Saturday, October 22, 2016

Facing Reality

It has been one of those years.


I know that it’s been ages since the last update and for good reason.

I have been so overwhelmed by all the drama going on that I just could not cope with riding, or anything more than feeding and grooming him. And sometimes, even that was a difficult stretch…. Yeah. It was that bad…

I really can’t go into the details, also, I really don’t want to revisit it. But in my last post (aptly titled Barn Drama), I was relating the problems we’d had at the beginning of this year with our new paddock arrangements. I thought we had gotten through it, and I had been feeling cautiously optimistic that we may have found a workable solution.

Turns out, not so much.

The subsequent incident that exploded on us in July was far worse than the one at the beginning of the year, and left me with very few options to work with. Suffice to say, we did manage to find a spot for Copper at the paddocks, but the consequences of the whole event affected him and I for months after. I didn’t ride for months, and even now, it’s not a sure thing that I will ride just once a week.

The fallout is still affecting us daily.

I don’t know if next year I will still be able to keep my horse. That’s how bad it is… It breaks my heart to even think of selling him, but I can’t see how we will get around it when winter comes.


So for now, I’m not thinking that far ahead.

I just can’t.

I can’t keep thinking about the whys, the hows, and the what-do-I-dos of keeping my horse. I’m just taking it one day at a time.


Every chance I get to ride is the best day ever, and I’m not thinking any further than that.

See ya,


Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Stringhalt Attack – Part II: Barn Drama

It wasn’t enough for Copper to come down with string halt and basically be completely broken and mostly unrideable for the next twelve to eighteen months, oh no….


Unfortunately, his string halt diagnosis brought on a whole pile of barn drama that had to be dealt with as well, and that was a saga in and of itself!

The set up with the private paddocks at our facility work like this:

Someone buys into the paddock with a $2,500 deposit and now “owns” the rights to the land. They are responsible for all interior fencing, and the care and management of the pasture, barring weed spraying. They are allowed to buy and set up any structures they may like to within the guidelines; this can be as simple as a garden shed to hold tack, to a stable, muck heap, hay shed, yards, etc - the full she-bang.

The owners of the private paddock are then allowed to host a “guest” to help defray the weekly cost of agistment - or rent on the land.

I moved into a private two horse paddock as a guest, and well, ended up with a homeless horse.

It’s a long and involved story, but it started earlier than the stringhalt. Previously, there’d been a few issues as we were settling into the shared arrangement – things like the owner moving horses around and not filling up water troughs properly, not telling me when the worming was happening so the worming didn’t happen simultaneously on both horses like it needs too, gates getting broken, (Copper apparently tried to jump a gate and bent it! But must have scrambled over somehow…) – incidents that can cause problems at the time, but honestly, I thought we’d moved past all of it.

When the problems occurred, I’d done my best to communicate clearly and fix any issues my horse had caused. In short, I’d done my best to hold up my end of the bargain and be a responsible guest.

However, when the vet said that Copper absolutely had to be kept off the the flatweed and needed to be penned/yarded for as long as necessary, all hell kind of broke loose and we were basically threatened to be kicked out of the paddock. I had to let Copper back into the paddocks (because someone else down there had said that would be okay to do… Um, what?! Since when do we veto vet’s orders with a random’s “advice”?) or move him out in three weeks. The situation came down to the fact that it was inconvenient for the owner to let him stay in the only yard area that was suitable, and she wasn’t happy that he had to be in there.

Past issues were dragged up again, and though I did my best to handle the situation, I knew it wasn’t going to work any longer. I didn’t want to stay somewhere where I wasn’t welcome and were I couldn’t trust the owner to deal with the necessary management of my horse in a reasonable manner.

To top it all off while this back and forth was happening – Copper developed a lymphatic systemic reaction.

IMG_1810- Wut you meenz; I iz twubble? Corz not!! Now FEED me human bean! -

It started off as a bump above his right eye, and I thought that maybe a bit of dust or hayseed from the round bale he was eating from had gotten in his eye and caused the swelling. I’d seen that happen before, the incident that developed a partial cataract on the outside edge of his left eye. I palpitated all around the eye and couldn’t see any redness, weeping, or tenderness.

The next day I came out to check on him and it had gone down, so I kept a close eye on it. Come the day after and it had drained down under his jaw. I thought that was really odd – was it an abscess that had moved? I put Tuff Rock on it to see if it would burst and drain, like what had happened when he had a possible case of fistulous withers.

