Been busy having fun…

Been busy having fun, all the best intentions to post but just been too busy doing the do to put fingers to keyboard; apologies all.

We have been busy having fun with the Classical Riding clinic crowd. A couple of true examples of how horses introduce us to new and precious friends. I was eventing at Eland Lodge and asked on Facebook if anyone was around to video a test. Cora, one of the lovely ladies who has trained with Patrice for many years, came not just to video, but helped warm me up for dressage, whilst deftly controlling her toddling twins, did poles for the SJ warm up, kicked my butt when required and even helped wash Caltastic off after XC. Above and beyond. Cora is also a dressage judge so great to get some insight into how to gain marks and still ride honestly according to our Classical principles and training. I fed her and the kids cold pizza and juice at the event, but will get the opportunity to feed her nice gin when she stays over at this month’s clinic as a proper thank you.

Then the Equestrian Journey Clinic- Cheshire went International!! Kim, one of Patrice’s pupils from Colorado, came over to the UK on an Equestrian Journey road trip. She stayed with us, was lent various horses to have lessons on, videoed every minute, took loads of notes and was a great and enthusiastic contributor to the group learning experience. She’s a trainer and rider so was keen to maximise her learning in this intense holiday. And her coming over here just showed us that one can never travel too far for good teaching. The Yanks have really been missing Patrice and are wildly jealous of how fortunate we are to get her invaluable input every month. Kim had a great lunge lesson on Cal and really showed me how the skating pelvis feeling can extend the walk, and she showed me how fabulous his walk can be…and it’s not quicker, it’s muuuuch looooonger.

I’ve been busy having fun, but as well as doing our flatwork homework, ready for our Charles de Kunffy lessons in September.
(it’s OK, I’ve told Cal and he’s really excited too), we have also managed to squeeze in a little bit of eventing! Interestingly, this year I have been (mostly) detached from our results. I have used the competitions to test whether the training is working, and looking for improvements in way of going, strength and consistency. I am no longer afraid of making mistakes, because mistakes are where we learn, and we have to stretch our comfort zone for progress to occur. I have been mostly doing unaffiliated, because it’s cheaper, and there are now so many unaffiliated event running over BE courses that the argument for paying extra for the quality of course no longer applies.

So we did the Riding Club Horse Trials 80 Qualifier with East Clwyd Riding Club. Cal did a nice test and a double clear, with a couple of time faults. The team came second, and we qualified for the championships!!!

Cal and I then did the unaffiliated 90 at Eland Lodge, with Cora’s help- thanks again. He did a nice test, we had 2 stops show jumping, (jockey oxer wobbles) but he stormed the cross country, again with a few time faults.
We did the 80 at the Cheshire Shield st Somerford, which is always a good track, and got a lovely double clear.

And then we went to the NAF BRC National Horse Trials Championships. As always, after a couple of tricky years with the horse’s health, the main achievement is actually getting there, having qualified, arriving there with a fit horse, ready to go, is something I am now grateful for every day. I do love those events where you get a gorgeous frilly just for arriving safely!! We had a great time, arriving the day before, team building over a lovely pub dinner which even involved wine! The show jumping and the cross country were cleverly set to be challenging at the level. Only 10 teams posted a finishing score, and our team came 8th.

Cal chose the best day to put all the training together, we scored a season best dressage and a double clear, this time with naughty time penalties. I can’t decide which was the best moment. The dressage test felt lovely and fluid and he felt rideable and aidable at every moment. The show jumping just felt fab and the cross country was a huge buzz.

A great result for a day which I wasn’t expecting to happen- in my head July and August were going to be the youngster’s busy time because Cal would surely be struggling with his breathing. Oh well….he’s not too bothered.

So now we have a month and counting before I present my gorgeous ‘peasant pony’ to Charles at the incredibly posh Dovecote stables. He will be the cheapest horse there, by a full order of magnitude, but his training is coming on in leaps and bounds and I (and Patrice) feel confident that his work is good enough to shine through. As long as I don’t get too starstruck or succumb to lesson brain.

We have one more Patrice clinic before then- trot half pass and canter to walk transition to nail by then so everything is set up for the next steps.

And gorgeous Gary has made the most amazing pull out bed for Travis the Truck now so we can sleep in luxury while we are down at Dovecote Stables. I can’t wait to go back to the pub next door- lunch there in March was the most lush food I have had this year.

So there you have it- been busy having fun.

Horses can event barefoot, they can event from a field; naked and hairy and scruffy most of the time, they will stay happy and healthy and give you their best work when you ask for it.

I’m not sure why Cal hasn’t had breathing problems this year- we have fed organic haylage, golden paste pellets, spirulina, jiagolaoaun, and Succeed (for his hindgut) all season. He has had the odd cough, and some clear snotty discharge, but never felt breathless. The rapeseed is planted further away this year; maybe we have just been lucky and it’s far enough away for the horses not to suffer.

I won’t know until next year.

But for now we will keep busy having fun while it lasts.





If you ain’t having fun

If you ain’t having fun, you ain’t having nothin’.

Excuse the vernacular, I think I’ve been hanging out with the Bermuda Babe for too long.

If you ain’t having fun, why the hell not?

