Nashend Tawny Owl
16 May 2008
Spring 2005 Drummer was seven year’s old! I couldn’t carry on making excuses that he’s a native, late to mature or that the acute laminitis he contracted in 2004 which meant that he couldn’t be ridden for many months was still affecting him.
He napped, he spooked, was very heavy in the hands, he stumbled, if in any doubt he bucked all of which were a cocktail for viewing the world from the ground instead of from the saddle. My weekly or even twice weekly lessons were getting us nowhere and realistically I had neither the skills nor the experience to address the problems we were facing. The temptation was to put a stronger and stronger bit in his mouth nut this did not address the under lying problems. Why persevere? Well Drummer is an endearing, gentle character who loves people. He is entertaining and fun to ride. He tries very hard to please but being quite sensitive and a real worrier sometimes the balance of educating him versus pressurizing him has had negative effect. On a bad day, under too much pressure, he shows all the attitude of a Glaswegian ‘docker’ after 10 pints.
I contacted a few trainers and yards and eventually spoke to Debbie at Gainfield about Drummer. Visiting the yard I like the relaxed environment and the facilities were as good as I had seen anywhere in the county. She was quite confident that we could address many of the problems facing us (even when I mentioned he was a Highland Pony) but what really made me think that Gainfield could be the right place for me was being asked the question ‘What do you want to achieve with Drummer?’ Completely unprepared for this I replied I actually don’t know but I will think about it otherwise I will never know whether I have succeeded or not!
We moved to Gainfield late 2005 and started our training with an assessment of Drummer’s way of going and how effective I was in riding him. This revealed the true extent of the journey we were about to embark upon. All the symptoms I was experiencing resulted from the fact he was crooked, lacked suppleness, did not have the strength through the back to support himself and well I could go on. From the perspective of my riding I wasn’t being clear enough or quick enough in giving the right aids to help him.
A systematic approach to training was very much Debbie’s philosophy. Training, began at chapter one or in my case the front cover and preface! She explained what we were doing, what we were trying to achieve and why. Most importantly we discussed how we (horse and rider) ‘felt’. Does the ride feel good or indifferent or something else? Learning when something feels good and is correct and how we have achieved it is the foundation in progressing in our training. It is easy to ride a perfect ‘what ever’ when your trainer is there telling you what to do but as we all know they can’t be there every time you ride and therefore it is important to know how to get there.
More forward was a term frequently called out by Debbie. Drummer has always been a forward pony (well we had to have one positive characteristic) but our first few months were about really utilising that and building on it in the exercises we used to start improve Drummer’s balance and correct way of moving. I soon, however had to master sitting trot, not only did this help Drummer’s balance but also prevented me from disappearing over the top of his head should he stumble. As soon I mastered something, Drummer would throw a new problem at me, often deliberate, as a means of evasion. Drummer saw the walls of the indoor school less of a prop and much more as an opportunity to scrape his rider against them, while an open door was a real challenge to escape!
As the pony became more supple and stronger he began to find the training work easier and enjoyed our training sessions and sometimes joined in with the students in their group lessons with Laura (now Yard Manager) riding him.
Being a sensitive character there have been times when we have had to go back a few chapters in his training to avoid over facing him and worrying him. We have used training aids (draw reins for example) to address particular problems and when I have not had the experience or confidence either Debbie or Laura has taken on the ride to help me overcome the problem. Laura in particular has been a great support in Drummer’s training and a great back up when I am away on one of my work trip overseas.
Steady and rewarding is probably the best way to describe our training. Drummer is a much more willing and enjoyable ride. Many of the early symptoms have been resolved through training. The problems are always potentially there hovering in the background ready to revert so we need to maintain a programme of schooling exercises to keep him supple and balanced. It has been interesting after a week’s holiday in the Forest of Dean hacking just how stiff Drummer had become on returning to school work.
Affectionately known as a Scottish warmblood, Drummer is trained in the same way as if he was a 17hh warmblood but obviously our expectations have to be realistic. Highlands are designed more for carrying deer down a mountain path than performing in Grand Prix dressage arena.
Summer 2008 has seen a significant change, partly from my own confidence growing and partly the pony’s confidence. With the introduction of walk and trot tests we can get out and put all the training to the test and so far with some pleasing success. We still have to work on the canter but I no longer get stressed out about the ‘c’ word. There is great support and encouragement from other liveries at Gainfield at what ever level any one is competing. Drummer will always be a challenge to ride but now a much more rewarding and enjoyable challenge.
Well to answer Debbie’s question so what do I want to achieve, well more of course!