Nothing happened so I called the vet – my vet was away on holidays, so I had to call someone else about it, and it was four days after the bump had first appeared. Not-my-vet was concerned it was a case of strangles…. I was like Huh???

Note that:

- Copper had absolutely no discharge from the nostrils

- No fever

- Was bright eyed and eating his food

- Swelling was only under one side of the jaw

Anywho, I then had to remove Copper into an isolation paddock as per the vet’s recommendation.

So we walked him down to the hospital paddock which is near the main office buildings and stables, and set him up in there until the vet could assess him.

Blood test that revealed nothing and a double course of antibiotics later, so – two weeks in total - Copper still had a lump under his jaw and was still stuck in the hospital paddock.

Then the day after he finished those antibiotics, his back legs puffed up like sausages from the hocks down. I took his rugs off to discover he had swollen lumps all underneath his body, and a swollen sheath besides.

I had a chat to the manager and she confirmed my suspicions that the swelling was in his lymphatic system – he had a case of systemic edema. As it was a public holiday when this cropped up, as well as a Sunday (!! Why horse, why??) we decided that we’d see how he was doing in the evening and call the vet out the next day if there was no improvement.

Copper seemed a bit down and quiet at this point, but he didn’t have a temperature, and was eating quite well. So besides being a bit moody, all his systems were functional and his vitals were sound.

I was very relieved to come back that evening to discover the swelling had gone down by half! The next day it was still there, but less and by the middle of the week he was fine again.

Ugh. Horses.

I still have no idea what caused the reaction – it wasn’t bacterial, the vet didn’t think it was viral, so??? Stress perhaps?

My reasoning was this: he has been used to a way large grazing area (up to 10 or 12 acre paddocks), a large herd and a much more “natural” way of living.

Since moving, his grazing has be cut down to 1.5 acre paddocks at most, then he got stringhalt, was yarded in a tiny paddock area and had to be hard fed with round bale hay, and hard feed everyday.

On top of that, he was now separated from his one and only paddock mate, but then even worse, he was isolated for two weeks.

After that reaction, we kept him there for a day or two to monitor him, but then we had to make decisions about whether to move him back to the old paddock where the owner did not want us, or wait it out and try to find a new paddock to move into asap.

We decided to wait it out, and after one failed match up, we finally found a new situation.

Six weeks of living in the hospital paddock, being homeless hobos, and Copper moved into a new home!

IMG_1419 (1)

Thankfully, he appears to have settled in nicely at the new place, and he has made friends with the chestnut mare who is more than happy to boss him about.

I’m happy there too – after a bit of stress and hassle getting everything organized at the new place, including a lot of flooding and swamp situations when winter really kicked in and brought buckets of rain (and we still need to sort out the stable, but we’ll get there) – I think everything seems to have worked out well.

Our new host is super lovely, and her mare is gorgeous. Copper is quite content and happy I think (he loves all the extra cuddles and treats he’s getting at the moment  : P ) and we have great facilities at our new home that are proving to be invaluable for winter.

But *whew!* such barn drama!

And to be honest, I am really uncomfortable with the whole owner/guest arrangement now. Yes, at the moment everything appears to be fine, but I had thought that previously, only to be booted out of our paddock over a situation that I had absolutely no control over. You can bet your buttons I wouldn’t have yarded Copper unless I absolute had too, and you can also bet I would have done anything I could to keep him from getting stringhalt, but you just can’t control these things sometimes!!

So while I really do hope things continue to go well with our current arrangement, I am also thinking that we will start saving for our “own” paddock. One day, if we need it, then at least we’ll have that option.

See ya,


Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Dissecting the Seat – Part 4: Biomechanics of “Bearing Down” and plugging your seat in with the horse’s movement

Expanding from this post, a more in-depth explanation about the biomechanics of the seat and how it affects the horse’s energy an “thoroughness” in an excerpt from Mary Wanless's Article 42.


…When a rider is having this problem, I like to say "Imagine that we could perform a surgical operation, and insert a fishing rod just beneath the horse’s mane. If it had a small fish on the end of it, it would make a slight curve throughout its length. The whole length of his neck should ideally feel as if it really were hung from a fishing rod. But you may find that the rod has soggy bits, or even that it’s missing completely. What do you sense is happening here?".

