Category Archives: Foundation Training

The Value of Centering Part Five

IN centering our horse we can reduce the instinct to freeze, flight, or fight when he understands what is expected through the use of exercises that lead to greater physical and mental balance. True forwardness and straightness greatly helps form an improved connection between the two hemispheres of the brain by developing new muscle memory and therefore more positive responses. When our horse no longer feels compelled to act out the moves of survival mode, we can look forward to fewer random reactions. It should be recognised that most horses operate on a level of stress when asked to leave familiar surroundings. There are plenty of signs from the mild to severe. Here are some common ones: Inability to stand, a strong desire to rush home, calling, hurried paces, over sensitivity to the leg, high head carriage, rigidly pricked ears, head and ears turned back listening for sounds behind, planting, swerving, snorting, spinning, backing up, running through the hand, shooting forward, jogging, stopping suddenly, and overall body stiffness.

We don’t have to hold up a sign, our horse knows what we are feeling and yes, even thinking. For the most part we unconsciously transmit stuff, relevant data that horses pick up on. They know when we are frustrated, frightened, angry, or sad and for most of them, they will have been exposed to the whole range of human emotions from multiple owners, affecting them in ways far beyond the provision of adequate day to day care. In fact they have little awareness of centeredness in their relationship with us until we show them it exists. For the most part, when we want them to do something we don’t concern ourselves about balancing their minds and bodies. For example, we might ask our horse to move over in the box. A simple exercise that if we think about it at all, it’s likely to be whether or not he does it rather than how he does it. The way a horse moves over is indicative of his current state of mind, his mental balance and centredness, and a reflection of what’s going on inside us. Delivery of our cues and requests are influenced by our thoughts and feelings to which horses respond accordingly. On the ground we are most careful to move a horse’s feet in a way that is in alignment with the centering process just as much as when we are riding.

Nini Mount

The Value of Centering Continued

We will see positive results with all our relationships if part of our daily routine includes policing our thoughts and being mindful of our emotions. It’s helpful to remember that horses are non judgmental. Since they don’t make subjective decisions about our character or what we look like, anything they do is not to be taken personally. It is second nature for humans to make assumptions about whether or not a horse likes them but their feelings towards us are neutral. They may choose not to be with us by walking away or not wanting to be caught, but it’s still not personal. Although they can do certain things based on past memories and habit, they remain tuned into our emotional energy, accurately reflecting any changes we make with emotional thinking and body language .When we master the stillness within, we become centred and our horse will naturally feel comfortable in our company. The biggest compliment a horse can pay us it to do nothing. Horses connect with us most when nothing much is happening. We can think of non-doing as the place of potential. Watch horses in a field and you will see they are happy just being not necessarily doing.

Making it a part of our daily routine to police our thoughts and to work on our emotions is definitely worth it. Horses are our mirror as we are for them. Our interaction, whether based on calmness or a level of stress, affects the quality of not only our relationship but other areas of our lives as well. Horses have a hard time finding a clear signal to communicate with among the ‘noise’ of our undirected mental chatter. A congested neural highway is not an inviting proposition for a horse to adjust to. We know how effectively uninvited thoughts can affect a ride:

Centering is the foundation for all martial arts like Tai – Chi where they teach something called witnessing. They say do whatever you have to but remain conscious of the centre at the navel. If you are walking, be conscious of the centre at the navel. If you are eating, be conscious of the centre at the navel. Whatever you are doing, remain conscious of one thing: you’ve guessed it, that you stay centred in the navel. If you are conscious of the navel, you can’t think. The moment you begin to think, you won’t be conscious of the navel.

You may want to re-read the above to better understand the slightly cryptic message inherent in Chinese philosophy. In the West particularly, we tend to over think and when we are busy thinking, there is the possibility of sabotaging our ride and even our relationship with uninvited thoughts common to most of us:

“I hope he doesn’t shy at that hedge again today. If he does, I might fall off this time.”
“I hope we don’t meet Mad M on the way round, her horse always winds mine up.”
“I don’t really want to ride today but I know I should. I need to stop being so silly.”
“I think I’ll turn left down this path so Spookus doesn’t see the big barking dog. I’m worried he might run off and
I won’t be able to stop.”

