The Start of Training...
Rosie did not trot up in hand so that was the first thing she had to learn. We all made sure she walked on going to and coming back from the field, no lagging behind, no looking at everything (which Rosie loves to do) plus teaching her to lunge properly. Getting her to stretch on the lunge off a simple head collar to help build up her back muscles took far longer than normal but Simon stuck to his guns, never changing the game plan, never being aggressive but just waiting for her to get the plot during which she stood vertical, ran backwards and changed the rein. He said once she learns this properly it will be ingrained and she will never forget it. He was of course absolutely right and to this day I can lunge her anywhere in any situation and she will move forwards whilst stretching her whole top line. Therefore I did not sit on Rosie for the first time in the school until August 16th and soon realised that I had to work not only on her but an awful lot on myself. She would rush, had absolutely no concentration and I made a big mistake in not controlling the speed right away despite being told!!! In fairness to me because she had a hard mouth I treated it with kid gloves, thinking that by never touching it she would become more confident with the bit. I hoped that the exercises I was doing would encourage her to seek the contact but getting her to do the exercises was proving more and more difficult. Rosie’s field was right opposite the school so she could see her field companions which always distracted her, particularly when she came into season, if she wanted to turn right she just did, if she wanted to take me to the other end of the school she did! In addition the work was being continuously interrupted either by the weather or me being incapacitated with various virus infections plus she pulled a shoe in the field and was off work with puss in the foot. We have all been there!
Rosie la la land:
Once she was ok Simon long reined her, she was a star and took to it very well but she did on many occasions test the waters just as she did on the lunge and under saddle. She would go into what we called Rosie la la land, away with the fairies but not malicious in any way. She is a horse that makes you question everything, I soon learned she has an iron will as well as an iron mouth and that I as a rider had to be stronger mentally. Whilst whoever backed her did not make her mouth properly, the one thing they had done was to make sure she was well mannered. You can lead her to the field with everything galloping around you and she does not get in your space, stands quietly whilst you take the head collar off even if it is blowing a gale. She is fantastic with the farrier and any kind of machinery, unafraid of dogs, chickens, bikes etc. She loves treats but takes them so gently; never mugging you, all of these qualities far outweighed the down side. I wanted the journey and I was getting it! I had not experienced difficulty with contact before in all the other horses I had owned but that was a very long time ago and believe me your body and co-ordination after being out of it for so long goes to pot so it is only natural to think you are at fault. It was a challenge and I was up for it because by now I was totally and utterly in love with her. She is a sweet, kind soul but is also like the little girl with beautiful curly locks that has that engaging smile that always gets her own way but behind the scenes drives her mum potty with won’t, can’t and tantrums!
Winter arrived with vengeance:
If it was not frost rendering the school unusable it was the snow and plenty of it! Everyone became fed up with the biting cold, getting horses to the fields over icy tarmac so that they at least got out of their boxes. Summer seemed a million years ahead, being warm was a forgotten feeling! Therefore I could not ride for quite some time so we decided to move her to Bury Farm where we had kept our previous horse. The only reason we did not take her there straight away was because the other place had such good grazing which we felt at that stage in her life she needed. Also I was not sure whether a busy competition venue would blow her mind, it was a risk we had to take and one I have never regretted. We opted for 5 day part so I still got to look after her at the weekends. It was tough initially relinquishing control of my little girl but I knew the girls would be great handling her and that she would be good for them. Also when you have four indoor schools and two outdoor schools and off road hacking well ..............
Loving the action:
From day one Rosie was fascinated with all the action, loved watching the show jumpers, ponies, all of it, she was just simply amazing. Due to the weather, turn-out was restricted but she really did not seem to mind at all, if anything she was more relaxed. She loved the fact that she was surrounded by horses in the indoor barn; it suited her down to the ground. Our first weeks in the indoor school went extremely well as she listened to everything I asked her to do, I could not believe it and thought we’ve cracked it! That was about to change. The good news at this point was that once she could go out in the field (my heart was in my mouth) all the mares got on really well. She had two youngsters to play with and an older mare who kept the peace, I was so relieved!!!
Regular work under saddle begins:
By now Rosie was really filling into her frame, she no longer looked the weak little girl I first saw, her coat was gleaming, she looked happy and content and far more self assured. She had also turned into a Ferrari, to coin a Carl Hester phrase ‘touch and go’. Whilst this is a nice feeling I could once more not slow her down, which meant I could not stretch her down, bend her or do anything other than be a passenger on a racing giraffe that also had the ability to spook with no warning. I sat a fair few of those! I would try to halt and flex her but she remained totally rigid with her ears going back and forth wanting to look at everything else that was going on elsewhere. Rosie was once more back in Rosie la la land and having a thoroughly enjoyable time at my expense.
