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Murphy is a very handsome 16 year old coloured gelding and has been in my life since he was 5 years old. He has always been 'lazy' and hard work to keep moving forwards (except on a XC course!) Prior to discovering this training I could not ride him in the arena or out hacking without a whip or spurs to back up my leg aids. He can be spooky out hacking and is especially fearful of pushbikes.

He is my project horse and a work in progress. On returning home after completing my training in New Zealand and Australia I took him right back to basics and started schooling him again. I have not included every training session as I ride him almost every day.

Follow his progress below.

Back to Basics

28th September 2019

When beginning re-training I always start with an inhand session to test the 'Basic Responses'. This helps to highlight the problem areas;

'Stop' - Murphy has a heavy and delayed response to the Stop cue, this does lighten up during the session after repetitions

'Go' - from the lead rein cue is good which is interesting considering his main issue is that he is not forwards off the leg. This could indicate a deeper deficit in his Go response which will become evident with intragait transitions of faster and slower steps

'Step Back' - Murphy has a very heavy and delayed response, this does lighten up with repetitions during the session but requires more work

'Park' - he has a good initial response considering he is used to following my feet. Of course who doesn't want their horse to follow them?! I have always encouraged him to do this, particularly when dismounting and walking towards the arena gate. He is still allowed to do this, except now I give him a Go cue to avoid any confusions for him as to whether he is allowed to follow me or not. I give him a few corrections initially but it doesn't take him long to understand that what I am asking is for him to stand still and do nothing! He likes standing still!

'Head Down' - a very heavy and delayed response to this. I work on this towards the end of the session but this will require more work in future sessions

When mounting at the mounting block Murphy swings his hindquarters away, snatches the reins by pulling sharply forwards and down, and walks off as I mount.

1st October 2019

I start by testing Murphy's Stop and Go, they are much lighter today and his Step Back is more obedient but still heavy and delayed so I work on lightening this up. I then introduce Turns inhand.

For a Left Turn we want the left foreleg to step to the left first, followed by the right foreleg catching up and stepping alongside, NOT stepping forwards to Go.

Murphy struggles to step sideways in both directions. For his Left Turn he takes a tiny step with his left foreleg and then steps forward with his right foreleg. For his Right Turn he steps first with his left foreleg, crossing it in front of his right foreleg.

From this assessment I can see that he is Left leg dominant. This means that when he spooks he will push off on his stronger left leg so will almost always spook by turning to the right.

I complete the Turn repetitions on both sides and will leave this new training to process in his brain for a few days, allowing the capillaries of these new neural pathways to rest - Latent Learning.

Next I introduce a longer stepping walk (Long Walk). It takes him a good 5 minutes to understand that I want a longer walk rather than trot but when he gets it he blows out of his nostrils, gives some deep coughs, takes longer steps, and lowers his head carriage - a big release in tension for him.

3rd October 2019

I revisit Long Walk and he gives lots of long blows out, a couple of deep coughs and is swinging nicely through his back, stepping underneath with his hindlegs. I introduce the Metronome to work on his Rhythm and Self Carriage. It is evident from this that he is very irregular in his rhythm, both speeding up and stalling. He also backs off my leg for the upwards transition to trot, swinging his hindquarters in off the track. This does improve by deleting the incorrect behaviour and repeating the correct behaviour.

8th October 2019

Today I start the session with some mounting block training. Murphy has a habit of walking off as I'm mounting him. This is a learned behaviour that I have not corrected in the past, I just mount him quickly! I overshadow this by stepping him back, and also training Park at the mounting block so he learns to stand independently and doesn't walk off until given a Go cue.

We begin our ridden work with a lovely Long Walk. He gives lots of snorts out and feels nicely responsive off my leg. I use the metronome to test his trot rhythm. Overall it is better however there are still areas of the arena that he speeds up or stalls. These errors occur in the same parts of the arena on each circuit. This is known as Context Specific Learning where the same behaviour occurs in the same place (eg. "he always stops at the gate" or "he always spooks there").

9th October 2019

Today I do another inhand Turn session. Murphy is very heavy with his right foreleg, dragging it across the ground rather than lifting it. I do repetitions on both reins. This exercise will really help to open out his chest and shoulder to encourage him to take bigger sideways steps. I will leave this training again for a few days for his brain to process. To finish I jump on him bareback and we have another lovely Long Walk. He is overtracking nicely and really stepping underneath with his hindlegs. His head carriage is low and relaxed.

11th October 2019

Today I work on his Go response using whip taps to simulate the rider's legs. I start inhand working on halt-walk-halt transitions and then walk-trot-walk transitions. Then I get on and he is much more responsive to my leg aid which I always find amazing! I then practice faster and slower steps within the trot.

17th October 2019

I use a square in the arena to incorporate Go, Stop, Turn and Straightness into one exercise. Murphy is good on his right rein, but finds the left turns on the left rein very difficult. This is because his left foreleg is his dominant leg so he finds it harder to lift and step the left foreleg. This will improve with repetitions over the weeks as he loosens up and strengthens the muscles on his left side.