People can normally answer this question very easily, and you can probably imagine from looking at the photo that the fishing rod ends two thirds of the way up the horse’s neck. What is much less obvious is that the fishing rod will also be soggy at the base of the horse’s neck. This is the part which the rider must repair first - and amazingly, just thinking like this is often enough to fix the problem! Having reorganized the base of the neck the rider can then successfully think about the top of it …

Horses find it very difficult to make the correct connection from the hind leg, over the croup, under the panels of the saddle, and up the crest of the neck. Think of this as an energy connection, or as water flowing through a hose. When complete the circuit continues through the rein to the rider’s arm and back, so that the energy received into her body rejoins the original conduit. This connection gives the rider a very correct influence, and enables the horse to seek a light contact with the rider’s hand, and, potentially, to "sit himself down". How wonderful horses look when they achieve this! But it requires very skilful, correct riding, and the lengthening of the horse’s spine mirrors the "use" which people aspire to when they have lessons in the Alexander Technique.

This horse breaks the circuit both at the base and at the top of the neck. He also is not "sitting himself down" – if anything I think he is raising his croup to evade this demand. Instead of maintaining the correct connection whilst shortening his whole frame as he would in collection, he has scrunched his neck backwards whilst lifting his croup. So things have gone rather awry - and as always, the rider is unknowingly playing a part in allowing this to happen.

She too has lost the ideal connection in her own spine, this time by stretching it too much and in the wrong way. From her waist she has separated both halves of her body, drawing her ribs up and stretching her legs down. If we could see the shape of her back, I am sure we would find that it is hollow. However, we all hear so much about "growing up tall and stretching your legs down" that our rider will almost certainly believe that she is sitting correctly! But I like to think of riding as a martial art, and this is not the stance used by good martial artists, who understand that this kind of stretching renders you much less stable and effective.

If you stand in a martial arts position and then exaggeratedly grow tall and lift your chest, you will find yourself all but holding your breath. You will also feel very tense and unstable. Then drop your ribs down towards your hips, so that you remove the hollow from your back. (Doing this sideways on to a long mirror will give you the clearest feedback.) For added strength, you can then engage your abdominal muscles in the way I call "bearing down". Cough, giggle, or clear your throat, and then maintain that muscle use. Your major difficulty might then become breathing, for to bear down continuously you must use diaphragmatic breathing, which only seems to come easily to people who run, sing, or who have learnt to play a wind instrument.

Many people who "grow up tall" are shocked by my insistence that they need to drop their rib cage. By comparison, they often feel slouched or round shouldered – so they are convinced that this new idea must be wrong. Some have heard the idea from the Alexander Technique that they should think of themselves "being pulled up by a string attached to the top of the head". These words, however, are intended to describe a much more subtle expansiveness through the whole back and neck, which is not the same as this hollow backed version of growing tall.

The version of "stretching your leg down" which accompanies the wrong way of "growing up tall" becomes an attempt to get your knee beneath your hip to and make your whole leg vertical. This usually generates a strong pressure into the stirrup, which pushes the heel down and forward. If you are sitting in a chair as you read this, push one foot hard down into the floor, and realise how doing so tends to lift that side of your pelvis. Your body is obeying Newton’s third law of motion, which states that "every action has an equal and opposite reaction" ie. every push down will create an equal and opposite push up. This is one of the main reasons why people usually sit to the trot better without their stirrups – for they cannot then push down on them, and do not experience the straightening of their joints which then sends their backside up out of the saddle.

This bodily use opens the angle between the leg and the body too much, and it plays into the horse’s evasive pattern. (It would take me too long to explain to you exactly how this happens.) So to change her horse, this rider needs to change herself, completing her part of the circuit before she can complete his. I would like to see her bring her lower leg back underneath her and lighten her pressure into the stirrup. Creating a vertical shoulder/hip/heel line will make her feel as if her heel is back and up, and the change will probably horrify her! She also needs to spread the weight which does go into the stirrup over the entire width of her foot, and not roll her ankles over to weight the outside of the foot. The next step is to think of the thigh and calf making an arrowhead shape, in which the knee is the point of the arrow. This means that she will no longer be "stretching her leg down" in the way she is now.

Simultaneously, she needs to drop her ribs down towards her hips, and to take the hollow out of her back. This too may horrify her. It is as if she needs to shrink both ends of her body towards the middle – and into a martial arts stance. Then she is in a position for make the "fishing rod" idea work for her.

