Training Nymeria – Part Two

TRAINING NYMERIA
by Celia Holmes

Like most horse addicts I have always longed to be a much better rider than I am.

In my dreams I was always a sort of cross between Monty Roberts and Charlotte Dujardin, so both a horse whisperer and  an expert in the saddle.

But reality was a very different scenario and now retired I am simply grateful that I can continue to enjoy my riding and indulge my love of horses.

I do, however, really appreciate the privilege of watching an expert at work and I am sure you will agree that here at the trekking centre we are very lucky to have one in the form of owner Lisa Gregory.

Most of the horses here have been personally trained by Lisa from their youngest days and we all know what a pleasure they are to ride. Any new arrival is greeted with great excitement – we can’t wait to see them out on the Chase when training is complete.

One newbie that has generated more excitement than most is Nymeria, bought by Lisa last summer and the full sister of her spectacular Andalusian lead horse Pele.

Cannock Chase Trekking Centre, Nymeria

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nymeria is stunningly beautiful but quite sensitive and her training process has proved to be a real test of skill and patience for Lisa, so it was a real treat a few days ago to be invited, in the company of my friend Marie Twomey, to go down to the indoor arena and watch a training session.

And it was an eye-opener for both of us. I hadn’t really seen Nymeria up close since she first arrived as a nervous and flighty girl, clearly feeling overwhelmed by her move to a busy equestrian centre.

So Marie and I were expecting some fireworks! But what we saw instead was the reward for patience, kindness and regular training sessions. Nymeria is now a calm and intelligent young lady.

We were lucky to be witnessing training on a breakthrough day. Lisa had sat on Nymeria only four times up to then, but this was the first time she was able to ride her independently, applying pressure with her legs and taking up a light contact with the reins.

With yard manager Sonia Aston on hand to help from the ground Lisa began the session  by backing and turning Nymeria, all on voice command, and then Sonia helped to attatch the two long reins to her bridle.

Lisa began working her on the long reins, explaining that it had taken patience to persuade her to work calmly, as at first Nymeria was afraid and trying to run away.

The mare walked quietly on both reins, with plenty of encouragement and praise from Lisa, and was then confident enough to step up to a nice working trot and on into canter. She has beautiful paces!

 

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She cantered freely on both reins and then Lisa pulled her up and asked for rein back on a voice command. Nymeria obeyed immediately. The stirrups were anchored with a strap under her belly, so Lisa was working on her steering. If she applied pressure on the right rein, the left stirrup lay against Nymeria’s side and vice versa, getting her used to the feeling of future leg aids.

Lisa removed the long reins and training switched to natural horsemanship and the join-up technique. Nymeria was turned loose and willingly followed Lisa as she walked around the arena, stopping regularly to ask again for rein back on a voice command. All went according to plan and there was obviously a close bond between them.

 

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Lisa using natural horsemanship during Nymeria’s training

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

They moved into the centre of the arena and Sonia stepped forward with lots of praise and cuddles for Nymeria  as Lisa climbed the mounting block and placed her foot in the stirrup. She leaned over before mounting and sitting sideways, always talking to and stroking the horse, before she dismounted. Then she mounted again with her feet only slightly in the stirrups and Sonia led them away.

 

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Nymeria was clearly very trusting of Sonia and so the three of them walked around the school, circling and changing direction regularly. Lisa explained that she was not applying any leg pressure yet.

It all went so well that Lisa felt ready to push forward. She put her feet properly in the stirrups and began to use her legs to encourage Nymeria forward, although Sonia was still leading the horse.

The process was accompanied by praise and stroking from both Sonia and Lisa, who explained that the mare felt completely relaxed and at ease with the training so far.

Lisa then took over the steering with Sonia only lightly holding the lead rein for security before she dismounted and began lunging Nymeria. The stirrups were left loose so they could swing against her sides to get her used to the feeling.

This went so well that Lisa felt the time was right to remount and remove the lead rein. For the first time in her life Nymeria was being ridden independently. At first Sonia walked quite close as a security blanket, but was soon able to stand quietly in the centre as Nymeria was clearly so calm and confident.

