Friday 25th May – 10pm. Most people I know are out enjoying the warm sunny day, having drinks in a beer garden or chilling at home watching Graham Norton. Me? I’m doing final checks in the stables and packing everything up for Saturday’s Riding Club RDS Qualifiers:
And so by the time I get home, lay out my own kit for the morning, and lay my head down in bed, it is close to midnight. Such is the life of a busy amateur rider with a full time job and endless other commitments on top of the horses! I set my alarm for 6.30am, and off I fall to sleep…
Waking up naturally, I find it strange that I haven’t yet heard my alarm. Feeling smug that I have for once woken up before my alarm, and may even be early for a change, I pick up my phone and have to do a double take when I see the time. 7.50am. SHIIIIIIIIIIIITTTT. I am supposed to be loading the horse up right now, and it takes 30 minutes to drive to the yard!! In a blind state of panic, I’m glad I laid out my clothes the night before as I pull them on and fly around the house at speed. Just pull on my boots, and then I’m off – not so fast, my boots say. As I’m pulling the zip up on my right boot, my trust Tredstep of three years decided now was the perfect time to split its zip the WHOLE. WAY. UP. MY. LEG. In an even deeper state of panic, I couldn’t zip it back down, so I decided this would be a problem for 9am Natalie and I would just focus on getting to the yard for now, albeit with a half attached boot.
The time, traffic and horse loading gods all must have had an assembly the night before and decided that I was going to be their charity case for Saturday, as I managed to hit every green light, zero traffic, managed to hitch the box first go, and the horse walked himself into the trailer. Somehow, I managed to make it to Boswell Equestrian Centre just 10 minutes after the course walk started. Our trainer Taylor Vard was already there walking the course with the rest of the team, and has a great calming influence on me – he totally ignored my flapping when I arrived and just put me to work walking the course (in my runners, as I managed to get the faulty boot off my leg) which I was grateful for.
The course seemed misleadingly straightforward – a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Lots of room between fences, no particularly technical lines, straightforward fence builds. Until you walked it, that is. The time allowed was tight, and so you had to move between fences to make the time – however the distances between the fences were not forgiving, they were at times even short, and so you had to respect those distances as there was no room for error. To move between fences yet be able to meet each fence accurately is not an easy task and one that must be carefully planned – we would maintain our pace, but shave a few yards off each turn, as well as moving up a touch between fences so you could come in quietly for the related lines.
I have a tendency to overthink and catastrophise, and I actually can even feel physically sick if I think too much about how nervous I am before a show, so I felt somewhat blessed when the jumping order was drawn and I was first to jump for my team, eighth rider into the ring – no time to think, straight up and warm up after the course walk. A quick cup of coffee, my friend helped me tack up, I managed to jimmy the boot into staying put, and off I went to the warm up. He felt a bit wooden in the trot and on the forehand, but I recently discovered the power of quick, successive, walk-canter-walk transitions to get him sitting on his hocks and off the forehand. This helped a lot. Taylor had a great system going where he would warm the first rider up, go down with them to jump their round, and by the time they were done the next rider would be ready to be warmed up. A few verticals, a few oxers, and back to a vertical to sharpen him up and we were ready to go in. Even typing this now I can feel the butterflies in my stomach all over again!
Image Credit: Gabby Manning
He was a bit flat in the warm up, behind my leg, so when the gate opened I cantered him straight into the arena and down the long side to wake him up. Already he felt like he had his spark back – he wakes up once he gets into the main arena and realises there’s business to be done! Taylor told me before I went in to save my time by making some strategic turns, and moving up between fences, but to keep my pace on the approach and on related lines, and respect my distances – I’m glad there was a tight time allowed as in fact moving Paddy up gave me a better canter to contain on the approach to the fences. We had one wobbly moment from 7 to 8 where he came in deep and so on landing I said “GO” and he (shockingly) actually listened to me and went a bit too much! So I had to bring him back and he was a bit like “what do you want from me woman?!” so fence 8 was a bit touch and go! We crossed the finish line clear and the cheers from my team were such a wonderful vote of confidence.
AIRC South Leinster Region RDS Qualifiers | Paddy Round 1 - YouTube
Back to the box after a quick drink and a few bites of grass, and it was all about supporting the rest of my team – one unfortunate pole down from one of my team members meant that our other two riders HAD to go clear (best three scores count). And clear they went – putting us into the second round as one of three teams on zero faults. But as we all know, it was still all to play for, with time causing problems for many, and the tight distances posing a few issues for the bigger horses – the course wasn’t changing, so complacency or over-confidence was also a risk. We had to respect the course once again.
Quick lunch and up I got again, Paddy looking at me with total disdain as I dragged him out of the box for his second round – he warmed up much better this time around, much softer in my hand and more responsive to my aids. I reduced his warm up time to keep his energy, and we only did four fences (two verticals, two spreads) this time for the same reason. Taylor could tell this round was different, as I was walking down he said “stay cool, it is exactly the same round as you did before”. I was so grateful for Taylor being there to keep me out of my head, focused on the task at hand, and to remind me that I am capable, I’ve got this, we don’t need to change ANYTHING.
