Slippery slopes

I just came across this article of a disgruntled ‘animal welfare activist’ who lost the team competition after a team mate was DQ as a result of the blood rule.

In my profession, there can be no ambiguity, no possible alternative interpretation of the words on the paper, and absolutely no gaps. So, I’m quite good at finding them. This open letter has many.

But besides that – if we start allowing the little things , how long before the big things are allowed?

http://www.noellefloyd.com/an-open-letter-by-georgina-bloomberg/

Being Grateful for Things You Don’t Like.

Love this.

Relaxed & Forward: AnnaBlakeBlog

WMDodgerRideMy favorite training mentor had a habit that drove me nuts. She would be working with a horse who spooked or flipped his head or had some other issue that made him a disaster and when she climbed on, if you were close, you could hear her say in a low and quiet voice, “Goody, goody.” She would have a small smile and be cheerful.

The woman was nuts. It was like she couldn’t tell right from wrong. She loved a bad ride. It wasn’t that she wanted the adrenaline thrill of trying to stay on, and she didn’t pick fights. She just thought a conversation with a horse got more interesting once some resistance showed up.

I was a novice rider just beginning to compete a young horse and neither of us was very confident. One of us was trying way too hard. And it was so important that…

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My take on the Olympics (because everyone has one!)

Since everyone who knows what dressage means, have had an opinion about the recent Olympics, I thought I want to have my say on it too.

I have been consistently disgusted with what has been ‘dressage’, over the last few years. After WEG last year (or was it 2014?) I thought that dressage couldn’t possibly sink any lower. My personal experience at grassroots level, trying to find a show that will allow me to participate in a bitless bridle didn’t help my overall opinion either. And then the comments I got when I finally did participate, which was more focused on my choice of tack than my or my horse’s ability. All in all – negative. Very negative.

And then came the Olympics…

I know there are comments to be made about what was bad or horrible, but I want to comment on what stood out for me, that stood out more than the bad/horrible. Also, I only ever managed to watch the performance of the top 10/15. And of those, I want to talk about my favourites.

What I saw in those rides, was noses that were consistently on or in front of the vertical. I saw open throatlatches. I noticed normal looking extended trots with hind ends that matched the front, rather than excessive front leg movements with hindlegs that were left at the previous letter. I saw superb, goosebumpy piaffes and passages. One horse had a passage that was probably the most lovely to watch of every horse that I had every seen.

I saw uphill, and horses sitting rather than those bouncy piaffes that  seems like little bucks disguised as advanced dressage movements, that dressage had been littered with before

And you know what I picked up the most? The fact that several riders, had absolutely zero contact on the curb.

I saw horses that were relaxed and seemed to be enjoying what they were doing. And FINALLY, I saw that this was rewarded, rather than those that I am not referring to here.

Dressage has a long way to go to where all of us would like to see it. But for the first time, I actually think that Dressage have moved in the right direction.

This was what I picked up in my favorites at the Games. Of course there are others, but I thought it necessary to, for a change, focus on the good 🙂

A private wild life safari – on our doorstep

Bitou and I normally have lessons on Thursdays, but it’s been raining so much that everything is waterlogged and we decided to rather not destroy the grass. So, we ended up going on an outride instead.

We rode out towards the beach and Bt was just fantastic. We went further than what we’ve ever gone alone, and as we turned around, someone came past on their way to the beach. We followed him for a bit before turning around and having a trot through the deep water and stopping for a mouthful of lush green grass at the water’s edge.

As we rode back, I saw a dog walking on the access path. Immediately I wondered what a lone dog was doing there, when I realised that it was actually the Noordhoek caracal!!! Finally! Everyone has been reporting glimpses of her, and I’ve never seen her! We were 50m or so behind her (close enough for me to recognize the ear tufts and tracking collar without my glasses). Bitou was walking fairly fast and every now and then I asked him to halt as the caracal casually walked out in front of us, zig zagging across the path to avoid the water.

I was softly speaking to Bitou but she wasn’t worried about our presence at all. She glanced back every now and then but didn’t increase her pace. As we reached a patch of water (which is obviously more noisy), she started trotting and disappeared through the fence. I was busy telling Bitou how absolutely privileged we were to have seen a caracal (a shy animal) for so long when we turned the corner, and… There she was again, carefully choosing her path to not get her toes wet!!

Bitou was walking fast and we ended up following her very closely when a breeze must have picked up. I was so enchanted that I didn’t realize until Bitou stopped abruptly, giving an almighty snort and started shaking his head up and down.

I suspect he didn’t realize what it was until that moment ! He didn’t try to bolt or spin around but he flat out refused to move forward, obviously sensing the predator and the danger it held for a prey animal. I gave him a few minutes and then tried to make him move forward but he straight out refused. I realized that, although he wasn’t putting either of us in danger, I wasn’t going to be able to override the instinct, so I hopped off and led him a few steps, taking care to stay in front of him. He settled immediately and I hopped back on, having a lovely chilled ride home, grinning ear-to-ear (still am actually!) about experiencing something so unique and magical, with my special boy who kept me safe even when he sensed extreme danger.

What an experience: having followed her closely for approximately 100m.

How lucky is that!!

A rather sad state of affairs.

I went for a walk the other day. I walked past a property in an affluent area where there were a few horses. There were three or four horses, each standing in an individual sand paddock, about 8x8m big. They stand there the entire day. Tonight they go into their 4x4m stable until tomorrow, when they get to go to their 8x8m paddock again. I’m sure the owners genuinely love their horses. 

