Keeping a Riding Journal! (Part 1)

diaryHiya!

I started keeping a journal of my riding lessons just over a year ago. I’ve found it really helpful in keeping track of my rides, progress, and achievements, so I thought I would share what I’ve learnt with you!!

I keep my riding journal in note form rather than full sentences because it’s quicker and I find it means I’m more likely to keep it up to date. Here are a few extracts from various entries over the past year!

jumping lesson with superstar little pony, jumped grid of about 2’6″, need to keep my hips further back in jump position (I have the bad habit of standing up rather than actually going into jump position), need to kick on just before the jump even if I know the pony I’m riding will jump it

– extract from my riding journal, January 2015

 

first time ridden pony, jumped like the Irish hunting pony he is: very fast & very big, he “jumps like a stag” as my instructor said, told to give with my hands more over the jumps than I normally would, grid built up to 3’ (usually I only jump about 2’6”), amazing lesson

– extract from my riding journal, February 2015

 

rode two horses as we swapped half way through the lesson so we could compare different horses’ way of going:

first pony forward going & fun but not very responsive breaks, very speedy & hard to slow down, took ages to get downward transition, he didn’t have any rhythm so needed to work on that, 20m circles in walk while encouraging him to stretch & relax, some improvement

second horse not very off the leg & hard work, slow walk but more active trot, felt had to rely on tugging reins to steer (which I don’t normally do), he was heavy on the bit & on the forehand, worked on trying to get off the forehand, told not to do lots of long trots as that would put him more on the forehand

– extract from my riding diary, May 2015

 

flat lesson, tried to collect & extend paces , difficult, didn’t really understand how, instructor explained differently how to collect & extend & it suddenly all made sense, I had to “bounce him” along the short sides of the arena to collect & “then let him go” down the long sides to extend, much better after that

– extract from my riding diary, June 2015

Some people like to keep a traditional paper diary in their tack box so they can write in it straight after their ride, others write it on the computer or their phones. It doesn’t really matter how you keep a riding journal, but I recommend that you do! It really helps you remember all the tips your riding instructor gives you, and you can look back to see how much you’ve improved your riding!!

If you have your own horse it can be useful for recording his/her training. If, like me, you go to a riding school you probably ride a lot of different horses, and keeping a riding journal is useful for remembering each horse’s character for the next time you ride them.

Do you keep a riding journal? What’s the best tip you’ve ever learnt for riding?

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading the extracts from my riding diary – part two will be coming soon!!!

Horse Daydreamer xxx

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Blue Skies and Horse Dreams!

sky horseHi!

It’s nearly the end of 2015 and the start of 2016, so I’ll wish you an early happy New Year!!

Come January, we all start thinking about turning our lives into the lives we want. The scattered, abandoned promises of last year are forgotten as we enthusiastically come up with our New Year’s resolutions. Is it just me, or do New Year’s resolutions always seem to be the same, repeated then forgotten every year?

Still, I like January! It feels like a fresh start, another chance, full of endless possibilities and opportunities. A few years ago I came across the concept of blue sky thinking, which I think is very poetic and suitable for New Year. Anything is possible, there are no limitations!!!

Sometimes it’s slightly sad reflecting on the past year, but the overriding feeling is one of hopeful positivity for the future.

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And auld lang syne!

For auld lang syne, my dear,
For auld lang syne.
We’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet,
For auld lang syne.

– Auld Lang Syne, Robert Burns

Do you celebrate New Year? Usually there’s a party on New Year’s eve, with people traditionally singing Auld Lang Syne, and then everyone setting off fireworks at the stroke of midnight!!! The sky is filled with colour and light!!

I’m determined to stick to my New Year’s resolutions this time! I want 2016 to be the year I fulfil my horse dreams and thought I’d share my horsey New Year’s resoultions with you:

  1. To work towards my Pony Club C+ test and be ready to take it by the end of the year.
  2. To start entering more shows and competitions (I’ve not done much competing but the last show I did was fun).
  3. To continue volunteering with horses and gain more equine experience.

