Show post mortems (Human version)

I am not a show jumper. At all. And because I don’t jump, Bitou doesn’t get exposed to jumping either. However, since we realised that Bitou absolutely LOVES going to shows, I’ve tried to take him to as many shows as possible. (just look at that face…)

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Now since I ride bitless, we’re not allowed to enter dressage shows so we really don’t have that many options. Therefore, Bitou and I started doing the pole on the ground class as training jumping shows. i) Bitou is in his element, being at a show ii) we are exposed to bright coloured, scary looking jumps – a good exercise in desensitization (even more so if it’s in howling winds!) iii) I don’t have to jump, we can just go over poles on the ground (well – i guess that’s debatable if you look at the second pic here…)! So it’s a win-win.
So we started getting a little bored with pole on the ground (like one does) and upgraded (very fancily) to the 30cm classes. I’ve done 2 or 3 of these now. Pole on the ground normally goes very well and we will trot the entire course. But with the 30cm, I tend to tense right before the jumpie which is an indication for Bitou to stop (Bitou: “She tensed, it can’t be safe, best I take her over this enormous pole carefully!”) So our modus operandi is to trot up to the jumpie, stop, and then carefully climb over (exhibit A – the pics below).
Bitou has developed quite a reputation for this, so everyone claps and cheers every time we climb over so carefully!
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Now this past week we had another little training jumping show, so I entered Bitou in POTG (twice) and 30cm (once). Bitou was, as usual, most relaxed when in the warmup (where I, in turn, think that we might die – with pony riders whizzing past at top speed in every possible direction with no sense of order). (Check out the  pic, no stirrups, no reins and he’s just casually checking out what’s going on behind…).
We did our first round of POTG and it was great. Bt didn’t even look at the jumps! We went for our second round and I hear my coach yell ‘be adventurous! canter!’ and so I asked Bitou for a canter. So we cantered the entire course, him taking the correct leads and everything! Very chuffed (so much for a horse that couldn’t canter on the right rein at all, just more than a year ago!)
After that we had quite a while to wait. So Bitou had a bite to eat and I stretched my legs a bit.
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(Photo credit to my friends at NC Photography – Thanks for this pic Natalie!)
Then came the time to have a little hop over the 30cm warmup jumpies. Surprisingly, Bitou didn’t hesitate once and actually hopped over them without stopping. (I say surprisingly, he probably said “Surprisingly, she didn’t tense, so I could actually do my job properly and jump rather than walk over!”)
Since it was going so well, I asked my sister (and groom for the day 😉 ) to quickly enter me for the 30cm a second time as well. Thinking being that we’ll have a look the first round, and then the second time can do it properly. So we went off on our first round at a trot, and Bitou either jumped or trotted all the jumpies! I felt adventurous and asked for a canter, but as we came close to the next jump (#6) , I must have tensed, worrying about the striding (yeah, I do that), and he stopped! Just like before. I tried the same up to #7 and the same happened, so at the last jumpie, I just asked for a trot and he hopped over nicely. (Please excuse the forward seat – I know it’s unnecessary at 30cm, but the dressage saddle cantle keeps hitting me in the bum if I don’t!)
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(Photo credit to my friends at NC Photography – Thanks for this pic Natalie!)
So, we should definitely work on getting over these from a canter next. We went into our last round at a canter, cantering between the jumps, but I asked him for a downward transition right before each one so that we ended up jumping them rather than trying to jump from canter and hence walking over.
Lesson of the day: my horse is amazing 🙂
I walked him back in hand with lots of grazing stops and he got a whole lot of carrots later that day!
Interestingly, my experience at these little fun jumping shows have been way more positive than ever before at any dressage shows. But that’s a topic for another day!
(Apologies for the lack of paragraphs – WordPress seems to remove my paragraph/spacing every time 😦 )
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Show post mortems (Equine version)

Don and Bitou are stabled together but I’ve never seen that they hang out together or play.

Today Bitou and Don were both at the jumping show, in the same class, and they were therefore warming up at the same time. Every time we passed each other, the boys would make some sort of sound (a half whinny/nicker, half squeal. Not calling, more like a greeting!) to one another.

After our last class, we walked home together and untacked. I went back to the show jumping to watch friends’ rounds and later in the afternoon went back to give Bt some victory carrots. When I walked into the paddock, there Bitou was, grazing nose-by-nose with Don. Literally sharing blades of grass. They shared some carrots and I left again.

