I keep a blog at FillyBilly.blogspot.com of my horsemanship experiences. I thought I would share some of the posts by copying them here
This is probably one of the hardest posts I've ever had to write. I don't really know where to start.
As many of you may know already James Roberts died in a car crash last night. We were told early this morning and have been in shock ever since. I have thought of all sorts of things to write about James and have decided that I must write in a style he would have approved of. He had rules at his yard which included "You can't say anything negative", "Don't talk about the past", so I'll try and stick to those rules here.
When talking about James it is difficult to find anything negative to say anyway, so that bits easy.
He always tried to encourage me, whatever he privately thought about my ambitions, and had a happy knack of understanding what it was that I needed to hear right now to help me progress as quickly as possible. That is the mark of a true teacher.
He never ever talked down to anyone, and made a point of understanding what point they were in their progress and then impart information in a way that expanded that progress. It would have been easy for him to have baffled me at the start of my time with him but he could put over complicated topics in a way that I could understand, then as my knowledge grew he would explain the same thing but in a more advanced way. Thus it was easy to learn from him, you were never made to feel in awe of him, just that he was a little ahead of you all the time. That is a very encouraging teaching style.
Before I started going to James I really did not understand Natural Horsemanship at all. I had seen the DVDs and had a few lessons, but it was only watching James play with young colts and putting all those techniques and principles to work that I could start to glimpse the whole picture that the little jig-saw pieces I had fitted into. He emphasised so strongly that techniques were not the corner stone of Natural Horsemanship, the principles were. The number of different ways I have seen him start colts was astonishing. When I asked him why he used a certain technique on a particular colt the answer was often "just to show you a different way. Stick to the principles and it doesn't matter how you do it". He was so good at horsemanship he could play with it like this and it was very inspirational to watch. I now try to emulate the same idea, it doesn't matter what you do so long as the end goal is in mind and you stick to the principles.
One of his favourite comments was that the Level 4 pack is the one you should watch until you could see it in your minds eye, even if you were only playing in level 1. Without knowing what level 4 looks like how on earth could you get there ?
I could go on and on about his qualities and what I have learnt from James, but there is a good record of that in previous posts on this blog. I think James would approve if I spoke of the future a bit. I have lost the physical presence of a great mentor, but that does not mean that James does not still have things to teach me.
We discussed whether we felt like riding today, but then I thought of the disapproval James would express if we let he sad demise out-focus us in our horsemanship so went to the yard to ride.
I joked with Ritchie that now James is in horsemans heaven he can watch us all the time, not just when we are at his yard. And you know the funny thing was that it really felt like that as I rode today. I really had this feeling James was watching me and it made me ride better. I did not want to disappoint him by riding without focus and purpose. It really worked and I had one of the best, most responsive and fun rides I have ever had on Bonitao.
If that is his ongoing legacy to me then I am a very very fortunate man to have known and studied under him. It also means that I don't have to think about the past when thinking of him as he will always be sitting on my shoulder giving encouragement and advice.
Thank-you James. I would say rest in peace, but you still have your students to look after and we never gave you peace in the past.....
It was time to get Filly shod again. She needs special shoeing on the front due to some conformational issues and so I knew it would take a while. Especially so as it was the first time our farrier, Nick, had shod Filly. It seemed that some shoeing preparation was in order.
About forty minutes before Nick arrived I took Filly to the indoor school for the preparation work. She is pretty good with having her hooves handled on a day to day basis, but I wanted to add in some extras for the shoeing.
It is taken as read with our horses that the hooves can be placed on the ground, after picking them out, with the toe down and complete relaxation in the leg. Dropping a hoof to the ground was the one thing that if you were an employee of James Roberts you would be instantly sacked for, it is that important. As he says "if you cannot control where a hoof is going, with no brace, when it is in your hand, what chance do you have in placing the feet where you want when riding and using indirect aids to place them ?" Thus we never ever drop a hoof. I'm not even sure my muscle memory would let me do it anymore. I am pleased to say that the yard staff who look after our horses also don't drop their feet.
However there are other things to prepare. Firstly during shoeing the farrier will put the legs into positions she is not used to, especially forwards and up for the final clenching of the nails and rasping them off. She needs to be just as compliant and un-braced with this movement as the more usual backward flex for picking out.