Good luck with your New Year’s resolutions, and have a very happy New Year!!!

Horse Daydreamer xxx

Christmas With Horses!!

christmas horseMerry Christmas!!!

One of the things I love most about Christmas is the magic and beauty of this time of year. I volunteer for a horse charity and the excitement of the children I’ve been helping makes it really feels like Christmas!!

Before the children arrived for their riding lesson we (me and the other volunteers) decorated the suprisingly patient ponies in tinsel. They looked like fluffy, four-legged Christmas trees by the time we were done! We tied tinsel around their necks, in their manes and tails, and behind their saddles. The ponies were very interested in staring at themselves in the riding arena mirrors once we were done, but the children loved it!!!

I told you in a previous blog post here that I was going to Olympia Horse Show this Christmas. I went, and it was every bit as amazing as I’d anticipated!

The extreme driving, which I’d never seen before, was very impressive – the carriages had four horses and turned really tight circles between cones/blocks at speeds, according to the announcer, of over 25mph!!

The Household Mounted Cavalry Musical Ride was incredible too! I’ve done drill rides before, which are similar, and I know how difficult it is. We only tried to trot really slowly through each other, but they were galloping full speed and jumping over each other’s spears as they did so!!

There were so many things at Olympia worth telling you about that it would take forever, so I won’t try to tell you about any more for now. I’ll just say that, if you’ve never been to Olympia before, you should defintely go next year if you get the chance!! It’s brilliant, amazing, fantastic!!!!

My last riding lesson before Christmas was so much fun! We played gymkhana games, and I think my leaning-out-the-saddle-to-pick-things-up skills made up for the fact that my pony had a tendency to canter off to join the other team instead!!! Though, to be fair, it might have helped that I was riding quite a small pony while some of the others had 16hh horses!!

I hope you have a very merry Christmas and a happy New Year.

Bye for now!

Horse Daydreamer xxx

Learning to Ride!

learning to rideHello!

Whether you’ve been in the saddle since you were born, or are just considering taking up horse riding, it’s a question most riders wonder at some point: how long does it take to learn to ride?

It’s a simple question but, of course, there’s no easy answer!!

It depends what you want to do. It depends where and how often you ride. It depends on your age, balance, strength, stamina, concentration, riding instructor, the pony you ride, and many other things,

At the end of the day, the answer really is forever! You never stop learning – there’s always something new to try, something else to learn, another horse to ride. The better you get, the the higher your expectations will be of yourself, and the more challenging horses you’ll be able to ride.

However truthful that answer may be, it’s not always helpful!! Everyone learns at different rates so it’s important not to compare yourself to others, but it can be interesting to know the average time scales.

To be able to walk, trot, and canter confidently off the lead rein, my riding school say – with a 45 minute private lesson every week – usually takes about 6-8 weeks. However, it’s important to note that “confident” doesn’t neccessarily mean competent. Multitasking is one of the most difficult things for new riders to master (or mistress – language is sexist)!

The time scales vary for everyone, especially according to age. Younger children take much longer to learn new skills. It took me weeks and weeks before I could trot. My sister, who started riding when she was a few years older than I had been, pretty much learnt rising trot in her first lesson.

I can’t remember how long it took me to become confident at the basics. I know I was jumping within 8 months of weekly group lessons, but my diary was a bit irregular back then and I think I’d been jumping months before. My sister started learning to jump before she’d even had 9 lessons, which suprised me a bit. I think her instructor was pushing her a bit more than usual because she wanted to join the teenage lessons rather than ride with the little children.

As a general guide, I reckon it takes about 12 lessons (if you ride for an hour every week with a qualified instructor and well-behaved pony) to be  confident and competent enough to begin learning to jump! The real answer though, as I said before, is that learning to ride takes a lifetime!! Enjoy the experience!!!