It’s summer, the days are long, the ground is drying out, or setting solid depending on where you live, the horses are in their summer coats, the riding diary is full and everyone has come out of hibernation.

If you ain’t having fun, are you having troubles?


Horses can be emotionally and psychologically draining as well as financially. Humans tend to be goal and task orientated, horses however live in the present moment  and have no idea what it’s all about. They will never get the point. They don’t know they are meant to be eventing in summer and doing dressage and show jumping prep in the winter. They just know they have a body that somedays feels good and somedays feels bad. Our job as the rider is to repay them, for the gift of being allowed to share that body’s athleticism, by daily attention to good work that will improve and enhance that body’s capability, not break it down.

If you ain’t having fun, maybe you are taking it all a tad too seriously?

While I have been suffering from frustrated competitive ambition for the last two years due to Cal’s various health issues, I have had the luxury of examining exactly what I enjoy about owning horses. Now obviously the answers are deeply personal to me but the exercise has clarified a lot of “stuff”.

For example- I love jumping. But if, as seemed likely at one point, the horse I have doesn’t love jumping, would I pass on that horse? Or would I find a way to still enjoy owning that horse? I decided I would find a way to still love owning that horse, and would do my best to do right by him. The resulting freedom that decision brought opened up a whole new phase of education, about husbandry, and horse health, and managing my expectations, and working to the horse’s timetable, not my own. I concentrated on getting him as healthy as I could, and taking each day as it came, and doing the basic foundation work, from Classical training principles. And guess what? Cal has come back, for now, stronger, and better, and fitter, and is jumping brilliantly. My riding has improved no end, I have learned to listen to his body and mind, and analyse the feedback I am receiving, and work with what I have today, and progress has been rapid and rewarding.

Image 2

What makes competing fun? For me, it gives me a framework to base my horsey homework around, but I also love seeing my mates, having a beer, and joining in the group activity.

This year I have made it a point to say yes to every horse related learning opportunity that also involved fun.

We went to watch the great Charles de Kunffy teach,..for 4 days. I filled a notebook with notes but the immediate takeaway message was the daily vocabulary of training- bend, straight, lengthen, shorten, sideways, transitions and patterns. There are hundreds more gems in those notes alone, filtering through gradually into our work. Does that sound too serious? What could be more fun than turning your average “peasant pony” into a correct and beautiful riding horse.

I leapt (ha ha ha) at the opportunity to have a jumping lesson with Yogi. Yes it was expensive, but the value obtained was huge. I treated it as a group learning experience, kept asking myself what I was seeing, what I liked, what that horse needed, and tested myself against what he said to see if I was right. The take home from that clinic was discipline, every step, every line, every jump, has to have a plan.

And we got to share a day of fun and frolics with Wocket Woy and the Pwoducer. Cal was brilliant, as were good old Leo and the ex police pony. We laughed and giggled and got abused, and jumped some fences, and even ate some cake.

You can watch the video of the day here

If you ain’t having fun, just eat the cake. Always. Life is too short not to eat cake 😉

I went to see Yogi Breisner doing a demo about schooling racehorses over fences. As we now have an ex-racehorse this seemed useful. It was a great demo, and reminded me that there is always a degree of forward needed to jump a fence. Obvious…but when we get obsessed with control and perfection and pretty, forward is easy to forget.


Although ex-racehorses can do pretty too.

Everyone’s definition of fun will be different. I have learned to love the journey. And enjoy the training, and the use of the patterns and exercises to create a horse more capable and more beautiful than the one I started with. There will be more setbacks, as sure as horses are horses, but I am now in a much better place to maximise the good times and be phlegmatic about the bad days, because I know that although progress in gradual, change is immediate. I don’t need to practise doing something badly, I now have enough kit in my toolbox to think around a problem and find an exercise to change the dilemma. I have great eyes on the ground, fabulous friends, a helpful and truthful husband, and lovely horses. And I know that horses work better when they are laughing too, and dancing with us.


Or not 🙂


 The best best thing about competing 

The best best thing about competing is when the preparation and the hard work pays off and your horse is simply awesome. The best best thing about competing is celebrating a good day with well earned bubbles. 

Friday at Kelsall Hill felt like it was meant to be a good day for us. The weather was perfect for Cal, cold and slightly overcast with no chance of pollen. The ground was also perfect, firm with just a bit of cut and good thick grass cover. 

The best best thing about competing is being part of a big party. As Kelsall is our local event it was also lovely to see people and catch up on gossip after winter. The team at Kelsall Hill had worked their usual magic and the courses all looked immaculate, although the numbers on the show jumping were almost completely hidden behind the beautiful flowers. Luckily I had walked the course the night before and made sure I had checked every number up close. Some competitors hadn’t been so thorough and were caught out by the START sign leaning on fence 9, jumping that backwards for instant disqualification. How cross would you be?

Dressage was OK. Cal was very pleased to be at a party and was very on his toes. An extra canter transition and a tense walk meant I wasn’t expecting much enthusiasm from the judge. 

All I was worried about was the show jumping anyway! 

The best best thing about competing at BE80(T)  is that coaches are there to help with the warm up. I was glad to see Linda de Matteo was the show jumping coach- I know, like and trust her from previous clinics. She warmed us up very positively and also stopped me from doing too much jumping before we went in.