How to feel the “bearing down”: excerpt from Article 37

With your seat bones pointing down and your feet flat on the floor, put one hand under your sternum, and put the thumb and first finger of the other hand each side of your spine at waistband level. Then clear your throat. You should feel your muscles push out against your hands. Put your hands on your sides and repeat the experiment. Then place the fingers of one hand half way between your belly button and your pubic bone, and clear your throat again.

Sam is riding as if she is doing this permanently. I first called this use of your abdominal muscles ‘bearing down’, although I now think that ‘bear out’ might have been a better term, since it does not make you sit heavier. Wherever you have soft tissue, i.e. in the entire band around your waist between your ribs and your hips, and all down your abdominal muscles from your sternum to your pubic bone, your guts push against your skin. Think of pulling your stomach in, making the muscles into a wall, and then pushing against that wall. It is as if your torso were a jam jar or a baked bean tin, and the contents of the tin are under pressure, pushing against the edges, but without deforming the shape of the container.

The next difficulty arises with the need to breathe and bear down both at the same time. This requires diaphragmatic breathing, which will be familiar to you if you have learnt to sing or play a wind instrument. In this, the ribs expand outwards but do not lift up: think of the air being drawn down into your abdomen, as if pair of bellows down there was sucking the air in.

Bearing down whilst breathing well is a big deal for most riders – I suggest that people practice whilst driving their car, for this has to become a way of life…


I’m delving more into the biomechanics of riding, because I believe that a lot of what I am reading here I have either experienced in person while playing around with my seat connection on Copper, or it is something that I need to experience because it’s a missing connection.

The subtle feedback of a horse’s energy into your body as you position your skeleton in different ways – releasing some muscles, holding others – is a endless book to learn from. But I am trying to read this book all by myself and if there is insight to be found, I am more than happy to learn elsewhere!

More pieces of the puzzle are falling into place.

One thing I do know more and more for certain from this journey I’ve been on: THE RIDERS WHOLE BODY INFLUENCES THE HORSES WHOLE BODY

… How I breathe, how I tilt my head, hold my neck, bend or straighten my wrist, shift my left seat bone, etc… It’s a matter of learning where to place each individual part of me so that it is most effective in influencing Copper’s energy and movement. 

The riding masters know that, I wish that more teachers would teach that instead of focusing so much on the horse. Get the rider right and 90% of the work is already done.…

See ya,


Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Stringhalt Attack – Part I: All the Flatweed

This story has been a long time coming; it’s rather involved and I’ve been so busy managing Copper that I simply haven’t had time to write it. It’s also the reason I’ve been so quiet on this blog…

Ever since March our whole routine has been turned upside down because Copper contracted string halt. It was only a fairly mild case with grade 1 lameness and slight paralysis on the right side of the Sternocephalicus muscle (the long skinny muscle under the neck from jaw to chest). But if you didn’t already know this; string halt sucks

* * *

Stringhalt is a sudden flexion of one or both hind legs in the horse, most easily seen while the horse is walking or trotting. It is most evident when the horse is backing up slowly, turning on the affected leg, or suddenly frightened. It can involve one or both hind legs of the horse. It is a spasmodic contraction of the lateral extensor tendons of the hind legs.

Australian stringhalt

Australian stringhalt was described and differentiated from classical stringhalt in 1884.[3] Australian stringhalt is differentiated from classical stringhalt by the severity, occurrence of outbreaks, distinct seasonal pattern and the ability of affected horses to recover spontaneously.[4] This condition is characterised by the sudden exaggerated flexion of either one or both hocks. This form of stringhalt most commonly occurs in the summer and autumn while horses are out on pasture. Epidemics of Australian stringhalt are usually witnessed during drought or abnormally dry conditions.

Affected areas in the horse[edit]

The long digital extensor muscle (usually in the hind limb) is the muscle that appears to be the most affected by this condition.[3] The most severe muscle lesions have been found within the long and lateral digital extensors and lateral deep digital flexor. The location of neuromuscular lesions in Australian stringhalt may be explained by the susceptibility of longer, larger myelinated nerve fibres to injury.[4] Regenerating nerve fibres with disproportionately thin myelin sheaths are more common in the proximal parts of affected nerves in horses with Australian stringhalt. Distal axonopathy occurs most severely in the longest nerve in the horse.[5] The cause for this distal axonopathy remains unknown.[4]