Do you think this time scale sounds realistic? How long did it take you to be confident in walk, trot, and canter? Or are you just starting to learn? Let me know what you think!

Horse Daydreamer xxx

It’s Time For Olympia!!!

olympiaHello everyone!

It’s that time of year again!! Nothing says Christmas like Olympia!! I can’t wait, I’m so excited!!!

For those who don’t know – Olympia, The London International Horse Show, is possibly the biggest equestrian event in the Britsh calender!! It takes place every year in the week before Christmas, and for many people has become a Christmas tradition!

It’s like a huge equine festival for horse lovers from all across the country (and world)!!

Olympia has a really friendly atmosphere, and knowing that everyone has something in common, means that people are more likely to just start chatting to random strangers on the train who they would normally ignore! It’s easy to talk about horses!!! You can always tell who is going to/leaving Olympia from the country boots, wide grins, and little girls clutching giant cuddly ponies they’ve bought!!

Some of the shows at Olympia this year are:

  • the dressage Grand Prix
  • The Kennel Club dog jumping
  • Jean-François Pignon (I’ve not seen him before, but he does apparently very impressive stunt riding. Last year they had the Ukranian Cossacks.)
  • extreme (horse) driving
  • show jumping
  • the Shetland Pony Grand National (This is adorable!!!)
  • The Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment musical ride (Last year the Metropolitan Mounted Police were there, jumping through rings of fire while taking off their saddles and skillfully avoiding collisions with other horses, who were going over the same jump, at the same time, from the opposite direction!!! The Household Cavalry have a lot to live up to!!)
  • the puissance (Have you seen the heights of those jumps?!!)
  • The Pony Club mini-major (These riders are incredible! The professionals and Pony Clubbers are paired up and the best combined time wins! First a professinal show jumper goes round on their horse and does some huge jumps. Then an 11/12-year-old finishes a course of jumps that are much smaller but still massive compared to the size of their ponies. The little ponies are amazingly wizzy and do impossibly tight turns into the jumps!!!)
  • the Riding Club quadrille
  • the six bar jumping
  • the native pony showing championship
  • and of course we can’t forget the Christmas Finale!
  • even Father Christmas  goes along with his sleigh!!

While waiting for the show to start, you can wander around the equine orientated shopping village, which is a great place to get any last minute Christmas presents. Even if you don’t buy anything, it’s a great way to soak up the excited, Christmassy, horsey atmosphere!

Olympia is possibly the most festive horse show ever, definitely at Christmas time. I can’t wait!! Will you be going to Olympia or somewhere similar this Christms?

Horse Daydreamer xxx

Equestrian Fashion!

equestrian fashionHello!

One of the many good things about horses is that they are completely unjudgemental!! They don’t care what we look like, or what we say, as long as we’re nice to them.

It’s a refreshing break from stressing over what to wear the rest of the time, but sometimes it takes longer to decide what to wear to the stables than anywhere else! There are so many thing to think about. What’s the weather like? Is it going to rain? How hot will you get while riding?

And even though the horses don’t mind what you look like, it can give you confidence and just be nice to look good!

Equestrian fashion may be influencing high street trends at the moment, but it has to consider different things to regular fashion and has its own unique style. Here are some of the key features of equestrian fashion!

Weather – If you ride or look after horses you’ll outdoors all year round, in all elements. Rain, storm, snow… horses need to be looked after whatever the weather. As with all “outdoorsy” people, having weather-proof clothes that will keep you warm and dry is probably the most important aspect of equestrian fashion.

Safety – As much as we love them, horses are unpredictable. It’s not their fault, but we need to make sure we’re safe around them. Sturdy, sensible boots are essential!

Practical – This one is pretty much common sense. You can’t really muck out a stable in high heels or ballet style shoes, can you? (If you’ve tried, let me know!!)