Horses have a hard time finding a clear signal with when our heads are full of undirected mental chatter. A congested neural highway is not an inviting proposition for a horse to communicate with.
When groundwork and riding is undertaken with clarity and calmness, it allows us to stand at the doorway to centering. We may not be quite ready to go through but it’s wonderful to experience even a little as we work on nurturing our internal peace. Let’s all promise to improve as a witness!

Today’s Centering Your Horse Video Blog

When living in a herd, a horse’s natural state is one of centredness, of being in the moment. In a centred partnership, we naturally want to recreate that in our herd of two. Horses respond in two primary ways to what their emotions tell them about the minutiae of their surroundings. They are acutely tuned into detail whether visible or not, with feelings of safety or of fear.

Frailty of indecision can affect us all. Sometimes fear of what the horse might be about to do sends us into temporary paralysis and we do nothing. There is a difference between waiting for something to happen with bated breath and sitting quietly remembering to breathe. It nearly always shows up in the way our horse reacts or if he reacts at all. When our minds are busy, distracted by fear or excitement, we are not receptive to making appropriate decisions. It’s the same for our horses who are wired to run, spin, or shy first and think later.

Photo 1The reality of modern life means we end up spending time with our horses in a completely unsuitable frame of mind for achieving what we want when riding them. It’s almost as if our days are lived against the clock. It’s not unusual to arrive at the yard already stressed with our heads full of mental lists of must do’s. Rather than taking the time to release tension in our bodies through correct breathing etc, we grab a head collar and sprint into the field, leading our horse in as swiftly as possible. Grooming and tacking up is done on the run in case someone wants to use the school. Besides, it will be dark in less than an hour and we need to get back to all those other commitments.

Horses find this stressful too. Like environmental responses, they deal with it in two ways: They self protect by switching off and sadly are often labelled lazy or unresponsive. In fact they are very sensitive but keep it hidden using this as a coping strategy to survive the turbulence of hectic yards and busy schedules. Those who choose not to escape by switching off are very switched on, restless pushy, and unwilling to stand still. Since horses reflect what they pick up in us, if we are in a hurry and our stress levels high, theirs will be too. We need time for quiet reflection to recognise that it is our responsibility to control not only our body but our mind as well. Our horses will only be able to experience centredness in our herd of two when we present a reflection of calmness to them. To make sure the horse is able to make changes, all are regularly checked and treated for any pre-existing condition causing pain or discomfort.

Is Your Horse Centred

Centering is something many of us strive to attain as a harmonious mode of being conducive to overall good health and a valuable aid in stress management. Visualisations, living in the present moment, policing our thoughts in conjunction with breathe work all play a part in helping us achieve more balance in our lives. The relationship we have with our horses is greatly enhanced when we practice the principles of centering. As authentic leaders, the benefits of doing our best to also centre our horses are worth the effort.

Centering is a physical and psychological mode of being. Both states are interconnected and make all the difference to the effectiveness of groundwork and riding. In an organically formed herd, members naturally live centred lives in harmony. When we take our horse from the field, subtle dynamic changes occur in becoming a herd of two. In the wild, herd members are related or included with permission. This isn’t necessarily the case in situations where horses, strangers to each other, are added and familiar faces taken away. Horses are often turned out in same sex pairs or isolated in separate paddocks. The freedom to graze for lengthy periods of time and to choose a circle of friends isn’t normally available.

We may or may not be able to achieve the ideal environment for a horse’s perfect psychological health, but we can work towards the very worthwhile goal of keeping our horse centred during groundwork and riding. Straightness, predictable responses, and the reduction of adrenaline, which is always present in the anxious and unsettled horse, are three of many practical applications to helping your horse become more centred. We’ve been singing the praises of straightness training for decades; the value is so great, it’s hard to put into words. It is the secret sauce that links the body to the mind, and vice versa, and is fundamental to helping the horse experience mental and physical balance, (centering) during his time away from the herd.