So in I cantered into the arena again, keep everything the same Natalie, just you and the course – this time I moved him up a little more between the fences, to keep him sharp given this was his second time around the course. I was really worried about the two stride double as it was tight (it walked a very short 11 steps) and many people were having it down. I elected to get him very deep to the first part, an oxer, and sit up and keep my leg on for part 2 – clear, whew. Then the final fence, we came in disunited – we weren’t going to make the deep one disunited, I had to get brave and go for the long one and hope he picked his back legs up – and up the came, we were CLEAR! Two clear rounds, and my team behind me erupted with cheers, I could have cried with pride that I had been able to deliver two clear rounds for my team. It is a very different feeling of pressure when you ride not just for yourself, but for others – something our team captain was about to feel about ten times more magnified, very soon.
AIRC South Leinster Region RDS Qualifiers | Paddy Round 2 - YouTube
That pesky two stride double reared its ugly head for one of our team members, so as our captain cantered into the arena, she knew that she had to go clear to maintain our zero score. That is not a pressure that I would ever like to have on me, and I felt so much for her as she began her round, knowing what she must be going through as she cantered up to fence one. Every single member of our team were silent as she jumped each fence – hands were on heads, over eyes, lips were muttering words under their breath, and legs were lifting with each fence she jumped. The atmosphere was palpable as she cantered up to the final fence, and the roars that erupted as she landed clear could likely be heard two towns over. Our captain is also my yard owner, and one of my closest friends, and the pride that I felt not just for our team, but for her to cope with that pressure and deliver, was immense.
We knew walking out we were at least going into a jump off, but what we couldn’t be sure of was who we were going to be jumping off against. In the midst of the excitement, we didn’t keep track of the other two teams who were on zero penalties, and no one could be sure if they were still on zero, or which teams they actually were? That is, until the judge read out the final results with the words “we have an outright winner” and I watched our captain grab onto her reins getting ready for her horse to spook as the club erupted – the second round had caused problems for the other two teams, and we had won our qualifier outright as the only team on zero penalties, with no need for a jump off!
Back to the box and drag poor Paddy out for the third time that day – at this point he looked at me like I was the most ridiculous person on the planet. Our secretary came over and helped us put on our beautiful Horseware winners’ rugs, and in we went to collect our rosettes and our trophy. Thank god Paddy was tired as I was able to get him to stand quietly for all the photos, and he was very well behaved in the lap of honour with about 12 horses galloping around!
Image Credit: Gabby Manning
I think it took me until I wrote last night’s post on my Facebook page to realise what had actually happened. For as long as I can remember, I have gone to the Dublin Horse Show, watching friends, trainers, or idols compete, wondering if this would be something I would ever be able to do – for so long I never had my own horse to try it on, and when I did finally get my own, I had things get in my way every time. I was determined when I got the all clear from my vet that this season I was going to try and get to Dublin, and that I would work as hard as was needed to do so. I attended every team training, often starting work early and pulling in favours to get to training on time, I did my homework that was given to me on the flat, I cantered endlessly over poles to get my eye in, and when I made the team I kept up that work and did everything I could to make sure that Paddy had the right balance of work and breaks to keep him fresh.
Image Credit: Gabby Manning
I believe that I earned my two clear rounds, and I believe that I had three very strong team members who really delivered to help us get our ticket to Dublin, but I also know that you always need a bit of luck on your side on the day, and for that bit of luck I am grateful. I am grateful to our trainer Taylor for all of his excellent coaching – Paddy and I are twice the partnership we were before we started working with him – and I am so grateful to our super club Brooke Lodge Riding Club for all their support and encouragement in the lead up and on the day. Most of all I’m so grateful to my horse who teaches me so much, and saves my bacon when I stuff things up – he gives me all these amazing opportunities and I just hope I can do him justice in Simmonscourt in August.
I was recently looking through old photos of the horses on my phone, as I often do, and was delighted to see how much they have changed physically, and how much their condition has improved over time. The changes are due to good food and correct, varied work – in this post I will discuss the food bit, as both horses are on a unique diet thanks to the variety of feed our livery yard offers.
It is important to note that no feeding program is permanent, and I am always open to revisiting what the horses are fed based on their level of work and dietary requirements at any given time.
Paddy is traditionally a difficult horse to keep weight on, and despite feeding as much haylage as he could want and as much hard feed as was good for his digestive system and leave me still in the saddle after every session, he never was as ‘filled out’ as I would like, I would always have considered him ‘the bare minimum’. To be sure I got him scoped for ulcers and he came back clean as a whistle.
Just before he got injured I began to take his feeding much more seriously, and when he was off work this gave me a chance to play around with different feeds to see what worked best for him.
