Riding Journal: Slowing the legs from polocrosse to dressage

Now that the polocrosse season is over my next goal is to polish my dressage riding. Over the last year my polocrosse horse has been getting to know me as his new rider and trainer. I required different things of him in the game so we had to train those responses I wanted. A year ago that began with slowing the feet. ... I’d like to share some laughs with you on the challenges which have surprised me during this transition from polocrosse to dressage.

Riding Journal: without a bridle!

Over the past several months when I have had a bit of spare time to play with my horse I have put a plaited piece of twine around his neck and ridden with it. Every time I intend to use the reins to provide a cue (e.g. stop, or 'turn right' or 'turn left' or 'reverse') I first use the twine, and follow with the reins half a second later.

Insta update: are you following @backtobasicshorsework ?

Sorry I haven't posted in so long. A shout out to @sandratrott and her fantastic entries with full training commentary attached. I highly recommend reading her posts. In these photos I show some of the work I did a while ago in the paddocks and forgot to post. Spreading manure is advised for a number of reasons. 1. Spread out the sun and cold can kill potential parasites, the actual spreading of which is also done by cross grazing by birds (wild ducks are pictured. They are welcome on our property), and 2. Horses will not avoid eating next to the manure which has been spread, ie there will be less pronounced lawns and roughs in your paddock. Mowing (cut grass also in photos) by taking off the tops of grass and further spreading manure also help this. But make sure you rotate your paddocks, and even mowing patches at a time will help you target weeds you wish to stunt the growth of while saving the slow growing grasses in the same paddock. I also did some fencing, specifically removing old barb wire one of our horses had taken to walking through ON A DAILY BASIS. The wire was good enough in most sections but the star pickets were easily pushed over in areas. Obviously barbed wire is a higher risk than plain wire but provided your horse doesn't panic when caught in it the likelihood of horrible injury is very low. I found the fence-walking horse stuck one morning patiently waiting for notice. Hence why horses and cattle are often housed together despite the cattle needing more aversive fencing. The final photo is of what appears to be a chilli plant. The weather must have been ideal for seeds spread by a bird to germinate and successfully grow. Goes to show how important it is to walk your fences now and again coz I did not know that plant could be found on our property.


If we can improve our soil then we improve our pastures. For one thing, weeds don't like nutrient-rich pastures! Possibly the best way to improve the nutrient content in our soils is to spread compost. But also, compost kills internal parasites and weed seeds in the manure, as well as producing microorganisms who create antibiotics to protect your grasses from disease. [...] Whether you choose passive or hot composting, the composition of the compost is the same (wordplay intended). You want 25 parts carbon to every part nitrogen, and layered like a cake. This is a bacteria dominated environment, and everything you want in your paddocks.

Grass Farming, Pasture Management and Permaculture

Wow am I satisfied! Reading up on pasture management has been on my to-do list for years! [...] Enter the magazine Horses and People and the experts Jane and Stuart Myers (the Equicentral system) and Dr Mariette van den Berg (an Equine permaculture design expert with a PhD in horse nutrition). So what is permaculture? Google says it is: "the development of agricultural ecosystems intended to be sustainable and self-sufficient." The general idea is that to effectively manage our pastures we need to be grass farmers, and to feed our grasses, we must feed our soil, because it is all one ecosystem. And an ecosystem which is self-sufficient is minimum work and maximum gain for us!

Learning theory in action: flushing a horse’s eye

I have found so much confidence in my understanding of learning theory. In this entry I share one of my instagram posts about flushing out my horse's eye, and how I made that as pleasant as possible for my horse. I succeeded in flushing his eye for much longer than I anticipated, and with a much reduced stress response. All thanks to learning theory and my understanding of operant conditioning, classical conditioning, and associative learning.

Lesson plan: Bending

I like to plan 3 stages. You won't use all three in every lesson, but having them will allow you to extend the lesson for people who have nailed the earlier stage/s. Always start at 1. This particular lesson plan goes down very well with riders who have a large dressage focus. It is absolutely suitable for all horses and is designed to keep the horses calm. It is so adaptable for different abilities and different horses that it goes excellently in a group and allows every rider to achieve a personal best. I use different stages because you need to keep it interesting for your horse when you practise. Every sporting rider who does not think they need to practise is just plain wrong. Those riders are relying on their horse to do it for them. Any small error the rider makes over repeated attempts will never be fixed if they don't practise. These small errors add up to eventually affect even the best trained horse. Click the title to read more.

Riding Journal: Calming a horse

When my horse's mate was walked back to the larger paddock, my pretty boy became quite upset. Thing is, he has separation anxiety. He galloped around our paddocks extremely fast and very stressed. It was worrying to watch because it looked dangerous. This guy is fit (he did several laps easily) and can stop very abruptly before the fences, but because he was showing such distress he seemed to be winding up rather than winding down. That seemed bad. So I took an anzac biscuit out to the paddock where he could see me and I called him, like I have been doing regularly. He very quickly came up to me (at canter thanks to being so wound up). Then it was a matter of feeding him bits of the biscuit, more slowly than he'd like because he ate them so fast, and I scratched his wither, speaking in a calm manner. ... I had managed to keep him standing still for long enough to lower his heart rate. Scratching his withers should have helped a lot to do that. ... He has a problem. It has already developed (ie. there's no point talking about prevention). So the question is how to manage it and most importantly how to alleviate the stress of it. I am thankful to say that I think I managed that today. Click through to read more

The Nature of Learning

In this article I would like to draw parallels and comparisons between different ways I have heard learning described, and how to therefore teach a horse. When pressure is applied by the leg, sometimes we choose to 'reinforce' that pressure with a whip or spurs. What does reinforcement mean in this case? Is it the same as positive reinforcement or negative reinforcement? Or because it is a whip or spurs, is it punishment?