Horses affected with this condition rarely recover without surgical intervention, although there have been some instances where horses have recovered without treatment. The recovery time in affected horses can range from three months to three years.[3] Horses may be affected so severely that euthanasia is necessary. It is unknown how long it takes for clinical signs to develop after the exposure to the cause of the condition.[3]

The majority of horses affected by stringhalt are dependent upon pasture for nutrition.[3] Removal of the horse from its original paddock containing low-quality pasture, weeds and native grasses, along with dietary control, was the most common and successful treatment. Lateral digital extensor tenectomy has also been used as a treatment by veterinarians with a success rate of just over 50%.[3]

Phenytoin has been used in the management of Australian stringhalt.[6] Two weeks after treatment with phenytoin, significant improvement was observed in the gait abnormality of horses affected with Australian stringhalt at the trot and canter, but no significant improvement was observed at the walk or while turning.[6]


- H. radicata is linked to some cases of stringhalt in horses. -

The most common plant species that have been found and identified in pastures where affected horses were located include: flatweed (Hypochaeris radicata), sheep's sorrel (Rumex acetosella) and couch grass (Elymus repens). The type of nerve damage sustained in horses with Australian stringhalt suggests a mould toxin (mycotoxin) or a fungal 'poison' found in the soils may be a cause for this condition. Mycotoxins can directly affect the long myelinated nerves in the hind limbs.[3]

* * *


Pasture looking just fine… *sigh*  -

Which is a long winded way to say that Copper had to be locked up off his pasture effective immediately and started on handfeeding 24/7.

When we moved to the pasture, I had an idea that the forage was a mixed bag - there seemed to be a lot of tussock grass, a variety of weeds and other native grasses.

However, what I didn’t realise was that there was also a TON of flatweed in that paddock until in the late summer it was popping up EVERYWHERE. Basically, at that stage in the season, the paddock was tussock grass and flatweed. And horses don’t eat tussock grass. So.

It just didn’t click that Copper was in danger from all that flatweed until I was sick for a week and couldn’t visit him. During that time he didn’t receive any of his hard feed with his Equine Vitamin&Mineral supplement, which includes the necessary magnesium, vitamin E and selenium that helps to treat/manage stringhalt.

Looking back, I think he might have actually had a touch of stringhalt for awhile, but didn’t fully succumb to it until he didn’t have the minerals to help his body process the toxins.

He had had a touch of the hind leg contraction when backing for several weeks before then, and was stiff when moving off after standing still for a prolonged period. But he had also been a lot more stocked up in the hind legs since moving to the new paddocks, partly from his injuries when running through the fence, and partly from standing around a lot more.

And to be honest – he’s getting on. 15 rising 16, so I put it down to old age I’m afraid. Especially when he didn’t have any trouble moving sideways, and the backing up was only an issue if he wasn’t warmed up and had been stationary for half an hour or so while I groomed him.

The signs were there, but they were so slight, I really didn’t twig to what it might be…

Not until I finally got out to see him again. We were going to ride in another W.E. clinic that weekend, but when he was walking up to me from the paddock I could instantly see he was off. Majorly off in both back legs.

I caught him, and hoped that maybe he’d thrown his back out again (he does that from time to time as he’s always had weak loin coupling and every once in awhile when he’s been a doofus bombing around the paddock he’d tweak his back, then be fine in a week or two with a rest.).

But nope. When he got closer, I could see the characteristic jerk, jerk, jerk of the hind legs as he walked and it didn’t take more than a little ask for a hind quarter yield (not good), and a back up (can’t do that) to be 98.5% sure he had stringhalt. Bilateral lameness and the convulsive movement where both pretty telling. *sigh*  

The vet came out the next day and only confirmed what I’d thought. He ordered that Copper wasn’t to even breathe flatweed, and he was to be put on the fullest dosage of Equine Vit&Min, which is 80gms a day. The best they can do for stringhalt is treating with magnesium, vitamin E and selenium. Beyond that, there’s an anti-spasmodic drug injection if the horse is so convulsed they can’t move. I’ve seen cases that bad before, but thankfully Copper never came near that.

I was allowed to ride him as long as he could bear my weight and walk. As movement is also encouraged to help treat stringhalt (it helps retain muscle memory and rebuild the tissue connections that are attacked and destroyed by the toxins) I knew I would keep on working him to whatever capacity he was capable of.

