“Great things are not done by impulse, but by a series of small things brought together.” Vincent Van Gogh

“Great things are not done by impulse, but by a series of small things brought together.” Vincent Van Gogh

“Great things are not done by impulse, but by a series of small things brought together.” Vincent Van Gogh

I have arrived back at Amy Grahams stable in Normandy. I have been busy setting up, finally unpacking my jam-packed truck. France is back in lockdown so I will be stuck on the farm probably until the end of the year. However, I cannot complain! I have a beautiful apartment onsite and my horses have nice big boxes as well as access to grass fields. The stable is on a big piece of land similar to what you would find in the Waikato. There is an indoor area, two indoor lunging circles, an outdoor sand and grass arena, walker, treadmill and a few different stable buildings. Amy has a nice friendly team many who live onsite. This makes lockdown not so lonely.


Julie Ulrich (American trainer) is also staying onsite so I will have lots of time with her. I will treat this time to really focus on the basics which are missing in my riding. We have started off working with ET on the lunge. Here is a summarily of what I have learnt so far…


It is not necessary to use any kind of gimmicks when lunging. These gimmicks, such as the Pessoa, ropes or gouge actually do more harm than good. They do not release the pressure in the right moment. Therefore, the horse does not learn anything, the horse is just forced into a shape – tortured.


The horses’ neck should be the same length as the back-end. The saddle is the middle point. ET tends to get long in the back and very short in the neck. He curls away from the contact – this makes communicating with him difficult and also gives him the opportunity to run away or rear up. Rearing up/ jacking up is ETs biggest issue. We made lots of progress with him in Spain but he started to throw his toys out of the cot again in Portugal. It will be interesting to see if this type of work will get us back on track again.


The way to teach the horse to stretch his neck down and to be at the right length is by pushing the hind-end out. If the horse is going with the hind-end out and the neck too high it will cause pain and make the horse uncomfortable. Therefore, will give the horse the opportunity to work out how to release the pressure. If the horse is not letting go then make him more uncomfortable by further pushing the hind legs out until he concentrates and works it out.


If the horse is not understanding you need to change something to help him understand the question. When he has moments when you can see him starting to release or even think about it take the pressure off to allow him to understand it. Once he starts to understand then it will become easy and automatic. Hind legs out – neck stretched out – pressure off, this transfers over to when ridden. This will teach him to take the contact nicely.


When you move the vertebrate in the neck it really loosens the horse up – it is like a massage. The head long and low is a comfortable relaxing position. It is not the place where you want to work but it is a good place to go when the horse is stressed.


When longing you should hold the line like the reins. Keep a contact with the lunge like the contact with the reins. It is important to not let the horse get behind you and curl away from the contact. If you need to take steps back to keep the contact the horse is already behind you. When he gives follow him but do not let go and completely lose the contact. Often the way riders try to find the contact is by shortening the reins, the horse then shortens the neck until the horses neck is so short it cannot avoid the contact. This creates a ridged mouth and a horse who gives up.


The number one priority should be neck out, neck down is not as important. Getting the horses head down is easy but with the nose out taking the contact is not so easy. When the horse puts his head down, he can curl over and over flex this is not what we want. Better to get the nose out and the head a little high than down and over flexed.


As you can see, I am learning a lot – totally back to the basics with no shortcuts! Stay tuned for more lessons from Julie Ulrich.


“I’d say it’s the intellectual study of riding that so many avoid. There is physical laziness, but there is also intellectual laziness, and either one is a dream wrecker.” Denny Emmerson – Know better, do better



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