Top image, April 2016. Bottom image, April 2018. Good feed, and good work! Bottom Image Credit: Louise O’Brien Photography.
Beet Pulp – both horses get beet pulp in every feed which bulks up the feed and provides additional fibre in each feed.
Red Mills Horse Care 10 – I put Paddy on this when he was on box rest, as he has a sensitive tummy that reacts to the slightest of stresses – resulting in a ‘runny bum’. He also has a tendency to internalise his tension, and having read fantastic reviews about how this neutralises the acids in the stomach, has reduced starch and sugar, and is a great source of vitamins and minerals, I thought this would be a great feed to try. Paddy has been on this since last July and is thriving on it, with solid droppings and much less sensitive to having his girth done up.
Dengie Alfa A Oil – I won this in a Facebook competition and thought it would be worth trying as Paddy hoovers up his feed, so anything to slow him down and add more calories to his diet without heating him up would be a massive bonus! Padge from Dengie Horse Feeds was immensely helpful, getting information about my current feeding program and finding ways to integrate Dengie into what I already feed. He also informed me that Alfa-A Oil is a complete feed, something I didn’t know – so as his workload increases I have simply added more Alfa-A Oil to the feed rather than increasing the Horse Care 10 and he’s thriving. This worked so well for both horses I have since kept them on it and ordered a few more bags.
Micronised Linseed – The ultimate addition to any feeding program for weight gain, condition and shine. Paddy gets one cup per day split over two feeds. A bag lasts forever and is great value for money. Saying that, once it runs out, I will probably not buy another bag and just stick to the Dengie Alfa-A Oil as this does just as good a job with the benefit of also being a complete feed.
Paddy’s current feeding program has really helped him to ‘bulk up’ and fill out! Credit: Louise O’Brien Photography
Supplements: Paddy is currently on FlexAbility, as following his injury on my vets advice I wanted to use something as a preventative to ensure the area remains strong. This was the only supplement with scientific research behind it, and this spoke to me so I have invested (I say invested, as it is not cheap!) in it on a maintenance dose.
Willow is a growing young horse whose shape is constantly changing as her workload increases and her young bones continue to grow. It’s important to feed her to help build this condition without overheating her, so the focus is on feeds that condition.
Beet Pulp – both horses get beet pulp in every feed which bulks up the feed and provides additional fibre in each feed.
Baileys Top Line Conditioning Cubes – I used to have Paddy on this when I first got him, as he was still growing as a gangly six year old. This is a great feed for young horses as you begin to ramp up their work and they change shape, to help boost the improvement and development of their topline with the work being done.
Dengie Alfa A Oil – Willow also gets Dengie Alfa-A Oil to bulk up her feed and improve condition.
Willow, April 2018. You can see the shine from her, and she has really filled out since last winter! Credit: Louise O’Brien Photography
Both horses get as much hay/haylage as they can eat, and are turned out year round (bar the days where it is really too bad to go outside) with either grass or a hay bale to eat from. Good fibre, clean drinking water and a decent salt lick forms the basis of a good diet for a horse, and depending on their needs, condition and work levels then additional hard feeds can be looked at. I know horses who need nothing but a cup of balancer morning and evening and look super, and others who need more, so it is very much individual.
My best advice I can give you is to partner closely with either your yard owner or a feed company that you trust – we really believe in Baileys, Red Mills and Dengie on our yard, and adjust the combinations and amounts depending on the horse’s condition and workload the given time. I would trust the recommendations of any of these companies and the results speak for themselves.
What do you feed your horse? Is there anything you have found works, or doesn’t work?
I regularly listen to Gretchen Rubin’s “Happier” Podcast – short episodes all about little life hacks and things you can try to make your life, well, happier! The one I listened to today was called ‘Do Something Badly’, and in it Gretchen talked about how sometimes it’s worth doing something, even if you do it terribly – just to get it done, or even just to start yourself on the road to doing it better. Not waiting for perfection to come, just launching into action, because sometimes done is better than perfect.
This really landed with me, as my god am I a perfectionist. I really struggle with wanting to be the best, to get something right first time – but mostly with accepting the fact that I’m never going to get everything right or perfect every single time. The realisation that I’m not going to be perfect, that I’m going to get things wrong, makes me very self conscious, worried about what other people think, and can sometimes paralyse me – afraid to try new things, push myself outside my comfort zone, for fear of getting it wrong or looking stupid.
But really, all of the the best things that have happened to me, all of my biggest successes, the things I am most proud of, have come from trying something I’ve never done before, from being ok with the fact that I might do it badly, but doing it anyway.
I’ve never had any coding experience, but I fumbled about, built a website and launch my blog two years ago.
I have no journalism experience, but I applied for the FEI’s social media competition last year anyway.
I’ve never produced a young horse from scratch, but I went ahead and asked for help to learn how to do it.
