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Lets get physical! - Working with young horses
I am having problems with Madame Ginger Bits; she is now nearly 108 years old and she has got stiff ankles ( from trying to trip up Bella the Cow, I think ,but she blames the weather and her wind galls)

These stiff ankles mean that she is working very unlevel at the moment and it's rather like riding a lurching camel with a floppy hump. It's obviously uncomfortable for her and yet if I don't work her, she would be much worse . I feel rotten really, like a really wicked horse abuser but I know that I have no option but to plough on regardless because even a day off now results in stiffness for her.

She has even cancelled her trip to Holland ; she had booked a weekend with her heroes Anky and Bonfire but she thinks her ankles will swell up even more on the flight. She is a bit miffed because she likes Advocaat and clogs and is partial to the odd tulip (but not as much as she likes Polo's).


However, when I got The Boss to look at her (My horse is lame !! I am having a nervous breakdown !! What if she doesn't get better !! Should I buy her a new rug to cheer her up?) he just laughed at my ineptitude and told me that I was such a worry wart and that I had to just get on and work her FOR HER OWN SAKE. I admit I was not convinced although I normally think that words of wisdom from the Boss are like Manna from Heaven.

It's horrid, I can't do simple things like turn left and right and because she isn't using her leg properly, she isn't stepping underneath herself, she isn't tracking up and she won't go down and round. The Boss thinks that I am oversensitive and told me to get on and make her work properly by driving her hard and forward to make her track up. I thought he was a nasty cruel bad man (but I couldn't say so) and this is what he made me do. I have to conclude that it did work - but of course you knew that I was going to say that didn't you !!

I put her on a contact almost immediately we began working. I used my legs to drive her into the contact , kept the rein short and did flexing exercises to the left and right . I also put my left leg on the girth, took my right leg off slightly and pushed her sideways and underneath me whilst flexing her to the left . It's the same sort of thing that you would do in half pass and it has the effect of making the horse bend in the atlas and axis (behind the ear) and also in the poll whilst stepping underneath and sideways .

When flexing the rein, don't pull backwards, flex sideways as though the rein were a piece of elastic. (You can get those elasticated reins now and I think they are useful if you have never known what it feels like to have a truly elastic contact - but you can't compete in them ).

I did this on both sides in walk and it's a great suppling exercise when your horse is stiff in it's neck and back and won't give to your hand. If you're really a clever clogs you can do this in trot on a circle and you can use your legs to push the horse out (inside leg) and then push the horse back in again (outside leg) to make big circles and little circles.

We also set up an exercise in the school by putting five poles running in a straight line with maybe a two metre gap between the so that we could use them as bending poles. It's another good flexing exercise and if you use poles it gives you a focus and something to work around rather than just riding round and round the school. If you don't have poles, you can ride around the school but make sure that you flex one way,ride straight and then flex the other way. The degree of flexion does not have to be dramatic but it should be noticeable otherwise it's a waste of time.


I cannot overstress the use of a riders legs when doing any exercise. Even me, a complete moron, can see that the majority of people who ride use their legs, on average, only 10% of the time and that's being generous !! I am guilty of the same offence and yet, until I can control my legs better, I know that I will never achieve the Advanced Outline I so desperately crave (yes, I admit, that I too, am one who suffers from "down and round - itis.")

Time and time again I read of people whose horses run out at fences (leg not on, not keeping the horse forward and straight) horses who get surprised when a rider uses legs at all and carts them halfway around the school at full tilt (legs not on at all, ever except when you need to do something by which time it's too late!!) horses who won't canter (legs not on, horse does not understand the aids and trots faster) horse won't bend (legs not on, rider uses rein to "steer" instead of using the rein to guide ) horse won't turn (ditto).

When you have ridden properly and you have used your legs, when you get off it aches like hell at first. If you've got to a point where you don't ache after riding and yet you're not "getting it right" you are most certainly guilty of not using your legs. I think it's by far the hardest bit of riding, the ability to use every part of your body completely independently ( like patting your head and rubbing your stomach at the same time).

