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Diary of a Safecob in Training



Chatty finished her Foundation Training some while after the completion of her diary. We produced videos of her final days with us before leaving for a new life preparing to compete in Le Trec.

Lisa tells us how she is getting on.











We know how much the videos are appreciated, so we thought it would be equally informative to add a Training Diary which features the production of one of our cobs from start to finish.


27th October 2009

We have chosen Chatty, a bay cob mare who is 7 years old because we started working with her for the first time today.

Although she has been here since the beginning of September, we haven’t had time to start training Chatty until now. She’s enjoyed being part of the herd and it is hard for her to be taken away to begin her programme of education.

She wasn’t sure she wanted to come in to be tacked up, and was restless and unsettled, which is normal. I put the saddle and bridle on her with the stirrups hanging down so she could feel them against her sides, attached the lunge line, and we went to the little lunge area. It’s not fenced which can be quite a challenge to keep the horses within the perimeter. I don’t think Chatty has ever been lunged, and was a bit all over the place which often happens. I like to ask the horse to use the whole area rather than be forced onto a circle which is too difficult. Chatty tried her best to understand what was required. Eventually she got the hang of going round and I started to introduce voice commands to help her like “whoa” , “walk on”, and “terrot”.

When we start to work new horses, the rest of the herd invariably line up and watch with great interest. They never bother with the more experienced horses, so they definitely know what’s going on! Chatty kept trying to look at them rather than focusing on me, but eventually she settled and started to concentrate. When she got to the point where she would stop to command and then turn her head to look at me whichever rein she was on I stopped the lesson and returned to the stables.

I mounted her from the block and was pleasantly surprised she stood to be mounted, albeit slightly nervously. She walked off when asked rather hesitantly, a bit stop and start, and we made our way to the village. It’s always a big ask for them to go it alone when they are green and inexperienced, but that’s the way we like them, unspoilt and untouched with no previous baggage.

Chatty couldn’t believe what she was being asked to do, but she is an honourable soul and forward thinking. Village life was confusing to say the least. White lines on the road which had to be electric tape in disguise, drain covers which were a trap where the unwary would sink without trace! Brick walls were given a wide berth, curbs were mountains to negotiate, and everything was new and strange.

A lorry passed us on one of the side roads, which Chatty didn't seem to notice, and then she'd spot an odd looking plant which to her looked much more threatening. She was happy to walk past two big black buggies and a mobility scooter which glided past silently, you can never tell how they will react in the early days.

She stood with a good degree of patience when asked which is always helpful at junctions etc. Young or green horses need a lot of direction especially in the first few weeks because they constantly look to their rider for confidence.

I was very pleased with our first training session, Chatty felt safe and sensible underneath the wobbles, she has really kind almond shaped eyes with wrinkles on her brow which generally denote a lovely disposition. I’m looking forward to tomorrow when we repeat the whole process again.

28th October 2009

We completed day two with some interesting results. Chatty was slightly reluctant to be caught today, but was much more settled in the stable. She had more idea of what I wanted on the lunge, although it's early days, and there's still no shape or rhythm. I found my atttention wandering, and she was quick to pick up on it (aren't they always), and tried to pull out towards the stables. I had to use the lunge whip on her quarters to ask her to go forward which meant she was less inclined to stop when asked.

It's often like this, the horse is nervous, so much reassurance is given, and then they overstep a boundary. They very much swing one way then another in the early days.

She stood very well to be mounted and moved off with more assurance than yesterday, which only lasted the lenth of the drive. Then it was back to hesitancy and tentative steps which needed plenty of forward thinking on the rider's part to overcome.

Once in the village we passed a lorry with a grab offloading pallets of bricks. There wasn't much room to pass, but Chatty wasn't unduly worried. She thought the grit box at the top of the hill was exceedingly dangerous in comparison. It's so important to keep the horse's head straight and NEVER let them turn or swing round when confronting something they don't like or trust.

Chatty is such an honest soul, she never says no, although clearly she needs a large amount of support. She wasn't so keen to stand today, and that's what it's like, no two days are the same for ages until they start to establish themselves and gain confidence.

We never make a horse stand who clearly doesn't want to. We have other methods, we don't want to teach the horse to rear, and stopping them going forward is a great introduction.

Chatty seemed to know she was on her way home and began to pick up speed down the hill. Not allowed, if not addressed, the horse quickly learns to hurry on the way back. Small squeezes on the rein like a half halt reminds them to listen and steady up, which she did.

Two aggressive boxer dogs were barking and frothing behind a gate as we rode home. Normally they are out the back, but today they repeatedly hurled themselves at the fencing and were totally ferocious. Because I had no worry with the situation, I could give assurance to Chatty. She wanted to hurry past with a bit of a dash which is understandable, but if the rider is truly chilled, the horse very soon learns the exertion isn't worth it.

I will follow the same routine with her tomorrow.

29th October 2009

I brought Chatty in this morning, but didn't have time to do anything with her until later in the day, and I was impressed with how patiently she waited for me. Horses who know very little often try and walk out when the door is opened, so we did some work with that. Every time she tried to come forward I would push on her breast and ask her to go back. Instead of yiedling to the pressure, she moved into it which is normal. So I placed my hand on the front of her face as well to help her get the message.

Horses at Chatty's level of training can appear ignorant, but this is because they don't understand what is required. It is up to the trainer to present the information in such a way as to invite co-operation. Often handlers get impatient and call the horse names and hit them. This is so damaging and the horse simply learns fear based responses.

I lunged her again before taking her for a short ride round the block. She is improving daily, and I noticed that I can now get within 1 or 2 metres with the whip without her reacting. This is good because I can use the whip to guide her and dictate pace and direction, at least in walk. I'm watching her front feet carefully because she's lost a shoe and I don't want the foot to break up too much before the farrier comes tomorrow.

Horses are funny when they are green because they're never sure how to react., and Chatty did these kind of small jump type movements over bars of sunlight as they hit the ground. The rider needs to stay still and calm on top so as not to further frighten them by bumping about in the saddle.

Rein length changes constantly because she likes to smell her way forward (they all do this), and by allowing her to peer and sniff I help build her confidence. So I let her have her head while keeping it pointed in the right direction. Chatty will try to angle it round which means the body will follow. This is a no-no because we NEVER let them turn away, so the rein contact varies from long to contact throughout.

She has a very sweet and open nature which will probably mean we will make good and swift progress because she wants to work with me. Horses' personalities are all different, bringing diverse challenges to the table so to speak.

30th October 2009

Chatty missed out on her little lunge session today, so it was straight into the village again with it's usual mix of sights and sounds which change on a daily basis. She was coping well with everything, so I began to introduce the concept of steering. Her mouth will be naturally soft, but is unformed at this stage which makes it feel unresponsive.

Horses learning to balance themselves while carrying a rider have their centre of gravity relatively far forward, which means most of their weight is carried on the forehand. The neck is carried low with the head feeling like it's being supported by the hands. This is quite normal, and no effort should be used to try and get the horse to artificially lift it up. This will happen naturally as the training develops.

Chatty's trot is too fast and lacks rhythm, but that too will change. At the moment she is fascinated by droppings on the road. She goes along with a right swing to her step, sees a pile of poo and stops dead! It's almost as if it acts as physical barrier beyond which she feels she shouldn't go. I'm sure ethologists have this behaviour worked out, possibly related to territorial issues or something.

We meet a huge dark green ride on mower straddling the bridle path. Gosh, that's simply too frightening says Chatty. What on earth is it? It certainly wasn't there on the last two days. Her first reaction is to try and turn so she can run away. I'm well aware of her body language and block her movements before they can begin. I know she is genuinely confused and frightened, so I use psychology to diffiuse the situation.

I ask her to wak forward while still a safe distance away and then ask her to stop. Then while she stands with bulging eyeballs I strike up a conversation with the two young drivers. They tell me all about their plans for a big bonfire tonight full of fireworks. Oh dear, poor horses! Meanwhile Chatty comes to the conclusion that she misjudged the danger factor, it's all ok, and she's on the homeward path, and can she please get going? That's the response I'm looking for, and off we go. No tussle or trouble because we both agree it's the sensible way to go.

She is booked to have a set of shoes this afternoon but I can't be there to see how it goes. We are lucky to have an exceptionally cheery and patient farrier with a great attitude towards young or nervous horses. It's so essential for them to have a good experience which helps set them up for a lifetime of being easy to shoe.

Chatty will now be turned out for the weekend until Monday when we will beging her second week in training.

2nd November 2009

Chatty was one of the first I brought in this morning once we'd cleaned the paddocks, and I had the full intention of getting a good start. The day was so bright and sunny, that I thought I ought to take advantage of it and prepare Honor for a photo shoot which took all morning and half way through lunch to complete.

Then Annie reminded me that the McTimmoney practitioner was coming to check the horses, and should she look at Chatty? We live in the middle of a large shoot, and by then the guns were full of fire at particularly close range which unsurprisingly temporarily upsets the harmony of the surroundings.

Chatty was fine in her stable with all the noise, but much more restless outside in the yard which made it very difficult for Debbie to examine her safely. I suggested lightly lunging her until all the pheasants were bagged and the Bankers had moved on to fresh territory. Chatty was much calmer doing some sort of work, although not for long because soon enough it all became silent.

We discovered some uneven muscular development which was treated, and we were advised not to do any more with her for a few days. It's a shame to have a break in her training at such an early stage, but our horses' health and well-being is paramount. I've no doubt Chatty will be even more co-operative if she's feeling comfortable all over.

I will do more with her on Wednesday or Thursday.

4th November 09

I brought Chatty in from the field this morning, and put her in a different box on the opposite side of the passageway. This mini-move caused her some consternation, and she was reluctant to settle. If they are not sure of themselves, feel isolated, or insecure, you can be sure they will object to being moved around. I spent time grooming her awkward places to see if she is swishy, ticklish, or unfamiliar with certain areas. Actually, she quite enjoyed it, and was happy to have the mud dragged off her belly with a curry comb.

Since her treatment on Monday was non-invasive, I thought there's no harm in continuing her work, so I lunged her. I noticed that she is more receptive to the voice commands and less wary of the whip. I also noticed that she found the right rein much easier, and was using the whole area rather than falling in on small circles. To do this she needed be stronger on that side than she was before, which is good to see following her treatment.

I can see Chatty is frightened of her mouth, the slightes tension inwards on the lungeline and she goes to walk to protect the corners. I found she had foam on the right of her mouth after riding, but her mouth was dry to the left. This can be an indication of sharp teeth, so I will ask Michael to look at them.

I take Chatty to the village again, and she feels fresh. Not surprising really since she hasn't been ridden since last Friday. I trot her on down the hill to give her a bit of focus. I find my reins are quite short, about half way up her neck, but I'm not pulling, just leaning forward to balance and steady her. This is a very effective position on young, strong, or fresh horses, and the different permutations will be shared on the courses at the NHC.

Chatty feels fresh all the way round, and parked cars are today's "must do a detour. " It's funny how unproduced horses can have their heads turned to the left, and still manage to have the rest of their body out to the right in the middle of the road somewhere. Chatty thinks this is a good compromise, and it's true that she is going forward past them, but within the next couple of weeks, all that will be history when she learns to respond accurately to the inside leg. ( At the moment she thinks any leg means go faster), and I have more control of her shoulder.

On our way home, we see Annie on Goldie. Chatty calls but doesn't make a fuss. Annie knows not to keep going, which can provoke an issue where there isn't one, and waits for us to catch up. Chatty is so relieved to be beside another horse, I can feel her visibly relax and let go of all the adrenaline.

We dismount back at the yard, and Chatty wants to follow Goldie into the stables rather than wait for me to put up the stirrups etc. I have to remind her that her focus needs to be with me, and I ask her to stand, but as soon as I go to the saddle, she wants to walk forward again. I insist that she stand, and she does. Goldie goes back out to the field before I've rugged Chatty up, and as I open the door, she tries to walk out because in her mind she rode home with Goldie, so now they're buddies and need to stick together! I push her back from the door while I leave it open, and put the rug on. When she sees me go to the back leg straps, she thinks she'll seize the moment and walk out. She didn't notice the slack lead rein looped down by her fetlocks, and I simply drew the end towards me as I stood at her tail. You could see her trying to work that one out!

One of the key aspects of training is consistency, and Chatty is only at the beginning of her journey, but with sympathty and understanding she will grow into a really lovely mare, confident and well-schooled.

5th November 2009

Chatty was much more settled in the box today, and so enjoyed her mane being combed out her head got lower and her eyes began to close. Time was in short supply so we went straight out for a hack. I wanted to take her somewhere for a good long trot, preferably up a steep hill. This always helps them to settle and gets rid of excess energy at the same time. We were beginning to get into a bit of a rhthym, but were interrupted several times by screeching pheasants who chose to launch themselves just when we got near. Chatty just had to jump slightly sideways, she usually accompanies this with a shudder as well. Some horses do this, it's not that unusual, and it does pass, and I keep riding her forward.

My plan is always to keep our horses on quiet lanes until they are sufficiently established to go into the forest, but I was feeling the effects of two cups of coffee, so we had to reroute and go into the forest while I looked for a bush! I'm describing these more personal details because I used the situation as a training opportunity.

I dismounted and took the reins over her head, holding them at the buckle end so she would be occupied with the grass. I was aware that my position was now quite vulnerable, and in the past I have been suddenly pulled off my feet and dragged along half-dressed because something startled the horse. Anyway, today was fine, and Chatty was more than happy to stand and eat. I mounted her from the ground, whereas before I always used the block. Somtimes horses get a bit strange when you try and get back on, hardly letting you get a toe in the stirrup before dancing about. Chatty was just grand, and stood without moving while I organised myself. So now I know I don't have work to do in that department.

I started to head out towards the road, but changed my mind and decided to continue our ride through part of the forest. All was well, she did think walking over a pile of sticks covering a dark puddle wasn't a good idea, but as we had already done lots of work passing strange objects in the village, she didn't resist for long.

I wasn't concerned about her shying or refusing to pass something, the real worry is if a horse gets a fright, and runs away. They only need to do this two or three times and the rider has a problem. That's why we make sure we have sufficient steering and brakes, and the horse needs to understand what's being asked before being put in situations where that can occur.

It's absolutely vital that young and inexperienced horses don't go on the run. It's so easy for them to do since they are flight animals. It wouldn't occur with Chatty, but what can happen is they more or less bolt, then get another fright when they realise there's a rider on board, and buck them off. Through systematically building the training we avoid putting the horse in situations which are potentially beyond their coping mechanism for their current level of training.

We had a nice time in the forest even if it is too soon for her to be ridden in there. We walked home in a fairly relaxed manner, although Chatty doesn't yet have trust in her rider which makes her somewhat over aware of her environment. It's my job as her trainer to help her get to that place where she accepts life and is happy to go anywhere.

6th November 2009

Chatty has turned a corner. We use this phrase whenever there is a positive change in the horse's understanding or acceptance with an aspect of training. We rode to the village again, and I noticed how much straighter she is today. I can keep my leg on without her trying to run forward from it. This is difficult to explain because of course I want to go forward, but in a balanced and methodical way rather than a random flat fast pace that's in front of the leg.

There will be many more corners to navigate along the way, and she may well dip in and out in terms of performance because she isn't established, but it's always rewarding to feel a mini breakthroughs in the Foundation Training. Chatty is going to be a very quiet and reliable horse in a month or two, and today I had a preview. Lovely.