Warmth – Same as before, if you’re outdoors all day long you need to make sure you’re not going to get too cold or too hot. Equestrian clothing is often designed to be worn with layers so you can easily regulate your body temperature. Lots of thin layers are better at keeping you warm than one thick coat.

Comfortable – For obvious reasons, comfort is very important! Jodphurs have knee and seat patches for this reason, and are made from a soft, stretchy matierial so they won’t rub.

Close-fitting – Because horses are naturally prey animals they can be, as we all know too well, very spooky. Unless you ride one of those rare superstars who is completely bomb-proof, it’s worth putting some consideration into this. You don’t neccessarily have to wear really tight-fitting clothes around horses, but it’s important that your clothes won’t flap around and spook the horse or get caught on anything.

Tradition – There has been equestrian fashion for nearly as long as people have been riding. It can be nice to wear something traditionally associated with horses to show that you’re a horsey person – an easy way to find something in common and start a conversation – but it’s all down to your personal tastes in fashion.

Looks nice! – Last but not least is the obvious one! We all want to look nice, and looking the part will give you confidence, meaning that you’re more likely to ride well. It’s win-win!

With Christmas fast approaching, now could be the time to think about whether you need (or just would like!) any new equestrian clothing.

Bye for now!!

Horse Daydreamer xxx

Bareback Moonlit Hack!!

moonlit horseHi everyone!

It’s that time of year again! The nights are getting colder and darker, the daylight hours retreating. Soon it’ll be winter!

For us horsey people winter means frozen fingers, endless mud, and searching for that rug which always seems to disappear when it’s needed. Catching or turning out a horse becomes a challenging feat with the navigation of thick mud, and puddles that forget they’re suppose to be puddles, not lakes!!

Ok, now I’ve done the compulsory complaining about winter weather, I have to admit I actually quite like winter! The starry skies and dark shadows are beautiful at the yard after dark.

The last time I was at the stables I’d just had an amazing riding lesson. The horse I’d ridden was being used again in another lesson, so I got to help turn out the ponies. There was a group of us turning out several ponies and we decided to ride them out to their fields. We rode bareback with just an extra leadrope on the headcollar, no saddle or bridle!

I got to ride the tiniest, fluffiest, cutest little pony ever!!! He was the pony I learnt to jump on and I hadn’t ridden him for years!! I’d thought I was too big to ride him but everyone else thought it was ok, and he didn’t seem to mind. His winter coat was growing through and, because he was unclipped, he was like the fluffiest teddy bear ever!! Just so cute!!!!

It wasn’t very late but once we left the yard it was black as night. Our ponies went in the fields furthest from the stable yard, so we had to ride through fields, ditches, banks, and the woods to get there!! Really, it was like an unofficial hack – but bareback and in the dark!!! Above us hung a beautiful moon, the stars hidden behind patterned clouds. We had a head torch, but it was only faint and the light didn’t reach far.

It was a magical moment, riding that little pony out into the night! Riding with just a headcollar is easier than you’d expect if you’ve never done it before. There was plenty of laughter along the way (we were, after all, going on a night time adventure!), especially after we turned the ponies out into their field and had to walk back to the yard without getting stuck in the mud!! Now that was difficult!!!

See you next time!

Horse Daydreamer xxx

Book Review: The Scorpio Races!

the scorpio races

Hello!

There are hundreds of pony books but, in my experience, it’s very difficult to find a good young adult (YA)  horsey novel! In fact, it can be a challenge to find any YA horsey fiction at all!! That’s why I got so excited when I discovered The Scorpio Races. (And that I just love reading nearly as much as I love horses!)

I had very high expectations of this book and luckily it didn’t disappoint!!!

It is the  first day of November and so, today, someone will die.

Even under the brightest sun, the frigid autumn sea is all the colours of the night: dark blue and black and brown. I watch the ever-changing patterns in the sand as it’s pummelled by countless hooves.