Cal was a little superstar and jumped a beautiful clear round. After all the angst and doubt and fear, once we cleared the first fence it felt easy. As it should- this is a horse I was starting to do 100 on before he got ill.

Once we had got the dreaded show jumping out of the way I knew cross country would be fine. I decided not to wear a stop watch; we would go at an appropriate speed for him and not worry about the time. The exit from the water wasn’t flagged so I chose the quickest way out to the right so we could trot through sedately and breathe. We galloped the rest in his rhythm, I did not really need to do much kicking, but did do a bit of setting him up for the bigger fences 

And he cruised around beautifully, very close to the optimum time. 

Bear in mind that last year we either had numerous stops or were eliminated at every event. I even got David to ride him at one event to see if he could do better, to see if the problems were all down to my muppetry. 

So what has changed?

When we moved to Delamere Forest, Cal’s breathing was really bad the first summer. He was diagnosed with Pasture Associated COPD and had to have daily inhalers through a babyhaler. 

Last year he had steroid inhalers every day, which seemed to keep the airway inflammation under control but, in retrospect, the steroids completely wrecked his feet. I’ve shown the X-rays in a previous post   

So I have built a better horse from the inside out. I have focussed on the flat work over winter, finally concentrating “enough” on my homework from Patrice Edwards to have transformed my position and learned to use the exercises to train for strength and athleticism. Cal’s trot now has cadence and suspension, and his canter has lift. 

This year he is on Succeed for gut health, Golden Paste Pellets for minimising inflammation, magnesium, salt and a very tight barefoot friendly diet. Spring hasn’t really sprung yet, but so far he looks good, and if there comes a summer day when he can’t breathe, I just won’t ride that day. Feet take months to grow, breathing problems can be variable. 

The best best thing from the last few months, for me, has been having my horse back. When he wasn’t jumping well last year, I lost loads of confidence. He never really looked ill. His feet were never really that sore. I thought I couldn’t ride, that I was causing the stops. Friends came up with various theories- I was catching his mouth, I was blocking his back by pushing with my seat instead of kicking, the horse has lost interest/ confidence/ condition… it is really hard to keep riding positively into a fence, kicking like mad, to then grind to an ignominious halt.

The best best thing about competing again was being reminded that when isn’t right, it just isn’t right. When your good horse stops performing, there’s something wrong. The trouble is that the decline can be so insidious. Horses are hard wired to hide pain or weakness- the easy target is the one that gets eaten by the big cat. So we need to be carefully tuned in to hear their feedback. 

It wasn’t all feet last year. He is still ouchy on hardcore and stony tracks, although he just slows down and he does keep his ears forward when on tough terrain. 

Look at his beautiful hooves- on a good surface he can fly.

That’s my favourite picture from the weekend- there was no flying last year. 

The best best thing about competing is that occasionally we get frillies. 

The best thing about competing

The best thing about competing is that entering competitions makes me focus on my training goals. The best thing about competing is that entering competitions gives me a concrete timetable to direct my work towards, and when eventing is your main discipline, that timetable has to include basic fitness, fast work, jumping practise and cross-country schooling

as well as flatwork. We have had a great winter mostly working on our flatwork, as always with the help of the amazing Patrice Edwards, and Cal has been feeling stronger and better than ever, with a good canter (finally) that feels effortless and adjustable. So the best thing about competing is that it forces me to test the training.


The best thing about competing, and training for competing, is that we get to catch up with old friends. Winter can be dark and dreary, especially with working full-time and having horses living out; some days it just seems too much effort to ride, let alone enter anything. This winter my surrogate pony club mum, the lovely Judith, has organised regular riding club jumping clinics with Richard Carruthers. These have been great fun, watching combinations develop, and the camaraderie, thrills and spills and banter have been inspirational. A bit of continuity has also allowed Richard to be inventive: in this lesson he put Cal in a hackamore to see if less inadvertent clutching rein action might improve his way of going. We still had a couple of stops but it did make me realise where I might possibly have been tightening my hand when thinking “oh heck”. My current tasks is to retrain myself to kick every time I think “oh heck”!! The hackamore won’t stay in for ever, but it has been a useful exercise, and doesn’t allow me to micro manage at all, so all I can do is keep asking for forward, which is very much what Cal needs.

The scariest number I ever heard is 4000: this is the number of weeks in an average 80 year lifespan. 80 years sounds like a very long time, 4000 weeks by contrast sounds surprisingly short. It’s so easy to let a week drift by, or a month, when one isn’t focused. Horses set their own timetable, for sure, but a sense of time passing is handy for those of us with busy lives and other distractions, like a full time job and a home business on the side.

Rocky set his own timetable this month; no sooner had I ordered his new saddle then he developed an abscess and was waving his front foot around like a dying swan. He came down to the house for a few days for poulticing, which was quite testing. Note to self, must handle him in more inventive ways, rather than just doing basics, as nappies went flying across the yard and he did pirouettes and levade whilst the tape was going round his foot. After 8 days there was no real improvement so we took him to Brownmoss for x-rays. The x-rays showed a tiny abscess, quite deep in the foot, so no point digging and no point poulticing. We chucked him out in the field again for it to work its own way out. This took another week; he got really good at chasing the dogs on 3 legs and doing perfect pirouettes to turn around. It was all good hind end strengthening. He finally looked sound the evening before we went away for Easter weekend, so will get ridden out tomorrow.

