A Battle and a Break Through. Saturday, Jan 5 2008 

Most riders will agree that this sport is a rollercoaster of a journey. There are huge highs when it feels like everything you have been working on comes together and then the massive lows where it feels like you’re banging your head against a brick wall. The “problem” with our sport is that we’re working with living animals and while people do often underestimate their intelligence, they unarguably have moods and instincts that can interfere with what we may ask of them.

Over the last week, Jack has been a real battle to ride. He has an awful habbit of leaping forwards and running for a few strides when he either has too much energy, when he’s put into an unfamiliar setting and is nervous or when he’s just being downright argumentative.

These episodes can be rather drammatic as he’s a very quick and flexible horse. He also despises his mouth being messed with so pulling him up in an effective but none confrontational way can be challenging. For this reason, he has always been trained to slow and stop with a thigh aid as opposed to any kind of rein aid.

Today, he was being challenging to say the least. No sooner had I gotten onboard than he was pretending to spook at monsters in the corner of the arena, although in his defense it was terribly windy today and although we were indoors, the wind was making rather crazy noises and rattling the doors.

Warming up was a battle, he was evading any contact on his mouth initially, hollowing, dropping behind the leg and threatening with bunny hops whenever my leg was applied. I spent quite a lot of time in walk with him today, trying to get him to stretch and just relax a little which worked well but never the less, as soon as we moved into trot he tensed up.

He had a couple of “spook and run episodes” and contrary to my normal reaction, I was pulling him up quite strong today. Ive had a very rude awakening recently about a fault with my outside hand and being the horse he is, Jack will exploit any weaknesses he finds. This was leading to problems on circles where he would duck and run out of his outside shoulder.

I spent a good 20 minutes in trot today, checking my outside hand constantly, being quite firm with him through my leg and really focussing on trying to get him to just relax and stretch down a little bit. He finally started to do this but after a disturbance outside upset him, he was tensing yet again. In a final effort to make him listen to me, I picked him up much more than I usually would without first doing a lot of long and low work (note long and low, not low and curled in!) Luckily for me, after some initial arguments and attempts to evade my outside hand yet again, he settled down, admitted defeat and produced some super work with a really nice relaxed frame and, whats more, some correct circles without a hint of losing him through his outside shoulder.

I was so pleased with him, to the point of being quite emotional as we really do seem to have had an argumentative time recently (most of which was my fault for a) not working him enough over Christmas and b) being a tad too soft on him when he was trying to avoid work) and for the first time in quite a while, I was actually pleased with my own riding.

Once again, Im reminded of how much this horse has taught me. Everything I know is challenged on an almost day to day basis and unless Im riding correctly, his work is poor; he is very unforgiving but at the same time, this is exactly what Ive always wanted – a teacher that will really pull to pieces every fault I have.

He’s due one day off over the weekend although that is somewhat weather dependent (it’s been too windy for the horse walker to have been used this week so Im trying to make up for the lack of this also). I do however feel that we crossed a major hurdle today; one where I actually told him in quite clear terms that he couldn’t always get away with what he wanted and I wouldn’t always give into him. Usually after such sessions, our work is back on track for quite some time 😀

The recent problem with my outside hand (on the right rein), has resulted in some poor shoulder in work which Im also hoping to focus on more now that I seem to be getting more of a grip (no pun intended) on that rather significant problem!

Who I Am; My History With Horses Thursday, Jan 3 2008 

I began riding at 3 years old. At 14, my tortured parents finally gave into my annual pleads for a pony at the top of my Christmas list. Not quite a pony though, my first journey into ownership was in the form of a 17.2hh, 25 year old Westphalien gelding. Sadly, this partnership was quite short lived and I lost him at 28 after he sustained a kick in the field which resulted in a shattered hock.

By this time, I had already acquired two more horses. The first, a very unsuitable 4 year old chestnut mare with an incredible (but raw) talent for showjumping. The second, an 11 year old Oldenburg mare who had been jumping 1 metre 40 courses in Germany but came to us rather cheaply due to being somewhat sharp. In the first year with the 4 year old, Im pretty sure I fell off her nearly everyday before we started to click. To her, I owe my stickability 😉 The second mare, again this partnership was far too short lived and I lost her after just 8 months (indeed this was only 6 months after I lost my first horse), due to a nasty and inoperable bout of colic.

After losing two horses in a 6 month period at a rather young age, there was a slight gap before the next two… although they came along rather quickly. The first was a 16hh welsh cob x hannoverian gelding who was built like a tank and had an attitude to match. He wasn’t bought for me to jump, but rather stayed in training with a local BSJA rider and I got my first glimpses of life as a groom. The second gelding showed up on the yard I was liverying at on the back of a local dealers box. He was a very poor looking spotty horse of pretty unknown breeding. His head looked too big for his body and he was clearly very young. He did, however, have the most beautiful markings being a tri-coloured leopard spot with black spots on his legs and brown on his body.

This little spotty horse was who introduced me to dressage, my future passion. He turned out to be the most amazing little horse. He had a beautiful jump, very correct paces and, most notably, an amazingly trainable personality. Through the guidance of my trainer at that time (a classically trained local lady), I produced him to medium level dressage and to this day, Im probably still most proud of him. I sold him when I first moved abroad at the age of 21 and sadly, he also broke his leg in the field in 2006 and was put to sleep at just 10 years old.

Over the years, two other horses graced me with their presence. One was a beautiful Dutch warmblood who had been extremely over produced in Holland and then exported to the UK as a very broken down horse. Dubbed a failure in the show jumping world (he’d been pushed to jumping 1 metre 50s at 4 years old and eventually lost his confidence), he came to me as a dressage prospect and was a very flashy looking chestnut boy. He also left me when I first emigrated and is still living with a friend of mine in the UK; sadly, he’s been plagued with health problems and at the age of 11, is virtually retired. The second, was a strange looking Appaloosa – Hackney cross mare with who I did very little before selling her on.

I took a break from horses from around 21 years old to 23 while I lived abroad. My fiance and myself returned to the UK in 2003 and I started to get back into the horsey scene. In the September of 2003, Jack came into my life. Jack is working to and has competed at PSG level dressage. He was brought on by one of the UK young riders as a bit of a project (initially bought for her mum but proved too much of a handful). He came to me as a school master and he’s certainly filled that role. I’ve arguably learned more from him in the last few years than I learned collectively from my others; purely because he has been trained so correctly that I need to also ride very correctly.

In April 2007, my fiance and myself returned to Denmark to settle and we took Jack with us and the training (and learning) continues.