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 Isla Adderson

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FOLLOW ALONG WITH PHOEBE...

Progress Report #1 November 2017

Phoebe and her horse, Holly, came to me as a very troubled pair.  They each desparately wanted to communicate with each other, but both were frustrated with their situation of misunderstandings, and just did not know how.  Phoebe, at 20 years old, knew that she needed help, and she was diligently searching.  Her very strong intuitive connection with Holly led her to gain the education that she needed to become Holly's partner.  I have taught Phoebe over the past several months, happily watching her progress.

We would like to share with you, Phoebe's journey to become a fine horse woman, with Holly.  We hope you will check in with us frequently, and if you have and questions or comments, please send us an email....Christine

My horse Holly and I arrived at ForTheHorse at the end of March 2017 to fully immerse ourselves in training with the School of Légèreté. The past few months have brought fantastic improvement, within our riding, and Holly’s attitude, posture and balance have positively changed.

Holly is a 14 year old Appaloosa cross mare, who sustained a large injury to her left shoulder as a 4 year old. This injury set her back in training, and although she recovered and no longer showed lameness, she did develop balance problems which compromised her movement. Often, these problems would present themselves as bucking and balking under saddle, and were assumed to be behavioural. She would reach a certain point in training, and then become sour. Over the last several years she did not receive consistent training and riding due to these recurring setbacks.

Pictured above, some small but noticeable changes in Holly's posture, her weight is no longer so shifted forward, her forelegs are more upright underneath her, her neck and hindquarter musculature has developed, and she is standing with her trunk more supported and not hanging. 

When we first arrived at ForTheHorse, we spent time improving the clarity in communication between horse and rider during our training. We developed a language of cues which helped reduce confusion and frustration on Holly’s part. She became much less reactive and confrontational towards being worked. We also spent time correcting Holly’s hooves and improving her trim. We improved her front feet especially, which set her balance more on the back of the heel, allowing her front legs to be at the appropriate angle to support her forehand.

We furthered our training by beginning inhand and under saddle work to help Holly improve her balance and her ability to carry a rider. From the very beginning, with everything we worked on, balance and symmetry were the priority. Holly’s conformation predisposes her to having most of her weight on the forehand, and due to her injury, her balance was very shifted to one shoulder. She was very collapsed at the base of her neck and she moved with her ribcage and sternum hanging. This made it very difficult for her to be able to support a rider and left her hindquarters disconnected from the forehand. She had trouble moving forward with a rider, and would become anxious, which she communicated with her balking, popping up, and bucking. With in hand work, we were able to teach her how to shift her balance and carry herself in a productive way before doing more ridden work, which reduced her stress and kept both of us safer. We were also able to integrate bodywork into the training sessions to help her with any restrictions and dissipate tension before it could expand into a physical reaction.

In walk, Holly is now traveling in poll flexion. The base of her neck is shifted up and back, helping to lift weight off of her forehand. In the before picture, it is easy to see how far forward her weight used to be shifted, and her back is sunken, disconnecting her hindquarters.

Holly’s strength has improved remarkably during the past few months. Helping her find balance through training instead of pushing her and expecting her to figure out her own movement has decreased a lot of her anxiety about being ridden. Working her in a consistent and biomechanically correct manner has helped improve her posture and movement even when she is not being worked. She stands more supported under herself, the base of her neck has shifted back and up, and she is not so collapsed through the ribcage. My mare is much more willing to be worked and ridden and is learning to enjoy it. I am so grateful for what I’ve learned here at ForTheHorse and I’m excited to see how much more Holly and I learn and improve in the next few years!

In trot, Holly is also now working in poll flexion, helping her lift her sternum and ribcage to support me, and is travelling in a less downhill manner.

                                  Progress Report #2  February 2018

Phoebe is also now learning from one of our very knowledgeable teachers living on our farm, Remington!  Remi is a Warmblood gelding who enjoys showing off his lovely gaits.  His patience as a teacher is astounding!  Remi is giving Phoebe more breadth of knowlege as she moves towards becoming a horse woman of distinction!  Christine

 

Bringing Remi back into work, with the priority of keeping his posture correct before anything else, we started with in hand work in a halter, which has several benefits. One benefit being that it leaves Phoebe's outside hand free to be able to influence Remi's body, the position of his jaw, or support his shoulder/base of neck to help him maintain or regain balance and keep straight. 

 

Here, Chris is demonstrating how to ask Remi to straighten (shoulders ln front of hindquarters) at a distance on the lunge. Distance makes things more difficult for the horse, as they become responsible for their own posture and the handler can’t physically help them. it is important to build a language of cues that the horse can understand so that we are able to tell the how horse to adjust himself without touching him. A horse can be taught to move shoulders and hindquarters away, how to lift their neck to shift weight off their forehand, etc.

