Grackle & flash nosebands – and why you should avoid them

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By , September 14, 2014 8:54 pm

Do you know:

Horses can’t swallow unless they can open their mouth a bit. So if a horse has it’s mouth clamped shut with a flash or whatever it’s a bloody uncomfortable experience for them. The long strings of drool are very different to just seeing a moist mouth.

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In a very extreme situation a horse with the mouth clamped shut could drown on it’s own saliva.

Want to learn more about training & riding horses without the usual gimmicks? Find out more about the amazing Irish Horsemanship community right here.

Life Is Not An Emergency – Lessons from a Grey Horse

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By , September 5, 2014 4:07 pm

Tomorrow I am going abroad with work, which (to my conscious mind) I was looking forward to. It took me by surprise then when I woke up this morning with a sense of sadness. My first thought was that today was the last day I was going to ride my horse this summer. I didn’t realise how much I was going to miss it. Then my logical mind wondered why I would feel like this?

I started riding in April this year, as I was away from Jan – Mar with work. Since April I’ve ridden Oz 80 times. Not bad for 5 months. I know this as I’ve been keeping track of every ride & writing down our daily progress, including clinics and ‘horse related’ activities.

Yesterday a book I’d ordered arrived in the post. It was Mark Rashids ‘Nature in Horsemanship’. Crissi his wife & one of Ozzie’s favourite people wrote the foreword, and I loved this sentance:

“[Horses] offer us the opportunity to experience something that is less about thinking, and more about reconnecting with a wisdom that we don’t often tap into.”

It was with this thought in mind that I set out today, to ride Oz. Continue reading 'Life Is Not An Emergency — Lessons from a Grey Horse'»

Alexander Technique for Horse Riders – Kildare, Ireland

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By , August 30, 2014 2:41 pm

Karen is a friend of mine in the UK and is a beautiful horsewomen & rider. I’ve sat watching clinics & taken 100′s of photos and I literally cannot find one bad picture of her. I knew she had done a lot of Alexander Technique, but I hadn’t really investigated it much further.

This summer, a combination of a few things – a new dressage saddle, a recommendation from a friend who studies high level Vaquero horsemanship & classical dressage, and a chance encounter with a ridden posture demo at the Dublin Horse Show got me thinking that I wanted to explore how I can improve my posture while I ride.

First up I decided to go to a few private Alexander classes, with Penelope Eastern in Killaloe that were general and not specifically focused on horsemanship, to see what it was like.

My first eye-opener was learning to be aware of what I was doing. Just simple things – like how I sat down & stood up. What way I was breathing. I found it all really interesting. For the whole week after it seemed to be stuck in my head, in a good way.

What I realised is that because we all sit down so much (driving, watching tv, at computer) we all get into these bad habits with our backs. In a few years it mightn’t add up to much. But in 10/20/30 years it could result in back pain, arthritis, slipped discs… all stuff that you really don’t want to get!

So I started to realise that learning about this could benefit more than my horsemanship & save me some serious doctors bills when I’m much older.

In short, I was hooked. And I could see how it would benefit my general health and in turn my posture & horses way of going.

When I was looking for someone to learn from, a few Alexander people recommended I go to Maria O’Neill in Kildare. Maria is a horsewomen & Alexander Teacher and so would be perfect to learn from, to get more insights on how they connect together.

Three friends and I travelled up yesterday to do an afternoon ‘without horses’ workshop in Kildare at Maria’s house. We all do various things… from hunting, showjumping & competing to starting young horses, dressage and working on confidence while riding.

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It was really good. Maria explained the origins of the technique (Alexander rode horses too!) and the concepts behind it. We also did some games to start to analysis our habits and Maria did hands on work to get us to start relaxing our muscles and stop overusing muscles we actually didn’t need to be using at all!

We all got a posture overview in a saddle as well, and within minutes our ‘habits’ were becomming evident. The first step with Alexander is awareness of what your body is doing. Most of the time our body just ‘moves’ – but we’re not aware of exactly what muscles are active at what time.

So we started to realise things when we were in the saddle including:

- Being a little uneven on our seat bones
- Over tensing seat muscles
- Tensing our shoulders up
- Having tense legs
- Looking down
- Shallow breathing

It was all really really interesting & we had lots to go home & think about, and see what else we can become aware of.

I would highly recommend Maria’s lessons for both horse riders wanting to improve their seat & posture in the saddle, and equally for anyone who wants to be kinder to their body & avoid back ache in the future!

The #AnimalSelfieChallenge

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By , August 22, 2014 10:35 am

Complete the #animalselfiechallenge challenge and support animal welfare charities around the world.