Rocky handing in his note excusing him from games

The best thing about competing is that it makes me clean my tack properly! I’m quite good at looking after my tack for durability and checking stitching for safety, as most of it is second-hand, but it rarely gets a full buff and polish unless we are going out somewhere. Rocky chewed Cal’s leather reins, so I have the choice of looking scruffy in lightly chewed leather tomorrow or doing dressage with rubber reins that don’t give the same nice elastic feel…we’ll see.

The best thing about competing is that it forces me to tackle Cal’s mane so that it can be plaited; as a friend once said, he has two good manes, one on each side, that take quite a lot of taming. He also hates having his mane pulled, so we have to do a few handfuls at a time, or do it really quickly before he gets too cross.

Cal showing off his two manes

After photos tomorrow LOL.

The best thing about competing is the anticipation. To keep ourselves moving forwards, we are told to do something every day that scares us. You can’t grow in your comfort zone, only in your stretch zone. Well, having not competed properly i.e. jumping, since last summer (I don’t count dressage as competing because I am now so detached from the outcome), I am indeed feeling stretched! Here’s to growing!

The dulcet tones belong to Richard Carruthers, videos courtesy of Brent Sansom, many thanks Brent.

And finally, my stepson Barney stomped way out of his comfort zone this weekend, walking 100 miles in less than 48 hours, raising over 4K so far for Cancer Research UK and St Wilfred’s Hospice, in memory of Pam, his dear and wise friend. I am uber proud, and would ask you to consider donating to the 2 very worthy causes.


Spring is in the Air

Spring is in the air…,and that means more work for everyone. 

Rocky is hacking out again under saddle and feeling very important. He has been a bit cold backed and occasionally bucks under saddle so I took the plunge and ordered our first new saddle since 2010! In 2010 I discovered WOW saddles, found a fabulous local fitter and got introduced to the joys of buying WOW parts on EBay. The WOW is completely modular and completely adaptable; with the great fitter, we have managed to get away with tweaking second hand WOWs ever since. So the new saddle concept was a shock. I’ve ordered a Pro Jump from AVA saddles for the Rockstar- I’ll let you know how that goes. However, Claire’s main comment was how wide he is when he works, so I swapped the WOW head plate up 2 sizes to a 5 and we have had no more bucking and a much greater desire to go forwards. 
At least he will have his own jumping saddle!!

Rocky on a solo hack around the lake, just after a little canter 😍😍

Boys on the pea gravel square with their giant hay feeders. 

Spring is in the air, which means the grass is growing. Spring is in the air which means it’s time to put up the track- we got it all sorted last weekend. Gary worked like a hero. 

Spring is in the air. March seems to be Cal’s month. He’s fit and keen and loving life. Having a tricky barefooter with breathing problems teaches you to enjoy the good times and not worry about the rest. I hope this is his year, but we have had plenty of fun while he’s feeling good. 

Spring is in the air- I hope you are feeling it too. 

Thursday was

Thursday was my blogiversary 😃

I hope you’re enjoying sharing our journey.

Thursday was also Storm Doris day.

Thursday was also horse dentistry day! We had 3 booked in with the lovely Craig Griffiths at our local vets. 

Thursday was pretty windy! We caught Beat and got him down for his session.

Craig asked me to make him look heroic and dashing- hope I’ve managed!!

Craig is an Equine Dental Technician. He does monthly clinics at the vets. Doing the horses at the vets gives us the option of sedation to ensure a pleasant and safe experience all round whilst allowing us to use a tooth expert. Whilst there are great vets with a special interest in dentistry, I generally prefer to use an EDT where possible. I don’t go to the GP for work on my teeth, why should the horses be any different? 

We decided to book the other 2 in gorbext month- Doris was quite angry.

Friday was better weather. We took the opportunity to have some fun. 

Rocky and Gary with the world at their feet. 

And Friday was also the day our second dog arrived…

This is the first lie down – 20 hours later!!!

Lizzie doing dog whispering magic. 

Happy Blogiversay Nelipotters 🍾🍾🍾

Do combination wormers cause abscesses?

Do combination wormers cause abscesses? I described in a previous blog

how we operate a targeted equine worming programme based on Faecal Egg Counts and saliva tests for Tapeworm.

The reasons for this, briefly, are

1) the national problem of increasing resistance to anti-helminthic chemicals with no new drugs in the pipeline

2) a general desire to limit the herd’s exposure to synthetic and possible toxic chemicals

3) a sneaking suspicion that worming can cause systemic upset in sensitive horses

Do combination wormers cause abscesses?

Now I’m not advocating letting the worms flourish. I completely understand how dangerous worm infestation can be for our fragile equines. I have close friends who have lost horses to worm disease. I also have friends whose horse had a terrible reaction to a commonly used wormer. So I’m just trying to minimise the amount of worming doses I have to use for my horses, to be a good citizen and decrease the spread of resistance for all of our sakes and to reduce the chance of bad reactions in my own precious herd.

Do combination wormers cause abscesses?

