Wednesday, 9 May 2018

Trust Technique (James French) & Camargue ponies at Wormwood Scrubs Pony Centre in London

I visited the Wormwood Scrubs Pony Centre in London for the first time in October 2017. I finally met Sister Mary Joy Langdon who I had heard so much about. I was able to see her Camargue horses, some of which I already knew and had been donated by the SLL charity. Two of the horses, Numba and Nounnat, as well as Lucie who eventually came back to live with me, stayed at our place in France in 2005, on their journey across France to Brittany or England.

The SLL white horses Numba, Nounnat, Lucie & Duorno - at Fraysse Haut, June 2005

In 2012, SLL donated a Camargue pony, Raboliot, to WSPC for use in the centre equine hterapy and riding for the disabled, and he was joined by Numba and Nounnat, then Seth; and in 2016 SLL donated Vectris and Aiglon. Following the sad loss of SLL's president and inspiration, Jakki Cunningham, Athos, Jakki's own young Camargue horse, was transported to London to join Mary Joy and the group of White Horses at WSPC.

During my visit, and as a regular exercise, Mary Joy gives the Camargues some play and relax time together in the indoor school.
I appreciate her way of being with the horses, and it is a pleasure to watch a true horseman, and the way the horses respond to her.

It is so important for horses to have time to be horses, and we have observed that Camargues recognize each other and show signs of preferring the company of their own breed.


The following videos were shared by the centre following some sessions with James French and Mary Joy, in which they demonstrate their quiet way of connecting with each of the horses. I have never met James but I am very happy to see the progress with the horses and his way of working.

What happens on a Trust Technique Dream Day – at WSPC

... with Athos, Numba and Seth

Athos, Numba and Seth

I am delighted to see all these beautiful Camargues looking so well and happy and understood, under the care of Mary Joy Langdon and the staff and helpers at WSPC.

The Centre is a registered charity providing riding and equine therapy for children, specialising in those with special needs and physical disabilities.  Website: WSPC

Sunday, 1 April 2018

The winter months

Through the winter...

November sunshine
Seraphina is not happy about the unexpected invasion of her field by a lost flock of sheep!

We try a selfie - Lucie looking bored and Fina has already wandered off to eat

Ready to go - I am opening the gate (and taking more photos, boring!)

Haynets and winter sunshine

Fina has the hang of these small hole ground nets - if you put a foot on them you get more hay out!

Spring sunshine, blossom and fresh green grass! At last!

Friday, 27 October 2017

Silke Valentin clinic October 2017

Silke Valentin clinic 20 - 22 October 2017 at Billinghurst Stud, Bourne End, Bucks UK

Hosted by my instructor and friend Jo Bates - Inspired Natural Horsemanship ( or look up the Facebook page).

For those who don't know Silke, she is a 5* Parelli instructor from Germany and she trains her horses and instructs from a motorised scooter. Her son Yannick accompanies and assists her.
When Jo coached me in June, we played with some of Silke's techniques for stretching and relaxation, and shaping and framing. I was interested to see more of this.
Over the three days of the clinic, which all took place on the ground, we looked at cues for stretching and framing, combining the two at walk and trot, improving lightness and the quality of responses, the sequence of teaching, and having a plan.
There were 7 participating horse and rider partnerships, and a few auditors. Weather was cold and windy.

Let's look at solutions

Don't let's waste time on what happened in the past, and what we can't do, let's look at solutions

The format was a combination of Can you's (challenges, such as Can you back your horse up using body energy), with workshops to address different needs of the handlers or horses at different levels, such as improving lightness in the halter, sitting on the haunches, lifting the leg, etc., or for the less advanced, addressing behaviour issues and handcraft, rope and stick handling skills and communication. Also patterns and games, to develop confidence and give meaning and purpose to the exercises.



Some recurring themes:


Isolate, seperate and recombine

Mind flexion weight feet

Teach, reinforce, refine

Qualities of teaching


Overview & notes

Day 1 started with a classroom session, getting to know the horses and what everyone would like to work on, depending on their level; their dreams and goals, and any difficulties they were encountering with their horse's behaviour or learning.

