The Balanced Horse by Sylvia Loch

I love books, their timeless beauty and wisdom, the smell of the pages...the way they offer an escape and engage our imagination, living in the age of the 'digital revolution' I too easily forget how much I adore reading and this week my love has been rekindled by one of Sylvia Loch's great books; The Balanced Horse.

The Balanced Horse is my third Sylvia Loch book, I admire her vision, she has a beauty both inside and out that radiates through reading her words, Sylvia has a transparency that proves there is no place for tricks or gadgets and as I read page after page, I smile and breath a sigh of relief because I believe in her training programme. 

I recall a lesson many years ago where the instructor insisted I squeezed down my reins "left, right, left, right" and "more leg, more leg...MORE LEG", I went round and round and round the ménage, I got off exhausted and unfulfilled with a confused horse. I'd used my legs so much I had white sweat marks on my leather chaps and boots, they were wet, something that's never happened to me before, not even through the nervous energy of hunting or cross country and it didn't feel right. Needless to say we never returned for a second lesson, and I truly believe some riders have a concious sense to feel; this isn't right and others don't. 

The Balanced Horse breaks down "aids by feel, not by force" and helps our understanding of the horses language and how we must aspire to speak with him to allow greater ability, confidence and enjoyment together.

The book contains thirteen chapters; I see each chapter as a jigsaw, Sylvia explains each piece of the puzzle, breaking down the movements into easy to understand pieces of information allowing the reader to go away and put her work into practice. Achievable schooling exercises are offered at the end of each chapter, this has given me a goal to aspire to once I have figured everything out in my head, relayed it to my body and then discussed it with my horse (wow, this will take some time....does Sylvia do audio-books?).

The Balanced Horse isn't a dressage book, Oscar is your typical allrounder yet developing our communication will enhance all areas of our training together and it has explained all those "why's" and "how's" I've had about schooling classics such as "hand without legs, legs without hand" and "inside leg, to outside rein" - I have had these actions shouted to me in lessons...and responded, in hindsight quite ineffectively!

The Balanced Horse also contains some truly magical photography of Ladykirk Stableyard - I haven't ever seen a ménage quite so beautiful - and not to forget the stunning horses Syliva features...I wonder if she'd consider using a very Irish Connemara in her next display, he is all yours...!

Thank you for reading, Jessica and Oscar xxxx


Bossy's Bibs Review

I thought I owned a hardy Connemara pony not a sensitive thoroughbred, therefore you can imagine my surprise when I removed Oscar's latest fly rug to reveal a rub on his shoulder. This would be the same rug that gets pulled forwards in a morning before work and removed at an evening to ride, groom, play ponies etc...

Once I got over myself, - this took some time; "how could I let this happen" - "but he is a native?" - "oh my goodness what will people think of me" - " will it get infected" - "I hope he isn't in pain" - "will I EVER be able to rug again" get the idea? I decided to clean the area, I bathed the area with cotton wool pads soaked in lukewarm salt water and once dry generously coated the area in Derma Gel - a true favourite of mine I really should write about. 

The rub was healing wonderfully but I was competing in 7 days and getting up at 4am to bath on the morning was not an option available to me - the joys of owning a grey - I knew I wouldn't rug up as couldn't risk the rub worsening, my vanity of wanting a clean horse would not be at his discomfort. I also had the option of keeping him stabled the night before but knew I'd arrive to a stressed lonely horse and I'd rather be greeted by a happy content horse in his normal routine, plus I could bet money I'd still have poo stains to contend with! So I set about researching anti-rub bibs, I'd heard of them in the past but smugly assumed I'd never need one, so taken little notice.

Bossy's Bibs stood out as market leaders in effective prevention and cure for rug rubs, they can be worn under stable and turnout rugs and are designed to protect the shoulders, chest and withers. Bossy's Bibs sounded too simple...could this solve my problem and I could bath and rug up Saturday night before our show? Not one to waste money I e-mailed Bossy's Bibs, I included a thorough explanation - I must scream OVER PROTECTIVE equine mum - with close up pictures and their advise regarding the fit. I received a reply in less than 24 hours, reassuring me their product would be comfortable for Oscar to wear and offered I call them to discuss sizing as the build of the horse needs to be taken into account when choosing, they have an impressive 9 off the shelf sizes to order and will make to measure if your geegee doesn't fit the mould.

Bossy's Bibs are made from a specially selected tightly woven silky smooth fabric and act as a barrier between the rug and hair/skin underneath. They are breathable too so the hair will grow back in already rubbed areas. The bibs are simple to fit, sliding quickly and easily over the head (velcro options are available for head shy horses) and can be popped into the washing machine on a 40 degree wash, drying very quickly to ensure hygiene is simple to maintain. 