-  One from the other night… A pony and a mountain view.  -

Turns out, that wasn’t much… 

…Story to be continued, as it’s still a long one…

See ya,


Thursday, April 14, 2016

Our FIRST Clinic – An Introduction to Working Equitation

12799174_593737914115708_199299912647194149_n - Concentrating very hard on circling through the triple barrels -

This happened on the 28th of February, 2016… Wowee, that was too long ago! We had a fantastic time at the very first clinic either Copper or I have ever attended!

It was a one day clinic - Introduction to Working Equitation. We started out by learning the history of W.E. and how it came about, and then we moved into the practicalities of how W.E. competitions work – the levels (Introductory, Preliminary, Novice, Medium, Advanced, International: Debutante, ?, Masters), the structure of the trials (4 stages to the competition – Dressage, Ease of Handling*, Speed*, and Team Cattle Trial) etc.**

Next it was time to mount up for the “dressage-ing” portion. We started out as one big group, walking around the arena and halting, moving on, crossing over the diagonal to stretch and release the horses backs.

Then we moved into 5 meter circles on the outside track, and loosened the horses up even more. The whole group started to look really rhythmical and unified turning our circles in synchronization – it was actually really cool! Then we started trotting, and we did 20 meter circles at each end of the arena.

Copper started out super stiff over his back, so much so I was wondering if he was lame(!!) but by the end of this session he was so soft and light. It was so fantastic!! He felt great and I was really enjoying the workout. Then we stopped and did individual sessions for 10 minutes where we ran through an entry level W.E. dressage test.

Unfortunately, by the time Copper and I had our turn, Copper had cooled down and was definitely “done” for the day. One of the side effects of  always working in 20-45 minute sessions – he’s convinced his legs stop working after that length of time unless we are out on the trail!

The meant we spent the better part of our session just loosening up again – we didn’t really get a good run through. I was a bit concerned about how he’d go in the afternoon session because of this, but as it turned out, he was fine.

We broke for lunch, and ran out to pick up Subway, scarfing it down in the car as we rushed back to tack up….. Lol! I’m never prepared food-wise, but oh well.  We made it back in time, ready to get stuck into the fun stuff – the W.E. obstacles!

12801656_593738090782357_1710742294844914256_n- Not melting down juuussttt yet… Wait for it! -

Copper took it all in his stride and I was really proud of him! He did so well with everything – even the bull and the garrocha pole. The only one he had a bit of a melt down with was the gate. We’d get two thirds of the way through the obstacle, but after I had maneuvered him up, unlatched it, turned-on-the-forehand through the opening, he just didn’t want to back up the final three steps so that I could close it again. Gah.

Anyway, I ended up having to turn him in a circle up to, and away from the gate, come back along side it, pick up the rope (yeah, it was two jump standards with a rope – not an actual swinging gate) and back him up to latch it. You are not supposed to let go of the rope, so that’s the one obstacle we “failed” and couldn’t complete, but you know what? That’s really not bad at all!!

We did the bell, the side pass pole, the L corridor, the stock pen, the double and triple barrels, the slalom, and the bridge, as well as the gorracha and bull. 

After we had all had a chance to play with the different obstacles there, and have some instruction on how to do them, we then got to do little individual run throughs where we strung some of the obstacles together.

This time I learned my lesson though – I spent five minutes or so warming Copper up before we ran through it, and he did brilliantly! We did the bridge, the slalom, the bell, the L corridor, the triple barrels and finished with the bull. We got told we had a “score” of seven (out of ten – “reasonably good”) *fist pump* and this made me really grin…

It was smooth, easy, Copper was having fun, and we were concentrating and oh – it was brilliant! I reallllly enjoyed it, and I could tell Copper did too – even if he was pooped by then (hehe, I was too!).

12802939_593738037449029_2046125034342873650_n- Picking up the ring from the bull with the garrocha pole – it takes a lot of concentration! -

By end of it all, we were both utterly out of energy and all the moves, but it was. so. good.

Copper really calmed down with the work, I could feel his brain settle and really start to work. All of the horses were really listening at the end of the day, and I could feel that Copper could see the “point” to what we where doing. He really enjoyed the thinking aspect of tackling the obstacles – he loved the work I was giving him.

I loved it too – the fact that this combines the best of dressage training (lightness, harmony between horse and rider, feel and more!) plus, fun stuff in the sandbox?? I’m all for it!