They run the horses on the beach, a pale road between the black water and the chalk cliffs. It is never safe, but it’s never so dangerous as today, race day. – The Scorpio Races

The Scorpio Races, by Maggie Stiefvater, is the spellbinding, spine-tingling tale of the cappaill uisce – water horses who would sooner eat you than let you ride them. Every year, the islanders risk their lives to ride the savage cappaill uisce in the Scorpio Races, knowing they can only trust themselves.

Every year, the sea washes blood from the sand.

Only one rider understands the cappaill uisce and has the power to tame them. The mysterious Sean Kendrick, they say, has “one foot on the land and one foot in the sea”. This year he expects to race as usual. What he doesn’t expect is that there will be nothing usual about the upcoming race.

Puck Connolly (surnames are constantly repeated, family is important to the islanders) has always kept as far away from the cappaill uisce as is possible on the island. She knows their danger better than any, but this year she must race. It’s all or nothing. As Puck is irresistably drawn into even darker dangers, she realises that some things are inevitable – but that doesn’t mean she stops fighting. Not only is she the first girl to ever race, but her horse is unlike any other (to say more would be a spoiler!). Everything seems to be against her.

I loved The Scorpio Races! It lured me in and soon had me caught in its grip – I couldn’t put it down and stayed up all night reading it!! Maggie Striefvater is a spellbinding storyteller, who combines lyrical prose with thrilling adventure and a haunting romance.

The ending may have been a little predictable, but I would still highly recommend this book, especially to those who feel that most pony books are a bit young. It’s a captivating read, and a ride that will stay with you forever!!

Horse Daydreamer xxx

Improve Every Horse You Ride!

Hi everyone!scales of training

I hope you’re enjoying reading my blog as much as I’m loving writing it. Today I thought I’d share a training method that my riding instructor is always going on about!!

To succeed in anything you need a plan! The problem is that horses are all so different from each other that it can be difficult to find something that works!! Luckily there’s an approach that works with all horses and is equally applicable to dressage, show jumping, eventing, or just enjoying your time in the saddle to the best of your ability.

This approach is called the scales of training!!!

The scales of training provide logical steps to get any horse to go better. This systematic approach is often shown in a pyramid diagram (like the picture above!) and can help you understand where to start with improving your horse’s way of going. Though each scale is a prerequisite for the next, it’s not a rigid format of training but flexible instead. Advanced horses and riders should continue to work on improving the lower scales, alongside developing the top ones.

There are six scales of training but forwardness is needed before these can be worked on.

Forwardness means your horse is taking you willingly and freely. He/she must be listening to your aids and understand what you want him/her to do.

The scales are rhythm, suppleness, contact, impulsion, straightness, and collection!

Rhythm is the regularity and evenness of the horse’s hoof-falls in all three paces.

Suppleness is the horse’s flexibility and how easy he/she finds it to bend in any given direction. For this the horse must be both physically and mentally relaxed.

Contact is the horse’s acceptance of the bit. The horse should carry him/herself and not lean on the bit or be heavy in the rider’s hands. It is necessary that the reins are neither too long nor too short if contact is to be achieved.

Impulsion is the energy the horse moves forwards with, NOT the speed!

Straightness is how straight the horse’s body is, with the hind hooves following the track of the fore hooves. A horse can be considered straight on a turn or circle if there is a uniform bend throughout his/her body.

Collection is the ultimate goal of all classical training! It is when the horse steps under with his/her hindquarters and carries his/her weight on the hindquarters rather than the forehand. The horse’s forehand is lightened and hindquarters engaged, making for a pretty amazing ride!!!

The scales of training can be thought of as a plan to build a house! Without the foundation of rhythm to support the walls, the chimney of collection can’t be added. We have the Germans to credit for the development of this training method that really does work!!

Good luck trying out the scales of training!!!

Horse Daydreamer xxx

Top 10 Inspirational Horse People!!!

princess hayaHello again!