How to participate:

1. Take an #animalselfiechallenge photo today
2. Post it to social media and nominate three of your friends, & tag your photo “#animalselfiechallenge”
3. Donate €10/£10/$10 to your local animal charity after you post the photo, or donate $100 if you refuse the challenge.
4. You have 24 hours to complete the challenge

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The IHWT charity in Ireland is a great place to help: Click here.

Saddle fitting in Tipperary – Equiscan topographer pro

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By , August 19, 2014 7:08 pm

At the Dublin Horse Show, aside from watching Buck Brannaman, I met Alan Ward who is a saddle fitter from the west.

At his stand Alan had an amazing blue gadget – the Equiscan topographer pro – which gave you a 3D image of your horses back. Then you can turn your saddle upside down and place this on top & see the areas of your saddle that don’t touch your horses back.

One of the most common things in saddles is that they bridge – so the front of the saddle touches your horses back, the back of the saddle touches your horses back, but the middle of the saddle (where you sit) doesn’t touch your horses back. There is a gap. This can lead to soreness and also can cause your horse to show a fake outline as he tenses up to lift the middle of his back to bake the saddle fit more comfortably. It’s all not good anyway! You don’t want to be riding in a saddle that bridges.

If you buy a brand new saddle, while you may order the correct width & length for your horse & the correct seat size for you, you’ll get a standard flocking. So for new saddles too you’ll need to get a saddler out to look at it on your horse & adjust the saddle flocking so it fits the back exactly and doesn’t bridge.

Note – excuse any mistakes in this, I’m def not an expert in saddle fitting yet so I might have got some stuff mixed up.

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Alan arrived out at 9am this morning, and did Hamish, Mandy’s horse first. Hamish is an 11 year old Irish cob. First up, Alan lay the Equiscan topographer pro on Hamishs back like a blanket.

Then as it took the shape of his back, Alan then fixed it in place so it was a 3D model of Hamish back. This took about 7-8 minutes in total.

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Then it was fun time! Mandys current general purpose saddle was turned upside down, and this blue device placed on it. For the while middle third of the saddle, it didn’t touch the blue gizmo. It was bridging where Mandy was sitting in the middle of the saddle.

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You can see the bridging in this photo. The blue gismo doesn’t touch the saddle in the middle of the saddle.

Next up – fixing the saddle so it fits. Alan took out a box of flocking, and in about 10 mins the saddle had extra flocking put in where needed and it was time to check it again with the 3D model. HUGE difference – the bridging was gone. Now the Equiscan topographer pro touched the underside of the saddle the whole width down.

Then we back out to the paddock and put the saddle on the horse, and Alan checked it all again. Bridging looked to be gone (we could visually see the bridging a little before on Hamishs back), the width was already correct for Hamish & the length of the saddle was fine too.

Alan sells a lot of new & second hand saddles. So in the future, if Mandy wants to trade in her saddle, because Alan now has a 3D image of Hamishs back, he will know when he gets in a second hand saddle that will fit Hamish exactly.

Next up Alan did Ozzie & talked me through what to look out for when fitting a saddle. Oz came in, and the blue gizmo was put on Ozzie back & then as it lay there, it was locked in place so it was an exact 3D image. A few weeks ago Steve told me my hunter saddle wasn’t helping me. Its design had me sitting back with my legs out front. Like I was in armchair.

I was always in what Buck would say position 3 – the stop / backup position. I do not want to always be in position 3! Sometimes I want my horse to go forwards!

So I went and saw a really expensive new dressage spanish saddle, but it was bridging very badly, so I returned it.

Then I got a second hand one on done deal very cheaply. From what I could see there was very little bridging, and the width looked ok. So I was very curious to see what Alan thought of my purchase!

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Oz poses happily for his photo shoot for Alans records.

The time of reckoning!! The saddle was turned upside down & the blue gismo laid on it. The middle third of the saddle was bridging!! I really didn’t think there was be so much space, based on what I saw looking at the saddle on Ozzie’s back as I had tried to check visually for it when I bought the saddle.

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So I asked Alan what were the options. Because there was a lot of flocking in it already, Alan was instead able to adjust the saddle structure and in about 10 mins again, we put the Equiscan topographer pro on the saddle. Bingo – the bridging was gone.

The leather on the saddle isn’t great, so Alan reckoned it wasn’t an expensive saddle, and actually underneath it was made from vinyl, not leather.

Alan said long term a saddle with leather (and not vinyl) underneath would move more as Oz lifts his back & does lots of supple lateral work. So leather would be better really.