Cannock chase trekking centre, Nymeria

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lisa was now able to use her legs and heels to urge the horse forward and was clearly delighted at the response she received, explaining that the whole process had been much calmer than when she first mounted Pele.

Nymeria took the whole process in her stride and Lisa was then able to start picking up a contact on the reins, which the mare accepted willingly. Lisa walked circles, changed the rein several times and even backed up before deciding to finish the training session on what was clearly a high note. It had been a fascinating process to witness.

Lisa’s verdict? Sheer delight at the progress she had made.

Mine and Marie’s verdict? We have always looked at Nymeria and thought “too much for us, we won’t be riding her.”

But having seen her calm and thoughtful attitude in training our “no” has become a “maybe”. If we can channel our inner Monty and Charlotte!

P.S: And the treats continue!  Marie and I had the pleasure and privilege of helping escort Nymeria on her first two hour trek.

What an experience!  Nymeria had only been out for a gentle Chase walk with Lisa the previous day, but she stepped up to the challenge.  Crossing the road, splashing through puddles and meeting mountain bikes with no fear at all.

We expected a steady walk but Lisa thought differently and soon we were bowling along on Nymeria’s first ever canter on Cannock Chase.  Several more followed with not a problem.  What an addition to the CCTC team she is going to be!

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Nymeria’s comfort blanket, Chase, keeping close on her first 2 hour trek.

cannock chase trekking centre, nymeria

Confidently cantering alone on her first ever Cannock Chase canter!

Training Nymeria – Part One

TRAINING NYMERIA – part one
By Lisa Gregory

Everyone knows that I train all the young horses here at the trekking centre myself, and people often ask me how long the training process takes.

My honest answer has to be “I haven’t got a clue!”

Because when I start working with an unbroken youngster I genuinely don’t know how long it will be before I can ride that horse out on Cannock Chase for the first time.

Some take months, others weeks and I have been lucky enough to have had a few that were so good I hopped on after a couple of hours and rode them away.

Training Nymeria is a case in point. In some ways I feel that she has taken quite a long time, but suddenly she has made such quick progress that she has had her first little outing on the Chase and I am delighted to report all went according to plan.

In case you have missed the story so far, Nymeria is a beautiful five-year-old PRE Andalusian, the full sister of my fabulous lead horse Pele. I bought her last summer to train as a trekking centre horse and she arrived here from the stud where she was born and the herd she had lived with all her life.

I said at the time that she was like a country girl transplanted to the big city. Everything was a shock to her senses. I needed the help of my trusted equine friend Chase to get her to load on the horse box and he ended up bodily pushing her into her stable.

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She had never been stabled before and despite Chase’s calming presence next door she quickly became stressed. But that relationship with Chase proved invaluable later, as you will see.

So I turned Nymeria out into the field with her brother and the rest of the herd and that calming environment and the routine of life with our boys and girls meant I was soon able to begin the training process.

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Pele greeting his sister

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Pele & Nymeria enjoying her arrival at the trekking centre

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I found immediately that she was quite sensitive and routine has been crucial. When I am getting her ready for a training session I always do things in the same order and that has reassured her and also disciplined her. The first thing I do in her stable is put on her training halter and everything else follows on.

The biggest issue has been putting her bridle on and I have no idea why it has been a problem. At first she was fine, but then she started backing into a corner and I knew that if I pushed her it would become a problem.

I had to think out of the box and I came up with the idea of doing it off Chase’s back while in the arena. I would be leaning down to her instead of reaching up and she would have the reassuring presence of a steady horse she knew and trusted to give her confidence.

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It had to be worth a try – and I was right! Now I can stand on a small mounting block in the stable to put her bridle on – but she still likes to have lots of kisses and cuddles while we do it. Tacking up is done slowly and I always lower the saddle on to her back with my hand underneath so it never bangs on her.

Chase has given Nymeria such reassurance that when I started long reining her I did it from his back. I had never seen this done before but I had an instinct it would help her as she was very flighty and wanted to run away from the long reins.

 

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In fact, it proved to be such a successful and stress free way of doing it I think I will use Chase again to help me when I start training Montana.

Nymeria’s skittishness stopped as soon as I started training her from Chase and now she focuses in the school and is not easily distracted. She is very relaxed.