602252_430161260402628_1550431717_nYou may have experienced glimpses of what this is feels like. Those unforgettable moments when you felt at one with your horse; when it felt perfectly ok to push the limits a little, perhaps setting off in a hand canter which normally you wouldn’t want to do. Or maybe it was when your horse stood perfectly still quietly looking at the view, happy to share a moment of stillness with you. If you’ve ever enjoyed your ride so much you didn’t ever want it to end or your schooling session was so soft, responsive yet relaxed you were over the moon, you were no doubt deeply engaged in that special moment.

To be inwardly centred is more than a destination, it is the journey towards attaining true balance and straightness. For weeks, months, even years, its emergence is fleeting, transitory, and short lived. Results are affected by environmental factors such as weather, location, and the quality of the company when riding together. Our frustrations, hopes, and fears undoubtedly have an impact on the nature of the ride. Management issues such as lack of turnout, excessive feeding to exercise ratio and hectic surroundings will also have a consequence on the horse’s ability to find his sweet spot with the rider.

Even gentle hacking provides a great opportunity to work on the principles of centering through forwardness and straightness. Accomplished riders with feel may do this without consciously realising it while others need to think through the process with mindful awareness. When I am riding, I see grids and shapes in my mind that act as imaginary boundaries and guides to straightness. I hear and feel a virtual metronome, a steady beat that adapts to the horse’s stride according to the level of his training, helping develop a solid rhythm and correct tempo in the paces. The horse’s stage of education determines the proximity and degree of latitude/longitude of the lines.

Physically and psychologically unbalanced horses, those that are green or have problems under saddle, naturally require more space around them. They are unable to keep within given parameters. They lack the ability to stay within the centre of the grid or frame. They wobble, drift and jump to the side or seek to evade. As they learn to have more control over their body, I mentally adjust –narrow – the width of the frame. The amount of space in front and behind is also defined for upward and downward transitions and rein back.

When the horse discovers the ‘spot’ or gets anywhere close to it, I immediately release/reward while maintaining absolute inner and outer quietness. It takes a while to make an association, but all horses seek that space where they feel at ease, even momentarily, without pressure. Since it feels good, our horse will want to return to that place for increasing periods of time. If a horse is never shown how to find comfort with the rider, he will feel impelled to keep moving around. Anticipation, impatience and a reluctance to stand quietly show us the horse lacks balance. For some, this is a permanent state of being attributable to the horse’s character. We know horses are not all the same, they are individuals with different temperaments and levels of sensitivity, but their need for comfort within the relationship is common to all.

The Greatest Skill


Don’t bow to snobbery, writes Equestrian Journalist Simon Barnes : be proud of taking part in the most challenging riding discipline of them all. What is the toughest riding discipline of them all? Which is the most important, the most difficult, the most dangerous? I shall tell you: but first of all let me outline for you the dizzying array of skills necessary.

You need, above all, a sense of calmness and trust. Without that you won’t get anywhere. But you have to combine relaxation with a constant awareness of the considerable difficulties and dangers that surround you. You need to be able to sit in a way that fills the horse with confidence.

You need to master all the basic paces. Horse and rider both need to be relaxed at all of them, from halt to gallop. You need comfortable, instant lateral work, particularly off the right leg. You need calm, soft unfidgety hands. Your aim is to combine calmness and confidence with dynamic and forward-going movement at all paces.
You need your horse to cope with other horses, close by or at a distance. Your horse needs to be sociable when among strangers and friends yet happily independent when on his own. You need balance and control; but with a sense of freedom and adventure. You need to trust your horse in extreme situations. You must allow your horse to be a wild animal and express himself with joy and abandon and yet you must be able to bring him back to civilisation with a touch, a shift in balance, a word.

But above all, you need to understand each other’s fears; each other’s limits, each other’s strengths and weaknesses. You need to deal with situations that terrify a horse but hold no danger to him; you must deal with situations that terrify you, without imparting your terror to your horse. You must be able to deal with potentially life-threatening situations and to do so with great frequency. You must deal with them in a way that is completely calm and relaxed, as if it were the easiest thing in the world.
The reason you must bring out all these high skills in yourself and your horse is because everybody’s life depends on them. But then you must get used to the fact that your painfully acquired skills are held in low esteem – even despised in some quarters.