The most common Alan said he sees are bridging & the incorrect width of saddle. A physio Mandy knows said a very common cause of back / body issues is badly fitting saddle.

So it was time to ride Oz again now. Oz was really soft & light. Did backup, FQ 180 one handed, walk normal, slow, fast, trot, trot slow, walk in a straight line with leg yields either way, more yields & bends, saddle & horse felt great. Oz did a great job. The saddle felt really good.

Also he checked a saddle I didn’t use, and it had a broken tree so that will be thrown out now.

Alan also looked at a 3rd much loved older saddle. We got it years ago with a horse. It has now semi disintergrated, so its not usable, but Alan agreed it was a lovely saddle in its day and the seat was actually made out of pigs leather which is really expensive. I gave it to him to use in other saddles for repairs, so it lives on :)

This whole morning was wonderful. Alan is lovely & very patient with the horses. It’s amazing to see exactly how my current saddle didn’t fit Ozzie (when I thought it wasn’t bad!!) & also crazy mad how fast it was to fix it – just a few minutes.

Alan travels countrywide and I would highly recommend him to come out & check if your current saddle is ok.

Really interestingly – Alan said with our 2 newly fitting saddles, Mandy & I could expect our horses to have a little more energy now.

Because the saddles now fit, our horses don’t need to use as much energy to move as they did before. So if they keep using the extra energy for a while, we could see it as excess energy – more than usual. So it’s great, now my horse can do things in a more comfortable manner and with less energy to get the same job done.

Very similar to what I’m hoping to for my body with my Alexander technique lessons – save energy – just use the muscles I need to & then have more energy for longer every day.

Points to note:

1. If you need your saddle fixed or patched up, if you ring Alan we will send you out a postage stamp to send in your saddle for €6.50. You send in the saddle, Alan can patch it up & send it back to you again for €6.50.

2. There are a good few saddle companies that make saddles of all types – from English to western – that use this blue gizmo system. So when you get the 3D image made, Alan writes down all the measurements from this. So you can send these numbers to these European saddle companies who will make a saddle that actually fits your horse.

3. Alans website: Alan travels country wide to fit saddles & help with your saddle fitting for €30 travel cost & fees.

4. If you want a new saddle & need exact stats for your horse to order it, you want your current saddle checked at your house with the Equiscan topographer pro & fixed on the spot, or you want your saddle repaired in the post quickly – call Alan. You’re in great hands.

5. The Equiscan topographer pro info for those abroad who want to try & find it. More info here.

Buck Brannaman in Dublin, Ireland – 2014 report.

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By , August 11, 2014 4:05 pm

BUCK clinic notes, RDS Dublin 2014

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Watching Buck in Dublin was a privilege. I am sure I have got some things wrong below, so please forgive me :) If you want to discuss more, visit our Irish community on facebook. Buck worked with a good few showjumpers & some western riders over 5 days, for about 1.5-2 hours daily, so here is an overview of the exercises he mainly used during the visit.


For all of these exercises to work – or at least the ones involving the feet! – you have to direct the horse as the specific foot is just leaving the ground. Get it at the wrong time and you can trip a horse. One way to figure this out is to get someone to watch you. As you ride, shout ‘now’ when you think a specific foot is just leaving. Then get your human helper to shout ‘now’ at the correct time & see if its the same.


Walk a circle, you’re looking for softness through the body and the correct flexion. If you’re horse is looking out of the arena you are doing it wrong! Ask for a HQ yield so the horse is facing you, then a FQ yield so the horse is now back on the circle in the opposite direction. In HQ yield the back feet should cross over, one in front of the other. Going from halt to walk, Buck outstreched his arm to the side with slack still in the rope. If the horse didn’t move Buck did not pull. Instead he drove the horse using the stick & flag. Big lesson here – do not pull on the rope. To ask for a halt / HQ yield, it should be also with a flat open palm in the end result.


This is the second exercise Buck does. Soft feel, then he is looking for an untroubled backup. Do not pull your horses back.


Sit in saddle. Very gently pick up reins. If horse yields a fraction, release. Note – release = VERY loose reins! Make it obvious for the horse. If horse does not yield or leans, just hold gently, do not increase the pressure. Give the horse a little time to figure it out. After this gets better, pick up a soft feel and release when the horse begins to move backwards. Buck was also keen on rocking the horse back a step or two each time they got to halt.


Do very slow walks. Bucks slow walk was incredible. Literally the horse had 1 foot up in the air and was waiting for the instruction on where to put it! Then very slow trots. Then slow canter at pace of a walk. Buck reckoned if you really work on the slow walk, this is the foundation for a very collected canter. Sounds fab.