The general trend in the village seems to be home improvements and everyone's at it, which is great for the horses. Chatty went past a builder lorry with a grab in full swing off loading bales of bricks, and someone else was having a drive done, with a really noisy disc cutter cutting the paving. She is fairly accepting of these sorts of activities. We met two girls on horses coming towards us, and Chatty was happy to keep walking with no insecurities taking hold of her.

This is the first day I have felt she is starting to listen first before reacting. Like most green horses she would see or hear something, and shy, jump, or shoot forward before noticing that I was asking for a different behaviour. Today she was in that place where she would at least consider her options, listen to my requests, and become more of less focused.

I want to say that I don't expect her to reproduce this on every ride, which would be unreasonble, but what it does show is where she is heading, and before too long her responses will be predictable and consistent. On the way home she was able to lower her head carriage, which is a good sign of relaxation. Interestingly, horses aren't able to fake it, and even if they only put their heads down at the rider's request, they are indeed relaxed while in that postion. So I spend much time teaching horses to understand about lowering and stretching. It's such a great tool for mentally letting go.

I didn't tie Chatty up to have her rug put on because she's so good at just standing there, so I was surprised that she felt the need to whisk round and round her box as if she'd never seen one and I was going to hit her with it. I stood still holding the rug like some sort of half-hearted matador, and when she stopped I gently threw it across her. She shuddered and juddered, but stood still while I did the bucles. We can never take horses for granted, especially so early on in training.

I led Chatty out to the field, and she plodded along behind me, which is what I wanted her to do. I took off her rope fully expecting her to be eager to join the others as she usually does, only this time she stood beside me while I stroked her ears and patted her neck. She lowered her head and gently sniffed my arms and chest. I stroked her again and then walked off to catch my next horse, and couldn't believe Chatty was still following me. She always chooses her friends over people, so this shows a subtle shift in the relationship. She is beginning to see me as her leader and potentially worthy of trust.

I felt truly humbled, especially as she waited patiently while I caught a horse, and then followed me all the way back to the gate. I felt slightly like a traitor to walk out and leave her there...... She has the weekend off now, and next week will be a short one because I've got a lot of work to do before we leave Friday for Your Horse Live.

9th November 2009

Chatty came into her box in a settled frame of mind, she lunged well shloshing through the puddles and getting her face totally splattered until the shoot started banging off nearby, so that was the end of that. She didn't want to stand for a minute, so I thought the best policy was to mount up and get going.

Chatty is one of those horses who doesn't hang on to stuff, as we call it, and half way down the drive she seemed to forget about being upset. It's a real plus when a horse can let go with whatever is bothering them once the trigger has been removed.

She'd remembered what we were doing last Friday, but because she's not established, she was inclined to revert to a former level, though she didn't really get there because she'd turned a corner. Monday is bin day and the road was flooded with big green bins lining every drive. Chatty thought she couldn't possibly go past in anything like a straight line, but after the tenth bin, and going back and forward with most of them in between, she decided making an issue wasn't worth the effort.

Horses are naturally lazy, even those that appear steamed up, and will always look to take the path of least resistance. This is a great ally in training terms, and we encourage it wherever we can. Every time Chatty tried to move her forehand to the right, I was there with a supportive leg and the rein against her neck, and I could almost hear her saying "I know what that means, I'll do it now". So there we were trotting along while I was thinking how much the rhthym is improving and how nice it felt, while I subconsciously noticed a car driving towards us. At the moment that it drew level, Chatty did a huge leap into the middle of the road. I remember thinking if she crashes into the car, she'll be traffic shy for ever. Luckily the driver was going slowly and did an emergency stop, and somehow Chatty missed the bumper by centimetres. When I looked back to see the cause, there were a clump of monotone shrubs growing in a garden.

That's young horses for you, they can lull the rider into thinking isn't life grand, and the next moment be somewhere else entirely. Anyway Chatty is totally unaware of the implications, which means life for both of is just fine.

There's a small strip of grass verge, which although short, is wide enough for a few canter strides. We often make use of this to test various features and buttons in the horses as part of street dressage or whatever. Chatty is far from ready to canter, but I thought I'd just ask anyway to see what work is ahead of me when the time comes. We must remember that green horses haven't got a clue about canter aids, and have no idea what we want, and Chatty thought I meant go faster, which is what she did. We flew along at such a fast trot I thought I was riding a Trotter! I've ridden a few, and the sensation was very similar.

We had a second attempt, and Chatty knew whatever she did the last time wasn't what I was looking for, so she prepared herself for the launch. It was a bit like one of those toys that you twist the elastic round tighter and tighter and then release and away it goes. Chatty launched into canter and before you could blink she'd reached the end of the verge and was away up the road at a good pace. We could have been hunting. Poor girl didn't know how to stop and drop down a gear when asked, all that comes later.

It's really important we understand that at times like this the horse isn't running away, or bolting, or being bloody-minded, it's simply that lack of balance and schooling preclude them from answering the hand, seat, or leg. Just as they rush into canter, they find it easier to keep going than come back when asked. This is where it all begins for horses who become strong in canter, get excited by the whole prodedure, or even start running away. It's so important to have the correct approach to avert complications further down the line.

By the end of her training, Chatty will step up and down to canter on any given leg anywhere she's asked because I will help her build the framework so she can. We walked home on a long rein in the gloaming. Cars had their headlights on and I'd forgotten to wear my Hi Viz clothing; I must try and remember tomorrow. Chatty was telling me she's starting to enjoy our rides now. I really love that mare.

10th November 2009

I didn't have time to lunge Chatty, but I spent a bit of time with her in the stable doing a bit of this and that. Chatty likes her eyes gently rubbed, horses tend to find this relaxing, and her head got lower and lower.

She wouldn't stand at the block today, which is the first time she hasn't done so. She didn't want to stand while I made the usual adjustments either, she kept fidgeting and trying to walk off. Changes in attitude and behaviour are a normal part of growing up, and it's best not to dwell on it, and we set off for the village again.

Chatty is generally more relaxed,and it shows with her length of stride which has improved a great deal in walk. Her neck is longer and lower, allowing her to have more definition in the step, and to cover more ground. She is becoming nosier, and likes to look around now she is less worried. I thought now is the time to start dragging my schooling whip along the hedges as we go, which always makes them jump. This is a great exercise for accepting noise behind, as well as birds flying out.

Although Chatty does understand the aids to keep her to the side of the road, her responses are a bit like husbands' hearing, highly selective, zoning in and out depending on the circumstances. I began to get irritated after two or three occasions when the forehand came over to the right, or the hindquarters swung out. We did some work on shoulder control and bend, as well as paying attention to the leg.

Chatty finds it difficult to bend to the left, falling in on her shoulder and reluctant to relax that side of her jaw. After specific exercises which non invasively engages the hindleg, she was able to turn her head and neck right round to smell my foot. This is a form of turn on the forehand without the turn.

Horses at Chatty's level of development mostly go through a long stage of tripping, although she rarely does. I just wanted to mention it because it's often misunderstood, with the horse being accused of laziness, not paying attention, and failing to pick his feet up. I believe this is quite normal as the horse learns where each of his legs are, and gains dexterity of movement in balance whilst carrying a rider. Certainly all our horses finish their training very sure-footed whether or not they started off that way.

To finish the subject of tripping for now, some horses repeadedly trip with same leg. This is usually due to a stiffness through the corresponding shoulder, either due to lack of confidence, (yes, really) or too strong rein contact on that side. By allowing the hand to follow through, the neck is encouraged to lengthen on that side, which means the horse can bring the foreleg more forward, increasing the distance of the breakover point of the foot.

We did a lot of whoaing to the voice en route. It's important for the horse to have a basic vocabulary, and Chatty already knows "Whoa", "Walk on", and "Terrot", on the lunge as well as under saddle. When she stands I slacken the rein because it sends mixed messages if the contact is held on to. Horses need to take responsibility for their actions. I've asked her to stop and she has, so I don't need to keep the pressure cranked up. It's all about the trust thing, and it grows from very simple beginnings like releasing the reins when the horse performs the movement.

Mostly Chatty will only stand briefly without moving at all, but that's good enough at this stage. I ask her to walk on before she thinks of doing so herself, which reinforces my status as leader....afterall it was my idea. I try to time it so it fits with her emotions; if she is restless, I ask sooner, and if she feels settled I will delay it. We walk all the way home on a long rein, with Chatty's head right down, which is great.

Tomorrow is our last day until next week as we prepare for Your Horse Live.

11th November 2009

Chatty is definitely more relaxed about hacking out, and is much less worried by the aids. Until now she was over responsive to the leg and didn't understand the nuances of the stick. She still has some way to go, but she no longer sees the whip as punishment, rather as a suport in her endeavours to match the correct action to my request.

The village was full of unusual activity today. There was a more or less continuous oil slick, the rainbow metallic colours always make horses peer or hesitate. Whoever believes they are colour blind needs to reconsider. Then the highways authority placed large scary signs announcing their intention to do some repairs to our lane. After that there was a man with a screaming disc cutter grinding into a stone wall just around a corner. Finally we had ladies taking their umbrellas for a walk in the drizzle.

Chatty is such a funny person, because she didn't really mind any of it. Of course she relied on me to make the decisions, but after being told we were to keep going no matter what, she was remarkably compliant.

It's funny how much horses dislike gateways and drives, and Chatty is no exception. She is deeply suspicious, and needs maximum encouragement to consider them. There was a large lorry behind us on a narrow lane, so I thought we would go up this gravel drive to get out of the way. Chatty would have none of it, so rather than create a drama which might have made her have a negative association with lorries, we stood alongside it instead, with a bit of bum pointing out into the lane. She didn't mind the lorry at all, but I thought it would be a good idea to spend time getting familiar with driveways.

I am very pleased with Chatty's progress, her personality is just beginning to emerge as her confidence in me and the environment increases. She has a really lovely temperament, and really tries to get it right. I feel we ended today's ride on a very good note, and with four days off to think about it, I've no doubt we can pick up where we left off.

17th November 2009

Chatty started her day with a lunge as she's had so much time off. She was a good girl, and is definitely getting more balanced. She stood perfectly still for me to mount, and off we went to meet the village again. Because Chatty isn't established, I do notice she reverts a bit, which they all do. However, I can pick up bits from where we left off, and some aspects have even improved, like her mouth. She's softer to the left now, and has equal foam on both sides, which is good. She's not so frightened of the hand either, and I can begin to ask some questions.

She was quite looky; young horses are so funny, they even try to be react to things on the other side of the road as well. She's still not sure about the free range hens, although she doesn't pay the sheep much attention. A plastic covered table waved one of its edges in the breeze, which made her jump sideways. She slipped at the same time, and both her front legs did the splits. I didn't mind. In time she will learn to organise herself and be more stable.

Horses change as they develop and get fitter, and either become more of a horse, or quieter. I can tell already that Chatty is going to be a very quiet and steady horse; she is giving me all the signs. We stopped and had quite a long conversation with a resident en route, and Chatty was so happy just standing, she needed a bit of encouragement to move. Such a good sign. We did more work with driveways, as horses find these quite spooky. They enter them tentatively, and then want to swing round rapidly to exit. Chatty is like this at the moment, although I don't let her otherwise it becomes a habit.

We met a new stack of bricks at the side of the road covered in polythene. She didn't want to pass in a straight line, so we went back and forth several times until I felt she was ready to pass them on the pavement. This was quite a test of confidence as she only had a narrow walkway which brought her close to that which she was wary of. She has more faith in me now as a leader, so with a bit of encouragement she agreed to go, and more than once, up and down and in and out.

It's small steps like these which build the Foundation Training to the point where the horse accepts the unusual and frightening without feeling the need for a flight reaction. Chatty doesn't shy much in walk now, although she will try and go round things. I don't turn her head towards that which she doesn't like because this encourages the quarters to swing inwards. By asking her to walk forward in a straight line, she can't actually shy. She can jump sideways, but even then, if she is truly straight, this is difficult to do. Horses shy when they lead through the shoulder, and once the rider has control of this, he/she has control of the horse.

I always reward correct behaviour through immediate release of pressure, allowing Chatty to make the connection for what I want. I like to encourage her to stretch her head and neck as well, especially on the way home. Horses' heads are heavy, and it is a strain for them to carry them up and in throughout the ride.

With all the recent rain, we are back to mud, so Chatty is now stabled. She seems happy and relaxed, and I can spend more time with her as well since I'll be looking after her. She's so sweet and innocent, she follows me round while I tidy up her box, gently sniffing me. She likes me to rub her special places, and tries to do mutual grooming. We are definitely building a good relationship.

18th November 2009

I rode Chatty in a gale today. I lunged her first to take the edge off her, but even so, the ride was quite difficult for her. Everything was moving and heaving, and most of the time she couldn't hear anything behind her. I needed to be aware of what was coming from behind without letting her know that I was so she wouldn't be worried.

She was uncertain and jumpy, which is to be expected in such conditions. However, it will improve with time and exposure. We ride in all weathers, and the established horses cope exceptionally well with fierce winds. She did a lot of calling too, I felt she was insecure, and would have preferred some company. I gave her plenty of direction throughout, which she needed as she wasn't convinced any of it was a good idea.

A skip had appeared overnight in front of the pile of bricks we met yesterday, and in different weather, wouldn't have attracted so much of her attention. We met three large removal lorries with ramps down and men loading house contents. I thought this a bit unusual. I hope the residents aren't leaving on our account. The horses do leave lots of droppings and make trot sounds on the tarmac on Sunday mornings, as well as going back and forth endlessly past scary objects outside front gardens. Chatty was very good with all this, and didn't mind going by.

We didn't do driveways today. It's important not to have sensory overload, which can make a horse panic and think life is all too much. Half way round Chatty realised she was still alive, and it actually wasn't the end of the world, and she began to relax a little. She was a bit marchy on the way home, and her head stayed up rather than going long and low as she's been doing.

It will be interesting to see what she is like tomorrow, as even stronger winds are forecast. I'm hopeful that since today finished without incident, she will feel more inclined to listen to me rather than the noise going on around her.

She's still following me round the box when I muck out, making it difficult to dash in and out. She likes me to stop and stroke her while she breathes warm sweet breath over me. So sweet. She's still not quite sure that I won't be cross, and a little shy, but underneath there's this lovely friendly soul waiting to come out.

19th November 2009

I trotted Chatty all the way down the drive which is full of big puddles, and half way down the lane before asking for walk. She coped very well with the wind which was still strong here today. I changed diagonal regularly so she doesn't become one-sided, and keep her in the middle of the road to work at straightness. She was a good girl, and much more relaxed than yesterday. She didn't bother with the wind whipping through the hedges, or the leaves chasing us along the road.

We walked past a lorry with a grab unloading materials. She was hesitant but listening, and made a good job of it. She wasn't sure about the beaver tailed truck though, so we went back and forth a few times until she would walk so close I could nearly brush the sides with my stirrup.

I noticed two A frame signs with some loosely placed information close by the pavement, which I thought would provide a good training opportunity, since the paper was fluttering about. Chatty wasn't sure this was a good idea, and kept stepping off the pavement despite my leg and hand telling her otherwise. Then she stopped, and her body language was telling me that if she couldn't pass in a bit of an arc, she wasn't willing to compromise. This is normal behaviour with inexperienced horses, and the best way forward is not to make an issue of it, but to remain calm and focused. It was a difficult setting in a quieter section of the high street, and I didn't want her to jump into the path of the traffic, so we had to get it right.