So after testing for redworm and tapeworm in October, I had 4 horses needing 3 different treatments. I went to the farm shop and bought the wormers and labelled them carefully with each horse’s name so I wouldn’t get too confused. The 4 horses came down to the house for hoof trimming and I took the chance to do a worming round. And got confused.

The short non profane version is that Cal, the most systemically sensitive horse, needed worming for tapeworm and didn’t get the Equitape he was meant to. After I’d jumped around swearing a bit I thought never mind, he’s only mildly positive for Tapeworm, I’ll do a combined dose in winter and cover tapes and encysted. It’ll be OK.

Do combination wormers cause abscesses?

So on the 3rd Jan I wormed them all, 3 with Equest for encysted redworm and Cal with Pramox to cover both encysted redworm and tapeworm. 8 days later he was really quite lame.

Do combination wormers cause abscesses?

Both front feet had palpable digital pulses and both front hooves were warm to touch. The other three horses were all fine. We had had a touch of frost and one of the bales of haylage smelt a bit ripe so I didn’t immediately connect the situation to the wormer…after all it was a good few days later. I cursed the frosty grass, cut back on Cal’s bucket feed and kept him turned out for movement. A couple of days later I brought him down to the house to have a good look at the still sore feet- the pulses were less bounding, there were no obvious boggy bits or sore spots in the sole and no signs of an abscess ready to burst so I painted his soles with frog oil and back down to the field he went.

The sore feet and the palpable pulses lasted about 10days in total. The left forefoot did smell of pus for a couple of days, although I could never find a convincing egress wound. The frog was a bit spongey but he didn’t mind me prodding it and there was no visible punctum. The right forefoot didn’t smell of pus or thrush but was on off sore for that time and had a variable pulse.

After about ten days I was doing night time bucket feeds and noticed he was moving better (charging around the field with his tail flagged out). Saturday came and I marched him down to the house, picked out his feet without any problem, tacked him up, hacked around the corner on the stony tracks and worked him in the neighbour’s arena. He felt amazing, strong and willing and almost better for a couple of weeks off.

I checked his feet again and there was a small divot in the sole of the left forefoot, as if a small solar abscess had burst or a bit of sole exfoliated, but there was no other sign of what might have caused the lameness.

It was a few days later when I remembered we did have a similar episode two years ago. The last time he abscessed was when were still at livery. That year at the livery yard was a foot- related nightmare. Cal had a few months of constant abscesses and went around his hooves twice; I seem to remember 7 consecutive abscesses. Even Paddy the invincible barefooter had an abscess whilst there. The forage analysis showed their hay to be very high in iron. Because we had so much trouble with abscesses at the livery yard, the various episodes all merged into one. The information did percolate through to my brain though that the last time Cal had a combination wormer was that last winter in livery.

Since moving the horses to our own land we had not had any trouble with abscesses in nearly 2 years…until now.

So I did some Googling: Do combination wormers cause abscesses?

There is plenty of anecdotal evidence on the internet about horses becoming footsore after combination wormers. It seems to be more of a problem in horses with Cushing’s disease or hind gut problems.

There are numerous stories of colic too, but the toxicity there seems to be associated with high worm populations being exterminated quickly and releasing endotoxins into the gut as they die. Cal’s tapeworm test was weakly positive and his redworm count negative in October so I don’t believe the worm burden was the problem in our case. He has tested negative for Cushing’s to date. However he always looks and feels better when he is on regular treatment for hindgut issues.

Do combination wormers cause abscesses?

Other possible causes of this footsore episode include ripe fermented haylage and frosty grass. We have had both these situations occur again since Cal became sound again and he hasn’t missed a step.

Will I give him a combination wormer again? I have to say that I will do my best not to. If he needs covering for both tapeworm and encysted redworm in the future I will dose separately a couple of weeks apart.

I have never tried non-chemical or natural wormers. I’m too much of a doctor there- I think that if worms are detected they need eradicating and then the horse needs re-testing to check eradication has occurred. If there are no worms on testing then the horses shouldn’t need anything other than a balanced species -specific diet.

I know people report egg count success with regular use of herbal wormers but I do cynically  wonder if their horses are all non shredders? Paddy has only tested weakly positive for redworm twice in the last 5 years. 

I am really looking forward to the promised ELISA test for encysted redworm becoming commercially available.

Once we have reliable affordable tests for common equine parasites, there will be some calendar years for my boys where no chemical worming is necessary. It isn’t cheaper than worming blindly every few months, but my recent experience suggests it may well be safer for horses to test before dosing unnecessarily, both in the short and the long term.

Soil analysis digging done today -year 2- I’ll keep you posted. 

Every moment matters

Every moment matters; with your horse, every moment is training, something.

Every moment matters was loosely the subject of a brisk discussion in the pub last night. I didn’t manage to explain myself very successfully in the pub (red wine effects possibly) so I thought I’d have another go at clarifying my thoughts.

Every moment matters: The quote that started the discussion:

“There is no neutrality in riding: you are either actively improving your horse or actively breaking him down”

Charles de Kunffy, Ethics and Passion of Dressage

It is our responsibility as riders is to make sure the horse is physically able to carry us comfortably at no long term detriment to his body. 