Some people are just amazing!! Look at that photo, the girl in it is 12 years old! Yes, 12!!! (But more on that later.) The things that some people have achieved and the difficulties they’ve overcome are just incredible. I wanted to share with you a few of the people I think are truly inspirational and deserve to be known about.

I’m aware that most of the people on this list are either English or American. It’s not intentional, those are just the people I happen to know about. If you know any other people you think deserve to be on this list, write about them in the comments!

10) Beezie Madden

The American show jumper Beezie Madden won two team gold Olympic medals and an individual bronze, among many other competitions. If you look up a photo of her you’ll see that her jump position is to be strove after! It’s practically perfect which, considering the height of the fences she jumps, is pretty impressive!! And that’s an understatement!

9) The Pullein-Thompson Sisters

Josephine, Diana, and Christine Pullein-Thompson are household names among anyone who’s ever read a pony book (in the UK anyway). Between them they wrote over a hundred books, but that’s not why I’ve included them on this list. They spread a love of horses and the message that with a bit of skill, courage, and determination, anything is possible! You have to admit, that’s a pretty inspirational message!!

8) Wild Horse Annie

Wild Horse Annie’s real name was Velma Bronn Johnston. After discovering the cruelty towards the mustangs and burros (donkeys) of the American West, she lead a relentless outraged campaign to gain them legal protection. Her campaign started at grassroots level but lead to the passing of the “Wild Horse Annie Act”. Her goal was achieved!

7) My Riding Instructor

Ok, don’t we all have to agree on this one? Our riding instructors are everything we secretly (or not so secretly!) want to be. We want to ride like them!! Our riding instructors are perhaps the most influential people in our horsey lives and a true inspiration!!

6) Pippa Funnell

Anything is possible in life, if only you can somehow hold on to your dream. – Pippa Funnell

Reread that quote. It’s one of my absolute favourites! Pippa Funnell is the only eventer EVER to have won the Grand Slam!!! That means she won Kentucky, Badminton, and Burghley Horse Trials all in a row, a feat never seen before or since!! Just WOW!

5) Lee Pearson

Lee Pearson is a para-dressage rider but despite his disability has gone on to become one of the most successful equestrian athletes in the world!!! His 10 gold Paralympic medals speak to that!!

4) Monty Roberts

Everyone knows who he is; the Man Who Listens to Horses needs no introduction. Monty Roberts discovered much about horse behaviour, including the method he calls “join-up”, and has used it to train hundreds of horses, including wild mustangs! Nobody believed him when he first shared his techniques and he was constantly mocked by those who believed in the “traditional” cowboy methods of breaking a horse in. Despite all discouragements, Monty Roberts continued to learn from the horses he met and his training methods are now internationally renowned!!

3) Charlotte Dujardin

The golden girl of dressage (and we can’t forget her horse, Valegro!) is number one in international rankings, won gold in the 2012 Olympics, and sets a new world record every time she competes!!!! Charlotte Dujardin is also a good role model as, unlike most elite dressage riders who wear a top hat, she always wears her riding hat when in the saddle. If we could ride just a third as good a her we’d be happy!! We love you Charlotte!!!

2) Princess Haya

Her Royal Highness Princess Haya Bint Al Hussein of Jordan is the 12-year-old in the photo at the top of this post. At the age of 12 she became the first girl to ever compete in the fiercely male King’s Cup competition, and won!!! By jumping over a car!!!! Yes, a car!!!!!! Some nerves she’s got!! Princess Haya later became the first woman to compete internationally for Jordan. I just love that photo of her; I find it inspiring beyond words!

1) Alycia Burton

Alycia is a “free rider” from New Zealand who is possibly one of the best riders I’ve ever seen!!! Just watch the video – it shows how incredible she is better than my words ever can. But a clue: she jumps over 5ft bareback with no bridle and makes it look easy!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I told you she was good!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

See you soon!

Horse Daydreamer xxx