I recently watched some dressage (adult riders). In one class, a horse that was noticeably uneven (a euphemism for lame), won. I’m sure the riders love their horses and I’m sure the judges know best. 

Not long ago I went to a jumping show. There were lots of pony riders. The default thing that I noticed, is that when most of these kids (barring one or two) want their ponies to do anything (move, stand still, turn) was to give them a massive smack with their crops. No soft leg/calf squeeze first, no voice cue, no indication of any sort of preparation so the pony can expect and prepare that he is about to be asked something. Just a hell of a smack. I’m sure the kids genuinely love their ponies. 

I wonder what I do with my horse, which makes people say the same about me.

The thinking game

You know you’re on the right track when your coach says, right at the end of the (rather complex) lesson “you are getting closer to doing all of this without a bridle”.

Winter is a tricky time to ride. The days are so short and everything is so wet, that you struggle to get a decent ride in. That equals Bitou not working enough and becoming excessively high energy (as in, spooks every second second). I said yesterday that for the last 10 days or so, it feels as though I only have my horse under me 50% of the time, the rest of the time we’re completely out of sync because he is spooking at something, and I am in front, behind, or on the side of the direction of movement.

I asked Jenny whether we can do a mentally difficult session, so that Bitou has to concentrate properly, and she didn’t disappoint. We did a lot of basics (something I let slip on outrides, and besides my lesson once a week, I hardly do anything other than outrides… 😳) and went on to circles and serpentines and then to circles in the canter but… using only voice cues in the canter, nothing else. Bitou was incredible, concentrating hard, focused on his work and active, listening, and not a single spook.

It just made me realise once again how much he loves his job. He has become bored on the outrides because I didn’t use them to make him think. I would just ride with a loopy rein and wonder why he spooks. Today I realised again that he needs to think and be stimulated. He thrives on it and he is so chuffed with himself when we get something difficult right. And to hear that comment from your very honest coach, when you’ve been struggling for two weeks, is really something.

I tucked him in and sat with him for a bit while he munched his teff. When I left and I was halfway across the paddock, I turned around as I walked away, as I do every day, and waved at Bitou. He always watches me as I walk away, but today he had a huge mouth full of teff and as I waved, he started shaking his head up and down (as horses do when they have a big chunk of food that they’re trying to break into smaller pieces!). I could swear he was waving back at me after our amazing session.

Fancy show jumper

A few hours before my flatwork lesson was due to start, my coach messaged me asking whether I’d be keen to do a joint lesson with a friend since we could get the ‘fancy arena’.

Good arenas in Noordhoek are about as scarce as carrots in my fridge, and there is only one really nice arena (that I know of) for rent in the area. It’s about 30x60m, rubberchip and has lots of jumping equipment. The only problem, being the only decent arena, is that it’s rarely available. I’ve ridden there probably about 3/4 times and the going is amazing. Bitou always puts his best hoof forward when we ride there, so I assume it carries his stamp of approval as well…

I rarely ride with other people because I quite like riding alone. Then I don’t have to worry about other riders or their horses. So when I do end up riding with someone else, it’s always interesting to see how Bitou responds. Sometimes it’s a competition, sometimes he couldn’t care less, and sometimes he’s the leader.

So our lesson starts and we’re trotting around the track, letting the horses have a good look at the jumping equipment etc. There was a warm berg wind blowing, so we didn’t take too long to warm up. I had to keep Bt quite a few lengths behind the other horse, otherwise he started to run through his gaits to get closer. In turn, the other horse was going slower and slower, waiting for Bitou to catch up! It was quite funny how we tried to manage their paces.

Eventually we settled in a rhythm. They would ride a 20m circle at A and C at the trot, and as they come out of the circle, Bitou and I enter it. Our flatwork was atrocious. Every time with a nice cadence going in, and then a rushed, running trot going out. I could barely ride a circle, it ended up looking like a 23m egg shape or a  14m circle with a square head…  The moment the other horse was too close, Bitou lost focus and fell on his inside shoulder. I struggled to feel and correct it in time and hence it was quite uncomfortable and difficult to ride. A little bit better on the right rein, although then our circles were way too small again! I increased the distance between the two horses and it became much better. Not nearly as good as it can be, but acceptable.

We proceeded to canter. Here I had to increase the distance even more, as Bitou covers quite a lot of ground whilst the other horse is more advanced and therefore much more collected in his canter. But, all of a sudden our circles were perfect! (Well, perfect compared to the trot circles!). If I just remembered to NOT DROP THE OUTSIDE REIN!!!!!! Albeit a bit small (prob more 17/18m than 20m), they were round and we managed to keep the pace.

It was quite funny. The scaredy cat rider can ride the canter properly, but not the trot!

Our coach then put up some little jumpies for us. The other horse competes at 70cm, but I don’t jump, so they kept it at my level of comfort 🙂 We trotted over on both reins and Bt was great, even though I struggled to get him straight onto the jump (as we were riding it on a circle). We then took a bit of a break whilst the other rider jumped higher, and then we finished, by trying to go over the jumpies at a canter.

And… we did! It was so much fun! It was in fact much easier to ride than the trot, and I managed to get him straight onto the jump much easier than a the trot! (And much straighter as well). Bitou jumped like a pro and I survived!

It was only 30cm, but I told him the whole way back what an amazing show jumper he is! 🙂

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 😦 )

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!”

🙂 🙂