“The first basic commitment for riders, borne of our love and respect for the horse, is to rebalance the horse under the added weight of the rider and his equipment. This is a never ending process that lies at the heart of the young horse’s training….However the perfecting of the composite balance of horse and rider is a never-ending task.”

Charles De Kunffy -The Ethics and Passion Of Dressage 

Horses in the wild have a natural balance that equips them perfectly for a life spent mostly grazing. The majority of their weight is on their forelegs, as they spend 60% of their life with their head down inspecting blades of grass. Their long spine hangs between hips and withers supported only by long back muscles. The hind legs act to push or thrust the horse along but do not naturally fold and create lift. 

Horses are also naturally crooked, just like us, the majority are right handed or right convex banana shapes. Anyone who rides knows that one circle tends to get larger, the other smaller, that turning in one direction can feel like falling and the  other like turning a ship around. In the wild, this doesn’t really matter, although the horse on the outside of the herd is the one that gets eaten so the very unbalanced tend to be the most neurotic. Once ridden regularly however, if the one sidedness is not corrected, in a right convex horse the left forelimb and the right hind are most prone to injury as they do the majority of the weight bearing work. 

Horses are also somatic beings- their body state determines their mood and their overall health. An unbalanced horse is an anxious horse, an anxious horse is prone to ulcers and injury. 

Every moment matters when we choose to sit on a horse. We have to improve on their natural balance, otherwise the additional load of a rider and the increased work required when being ridden will place undue stress on the fragile forelegs. For this  reason we work to transfer the balance gradually back so the hindlegs take more load. To achieve this the back needs to learn to lift the rider and also to connect the flow of energy from hind to fore. This takes training.

The premise of classical training for me is that the training is absolutely correct in achieving improved biomechanical function and that improved function then leads to a happier calmer horse. 

What became apparent in the pub is that people make assumptions based on language.



“Classical” –  it occurred to me in hindsight that to some people Classical means “Haute Ecole” or Airs or Piaffe and Passage. When I say Classical I mean training,  right from the beginning with Classical principles. I do agree that not every horse needs to be trained to Haute Ecole to make a good riding horse but every horse does deserve to be trained correctly from day one and that correct training will lay a foundation that enables the horse to do any job safely and to the best of its’ ability.

“Ride your horse forward and straight” Gustav Stenbrecht

Such a simple instruction- but getting there requires us to restore the horse to his natural balance under the weight of  the rider, and improve his crooked tendencies, so we can then teach him to lift his back to carry the rider on a well supported spine in order that riding does not harm him. For me that is where Classical riding starts. 

And where many horses are failed by their riders who take shortcuts or simply do not understand basic training principles.

“Training”- one person in the discussion doesn’t like the word training, because it sounds too regimented. 

Again, a language dilemma. I don’t mean schooling or drilling, training does not have to take place in an arena. In fact,training is occurring every minute that you spend with your horse. Every moment matters because your horse is watching you, learning what responses you expect, and repeating behaviours that seem to meet with praise. With this truth comes another; if your horse always does something “annoying” like walking away from the mounting block, that is what you have taught him, albeit inadvertently. Better then to be mindful every minute and ensure that you are training desired actions. Which is why every moment matters.

“The horse knows no right from wrong and learns everything indiscriminately. Therefore, in schooling him there is no neutrality”

CDK again-it’s so important he said it twice!

For in hand and ridden work, we have 3 sets of kit in our training toolbox, our seat and aids, the exercises, and the arena patterns. Two of these can be used hacking out, but the geometry of the arena contains magic and to never make the effort to school in the defined marked out arena and use the patterns to work their magic for you is to limit yourself to 2/3 of your training possibilities. 

And there is no excuse for drilling. By combining the patterns and exercises there are literally thousands of things we can do in an arena. I can think of about 50 variations of a 20m circle without pausing for breath, inside bend, outside bend, shoulder in, straight, haunches in, changes of pace, changes of topline, innies and outies etc etc.

I don’t school often enough. We are fortunate to live in the middle of some of the best off road hacking in the U.K. and we don’t have an arena. However I do my best to ride mindfully every minute- if I am always training, at least I am doing it deliberately, although often not perfectly. If I receive an unexpected result, I don’t blame the horse, I analyse my seat and aids and check where the confusion might have arisen.

“..all [training exercises] follow one another in such a way that the preceding exercise always constitutes a secure basis for the next one. Violations of this rule will always exert payment later on; not only by a triple loss of time but very frequently by resistances, which for a long time if not forever interfere with the relationship between horse and rider.”

Steinbrecht again.

Are my horses robots? No way!!! The other Classical principle is that the aids and exercises are used in a way to set the horse up for success, so that he offers the desired response and can be rewarded. The horse is never punished- what you receive is what you asked for. That’s a hard one to get used to.

A completely correct and balanced seat is essential to damp down white noise and allow clear aiding- this is always a work in progress but my photos do show definite improvement over the last few years. 

“The horse knows how to be a horse…we have to learn to be a rider.”

CDK again- my favourite.

A Classically trained horse is enabled and empowered to use his body efficiently, willingly, correctly with two equal hind legs and therfore no blockages to the transfer of power from tail to poll. So we ride at full revs, the whole horse, but with absolute calm.