I rang to discuss sizing, placed my order costing £23 plus £1.90 UK shipping costs and the bib arrived the following day. The Small/Full size was recommended and fits Oscar perfectly, I have to confess I was a little scared on Saturday night as I'd left the area bare since it happened but I worried for nothing before the next morning Oscar was happy and comfortable, no heat, no sensitivity, no sign of any rubbing - ahhhh, happy sigh of relief and he has since worn his Bossy's Bib successfully and even some hair is now growing back.

I recommend Bossy's Bibs 100% and come Winter I will be purchasing one of their Mane Guards as Oscar always suffers with a rubbed mane and now I've learnt we don't have to!

Thank you for reading, Jessica and Oscar xxxx


EquAmi Lunge Cavesson with Bit Straps

After one use of the EquiAmi Lunge Cavesson with Bit Straps I was left blushing at the fact I ever used to lunge off a bridle...WOW is the word and here is where I am at;

Lunging from a headcollar...yes we've all done it, I often lunged off a headcollar when introducing lunging to Oscar, this meant when he or I made a mistake he didn't get socked in the mouth.

Lunging from the bridle...erm...yes, he stretches down onto the bit, he accepts the bit but when that difficult rein gets a little wayward and a circle drifts into an oval I am not sure how pleasant pulling on the bit must be? It also affects the position of the bit and really doesn't replicate ridden work...unless you're a lead rein pony of course?

Lunging from a headcollar, with a bridle underneath...well I could never get this right?! So much bulk, the headcollar was either be too tight or too loose and it would drop down his nose causing hysterical head tossing! Not to mention the fuss when you want to change reins, que de weaving and re weaving lunge line!

Lunging from a lunge cavesson, fabulous for changing reins...but I work Oscar in a bridle and I like to see him stretching down to the bit when we lunge, plus with lunging aids such as a Pessoa or EquAmi a bit is required.

Are you all nodding in agreement? Thought so.

I fell upon the EquiAmi Lunge Cavesson with Bit Straps as I researched various types of lunging aid and was completely besotted with not just the EquiAmi aid but the lunge cavesson too - I had to order one; it describes itself perfectly as the "modern version of an old classic" it is flatter, lighter and softer than many traditional lunge cavessons, with adjustable loops to quickly and easily attach and alter the bit. These features along with it's design provide a better fit, minimal movement meaning no rubs or pinching, an extra wide noseband for increased comfort and more room for the eyes was designed in house by EquiAmi and is made in England from high quality strong, yet soft webbing. A piece of equipment they are extremely proud of.

The EquiAmi Lunge Cavesson cost £38.00 and comes in black with smart gold buckles and sizes range from; pony/cob/full and the beauty of EquiAmi being the creator means that Dr Hilary Bentley (MD Dr Hilary Bentley BSc (Hons), MA, PhD) is only a phone call or e-mail away to query anything such as sizing. I chose Cob size for Oscar (15hh connemara - wears Cob size bridle). 

My final paragraph has to be...
Lunging from an EquiAmi Lunge Cavesson with Bit Straps, it is like mixing the above four methods together and the result can only be described as harmony! 

Oscar accepted the head piece immediately, once it was on it was super easy to adjust the length of the bit in his mouth, I clipped the lunge line to the middle cavesson ring and he worked beautifully and has done since. When using the bridle I was always concious not to interfere but even being concious and having the best intentions had an affect on his work, and this is something I hadn't realised until using EquiAmi's cavesson. Now Oscar is still in his head consistently on the lunge and really stretches down onto his the basic Parelli training we did all those years ago has paid off because I can now stand in the middle, ask him to stop and change the rein all while keeping my feet in the same position - some might call that lazy but I see it as better use of our time in the school and as this cavesson requires no alterations it enables you to break away from the hassle of changing reins and we've gone from changing it a maximum of 4 times (6 at a push) per session to a whopping 12 making lunging much more fun and interesting for us both. Lunging has definitely felt like more of a pleasure and less of a chore since I discovered EquiAmi.

Thank you for reading, Jessica and Oscar xxxx

My Saddle Fitting Woes

I have considered many times sharing my saddle fitting experiences with my readers and have always shaken the subject off as a bad idea...reason one; because I haven't had much luck and two; because I am relatively inexperienced when it comes to the fit of a saddle. 

However, this week I realised I am not alone, I am actually with the majority and as our beloved horses change shape, develop muscle, loose and gain weight as mother nature intended very few of us have it right all of the time. 