The discipline I am talking about is hacking. Nothing is more dangerous – yet more pleasurable – to human and horse alike. If you can hack out safely, alone or in company, you are a real rider!
If you can deal with such things as school buses, Volvo drivers, pheasants flying up at your feet, a long, long canter track, boy racers, fluttering paper bags, gloriously inviting gallops, pigs, cows, overhanging trees, fields of lunatic horses and the most scarey thing of all, the wheelie bin that wasn’t there yesterday, then you can count yourself a hacker. Or to put it another way, a very good rider indeed.

And yet, even if you are the master of all those things, your skills might be sneered at. So you apologise in advance – oh I just hack out. I’m just a happy hacker. What? Only a master of the most testing and demanding and dangerous discipline in the horsey world, that’s all. You have to defer to obsessive show jumpers, dressage queens of either sex and showing people who prefer polishing horses to riding them – all these people are too precious to take their horse out for a merry hack and who think they’re better than you on that account.

Let’s not be snobbish back, however. Every way of enjoying your horse that doesn’t harm him is alright by me. So we won’t ask what’s so marvellous about going round and round in circles and why it is so superior to a great cantering blast up the hill, and we shan’t point out that while a square halt is hard, it’s far, far more difficult to get your horse to stand still while an articulated lorry goes past. Especially when it then stops and whistles its brakes at you.

So let’s make this Hacker’s Pride Month. Say it out loud; I hack and I’m proud! We won’t be snooty about it though. We won’t say, I know the real reason you won’t hack out. It’s not because you’re Anky von Grunsven and Bonfire come again. It’s because you are ever so slightly scared. And I’m not; so I hack.

No, we won’t say it. We’ll just think it very quietly when someone looks at you with condescension because you’ve been for a hack while they have spent an hour trying to establish a leg yield. I’ve got nothing against leg-yielding myself but I do have a great deal against snobbery.

No one will celebrate hackers for their skills of horsemanship, their mastery of fear, their overcoming of horsey temperament, so it is only right that we should do it for ourselves. Salute the hackers! Damn we’re good.
And if you have any doubts on that score, just ask our horses!



After the last post on our ride in the rain with Ronan, I was asked to talk about the relevant exercises to help him over a couple of specific difficulties in canter. Before I do so, I will need to back track for a moment so that you can better understand the building blocks, as the elements associated with a horse’s training can’t be considered in isolation because they are all connected. One leads to another like the diagrammatic branches on a family tree.

In the beginning, Ronan was the easiest horse in the world to stop. He still is most of the time except that something has changed. He now knows how to go forward and that it is expected of him. He is still hesitant from time to time, even getting temporarily stuck, but overall he is embracing “go.” Before we reached this pivotal point, at any pace faster than a walk, the slightest pressure on the rein would make him stop, often in his tracks. It wasn’t so much a case of slowing down; it was just as if an invisible handbrake came on. With everything else, his mouth had the sensitivity of a plank of wood. Despite that he is without doubt top of the class when it comes to standing still!

Before I could start work on transitions, I needed to move him beyond his former lack of confidence based mind-set. Some of you may have ridden horses like him who are hard to get going, and when you do, fizzle out the moment they feel the rein on the bit. A young, green horse is extremely impressionable, so much so that they quickly learn to associate a blocking hand with a sense of danger. That’s almost certainly the case with Ronan. He was entrained to think stop before he really got going, creating both an upside and a downside.

The upside is that his flight instinct is practically switched off. The downside is that now he knows how to go but hasn’t been taught how to stop! “But I thought you said he stopped at the slightest touch” I hear you say. That is true but what he did was Stop Going. I am teaching him Go to Stop! I hope this isn’t too mind-stretching but therein lays the key to unlock his brakes; the ability to go forward into a downward transition. Lumbering along on the forehand prevents true forwardness in stepping down through the gears. With bodyweight displacement almost entirely in front of the wither, it becomes physically impossible to slow down or stop on command. Horses can pull and lean on the bit in an effort to remove pressure from too strong a hand. They help balance themselves in this way too even though they can never achieve true equilibrium whilst carrying a rider.