So there we have it. A quick reflection on my point in the journey. 

Some people may say they just want to have fun, and ride their horse. And that’s fine, as long as we remember that fun is a human word. And ask ourselves regularly and truthfully if we are having fun with the horse or at the expense of the horse. 

“The improvement of understanding is for two ends; first our own increase in knowledge, and secondly to enable us to deliver that knowledge to others”
Please do comment- for good or bad 😀

Books I am glad I found 

Books I am glad I found!! Those who know me know I am an insatiable reader. I read the cereal packet at breakfast. As soon as I could read I believed the answers to life the universe and everything had been written- we just had to go and find the answers. A lot of crap has been written too, and I’ve read most of that also! 

Books I am glad I found. The road from quirky unhappy horse with terrible feet to barefoot supremo, Schoolmaster and now herd leader wasn’t easy for me or Paddy so the books I am glad I found were a comfort, a guide, a textbook and an inspiration.

So here are the books I am glad I found 😀

The first book I read about barefoot performance horses and still my go to text for simple logical explanations. Mine, Sarah’s and I’m sure Nic’s,  knowledge of nutrition and training has moved on immensely since this book but it still stands as a great starting point to your barefoot journey. 

The next logical step in the pursuit of barefoot understanding.

A more recent favourite explaining equine nutrition simply and clearly. Your horse is what you feed it.

Simple truth- horses are absolute, emotionally congruent and live in the moment. You can’t fool a horse. What you are receiving is what you asked for, always. That truth is too much for some. Once we allow it it to be the truth, riding and training becomes a martial art, with the Zentaur as the goal. 

Our understanding evolves as we learn and study. For me now keeping a horse barefoot is just keeping it healthy. If it’s not right without shoes it won’t be right with shoes. Anni’s beautiful book is scientifically referenced and is bang up to date. She writes about the whole horse-husbandry, trim and training correct biomechanics for barefoot success.

The first book I read about classical dressage. Beautifully written and illustrated, with a good dose of Zen too, it opened my mind to the possibility of a horse made more beautiful and more magnificent by correct and sympathetic training. No subjugation or coercion.

Then the opposite. Anyone who thinks a bit BTV or a bit of LDR is OK should read this book. I did it to Paddy, ignorantly, on the instruction of trainers who didn’t know better, who wanted a nice pretty correct outline for that dressage test. I’m sure we didn’t know the physical damage we were doing then. But I know how, I have the arthritic horse to prove it. And we should all know, the evidence is out there for all to read and see with their own eyes. Totilas being the most famous example. 

These books are the antidote to the ugliness of modern dressage. We should all feast our eyes on these pictures, blaze on our brains what correct training and free swinging backs and natural movement looks like and the never look at photos in H&H or BD magazine again lest our eyes be polluted or seduced by the overbent toe flinging marionettes doomed to lameness in their teens.

It can’t all be about flatwork!! I love eventing so jumping has to feature, although I have learned that a horse “doing dressage” correctly should be able to jump a four foot fence at any point in the test…  Reine Klimke is possibly the best remembered of the old style competitors  who won with classically trained horses. His victory lap of one handed changes is another piece of eye training and recalibration I treat myself to regularly.

And the most important of the books I am glad I found, or even the most important author and inspiration I am glad I found. Charles writes clearly, simply, succinctly. If I memorised every word of the 3 books and applied the wisdom, I would have beautiful, fit, willing, and magnificent horses, with all the moves and all the athleticism one could ask for. 

Patrice quotes CDK as her most important mentor, I hear his words in her voice when I read the books. He comes to the U.K. To teach twice a year still and we should make the most of that- he is getting on a bit and won’t travel for ever!! I have 4 days of spectating booked for the March visit and dream of having my “peasant pony” advanced enough to present to him for a ridden lesson. 

So there you have it, the books I am glad I found. If you only read one, then please read Charles.