My yard manager Sonia Aston or another member of my staff is always with me in the arena and together we give her lots of praise and reassurance throughout the training sessions.

Our long reining work has meant Nymeria’s steering was eventually in place and her join up with me is perfect. Once those were there I knew it was time to start laying over her and getting her used to feeling my weight.

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The process of mounting her has been much easier than with her brother. She is a quick learner and very smart. Once I was on her I found her to be settled and relaxed and I stroke her and talk to her all the time. I always have my music playing and I think that keeps both of us relaxed.

Once I had sat on her several times, with Sonia leading her for just a few steps, I could feel that she was ready to step up to a higher level and the next training session was a breakthrough day.

We were able to walk circles around the school, with Sonia leading Nymeria, and it was not long before she was able to step further and further away. Nymeria remained calm and focused without her trusted friend alongside her and soon I was able to ride her independently for the first time.

I could use my legs – also for the first time – to gently urge her forward and then I picked up a gentle contact on the reins. The priority is always to prevent an explosion, but that never felt in the least bit possible.

I was so proud of her and so pleased with her progress. This was only the fourth time I had ridden her and what is really rewarding is seeing her now compared to the skittish young filly she used to be.

Long term it is better to take as much time as you need when training a young horse. You should never rush and I will always take as long as is necessary. I want Nymeria to be a lovely horse for my clients to ride.

cannock chase trekking centre, nymeria cannock chase trekking centre, nymeria

The Power of the Herd

THE POWER OF THE HERD – Now we have our new Cannock Chase Trekking Centre website up and running I decided it was time I started writing my weekly blog again. And this week presented the perfect opportunity.

Anyone who enjoys visiting our ranch bistro knows how entertaining and interesting it is to watch the interactions and relationships between our horses.

Our team have a very natural life, living together as a herd with a distinct pecking order, and the power of the herd has a major influence on their behaviour. I often harness that power when I am introducing a new horse or training a youngster.

It can be a major training tool and it was demonstrated this week with our newest arrival, our five-year-old pure bred Andalusian. She is my trek leader Pele’s full sister and we have named her Nymeria.
Nymeria

She has always lived on the stud where she was born, never going beyond her birthplace and living a quiet life in the field.

Once arriving at the trekking centre we stable a new horse so we can carry out worming and health checks. This helps us start to bond with them before beginning their training.

But in Nymeria’s case she became very stressed. The big world outside was a scary place and she had never even been stabled before. She began to withdraw into the corner as if it was her sanctuary.

Three days after her arrival I decided to turn her out with the herd. One reason was to allow her to see and understand her surroundings. She is like a country girl arriving in the city. This is a big, busy trekking centre, she needed the company of other horses to help process this sensory overload.

I have started my natural horsemanship with her and she was starting to bond with me but I decided she would not relax properly until she joined the herd.

Joining the Herd
She was stabled alongside our lovely boy Skye, who is so friendly and laid back. We don’t just kick a new horse out with them all. We carry out a careful introduction procedure and first we put her in the field with Skye, her new friend and comfort blanket.

Then we added her big brother Pele and after ignoring each other for a little while they went off for a gallop and a play.

nymeria and pele Nymeria and Pele

We continued the process by turning out boy, girl, boy, girl. We also find it helps to first turn out those of similar ages and the group slowly grew in size. If alarmed she ran back to Skye and she soon found she liked Kitty. Interestingly Kitty is our other newest arrival and still bottom of the pecking order. So Nymeria clearly recognised a kindred spirit.

It’s incredible to watch. The other horses were calm and assertive, but not aggressive. They put her in her place with their body language.

Nymeria cctc_herd

She won’t be allowed to fully integrate for a while. The mares will keep her at least 20 metres away until they are ready to make friends with her. They patrol and even operate a shift system like armed guards. One of them is always on watch to keep an eye on her.

She will learn to go out and come in with the gang and days of play, learning and interactions will expend her energy. The other horses will teach her that this is a safe place with nothing to be afraid of.

cctc_herd cctc_herd

The power of the herd will have helped me to begin her training to become a trekking horse. Exciting times ahead for this beautiful girl!

Youngsters join the team!