A good way to do this is not to look at whatever is causing a hiccup, but to concentrate on something beyond as a goal. Young or green horses are mostly very open to the right sort of encouragement, and Chatty is no exception. With a little persuasion she went happily back and forth keeping to the pavement.

It's nearly always easier to persuade such horses to go on as opposed to those who are masters in the art of evasion. Older horses can have a considerable armoury of avoidance tactics which can be so challenging as to be dangerous.

Chatty was relaxed and walked home on a long rein. I dragged a big bag of shaving into her box when I untacked her, and she didn't like it at all. She stood in the corner while I emptied it out. She will really benefit from the plastic sheet work we do, but I'm aware it's counterproductive to begin it too soon. As I mentioned yesterday, it's important not to give them sensory overload. I will know when the time is right.

This afternoon I was cantering along a nice grassy track in the forest thinking this is the life, when a big bay horse shot out of a small track in front of us. He plunged forward and galloped away. I couldn't see a rider. I thought, "loose horse, now we're up against it", when this figure rose up from somwhere, and tried unsuccessfully to get a pull on him. I was so glad I was riding Bertie, because this is just the sort of situation I want to avoid with Chatty until she is ready. We have prepared Bertie for different scenarios over many months, and he is able to cope. I will take Chatty up there with a schoolmaster like him at least for the first few times to ensure she has a positive experience.

20th November 2009

Chatty was mad fresh today, which caught me unawares as she hasn't shown the slightest sign of rising energy up to this point. She has been stabled all week on non-stop haylage which probably accounts for it. On the way out she caught sight of a plastic sack of shavings dumped in the field which wasn't there previously. Horses are notoriously reactive to new things appearing spontaneously in a familiar setting.

Her head shot up, her step got highter, and she was looking for a way out. I had the reins quite short, so I could keep her head straight with minimal contact to keep her going forward. Because she has never been allowed to turn or spin round, she didn't really try, so in her mind it was plan B. She ran off down the drive with no intention of stopping as fast as her legs would carry her.

After a hundred yards or so, she realised she wasn't being pursued, and came back to trot. This was her decision, and not because she answered the hand. A typical flight response, and although not desirable, is a normal fear-based reaction when a horse feels sufficiently under threat.

The rest of the ride was fine, Chatty felt quite onward, as if she needed more work, but as the daylight was poor, I knew we should make for home, but I felt I'd missed a golden opportunity to use the "One Rein Stop" during the incident on the drive.

We rode along a short bridle path so I could test it's effectiveness in canter. Chatty went up a gear more easily than previously, but was covering too much ground and not listening to the hand. The main reason for this is because I don't really "have" her yet, and her mouth is not made. We kept retracing our footsteps in order for me to make improvements. To explain in detail what is involved would need a lot of space, but as an outline, this is what I did.........

Firstly the horse needs to really understand the concept of bend, and be willing to relax each side of the jaw when asked in order to completely turn the head and neck. I only use one rein, the other is completely slack. To start with the horse keeps walking in small circles which need to gradually decrease until he comes to standstill. And that's it, the one rein stop. Further finesse means when the rein is brought round and back, the horse immediately stops.

I used this method on Chatty in canter and it's a very effective braking system. Of course correct preparation is everything, otherwise the horse is simply confused and likely to run away rather than halt. The best way of demonstrating this is probably in a video. We want to do one for Bertie, so if I remember, I will include it.

When she met the offending sack coming back home, she was no longer fresh, and she remembered that nothing awful happened anyway, so she didn't bother to do more than look alert. I rode her back and forth past it just to be sure. She probably won't give it a second glance next time as she's accepted it as part of the furniture.

Chatty needs to widen her horizons now, and next week we will be going further afield and exploring new territory.

23rd November 2009

Today's weather was appalling, but the upside is the shoot was cancelled. The guns stayed tucked up in Town, so we were saved from lead shot raining down on the roof which totally agitates the horses. Illegal I know, but different rules apply when you have a 1000 acres and own a bank.

Somehow the morning slipped away organising horses and boxes, so Michael lunged Chatty He did a great job, and she was quite settled when I took her out. No nonsense on the drive, just a bit agog. The rain was sheeting down, and the wind whipped everything in great gusts all around us.

Monday is bin day; they lay in a strange mix of positions, even scrambled together in places due to the impact of the wind. Chatty was happy to pass them, but more in an arc than a straight line. We spent time going up and down, and back and forth until she couldn't be bothered.

We went somwhere different today. There's a tree lined track that leads uphill to a house, and it's ideal for starting the cantering process because it's enclosed, a bit spooky, and not open enough to invite a sprint into the distance. My policy is to trot up, stop, turn, stop, trot down, stop, and repeat as necessary. After a couple of lengths, I put Chatty to canter.

It's important to remember that green horses haven't got a clue about canter aids, so it's a waste of time and frustrating to tread the conventional route. Cobs can stuggle with canter, and often like to run to gather momentum before striking off. That's why I use this location to test the waters in terms of how much work I have ahead to produce a horse who is able to make a nice step up to canter.

It's worth discussing canter further, because this is the gait that can produce the most trouble for riders and worry for the horse. It's also somewhat artificial, and needs a lot of understanding to get right, especially for cobs.

I have been riding Chatty for a number of weeks almost exclusively in walk and trot. I feel she has sufficient rhythm and balance now to progress to the next level. I ask for canter with my voice as well as pressing with my heels. I also lean slightly foward and use my schooling whip, which I always carry. The horse must accept the whip without fear before it can be used with enough refinement to endorse the canter aid.

I canter to the top and trot back down. I canter back again, and this time I canter down the track. This isn't easy, as it puts the horse on the forehand due to the gradient, and they do find it hard to stop. I repeat this excercise maybe five or six times, and introduce canter to trot, trot to canter. This is how I build confidence and obedience in the horse, and critically the ability to make decent transitions up and down through the gears.

Chatty was very good, and her confidence was increasing with every length. I make sure to finish on a good note. Tomorrow is another day, and I'm alert to how she's feeling. I don't want to sour her enthusiasm to please, or push her beyond her current fitness levels.

On our way home we were drawing level with a wheelie bin just as a gust of wind blew it over. That's timing for you. Chatty did a bit of a jump, but she wasn't that worried. We went back and forth on both sides of the road until the bins were hardly worth a look.

She was very relaxed on the way home.

There's a mini lake that's grown in one of the fields. I was tempted to take Chatty through it, but then I had a better idea. I would come down on Bertie and have a splash about and get it on video, which I did.

24th November 2009

I'm looking forward to riding Chatty in normal weather. The wind was gusting and the sky was black with the promise of rain. I think she is doing really well considering the adverse conditions.

We went to the same canter track again, taking the opposite route round the village. Horses tend to behave a bit differently when they see the same objects from a different perspective. We did a lot in trot, and I'm now able to keep her going (mostly) past things she liked to drop back to walk to pass.

We were going along nicely, in a good strong rhythm, when she did such a violent emergency stop that my head shot forward taking my upper body with it. There was a bit of a crack sound which was slightly alarming, especially as it came from me, but I found I could move my neck much better as a result, so she did me a favour. I looked round to see the cause, it was only a black plastic recycle box of which she has seen plenty, but the difference was it wasn't there yesterday.

We did several canters up and down with frequent transitions to help her keep balanced enough to come back down to trot smoothly and softly. At the moment she likes to jut her jaw forward so the bit isn't on the bars, rather the corners of the mouth. This isn't a problem, and is a natural reaction to try and protect sensitive areas. Once she trusts my hands and the way I use them, we will play a symphony together. Magic.

She still felt full of running, which I knew wasn't freshness, and only adrenaline running through her system. It's easy to get the two confused, and horses can appear very onward and lively when in fact they are agitated and not centred. It's our job to support the horse during training until there is no more need to express emotions this way.

I decided to take her to the village green. This is an area of rough grass which is ideal to school on. Because it's so open with a fair amount going on, it's not suitable for all horses, especially green ones, but Chatty is honourable, and it felt right.

We trotted round for a bit to acclimatise her, and then I put her to canter. She managed to keep going round the perimeter on each rein with the correct leg for two circuits at a time. I was very pleased with her. I don't worry about correct bend, outline, or an even shape. Focusing on these more advanced aspects only worries green horses and makes them lose confidence in themselves.

A cyclist came up silently behind us, and this can startle them, but I think Chatty is so used to strange sounds with the wind, she didn't take any notice. We started a conversation which lasted ages, and Chatty was keen to get home. She fidgeted for a while, and then resigned herself to standing still resting a back leg, which was all good for her. I feel we turned another corner today.

25th November 2009

Chatty was delightful today, and so was the weather. We got to ride in a bit of sunshine with a breeze as opposed to a gale. She was attentive right the way round, and soft on both sides of her mouth. All the turning and bending we've been doing with has made her really supple through the head and neck, and now she is beginning to relax her jaw going from walk to trot.

A small flock of black sheep appeared overnight in the first field on the lane. Horses can definitely tell they look different, but Chatty was very accepting of them. We also passed a group of red coated heifers grazing on a hill field which made them look more impressive. She didn't mind those either. I was so pleased to feel how much she has grown mentally this week, I think I can say she has somewhat matured. Of course it's early days still, and one swallow doesn't make a summer, but there is a subtle difference in her outlook.

We didn't much today because she had her follow up treatment from the McTimmoney practitioner yesterday. I was told no cantering or circles for a day or two. The horses really benefit from regular check ups, and we are lucky to have two ladies who visit and really get to know them. Horses can suffer from tenderness and sore muscles as well as deeper damage to tissues and ligaments just from being ridden or from ill fitting tack. We believe the training is even more valuable if they are feeling comfortable throughout.

On the way home we met a pony and trap. As we approached it, I was thinking about the interesting outcome I would be describing in tonight's diary! As we know, horses can be terrified of such a scenario. Chatty let out a loud honk of a neigh, she's not called Chatty for nothing, and then wanted to stop and say hello. I wasn't worried myself, although I was prepared for any eventuality so to speak, however, it was a non-event from her perspective.

We walked the rest of the way home, and Chatty was so relaxed she felt almost lazy, which was lovely. I'm hoping for a similar ride tomorrow, although she may not offer it. It doesn't matter either way because she has clearly shown me the direction we are going in, and we can always get back to that despite a few blips should they occur.

People have asked what would happen if she doesn't make it through the training, what would I say? I think that in itself would be most interesting, although it won't apply to her I'm sure. In fact I think it would be valuable to write about a horse who doesn't make the grade, and it's true that not all horses do, and some have agendas they keep hidden initially. That's why it's so important to work through all the stages and come out the other side with a well trained horse.

The change in Chatty is reflected in her eye, which changes with her emotional level. At first her eye was kind but timid looking like a gazelle. Now it looks really earnest like she's trying to apply herself. In the final stages the eye softens until finally it looks aglow with love and enthusiasm for a job well done and the understanding of how to do it.

I'm looking forward to riding her tomorrow.

26th November 2009

Chatty gave me the easiest ride of the day today, she was lovely. We weren't out long as time was very short. I took her down a slightly busier road I wouldn't have considered before because the driveways look odd (to a horse), and they open directly onto the road. The traffic is faster and less forgving too, so you do need to know you can keep the horse straight with no hind quarters swinging inwards or backing up etc.

Chatty has reached another level in her training, and I could feel it as soon as we walked downt the drive. I dropped the reins while I fiddled with my phone, and I noticed she kept in a straight line. Previously she would have snaked about and tried to edge towards a gate and been generally evasive without my direction.

I wanted to head to the end of the road where there is a triangle set in it's own island beside the High Street. There are sign poles, a bench, post box, a dark green telecom box, low set reflective road signs, and bright yellow water hydrants. All great objects to weave in and out of, to stand beside, to tap with a whip, and generally be creative at negotiating. Chatty is uber flexible now, from the bars of her mouth right through her neck to the base of her shoulders. She feels light and sensitive to the hand, and was a willing participant among the civic amenities.

We retraced our steps towards home in a relaxed fashion. In fact when I asked for trot Chatty preferred to come back to walk, which was a first. This is because today she has let go of most of the adrenaline she's been carrying within her, which made her feel more energised than is her true nature.

She is very nervous around any kind of plastic, and I will do that work with her when I feel we have sufficient trust between us. A big part of the training is providing a space for trust to grow. When Chatty gives me her trust anything is possible. She can move to her new home and progress in another successful relationship.

Next week I will probably begin riding her in company. Some people ask why I didn't start riding her with others to give her confidence before going it alone. There's an important reason for this, and that's because the horses we train need to look to us for confidence without relying on another horse to get them through the day. It's much more difficult to get the horse to tune in when there's the distraction of another. Now that I feel Chatty is listening to me, and waiting for her cues rather than thinking the world is a scary place, I can introduce this next element into her training.

Looking ahead, she will also be ridden by someone other than myself. We're all a little different in the way we apply the aids, and she needs to be able to work out what is being asked, and be happy to comply.

It's also been suggested we show her picture, so as soon as I feel she looks respectable enough we will have a mini photo shoot.

27th November 2009

Chatty wasn't as fluent today, possibly because I left her her until last, the weather was brisker, and she would have been better for a lunge. As we walked down the lane, Chatty saw two ladies with a black pushchair. She couldn't work out what it was, and wasn't keen to keep going. She has seen plenty in the village, but they aren't so close. She tried half-heartedly to turn her head, which I countered, as this is always a precursor to a turn, and not what we want. She did some staccato steps until we were along side, and then we stopped while I exchanged a few words. I do this on purpose because it alwasy diffuses the situation. Horses can be wary of people heading straight for them (confrontational), hiding in driveways (predatory), or bending over weeding the garden ( hunter/stalker). I make a point of acknowledging everyone we meet, they probably think I'm mad, but it works brilliantly at showing the horses there's nothing to fear.

She was a good girl, but somewhat hesitant in comparison to the last two days. About half way round she relaxed into that new place she has discovered, the one she will ultimately inhabit full time.

Church Road was awash with Mummies not able to reverse collecting children. There were cars everywhere; doors were opening and closing just as we approached, and the children shrilled and shrieked and leapt up and down to see a real live horse passing by. This sort of exposure is so good for horses, some find it really difficult to cope. However, Chatty isn't one of them, taking it more or less in her stride.

I rode up through the housing estate to the T junction. We turn right here towards home, but today I thought we'd turn left and go back round again. Chatty's body language was saying "You can't be serious, this isn't what we do", as she weaved from side to side to try and evade my leg. Of course she didn't put up much resistance because she's compliant by nature, but it's a good idea to mix and match different routes so the horse doesn't get complacent, or worse, think he or she knows best.

When I got back to the yard Chatty saw a new pile of shavings in the passageway. She doesn't mind them unless they move, and this prompted me to start acquainting her with a bag. I took an empty one and held it up level with her nose for her to sniff. She drew back and looked very suspicious. Horses test things by smelling them, and if they're unwilling to do so, there's little progress to be made.

I didn't force the bag on her, but held it in one hand while I stoked her with the other for reassurance. She wasn't convinced, so I put in on the ground in front of her and walked on it. It made a crackling sound which she found frightening, so I stepped up and down on the spot until there was a degree of acceptance.