Top Ten Lessons from 2016

Top ten lessons from 2016- some hard learned, some not so tricky 🙂

  1.  Number 1 of the top ten lessons from 2106- Always have more feed stations than horses. For us this meant apertures on the monster hay feeder. We had 4 horses and 4 apertures…but one was always getting chased off. To get more apertures we had to buy another feeder. Which led to
  2. Number 2 of the top ten lessons from 2016- Don’t have the feed stations too far apart. In our experience, the horse at the bottom of the pecking order will starve rather than eat separately too far away from the others. So the extra feed station has to be near enough to feel inclusive but not so near that the bottom horse gets chased off all the time.
  3. Number 3 of the top ten lessons from 2016- Don’t overstuff your feeders with haylage. Labour saving we thought, 2 giant feeders, 2 bales in each, chore down to once a week 🙂 Except that the weight of the haylage in the nets led to compression and fermentation and they didn’t eat it. 2 bales wasted 🙁
  4. Number 4 of the top ten lessons from 2016- (I’m sorry if the repetition is annoying but I think the SEO programme is happy now LOL) – Objective evidence is good. If you think your horse has ulcers- scope it. If you think your horse has RAO/ heaves/ breathing trouble- scope it. If you think your horse’s feet aren’t as good as they might be- X-ray them. If you think your horse might have Kissing Spines- do the scan. 3 out of 4 apply to us. And be there for the investigation, asking questions and getting it all straight in your head. I didn’t learn anything new on the investigations but SEEING the results allowed me to believe and quantify the problem and ACT on it rather than dithering / supplementing / tickling the surface of the problem. Answers we chose- Ulcers= generic PPI, RAO= steroid inhalers and herbs, thin soles= boots and pads. You don’t have to do exactly what the vet recommends but you do need to know exactly what you are dealing with to make informed decisions. And if you don’t feel you know enough to make informed decisions then either get informed or trust your vet.    (I’m not sure our vets like having a colorectal surgeon with an MD in Biomolecular Medicine and barefoot, holistic, classical leanings as a client but there we go)
  5. Number 5 of the top ten lessons from 2016- you can never do enough groundwork with a young horse. Rocky is walking trotting and cantering under saddle and hacking on his own but I wish we had done more in hand work. It’s the basis of everything and it doesn’t need to be much: a few minutes sometimes was enough for the lesson to go through. I will do more when he comes back in to work after his growing (dark nights) break, as well as cracking on with his general education.​​
  6. TWO EQUAL REINS. Such a simple thing, so difficult to achieve. MORE RIGHT LESS LEFT. This rule applies to 99% of riders and horses.
  7. Just do the ff=ing homework. I thought I worked hard until I saw the difference one of the “Patricelings” achieved in a short month. One week she had straight arms, low fixed hands and an unhappy horse although in a “pretty” (false) outline, the next month she had elbows that were part of her back, steady yet allowing hands and a very happy horse. She hadn’t fully understood the why,  she had just gone away and done the work and the why appeared; the contact she was offered was soft and reaching and the horse’s topline looked terrific as a result.
  8. But do get decent tuition so you get good homework. Bad training is damaging to horse and rider. Classical principles work, they have been developed and proven over centuries. There are no short cuts that do not compromise soundness, equine well-being or worst of all progression to the next stage of training. Unless you want to do BE90 for ever and just keep switching horses every time you break one. Why learn to do something quickly and badly? It will impact negatively on everything else you do from that day onwards. Like turning with the inside rein- it’s a great tip for beginners who need” whoa, turn and go” but in the long run all it does is unbalance and constrict your horse.
  9. Don’t limit your expectations or your dreams. Your horse doesn’t know that you “only” want to do prelim and BE80; why not do that as well as you can, classically, correctly, happily? I only wanted to event up to BE90, possibly 100 on a brave pants day- suddenly with good luck, great advice and fabulous training we have a youngster potentially capable of much more, an Irish Sport horse a smidgeon off changes and baby piaffe, and an ex racer that will jump the moon once it can trot in a circle.
  10. and number 10 of the top ten lessons from 2016- Never under-estimate the importance of species specific diet and lifestyle. I cannot emphasise enough times how happy our horses are, living out in a herd, woolly and muddy, grooming, rolling, grazing and playing as part of a natural equine lifestyle. Their bodies look fab, their coats are amazing (when we knock the mud off), their feet are fabulous and their brains are superb, alert, inquisitive, willing but with no anxiety. We do have challenges, the ex racer thinks he’s still racing when in company, the baby has a sense of humour, but overall they are a very cool bunch of horses to be around.

So there we have my top ten lessons from 2016. Funny how two people can be in the same life and have completely different viewpoints, so I asked Gary too.

Gary’s top three (in his own words)

  1. Good advice is what we all crave. Reliability: we’d all like to delegate the real responsible decisions we have to make to others, those seemingly far more qualified. There are so many well meaning people but often I’ve found theirs isn’t the best advice. Take all information on board – all information is good information but the trick is sifting though the information to work out what will work for your horse. Cal has been the perfect example, or more precisely, his feet issues that Fran has documented in her blog for all; warts an’all. Many people I highly respect have offered their comment. We took it all on board and sifted it through our present knowledge. We were fortunate enough to find the right direction; a culmination of that valued advice, but ultimately our own decision. The decisions were ours, and on that day, we’ll stand by them. Delegating your responsibilities is not an option.
  2. A situation occured earlier last year which led to my biggest set back. It culminated in an inappropriate confrontation, bitter comments and almost divorce! Without further detail, I believe the root cause was a lack of attention to my horse’s tack, in particular his saddle. I rue this day. I deeply regret the consequences because I was fully responsible for that moment. My deepest regret is to the horse I placed into the middle of this. My lesson is so simple, but so often neglected – ensure your horse is correctly prepared!
  3. My experience, and those who know me will concur, is not vast. One signficant lesson though has shone through. All horses are magnificent, but not every horse is right for you. I loaned an incredible horse last year, a truly talented being that could have taught me far more than I allowed. But like love; like a passion, if the spark is not there, you are not soul mates. I eventually found mine, an ex-racer, and my passion for our horses was ignited again. For me, this has been fundamental. The relationship is hugely important. This feeds desire, inspiration, imagination, and most importantly hunger for more learning. P.S. And 3a! Knowing that these ideas and thoughts will develop and change……
  4. Because she asked me to give 3. Surround yourself with those who believe in what you believe. You will become the average of those closest to you, for good or for bad. Fran’s blog has genuinely inspired me; giving most what she most desires.