do you get better at something? In my experience the first thing is that you have to want to get better at it. That's the driving force that will get you doing everything else. On top of that you must build practice, as much as possible, and tuition from the best teachers you can find. Really, that's it. There are no short cuts and no tricks that will make you suddenly get better without putting in the hours in, if you want to get better at something you just have to work at it with experienced guidance to help you back on the right track when you start to stray.

I do, however, think there may be one thing you can do to get more mileage out of your learning and that is to immerse yourself entirely in the thing you do so that it becomes your absolute focus. If you can do that in a way that combines practice and teaching then you have a situation where you're putting in so many hours that you possibly benefit a little more from the time you put in. It is with this in mind that back in September I put down a deposit to go and spend February in Texas, as a student at Martin Black's Horsemanship School. It's expensive, logistically tricky and it will break my heart to be away from [ profile] sleepsy_mouse and my grumpy black horse for the whole month, but it is an opportunity that I don't expect to have again and a whole month of intensive learning with one of the top trainers in the tradition of the Dorrances and Ray Hunt is something that I believe will progress my horsemanship significantly. I guess come March we'll know.

So the next few weeks will be quite frenetic as we prepare to move house, I prepare myself as best as I can for the course and we do all the stuff that we do in our normal lives the rest of the time. It's exciting, it's going to change things a whole lot for me, and it's a little bit nervewracking. It will be my 33rd birthday while I'm out there, so I guess this is kind of a outrageously self-indulgent birthday present to myself. I really hope it proves to be a good one.
glenatron: (Default)
We have had an absolutely adorable arab mare staying at our yard for the last few weeks because she needed to be on box rest for severe mud fever and she had been living out somewhere with no stables. She was moving on to a new yard this week, getting a lift with one of the other liveries on our yard in her trailer. Unfortunately, she wouldn't go into the trailer, and the more the person whose trailer it was tried to bully her into getting into it, the more she wouldn't go. Far be it for me to stereotype and gender, colour or breed of horse, but there's simply no point in trying to bully a chestnut arab mare. In the end they gave up. We had already offered our lorry as a plan B if they had problems with loading her, as she's not been great at it in the past, so today we were plan B.
My first attempt at loading someone else's horse )
glenatron: (Default)
If anyone is north of London and wants to do something interesting around the 12th-15th of September, Tom and Sarah are doing a clinic in Shillinghurst, Hertfordshire. I'm kind of thinking of you here, [ profile] skiesfirepaved because I don't think it's too far from you and you'd really enjoy it. More here.

The other side of London we have Steve Halfpenny coming back for another clinic from 19th-22nd of September over near Tunbridge Wells. Steve is a literally brilliant horseman and I really strongly recommend coming along to watch. There may even be a rider place remaining if you know someone who feels like taking their horsemanship up a few levels- it's not cheap but learning from Steve has changed everything as far as I'm concerned and I simply cannot imagine a better use for my money. Anyways you can find more here if you're interested.

I've ridden on clinics with both these teachers and they're fairly well documented back on my Clinic reports tag.
glenatron: (Default)
This clinic, held at the extensive Hoplands Equestrian Centre near Winchester was formatted in the way Mark tends to work his US clinics with a morning and afternoon group of four riders each one working with Mark for a couple of sessions at one end of the arena and then with his wife and teaching assistant Chrissie in between times. It was a step up in terms of clinics I have attended – the venue was huge and there were a lot of people in the audience- probably between one and two hundred spectators. I've read Mark's books ( which I heartily recommend ) and I've attended clinics by Kathleen Lindley and Tom Widdicombe, both of whom are students of his, so I was really looking forward to seeing him in person.
It was well worth it- behind a cut as once again I've topped 10000 words in a clinic report )
x-posted with [ profile] horsemanship
glenatron: (Default)
Next Friday, Saturday and Sunday I'll hopefully be spectating at a Mark Rashid clinic near Winchester. I'm really looking forward to finally seeing him in person.
glenatron: (jp)
Over the last few months I've perceived a need for a friendly and open minded horsey community on LJ where we can talk about horses and riding and training and the things that go along with that without having to be too afraid of getting an absolute savaging. I looked around the other horsey communities to see if there was anything sleeping that might be worth waking up, but in the end I figured I might as well set up something new and get it working the way I want it to from the start.

The outcome is [ profile] horsemanship - aiming to be a non-denominational, broad ranging and inclusive community where we can talk about all aspects of horsemanship in a friendly and civilised environment. There is a proper community intro here.

I'm going to do what I can to make this a really worthwhile community but we're going to need a few members and as the horsey part of my friends list contains a lot of people whose posts about your achievements with your horses have kept me interested, enlightened and entertained, you're exactly the kind of people who will fit in perfectly over at [ profile] horsemanship now it exists.

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