Then I asked her to walk forward on to it. After a bit of deliberation she did. It was too hurried, but we had a couple more goes until she walked across the bag sensibly enough. It was funny to watch the exaggerated high stepping leg action she used, a bit like horses who wear travel boots for the first time.

So her plastic training has begun. She has the weekend off, and a couple of days to digest all that we have done this week.

30th November 2009

It was a bit of a non-day for Chattie. Firstly she didn't want to be caught when we were bringing in the othes after a weekend out in the mud paddock, so we left her to think about her decision. She spent the morning calling to each horse that was taken out for a ride. She looked confused and lonely standing there.

I was going to leave her to reflect until after lunch, but as I came rode by, I notice she seemed to be hopping a bit. I was trying to work out why this should be because she was alright earlier. I noticed a trail of bailer twine connected to her front foot which extended beyond her quarters, and each time she took a step she trod on it, making her trip. I couldn't leave her like that, I've seen some nasty injuries caused this way, so I went out to bring her in.

Chatty had completely changed her mind, and was keen to have the lead rope clipped on. I cut off the twine, and brought her in. Fortunately she is absolutely fine, and no harm done. Obviously we check the fields regularly for potential hazards, but sometimes old baler twine rises to the surface in soggy weather which has probably been buried for years.

She had a quick lunge because the light was going fast. It was a gloomy old day anyway, full of cold rain. The weather has certainly tested our dedication these last few weeks. I hadn't planned to ride in company, but since I was in the middle of conducting an informal interview, I thought I'd complete it on horseback.

When horses ride in company for the first few times, they either like to be out in front, or tucked in behind, and they don't take kindly to changing positions. We started out with Chatty in front, and she didn't seem to particularly notice there was anyone else tagging along behind. I kept stopping to allow the gap between us to close, and after a while suggested I went behind instead. The other horse who is much more established just stood there and looked around, so I asked Chatty to take the lead again. She thought that if the other horse had stopped, then it wasn't safe to proceed, a bit of cajoling went on, then off we went again. We did manage to do a bit of riding side by side, which was very good for her.

By the time we'd got half way round Chatty had mostly led the way. I thought it would be more productive to swop horses, so Chatty had a different rider for the first time. I have to say she was very good, and exceptionally reliable. I was very proud of her, and we rode home past all sorts of traffic with their headlights on.

Chatty's all tucked up in bed now, and we will see what tomorrow brings. I'm debating whether Annie should ride her for the rest of the week as we have a new pony we are preparing for her breeder to hack and show this Spring, and she will need the Chatty drill. I'm also thinking there might be one or two disappointed people who will miss the daily diary, so I'm a bit torn.

1st December 2009

Chatty has a new title today, Nanny Horse. We are introducing the Foundation Training to a little Haflinger mare for her owner; she's a real baby both in years and experience, and she needs an escort for the first week or so.

Chatty strode out like a pro, leading the way with confidence and a degree of assurance I didn't know she had. We've been told the Haffie isn't keen on puddles, and I rode Chatty, whose a bit of an expert by now, through some to set an example. It just goes to show how horses copy, because Haffy was happy to wade in as well.

We went in front for the first half, stopping dutifully at junctions etc., intersperced with some trotting. Chatty is much more balanced now, and is able to keep the trot quite steady, which suits her companian who has a smaller stride. There were a lot of people bending over in their gardens today. Why do they choose to straighten up just as we reach them? Horses think their next move is to pounce, and nearly always jump sideways.

Chatty has more control over her body, and is able to limit sideways movement when she shies, which is much safer in traffic. Haffie went out in front about half way round, while Chatty got used to her new position of follower. Since all her training has been done alone, she naturally seeks to lead, and as Haffie was hesitant to say the least, it was a bit start and stop for the first half a mile or so, which Chatty found confusing.

Chatty's not ready to take responsibility, but being happy to escort another horse in familiar territory is a good start. Training her to be comfortable in company is a whole different ball game because it involves her acceptance with different positions within the ride.

Accompanying such a youngster is limiting, but we are making a start, and at least we can practise going behind. This is a real key area that is mostly never addressed properly, which is why so many horses end up being competitive. They don't start out this way, and it's definitely learnt behaviour.

A horse following another always feels vulnerable. They are prey animals and in this position they instinctively feel they are open to attack by being singled out from the herd. You can notice how they their body language changes at the back of the ride. The head is generally carried higher and swings from side to side in order to listen for sounds which might be threatening. The ears are often carried further back than normal, and more so along wooded narrow tracks.

Unfortunately when they're at the back, horses can interpret nearly every sound as scary as they try to get up the back of the one in front. Dogs barking, cracking branches, strong wind, or the wrong sort of traffic, etc., etc. That's why it's so important to build their trust in the right way, so they don't need to express this kind of insecurity. If the rider isn't aware of what's being communicated, the horse can shoot forward and start bucking. This is an enirely normal fear driven response to feeling under threat, or potentially isolated by being kept at the back.

Although Chatty won't have to go through any of this with us, I wanted to share with you the most common problems that affect horses going behind, and tomorrow I will outline how I will introduce her to this quietly and safely.

2nd December 2009

I needed three changes of coat, and two pairs of over trousers to deal with the constant rain today. I have to say it doesn't get any easier spending all day in the saddle in these never ending downpours. There is a positive side to all this, which is the horses' ability to cope in all weathers.

We more or less did the same route as yesterday. The roads are running with water, and as cars pass, or come up behind, there's this loud swishing noise of displaced water, which takes them a bit of getting used to, The sides of the roads are mini rivers with little waterfalls of dammed up fallen leaves producing frothy heads. Chatty thought these worthy of a side step or two, and then stepped into the current with only a small amount of persuasion.

Like yesterday, she lead for the first half, and Haffie more or less went in front for the second, giving Chatty a good opportunity to start feeling acclimatised behind. As I said, I wanted to outline this part of learning to ride in company training.

We try to select a reliable horse who is able to take responsibility and truly lead the way no matter what. We also aim to match up the strides, because if there is a large discrepancy the gap between them can become too great. There is always agreement to start trotting, and the rider in front keeps half an eye on what's happening behind, and doesn't stride off into the sunset as it were, leaving the young horse struggling and feeling exposed.

Horses are natural followers, so we time the transition so the one behind doesn't automatically trot because his companian does. So many horses are on automatic pilot, and simply trot when anyone else does. We create a bit of a gap, but not so big to cause worry, and give the aid, which needs to be soft. Too strong and the horse thinks, "Gosh, what's up, better get out of here and catch up fast."

Some young horses feel quite susceptible behind, and it's our job to reassure them. I like to lean a little forward while rising, and stroke the neck while making soothing sounds. I can do this with the reins in one hand, but it's not essential. As soon as I feel the slightest reduction in tension, I try and lessen the contact on the reins. Ultimately, I expect our horses to trot in front or behind with little or no rein contact whilst maintaining a steady rhythm once their Foundation Training is complete.

They do find woods and dark tracks a bit threatening to start with, so we like to do the initial work on quiet lanes, preferably with a few hills. The long trot that's regular and consistent settles them, we are talking miles here rather than yards. The hoofbeats become somewhat soporific in the end, and we find the horse behind can often switch off to the point that he or she comes back to walk, even though the other horse is still going.

We build all the levels systematically, so we will progress to trotting in the forest once the roadwork is established, and finally graduate to open spaces. We never start cantering in company until the trot work is so familiar there's total acceptance.

Chatty is doing a good job escorting the young Haffie, but I'm keen to start proper trot training in company with a suitably experienced companian.

3rd December 2009

There isn't much to report as I didn't ride Chatty today. Instead I spent the afternoon lying on the dentist's chair trembling in anticipation of an extraction. Now that's out the way, it should be business as usual tomorrow.

Annie volunteered to ride Chatty for me, and although there was only enough time to give me the briefest details, apparently it all went swimmingly. We agreed the forest was a good option, as the last two days were somewhat resticted by escorting the young Haffie.

Chatty was fresh initially, and went down the Bridle Path, which is steep, dark, and slippery, with much blowing and snorting. When they reached the road, Chatty was definitely saying, "Let's trot now, I'm up for it".

There's a good uphill climb most of the way, and Chatty didn't take long to settle. She's very good at making definite downward transitions from trot to walk. She uses her whole body from the withers back, without the rider having to use any hand. This is a level up from the very green transition, where the horse goes straight from trot to stop. They all go through it, and so did she, but she's coming out the other side now.

She was very good in the forest, perhaps it was quiet due the weather, it was pretty empty, so no challenges to face with anything unusual. Annie remarked on how soft her mouth is, almost too soft. This is true, and as her training develops, I will show her to how to accept the hand with slightly less sensitivity. They both enjoyed their time together, and it was certainly productive for Chatty to have a change of rider.

Chatty has turned another corner this week, and is really showing us what a kind and genuine soul she is, and how keen to learn.

4th December 2009

It was a bit hectic today, although nobody can quite think why. I didn't get to ride Chatty afterall, but she had a good lunge. A lot of the making of horses is done on the ground, and lunging can be very beneficial. At Chatty's level of training, we only walk and trot, and normally don't use side reins or other extras. We teach voice commands, build trust, remove fear, improve balance, and improve even muscle development on both reins.

It's best not to hurry horses on the lunge, or push them out of their rhythm, which won't help their balance or lengthen their stride. We wouldn't work Chatty in small circles at this stage, going is large is best. She has complete freedom of her head and neck, so she can stretch and remain relaxed. There are two large puddles on each long side, and we do make them trot through. In fact it's a guide to progress, because horses tend to fall in to avoid going in the water for the first few sessions, whether green or not. The puddles also increase elevation, a bit like trotting over a line of cavaletti.

I put a little time aside to introduce Chatty to the clippers. She wouldn't have seen them before, and I find the sound of the motor can upset them, or they think they're going to get an electric shock. I much prefer to work with newbies; if they've had a bad experience previously, it can make them terrified for years to come. I have to say, Irish horses sold in the winter can be really nervous, because no one has taken the time and effort to do the job properly in the first place. The worst cases are those who have been shown electric tape while being held, instead of letting them find the consequences out for themselves. They won't tolerate the clippers near them, even if they're switched off.

I took Chatty into the passage way, where she knows to stand. I used the small trimmining set first as the motor is quieter. I showed them to her by placing them near her nose. If a horse won't entertain something by smelling it, you've got a problem. She didn't mind, so I brought them away from her, and turned them on, so she wouldn't be startled. She still didn't mind, so it was on to the next step. I wanted her to target them with her nose with the motor running, and when she did, I gave her a nut. Just one, not a handful. She still didn't mind, and I knew she is going to be fine to clip.

I did a bit more targeting with a nut, working on both sides of her face, and then she was away. I could use them anywhere. Next time I will do a quick run though the steps before repeating it all with the big clippers. Chatty is particularly easy, but if she weren't, I would go through each step until she was comfortable and accepted it. When I make her look tidier, I will take a photo.

In the afternoon she saw the McTimmoney practitioner again. She doesn't have any major misalignments, but she did have some tension just behind her axis, which is in the poll region. Apparently she was quite sore, but once it shifted you could see the effects right through her neck, and reaching along her back as well. I would expect to see this condition on a horse who has been forced on to the bridle, or some other type of hyperflexion, which doesn't apply to Chatty. I was surprised because she's so flexible, and can easily turn her head right round to touch my toes.

I'm sure she will be feeling more comfortable, I feel it's important to get everything checked regularly, because horses are so good at coping with a high level of discomfort, sometimes without our being aware of it.

7th December 2009

Chatty was first in the queue for riding today, and as there were so many to lunge, she missed out. She wasn't ridden Friday either, so I expected her to be fresh due to the wind and rain. We went out in company, more for the another horse's benefit than hers. We were to be in front the whole way round so the other one could do some riding behind training.

Chatty felt a bit on edge, she was looky and a bit in and out with her responses to my aids, as we negotiated the different things we met on the hack. In order to settle her, and give the other horse a good experience behind, we trotted up a steep hill, and kept on going for about three or four miles.

I didn't feel it was right to turn into the forest at the usual place, so we kept going on the road. Chatty has never been along this particular section, and it is spooky. Very open, with loose horses either side of a narrow lane. There was a little black cob who looked most peculiar (to a young horse) in a new purple rug. He had his head down inside the fence line, completely hidden, and didn't seem to be moving. Chatty could see this strange shape from a hundred yards away, and thought it wasn't at all safe to proceed.

The main problem was she actually didn't recognise it as a horse, and up for a bit of action anyway, quiet as she is. I made her keep going at least in walk, and once the cob moved, she visibly relaxed. Further on there were two mad arabs dancing and prancing with tails pluming in the wind. They thought it would be great fun to gallop up and down, wheeling and snorting as they went.

This kind of situation can set things off for the ridden horse, but it's actually easier to keep control on the road because horses feel less secure with their feet. It's harder to remain calm on grass, so at least they were in the best place for this kind of introduction. Chatty was actually very good, and didn't need much management. I find the best way to deal with this is to keep the horse's head and body absolutely straight, with the hands half way up the neck on a shortish rein without any backward contact. I keep my focus on the road ahead, and don't give attention to what is going on beside me.

If you notice how a horse reacts to loose galloping horses, it's by part turning the neck or body as a sort of precursor to running off. If the rider keeps everything in line from poll to tail, the situation is contained much better. Of course, the horse must be allowed to go forward within this, otherwise a new set of problems is created.

We took a grassy path that leads to the forest further down. I know there is a young filly who lives beside it, who never fails to react to horses as they're ridden by. Indeed I could see her straight ahead beside the fence, and wearing a very fetching check outfit to protect her from the elements. When Chatty noticed her, she stopped dead. She really couldn't believe this was actually a horse. In her limited experience, no horse could have a coat that looked so outrageous.

Chatty dug her toes in, saying, "No, I'm not going, and I'll try and swing this way and that to evade going anywhere near that strange looking creature." She put up more resistance than I was expecting, and had we been on our own, we would have worked through it and she would have gone by. But rather than making an issue, Annie rode her horse past, who didn't seem to think there was anything peculiar at all. No surprise there, since she is older, and has seen more of life.

We did a small circuit of the forest with Chatty leading all the way. She felt a lot more settled because she was getting tired by then, and not looking for trouble. It was quite a hike for home, and Chatty was telling me she preferred to walk, in fact, trotting was just too much effort, and she kept falling into walk at every opportunity.

She was one tired girl by the time we reached our drive, and I'm expecting a very different performance tomorrow. I'm not worried, it's all part of growing up, they all go through it. The important thing is to select a route which doesn't compromise the safety or confidence of her future training. I've done enough with Chatty now to establish steering and brakes, so taking a few steps out of her comfort zone is productive, although I'm always thinking ahead to make sure I don't put her in unreasonable situations for her level of training.

8th December 2009

What a difference a day makes. We had sunshine throughout with no wind, and the horses were calmer, Chatty included. Strangely, the absence of wind magnified sound, so anything they did hear seemed closer and had more impact.

I wanted to do the same ride as yesterday, but she lost a shoe in a mud-sucking puddle. There's a small chip to the outside wall, and I didn't want to risk breaking it further, so Annie took her round the village for me. I had to be somewhere else this afternoon, and it was dark by the time I returned, so I was glad she did.

