Friday, 31 July 2015

Every day's a school day....

If you haven't realised from reading the blogs recently we are having a huge overhaul in Buddy's way of going but also my riding, effectiveness and position. I had a lesson at my first RRR (Rockley Rehab Reunion) and I said my aim was to not just be an effective rider but to look effortless and elegant whilst doing so. Whilst that is still a long way off I have got far closer to that aim in the last few months than I have in the last few years. I've walked away from every single one of my lessons in the last few months feeling better, having achieved something and pushing my goals a little bit further towards reality. I'm also getting a far longer list of things I need to work on!

Our jumping lessons have been educational but with moments of slight terror (from both G and me) as Buddy has got more confident and knows that I do mean it. Kamekaze jumping however is not my prefered style so this has meant a change in bitting was required so that I had more control. The tricky thing about B is that he is not strong, far from it, but he is unbelievably heavy in the hand and then pulls me down into the fences which means we get flatter and longer and then the craziness begins. So we had a few ideas of things to try, we didn't want him to suck back away from the contact, so I went armed with a bucketful of bits that my lovely YO had leant me from her magical (almost bottomless) supply of bits. G had thought a jointed pelham would suit him so that was the first one we tried. 

Initially he didn't feel great in it but once I started riding him and asking for something rather than being afraid of the bit he started going really well. The issues we wanted to fix were him charging into a fence and keeping him off the forehand. We started over a small cross pole and I was slightly apprehensive as he'd not jumped for a couple of weeks and he did go to charge at the fence but I sat up, half halted and we popped over it very sweetly. Success! 

The plan then went up a notch and we started playing over some bigger fences and stringing a small course together. For the first time I felt like I had the power under control, I could place him to the fence and actually make small adjustments. It made a huge difference to my confidence and also to Buddy's way of going - he had a much better shape over the fences and his canter was much lighter on his feet which can only ever be a good thing. It stayed consistent throughout the session and so I'm looking forward to testing it out xc this weekend.

Then we finished our weekly learning with a flatwork session. I've been struggling with a creeping right leg and tight hips so we spent a long time stretching me without stirrups and keeping B soft and supple in the walk. This makes such a huge difference to his warm up routine and helps me massively at a competition as I only really need to spend a short amount of time in trot and canter so if the warm up is busy I have the ability to warm up enough without stressing B out too much. 

Once we were both suppled up we went into trot and really practised getting our transitions soft but forward and 'pinging'. I have to resist using my reins to slow him down and go to my body first before half halting but I also need to keep the hind leg active and really stepping though. This was a tricky exercise for both of us but wow the trot work felt good when we'd done a handful on each rein. We then did a bit of canter and the quality just went up another level! We only did half of the school and stopped as B was tiring and we didn't want to push him too much as he'd worked very hard. It is so exciting to be working with two trainers who are so in tune with each other (without ever meeting) and really compliment each other and the goals I want to achieve. 

Friday, 24 July 2015

Managing the Barefoot Performance Horse - Exercise

The biggest barefoot myths I heard about before taking Buddy’s shoes off were all focused around exercise and what my horse wouldn’t possibly be able to do without shoes. I’ve listed my top 5 below..

  1. You won’t be able to exercise on the road without wearing the feet to bleeding stumps
  2. You will fall over on grass
  3. You will need to use boots
  4. You won’t be able to jump on grass
  5. You won’t be able to compete
I can laugh at these now as I have proved the opposite is true but these opinions are still out there and are very strong. It seems that people think barefoot performance horses are a freak of nature and I’ve had several people tell me how lucky I am to have a horse with such great feet that can ‘cope’ with being bare – if only they knew where we started!!

I have always believed in giving my horses a really varied exercise regime and being barefoot hasn’t changed this at all. You follow the blog and so you have seen that Buddy hacks, jumps, gallops, schools and competes regularly.

Hacking is a really integral part of my week and I go everywhere and anywhere, I often take Buddy to new places as I think it’s incredibly  important for him to be exposed to lots of different things in a non-pressurised environment so that when we are competing new things are not such a big deal.  It is also great for my mental wellbeing and our relationship as a pair. I do make Buddy ‘work’ on our hacks though… Making sure he is loose through his back and working into the contact so that everything we do builds on the more focused work we do in the arena. It is also important for our fitness work and I have a few great hills that I can use to help build up our stamina.

I do far more hacking in the summer as I have longer evenings but I still don’t do as much as I would like to. On an average week we do about 10-15 miles, I will always hack on a weekend if I’m not competing and so can do up to 20 miles during these weeks. My hacking is varied and we do plenty of roadwork as well as some more challenging terrain.

