Friday, August 12, 2016

Blog has moved

After a 10-month hiatus on this blog, I have decided to moved it to Wordpress. All my old posts can be found on

The new blog will still be horsey, but I might include more content about my life in general, especially including the others who are big in my life, my cats Kay and Percy, as well our new family member Maisie the dog. 

I will aim to make the blog more photogenic and write about my life here in the UK. 

I hope you will join me on this journey :) 

Monday, November 30, 2015

We've moved

The blog has been a bit on the back burner this year and even though I try to make regular posts, it just hasn't happened this year. I feel there hasn't been so much to post about, as while our life is all good, it is very same-y from the point of view of maintaining a blog.

However, I should let the few readers we have know that we have moved back to the UK. Pretty much back to the same area as before, even though not the same yard. We are now at a smaller yard where there is only about 6 horses and Rainbow gets to go out every day. I am starting a new job in London tomorrow, so that's part reason for moving, plus I actually just missed England. I have spent all my adult life here and while I don't regret trying Finland, I realised this is probably my place. 

Saying goodbye to all of our horsey friends was hard. If I hadn't had Rainbow with me in Finland, I don't think I'd met all the lovely friends I did and formed friendships I hope last a lifetime. We will miss all the hacks in beautiful Finnish countryside. And we will miss our friends Hilja and Värssy, but the good thing is that planes still fly, so while the horses might not see each other, I will still see my friends. 

Rainbow's journey back on a ferry from Helsinki to Germany and then by road to Holland, from where she was picked up by a UK transporter, all went well. I was there in Kangasala to send her off and I was there greeting her in England. I felt nervous of it but it all went fine and Rainbow has already settled at her new place. We will be taking the turn of the year easy but will probably look to take part in a few dressage competitions in the New Year and perhaps a few fun rides, and perhaps even commence jumping again :)

I will still post a few posts here when I feel I have something to say but I understand if readers' interest is waning... I won't take it personally ! 

Windy ol' England. It's been super-windy here this week. In this picture Rainbow is not suffering but actually just trying to stand against the wind, hence the closed eyes. :)

Monday, September 21, 2015

Vertically challenged

How do you know when horse is 'through'? Is it a feeling you get or is it something you check serendipitously in transit past the indoor school mirror – that the horse has his head in a remotely correct position and e.g. not tucked behind the vertical. Although there is still unfortunately a prevailing assumption this, in fact, is being on the bit, which it isn't. Here it is illustrated well: ... or above it, or worse yet, entirely hollow. 

This whole 'on the bit' issue I have grappled with almost the entire time of my still relatively short time as a rider. I have learned about it, little by little, over the past 3 years with Rainbow, and I am still learning. Also Rainbow, while very capable under a skilled rider, has also put me through my paces to discover for myself what is needed to get this my own bundle of joy to really get going. Finding out really is part of the magic of riding your own horse and learning together! And so, the answer to the question I posed at the beginning, 'how do you know if your horse is through?' I will try to answer as I see it in this moment and time, with this knowledge I currently have... 

First, it is not how it's supposed to look but it feels. Sure, visual aids and checking the mirror or videoing yourself – or having a skilled instructor – will tell you when you are going 'correctly' and when not so. Also expect that finding a few good steps of collection before deterioration is the norm at the learning stage; both you and your horse have to learn for themselves what it is that is required to be in genuine collection and through the topline, hinds engaged and pushing to the bit, not being 'empty' and behind it. Let's also not forget that it takes time for the horse to develop those muscles for carrying themselves properly, so even if you, as the rider, would know exactly how to go about collection, the horse you ride needs to be 'equipped' for it. The building up of muscle and ability takes time – and skill. 

So, how do I do it? 

With Rainbow the key is to get her going first. Not traipsing around the school 'lazily', dragging her feet, but also not rushing in a hurried way (Singer sewing machine, I call it ;) either. For a long time we seemed to have this hangover from the riding school days and some instructors too, where the emphasis was to kick the horse forward regardless of how it was going or what it was doing. Yes, while it is important to do this, as propulsion is one of the keys for achieving anything on horseback, including thoroughness, but getting the horse just to practically wanting run from under you is not what the aim should be. 

For me, the key to get Rainbow going forward simply is to simplify my aids, not so much kick her forward. One of the reasons for the lack of forwardness in her has not been inherent laziness but my inability to be clear with my aids and ending up inundating her with nagging information from my incessant leg pounding... Sounds very simple, I know, but hands up, how often do you end up pumping your legs against a 'lazy' horse at every fricking step it takes? Not naming names, but I see this 'pumpety-pump' riding around me so much, on so many videos I watch, etc. that it is evidently very common. There is a big difference in 'being with the horse at every step', which very much should be the case in riding, but it does not mean kicking the horse forward at every step. I wish people understood this... I'm guilty, too. However, recently, I have taken a good look at this habit of mine and I have decided to avoid it at all costs. When Rainbow feels extremely 'lazy' (and I don't like the word lazy, but use it in place of a better one) and doesn't seem to move anywhere, I actually 'remove' my legs from her sides, so hold them very lightly and proceed to giving very clear, individual cues to indicate that I want her to move forward. When she does, I'm 'quiet' (meaning I don't do anything additional with any part of my body), as this is the release/reward for the correct action she has taken. If I want her to move even faster, I just repeat as necessary, and if she doesn't react, I will follow with a stronger aid until the desired reaction is achieved – but always, always give the release/reward of 'quietness' from my part. 