25th October 2019

We have a lovely hack out. Murphy is usually very spooky at a nearby yard with lots of comings and goings, vehicles, animals, noise etc. When I ask him to walk forwards today, he actually does! With no whip required to back my leg aids up! I encourage the longer walk to keep him relaxed and moving forwards. Usually when he stops to look at something it takes alot of leg to get him moving again, but today I do a light squeeze and he moves! I am astounded by the difference in him as the training has translated from the arena to our hack.

26th October 2019

To improve his Self Carriage in trot I work on a 'Little Trot' today. This is a super suppling and relaxing exercise. He initially stalls to walk repeatedly, however by correcting this behaviour using repetitions he improves and once in self carriage demonstates lovely long snorts out and maintains his rhythm. I then introduce Faster and Slower trot, he starts rounding across his back, snorting out and is lovely, relaxed and forwards.

31st October 2019

As his rhythm and self carriage in trot is improving, I now introduce canter. Murphy runs into his upward transitions from trot to canter and is unbalanced, particularly on his right rein where he becomes disunited and breaks into trot. I use the metronome to test the Rhythm in canter, he finds it difficult to maintain and stalls repeatedly.

3rd November 2019

His trot to canter transition has improved, more so on the right rein. His downward transitions are very heavy so I lighten these up using canter-walk transitions.


4th November 2019

We have a very good schooling session today. He is responsive to my leg aids and maintains self carriage which I check by releasing my hands forward for two steps. We begin with a lovely swinging long walk, then a rhythmical trot, progressing to longer and shorter steps within the trot.

9th November 2019

Today we work on our canter. His left canter is in perfect rhythm with the metronome and feeling much more balanced. His right canter is still unbalanced and disunited at times. Interestingly, his upward transition right is now obedient, but his left still requires work. His downward transitions have very much improved, they are alot lighter and more obedient.

14th November 2019

Murphy's Turns are showing a massive improvement today. He is much more responsive to my cues, I now need to encourage even bigger steps on both sides to really open out his chest.

15th November 2019

Today's canter is the nicest we have ever had! He is in a natural outline, light on my hands and not pulling, demonstrating self carriage and he feels balanced, maintaining his rhythm. Both his upward and downward transitions have improved greatly. I introduce longer and shorter canter strides.

8th December 2019

We have our first Dressage competition since 2016 and I am really pleased with him today. His transitions are obedient, he maintains self carriage and rhythm, and I really notice an improvement with his turns and straight lines. We leave with a 2nd and 4th rosette and I am very happy that the Judge has commented on how straight he is, especially down the centre line!

10th December 2019

I continue to practice Straight lines on our hack today, and faster and slower trot. I love how I no longer need to carry a whip or wear spurs to reinforce my leg aids as he is so good and responsive now. What a difference. I am still blown away by the change this training has made.

13th December 2019

We hack out again and practice walking in straight lines. It is important not to let the horse walk in random directions, as when we want them to go straight (in a dressage test for example), they are not under our directional control. Random riding leads to random behaviour. The horse should maintain their speed and line until told otherwise by us as the rider. I use the metronome to help us maintain rhythm and self carriage.

17th December 2019

I introduce Yield today in our ridden session. I have previously trained this in an inhand session. I work on bend, flexion and then move into leg yield. He is very responsive and obedient to his upward and downward transitions.

29th December 2019

On our hack today we encounter a cyclist from behind. I pull Murphy into the side with plenty of room to allow him to pass (he is better with cyclists approaching from behind than from in front). I let the cyclist pass and then trot to keep up with him. This is known as Systematic Desensitisation. When horses show fear, the first thing they want to do is run. This is the flight response. It is the running of the legs, the speed, and the distance that they put between themselves and the scary object that reinforces this fear response. The more they withdraw, the more afraid of it they become. So I negate this by not allowing the distance to increase, and he is naturally curious so is motivated to get closer. Unfortunately we can only keep up for so long!

12th January 2020

Out hacking today we encounter another cyclist! So what do we do? We chase it! Murphy feels much better than last time, I can feel him really pushing towards the bike. This part of his training requires a much more intense approach as at the moment it is very sporadic, using random cyclists as and when they appear! I am confident that if I set aside the time I can help him overcome this fear!

13th January 2020

Murphy is feeling much softer and lighter in my hands and he is responding to all of my aids. His turns have very much improved, his straightness, transitions, rhythm and self carriage are all noticeably better. I really feel a much softer connection with him between my hands and his mouth, and I feel that he is carrying himself much better now.

March 2020 Review

I have seen a huge improvement in Murphy over the last 5 months. His upward and downward transitions, both intergait and intragait are obedient. He feels much softer in my hands and is not pulling, is more balanced in his rhythm, and maintains the speed that I set for him (self carriage). His directional turns are much more responsive, he moves with his shoulder now rather than his head and neck. He stands nicely for mounting, waiting until I give a Go cue for him to walk forwards, then steps nicely into a Long Walk. He can still snatch the reins at times but this will improve and is alot less severe. It is more a nudge with his nose now rather than a yank! His hindquarters do sometimes still swing in but again, this has drastically improved. He no longer stalls, or leans on my hands on his downward transitions.

Gold Star for Murphy!

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