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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!