Do serpentines with the reins connected to the feet. Slow it down and you’ll have a foot in the air.


A teardrop is a long skinny figure of 8. (Apologies I’m not certain I got this next bit 100% correct)

1. Teardrop with loose/no reins, so your legs directing the mvt – in walk and trot
2. Teardrop with soft feel – just ask for 1 step first and build it up – in walk and trot
3. Teardrop with leg yield – in walk and trot
4. Add change of flexion half way through (ready for canter departs)
5. Lope to half way point of teardrop, back to trot, canter off again.
6. Canter all of it with flying changes.

This is a great exercise to fix shoulders that are falling in around bends.


Walk, trot, canter and gallop with a loose rein. You are only allowed to start to collect your horse AFTER you can do this!


Problems with right canter lead, do backups to the left a lot, head to left, hips to right.
Right lead problem = left back circle issue and hq to right and fq to left will also have problems.


In backup, the pair that’s longer is the canter lead. In walk & trot, the pair that stretch forward more are the lead. You can adjust these if you need to.


If canter to halt is bouncy, instead practise from trot to halt, sliding on each back leg. Thus you’ve got to know your footfall.


Do 2 steps of FQ yield with the front leg crossing behind, and then step #3 with the front leg crossing in front.


Backup in circles. To the right means the horses head is tipped to the right and the HQ go to the left.


If your horse is operating from trouble stress or self preservation, you’re horse won’t remember work from one day to the next. BUCK

Buck also referenced his dislike of gadgets, martingales, tiedowns, gimmicks, spurring horses a lot, etc. I won’t repeat this as I know the readers here are educated beyond that :)


Buck was riding a showjumper (young I think) he had borrowed. The change in that horse from day 1 (braced, jammed, green as) to day 5 (totally different horse, soft, comfortable, happy, doing magic stuff with Buck) was a masterclass in itself.


For me the most beautiful moment was on the last day. 3 riders came into the arena, but only 2 on horseback. The rider of the last horse was afraid to do this & so walked in with her horse, on foot. Buck spent the whole lesson with her horse. At the start he was terrified.. Buck began by asking him to walk in a circle quickly and yield both ends. Instead the horse reared up, shook his head like he was about to strike Buck, tried to run Buck over, Went backwards, was stiff as a plank and galloped about in a panic.

In about 5 minutes of Buck doing magical stuff you still had a lot of physical stiffness but you could already see the horses mind had changed.

In 10 minutes the whole body looked different and the pulling back and rearing had about gone.

In 15 minutes this horse was totally different – mentally this was a different horse, she looked comfortable and happy, with beautiful bend, a relaxed walk, yields in front & behind, and was now ignoring the huge tarp flapping on the grandstand – something that 10 mins previously had caused it to go from halt to canter in terror.

At one stage, Buck remarked that this is the hard part of his job. This horse knows now that she has a friend. And tomorrow, she will probably look for that friend. But Buck will be gone.

Buck did such a beautiful job, it was an honor to be present. As the horse was circling him beautifully in walk Buck said – ‘This horse can’t believe I’ve offering her such a nice deal’. She was a very sensitive horse he explained. I swear at that stage I had a tear in my eye.

It got even better…

Buck then asked the rider to sit up on the horse & be a passenger. Buck still had the lead rope. So the girl did. Buck asked the horse again to circle and do a HQ and then a FQ. The girl experienced this, and then Buck explained how she could ride like this… for the HQ, put her inside leg back a bit, and then to move the FQ, put her outside leg forward a bit.

And the next magic bit… Buck asked the girl to pick up a soft feel. So she gently picked up the reins and with a contact, but still with visible slack in the reins, Buck asked her just to wait as she was, until the horse softened. And he did – in just a second or two. Then she was asked to release properly. Not just a token release.

Plus – (as I think of it) never wallop your horses neck. Rub them instead.

Then they did the soft feel at halt a few more times. Magic. Then the BIG one… asking for a step of backup from an untroubled horse.

The girl picked up the reins gently. Buck asked her to stay like that until the horse went a fraction backwards. The first time there was a thought, and they gave a release. Very soon, and beautifully done, there was a 2-3 inch step backwards with the front foot. Buck said – ‘This 3 inch step might not look like much to a lot of you. But this was a 3 inch step backwards from an UNTROUBLED horse’.

Love love love. What a great clinic. Huge thanks to Fiona S & the Dublin Show for persuading Buck to come & show us how things should be done. Please come back next year Buck!

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