To help Ronan understand how to alter weight distribution, there are several things we can do. We start by reining back a few steps. Done in the right way, this will temporarily lighten the forehand. If it feels right, we will go straight to trot. It’s worth mentioning briefly that riding is all about feel. It is hard for us to tap into this area of awareness. As a society, we are encouraged to develop left brain thinking associated with logic and rationality. We also have a watchful master in the frontal lobe responsible for critical thinking and judgment. It is in our right hemisphere and temporal lobes that we can access centres for feelings, sensory impressions, intuition, creativity, and instinct; essential tools for horse training. In describing the exercises there are many factors that affect how they are done. The weather, environmental considerations, my mood and health are all influencers. I always try to feel my way into the situation as much as I use analytical concepts for Ronan’s bio-mechanical responses.

With a little note on the training mind-set out of the way, we will continue. After a rein back or two, we move onto trot to halt transitions without leaning on the hand, or evading it by coming behind the bridle. The quality and tempo of the trot, even the way I sit will impact on the transition. All this is done by going back and forth in a straight line. If I am happy with the way he is going and feel the time is right, we can start working on the canter. This is often the hardest gait for cobs to master so results take time. Because they often struggle to go from trot to canter without rushing and losing rhythm, I will ask for walk to canter. This may seem back to front as it is more advanced but for Ronan and others like him, it is just the ticket. Initially Ronan just ran forward through the bridle, a completely natural reaction. To remind him of our previous work, we would go back to trot/halt transitions, possibly including some rein back. I never cease to be amazed by their intelligence. Horses learn to configure walk to canter quite quickly unless there is psychological damage or they have been wound up in some way like taking off as soon as their feet touch the grass.

Contrary to common belief, the most effective way to develop a balanced canter that can be stopped in an instant is achieved through transitions, not by keeping the horse in canter. Once Ronan is cantering, within two or three strides he needs to think about stopping. Walk to canter is hard but canter to walk or halt is harder still. The increased energy and momentum propels Ronan forward and thoughts of stopping are far from his mind. In order for him to understand that isn’t what is required, I must do what it takes to make the downward transition. The way in which rein pressure is applied has a direct bearing on how successful I am. Constant contact will encourage him to lean and pull on my hands. I use a combination of squeezing and alternating tension to get him to listen. As soon as I feel the slightest response, I soften and release. This is absolutely pivotal to achieving a good result and must be instantaneously executed. It is in this way that learning evolves. Any form of release brings its own reward but the value of praise can’t be overlooked. I make sure to congratulate him in a big way with pats and words of encouragement.

Like the trot to halt exercises, we go up and down in a straight line, repeating the sequence. In doing work like this, I need to carefully monitor his reactions. I don’t want him associating halt with being the precursor to canter. Any anticipation is deflected by interspersing with regular halt to walk. I also include voice cues which are highly effective in promoting trust and understanding. Working in straight lines involves turning each time a change of direction is made. A turn is a great opportunity to also bring Ronan off his forehand. Depending on the feeling he is giving me, I either ask for a pirouette or a turn about the forehand. I like to include more than one change of direction, asking for different types of turn on different reins.

Combination exercises like these really gets a horse thinking and listening. There are plenty of videos of our horses going quietly from walk to canter and back to walk in fields or forest with just the voice and little or no contact. Almost without exception, they learned how to do that from regular, consistent work on transitions, just like I’m doing with Ronan. It won’t be long before he is also able to shine in the same way. To do things like that time after time involves muscle memory which he doesn’t have yet. When he does, his responses will be automatic. At the moment I am planting metaphorical acorns, seeds I nurture so that they will grow into mighty oaks of desired response. Ronan’s days of carting me in canter will shortly be over because I am showing him how to control his body within different gaits. Every day he will become increasingly adept at going forward to slow down or stop. Although I’ve tried to keep everything as simple as possible, for most of us it is easier to grasp information visually. Once the weather is more settled, we will be creating detailed videos to show how to do this step by step. I hope this post is helpful for the reader and invite you to comment with your thoughts. We love to receive them!