This has been such an exciting summer here at the trekking centre – not least because we have welcomed three new additions to our fabulous team of horses.
All three are gorgeous youngsters full of potential and I am sure we are going to have years of fun with them.

Pele

I bought PELE in April from an Andalucian stud. He is a five-year-old  full-bred Spanish Andalucian – the best of the best and his sire was Spanish champion.
He was an exciting find. I hit it off straightaway with Helen who owns the stud and she has his full brothers and sisters and lots of young stock. We are looking to form a bit of a partnership so there may be more arrivals in the future.
We were looking for another big horse and I fell in love with him straightaway. I would normally push on immediately with training an unbroken young horse but because of our trekking centre redevelopment it has taken me a long time with Pele.
And in a way that has proved better for him. He is quite sensitive and it has benefitted him to take everything slowly. I have done lots of playing with him in the arena, loose schooling and long reining and just spending hours together.
It took me days to lean over him and then get on his back. But when it came to it he didn’t mind at all. Now we are working on his extensions and he is looking amazing in the arena.
He eats up the terrain on the Chase, he will walk through every puddle and stream, ignores every mountain bike and is going to be a massive asset to the centre.
He has settled in very well with the herd and has a best friend in Summer. They are never far apart.
The only downside is he is prone to sweet itch. But with good management we have controlled it and he is growing a lovely long mane.
I am getting to the point now when everyone else wants to ride him – and I really want to keep him for myself! But I think the time is coming when I’ll have to share him with the rest of the world.

Sahara

Our next exciting youngster is SAHARA. She is a pink-papered pure bred Oldenburg and came here as a yearling foal with her mother Saminca from the lady who sold me our fantastic stallion Zidane.
Because Sahara looked a little backward and clearly had a lot of growing to do I have left her until five years old to train her.
She has proved very different to the sensitive Pele. I think because she has been brought up here and is comfortable with her place in the herd she is very relaxed and doesn’t have a care in the world.
She hasn’t batted an eye at anything in her training, and now she just needs to go out and learn her job. I think she will turn out to be very much like Autumn – despite being as finely bred as Saminca and Zidane.

Dakota

The home-bred DAKOTA is probably my most exciting youngster because he has come from my own personal horse Zidane.
I always dreamed of having a trekking centre and a stud so that I could breed from my own lovely mares.
And Dakota, now four, is the start of that, the first foal from my Dutch Warmblood stallion. His mother was Nicoh, a Grade A Appaloosa and he was the most exciting baby, born coloured and spotted. He was spectacular.
From day one he was very much like his dad in nature and very bright and alert. I can’t believe the time to train him has come round so fast.
He has taken everything in his stride so far and is proving very bold and trainable. I think from the way he moves that he will be quite special. He floats and his paces are excellent.
I know a lot of the clients are watching him closely but he is not ready yet. He is not quite finished and he is something for everyone to look forward to next year.
All three are lovely exciting horses, beautifully bred and beautiful looking. They have so much potential. Roll on 2017!

Larosa’s Pregnancy – Welsh section D Mare First Foal

She’s a real beauty, I’m sure you all agree.

Of course I’m talking about our new arrival, little Montana, whose lovely looks and cheeky personality have already earned her a massive fan club.

I kept you all in touch with events on the night of her birth via our Facebook page and it attracted such huge interest that I thought I would share with you all my foal diary.

I always like to keep a diary when one of my mares is in foal so I can keep a record of all the changes as the weeks go by. Then I can be there to make sure that both mum and baby are absolutely safe throughout the labour and birth.

Larosa – Lola to all her friends – is our lovely bay Welsh Section D mare. She was in foal to our coloured stallion Zidane, a first pregnancy for her, and the baby was due on May 20th.

She was scanned in foal in July 2014 and continued to work up to December when she started her maternity leave. On March 10th she moved into her foaling box and we began camera monitoring on April 27th.

Here’s how the last few weeks progressed:

April 28th: For a maiden mare Lola has a huge baby bump and has already changed shape behind.

April 29th: Lola is quiet in the field during the day but has started to become restless in the stable at night.

May 3rd: Lola has started kicking out at her belly and rubbing her tail, but has not really developed an udder yet.

May 4th: Standing quietly but scratching her back legs together and flashing her tail frequently – I think the baby’s kicking!