I might not be the most amazing rider, the most confident jumper, or the most popular blogger. I might not be able to see a stride, ride the perfect square halt, or take the most Instagram-worthy pictures. Sometimes I forget how to ride, and sometimes I put up a blog post that no one reads or cares about.
But at least I’m doing it. I’m giving it a go, and learning how to be better at it along the way from trying all the things that don’t work!
So whatever it is that you’re waiting for perfection to do – just do it now. Enter that competition, attempt that new dressage movement, put that jump up a hole or two. Accept that you might do it badly, give it a go, and look at it as your first step on the way to perfection.
Do you ever feel like you let your horse down sometimes?
That’s how I felt last night.
I’ve had ongoing problems with my right hip and glutes for the last couple of months, and this is making it very difficult for me to put my weight down through my right leg, tipping me over onto my left hip and sending my left shoulder forward. Yesterday my hip was particularly troublesome and I was in quite a bit of pain.
So it’s no wonder when I got up on Paddy that he didn’t particularly want to bend left, and I couldn’t keep him in a consistent contact on the left rein. And funnily enough, I had problems maintaining inside flexion on the left rein with Willow too. The right rein was fine for both of them – in fact Willow felt the best she’s ever felt on the right rein, go figure! I made the decision with them both to keep the session short and just do what I could correctly, staying in trot as much as possible and doing some work in light seat.
We spend so much time worrying about how comfortable our horses are, getting regular treatment from physios, vets and dentists – but we often forget how big an impact our own physical condition can have on a horse’s way of going. It is our responsibility to ensure that not only are they in peak physical condition to do their job, but that we ourselves are in a physical condition that allows them to do that job.
I left the yard feeling deflated and actually quite disappointed with myself that I had let my two lovely horses down. They are the most adaptable and forgiving animals, and really did get on about their job with no complaints regardless of the potato that was on their back
Today I woke up feeling much brighter after a good night’s sleep, and the first thing I did was book an appointment with a physiotherapist to look at my wonky body and see what needs to be improved. And I feel very grateful to have two very lovely horses who will let me get on board again this week and give me 100%. Today they’ve earned their day off.
Big day today for Paddy (and me!) – his first jump in 10 months!
He’s been feeling and going so well for me at the moment, and every week that passes I am acutely aware of the fact that the only reason he isn’t doing more (bar the weather we’ve had over the last few weeks) is my over-cautious approach to returning him to full work.
I’ve got to remember that he is not made of glass and he is perfectly capable now of doing more, and his attitude to his work today (and most days really) is his way of telling me that.
Is it ok to feel emotional about a cross-pole?! Because I do!
I love this horse so much!
Paddy Schooling at Home | First Jump Post-Rehab! - YouTube
Today I want to ask (and answer) the question – what female inspires you, or has had an impact on your life?
For me, it’s my lovely Mum (pictured). I’m an only child, and my Mum raised me alone – but this is not something that defines me, nor did my Mum ever even make it a ‘thing’ growing up. In our home, no dream – no matter how big – was unattainable, as long as you maintained a positive ‘can do’ attitude and were willing to work for it. I was always taught that no job or task was beneath anyone, no matter how important you are – or think you are – and that you should always be respectful and kind to people. I was taught the importance of paying my own way, managing my finances, and that nothing worth having comes easy or for free.
I believe that these values that my mother instilled in me are the very reason I feel so blessed to have the life I have today. Growing up we never had the money for horses, and I remember the envy I felt watching some of my friends with their own horses – but I wanted it so badly that I worked and volunteered every spare minute I could at my local riding school in exchange for lessons and riding ‘bold ponies’. I promised myself that before I was 30 I would have my own horse – that I would work hard, get a good job, and save my ass off and that the reward would be so much sweeter when I knew I had earned it myself.
That’s exactly what I did. I worked hard in every job I had, thankfully got promoted quickly, and earned enough money at the age of 27 to buy my first horse (having loaned a horse for two years before). That horse was Paddy! There is nothing quite like the feeling of getting something that you have waited quite literally your whole life for!
Every setback I have had, every challenge I have faced, my Mum has been the first person I’ve called, and the one who has always been there to pick me up, dust me off, and get me focused on how I can turn the situation around. The values she taught me through my life are the reason I believe I will make the best of any situation and why I know that no matter what, I will always – as us Irish say – ‘make out just fine’. We are grafters!
And it being Mother’s Day this weekend, this feels a very fitting post. My Mum lives all the way over in Australia so I miss her lots, but I’m very excited to be going to visit her in three weeks time
Today is Thursday March 1st, and not only is it #SnowDay, it is also World Book Day! I absolutely love to read, always have done – I love fiction, fact and everything in between! I have a huge thirst for knowledge, and books allow me to continue to learn about my passion outside of the saddle and away from the stables. In celebration of this day, I would like to share my favourite books with you all:
This is a great book on the Psychology of Riding – in it, Jane provides actionable tips to ‘program your mind for peak performance’, covering everything from goal setting, mental attitude, approach to training and competition, and dealing with setbacks.