Chatty had a small lunge this morning, and as I watched her, I could see how her balance and carriage has improved over the last few weeks. She looks like a normal horse, which might be a strange thing to say, but when they're really green, they are all over the place. We don't have an enclosed area, and by the time they're proficient, we can lunge them anywhere, even in the middle of an open field in any sort of weather without them trying to get away.

Apparently it was an uneventful ride throught the village; the only highlight was a double decker bus which passed from behind. Chatty waited on the pavement without taking any notice, which is very good. On the way back, Annie was stopped by a neighbour who loves to talk. It can be difficult keeping the horses standing for fifteen minutes' worth of the latest happenings and gossip. Chatty was very good for the first few minutes, then she grew impatient and got fidgety, gave that up for a while, and then did some pawing the ground before giving that up, and resigning herself to just standing there.

Even an inconvenience can be used as a training opportunity. Chatty will benefit from being ask to stand for so long, knowing she's so close to home. We will resume riding in company as soon as her shoe goes back on.

9th December 2009

We started Chatty's introduction to riding in comany in earnest today. It's always easier and more effective to work through the levels once the horse is setttled and happy to hack alone. We started out side by side, and after a mile or so, swopped the lead position back and forth until we got to the village green. There's a steep bridlepath going up the side that all horses find spooky. Chatty was in the lead, she hasn't been up there before, so I made sure to ride her forward to overcome any hesitation. I gave her her head, but kept the reins short by having my hands up her neck, because there are often loose dogs who come bounding over the hill and rush at the horses barking.

This isn't a great problem on level ground, but I've been on a few who have managed to whip round when faced with a charging dog, and it's not a pleasant experience to gallop flat out back down being chased by an excited dog.

Nobody was about in the mist, we reached the top, and continued along a wooded track in trot with Chatty still leading. We turned round before the end to retrace our steps. This is done deliberately because we all know horses have a tendency to hurry homewards, and to counteract it, we take them back and forth repeatedly until they give up any such inclinations.

it's a steep descent back down to the village green, and a test of balance to remain in walk without rushing or plunging forwards. At the bottom we worked the horses individually, with one standing in the middle while the other walked and trotted round. Chatty was restless and didn't want to stand, so I dismounted and held her. I will only need to do this once or twice, after which she will have a better understanding of what's going on.

Chatty stayed at the back on the way home so we could gradually start the separation process. When the horse in front trotted, I didn't give Chatty the same signal because I wanted her to stay in walk. I always judge the distance, too great and the horse gets anxious, too small and it doesn't deliver the the desired message, which is not to simply follow, since the focus is no longer on the rider.

Chatty doesn't get stressed, or show any inclination to want to catch up which is good, and we will keep building on this. Our next target was to carefully introduce micro separation by hiding the lead horse in a driveway. Horses react to this in many different ways, and for some, the worry is simply too great.

A typical excercise is for the lead horse to keep walking while the horse behind stops, acceptance of this needs to already be in place. The second horse then walks on again just before the lead horse walks up a drive. This is a double challenge because the one on the drive wants to turn or back out to join the other, who may be getting uptight at the sudden disappearance of a friend.

Out of sight is never out of the horse's mind, and they can think the other one has gone forever. Chatty is remarkably accepting with this, and didn't mind which way round we did it. There are lots of permutations for this, and we're only limited by our imagination and local opportunities.

It wasn't so long ago that Chatty didn't even want to go into a driveway, let alone stand there on her own. We finished the ride by going up a double drive; we went in one entrance and came out another with a thick hedge in between. This can cause anxiety because they can hear but not see each other, not that Chatty took any notice.

We can't go to the forest for a while because it's closed to horses due to the wet weather, so we will do some more of this kind of work tomorrow. It's so valuable, they can never get enough of it, and Chatty will always be able to meet other horses out on a ride and have no worries about leaving them.

10th December 2009

Chatty went out in company again today. She was either in front or beside the other horse, we will do more riding behind later on. She's not ready to do more than walk or trot until I've done more in canter with her alone. Once she truly understands the canter aids, is balanced and relaxed with me more or less all the time, we can safely make the transition to cantering in company.

We met several well behaved loose dogs which is useful. It's best if she can be thoroughly acquainted with sensible examples before she meets those that hurtle full tilt towards her, running around barking their heads off. There's a particular house with Dobermans and Rottweilers who roam the yard looking for trouble. They haven't been out for a while, and each time I ride Chatty past I hope they're allowed out because we use their violent conduct to desensitise the horses to vicious dogs.

They love to hurl themselves at the fencing, snarling and slavering, and making a huge amount of noise. The gate is set back from the road, so we can stand in the drive and get closer and closer until the dogs are inches from the horse's face. This is a great way to remove fear of dogs, and it's been put to the test with Lucas only recently.

Lucas didn't think dogs were very nice creatures, and to help him adjust to their ways, we spent some time in the drive of the dreadful dogs. We were out on the village green one day, when this over-sized Dobermann came full tilt down the hill like a missile. We were the target, and I would't blame any horse for running away, but Lucas didn't even think about it, because he was familiar with that behaviour, and had accepted it. This crazy dog who didn't have an owner in sight, was seriously thinking of attack, but because we held our ground, he seemed to lose interest.

Hacking in the countryside means we can't rule out incidents like that, so it's best to prepare where we can. Anyway, back to the business of the day. We found more driveways to walk into one at a time while the other horse stood back out of sight. We found a little area where we could ride up a mound and round through some trees, returning to the start point in a sort of circle. We did this one at a time in walk so the horses got used to being temporarily alone and of sight of each other.

This is such a good exercise because Chatty could hear the other one crackling through the undergrowth, and whichever way she turned, for a brief few moments, her friend was invisible. There is something about the way horses interpret the sound of hoofbeats which tends to galvanise them into action, and it can set them off if the timing isn't right. Any insecurities are magnified with this relatively simple exercise, and I wouldn't do it with Chatty before now as I didn't feel she was ready. She was very good, and the temptation is to go a step further, which is wait while the other horse trots. Chatty trotted while the other horse waited for her, but I didn't want to risk upsetting her by doing it the other way round.

I felt we ended today's session on a positive note; there's a lot more to do both alone and in company, and since Christmas is getting closer every day, I expect there will be times when I can't ride her, like tomorrow. She will have a few days off until Monday to think about what we've done so far.

14th December 2009

I gave Chatty a good lunge today. I noticed a big improvement since Michael has been doing it for me. I wanted to show her something new, which is to trot a small circle in each corner a couple of times before going large. Chatty found this difficult, although it appears easier when ridden. It was fine for half the circle, and then she would fall on the outside shoulder and hurry out of rhythm as if she couldn't come round.

Speeding up or rushing always shows loss of balance, and Chatty still has much to learn about what her body is doing, and her shifting centre of gravity. We went out in company again with the same horse as last week. I'm so glad we did all those rides alone, because she shows no concern at all about being out in front, or how far back the other one is.

There were times during the ride when Chatty was so far ahead she was out of sight. We would wait quietly facing forward while the other horse caught up; she didn't get agitated wondering where her friend was. This was deliberately engineered for both their benefit. The horse who was following is learning not to focus on catching up or having any worry about what the lead horse is doing, and Chatty is learning to stand and wait patiently even when she can't see what's going on behind her.

We rode to the forest, it was so enjoyable in the sunshine and without the wind. There is a particular track with grass either side which is ideal to ride two abreast. We trotted up and back firstly, and then we cantered part of it. I haven't done much in canter yet, but I felt the vibes were right. Chatty doesn't have established transistions, so it's a bit rough and ready in that sense, but she's very willing to learn, which is everything.

So we cantered up part of this track, stopped, turned round, stopped, trotted a bit, and then cantered again. We repeated this about three times until we felt the horses had got the message of it's no big deal, and just part of everyday life. If we are turning round to retrace our steps, we like to ask them to stand without fidgeting, before before proceeding to trot or canter. It's not so essential in walk, but it doesn't take long for horses to start wheeling round and setting off back the way they came, and making them stand still at each juncture helps prevent this.

Chatty seemed much more willing to stand today, so it's maybe time to start introducing her to the concept of "parking". Maybe still a bit early for her to grasp, but it's an essential skill we like to teach. The educated horse who is calm and accepting, will "park" in a variety of locations, whether mounted or not, without the rider having to hold the reins.

Chatty was quiet and relaxed on the way home, and I was daydreaming, when she caught sight of part of a fallen silver birch in the wood. She did a big leap sideways which woke me up. When horses get into that space where they start to really relax, they begin to notice things as if for the first time. Bits of the forest and verges on the road looked different because her focus is changing. This is only temporary, and although she sometimes shies, it actually comes from a different place.

I clipped her face and pulled her mane this evening. She remembered meeting the clippers previously, and was very good. I even clipped her ears without needing to swop to the smaller handset. I seldom have a problem pulling manes if nobody has tried first, and Chatty stood in the box without needing to be tied up for the first half hour or so,before getting a bit restless. The secret is to remove the hairs gently with the fingers rather than wrapping it round the comb and giving a yank. It takes longer, but at least you can do it again next time.

She finished her day with a Reiki treatment which she absolutely loves. I hope to take some head shots of Chatty tomorrow and upload them to the diary page.

15th December 2009

chatty head 3

We woke up to a frozen world this morning. Everything is iced over, riding was dificult, and lunging was out. I rode Chatty alone, and she was like a lion, so energised. We trotted for miles while I tried to get her back to her usual self.

Her energy levels were high which led to an adrenaline fuelled performance, even when she began to tire, the adrenaline was still pumping. This is what happens with fresh horses, and they can appear bottomless. Chatty certainly did. We travelled quite a distance, well out of her comfort zone. She was so busy looking at nothing, she didn't even notice a huge free range sow watching her.

For the first half I felt more like an accessory, and when we finally entered the forest, we had our first real argument. I felt Chatty wasn't listening, she was on her own agenda so to speak. Simple commands she knows well, like moving in a straight line past something, or moving over by engaging her shoulder, were not in the timetable today.

I was on her case so to speak, and there are occasions in any horse's training where the rider needs to get to the bottom of whatever it is when the horse seems to blank you. Horses are like onions, there are layers to them which need exposing and addressing.

Since she had so much more about her today, I used the opportunity to do a fair bit in canter. We cantered up, we cantered down, we cantered here and there until Chatty was more than ready to walk with her focus on me. In order to take out the mystery and perceived excitement, we do canter extensively in fields and forest, but I hadn't planned on doing that work with Chatty just yet. Now that I have, it will pull that part of her training forward.

We had some pleasant interludes, especially on the way home, however, today was more about working on Chatty's recognition of me as her leader than being in a blissful partnership. That most desired of outcomes hangs like a tantalising fruit from a branch just out of reach, although I've no doubt we will get there. Chatty has enough understanding now to be able to cope with my demands for her to stay tuned in, and I am expecting good things tomorrow once she's had time to inwardly digest today's training session.

16th December 2009

Our drive is still frozen and very slippery, but once we get as far as the lane, it's not too bad. It seemed even colder today, so I thought I would ride Chatty to the village green. The grass is uncut which provides a fairly stable surface in the frost.

Chatty was feeling more sensible today, and ready to concentrate. We had quite a long list of things to work on, and we spent a good hour going through it. Initially she found it difficult to find her balance, and kept trying to hurry to catch up with herself. I found I needed to stay quite forward in order to help her. The village green is hardly a lawn, and not flat either, so it's a bit of a test for her.

Since Chatty was finding it difficult to carry me and maintain rhythm, she needed a lot of physical support. On the uphill parts she wandered, and going downhill she tended to gather momentum. She's extremely sensitive through the mouth, tending to lock her jaw sometimes to protect the bars when she felt my hand. I use a vibrationary wrist movement, or staccato fingers to help give her confidence with the action of the bit.

As our session progressed, her way of going improved sufficiently for me to straighten my upper body with my leg really on her sides, which encouraged her to grow through the shoulders and come through from behind. There were moments where she truly carried me, and it felt really good.

It's really not essential for Chatty to work in an outline, or to be so-called "on the bit". She will do this naturally when balance, rhthym, suppleness, cadence, confidence, and true understanding have been reached. Being on the bridle is the end product in a system of training rather than a start point. Much damage can be done to the body and the mind if such an approach is forced on to the horse.

I didn't ask for canter because I want to fully establish the trot. It's almost not possible to achieve a good transition or a level stride in canter before this is in place. Chatty was paying attention and listening, although she still doesn't really get it. It's the same for all horses, they can bumble along in the same old way until there's a "click", as if the muscles, the brain, and the limbs reach agreement with each other, and we go up a level. This can happen more or less instantly when all the conditions are met. In the meantime much patience, feel, and inspiration is required in order to get there.

I was very pleased with Chatty's efforts today. It's tiring for her mentally and physically, but as she's that bit older, I can expect more of her than say a four year old. Snow is predicted, so we may not be able to ride tomorrow. We'll hide in the tack room with the heater on instead.

17th December 2009

We were defeated by the weather today with last night's rain frozen hard to the ground. Chatty is still nervous when shavings are added to her bed from those large bags, so I thought I would do some work with a plastcic sheet and introduce her to the big green ball as well.

When the ball came rolling gently into her box, she looked horrified. Her body language said it all as she backed into the corner of the box until she couldn't go any further. Chatty is a deeply sensitive soul, who fortunately isn't over-reactive. She does like to be approached with sensitivity, and who can blame her?

Chatty knows us well enough now to have sufficient faith to cope with the addition of new things, and I wouldn't have exposed her to the ball before she reached a certain level of awakening. She was more frightened by the sound of it than the movement. I had a pocketful of chaff which I dispensed in very small amounts as a positive reinforcer each time she was willing to sniff it.

As I worked with her and the ball, I was thinking I'd like to show on film how she steadily grew in confidence during the session. It's more difficult to do this in the stable than outside because horses can feel trapped. The handler must work very quietly and with consideration in case the horse loses the plot.

When Chatty could more or less accept the ball moving around the stable, brushing against her legs, and being steadily bounced up and down, I brought in the plastic sheet. Again, it was the crinkley noise she found upsetting, although she didn't like the look of it either. I spread it on the floor and trod up and down on it. Chatty walked round and round in an effort to get away. With really nervous cases, I get Annie to hold them, more for reassurance than control, but we would never tie them up. Chatty was free to make her own movements in the box, or stand still when she felt less threatened.

I did plenty of head and eye rubbing. Horses feel protective towards their face, and when they let you rub it, especially around the eyes, it helps reduce their adrenaline levels, I could almost see Chatty melting into me, as she lowered her neck, so touching, and a sure sign of submission.

I finished our session once I could drape the sheet over her, pull it anywhere across her body, and let it fall to the ground. I also invited her to walk over it, and with much trepidation, she did. I gave her lots of soft encouragement, while quietly praising her. This will augment her trust in me, and as I said previously, horses must learn to give their trust to their trainiers (us) before they can share it elsewhere.

Chatty is a very rewarding horse to work with, when her eyes soften she has a sort of grateful dog look about her that would thaw a snowman.

29th December 2009

It was nice to get on Chatty again after the long break even though it was p***ing rain; at least it was slush rather ice. Training gaps are strange things because they produce different results depending where they occur in the programme. Too early can mean a setback, while too far into the schedule often makes no difference.