I also try not to spend too much time in my arena although this is harder when I’m working late or during the winter and so I try and keep my sessions varied if I have to spend more than one or two sessions in there during the week. During the event season I do far less groundwork but use this a lot during the winter and often drag the poles out to add another level of difficulty. I do 90% of my show jumping training in the arena purely to save the strain on his legs and do a lot of work on technique for the pair of us so keep the fences small and the mileage lower. I don’t worry about practising SJ on grass too much as we do a fair bit of XC schooling on grass and I rarely jump single fences so Buddy gets to practise riding a course, they just can’t be knocked down!
I don’t really have an average week as my plans will always be around what competition is coming up and how Buddy’s feet look. As an example we spent a couple of weeks in early July mainly road hacking as his feet needed it whereas in June we spent far more time in the arena  or on grass practising for competitions. I will do at least one mainly road hack and one schooling / dressage lesson each week but am pretty fluid other than that.

I have found that Buddy’s feet get better with a variety of exercise and the harder he works the better his feet look and function. I have slowly built up conditioning his feet  and so he can cope with everything I ask him to do and that is the key – your horse will go foot sore if you ask him to do too much too fast. In my experience you can get away with a less than perfect diet if your horse is working harder and this is something I have seen again recently when Buddy had 8 days off when he whacked his splint, his feet are definitely more sensitive than they were but I see an improvement after every ride.

Thursday, 16 July 2015

Managing the Barefoot Performance Horse - Diet

I've had a couple of mails recently about how I manage Buddy, his exercise, diet and feet so I thought I'd do a couple of posts on these starting with diet. When B came home from Rockley Nic gave me a diet sheet with everything he'd been fed and so I remained in that comfort zone for a very long time quite happily as I didn't need anything else. However I soon got braver and tweaked the minerals and then slowly started tweaking the diet.

For a barefoot horse diet is critical to keep the hoof functioning and sugar has a huge impact. Forage forms the bulk of any horse's diet (and if it doesn't it should!) so the sneaky sugar peaks in grazing have to be monitored. Buddy is out during the day in the winter, in at night and this swops during the summer months. The grazing at my yard isn't fertilised and is a mixture of different grasses and it is not the lush grazing that some owners have to contend with. When he is stabled he is fed haylage which is grown at the yard and so I know is 'safe'. He has ad lib access to this and is fed from a haybar.

The basis for Buddy's hard feeds throughout the year are the following items:
1. Coolstance Copra
2. Dengie Alfa Pellets
3. Crushed Oats
4. Unmollased sugar beet
5. Linseed (summer) / Omega Rice (winter)

I feed these in varying amounts depending on the time of year and workload but these basic items are always there in some degree. Added to this I have a delightful selection of minerals which I pre mix into little pots so that it is easier for my YO to manage. I have experimented with my mineral mix over the last three years and have used Pro Balance, Pro Hoof, Equivita and now I use Farriers Mix from my sponsor. Of those I rate Equivita and Farriers Mix and have noticed the better quality hoof with those two. I noticed no change in hoof when swopping to Farriers Mix and they had vastly improved when moving to Equivita.

My mineral mix includes:
1. Farriers Mix from The Herbal Horse
2. Cal Mag (30-100ml depending on time of year)
3. Salt (15-50ml depending on time of year)
4. Sports Horse Mix from The Herbal Horse

B is not the easiest horse to keep condition on and has a tendency to drop condition overnight at coat change time (Sept/Oct and Jan/Feb) and I have struggled to get it back on him. My previous 'go to' feed was Baileys conditioning cubes but these are too high in starch so they were off the list but in January I started feeding Omega Rice from Falcon Feeds which made a massive difference very quickly. So this year I will start feeding it before his usual drop off time to ensure he remains in good condition year round. The addition of the sports horse mix has also made a difference as, for the first time since I've owned him, he is only fed once a day during the summer. Now considering he is in harder work now than he has ever been and looks better than he has ever done I think that's a pretty good testimonial!

Friday, 10 July 2015

Perfecting my Position

I had a slightly different dressage lesson this week. B is feeling more consistent and is getting stronger all the time so it was time to start working on me a bit now too. I've really struggled to find the right centre of balance for me and my old saddle didn't help as it tipped me forward, didn't support me in the right way and I just felt 'wedged in'. My issues are that I'm hypermobile, have one leg longer than the other and am prone to tension in my lower back (as my muscles are working overtime to support my wonkey back). I have lots of exercises that I do to help combat the challenges but I am fully aware I will never be perfect.

The new saddle has done wonders but I've looked at pictures and just gone 'yuck'! So operation Charlotte has begun and it all started in this session. First thing to sort out was head (imagine hair being pulled back) then chest (lifting up) followed by core (supporting and lifting) then my seat (I need to think 'perch' otherwise my bum sticks out or I tuck it under too far) and finally legs (imagining I only have my thighs, thinking balance). It all sounds like quite a lot to remember and whilst I'm nailing it in walk I don't find it so easy when the tempo is upped. I will be practising a lot to make this a muscle memory but I think it'll take a while.....