This biography of one of the greatest dressage horses (nay, greatest horses full stop?) the world has seen, is well worth a read – showcasing all aspects of his life from birth to setting world records. I loved how in his early days he wasn’t exactly destined for the stardom he now has, but Carl and Charlotte saw something special and gave him the wonderful home and training he has had to now.
A great book from our favourite blogger Victoria Brant of Diary of a Wimpy Eventer – chronicling her journey from lost confidence to getting back on her horse Pat, completing a season out eventing and everything in between. Her latest book – How To Stay On Top – is now out and I have yet to purchase it but plan to very soon!
A no fuss, down to earth and sympathetic approach to training horses of all ages, breeds and levels – everything from running her yard, to training tips, and input from other top trainers and riders. Mary is old-school and a true horsewoman, and that is the best way to be.
OK, so it’s not exactly a ‘book’ per se, but it’s a thing I like to read! I subscribe to the digital version and love the articles and exercises they put up each month. I also like the additional content they put up on their YouTube channel!
There are so many other books I have read and learned from over the years, but these are just some of my favourites. I am always looking for new books to read, what are your favourites? They don’t even have to be horsey!
It is THAT time of year. Hair shedding season. There is often more hair on you than on your horse, and your days are spent picking loose hairs off ‘non horse clothes’ as they have somehow infiltrated all aspects of your daily existence.
With the shedding season, comes the dreaded rubs. Rubs on the shoulders, rubs from your riding boots on your horse’s sides, rubs from the reins, rubs from your saddlepad. And the worst of all – a rubbed mane. All too familiar at this time of the year are the sights of horses with plaits ending halfway down their mane, or a row of lovely plaits and then a few teeny-tiny plaits toward the withers. It’s positively devastating.
Paddy has always had a lovely thick mane year-round, but suffers from rubs on his shoulders and sides around this time of year – while Willow on the other hand has started to lose quite a bit of her mane where the rug sits. I’ve been taking some steps to prevent further hair loss, and encourage regrowth as fast as possible on both horses, and thought I would share my tips with you all:
LeMieux Lava Burst Shampoo
1. Keep the mane & coat clean
Rubs, particularly on the mane, are often as a result of friction, where the rug cannot easily glide over the surface area as the horse moves naturally. I bet if you looked at the inside of the neck of your rug you’d see it is pretty greasy (guilty)! The best way to limit friction is to keep the mane and coat clean and shiny – wash the mane and sensitive coat areas as often as the cold weather will allow, and if you don’t have to plait for a show, consider spraying in some detangler to keep the mane sleek and thus limit friction.
I used a LeMieux sheepskin girth cover all year around with my last horse, who was very sensitive
2. Watch the girth area
This applies all year round, but pay particular attention at this time of year – sweat is a big culprit for causing rubs around the girth area! Combined with dirt (see point 1) it can cause girth galls and sores, so it’s important to brush or sponge down any sweat that has built up after riding. Many of us will we bringing our horses back into work at this time of year, or ramping up their fitness work, so increased sweat and friction from the girth as the horse moves is something to watch out for.
For extra sensitive horses, consider using a sheepskin girth cover during this time – I used one year-round on my last horse as she was particularly sensitive, and just at this time of year for Paddy as a preventative measure. Also, they look so pretty!
The LeMieux Anti Rub Bib goes up past the withers and protects them with their classic soft fleece lining
3. Bibs – not just for babies!
For horse’s who are particularly sensitive or whose manes point blank REFUSE to stay attached to their neck, a hood or bib is a great option to consider to create the ‘friction free’ effect. Depending on the severity of the rubbing, you may choose to use a full neck hood which covers the horse’s entire neck, or a bib which goes halfway up the neck.
As Paddy mostly gets rubs around his withers and shoulders, I chose to go for a bib. I use the LeMieux Anti-Rub Bib which is very different to any other bib I have used before, as it goes halfway up the horse’s neck and has LeMieux’s trademark fleece wither protector – protecting the critical area around the withers that is most susceptible to rubs. To prove its effectiveness, I gave it to a friend whose horse without fail lost his mane every winter, and who had exhausted all options and bibs trying to stop this from happening – his mane stayed intact and she ended up looking to purchase one herself! You can read the full review here.
The LeMieux Merino+ Sensitive range is ideal for horses prone to rubbing at this time of year. Look how thick it is!
4. Choose the right saddlepad
A big complaint I hear around this time of year is how many horses are being rubbed by their saddlepads after being ridden. You may need to be selective about the types of saddlepads you use during this awkward time, until your horse’s summer coat has grown in – try to avoid pads with piping or embroidery around the sides, and just have a general feel of the material on the pads – sticking with softer materials and avoiding pads with materials that feel coarse.