Judging by the ride she gave me, I feel it’s been an advantage, allowing processes to consolidate in Chatty’s mind, and giving her valuable “thinking” time. Despite the constant downpour and wind, Chatty did her best to concentrate, giving me the opportunity to reflect how well my Christmas waterproof outfit was performing in the deluge.

We went to the forest. Although it was only early afternoon, it was dark enough for traffic to wear headlights which cast gloomy beams as the mist gathered around us making it quite atmospheric.

Chatty didn’t mind the vans and 4X4’s coming towards her. Sometimes they stopped with their wipers still going which can make a horse nervous, or if they kept going they displaced large amounts of water leaving big ripples in their wake. She didn’t mind them coming up behind her either, which I was pleased about because the tyres made a lot of noise on the flooded roads.

We reached the end of the first track which forms part of a cross road, when Chatty spotted a man coming down from the left swamped by a black golf umbrella, and shouting commands at his two giant greyhounds who were springing around all over the place. They were huge and very bouncy with loud voices, and Chatty wasn’t sure what to do. I kept her facing forwards and moving while not actually looking at them myself. She found this reassuring, although I can’t say she felt the same about the man. She has seen umbrellas in the village, but they look less threatening there. I could feel the tension in her as she prepared herself for a launch to somewhere safer.

Rather than trying to get away as smoothly as possible, I thought it best to confront it because this kind of situation provides an excellent training opportunity for a horse, so I rapidly formed a plan in my mind to turn it into a positive experience.

I wanted to circle Chatty in front of the man and the dogs. It's surprising how horses react when you do this. They're ok for the first half when they can see the object of concern, but once they've gone beyond a certain point, they have an inclination to run away. He did offer to fold his umbrella, but I was keen for her to accept it. She was quite upset by his shouting at the dogs because she thought it was directed at her. I asked him if he would mind standing still so I could keep on circling.

He was very helpful, and stood obligingly, even though he didn't understand what I was doing. Wnen Chatty was relaxed enough to stand and talk, he said he wanted to walk down the other track, and I said I was going to go with him. He must think horse riders are strange folk, and off he went, shouting at the dogs. He looked completlely engulfed in black fabric, but Chatty soon overtook him, giving a further perspective because the umbrella was now stalking her. The dogs did their bit too, rushing into the undergrowth and making it crackle, and bursting back out again.

Every so often we would wait for him to catch up. His arms must have started to ache because he asked if he could close it, and I was so selfish, I wouldn't let him. Poor man, he kept trudging down the track while we stopped, started, turned, and circled.

He was on the left and we were on the right, and in order to give Chatty a balanced view of it all, I turned round so we were walking towards him; now the umbrella was on a different side; she really wasn't sure about this. Horses' brains aren't linked, so what the left eye sees is separate from the right. That's why we have to show them things from each side, because they don't get the message transferring from one hemisphere to the other.

I felt sorry for our little man heroically doing his bit as a training accessory, and I thanked him and his dogs for doing a brilliant job helping Chatty further her education. I know he will think twice before going out even in a drizzle in case he meets mad ladies on horseback with designs on his co-operation.

Chatty was no longer frightened, and I was so pleased to have had the chance to work her in this situation which isn't easy for any horse. She will remember today, which means she will view loose dogs who run at her and owners carrying strange equipment, much more favourably.

30th December 2009

I spent such a long time with Chatty today, the light ran out while I was riding the second horse. I started in the stable because she isn't moving over when asked. She kind of sets herself and pushes into my hands when they're pressing on her quarters. She's moving into rather than away from pressure.

She does this because she doesn't understand what I want. Manners and ground work are all part of her education, so I was showing her how to back, move her quarters away, and her forehand too. Afterwards I fetched the blue plastic sheet which she really doesn't like, and did some exercises with that too. I took her out into the yard and asked her to walk over a thicker white tarpaulin she considers even more dangerous.

I lifted it up and moved it around at face level, rustled it, and scraped my boots on it. Chatty took a while to begin to accept all this, and she found the ridden part even more difficult. When I was satisfied with her efforts, we went for our ride.

I took her to the village since I'd used up quite a bit of time already, I thought it would be quicker. It didn't turn out that way in the end because she showed me some things I needed to address. I could have left it for another day, but I didn't.

As Chatty moves up through the levels she needs to complete to give her the life skills she needs to server her new owner, different aspects surface for attention. Top of the list is her mouth, her mental attitude, and the canter, more or less in that order.

She is much more comfortable since we had her teeth done, but her mouth is too soft. The effect for her is to feel she needs to protect it, so she uses various evasive tactics when it suits her, especially in canter. This is tied into her mental attitude which is immature given her age. I feel it's time for a wake up call, which | gave her today. She's had one of those previously when we had a bit of an argument, but today was different. There was no battle, more an insistence and repetition of certain movements designed to make her think and start to take responsibility.

Chatty worries about canter. This is so common, I can't believe it's not more widely discussed. Whether the horse is used for pleasure or competition, problems with canter are very often present. Chatty is unsure about the strike off, and is frightened for her mouth once she does. This tells me that previously she has experienced an unsympathetic, or ignorant rider in this gait.

It's not a big deal, and as I say, it's by no means rare, and my job is to show her how she can do it. I can't tell you the relief that floods through a horse's nervous system when they realise they've got it right. They can certainly feel the difference. It's quite hard for them too, and strange as this may sound, if it's not done with love and understanding, the outcome can be quite damaging.

In a sense, we have to work through the layers that are holding back the hidden brilliance of the effortless strike off and balanced canter stride that's within every horse. Chatty is a very sensitive soul who wears her heart on her sleeve as it were, and since she finds the whole canter thing confusing, she appears more onward and anticipatory than is her true nature.

We both worked incredibly hard trying to get pass the blocks. I needed endless patience with determination, and Chatty needed to keep trying without giving up or losing the plot. At last we raised the curtain a little, behind which she felt herself more in control of her body, the pressure dropped away, her confidence rose, and her mental outlook was strengthened.

In fact there was more to cover, but since this is a diary rather than a book, I couldn't include it. Maybe I can tomorrow after building on today's session.

31st December 09

Chatty has turned a corner, and dare I say it, moved up a level too. We went to the forest first thing this morning, it was so early I thought we would have it to ourselves, but dogs and their owners were everywhere. Thankfully Chatty hasn't an aversion to them. When I'm riding along thinking my thoughts, I mentally try to retain aspects of the training to write up at the end of the day, but most of it slips away with the hours, so maybe a dictaphone with a small chest mike like presenters wear is the answer.

Chatty no longer feels green, and at long last is making a very real connection between negative and positive reinforcement. In this case I'm referring to pressure and the release of that pressure as a reward, backed up with praise. Horses value praise when it's attached to something they've done well, you can see the glow in their eyes, which is a reward in itself for the rider.

Chatty began to have a real awareness today of the different parts of her body. I think of it as unlocking the code to the inner horse. When we first start working with a young or unspoilt horse, we must ride them as they are, and by that I mean on an instinctual level. This is where horses' consciousness is more or less full time, but as we start to educate them, we open up further neural pathways that lead to an expansion of intelligence, which, with appropriate training, is activated.

Now for the simple version. Like most horses, Chatty is relatively unaware of what her body and its parts are doing. Her consciouness doesn't enter each of her legs for instance, which means she finds it difficult to organise herself, especially in canter. Now that she is in agreement with the concept, things start to happen. She is beginning to send iindependent messages to her back legs. The result is the beginning of self-carriage, the ability to step into canter, and even more which I'll write about later.

We know the first elemtent in the ideal strike off is the hind stepping under that is opposite to the leading leg, but until the horse understands on a conscious level how to send the correct signal to a particular leg, they can't perform the movement. The magic of this never ceases to affect me, and I see it time and again with the different horses I work with.

It's early days, but once you know something, you can't un-know it, and that applies to Chatty too. Another bonus is the relaxation mentally that comes with it. On the way home she was at peace with herself sufficiently to want to stand and take in the view. That's a first, and for me, a true indication of what we have accomplished together.

I've done more on the ground with her this week, and since I was so proud of her, I asked Annie to come into the stable to move her over this way and that. Chatty was loose, but Annie found she barely needed to touch her for her to move her quarters or her forehand across the stable. I can't believe tomorrow is the start of a whole new year, and I look foward to celebrating it with Chatty. Unless it's snowing.

1st January 10

Here I am trying to figure out how to write the date on the first day of 2010, and I coudn't think how to put it. Even now it doesn't look right, but perhaps it's due to unfamiliarity. I can't say the same about the snow, we're getting used to opening the curtains to a white world.

No riding today then. We thought we wouldn't sit in the warm cleaning tack going yaketty yak, we would do some aquaintanceship/trust building work instead. For Chatty's turn, I thought I would introduce her to a golf umbrella at close quarters.

Chatty is a very open horse who is still learning to trust, and a good way of helping her is basic clicker training for scary objects with its positive association. Annie held her while I stood directly in front of her with the umbrella closed so she could sniff and "own it". Then I opened it half-way for her to "test" it, before fully inflating it. If she wasn't comfortable with me in this position, I would have stood to the side.

We began in the passageway of the stables initially, before moving out into the yard as she became more confident. My aim was to move the umbrella around her from all angles, to open and close it, and twilrl it around in my hand. I also wanted to be able to place it on her like a saddle from either side.

After about forty five minutes work, Chatty accepted it all, not fully, as in total disinterest, but a very good result. Even if I never do this with her again, she will never mind meeting them out hacking or at shows etc.

I finished today's session with some headcollar and one rope training. I could have used a halter with knots, but she is so soft and sensitive, it really isn't necessary. We did pirouettes in walk on either rein, and afterwards she followed me around like a dog with the rein drooped over her neck. When I stopped, so did she. No walking off to search for grass, just happy to wait with patience.

Showing the horse how to be patient is one of the finest gifts we can give. It's the inverse of all reactive, anticipatory, and fear based behaviours. A perfect platform for the uptake of learning, I'm delighted with her progress.

4th January 10

Looking at the snow covered fields today didn't fill me with elation despite the picture postcard scenery. I think I would rather the rain. The horses slid around the yard and riding is impossible. I wanted to clean Chatty up and remove all the mud. It took two and a half hours, ten kettles of hot water, countless attempts to get three different hoses to let water in one end and dischard it at the other, but I did it.

I think we have a special category of mud, I'm not sure of its title, but it has an adhesive and perennial quality that causes it to bundle and adhere to sensitive parts of the horse. It seems to be self populating with ovaloid forms that hang like grapes on a vine, rattling together as the horse moves.

It all counted as groundwork as she was required to stand in one place, only moving into the yard to have water sprayed on her legs with the hose. She stood like a rock throughout. She had her tail dunked in endless buckets, her tummy and legs soaked until the made of mud hair extensions gave up and dropped off, and her ears folded this way and that to brush them clean. She moved her quarters or shoulders over when asked so I could sweep the waste water out the passageway. She was a very patient girl even though it was an unsettled atmosphere due to the shoot firing off at very close range. Until I got the hose out.

Chatty doesn't like hoses, she thinks they are monstrous serpents out to get her. She's not convinced they only breathe water either, she is truly scared. She tried snapping up each leg, lurching forward, spinning round, going sideways, but she couldn't get away, and the water kept following her. There's was nothing left for poor Chatty to do except crouch her hindquarters and tremble until it was all over. We tried to reassure her, although she was only half listening.

We often meet horses who react in this way or more dramatically, but it's all part of the training, and it won't be long before we can leave Chatty tied up to have a shower. Since she's quite worried about the whole process, the hose snaking across the floor, the noise of the water coming out under pressure, feeling trapped by the hose coming round her etc., she will need several sessions devoted to this one aspect.

I plan to give her a bit of a clip tomorrow, and Annie suggested we make a video of her water training. If she needs to hold Chatty, she can't operate the camera at the same time, so we will have to see how it goes.

18th Jan 10

It's been so long since we've been able to ride, it felt strange to be back on Chatty, while at the same time comforting and familiar. She hasn't forgotten our previous work, although it will take a few rides to get back there.

There is still some snow in places here, despite the thaw. The lane has a thick band of white on both sides running along the edges, and odd mounds of heaped up snow where people dug their cars out, or cleared their drives. These unusual objects looked quite dramatic, and Chatty knew they weren't there before. She very much wanted to shy or be nervous passing them, but she's beyond the baby stage, and is fully accepting about going forward.

In the purest sense, the term "going forward" isn't about forwardness or even impulsion, but rather "thinking forward" where it counts. I've ridden many horses who appear very "foward going" until they encounter something odd or scary, and suddenly they're not so keen to go. They can root themselves to the spot, go backwards, or spin and rear etc. Chatty knows what is expected of her, and wherever her head is pointing, her legs and body must follow.

As we rode throught the village, I thought this place must be one of the best training grounds, and we will surely miss it once we move. No two days are the same without being hectic. There seems to be the time and space to work around objects and situations that provide invaluable life tools for horses.

As I was untacking Chatty back at the yard, I noticed how well she looked, especially through her coat. It has a gloss to it that wasn't there before. It felt soft and smooth as well. We see this many times as horses change and develop. The texture of the skin and coat is a reliable indicator of what's going on with the inner horse.

Chatty's coat tells me she is feeling much better balanced emotionally, and is at home within herself. In many ways I feel the break has been positive, giving her time to reflect, as well as process information. I hope to build on this in the days and weeks ahead.

19th January 10

We met a tractor attached to a hedge cutter today. It was parked in the entrance to a field while the driver ate his sandwiches. I thought this was a great opportunity for Chatty to cosy up to such impressive machinery with its huge fixtures and fittings.

She didn't mind the tractor, so I asked her to walk right round it. To do this she had to go through a narrow gap between it and the gate post which had overhanging thorny vines and branches growing over it. There wasn't much room, and it was less than inviting, but with some hesitation, Chatty went through. I gave her plenty of rein and plenty of praise as well.

It's important to get the best length of rein in these situations If it's too short, you can block the horse from going forwards. It it's too long Chatty could have seized the moment and shot off into a huge field.

Anyway she didn't, although I needed to be aware of her likely reaction which would have been entirely natural. Having got into the field past the tractor, we kept close to its tail so we could come out onto the lane again from the other side. The problem for Chatty was working out if it was safe enough to negotiate a large mound of black earth mixed with snow which was in the way. She needed to climb over it and go through another narrow gap. She thought this wasn't the sort of thing a horse should be asked to do, but after some procrastination, over she went.

We repeated this exercise three more times, and then I reversed it by asking her to go the other way round. She wasn't convinced about any of it, but she went sensibly enough, if on high alert. We repeated this three or more times, then went back the other way again, and repeated everything first in one direction and then another. Finally I made her stand still beside the tractor briefly before allowing her onto the lane. This requires a bit of sensitivity with timing othewise she would have gone backwards or possibly surged forwards. (Not the end of the world, but it would have devalued the whole procedure somewhat.) Some horses have the tendency to rear in these kinds of situations. There is always a reason for this more extreme behaviour which can't be discussed today.

Before committing to work through manouevres such as this, we must be aware of the consequences of failure, which knock the horse's confidence and betray hard won trust. We need to be sure we can follow through and deliver in terms of completing the mission.

It's far better not to start than risk a refusal. It may seem an insignificant event, but it's quite powerful in training terms. We went to the village green afterwards and did some canter transitions. Chatty is ready now for a stretch of concentrated work in that area, and when all the dots are joined up so to speak, she will be ready. She will have completed her training.