I’ve toyed with the idea of eventing before, trying to combine dressage with other kinds of fun, but Copper can’t jump sticks tbh, and doesn’t really enjoy it either. He races because he’s uncertain and scared, and so I get uncertain and scared, and…. We’d never jump anything higher than beginner/Intro level.

But W.E.? I can see us doing a lot more with this. We might even learn how to chase cows!!  Haha!

Plus, I personally believe that W.E. marries the work and principles of dressage far more deeply into the fun side than eventing does.  You can’t do W.E. without the classical dressage training, it just wouldn’t work. The obstacles are specifically designed to test a horse’s balance, collection, lightness in hand, and ease of handling - which I’m not saying that eventing doesn’t do - just not in the same way, or to the same extent. :D

Basically, I’m a fan and I can’t wait to do more WE.

See ya,


? I missed that level’s name, but there is one. (-__-)’

*The obstacle course is run twice – once, you and your mount are judged on how precisely and easily you do the course (which can be any variation of any of the 19 WE obstacles, taken in a certain order), and the second time is the speed trial – where you want to get through the course as swiftly as possible.

** For more information please see

Friday, February 19, 2016

After the best ride ever…


- We are no longer in the dark! -

Yes, there have been many other rides after that amazing, epic, lesson of awesomeness. After all, it has been a month since that ride!

But for the first week I didn’t ride at all because I was petrified I would stuff up everything Copper learned about giving to the aids, and that I’d ruin him forever!

It’s the first time I’ve felt that, and it kept me off his back for five days…. Then I gathered up my courage and tried it by myself. Except I was sort of cheating, because my instructor was back giving lessons, and I got to share the arena with him and his pupil, so he did actually keep an eye on me. Though I think he probably thought I was a bit silly for not riding my horse for a week because I was scared to wreck him!

He did say at the end of my ride that we had thoroughly grasped the concepts we’d been working on, and that he was pleased with the quality of Copper’s walk and trot work. He thought it was good! Which sent me into silent squeals of excitement - naturally….

Since then, I don’t know if we’ve progressed much - it’s hard to tell as we are trying to find a new balance for the both of us. Where do I carry my hands? Too high - very messy, too low - Copper will dump a shoulder, or both, and lose his balance.

Though once or twice when that’s happened, I’ve actually been able to gently lift my rein and pick his shoulder back up with it, which is just… (O_______o)!!   

I have never been able to do that before!

The finding-a-new-balance thing also translating to odd moments in the trot. Yes, it is way better than it’s ever been - Copper is actually legitimately lifting and working over his back; which is a HUGE deal for an ex-trotter.

But it’s also… odd. Sometimes he feels very heavy in the contact, and I have to get used to how bouncy his stride has become! Dare I say it – he might actually be learning how to get some suspension in his gait!

The canter has also been better, but at the same time, it has been weaker because it is much harder to maintain the balance and the lift through the gait.

It’s all been a very interesting learning curve – and funny when Copper discovered that a counter-shoulder in exercise preformed correctly was HARD.

He just stopped at the wall and tossed his head like “Nope. No. No. No, Nope…” He actually tossed his head so much he bonked his nose and startled himself, the daft wee ninny.

I had to get off and remind him that over was over, and he had to go sidewise if I asked him to. He gave in, and we did regain the sideways movement again, but yeesh. He is definitely not happy about doing those exercises for too long!

I’ve sort of backed off – we used to do them all the way down the long side, but now I’m being nice and only asking for them about two-thirds of the way down the long side, so that he only preforms the movement for approximately one third of the arena.

I’m doing this until I can talk to my instructor again as I really don’t want to get into a battle when I’m not sure of the best way to go about getting the results I need to. I don’t wear spurs, and perhaps I need to, but I’ll ask about that as well at my next lesson.

I also have to be sure that I’m not asking for them incorrectly. Which I don’t think I am, as he will do them for the one-third length of the long side, but refuses for the full length of the long side. So there’s that, but I still want to check anyway.

This is all very new, and I’m uncertain half the time if I’m getting it right, but I do know that help is now available, and slowly but surely, I believe we will get it together.

At least we are no longer in the dark!

See ya,


Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Start At The Beginning –The Lesson of Literal Enlightenment

One of the most exciting things about moving to our new paddocks, and this is what I’ve most been looking forwards to (besides the giant indoor arena) is the fact that there are great instructors that come in to teach at the facilities on a regular basis.