I am getting really well with Clara and not a little in awe of her giving and forgiving nature. She is listening to me throughout our session, ready and waiting to oblige with whatever strange, or seemingly difficult, manoeuvre I ask of her. She really is as steady as a rock but we shouldn’t confuse that with the idea she is dull. Not at all, she walks out positively and is responsive to the leg. I am getting her where I want her in terms of being to the leg rather than in front of it, which is how it felt not so long ago. Although I could tell she had a lovely stride, it was too forward and hurried. Now she is starting to think rather than rush which is lovely. She is also no longer frightened of the whip either so I can use it to help her understand the nuances of leg pressure, as well as remove flies. She has a really fine, silky coat, more like a thoroughbred than a cob, and is quite sensitive when they land on her. Stoic that she is, she doesn’t make a fuss but you can tell they’re bothering her.

Her trust in me is growing with every ride which is all the more remarkable as there hasn’t been many. She only has to look at me with her large, soft, light brown eyes to make my heart melt. My plan for the next couple of weeks is to alter her centre of gravity sufficiently that she comes more off the forehand. Because she is low energy and unworried about things in the environment, I can get straight to work on specifics on a relatively short ride. In order for her to come off the forehand and lighten in front, she must learn to step under with the hindleg while having greater overall control of her body so that she is aware of where each leg is and what it is doing.

We can achieve this in a variety of ways; one that is very effective is to go from trot to halt in a dead straight line. It may sound too simple until the elements are considered. Firstly, the quality of the trot dictates whether or not the transition is on the mark so to speak, or whether it has an awkwardness about it. Secondly, it is more effective if the rider doesn’t sit. I won’t go into the reasons why here, it would require a separate blog post which I’m happy to write if anyone would like to remind me! Thirdly, the use of the rein needs to carry the message to lighten into the transition rather than leaning on the bit. When the horse leans on the bit, throws its head in the air or runs through the bridle, lightening the forehand can’t be achieved. Fourthly, the timing as to be spot on. Without almost simultaneous release of pressure on the mouth, no matter how light, Clara isn’t motivated to bring her weight further back. Lastly, true straightness is crucial and so hard to accomplish. Initially, horses, and sometimes their riders, believe it is impossible to change gear with no deviation from any foot. Picture a practiced dancer or gymnast running along the mat, jumping in the air and landing at the standstill in perfect balance. That’s only attainable through body straightness. If the body were crooked, even for a second, the landing would be inferior. Such is the value of straightness in improving balance and suppleness, both of which are essential in lightening the frame.


Foundation Training Day Twenty Eight

After what feels like an age, I was able to ride Clara this afternoon. It rained all day and we all got soaked but since I was already wet, I decided to keep going. Clara is a really sweet mare, quite loving really, in a soft, polite kind of a way. If you didn’t know her, you might miss it but I am so pleased she feels it is ok to respond to the love we show her.

The farrier removed all her shoes last week. I want to see what difference it makes to her way of going. She has excellent feet so I’m hoping that despite her weight, she can cope barefoot, at least in the short term. We’ve also put her on a diet as she was getting larger by the week. All she is getting is hay, no grass or haylage. It is very good hay, just the sort horses like, soft and green with a lovely “nose”.  I haven’t noticed much of a difference in her waistline yet but regular exercise will no doubt help. Her ridden work has been a bit stop and start due to the haematoma on her chest and waiting for the dentist etc. She has been taken out by the others but it hasn’t been on a regular basis so unfortunately the continuity hasn’t been there. In terms of safety, it makes no difference, she will always be absolutely reliable no matter how much or little she is ridden. In terms of performance, she still feels uneducated rather than green and will continue to do so without the consistency.