Out in the big play field, getting warmed up with the horses, Silke reminding them to have a plan, see what needs fixing and to use a pattern of choice to do so, then asked for observation and feedback from each person.

She talked about the sequence of teaching (the horse), and about looking for the next quality of response, for example, if you can back your horse up, can you now do it without pressure, can you then do it more softly, with more speed without losing quality, etc. Bearing in mind that slow and right beats fast and wrong, but if you can do it slow and right, can you next do it faster and right? Thinking about using micro releases to reward the try and jackpot (game over) when the movement is performed successfully. Giving the horse a good break to reward the effort and reflect. How and when to use grass as a reward and downtime, how to dissuade casual grazing or grabbing for grass.

Exercise: causing flexion and relaxation with porcupine game on circle. Technique: teach isolations: long and low massage on crest at centre of length of neck; bending reflex, pressure at centre point of slope of shoulder. Put together on circle, both sides at walk then trot. Causing inside bend, lightness and relaxation. Next step is to add in framing. Then lengthening and shortening stride.

Tip: think about height and position of stick, when long and low, should be touching ground and trailing behind, in a neutral position. Vertical stick means framing so be careful not to use this position for anything else, or inadvertently.

Tip: Teaching relaxation with stick and string, eg. if horse is looking away, can draw attention and stop turning stick and string when attention comes back to you.

Afternoon. Checking isolations, vertical flexion, remember body first then stick vertical. Frame then relax down stretch. Lead backwards with hand on knot but forwards with your energy. Workshops, lightness in halter, backup, vertical flexion at halt, using stick cue framing, taking it into long and low. Beginners, teaching relaxation with the stick.

Teaching and cueing sitting on the haunches.

Day 2 Saturday am. Very windy! Start with some Can you's. Continuing and combining long and low with framing, in small circle at trot, for those who were ready. Simulations.

Tip: use/develop an audio cue for trot, eg. one click for trot, two clicks for canter. Also, remember to cue trot or canter in own body first, also when asking for long and low, and framing. Support with hand or stick if necessary, the goal is response to body language.

Lengthening and shortening stride at trot. Metronomic. Music.

PM: the Rockfall. Isolate, separate and recombine. Improve every element, until not using stick, just energy.

Shoulder in - in the covered school. Use vertical stick for framing. Hand light on knot. If horse pushes on hand, back up.

Sideways away, then towards. Balance both. Teaching the draw towards. Stick high and vertical for towards, if you get framing as well that is good. Stick low for hindquarters away. Change the bend.

Day 3 Sunday am. Classroom session. Summary. Lightness in shoulder, vertical flexion, sitting on haunches, the way to lightness in riding. Workshops plus project, equals the Plan. Using 7 games to teach and encourage healthy movement.

Practical session followed, with horses, in play field.

Game of shoulder in on circle. Similar to DL's Game of 2 eyes, but sending ribs away to cause flexion, instead of shoulders (we have taught vertical flexion to vertical stick so confusing to use stick on shoulders as seen at DL clinic). Using hand outside but not touching the nose, to cause and support flexion towards. Should be able to walk with and forwards with horse, not drawing him backwards. Comfort spot is forehead, reward the two eyes. Then in trot, remember to trot first in your body.

Starting Spanish walk. Teaching horse to lift leg when tapped. Use dressage stick for this training. Release to teach him to move weight, then lift leg, then hold it up, then place it forward and move onto it, etc. Start against fence, less room for drift. Teach all legs, starting with both front legs.

Thanks to Jo, Silke, Yannick, and all the brave participants and their beautiful horses!

Look out for Silke's book coming out in English version in 2018!

Tuesday, 5 September 2017

David Lichmann clinic September 2017

I spent the weekend of 2 & 3 September spectating the long-awaited (planned since the spring) David Lichmann 5* Parelli instructor's clinic which brilliantly for me was held just 40' drive away. It was extremely well organised, a private event hosted by Ludovic Fournet, our local NH man, who has a huge following in France and does clinics all over, so people came from all corners of France to attend. Super ambiance and such a friendly fun gathering of like minded horse folk and plenty of shared meals, aperos with quiche etc. followed by a sit down meal with a huge paella on the Saturday evening, with live music!