As Remi’s work progressed, we started to have him work at a distance from us to test his self carriage without the help of a handler beside him to physically rebalance him. Having him ln the halter made it easier in the beginning to be able to quickly alternate between sending him out on his own, or going back to physical contact to give him reminders as needed. The more we worked with him, the less reminders he needed in order to be able to carry himself ln balance.

 

Here, Remi has lowered his neck to the point where he has a lot of weight on his forehand, and has become unbalanced. it is important to allow the horses to elongate their topline, but since the horse’s neck acts like a lever to balance the front end of his body, a horse with a neck that is too low will overload the forehand. For some horses, like Remi (and Phoebe’s horse, Holly), this extra weight compromises their forward motion and makes them feel restricted, causing anxiety. Phoebe is asking him to lift his head, which will help to rebalance him and allow him to move more freely. 

ln the bridle Remi continued the same work as was done in the halter. Using a bridle for inhand work has the added advantage of being able to release the jaw of the horse using the bit, which relaxes the tongue and neck muscles. With the bridle there is also an outside rein which gives the handler more control of the outside shoulder. 

 

Under saddle, contact is important to help keep the horse balanced. Phoebe also had to be very mindful of her seat to make sure that she didn't cause Remi to become unbalanced. Phoebe tends to sit more to the right side which in the beginning caused some confusion as Remi was trying to listen to where her seat was telling him to go which was different from where her hands were trying to tell him where to go. When she sat centered in the saddle it cleared up the confusion made for better communication. 

 

Here Phoebe has changed her position in the saddle to open the door for Remi to move into his neck extension.  In this photo Remi is in good contact with Phoebe and following her suggestion to lengthen his topline in a lower head and neck position.

REFLECTIONS FROM PHOEBE

Phoebe has been studying with me for almost one year.  She has recently come to reflect on herself as a student and as a person.  I am so incredibly impressed by her discoveries and grateful to be a part of her growth.  She is an exquisite, caring young person; becoming a skilled and intuitive teacher of the horses!  I asked Phoebe to write her reflections down, as a memoir.  We would like to share with you, her thoughts, so we can all learn and follow Phoebe's journey...Christine

It has almost been a year now since Holly and I moved out to B.C. and I’ve been thinking a lot about how our relationship has changed and improved. I have owned Holly since I was 9 years old and in many ways she is the entire reason I’ve chosen the life path I’m on with horses. But because I was a child and she was a young horse when we first met, the clarity in our relationship suffered a lot due to my youthful ignorance and inexperience. Then, resulting from the injury she sustained a few years later, physical discomfort combined with any frustration from my non-existent handling skills, made her a sometimes quite volatile horse.

Over the next years, I really sought to educate myself for her sake, and I gained as much training and riding experience as I could. But there was still always an underlying tension when I worked with her, I found her very unpredictable and untrustworthy. There would be months when everything was perfect and then we’d hit a setback and I would have an unmanageable horse again. Looking back, I think part of the problem was that she found me very unpredictable and untrustworthy as well. 

These past couple of months, I’ve noticed that the way Holly and I interact with each other has changed a lot. I don’t tiptoe around her anymore, holding my breath and just hoping that she will do what I want. And she doesn’t overreact anymore, she is happy in her work. I know that the biggest change is in my confidence. I have learned enough now that I know how to introduce new cues and exercises to her in clear ways, I know how to respond to all sorts of situations to help clarify to her exactly what I expect from her, and I don’t second guess myself.

There is so much we invest emotionally into our horses, especially the ones that we become really close to. We want to do what’s best for them, we want them to like us, and be happy, healthy and fulfilled. And I think that can cause a lot of stress and anxiety if you are second guessing yourself, your training abilities or the decisions you’re making for your horse. I also think that we take a lot of the thing that we do with horses for granted, like expecting a horse to just know how to lunge or pick up the correct lead. And then if we are faced with a horse who can’t do those things and we don’t know what to do about it, we get stuck. 

There is no magic intuitive communication with horses. As nice as it would be, we can’t read their minds or talk to them in our language. We have to work to build a common language with them. We can learn what appropriate responses from a horse are in certain exercises, but we still have to teach the horse how to respond. They can’t know what’s expected of them until we mold them. They don’t know how to get to the end result on their own. And a big problem I had with Holly was I was only looking at the end goal. I wanted a calm forward gaItsI wanted a horse who would stand quietly, but I had no idea of the steps to get there. 

So for me, as a trainer, the peace and security I now feel comes from a place of having learned enough to understand how to train; how to break an end goal into smaller pieces, so that no matter what the goal, I can make a plan to achieve it. And, I have the confidence to guide my horse towards those goals, because I know that with the clarity I have from the language we’ve built, I am able to explain things to her in a way that makes sense to her. There is a calmness that has come to both Holly and I because we have both learned understand what to expect out of each other. And with that relationship, the sky’s the limit!  Phoebe

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Photo credits:  ForTheHorse and Candice Camille

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Phoebe Wrangler