In all the years I filmed for Horse Hero (the equestrian video website which was my business until last year) the most talked about aspect of dressage training (apart from the ‘scale of training’) was without a doubt the ‘half halt’, progressing to ‘forwards and back’ later on, especially as a tool for the advanced levels. Perhaps it was always was the case, or maybe it arose through so many British riders going to train in Europe, before GB reached dressage glory as a nation itself. But I now have evidence with my own arab Talisman who is retraining for dressage after a career in endurance, of how this benefits all horses, not just those build for the job.
Unlike many other endurance riders, I always did flatwork with Talisman. I competed in eventing before endurance and before filming top dressage professionals. I had realised that it’s the core way to increase athleticism in any sport. But my focus on dressage with Talisman ramped up a year ago when I decided not to continue with endurance because of having to carry dead weight at the top distance of 160K, which was where we were heading.
I have also taught Talisman to jump in the last year and he continues to hack out on the unforgiving hills around my property for fitness and for fun, as well as to develop the strength he needs for collected work (as opposed to a musculature suited to galloping effortlessly for 7 or 8 hours). Indeed, he’s starting to look like an equine version of Arnie Schwarzenegger!
All of Talisman’s work includes dressage even walking up and down the steep hills in outline, where we often do shoulder in and leg yield too. School work (and lunging) has been dominated by the half-halt in all paces and for a horse that’s super laid back (until he’s not, as he has that arab ‘switch’), he is now razor sharp on the aids thanks to this.
The other side effect of the half-halt and, more recently, working on forwards and back is that he has started to develop the ‘big trot’. I was always intrigued by this when filming, as all top dressage horses have a flashy trot which is part and parcel of the job. In part, the are bred for it, accentuated by the training but there are always ‘wild cards’ who make it to the top who don’t have the breeding or naturally flashy paces, yet they also have the big trot. Once you start to get this in training, then piaffe and passage isn’t such a big stretch either. There is no reason why Talisman can’t do these moves in time. He is already doing a little piaffe.
The irony is that it’s all come at a time when I am no longer especially motivated by competing (which I have done all my life and twice to international level with horses and rowing). I have the most complete equine athlete I have ever owned and a high level of knowledge yet I am enjoying progressing our work at home. That said, it was always the intention to take a year off to consolidate Talisman’s re-training and I am planning to get him out to a few unaffiliated dressage competitions before the end of the year with a view to affiliating next year and possibly doing some showing as well.
But there is no grand plan. It’s just lovely that we are enjoying learning together and that he has energy to spare to express his lovely personality, which wasn’t always the case when he training intensively for endurance. There’s no pressure on us to do anything – not that there ever was, it was always self imposed.
I do need a focus in life though and I suppose my property has been that since I moved here four years ago. I finally feel I have got my head round how everything works, or doesn’t always and what to do when things go wrong, what needs to be done when and how to keep the place in reasonable working order for minimum cost. I had no idea what was involved in taking on such an ancient farmstead with a tricky parcel of land when I arrived. A major upgrade of the equestrian facilities, essential repairs, re-modelling of the kitchen and as much decorating as I could manage myself are all boxes that have been ticked and I will now have to magic some funds to finish the house including replacing the bathroom which is circa the last century.
Of course, there is always ongoing maintenance of the land and the farm buildings and more recently, there have been plans to be better prepared for the winter. To that end, I am now the proud owner of a snow-blower. I was snowed in four times last year and endless digging by hand to get the horses out of the stables and simply survive is not something I wish to repeat. I am also in the process of insulating the yard water pipes and taps so I don’t have to lug water from the kitchen when everything freezes and have recently had the stable light switches changed as they froze in the ridiculous temperatures last winter.
On the personal side of things, I have spent this year creating a catalogue of free podcasts and videos (with more to come) on the subject of ‘practical spirituality for everyday living’. This may sound airy-fairy but it’s seriously practical stuff about how to harness the power of your thought and the world around you. It’s what I have learned through many challenges in my life and which has saved me, time and time again. It’s about how to leverage what we all have and create create a ‘quantum’ reality. It’s been an exciting journey and I feel compelled to share this knowledge.
This project has also involved working out how to use various social media platforms which I have managed to avoid in the past, as colleagues in previous ventures have done it for me. It’s been a vertical learning curve (understatement!) and the conclusion I have reached is that while we think of technology as being highly sophisticated, in reality, it must still be in its infancy as almost nothing is joined up. What a nightmare!
So, the next challenge is to decide what to do with my material. I have always wanted to be in mainstream media so perhaps now’s the time to find a way into TV or radio or, perish the thought, write the book I’ve never really wanted to write but which is in there somewhere!
One thing I know for sure is that unlike the past when I have planned things to the ‘nth degree, I am now living life spontaneously, guided by my instinct. ‘We don’t know what we don’t know’ and I can’t wait to see what life will bring.
Pics: Talisman enjoying his flatwork, jumping, cantering and hill work; Sovereign on the horizon watching us work in the menage below; Bryngwyn licking his lips after snacking on a mouse; nature is alive in my garden where I realise I am but one of many species living at my property!
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