Self doubt crept in, that awful feeling when you think I can’t do this; maybe I have been out of it too long. Then the other side would say ‘but you have had her to the contact, you have had her soft and swinging over her back’ albeit intermittently, it is just a blip you will get it back, come on stop being so down on yourself. I would go back to see her late afternoon to find her flat out asleep without a care in the world and definitely not putting herself through the grief and self doubt I was but of course we all know horses don’t do that. When I called her name she would raise her head whicker at me whilst gradually easing herself up on her feet and yawning as if to say well where are my carrots? I would groom her, scratch her and think a bit like in ‘Gone with the Wind’ – ‘tomorrow is another day’. I can honestly say it did not dawn on me to think she might be having me on as I have always been one of those riders that think it must be my fault. She would fool me by giving me a taste of the apple when she felt like it and then take it away when she felt like it. I thought for goodness sake I am only asking for a trot to walk or even a walk to halt in a soft round outline, it is not rocket science! I needed Simon! Yes I definitely needed Mr Fix It who had continuously been saying the same thing but for some reason it just had not gone in my brain. He told me she is a very intelligent, sensitive little mare who has a strong will but had also been started incorrectly and that was part of the problem but nevertheless I had to gain her respect. I had to keep repeating and repeating the question until I get an answer whilst at the same time not getting frustrated with either her or myself as she would pick up on it. “Remember”, he would say “how long it took me to get her stretching on the lunge, and remaining on the circle path and look at her now. It is no different under saddle once you get it just as it was on the lunge, she won’t forget it.” Plus I was reminded over and over that at the end of the day she is only rising 5 but has the education of a rising 4 year old due to all the unavoidable interruptions in her work.
I started to change my normal routine so I could fit in ridden sessions over a few days when Simon could be there so we could get some consistency. We worked on halt, walk a few strides, halt, which sounds incredibly basic but was actually very difficult on her. I had to put my mind in neutral state and think nice relaxing thoughts as there were times she felt on such a buzz I did not know where it would go. One time a rug fell off the side and I was 0-60 in a second. I remember thinking if it had been a sunny day I would have had flies stuck to my teeth! I remained on a circle in the trot to try to speed control whilst giving the rein at every opportunity so she could reach for the contact. Sometimes she did and it was lovely and then in the blink of an eye she would rush again, try to spook, but I kept asking and then when she gave I remained completely still. It was tricky as she would also spiral in or swing out on either rein. If she was on a calmer day she would not spook but she would just set her jaw and swing about like a drunken sailor. These are the times when it would have been so easy to resort to draw reins, different bits etc but that would not have got to the cause which was in her mind. Her body could now cope admirably well, she was much fitter and stronger but I still had no real submission. Simon decided to use flexions from the ground with me on board and that was the turning point! I knew about the nuchal ligament flip but had never actually physically seen it happen. Once you see it you won’t forget it, this is a sign that the horse has released in the jaw and I have to say that after that when I went into trot it felt amazing. I could trot walk, change the rein, halt, no spiralling in, no spooking, her breathing was regular and she had a good rhythm, I was ecstatic! She felt wonderful soft in the back and like butter in the hand, the result being the trot stride was looser and longer. I thought this was so interesting that I asked Simon to do it whilst I videoed it from on board which you can see at: The Nuchal Ligament Flip
We were now on the first rung of that very high ladder, there is light at the end of the tunnel but Rosie being Rosie will still test the waters it is going to be a long old haul, however I know she can do it. I will work my butt off on my riding and her as this little mare is well worth it, she really is very special to me. I want her to grow up to be a happy confident, supple horse that enjoys our partnership, one that feels a delight to ride no matter how long it takes. I remember when we first arrived at Bury Farm there was one day when I could not go as I was reporting, (since owning her I had never missed a day with her before). The following day her greeting said it all. She pulled me towards her whickered softly over and over again I was astounded; it was a wonderful feeling and very humbling. When I turned her out that day she did not leave my side for a while even though her friends were out there calling to her.
I said earlier that when I first got her that was the start of our journey but to be honest I feel it has just started now from a training sense. Whilst I write this she is out in the field with her pals enjoying the sunshine and just being RosieB. Below is the 'before and after' so far - the photo on the left is the purchase photo, the one on the right is one taken this week:
Until next time, Gill and RosieB...