Ludovic does a lot of liberty work with his horses, and this being David's speciality, they "met" on internet, resulting in David coming to France to do the clinic, with the theme of his DVDs : Liberty Beyond the Round Pen. The participants with horses were mixed levels so some time was spent on problem solving and basics; there were some beautiful horses and it was all interesting to watch. 

The exercises about balancing drive and draw with emphasis on the latter will be useful to try at home as they complement what I did with Jo here in June and will give me some different techniques to play with, such as the Boomerang, and the Game of Two Eyes which develops connection and draw online in preparation for liberty, and the Sideways Squeeze Ballet, which included a very useful trick for changing stick hands.

I met up with some old friends and made some new, it was a brilliant week-end, now to settle down and use some of the things I have learned this summer!

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

Tolerance to pressure, travelling circles and responsibilities

In June, our favourite instructor Jo Bates, Inspired Natural Horsemanship (website came to visit us for a holiday and to give private lessons to me and Seraphina. Here are some of the concepts we played with during our sessions.

Testing tolerance to pressure in a learning situation
The idea of seeing if the horse can be more tolerant to pressure so that I can ask with more energy without her becoming worried about it, when I want her to respond with more energy or greater effort. Playing with this to find out where her thresholds are, knowing that I can always lift off, and if necessary go back to less until confidence is restored. I realised here is the difference from this time last year, our relationship is more solid, more confident, and so more experiment becomes possible.
She has become less of a nervous but willing pupil and more of a partner, more confident and interactive in a learning situation, we are holding a dialogue, with either of us able to say, "hey, steady on, watch what you're doing" or "that felt good!".

If you are always afraid to try, or to push the horse to offer more, you will never advance to amazing levels. Maybe some people don't want to, or are happy where they are... (Really?) I am not talking about competitions or winning prizes, but relationship and connection, partnership, great horsemanship. Living the dream.

Be particular without being critical. 

Ask less, expect more.

Responsibility of the horse to maintain gait and direction.
We played with this on the circle, using travelling circles, and also at liberty in the paddock instead of in the round pen, an indication of how we have moved on since last year. 

Doing circles at liberty in the rectangular paddock meant that Fina had first to understand what we wanted and to relate to the pattern she had been taught, the circle. Without the help of being in the round pen, which provides the limit but the horse then has less responsibility to find and maintain the pattern for themselves. At first of course, she does not understand, and Jo helped by being a fence, or I had to go and reconnect with Fina if she went to the shed or Lucie. What we looked for Fina "owning" the circle, that is, to recognise the desired pattern and to seek comfort and confidence from it and maintain connection mentally with me in the centre. Once she did this, and I could remain neutral as she circled around me at liberty, maintaining gait (trot) and direction, I could start to ask for transitions or changes of direction. From this, I would then be able to add in other elements, move up to canter, more frequent transitions, as well as looking for purity of gait and rhythm. Lots to play with there! For the two sessions, we looked at changing direction at trot, using draw, without disengaging, and resending in the other direction.

Travelling circles is going to be a useful and exciting pattern which I have tried before but not developed, now I have lots of ideas of how to use it. This is on line, on the 22' rope, although as we progress, a longer one would enable us to do bigger circles in the big field. We set it up in the square field above the shelter, where unfortunately the bramble patches I keep meaning to clear kept snagging the rope, but the idea is to send the horse onto a circle around me, and then I walk forward and around the field, as the horse circles around me, their responsibility being to maintain gait and direction until asked for something else. At first we are looking for comfort, confidence and consistency, of course it is a bit ragged at first until we establish the pattern. We started in trot, and it is so good to see Fina find rhythm and tempo, and really start using her powerful little frame. She was not even hot or blowing after our two circuits of the field, in circles at trot. This is also going to be something energetic I can do with her so she gets a bit more work than Lucie, and I can make a programme of it.

Travelling circles, notes:
- anticlockwise round field, then clockwise
- start and end in the same place
- manage rope so there is less drag
- make a programme of it
- allow the pattern and programme to make changes in the horse
- keep doing it in trot until consistent rhythm
- look for rhythm and relaxation in trot before cantering
- maintain gait
- when adding in canter, start with doing one side in canter, other in trot
- once you have consistency and purity of gait, play with transitions