20th January 10

Chatty is getting better and better, turning corners all the time, so I am able to put everything together, just like a jigsaw puzzle. Just as we were wallking down the drive, a massive volley of rifles fired off right beside us. It was so unexpected and loud, it was surreal, like being in a movie or something.

I expected her to at least jump forward, but she kept on walking. Aren't horses amazing? They never cease to surprise us. Tomorrow she will probably jump at a bird in the hedge instead.

We did some schooling exercises at the village green. I have to be careful because we're cutting up the ground a bit, and it would be a shame to rattle the councillors, it's a great unofficial facility for us. I wanted to focus on the canter, now that she is mentally and physically ready to work through the levels.

Every horse is born somewhat one-sided. I have found they usually favour the right side when they're green, and swopping to a left preference when they're older. No doubt there is a good reason for this, but so far I haven't had time to look into it.

Chatty is softer to the right, she prefers that lead in canter, and it would be known as her hollow side. Most horses have one of these, although with correct work, it's barely noticeable. She is stiffer and finds the upward transition difficult to the left. She has a tendency at this stage to rush, and once she is cantering, it's too hurried. This is due to lack of balance, worry, and possibly discomfort because she's tense. However, the good news is, it will all be resolved in the fullness of time.

Since canter is a somewhat artificial gate, teaching the horse requires sympathetic riding with light hands coupled with plenty of gentle but firm guidance. On Chatty's best rein, there were parts of the curve where she came into balance and steadied herself. I was there to instantly give more rein so she was effectively without a contact. This is important because if the rider needs to carry the forehand with the hands, or keep a tight rein for control, something is amiss.

When her training is finished, she will be able to carry herself and the rider, up and down hill in walk, trot, and canter on a longish rein, keeping the rhythm, and not speeding up. We aim to be able to do that with every horse we ride.

It was a bit different on the left rein. Once Chatty got into canter, she felt like she was running away. She has brakes now, so I could have stopped her, but that's not necessarily the best answer. She needs to find her own way, so I supported her with a very strong inside leg, kept my upper body a bit forward so as not to impact on her too much, and kept her going. After a couple of circuits, she began to tire and wanted to fall into trot.

I kept my leg on so she had to keep going, and after a while she began to work out that if she brought the inside hind further under her it felt better, and she didn't need to go so fast to catch up with herself as it were. This spark of recognition comes to most horses sooner or later, providing the rider isn't blocking the process by sitting to deeply or too upright. All that must come later.

We finished our session on a very good note. Chatty could feel for herself the benefit of what I was asking her to do. As a result I was able to do nearly a whole circuit with minimal contact. I was very pleased with her, and she was very pleased with herself. She was beautifully relaxed all the way home, which is just how it should be.

21st January 10

Chatty was such a good girl today at the village green. We had just started when she heard another horse pass by on the road. She couldn't see it, but she could hear the amplified hoof beats due to the road being enclosed by houses. Chatty called and the other one replied. Horses can get anxious in this situation and start plunging about. To avert this I sometimes leave the green and go to the car park and walk circles until everything has calmed down.

I know Chatty well enough to predict her reactions fairly accurately, and I didn't think she would throw a wobbly just because she couldn't get to the other horse. She's always been willing to pass those we meet without showing separation anxiety. As her namesake suggests, she is vocal, but not in a needy way because she is so comfortable about being on her own, since that's what she's been doing since day one.

Anyway we continued to trot around while I gave her instructions (corrections) to combat distraction, which she consented to. Her canter is improving nicely, it was less hurried, and she was only too willing to stop, as in grind to a halt. Horses that are not fully established tend to either stop abruptly or appear to be running away. It's easy to misinterpret these actions, but the more we support the horse during this time, the quicker he/she can come into balance and out the other side.

I try to monitor Chatty's efforts because I don't want to overdo it and discourage her. If she has understood and tried her best, I may well leave it at that rather than trying to continually replicate a successful transition or whatever. There is always tomorrow.

Her tension is draining away on a daily basis, and Chatty was quite ploddy on the way home. She now lets me bang my legs against her sides. This is so positive because she tends to be too much in front of the leg. Now she can begin to learn how to be "to" the leg. In fact she has already started, and it's completely transforming her trot. At times she takes longer, slower strides with a nice bit of suspension between diagonals. It feels great, but I can tell Chatty is a bit confused about her legs moving in this unaccustomed way because she is slightly hesitant. This again is entirely normal, and many horses go through it if they're shown how.

We were both so relaxed that I took my feet out the stirrups and draped my legs over her shoulders, resting them in front of the flaps. We got as far as the drive, and Chatty just wanted to stand. I was quite tired after riding horses all day, so I dismounted and walked on foot down the drive. We must have looked a funny pair with me in front and Chatty stroling along behind without being led.

22nd January 10

Out of respect for the village green, we didn't ride on it due to the rain. Chatty was the last horse of the day, it was quarter to four before we got out. Already sombre, dreary, and still raining, I wanted to catch the last of the daylight so we trotted all the way to the forest. It's been a while since we were there, and she was finding it difficult to keep straight to begin with. Perhaps we had ridden too many curves, but her rhythm was good, and I found I could ride her from time to time with the reins on one hand.

The forest was dark and full of shadows. We kept trotting and turned left onto one of the little paths, which is full of over hanging firs. I had to duck right down with my eyes shut to pass underneath. Chatty didn't seem to notice and kept trotting. On the wider track I asked for canter, and off she went. Actually, Chatty still finds canter pretty intoxicating, but at least she has brakes.

My objective is to encourage her to stay relaxed through all the gears, and be able to maintain a nice hand canter along the forest trails. Horses rarely offer this of their own accord, so Chatty isn't dissimilar to others in this regard. Because I've done all the work with her from the beginning, I haven't had to overcome previous annoying mindsets like jogging, pulling, or trying to canter off without being asked.

Some horses can be somewhat stuffy in canter, while others are a bit too keen, but whatever their inclination, we work with them in the same way with maybe slightly different techniques. Horses that are very strong in canter, running through the bridle, and ploughing on regardless of the rider need a different approach which we won't go into now.

My plan for next week is to concentrate on canter in the forest, perhaps mixing in some sessions at the village green. We use specific routines and exercises to help acclimatise and settle the horse so that cantering in the countryside becomes no big deal. It's much more productive to wait until Chatty is happy to do this on her own before introducing her to cantering in company.

25th January 10

Chatty was a very good girl today in the forest. She had a good lunge first, which always helps horses to settle if it's done in the right way. We don't do circles as such, we try to encourage the horse to use the whole lunge area. We ask for upward and downward transistions, and very importantly, we teach them to stop to the voice. This is such a safety feature that is not usually taught to riding horses. It can be a life saver, along with the one rein stop.

Chatty did a lot of cantering, in fact she is beginning to get the idea that it's not so much exciting as hard work. I want to emphasize the importance of being structured and organised with this work. It's not a case of seeing a free space and letting the horse go. This only encourages heightened emotions, and speed can be addictive to horses as well as people.

When we ask for canter in the school, we can reasonably expect the horse to go round without pulling, leaping about, or wanting to gallop off given half the chance. Once outside, in an open field or whatever, it's often a different story. A usually biddable and calm horse can morph into a lion who takes a hold and wants to roar off into the distance.

If we want our horse to canter in a sane and sensible manner away from the menage, we have to do the training, and that's where I am with Chatty. She needs to feel confident and balanced enough to go on a loose rein at any pace. She needs to understand how to come back easily to halt from canter, and just stand without fidgeting and moving about. She needs to know which leg she is on, and give any lead in a straight line. As well as all these skills, she needs to keep cantering in a straight line without diving sideways because she's seen a stump or a funny bush.

And finally she needs to know how to canter round corners. This is one of the hardest to execute smoothly and correctly. Horses have the inclination to shoot off when they are asked to go round a corner, or from one fire break to another, especially if they're heading towards home. It's as if they hear something behind, and get panicky.

Chatty is doing bits of it all, and quite soon she will be capable of a polished performance. She is growing mentally and physically every day. Just as we came out of the forest there was the sound of a big explosion from somewhere behind us. It was definitely a blast of some sort like a bomb. Chatty jumped slightly, as did I, and then carried on. Then another bang thundered out and Chatty hardly flinched. I smiled to myself thinking now I can say she's bombproof, but of course no horse can truly be called that since they are flight animals.

26th January 10

It was a very straightfoward day today with Chatty, uneventful and positive. Before we set out, I did a bit of clicker training with the bridle to encourage a more positive association. She is very good at receiving the bit and having her long ears bent forwards so the head piece sits in place, but she can be a bit reserved about the process to start with. This is normal, many horses view the arrival of a bridle with mixed feelings.

It's was more of the same in the forest with more cantering. I'm pleased to say we've turned a bit of a corner, and today for the very first time, she was much more relaxed, I was able to keep the lightest contact, and let out the reins in parts. She understands which leg I want her to lead with, so progress indeed. We are still going in straight lines on grassy tracks with one transition per length. Chatty would find frequent transitions upsetting at this stage, so my aim is to settle her into a steady rhythm.

My aids have to be quite subtle, my inner self turned right down, and my posture soft and still. When her confidence and understanding grows, she will be less sensitive, which other riders will appreciate. I remember she was too forward in the trot until recently, and now walk and trot are much more settled. I like to have a firm foundation in trot before moving onto canter because it can seriously compromise the other paces if asked for prematurely.

We've done a lot of work in canter this week, and now Chatty thinks she should strike off when I only want trot. This is a normal reaction, horses are creatures of habit, and only have to do something a few times before it gets into their head. This is why I left the canter until now; it won't be hard to show her the distinction between one gait and another because the trot is established enough to be able to fall back on it as it were.

We finished our session by asking her to walk over black plastic. I haven't done much of this under saddle, but now she has much more trust in me, she overcomes her fear because I say it's ok, and she believes me. Well, most of the time anyway.

27th January 10

We went to the village green today as there was a lot of ice about, and I thought the going would be better. I noticed clouds of black smoke behind some houses, and there were sirens going off all over the place. I was tempted to ride into the village to see what was going on, but Chatty felt quite fresh, so I thought it best to keep going.

The joinery works has burnt down, the high street was closed, and when I rode in the afternoon, every road was full of diverted traffic, police cars, fire engines, flapping tape, and acres of fire hoses, What an opportunity I missed on Chatty.

Because she was fresh, Chatty was quite aware of what was going on around us, but nevertheless she did her best to concentrate. Her trot work improved a lot, which was reflected in the canter. It's difficult to find a nice canter from a bad trot, and the green is ideal in helping balance and obedience because it slopes, and it's not confined. It's also got a good covering of mole hills and clumps of couch grass.

It's not an artificial environment, and when horses learn to balance on it, they are set up to cope with many different terrains. Chatt's canter is really beginning to improve. She didn't rush today, she managed to keep her legs underneath her all the way round, and her head and neck were in one piece. As funny as that sounds, most horses are secretly looking for a way out until they learn to be comfortable. It's discomfort which produces odd movements, wrong bends, tilting, neck bulging, and wrong canter leads etc.

When we reached our drive, a tractor was parked with two big haylage bales on the fork lift beside the hedge cutter, with a gap in between. Chatty is more of less ok with big machinery, but she is still nervous of plastic, and she didn't like the look of it because it was green. She's only seen black and blue so far. She didn't mind the narrow gap, but when she saw the bales she didn't think it was safe to proceed. It took a lot of persuasion to get her to go without rushing, because each time she thought she might be able to do it, a small strand of plastic would blow in the wind, which she thought was terrifiying.

We went round and round and round that tractor with its bales. At one point I stopped mid-way to talk to the farmer. A breeze stirred the strips which we were standing beside, and Chatty tried to run backwards to get out of the way. There wasn't really enough room, and somehow her back legs slipped on the bank and she fell down. I've been in this less than glamourous position many times, so I just sat there while she scrabbled about until she could get up.

All animals have a certain dignity which they don't like to lose, and Chatty felt somewhat crushed and chastened by the whole experience. When I asked her to go on, she was much more subdued. We repeated the exercise a few more times in either direction before going home. I asked her to walk over some plastic on the ground in the yard, and to walk up to and round the bales beside it. One might imagine she could be put off the idea altogether, but in fact, she was quite accommodating, so I feel it's was actually quite a positive incident.

28th January 10

It must have been a big fire because the village was still closed today. I knew I would never get the chance to ride Chatty amongst the fire engines and hoses if I didn't do something.

In preparation I spread a vast blue tarpaulin in the middle of the yard to ride over. Chatty wasn't at all keen, and rather than start the ride off on a distressed note, I got off and led her over. She followed me calmly, so I remounted and tried again. This time it was ok, we went back and forward a few times, and then I asked her to go to the green plastic haylage bale, the one she took exception to yesterday.

It was a different story today, she gathered all her courage and sniffed it. She didn't do more than quiver when the strips fluttered, and I was very pleased with her. We set off for the village in a good frame of mind. The first obstacle was a couple of diversion signs with plastic cones. Chatty is fine with all of this, but not when it appears as if from nowhere. She wasn't convinced, and I knew she would demonstrate her own diversion into all the extra traffic if I kept her going.

So we stood there while an endless stream of traffic negotiated us on a narrow bend. Chatty was thinking about it, and thought maybe it was worth a look. She walked up to it and sniffed each hazard. This is such good news, because until a horse is prepared to "own" a strange object, a certain amount of fear is present. Chatty is a gentle soul, and not much given to sticking her nose into things anyway, so this was real progress.

With her confidence having a significant boost, we continued on our journey. We took a different route that would lead to the High Street. She hasn't been there yet, but I thought it would be quiet enough for me to get off and lead her if I needed to. I have to say, Chatty was a bit of a hero, and went past everything without a quibble.

If you can imagine the scenario in the video where Amber was ridden bareback, that's where we met a neighbour and had a chat. There were all sorts of things going on, so not that quiet. A big lorry passed us with a trailer full of plant, and Chatty kept standing quietly. Then it was round the corner to the scene of the disaster. A line of fire engines were parked, with one half way across the road with its engine running.

Chatty just kep walking past everything, including a small gap between two fire engines. Then there were the hoses. Thick red ones laying across the street. Brave Chatty stepped over carefully, quite remarkable really because I know she doesn't trust hose pipes. Perhapes I won't have to do that work now. In front of us were what looked like two huge inflated swimming pools in yellow plastic. Since they were full of water, they must belong to the fire brigade. They had their own hoses connected to the bases, which hissed slightly, leaked water, and wobbled about.

Although I was relaxed, I did think Chatty would be more than hesitant passing these strange things; they certainly didn't look inviting. Chatty wasn't overly concerned and went by without a fuss. I was tempted to leave things on a good note, but then decided to turn round and retrace our steps, and pass everthing again from the opposite direction. As we approached the first of the hoses, a fireman started to move them about. This made Chatty stop, she didn't like that. Then he announced they were going to inflate them with water, and they started to swell. So did Chatty's eyes. We couldn't do anything but stand there surrounded by people and cars.

When we were told it was ok to go on, I did wonder whether Chatty would find it within herself to step over, but she did. I stayed very relaxed and still, quietly praising her, and letting her get on with it. I didn't look down, always a bad idea, and guaranteed to put the horse off. After all of this, Chatty's confidence grew exponentially as a result. It was an extremely positive outing, taking advantage of local conditions and opportunities.