May 5th: Shaking her head and biting her stomach tonight.

May 6th: She’s doing what I call mooching in her bed – making a nest.

May 9th: Rubbing her tail and pushing against the stable – I find mares do this when their foals are active. Lola’s udder is developing and she has a tiny bit of wax on her teats. She is becoming very restless and walking her stable and stamping a lot, signs that she is becoming increasingly uncomfortable.

May 10th: This morning Lola didn’t want to go out in the field – unlike her! But we turned her out as I find it relaxes the mare. She’s in the field next to Zidane which seems to settle both of them. We’ve seen her rolling more than normal in the paddock.


May 11th: I’ve spent the last couple of nights watching her closely as maiden mares can be sneaky and she’s showing me all the signs of labour! I’ve now plaited and bandaged her tail and left the stable light on.

May 12th: This morning Lola is still reluctant to go out to the field and her udder is very full.

May 12th – 5pm: She has now completely waxed up on her teats and is dripping milk. Foaling should happen tonight!

7.30pm: The baby is either kicking or very big – contractions are happening!

8.45pm: She’s digging her bed (nesting)! Her back end spasms underneath her four times.

8.52pm: Eating some hay.

8.53pm: Mooching her bed and digging again.

9.41pm: I can see on the monitor that the white bag is visible. This is now when I can go in to her, never before as you can interfere with the birth. I’ve learned that in the past! Once the bag is visible it’s the point of no return for the mare, the baby is coming.

10.03pm: I can see two legs and a little nose but she seems like a big foal so I give Lola a little help and our new baby is safely delivered.

10.30pm: She’s standing for the first time, a very strong little girl.

As we always expected, Lola is proving to be the ideal mother. Zidane has had a good look at his new daughter and is very proud.

Mare and foal are now out in the field in the daytime, enjoying the sunshine, and Montana is loving testing out her long legs.

Larosa’s Pregnancy – Welsh section D Mare First Foal

We had lots of suggestions for names, following our Chase Stud theme of American states. I eventually had a shortlist of five and finally went for Montana.

It seems to suit her perfectly and fits very well with her brothers and sisters, Dakota, Oregon, Indiana and Arizona.

I’m sure you all wish her a warm and loving welcome to the trekking centre.

23.20: She’s feeding from mom.

New Arrival Jake Fits The Bill Here At The Centre

We have an exciting arrival here at the centre and he’s everything I look for when I’m seeking out a new horse.

Our new boy is Jake, who has joined our herd from Derbyshire, where he was living with his breeder. He is rising five, an Irish Draught cross and is 16.1hh. He is still growing right now and I think we’ll get a couple more inches out of him when he’s had a summer on our good grass.

All my horses come from private homes. Some we find from recommendations and we also keep an eye on horses for sale adverts and the internet.

I’m from a showjumping background and I still go for a certain type of horse. I like to see a straight action, a deep girth, short back and a pretty head – preferably with some sort of distinguishing mark like a star or a blaze.

If they are too heavily built they tend to suffer from ailments like sidebones and ringbone and you don’t get the longevity with them; too fine and you end up with soundness problems. I also like a horse that is forward going rather than quiet.

I want to see a kind eye. A lot depends on the feel I get from them. I know instantly if this horse is something I can work with – I have to fall in love with them.

And I did fall in love with Jake. I could see he was going to pick things up quickly. He had been lightly backed over a few months but had done nothing since October. When that has happened with a horse I like to go back to basics.

So when I brought him home to Cannock Chase I began the process as if he had not been backed at all. That way I will give him the head carriage I like and teach him my way of going.

Within an hour of arriving he had done his first photo-shoot for my yard manager Lucy’s LVR Equine horse and rider clothing company. He took to posing like a professional model – just like his new owner!

After 24 hours I had done the groundwork with him, loose schooled him and got on him. Since then I’ve been taking him out on the Chase and so far he has taken everything in his stride.

Ultimately I want a safe and forward going horse that is going to be happy in the job. I think Jake will be exactly that.

I predict he will be a popular favourite with our clients. Not only is he flashy looking and a very handsome boy, but he is also a very comfortable ride. He will have many happy years here with us.