I could swear they were comparing notes and discussing the morning’s events. Exactly like we do. “My rider was so good today, I am so proud of her!”, “Yeah mine too! And did you see how I jumped that last jump, it was huge!”

🙂 🙂

Embrace the spookiness

Mondays are usually very spooky days. I am mostly away over weekends which means that Bitou has his off days over weekends. So he is always a bit fresh and spooky after not being ridden for a few days. This week, however, I only popped in briefly on Monday morning to see him before work and give him some carrots, but I didn’t have time to ride and I couldn’t ride in the evening because of my sister’s graduation ceremony. That means that Bt got an extra off day. So I anticipated Tuesday’s ride to be even more spooky…

Additionally, the weather has (and is) been really dreadful – windy, wet and just rather unpleasant. But, we have a little training show on Thursday (public holiday) so it was quite important to get a ride in yesterday.

My default ride is to go out (ie outride) into the wetlands. So I went to fetch Bt from the field at his yard. He was very enthusiastic and met me by the gate, pushing his nose through his bridle when I held it up and dropping his head so I could put it over his ears, as he usually does (I really must take a video of how he puts on his own bridle – it’s very cute!).

As we walked down the road I could already see him being very looky, so I mentally prepared myself for a very spooky ride. And I wasn’t wrong. I mounted, he had a good look, and we set off at a walk.

Now – because I know he was very spooky, I made a point of riding with a loopy rein and heavy legs. In fact, I went the entire ride with either a loop in the reins or a very light contact. Basically a check for myself, so I  don’t accidentally become too strong when he spooks, hence causing a ‘conditioned fear response’, the thinking being “this object is scary and now i get jerked by the reins (a punishment), meaning i was correct in thinking that the object was scary”. My reasoning is that if he spooks, I would first have to take the loop out of the rein to take up a contact (a default and incorrect reaction of wanting to use the reins to keep balance, which is useless anyway since my core muscles must keep me in the saddle!). This would then allow me time (i.e. a split second) to think and stop the default reaction before reaching the point of contact. It’s possible that this is not the correct way to go about it, and I would be most interested in others’ opinions, but the reasoning, in my opinion, is logical and it worked (for me). So I’d use that method again!

 

Bitou was indeed incredibly alert and fresh, having a second and third look at everything but… he was so amazingly responsive and so very, very forward. We were trotting and cantering with him looking elsewhere, but 100% focused on my aids.

This is the first time I experienced this. Interestingly, I was recently made aware and have spent a lot of time thinking about how unaware we are of our horses whilst working with them. We expect them to concentrate on us, but then we get distracted (chatting to someone while tacking up, looking at something else etc) and we don’t return the favour of being focused on them and giving them the required consistent signals that is good horsemanship. So I’ve really been concentrating on concentrating on Bitou even if I am doing something else. And it seemed yesterday, as though he was doing the same.

 He would look in any direction, but he would keep going straight in our direction of travel and he would respond to my aids immediately (even perfect canter – walk transitions on voice cues). We discovered a new path recently that is a lot of fun to ride. It is very bendy and you can really use it to do nice schooling exercises. So we had a trot through there. Then there is a nice grassy patch where we always stop for a quick graze, but because it’s in a slight blind spot (which can make for an accident if a horse suddenly comes cantering past!), I use that spot as an opportunity to practice turn on the fore (as that is where we struggle in schooling sessions); so now he knows: we have a nice canter, then we stop, turn on the fore to face the opposite way in order to see oncoming equine traffic, wait, and then he is allowed a snack when I drop the reins.
Also, because the weather was unpleasant, there weren’t many riders out, so we had the place mostly to ourselves.
Stunning, stunning ride on a spooky, spooky horse!
Lesson of the day: embrace the spookiness and ride it forward!

That man who listens to horses

In Science, we publish our research as we go along. But every once in a while you get a landmark study: the study where the investigator finds something groundbreaking, where his work (be it a new discovery, understanding or a method) changes things forever.

A lot of work is then built on that. Sometimes the method or the discovery is improved upon as it evolves, sometimes it gets a different shape or package, but that original paper and author is always cited, even if it is 100 years later.

Today (3 June 2016) I got to meet that person in the horse world, the one who brought about the change, whose methods are still widely used, and a lot of people have used that basis to build on and from.

He was the one who said that violence has no place in horsemanship.

My absolute horse hero.MR2