3rd February 10

It was Chatty's first ride of the month after some time off. We were iced over on Monday, it was too slippery to get out, but she did have a McTimmoney treatment in the afternoon, which meant a day off yesterday.

I find it can be beneficial to have training breaks; there is time to reflect and the muscles can align themselves correctly. Chatty had a tendency to walk away on occasions if she saw me carrying the bridle. We seem to have overcome that with clicker training. She is so good and polite to tack up, this puts the final polish on it as it were.

She is very relaxed on the lunge now, rhythical and obedient. Indeed, she looks like an old hand going around. So different to a couple of months ago. I've set a couple of haylage wrappers in different colours on the ground next to the bales. She must walk over them each time we got out and on our return. She also has to touch the bales with her nose.

She does do it, although she still needs encouragement, but that will change very shortly. At least she doesn't mind the crunchy sound when she steps on it. We often go down a steep track at the end of the drive which is lined with her favourite food....ivy. For one so polite, Chatty is very determined to sample a good selection to ease her descent. I am going to get on to this as from tomorrow, indugence is definitely out.

Since this is her first day back in work, I wanted to give her a straightfoward ride without asking too many questions. We had a quiet hack round the forest. Chatty can trot downhill now and keep her balance and rhythm. We had a couple of little canters, nothing too strenuous.

A very positive aspect is Chatty's preference to dawdle on the way home. Nothing is more frustrating than sitting on a horse who can't wait to get back to the yard. Since we have worked together regularly over the months, I am now starting to look around more. Chatty likes to do this too, but I always kept my attention directly ahead.

It's important to time this right, because it's a guaranteed spook if the horse isn't tuned in or ready. I looked down at a patch of water, and Chatty's neck went straight down while she had a good peer. She thought if I needed to notice it, there might be something wrong with it. Just goes to show horses are acutely aware of what we're looking at even though we're on top of them. Isn't that amazing?

I looked at a couple more things on the way home, and each time Chatty followed my example. She won't bother after a while because she will realise I'm not giving a warning, I'm just enjoying the view! The gradient seemed steep going back up the track, Chatty sighed and stopped. She was happy just to stand, she didn't even bother to hunt for an ivy tendril. Long may it last.

4th February 10

Chatty seemed much quieter today, so much so that I'm considering re-evaluating her from a new owner's perspective. Horses change as a result of this training. Some of them who previously were not going forward in the truest sense, and appeared hard work, changed into willing partners off the leg. Others started out restless and too forward and morphed into quiet dependable characters. I believe Chatty will be in the later catergory.

I'm sure the weather helps, today was still and sunny, but even so, Chatty showed me aspects of her herself which tells me where she is headed. This is why we feel so passionate about the Foundation Training. It's really important to keep horses long enough so they reveal what is really inside them underneath the layers of human intervention.

Chatty has turned a corner with her canter. She is much more relaxed about doing it, she isn't in a hurry, and is very keen to come back to trot without being asked. We do find that as one thing changes, the replacement behaviour swings heavily in the opposite direction. This is normal, and Chatty has gone from being too onward to not onward enough. Once she is used to being in this new place, I can work at shaping her canter so she maintains it as required.

Our first efforts were exclusively on the right leg. I didn't want to facilatate a one sided canter, so I spent a lot of time asking for the left lead. And guess what? Now she only wants to lead with that leg, and the right lead is nowhere to be seen. As I say, all these extremes are normal, and she will be able to be ambidextrous before too long.

We wandered home as usual, and I thought this is a good time to practice our halts. My aim was to ask her to stand with a leg at each corner so she was completely level. This sounds simple, but horses don't necessarily do it for you, and it makes a real difference to the feel of them when they do. I also wanted her to stay motionless on a long rein. The well trained horse should be able to stand stock still completely parellel to a hedge or whatever without swinging quarters or fidgeting. Chatty is learning how to do this.

She's also learning how to walk confidently over plastic, one of her bigger fears. She's also learning to cope much better with the myriad flapping pigeons in the wood. They rise as one from the branches, with their wings pounding out huge volumes of air. On the ground the pheasants lie in wait and then burst forth right in our path with a dreadful squawk. Poor Chatty, it's hard life.

5th February 10

Chatty is a funny girl, she is going through a different phase now. She tells me she's quite happy to stay in walk, her veil of fear is lifting, and she needs to take a good look at everything. This means putting her head down on the ground and sniffing around like a bloodhound. Until recently she would mentally close her eyes and try and get the perceived danger over with as fast as possible. Now she wants to stand and consider it, smell it, or eat it.

Chatty has never minded puddles, but today she insisted on stopping at every one so she could swirl the dark waters around with her mouth, even drinking from a particularly black oily looking one. She wanted to stop and pass the time of day with every pedestrian, she wanted to drool her muzzle over car windows, and she stood for ages gazing at gardens in the middle of the road on the housing estate.

Now, I know riding is all about going forward, and it could be said that for the most part Chatty was a bit stop and start, but this is so positive for her because she is showing a new side of herself. It is a baby side, inquisitive, low head carriage, and not always attentive, but the main benefit for her is lack of worry, and she will pass through it very quickly.

In the places where she feels comfortable, she is so very quiet. She's completely at home here now, we could almost forget we have her, she's so silent and still in the box. She plods around the yard on the end of a rope, follows like a dog, and stands with absolute patience. She has begun to transfer this way of being to the wider environment, and it's wonderful to see.

A good example today was on the way home. We were walking up a single track lane between houses. It's quite congested and horses generally find it spooky. At the top there is an extremely narrow blind bend. As we got near, we could hear shouting and foot stamping. I thought it must be a horse or something. Just as we got to the corner, two children came hurtling round, nearly running into us. I have to say the majority of horses would be inclined to swing round and run away in shock.

My reins were fairly long and I didn't want to suddenly alter their length because this tends to put the horse on guard. Chatty stopped abruptly in disbelief, and the children looked stupefied coming face to face with such a large animal. She didn't show any inclination to turn away ( I like to think I would have been quick enough to prevent her if she'd tried). So we all stood and looked at one another in disbelief.

The new Chatty is prepared to work things out rather than instinctively react, and that's the best news. Her canter is coming on really well too, so much more relaxed and balanced. A pity it's only on one leg at the moment, but I don't want to worry her by trying to get the other one yet. She started out only using the right lead, I kind of made her lead with the left, and now she won't use any other leg. I have found this is quite a common occurrence in training, and I'm not worried.

8th February 10

We spent the day riding in a blizzard, I could hardly believe the snow is back, and the forecast says it's to get worse as the week goes on. We laid a new apron of concrete outside the stables over the weekend. We covered it with a blue tarpaulin for protection, and to stop us walking directly over it.

Chatty had to negotiate this moving blue sea in order to go for our ride. She approached it with caution, but got confused because all last week I made her walk over the plastic, and today I wouldn't let her. I wanted her to walk past it on a narrow strip beside a building. Chatty thought this must mean it wasn't safe and therefore it would be equally unwise to go along the side.

So we dithered about a bit and finally she gathered her courage and off we went in a swirl of snow flakes. There were lots of interesting things going on in the village which I wanted Chatty to see. Monday is bin day and our lane has groups of different coloured sacks on every drive. Although the horses see these once a week, they seem to forget that they have. Chatty' is very good with rubbish and green bins, but even so, she had to get re-acquainted.

The council were out repairing a stone wall on a narrow bend outside the pub. Health and Safety meant they had to stake out the area and half the road with traffic cones, tape, and triangualr signs, while they tried their best to look efficient engulfed in super large hi viz jackets. I asked Chatty to go on a narrow pavement to pass their truck loaded with sand and equipment. She's particularly good at this sort of thing, we didn't need to repeat it, and off we went to meet the men and the wall.

They were friendly and happy to stand and talk, and so was Chatty. Then we went to the end of the road where it joins the main road. We walked across the pedestrian crossing, weaved in and out strange looking lamp posts, visited the bus stop, and looked at some traffic. It won't be long before Chatty is escorting inexperienced horses on traffic duty. We met a double decker bus and a curtain sided lorry who passed much too fast, but fortunately she is naturally accepting of heavier vehiecles.

I don't feel she is qute ready to go past the shops yet. When I feel I truly "have her", we'll do it. It's important not to put her into a situation which is potentially too much for her. Her trust in me is growing rapidly, and I wouldn't want to compromise what we have due to impatience.

We came home at her favourite pace, the dawdle. This is such a nice feature, I hope she keeps it forever. We are on the homeward stretch now with the training, all the basics and essentials are in place, and now it's repetition, repetition, repetition. Weather permitting I plan to start doing more work in company this week. Chatty is so very happy to hack out alone she won't need another horse to give her security, which means we can concentrate on the lesson. If all goes well, she will start escorting clients in the near future; the ultimate responsibility.

9th February 10

We managed to ride everything today despite the semi-frozen conditions and the snow showers. Chatty went out with another for the first time in a while. She led most of the way, and didn't seem at all concerned whether or not the other horse was with her.

A jogger leading a dog ran towards us as we trotted up the lane. Normally I signal them to slow down or stop. After the incident with the children on a blind corner, I felt Chatty should be ok with this, and she was. Horses don't like people running at them, they see it as an act of aggression. In the woods a chain saw was going full throttle just out of sight. Horses are nervous of sounds that aren't linked to anything visible, especially in an enclosed area like a wood. Chatty didn't appear to notice, I'm sure she's not deaf, she just didn't think it was worth a second glance.

The Rottweiler was in the garden! I've been hoping to meet him on Chatty. We've passed his gate loads of times with no sign of him. He was even more ferocious than I remember, with three big friends all running around barking their heads off. There is a good expanse of drive in front of the gate so we can walk about while the Rottie rages hysterically trying to leap up and get us. The drive is covered in pebbles which adds to the general din with each step Chatty took.

She has seen so many dogs now that despite the commotion she took it all in her stride which was great. I am looking forward to having more time to spend with her in the box, she is so loving in a quiet and gentle way. She loves to be stroked and groomed and she doesn't get enough of it. I must accustom her to the hose pipe before too long, but it's a bit cold at the moment.

22nd february 10

I don't think I've ever been so wet. It poured all day, and despite investing in high-spec labels for outdoor gear, I was soaked right down to my underwear. I had planned to do a thorough back to work introduction with Chatty, but I couldn't face it with the shivering and wet clothes. So I tacked her up and we went to the forest for a ride.

We started off with me giving her plenty of direction. This gives confidence to the horse otherwise they can think it was better back at the yard. The rider usually needs to up the ante if there's been a gap. She didn't really need that much, but I was prepared for most scenarios should they burst forth after so much time out.

It has been two weeks since she last went out, and strangely enough, I think the break was positive judging by her performance today. She started out slightly snortey, but by the time we trotted to the top of the long hill, she was back to her old self.

She does seem more mature, because in spite of the heavy rain, there are pockets of snow lying around, some of which is heaped into piles. Sights like this are always worthy of a look, and in most cases, a reaction. Chatty made it clear she wanted to come back to walk in order to go past, but the way she did it was somehow more grown-up than before.

She is definitely more confident in herself and with me as a rider. She trusts me; I can put pressure on her, and she understands why. In fact if I say "good girl" to her, she stops dead! I can look around without her following my gaze in case there's a bogey in the bushes, I can go back and forth or cross my tracks anywhere in the forest, she walks along on the buckle, and I can quit my stirrups to stretch my legs any time I want, safe in the knowledge she isn't going to do the unexpected.

There is still some refining, but it's all coming together very well indeed. She's ready now to do gates, meet the hosepipe, and do proper circles in trot or canter. I might even use her as escort later in the week, or if not, we will do some more riding in company.

Chatty's lovely nature is really shining through now, well worth all the time and effort. Her honesty certainly showed itself today, giving me a really nice ride after so much time off. Oh, and we did our first downhill canter too. It's been a bit of a struggle to get her onto her right lead, even though at first it was the only one she used. When I eventually got it I wanted to keep going. We ran out of track, and rather than stopping we continued on down the hill. Chatty knows the word "terrot", and comes down a gear, no hands needed, just plenty of supporting leg.

23rd February 10

We rode to the village because time was restricted today. Fortunately it wasn't raining, but the roads were covered in water, and as the traffic passed there was a lot of sloshing sounds and spray when the drivers hit the pot holes created by the snow. Horses tend not to like the noise, but Chatty doesn't mind, in fact she seems to be very good with all traffic. I will take her on to the busier section soon where she can meet double decker buses etc.

Yesterday I mentioned that Chatty can now accept pressure. I want to change that word because I feel it may be mis-understood. Horses don't appreciate pressured training, and we feel there are kinder methods. I would like to say instead that now I can make more accurate corrections and stronger demands on her. Timing is crucial to introduce this because it can lead to psychological damage if it's done too soon or inappropriately.

Without wanting to labour the point, there are more than a few horses who react unfavourably when asked certain questions, or made to do something in particular. The root cause is often mis-applied pressure in early education. Chatty on the other hand, is like an open book. She never says no, and is so eager to please. She's unspoilt and innocent, you could make exceedingly strong demands and she would take it without answering back or showing attitude.

There's a particular stretch of pavement which has plants growing outside the fence of a house. The owners have rolled out a black strip of something to protect them, it's quite slack and snakes about in the wind. Chatty is getting much better with plastic generally, but she couldn't make this out because it was so low. If we'd kept on the road, she wouldn't give it a second glance, but I wanted her to pass right by it walking along the pavement. I also wanted her to stand beside it as it moved.

Since she's gone up a few levels and turned numerous corners, I could demand that she perform this excercise with a high degree of accuracy, that is, without putting a hoof out of place. After a couple of goes which weren't perfect, we did achieve our goal. I made her do it up and down so she saw it from both sides. I could tell from her body language she felt proud of herself.

We always include some circle work in trot on a sloping street. It's very beneficial because half the circle is downhill, so Chatty has to bring the inside hind up and under higher than on a normal curve without speeding up. The uphill part means she has to work hard at maintaining rhythm without slowing down. An added bonus is I can hear each hoof beat, the sound of which tells me when we are spot on.

24th February 10

I took Chatty to the village green feeling a little guilty about the state of the ground after the constant rain. We left some large divots, but there are so many mole hills, it all looks one and the same from a distance. I particularly wanted to build her understanding of different canter leads, we were short of time again, there was virtually no preamble, we went straight to it.

Chatty is a bit of a master in canter with the left lead on the right rein. She thinks it's fine, and anything different isn't worth the bother. However, I disagree, and we were both perspiring with the effort, but we got there in the end.

If a particular lead isn't happening, I try to bend the neck to the outside. This puts more weight onto the inside shoulder making it a lot easier to find the correct leg. Chatty still managed to bypass the system, so I took my schooling whip into the outside hand, and waited until we were on the part of the circle where she tends to fall in, and slapped her on the shoulder. It worked well and I kept her going forward for a circuit or two before telling her she was a good girl, which always produces an abrupt halt.

I must be particularly tired tonight because I've twice deleted what I wrote, which was briefly describing how there is more canter work to do, but when she's up to speed in that department, the main part of her training will be finished. This is probably a good time to hand her over to Annie or Michael for a while, which will free me up for some of the others.

I don't feel the diary is quite finished, but there might be gaps in the entries. We will film her too once the weather sorts itself out. I've enjoyed sharing Chatty's journey in this way, and who knows, I might be tempted to do it all over again with a different horse.