Nat's blog: Rain, enthusiastic ponies and limb stretching

The recent weather hasn't just caused havoc with turnout schedules - it's also driven Nat to abandon her fair-weather rider policy! Here she explains how overcoming her lifelong aversion to riding in the rain has worked wonders for Polly and the Diva's training. 

Apparently, it’s spring time now. By spring, I can only assume they mean one of those things that contain water because the amount of the stuff that’s pouring out of the sky on an almost daily basis is an absolute joke. 

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Normally by this point in the year, my horses are out naked and overnight turnout has begun, but for the sake of field (and clean horse!) salvation, this has gone on hold.

(Not so) Fair weather riding 

Despite the less-than-ideal weather conditions, I've managed to keep the girls’ workload up and I believe that my progress as a person is evident in the fact that I actually tacked up the other day when the sky was spitting rain. 

I make no apologies for the fact that I've spent the last 30 years being a largely fair-weather rider. 

I get no enjoyment out of riding in rotten conditions and I despise getting my tack wet. I emerge out of our barn, most evenings, to peer critically up into the sky with one hand held out as I try to determine whether the clouds above me are planning on chucking water in my direction. 

If my weatherman senses detect, or suspect, an occurrence of water phenomenon, I simply retreat back into the barn like a turtle into its shell. It works for me. 

At least it does until every single day is nothing but a deluge of rain. It was either a case of throwing the last three months of work down the drain and letting the girls have countless days off, or pulling my ridiculous self together and realising that I was highly unlikely to melt if I got caught in a downpour. 

Swear a lot and be miserable, maybe, but not melt.

Upping the ante with the Diva 

I have increased the Diva’s schooling sessions now and she's doing one to two a week, with the rest of the week spent hacking around the farm tracks in walk, trot and canter. 

Our sessions have been largely about trying to retrain her into moving in a more upright and open frame, to limit the pressure on her airways. 

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Like most cobs, Diva is very thick through the gullet and I find her windpipe can be further restricted if we get a ‘break-over’ at that point. 

So, I work on riding her in a lower and more open frame to begin with and then slowly bring her up. Our initial sessions were quite inconsistent, if I’m honest. 

Diva found it very confusing. Having previously always been ridden in a slightly deeper and more rounded frame, she struggled to see why the useless human on her back was now asking her to work differently and opted to halt proceedings by either dropping back to walk or charging off at a million miles an hour. 

The exciting part was that I never knew which I was going to get! Still, I calmly persisted and eventually the penny dropped. 

She suddenly realised that what I was asking helped her to breathe a lot easier and we haven’t looked back. 

She's also now able to canter a full 20-metre circle and keep her breathing under control, which is really exciting and makes me hopeful that maybe, just maybe, she will be able to do some prelim tests this year. 

Of course, the next big hurdle is the summer months – a combination of humidity and pollen makes the summer a nightmare when managing her condition, but I have a vet visit booked to discuss this in advance, so fingers crossed we can try and find a way to further help her.

Progress with Polly 

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Polly is now doing three ridden sessions a week and is ridiculously enthusiastic about it. We do a combination of stretching, flat and pole work, interspersed with her days of long-reining and in-hand ground work. 

Riding Polly is a bit like sitting on the Duracell Bunny. You get this feeling that she could go on all day and it’s tempting to allow her to stay in trot to work some of her energy off, but this is really the worst thing for her. 

She needs transitions and lots of them, otherwise she’s a bit like a pan of pasta that you’ve left on the stove and forgotten about. 

By the time you realise what you’ve done, it’s too late, and it’s bubbling all over the place. Our main aim over the last few weeks has been to stretch. 

Unlike the Diva, who you can take out and ride on a long elastic contact straight away, doing this with Polly is like throwing yourself under a train. 

It took 25-minutes of transitions, serpentines, circles and quiet riding to get her to relax and stretch in our session last week, but we managed it.

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She's also started some canter work now, which she thinks is fantastic, and I think I've developed the best six-pack I’ve ever had from the ridiculous amount of core strength I've had to use to slow her down! Who needs a gym when you’ve got Polly?! 

I did almost lose an arm to her the other day, when our resident ducks decided to rise up out of the birkett in a din of quacks and flapping, just as I was leading Polly past on an in-hand day.

I’ve never felt a limb be pulled so violently before and, for a few horrible seconds, I fully expected to see my arm hanging from the end of Polly’s lead rope, where she now stood six-feet away looking rather sheepish. 

Anyway, I escaped with what I can only assume was a strain to those twangy bits that hold your arm on, but my fondness of ducks has plummeted somewhat…

So that’s where we are up to. Diva will be doing her first competition of the season in early May and I’m hoping that Polly won’t be too far behind, so I look forward to sharing those monumental occasions with you all!

‘Til next time,

Nat x

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