Any way, after lots of bending and suppling exercises, Madame was co-operating and stepping underneath her and working level again until we tried to trot at which point she did her "camel with dislocated shoulder" impersonation, stiffened, came off the bit, put her head up and scowled at me whilst laying her ears back at me .She was not as secure on the contact as I had believed.

Silly Me !! The problem had become one of not going forward and down into the trot probably because we tend to get obsessed with outline and forget that the horse has to be allowed to move forward which means that the hands must give into the movement when trot is asked for. Once into the trot, it's important to keep driving the horse forward with leg and seat and whip or it will use this lack of attention to detail on your part to stiffen and put it's head up and come off the contact.

Always remember that horses will use almost any excuse to avoid the bit and so it's very important to remember to pay full attention when you are riding and to ride every stride not just every twelve whilst thinking what you are going to have for dinner that evening (guilty, guilty, guilty - try being married to a professional restaurateur and planning new and exiting things to do with a pork chop but DON'T do it when you are riding and never when you are in the presence of The Boss!)

MY KINGDOM FOR A HORSE (But only if it's the right one!!)

I've had lots of thoughts this week about what we can and do expect of our horses. I am lucky because I have an established horse who has been around the block several times and I can ask a great deal of her and generally, she will co-operate because she is well schooled, confident and capable of carrying herself and me without too much difficulty.

She also has no back problems, tack problems and her teeth are rasped every six months . She is fed according to her needs and my ability and she lives in a five star hotel with room service - she should be doing paiffe and passage for me because I ask her for it telepathically but of course she is a horse and doesn't read many books on etiquette and balanced relationships (she does read mail order catalogues though but can't handle the big words in psychology books , or so she says).

I bought an established horse because although I have ridden since I was two or three years old, I am not a professional rider and I don't ride all day every day making my living from horses. I have basic knowledge of how things should be but when I have problems, I am lucky enough to have the guidance and back up of real professionals around me whose living depends upon their ability to handle all kinds of horses in all kinds of situations .

When I have problems, I know that I have to get the opinion of the best people around me for the sake of me and Madame Ginger Bits, sometimes that means paying for that advice but riding is an expensive hobby.

I look at the Small Boss elegantly executing one time changes around the school on Big Bosses Advanced horse and I know that I shall probably never be able to sit like she does, or understand the things she understands or certainly be able to take a young unbroken horse and give it the start in life it deserves.But I am a good accountant and she is by comparison an amateur book keeper. (Yesss, I can do some things quite well, even better than Small Boss , sorry Small Boss, no offence meant !)

When I bought MGB I would not have contemplated buying a five year old however much I may have fallen in love with one because I have so much to learn myself that it would have been unfair of me to try and learn it with a hor

About the same time as I bought MGB, a person whose abilities I always thought were similar to my own , bought for megabucks a "foreign, bred for dressage " five year old horse thinking he/she was capable of bringing it on him/herself which has been an eye opener for both of them. Unless The Boss rides this horse three times a week, owner has no hope whatsoever of keeping the animal sane never mind exercised .

He/ she cannot school it on her own, she cannot canter it on her own and I feel that she is frightened of it which is a shame for both of them. This is what can happen when you buy a horse that is way above your capabilities. He/she is lucky that The Boss is around because if he wasn't I think the animal would make mincemeat of him/her.

The horse isn't nasty but it is now a mischievous six/seven year old who has discovered that it's owners abilities are limited and it has devised every method under the sun to avoid the contact when being ridden by him/ her . When we occasionally school together; after an hour my horse comes out dripping in sweat (along with me) and the FBD horse is bone dry and dancing around and it's owner is a frazzled wreck.

The horse only improves when being ridden by The Boss and he keeps it in line. It wouldn't be my idea of fun and I would have no sense of achievement personally in riding a horse that scared me half to death and which I couldn't just get on and ride without having to have it ridden in for me.**(Names and identities have been changed to protect "moi" from huge embarrassment should the person/s responsible "happen" across this website )

The point I am trying to make is that young horses have much to learn ; they cannot carry themselves in balance the way that a more established animal can. Although anatomically capable of all the same movements as their more educated elders , they do not have the muscle tone, the suppleness , the confidence , the self carriage and the balance to do so unless the rider on their back is perfectly balanced and capable of using the legs, seat and hands in a correct and sympathetic manner.