For extra-sensitive horses, or for that extra bit of luxury for your horse, I highly recommend the LeMieux Merino+ Sensitive pads – I was lucky enough to be given one by LeMieux to try on Paddy last year at just the right time, and I wouldn’t be without it now. You can read our review here.
The LeMieux Merino+ Sensitive Eurojump pad is my favourite pad to use on Paddy! Credit: Louise O’Brien Photography
5. Apply a conditioner to speed up regrowth
Step one is to stop the hair loss or rubbing from escalating. Step two is to get the hair to grow back, if some has already been lost! There are lots of solutions out there to aid hair re-growth, from home remedies to products specifically manufactured for the job, but the two most widely known products are Shapleys M-T-G and Eqyss Mega-Tek Rebuilder. I personally have used Mega-Tek for the last few years as it is easy to apply, the smell is divine, and can be used on coats, manes, tails and even hooves!
Shapleys gets fantastic reviews, however historically it had a very strong smell so I avoided it – I am told the new ‘Plus’ version leaves a much nicer smell, and the product is useful for not just hair loss, but a range of bacterial and fungal issues such as rain scald, mud fever, sweet itch and lots more. A very versatile product!
So there you have it, my top five tips for preventing (and saving) hair loss in the wrong places on your horse this winter/spring! I hope you find them useful. I just cannot wait until the summer, when my horses have a beautiful summer coat and a nice full mane – and NO MUD! But then I suppose, we get the flies…
Do you have any other tips to share on preventing hair loss or rubbing that you have picked up over the years?
The products featured in this post are a mixture of those I have received from LeMieux to review in the past and continue to use, as well as products I have purchased myself.
One of the hardest things about schooling our horses can be staying motivated and coming up with a good plan for your schooling sessions – especially when you are confined to an arena during the winter months! Polework is a great way to keep both you and your horse focused, motivated and provide some variety in your schooling.
This post will look at three simple pole exercises you can set up in 10-15 minutes or less, and work to improve your horse’s canter. You can simplify or progress each of these exercises, depending on what stage your horse is at in their training, and the best thing of all is that these exercises mean you don’t have to work so hard in your sessions – the exercises do the teaching!
1. Two Poles
This is one of the easiest, and most valuable pole exercises you will ever do. Chris Burton credits this exercise as being instrumental to making him a fast cross country rider – watch this video from Horse & Country TV to see more on this exercise.
Improving adjustability in the canter
Teaching you to see a stride
Ensuring your horse is responsive to your aids.
Set it up:
Place two poles on the ground anywhere between 4-6 strides apart. You do not have to walk out the distance perfectly – in fact a less-than-perfect distance is actually better for this exercise, and will result in a more educational experience for you and your horse!
Come in a balanced canter, and ride down between the two poles to establish the ‘normal’ number of strides that your horse makes in between the poles.
Ride over this a few times until you can ensure the pole is in the middle of your horse’s canter stride without any change to his rhythm.
Shorten your horse’s canter and add an extra stride in between the poles. Repeat until you can nail point two on the collected canter.
Lengthen your horse’s canter and take away a stride in between the poles. Repeat until you can nail point two in the extended canter.
Come back to ‘normal’ canter, and repeat.
Take it up a level:
Take two strides away in lengthened canter, or add two strides in collected canter.
Add a pole into the middle of your two poles and practice different numbers of strides between the poles, e.g two strides to the first and three strides to the second, and vice versa.
For more insight into how to ride this exercise, watch this video with Piggy French:
Vary your horse's canter rhythm over two poles on the ground - YouTube
2. The Clock Face
Improving balance, control and rhythm in your horse’s canter.
Set it up:
Place four poles on a 20m circle in the shape of a clock – the poles should be placed at 12-3-6-9 on the clock face.
Depending on how fit and athletic your horse is, you may want to introduce this exercise gradually, as it is physically taxing.
Start by cantering over just two poles (12 & 6 or 3 & 9) to introduce your horse to the exercise. Do this on both reins.
Canter over the middle of the four poles to make a 20m circle. Do this on both reins.
When your horse is comfortable cantering over the middle of the poles in an even, consistent rhythm, progress to cantering over the inside of the poles on a shorter stride, and the outside of the poles on a lengthened stride.
Take it up a level:
The poles can be made into cross-poles to increase the complexity of the exercise and work on jumping out of a rhythm.
This video illustrates the exercise really well:
"The clock face" TRAINING VIDEO - YouTube
3. Poles on a Curve/Circle
Improving your horse’s rhythm and suppleness on both reins.
Set it up:
Place four poles on a curve/circle spaced three walk steps (three yards) apart at the middle of the pole – the outside of the poles will naturally be further apart, and the inside of the poles closer together.
Commence your circle in canter, and canter over the middle of the poles in a nice even rhythm. Do this on both reins.
Once your horse is cantering over the middle of the poles in an even rhythm, progress to cantering over the inside of the poles on a shorter stride, and the outside of the poles on a lengthened stride.