Not being brave I used a soft thick rope rapped a few times just above her hoof to ask for this the first few times. The front legs were fine, but there was a lot of brace and a few kicks from the hinds. Lucky I used a rope ! All I did was stand in front and lightly pull on the rope to ask the leg to come up and forwards, if she yielded I released by gently lowering her hoof back to the ground. If she resisted then I held the tension until the brace released and she looked relaxed, then lowered the hoof. I also slowly increased the time I held the leg up to get her used to standing in that position for a while. Once this was going well I then transferred to using my hands, which put my body in the same place as the farriers would be. Horses tend not to like predators (us) in their vulnerable spot under their bellys so this was useful for building her confidence.
I also picked the hoof up backwards and simulated the feel and sound of the hammer by knocking on her shoe with the metal clasp of a spare lead rope. Should have taken a small hammer down but forgot.
So after all this how did the shoeing go. Pretty well is the answer. She got a bit bored as it did take over an hour, but a strategically placed hay net helped. She was a bit worried still about having the right hind leg brought forwards, but the farrier was very patient and she soon settled. Given that the last time she was shod at Manor Farm they had to use a twitch (before I owned her), and she was shod once at James Roberts yard with rather more savvy than that I think it was a remarkable improvement. I did discuss the preparation I had done with the farrier. He was very interested and grateful that I had taken the trouble to do this work. In my mind I should present a horse to a helping professional like a farrier, dentist or vet in the best state I can in order for that professional to do his job with minimum risk to himself and also be able to use those skills to the maximum effect to get the job done well. The farrier remarked how few horse owners had my attitude, which I find rather sad.
Hind quarter porcupine
I noticed in the stable the other day that Filly did not want to yield her hind quarters when I asked her to move over with my fingers. Did not want to included lashing out with her hind leg, running around me in circles, and generally acting a bit disrespectful.
I felt I needed to fix this for safety of myself and the staff, but also to improve her inside leg isolations when ridden. She cut herself on barbed wire a couple of days ago, not badly but bad enough not to ride for a few days. This then is an ideal opportunity to fix some ground work problems without wasting riding time.
I decided that the confines of a stable were not a good place to deal with a kicking horse so we went to the indoor school.
First a check that it was not a physical discomfort, so I scratched her good and hard in the area I was asking for the porcupine. She didn't like this to start, but gradually seemed to real enjoy it with a curled lip and a look of "please don't stop".
Not physical then, so it must be a mental brace. I like to use my hands for this exercise, although Parelli advocates the use of a carrot stick. The stick does allow you to keep your distance and is probably safer, but with my fingers I could more accurately apply the pressure and also feel for any muscle tenseness in her sides.
As soon as I applied my fingers with an intention to move her she reacted. She did move away from my fingers, but it was an escape not a yield. It was also accompanied with lots of tail swishing and attempts to bite me, blocked by an elbow. Despite the fact she had moved away this would not have been the time to release the pressure, it would teach that this attitude was what was required as well as the movement. Thus I just held the pressure and around and around we went. To be honest I got very giddy, but stopping would have been a huge mistake. I could also feel the muscles under my finger tense into a massive brace. I was intently looking for signs of any relaxation on her part so that I could release, but it felt like an age until it came. Not complete relaxation, just a slight softening of her body, more fluid motion and the tail not actually hitting me.
During this first session she had also thrown in the odd rear as well, which is fun when you have your fingers pressed into her sides :( . By staying close she had no space in which to actually attempt to get me with a leg but it was uncomfortable all the same.
After that first release I went to the driving game with a stick and flag to try and help get the brace out of her body, which did work, but this was the driving game and it was porcupine she was reacting to.
Second round of porcupine and she tried the whole range of evasion to get of the pressure, other than a yield with good attitude. But it took less time to get the attitude I desired and with a sigh of relief I could release again. Of course this whole process was repeated on both sides.
By the end of the session I could give her a good hard friendly game scratch on the porcupine spot then lighten up, add intention and get a yield with half decent attitude, then back to a good hard friendly scratch again.
I guess this was another step in her acceptance of my leadership over her, one of the last I hope, and she was not going to give this precious control up without at least discussing the issue with me. No hard feelings on my part, I would probably have reacted the same. The trade I offered was that nice scratch, followed by a few seconds of control and back to the scratch again. Eventually she decided that as a trade it was not a bad offer and preferable to running round and round in circles :)
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