This has been a long lesson and only Essi has gotten us to the point with it where I truly understand throughness and how it is supposed to feel for me and Rainbow. Let's remember we're all individuals. 

So, in order to put my money where my mouth is, here is a picture of us taken a couple of weeks ago and sort of sums up what thoroughness means to me in this point in time: 

A picture where I would say there is not much to fault: the horse is 'through', pushing forward and rider is in balance too. Of course, there is still lots to do, e.g. develop my seat in sitting trot (in this pic I'm doing rising) and get Rainbow to engage her hind more actively at all times, but this really isn't bad, even though I say it myself.

If you are interested in reading more about discipline and release, this article that I recently read sums this up pretty well too: What's in it for the horse? by Sarah Warne

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Dressaging again

First dressage for 4 months. Enjoyed it - actually for the first time felt good to be there and accepted the feeling that "we are where we are in our development" and this is fine. This is the best we can do right now. Rainbow was an angel. Judge was harsh. But have found Finnish judges being much harsher than UK ones. Also this "beginner" class was all in sitting trot with extended trotting in between, lots of cantering with extended cantering in between...! We got 55,435%. Not sure what the winner got, just over 60% I would imagine. 
One criticism of the Finnish dressage "culture": I don't understand why people compete in such casual outfits. I understand if you are young and can't afford a whole competition attire but at least smart shirt, light breeches... or, if nothing else, plait your horse at least! I was the only one wearing a jacket and had a plaited horse. Perhaps the judge was harsher because of that ;) ... But I feel that even with practice/unaff competitions people should make an effort. Like they do in the UK, for example. From the word go. Getting ready for competition means dressing up appropriately for the occasion and how would you practise it if not in unaff competitions??
Enjoyed myself and already checking out the calendar for more. Thank you to Essi for helping us come along in leaps and bounds in the last few months, all my friends for support and cheering... And last, but not least, Rainbow for being my friend and best horse one could hope for. 

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Something clicking into place and a new place

Wowzer. I actually have a lot to say about Rainbow and how things have been developing. It's been a bit of breakthrough of late and finally it's starting to feel things are coming together. 

First of all, I have now been given tools by Essi (our coach) to ride Rainbow so that it is easier for her to follow my cues and also to relax. I have learned to 'create a frame' and make Rainbow stay within it. Now, when I say these things I am of course very aware I'm still not a pro but do stick with me. 

Basically I finally feel that when I ask Rainbow to collect she can do it authentically and I have the tools to make her movement 'upward' rather than merely adding speed and staying hollow – something she's been 'allowed' to stay way too long (well, I am not a pro...). Some hard work with Essi has gone into it and of course we're not ready, nowhere near, but this is a definite milestone for me. I now am able to ride Rainbow and ask her to work in collection throughout the session I ride her. We are now raising trot in collection and she is finding the muscles to do so. I am now able to feel the nuances in her body to know how to ask and how to persist (if not successful) at first and get her to do it and also give the reward for the correct action. I think working for her is nicer when she is using herself properly.

The video below has been filmed about 2 weeks ago now, so while it looks good, I would say it's gotten even better ;)

Video (c) Essi Antila

To top it off we moved yesterday. We only moved to a yard which nearby to the old one, but the facilities are fantastic. I never would have thought I would hop on and ride her the same day in the new indoor school as we had only arrived at the yard, but this – I realised – was a valuable real-life lesson in something I have never really been 100% sure of – as I had never tried it yet – that my horse is the most level-headed horse one could wish for. She loaded fine (a little hesitation but I had Essi helping – I had never loaded a horse, so a first for me too!) and travelled to her new home. Our friend moved her horse as well, so admittedly the two mares moved together. But nevertheless... Rainbow walked into the new stable without further ado, buried her face in hay and looked like she had always been there. We carried all the paraphernalia in and put it all in their new places... Then Essi and Hilja said, right, let's go ride. I hadn't planned to do so (I don't know why) but I could not not go when 'others' went, so we tacked up and walked into the new manege. It's the poshest indoor school I've ever been to and I don't quite feel worthy of it. The base is to die for, just perfect. Sand, but hard enough to give nice bounce to the horse and make movement, oh so, easy... 

Rainbow was a bit alert because of the new place, of course, but we walked around the school from the ground for about 10 mins and only once could feel her neck muscles relax, I hopped on. She listened to me well and didn't do anything stupid. In fact, she was moving well and I managed to ride her a nice long session without much further thought to being in a new place. The weather yesterday was awful, so we could even hear the wind howl outside and the rain pounding on the roof, but Rainbow didn't as much as occasionally move her ears around a bit. 

So, this basically gave me good insight into how she is in a new place, truly – because when she moved to Finland, she'd been on a lorry for a week, so she was probably quite used to it by the time I greeted her in Finland – and what it is to ride her in a new arena straightaway. This has given me confidence to consider competitions outside our yard, as I now really know she is so easy-going. Also, of course, I must point out that perhaps, by now, also we know each other well and Rainbow considers me 'hers' too, so she trusts me. She let's me lead her around a new place and trusts that I don't put her in harm's way.

Recently, I have to tell this; she has started neighing/whinnying whenever I arrive to see her. That's nice to notice. Melts my heart.