Take it up a level:
Increase the number of poles to six, and create a small jump out of every second pole, so that you have three small jumps and a pole on the ground in front of each jump. Canter over these on a curve. Tip: If your horse is not particularly supple, you can start by raising one side of the pole alternately until your horse is comfortable, and then raise the other side to create a jump.
This is a great video of Jay Halim riding this exercise:
Jay Halim rides his canter circle with poles exercise - YouTube
As part of my blogging goals for 2018, I am focusing on doing more on the website, and trying to get into a good posting schedule beyond the posts I do on social media. One thing I am doing as part of this is reviving the ‘monthly roundup’ posts that I tested in late 2017 – a summary of everything we got up to in the previous month, which is a great way for you all to catch up on the various posts I put up across all my channels throughout the month. Typically, you should expect this roundup to be up on the blog in the first week of the month, but I am sorry to say I am a bit behind schedule with the first one of 2018! February has been a particularly busy month for me, so forgive me for being late with the January roundup. But better late than never eh? So here it is…
Willow & Paddy get acquainted!
Paddy Makes Progress
Does anyone else feel like I’ve been talking about Paddy coming back into work for forever?! I know I do! The initial prognosis from the vets was six months off work – a combination of box rest, small paddock rest, and gentle walk work during that time. An assessment from our vet halfway through this showed that he was making good progress, so after four months I moved him from in hand/walker work to ridden work. However, he felt somewhat stiff and just not 100%, so I took some videos and brought him back to our vet for another checkup. We decided to rest him for a further 6-8 weeks, and do some in-hand walking in that time – I was in no rush to have him back in work, and wanted to give him every chance to come back fighting fit.
I followed his program as diligently as I could (it’s not always easy when you’re on the top of a mountain, trying to rehab a fresh horse in the depths of an Irish winter!) and brought him back to the vet halfway through the programme for a final checkup. I was unbelievably nervous going back to the vet, as we hadn’t exactly been getting the news we hoped for both of the previous times we were there. I guess it really is third time lucky, as my vet was happy with the progress Paddy had made following his rest, and gave us the all clear to ‘kick on’ with our fitness plan for the Eventing season ahead. I can’t tell you just how emotional that moment was for me, as I felt like our journey back to ridden work was a long one, and full of plenty of bumps along the way. As an owner you become quite doubtful and paranoid – watching every step, analysing countless videos, doing unnecessary Googling – it creates anxiety in you, distracts you, and even causes sleeplessness.
We’ve been rehabbing rail, hail, shine – or snow!
A good support network is absolutely critical for any horse owner going through a situation like this – I plan to write a separate post about the value of a good network, but you need to surround yourself withn experienced and supportive people who have your best interests at heart. I am lucky to have a vet, farrier, yard owner and good friend who are all experienced, but most importantly pragmatic – they give me solutions, talk me down when I am panicking, and gently let me know when I am over-reacting. I really believe that everyone needs these people in their lives.
And so, Paddy has been ‘kicking on’ – by the end of January, he was cantering on the lunge, schooling in trot under saddle, and even had a little trace clip at the end of the month as he’s now doing enough work to actually sweat! I will continue to ramp up his work and assess how he is coping with each session – and step it back if ever I feel concerned. I am in no rush with him. More on his journey on the Facebook page, and in next month’s roundup…
Willow Goes Hacking
I absolutely adore Paddy and his endless talent, however one thing I wish I could change about him is his lack of interest in hacking on the roads! He is not a fan, and would much prefer to be in the arena, on the beach, or out cross country. As time has gone on, and trust in me has been established, we venture a little further down the roads, but I can still tell he isn’t enamoured with it. So when I had the chance to produce a baby from scratch with Willow, I promised myself that I would produce a horse who hacked, and who enjoyed it! Hacking is a great way for horses to see the world, add variety to their training, and create a more durable horse in the long run – working on varied terrain conditions the horse’s legs to cope better and prevent injury.
I wanted Willow to see hacking as a normal activity from day one, so together with my yard owner who helped me to break her, we long-reined her up and down the roads and lanes around our yard before we even backed her. The roads in our area are very quiet, and many of our neighbours also have horses and are considerate of them on the roads, which makes this much easier.
Willow loves to hack!
Once we backed her, I pretty much got her going on the roads after just a few sessions – hacking her down to the end of our long lane and back after every session. This created a positive association between hacking and the hard work being over. We then ventured a bit further with a ‘babysitter’ – an experienced, non-spooky horse, who would be safe with a baby horse potentially running up their bum, or spooking sideways beside them. We used our ‘babysitter’ to show us the scary things on the roads were safe – wheelie bins, big walls and gates, and even bends that we couldn’t see around. All these can be scary to horses!
However, I need not have worried, as Willow is a naturally forward-thinking horse, and quickly grasped that hacking is easy and fun – there’s lots to see, and if she’s very good she gets to go on a long rein! She very much has established a positive association with hacking, and I can happily hack her on new routes alone without issue.