A month ago, we had our first lesson with a classical dressage trainer, and ohmygoodnessitwasthebesteverandnowIamsoexcitedit’scrazy!!

*deep breath*

IMG_7503- Waiting around for our lesson to start, we were both suffering from extreme attacks of the needle… He’s spooky and I just feel plain old sick… But as it turns out, we needn’t have worried!  -

I should try not to get ahead of myself, but it really was such a good lesson…. As I remarked to MG (Mighty Guy – Classical Dressage Instructor Extraordinaire!) after the lesson, it was difference between groping around in the dark at a book, unable to read it because it is closed shut and you can’t see. You are struggling to take the next step towards that elusive feeling, and then someone just - *ping!* - turns on the light, opens the book right in front of your eyes, and explains exactly what it means, in great detail - right then and there to you.

It. Was. The. Best. Ever.

We learnt a ton, but we didn’t do much: Halt, flex, walk, counter shoulder in. That was it. Only walking for the whole hour, and I couldn’t keep the grin off my face!

Right from the start, I was told quite simply that Copper doesn’t know any of the basic building blocks of carrying a rider – how to give to the aids. I didn’t know how to teach him that, and we’d never been taught any better. Copper showed how little he knew by marching around with his “race track” walk, which is super fast and not at all a clear, four beat pace, just a churning of the legs!

He needed to slow down and learn to give… And we so were taught how to do that.

What did we learn?

  • Copper needs to learn to give to the aids, not react to the aids. He is not soft, and that’s why he is always so twitchy and fast.
  • He doesn’t know how to give to the rein aid/and my hand. He holds his tension in his jaw, poll, neck and shoulders. (Haha, tell me something I don’t know!  : P )
  • We were taught four flexion exercises for releasing the ligaments under the jaw and neck – all are preformed at the halt, and involved lifting his head and asking him to soften, chew and swallow. The fourth one then asked him to soften over his topline and bring his nose down again without locking up.
  • These flexions where done in stages: first one was done at the halt on the ground, then repeated under saddle. Then we had to walk around and halt and ask again for the flexion any time he started to fall downwards towards the forehand, or stiffens his jaw.
  • The second and third are pretty much the same one – flexing to the left and right from the poll
  • The fourth is asking him to round over his topline all the way along his back and neck.
  • We built up through these flexions with a lot of walking around a 20x40 arena space, including changing the rein across the diagonal and asking him to stretch out over his topline. He actually strode out with a clear 1-2-3-4 beat and a nice stretch without falling into his chest! A baby walk-lengthening!! 
  • We did the first exercise on both reins and when he was soft, did two and three, one on the left rein first, then the other on the right.
  • Then we moved to learning counter shoulder-in. Which was totally confusing for a directionally-challenged body such as myself.
    • The counter shoulder-in started with a walk down the long side, a six meter half-volte at the end, in the corner, which brings you back to face the long side you just walked down.

      Then, facing the wall asking for the bend towards the direction you just came from –i.e., back towards the corner – you ask with the inside leg, (which is the one your horse is bending around) for the horse to move in the direction OPPOSITE to your bend; back down the long side.

      You should feel the outside shoulder step into your rein and the inside hind crossing underneath as the horse steps over one foot at a time.

      The slowing down, but lifting at the front, is crucial to this exercise. Where it can go wrong: the horse rushes through it and looses the true bend from nose to tail, or alternatively, the horse dives down and falls into the bend, leaving his tail trailing off every which way.

      When done correctly, you can feel each footstep as the horse moves across, and the shoulders fill both reins.

We were swinging along with the exercise, and then tried a counter-shoulder in along the imaginary fence down the middle of our half of the arena. Yeah, I couldn’t get it AT all… We got hopelessly muddled and I know it was my fault! Even with MG helpfully directing the rein on one side, I still couldn’t get it, so we gave up on that and just worked along the wall.

All too soon the lesson was over, but I was giddy with excitement. I hadn’t stopped grinning like a fool the whole lesson, and I kept giggling, because riding Copper through out this lesson was like riding on a champagne bubble - and just as intoxicating!

He. Felt. Brilliant.

It was the very best I have ever gotten from him, or from any other horse I’ve ever sat on for that matter….

Yes, it was a month ago, but I still remember that pure joy that came from finally understanding how to achieve what I have been chasing these last few years - if not, my entire riding career.

I can NOT wait to do it again….

Even if I did just walk for an hour!

See ya,


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