The position theme was followed on with my jumping lesson this week too. We warmed up over a x pole which Buddy was poilte into the first time but then started charging at the fence. We bought him back to trot and he was better but as soon as we cantered he was off like a thing possessed. So we started to play with my position and dropped my strirrups a hole so I could use my legs a bit more and this was a bit better but we then dropped another hole and this enabled me to sit much better and I was able to use my body to slow him down. Throughout the session B kept taking the bit and charging at jumps we weren't even going to jump, he was being incredibly rude so we worked on getting him to listen, dropped my whip and removed my spurs which helped although he was still uber keen!! He has definitely gone from one extreme to the other and is clearly loving his jumping a lot at the moment but he just needs to take a chill pill a bit and not let the excitement take over. 

We also worked on me and making sure my position is far less defensive now as I need to learn to trust that B will go. At the moment I have a tendency to stay upright and then stay right back even over the jump which leads to an untidy landing and B shoots off as I'm not in total charge of him or my body. So we worked on making sure I go forwards over the fence and take the contact with me rather than just letting my reins get longer and longer. It took a few goes but I was getting better (although I still have a very long way to go) and it was making the landing and strides after the jump much more controlled. It was another game changing lesson that made my brain ache! I have another one this week and we will be trying a slightly different bitting set up to try and remind B that it is not poilte to hoon!

Our next outing was our final TQ competition which was at Wellington. I was doing P18 whilst the two girls did the novice test - Em has to but Lucy wanted to give it a go as her and Fryday are both more than capable. We warmed up well although he was feeling a bit onward bound in the canter and I was conscious I didn't want to spend too much time correcting it as it was very muggy and the indoor we were competing in gets incredibly hot and stuffy so I knew I'd just have to ride whatever I got when I was in there! As predicted it was ridiculously warm but I ensured I stuck to my plan and did a big circle at the top (scary door of doom) and cut across the school before halting in front of the judge. We trotted past and the bell rang. I was pleased with the test but there were moments where he backed off my leg and felt sluggish and the canter was a bit more onward bound than I would have liked with the added frustration that I knew if I'd checked him he just would have dropped me so there was some sloppiness in our transitions. However, it was a sweet enough test and I was pleased with him - I predicted a 66% based on previous performances.

The girls were on much later so I packed B up and took him home and when I'd finished unpacking the lorry the girls text to let me know I'd broken the 70% barrier again! Totally unexpected but so lovely. On reading my sheet the good bit were rewarded and the bits where he backed off were marked down which is fair enough. There was a pro photographer in attendance so hopefully they got some nice pictures. Both girls did really well in the Novice test scoring over 65% so we ended up on really good team score and 2nd place overall. We weren't expecting it so it was all the more lovely to come away with a frily. We are still in 1st place in the region so we are now prepping for regionals which is incredibly exciting!!

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Top of the Table

Our last competition was Team Quest at Snowball Farm and it was the same test as the week prior - P14. After 'scratch gate' I really wanted to get out and have a good test. So as I went to the warm up I was a bit shocked to hear that they were running incredibly early and the person before me was already riding their test and I was next in! I then had to explain that I wouldn't be going straight in as I needed my full 20 minute warm up and was a bit shocked that that was the expectation. Usually I would have let that put me in a fluster but I maintained my warm up routine and went in when I was ready.

The test wasn't as nice as the week before as I didn't have total control of his shoulders and he was feeling rather full of himself in the canter but it was still a good test and I was pleased with it. The judge gave me some feedback at the end and said what a lovely horse he was which was a pleasure to hear - it's never happened to me before so to have it happen twice in two weeks is still a huge novelty. 

We ended up on 66.46% with the team on 196.92 which was 6.92 ahead of second place so a nice comfortable win which was really nice as it has been a while since we've got a red frilly. The best bit about this result though is that it has bumped us up to 1st place on the Central Leaderboard with a grand total of 48/50 points. Our next TQ is 12th July and then 9th August, both at Wellington and are just practise runs - Lucy is going to do the Novice whereas I'm still wanting to nail that test riding so will stick at prelim for now. 

The following week BUBD had a slight change of scene and we went for a lovely farm ride at Cholsey Farm. The scenery was stunning, the weather was rather warm but most of the ride was through woodland so was lovely and cool and as we were at the top of the Chilterns there was a beautiful breeze as well. It was a perfect day and the ponies all enjoyed themselves - Fryday was bucking and squeaking for joy when we went for a canter and decided to race the big boys which made us all go a tad out of control (which may have also been because we were laughing so hard we couldn't pull up).

It was the perfect way to start our more relaxed July. As June was full of competitions I had always planned to have a quieter July and focus on a bit more training and hacking as Buddy's feet need a bit more attention than they've been getting. The only competition we have is this weekend and then nothing until August but I've got lots of jumping, dressage and xc practise in the diary and am super excited about getting out and about again.