Here’s to a Summer of hacking ahead!
She also loves to jump!
Willow Does Dressage (and some Jumping, too!)
Seeing as this blog is all about my journey into eventing, I figured I better try and get my new baby horse accustomed to a few of the eventing disciplines too! Having established some confidence over small jumps, I decided to enter Willow into a local unaffiliated Combined Training league – these shows are a great way to expose young horses to a show environment, in a more relaxed atmosphere. She had only been away from the yard twice before, so I wasn’t sure how it was going to go, but we had to start somewhere.
The first week was a bit of a mixed bag – she was understandably unsure when she got off the trailer, and I was extremely nervous, having not done dressage in just shy of a year. This did not inspire any confidence in Willow, and when we got to the warm up I could tell she was lacking in confidence, as she had never seen a dressage arena or a judge’s car before – and so I got even more nervous! This translated directly to our test, where we got stage fright halfway down the centre line, and completed our test a bit further away from C than I would have liked! The judge was extremely fair, using all the marks available – giving us a 2 for our moment of stage fright, and just a few movements later giving us a 6 for a nice relaxed circle in trot.
At least the plaits looked good that first week…
She then went on to produce a lovely clear round in the jumping, and was totally back to herself after a couple of jumps – this she was confident in and new her job. I could not fault her in any way on the day as she was reacting exactly as I should have expected her to, given it was her first time between the white boards – I myself was just not prepared enough to help her, and let her down.
So I made it my mission to get my s**t together for the following week and do my wonderful horse justice. I booked a lesson with my yard owner to give me some tools that I could use if Willow should become unsure – to get her focus back on me, give her something to think about, and help her to feel confident in herself. I plan to do a full write up on this lesson (I am so behind schedule on all the posts I need to get written!) as it was one of the best lessons I have had, and I can tell you that I came away with three tools that really worked for Willow and I. I kept these in my mind from the moment I turned off the ignition at the show the following week until I dismounted after our jumping round – and what a difference they made. We came out with a score of 70% in our dressage, and a clear in the showjumping to come second in Willow’s second ever show! We went from a 2 for our centre line to an 8 – what a transformation.
Each subsequent week passed with no more ‘stage fright’ and continued improvement in confidence, and placings! We were never out of the ribbons each week, and didn’t knock a single pole showjumping over the five weeks – which went a long way toward giving us good points on the league leaderboard! The final was in February, so I’ll be referencing that in our February roundup, but for those of you who follow us, you’ll know that we ended up WINNING the league! A much-needed boost after some long hours, late finishes and early starts, and reminded me why I work so hard at this sport, even when it’s not always going my way.
We won the Combined Training league! Yay for Willow pony!
Willow goes XC Schooling
Willow has proven herself to be a very brave little mare, always thinking forward and loving her jumping. The prospect of eventing her this year is becoming a very real one. To start this journey I took her cross country schooling to Barnadown, who are running a mini One Day Event league in February and March. We started doing some of the baby fences, with a ‘babysitter’ horse who gave her a lead over everything. We then progressed to some of the bigger fences, finishing up on a small course of 70-90cm. She was super! It took her a few goes to become more sure of herself jumping down off the banks and into the water – this is normal with young horses who have never jumped off a drop before, as they are not footsure – but we kept doing it up and down, up and down, until she was just popping off out of her normal stride. This is the best way to teach a young horse banks and ditches – just trot quietly up to over and off them until they do it out of their natural stride, nice and easy. Paddy struggled with ditches when I first started schooling him and I was told this by Ciaran Glynn in a clinic, and it massively helped us both.
We’ve also been busy testing some new products which I hope to start publishing reviews of on the blog very soon! They are:
Pro-cush XC whip – I got this as a gift from a friend and so far I really love it
Back on Track Royal Quick Wraps – I won these in a competition from Equine Therapies Ireland, who are the first Irish distributor of BoT products in Ireland. This is my first time using a Back on Track product, and so far I am a huge convert!
Leroy & Bongo 2018 planner – I bought one in 2017 and loved it so much that I purchased it again in 2018! Full review to follow.
My Horse Box subscription – I did a review of the July Box for My Horse Box last year and loved it so much that I purchased a subscription for myself in 2018. I did an unboxing video for the January box which you can see here
Woof Wear Riding Wellies – I bought these as a gift for a friend but they ended up being too small for her, so I kept them for myself! Absolutely love them so far, want to test them a little bit more before reviewing.
Equiami Lunging Aid – I bought this on the recommendation from a physio and a friend to help with Paddy’s rehab, and to build Willow’s topline. It took me a few goes to figure out how to use it, but so far I’m seeing a real difference in how both of the horses go. Stay tuned!
So, a very busy January to kickstart 2018, no wonder I’m feeling so tired! February has also been extremely busy – hence why I’ve been so late publishing this roundup – so I look forward to sharing that roundup with you in a week’s time!