Before owning Oscar I'd loaned horses, horses that came with their own tack and it seemed to fit okay...I was happy, the owners were happy and my horse wasn't showing any sign of discomfort, annual checks happened that box was ticked and all was good. Then I bought Oscar and everything naive I was before owning him, within the week of him being home the saddle fitter was booked. A local gent who came well recommended within the area, I was full of excitement! My FIRST saddle, a moment I'd dreamed of for so many years!

The long awaited day arrived and the fitter pulled up in a van bursting with saddles and began placing various ones on and off Oscar's back, wiggling them around, girthing him up and short-listing a selection for me to ride in - a process taking no more than 10 minutes. I remember feeling intimidated; I was desperate for a saddle yet felt the fitting had been about as thorough as trying on a pair of off the shelf shoes in New Look during my lunch hour! However being in need, and in an uncomfortable situation a deal was done and I had my first saddle.

Welcome saddle slippage, no matter how tight my girth, whether I was having a leg up or using a mounting slipped!! And I could never, ever tack up without my Acavallo grip pad. I was heartbroken and kept to light work, saving and saving for a better saddle. 

The second time around I booked an appointment with a professional saddle making company to finally own a saddle that fitted both Oscar and I, I counted down the sleeps and thanked the Lord for our indoor ménage as when the day came the heavens opened, it poured with heavy rain all day - maybe I should have taken this as a sign to cancel and lied about our indoor being so fabulous?

I was paying a hefty sum for the fitting alone but because this company held a Royal Warrant as suppliers of saddlery and lorinery to HM Queen Elizabeth II and had been in business over 200 years figured I was in safe hands, however once the fitting began, in my opinion, I was not. The fitter looked at my horse and produced a number of saddles for us to try...I remember thinking "I've been here before, aren't you going to measure my horse, see him move, discuss both our strengths and weaknesses" but shook the idea out of my head, I couldn't get more professional than the company presenting itself to me and I repeatedly told myself that they saddle some of the best horses four star event horses in Great Britain, not to mention their impressive sponsorship presence at events - these are professionals - I settled upon an ex-demo that was far from cheap, I can't even bring myself to share the price but we are talking four figures - the saddler was totally against me having a new one as I'd hoped and saved so long and hard for, at the time this should have rang alarm bells **face blushes with foolishnes**. The sale of the saddle included a three month follow up period in which I could change the saddle if unhappy or if happy would be refitted as new saddles often require additional flocking/changes within this agreed period.

So month one passed and the saddle slipped, I was devastated but figured I'd continue to use my Acavallo pad, allow the saddle to settle and ring the saddlers on month two, once I'd had time to think about the areas I was unhappy with. When I rang, the company informed me they'd fallen into administration; in my opinion the advisor was rude and short, showing no remorse or empathy for the situation. When asked about my follow up appointment she advised I ring my saddler direct, so I did and he never answered or returned any of my calls or voicemails. I searched equine forums and various other online sources and found others in a similar situation to me.

I trusted the company one hundred percent to saddle my horse and I correctly, and admit I was and still am utterly heartbroken at all those things I went without for months while I saved, the loose change I put into a jar week after week went towards a high end piece of equipment that didn't do the job it should. Could the saddler have sold it to me knowing it wasn't right for my horse or me, we will never know? I work in customer service, and I believe as an ambassador to the public we have a duty of care and I really felt broken.

It took me a long time to gain enough confidence to contact a saddler to see if my saddle could be altered to fit, I thought they'd laugh and me...and once they'd finished laughing I couldn't help but wonder if they'd take advantage, all my trust had gone.

Thankfully through personal recommendations I booked an appointment with a fantastic saddler who didn't laugh...she empathised and had a superb eye, noticing our weaknesses as we walked from the stable to the ménage...she watched us ride, measured Oscar and I and came up with a cost to carry out some pretty serious work, not being able to promise whether it would be perfect or not but she would do everything she could.

After two weeks she returned with my renovated saddle for the fitting...I was so nervous - I had gone from feeling elation prior to saddle fittings to now only knowing dread, but as soon as I placed my bottom in the saddle I felt for the first time I was in the correct position and I felt Oscar's back lift in happiness...I am truly grateful for all she did but can't say my faith is restored quite yet. My next plan was to save for a dressage saddle but I will be doubtful for a long time yet about investing so much in saddlery companies...I feel they have a lot to prove to me and although I will not tar them all with the same brush, I will have the expectation that they need to earn my respect and I will not give it them on command due to the badge on their produce. 

I have only just been brave enough to write about my torrid experience but the more people I speak to, the more admit to lacking confidence with regards the fit of their saddle so the more I learn, the more I will share with you.

Thank you for reading- please note; the saddlery company concerned are not named and the above post is all personal opinions of my own and nobody else.

Jessica & Oscar xxxx