I do not understand the rationale of a person who buys a young horse when they themselves are not yet out of their equestrian nappies and then become surprised when they find that they have problems with the horse.

There is this overwhelming obsession amongst people who own these horses to get them "down and round "and "on the bit" when they have not yet mastered the fundamental principles of driving the horse forward into the contact instead of pulling it onto one. Any contact achieved by this pulling method is a false contact and when the chips are down, unless you can keep the horse moving with the driving aids, you will be in big trouble when you try more difficult things like stopping and starting and trotting.

These people will blame anything other than looking realistically at their own ability (or inability) and admit that they are simply not ready for this level of commitment .They will try gadgets to strap the horse into an outline (an expensive mistake - sometimes very painful for the horse ) much braver horsy friends (another mistake, it's you that's got to ride the thing, not your friend and if it half kills her, how bad will you feel ? ) books (impossible unless your horse can read too) until finally, having exhausted all other avenues, the horse gets sold on and they either give up or get something more within their capabilities which is what they should have done in the first place.

The one thing very few of them do is contact a professional trainer who can assess the horse and rider and help them overcome the problems and offer solutions and a training programme. This is the only sensible advice any person can give to someone having problems of this magnitude which involves time, travelling and all the inherent expenses involved.

There are no short cuts, no quick fixes. When you think you are ready for your first your second or even your tenth horse, for the sake of everyone concerned, ask a professional ( not a gifted amateur ) to assess both you and the prospective horse together and please not let it be a case of " I like this big bouncy one that rolls it's eyes around and jumps with it's head in the air even though it's got a wonky leg and waves it's front legs at passing lorries and have you got it in dapple grey please ?"

If you are a professional or if you are The Boss (help, I'm really in for it now - it'll be the lunge whip over the mounting block again) then I'm sorry that you have had to read all this drivel. I want you to know that even if my technical riding ability lacks the overall finesse of a grand prix rider and my ancient mare will probably never by fought over by Anky and that famous German rider (that has been second a lot recently ), I do pay attention to the things that professional and far more capable people attempt to teach me during our "mid week specials" (private lessons).


There are many very good horse people out there in the world but there are very few that can teach us mere mortals "how to do IT". There is a real art to being able to teach someone how to ride and learn how to "feel" the movement of the horse and anticipate which "tools need to come out of the tool box" even before the horse knows what he's going to do next.

There has to be a relatively good understanding on the part of the pupil of the contents of the toolbox and how and when to use each tool . This is the technical part of riding and the basic platform without which no pupil can hope to advance in his chosen craft ; then there must be a certain ability to be able to interpret the signs that, say, a horse will give you as it is about to stiffen and come off the contact at which sign the pupil must then quickly remove the tool from the box and use it before the horse has had the opportunity to take control away from the rider.

This is all about "feel" .How many people do you know can teach "feel" ? Well, let me say that when you find one, you should nurture and cherish them. (I now hope you're reading this both Small & Big Boss, it's a disgusting case of over the top flattery which might get me everywhere !)

**The Boss is fond of saying " You must ride to find out if you've got in place the things that you need , to do the things that you want to do and not just to do the things you want to do badly and without the correct preparation". and "Once you've assembled various parts of your riding then you must be prepared to test the wiring by changing it slightly.

This might mean maybe even destroying some of what you've got in the belief that only by testing what you've got, can you hope to improve upon it" and ". The Competition arena is the place for NOT experimenting, you can try out new things in the schooling arena." **I sometime take literary liberties with some of The Boss's sayings but the essence is the same .

And on that note, I'm off now to rearrange my toolbox in the hope that I can find a jack to prop up MGB's left hind leg whilst I attempt a quick fetlock joint replacement.

Where ARE you going MGB , I thought you were supposed to be lame!?

Karry Gardner

I am indebted to :-

Small Boss - Charlotte Wilson BHSI B.A. (Equine Studies)
Big Boss- Alec Lyall BHSI , BHS Order of Merit.
OF :- Snainton Riding Centre, Station Lane
Snainton, Scarborough. North Yorkshire.

Without whose help and guidance, I would have been driven slowly bonkers this last year!

To send your email question to Karry please click here
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