Even though she is a big girl, she is light on her feet, she never trips, and her movement is surprisingly good. There is a degree of stiffness, not from too much work but rather the lack of it. Her legs are totally clean and unmarked without a smidgen of wear and tear so it’s obvious she hasn’t had a hard life. Even though it has been a while since I’ve ridden her, she hasn’t forgotten what we were doing, it was as if it were only yesterday. That’s one of the many things I love about the breed, they are so very open to making changes. They have such a positive attitude to training which is very rewarding.

We spent nearly the entire session doing suppling exercises in lay-bys, driveways, across roads, up and down curbs, anywhere where there was enough room to circle. Clara has no idea what she can do with her body and when she gets it right, she doesn’t necessarily know what it is that she’s got right. She’s pleased to receive praise and feel the release of pressure but the degree of finesse I’m asking of her is still a bit of a mystery. That all translates as my asking something and her offering something. If it’s not the response I want, I will ask again or perhaps phrase my request slightly differently. Because her attitude is of a helpful nature, she will keep on trying to work it out. The minute she figures it out, I reward her by not asking anymore. We walk on in a straight line, have a long rein stretch or simply stand still. She is very much at the learning stage and as I said, doesn’t necessarily know what I want or even that she has achieved it. I show her that she’s got it right by stopping the “ask” when she gives me the “try”. Understanding this concept is absolutely vital in riding and training to avoid the horse becoming confused and anxious, eventually going into a spin mentally and physically.

It won’t take long for her to learn by association what is “right”. From the horse’s point of view, there is no right or wrong, they just want to feel safe and conserve energy. So to get her on side, there needs to be something in it for her, to motivate her to offer the same response each and every time. The absolute best way of doing that is not repeat the movement if it is moving toward being of satisfactory quality, even though she needs consistent repetition to make lasting changes. This apparent contradiction makes sense when requests are followed by a period of relaxation or other appropriate release of pressure.

I hope I get the chance to work with her again tomorrow.

Foundation Training Day Twenty Seven

Clara was good, remarkably so considering how little we’ve done with her. She seems to get sweeter by the day, bless her. She is one of those rare jewels you can leave for weeks or months and still find her the same when you next get on. We took it easy again today, choosing the short route round the village. Clara is particularly spook free, a clear indication she has seen life and feels ok about it. I remember the first day I rode her, we were out for an hour and it was as if she had been doing it all her life. However, she is a horse and something did catch her attention; a small branch lay slightly across the lane with the underside of its leaves facing up. They were a pale silvery colour and almost gleamed where the sun fell on them. Clara’s head came up, making her appear very grand. She couldn’t make out what it was so she peered at it intently with her neck curved as she walked past. Not quite a shy but it drew her attention as it wasn’t there on half an hour ago.

As she is much more comfortable in her mouth, I maintained a light but steady contact.  I am going to try and describe one of the best ways to do this to ensure absolute consistency while allowing her to feel unrestricted. I invariably hold the left rein with my hand laying against the wither and my thumb across it. In doing that, she feels a solid support and a connection with me through the rein whose tension isn’t strong. The right rein is slightly looser and isn’t in contact with her neck or wither. If I need to give her a signal, I open and close the third finger of the right hand, a sort of sponging effect that every horse appreciates. My legs were firmly on her sides to keep her enormous barrel in line with her forehand. Clara likes this approach because she can depend on it, it isn’t in and out, there one minute but not the next. It’s a guide and marker for her to follow in maintaining a steady head carriage. When she licks and chews, yes, horses do that when being ridden but mostly it goes unnoticed, I relax the left rein. In doing so, I am acknowledging what she has offered and she will know that she has been heard and that I am listening.

I won’t do that forever although horses like it so much, I use an adapted version to suit their level of training. If they could speak, they would say floating hands are their biggest concern because of the lack of connection. I asked Clara for a more active walk to avoid feeling as sleepy as yesterday. She doesn’t find that difficult, her walk is naturally good. Now that she is more relaxed with me, her trot is a lot steadier although she can’t sustain it yet without returning to walk. I am so impressed with how quickly she learns, especially as nearly everything I am doing with her is completely new territory, and that she has remembered it all. She seems so happy and chilled, she is clearly enjoying a side to life that she never knew existed.