A tiny tack change makes a big difference

I know there’s a lot of controversy out there about the use of different tack, “gadgets” or training aids and people can come down really strongly on both sides of the fence. Some people are all for them, others feel that they can be useful as long as they’re in the right hands for the right reason and others seem to really hate them. I’m probably in the middle ground, as long as the training methods aren’t causing the horse physical harm or suffering and the use is justified and reasonable then I’m happy to let people do what works for them. What works for us personally though is usually the minimalist approach. Some may feel this accounts for the slow and steady nature of our progress, but I think Ginge and I are pretty happy overall taking things steady and letting him work things out in his own time.

This post is going to act as a bit of a case study that shows why, for us, simple seems to be best for my boy’s sensitive soul. About six months ago, one of our trainers suggested I try Ginge in a grackle noseband, I was sceptical at first as someone suggested a flash once and the resulting meltdown from him was torture. However, I was assured that they are now BD legal and came out favourably in tests by Centaur Biomechanics in terms of pressure points and affects on performance, so I decided to give it a go. The initial results were favourable, I was getting better head carriage and increased focus and control so I decided to stick with it.

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The first sign for me that something wasn’t right with the set up was a new recurring comment from the Dressage Anywhere judges that they didn’t feel he was going forward enough. This might explain why I felt more in control, since we were slower, but not going forward isn’t something that we’d ever struggled with before. If anything the issue was always long frame and bumbling along too quickly on the forehand. To the experienced rider, this may have been enough on its own to hint something needed to change. It’s the head carriage was neater and less on the forehand, but the sudden lack of desire to move forward is probably a classic sign of a gadget fixing a symptom but not doing anything to improve the fundamental cause.

The thing that got me to really consider the fact that the grackle wasn’t working for Ginge was out hacking. For months it had been fine, as far as I recall but maybe I hadn’t been hacking as much as usual. The new problem was pretty hard to ignore: after about 45mins – 1 hour of riding, any walk work resulted in fairly constant and almost violent head shaking. Now, he has always been cheeky and tried to snatch the reins when he decides we’re done – but this was much more extreme. At our new yard we do quite a lot of hacking, so the issue was really beginning to worry me and in the end I decided to ditch the grackle to see if the problem solved itself.

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So, here we are back in the plain noseband. I’m not going to pretend it has been a miracle cure. When I first swapped noseband, I was faced with a monster in the school! He spooked in both directions over nothing at all, I’m fairly sure in an attempt to test out my reduced head control. He also careered around the arena massively on the forehand in an out of control steam train impression that I would be embarrassed to present to a judge – although at least he was going forward! However, the head shaking has stopped and he is noticeably less argumentative about being tacked up. He is back to happily presenting his head for the bridle instead of attempting to make a break for it before I can do up the noseband.

Six weeks off from competition and taking the schooling back to basics with transitions and knowing where our brakes are and we’re nearly ready to face the judges again. He is lifting back up off the forehand again and the extra hacking, hillwork and speedwork means he is gaining that all important strength behind to balance and support himself. I am having to learn to gain his co-operation rather than control him with simple tricks like distracting him with lateral work when he starts sulking. I have also taken up PiYo (slightly intense Pilates – Yoga combo) in an effort to strengthen my core to make sure I’m sitting up properly instead of collapsing forwards with him when he drops onto the forehand.

Obviously, I’m hoping that next time we face the judges we get comments that reflect our hardwork and changes. The main thing really though, is that my beautiful boy is happy again and we’re working together rather than under duress!

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5Photos1Day: February #HorseBloggers Challenge

This month, I took up the challenge set by Sam from Haynet blog to post five photos in a single day that give insight into typical daily life. Since Instagramming photos of the pony and dog is one of my favourite things at the moment I jumped at this challenge! I decided to take the challenge on a weekend day, as they’re much more fun and less likely to be 80% photos of coffee! I also quizzed my bemused husband on whether he thought a photo of ‘x’ or ‘y’ seemed more appropriate in an attempt to make a plan. In the end though, I think the photos were more or less organic and they’re definitely a good representation of my weekends!

Here we go with photo number 1! This is how literally every day starts: tea and doggy cuddles. The mug was a leaving gift from my previous job, most office colleagues seem endlessly confused by the early starts and the mucking out involved in horse ownership, so this comedy mug is a perfect representation of how they see me! Spider pup is a bit of a lapdog, despite his tough exterior when we’re out and about, so no cup of tea is permitted in our house without a small dog sat on you!

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Photo 2, shows the real “glamour” of horse ownership, ha! It’s raining and I’m pushing a wheelbarrow of muck through ankle deep mud. Glorious. The things we do for the animals we love! I like to get my all my jobs out the way first thing when I arrive at the yard, it’s a good way of warming up and means that when I get to riding I can enjoy it without a million tasks in my head for when I get back. For Starks, it means he gets to mooch about in his field for a few hours stretching off after a night in the stable before working as well.

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Photo 3 is what it’s all about for many of us, the riding! As you can tell from Ginge’s wet ears, it was definitely a rainy day, but luckily for us it slowed right down for our little plod around the village. I was really proud of us this day as it was our first time hacking out alone for quite a while. I’m a big baby about hacking out alone and try to avoid it if I’m honest. I’m not entirely sure why as Starks is normally pretty good hacking out. We had a bit of a nappy phase about a year ago and an incident where he turned into a rodeo horse in an open field and I’ve not fully trusted him since. This is probably sensible, as you really never know with horses even if they’re usually the safest plod on the planet. However, he was school tired for this week and I really fancied an outing, so with no one to go with us I text my husband a route and estimated return time (just in case), covered us in hi-viz and off we went. Ginge was a perfect gent, of course, and once I relaxed I think we both enjoyed ourselves. It was quite a nice experience actually, just the two of us spending some quality time together. Since I wasn’t busy gossiping, I got to actually admire the beauty of our lovely Cotswold surroundings and since I wasn’t hurrying him along Ginge got to enjoy having a good nose and trying to go down everyone’s driveways. Bliss!

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Photo 4 is another insight into our home life. My husband and I bought a 1970s house, which had remained unchanged since then, two years ago and have been slowly making it our own. Very talented husband has done most of the house without any practical input from me, but very occasionally I get involved and help with a spot of painting. We’re doing the hallway at the moment – an exciting point that means we’ve finished upstairs and we’re moving onto the ground floor – so I helped by diligently painting the middles of all the walls on a rainy afternoon.

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The final photo of the day is another of my lovely ginger boy. I brought him in early out of the rain, as he seemed particularly unhappy about it today. He used to live out 24/7 during the winter, but these days he seems to quite like his home comforts. Here he is all snug in his stable rug (which is filthy because he is endlessly scruffy) munching on a fibre block. He doesn’t get these very often, but if he needs a bit of extra stable time he has them as a boredom buster. He’s no fool so he makes short work of them despite the small net by crushing them and eating them off the floor. I think I’d have to find something a bit more involved to keep him occupied if he ever had to spend a real extended period of time indoors. The real bonus is that the extra fibre and vitamins is really beneficial for him at this time of year when we’re low on grass and starting to feel like it has been winter forever!

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Well, that’s pretty much me – who else is taking the challenge?