Birdie and I had our first outing last weekend and spoiler alert, it went AMAZING. I am so proud of my little girl and how she dealt with everything. She really did so well. I’m not going to recount every detail of the day but I thought I might write about some of the main things that happened.
I should start by saying that Kaipaki Horsemanship is run by Murray Riches, based out of Ohaupo, Waipa. He was the clinician I talked about in my Equifest post here. His property is just out of Hamilton so super handy for me. Just to be straight up, Murray is a friend of mine and I’m totally biased towards him. But he is also an amazing horseman whose techniques I really respect.
Murray put the word out about the clinic a few weeks ago and asked if I wanted to come. I said I would love to but since Birdie doesn’t float yet but I’d love to come to watch. Instead, Murray offered to come over the night before and load her and then she could have a sleepover at his place and be ready to go in the morning. Which was so kind of him.
So after work on Friday, I rushed over to my grazing to get my float hooked up and the truck packed and waited for Murray to arrive. Instead of bringing Birdie down from her paddock ready to be loaded, I decided to leave her be until Murray got there and could see her herd-boundness. To be fair to Birdie, she was pretty good this time but it did help to have him there giving her some encouragement from behind.
Once she was down, Murray took over and started to load her. I won’t go into the tiny details about how he works, a lot of it is my Equifest post, but it comes down to making the right thing easy and the wrong thing hard and giving a release as soon as the horse makes a step in the right direction. This basically cumulates into asking Birdie to move forward, rewarding her with a release as soon as she gives a try and chilling with her in that space so she knows that this place is a easy, chilled space to be.
It took a few back and forths but she was on within a few minutes. We put the ramp up and with a few kicks from Birdie, I was on my way to Ohaupo. Praying that Birdie would not be too stressy on the journey. 30 mins later we were at the property and unloading Birdie into a yard before moving her into a paddock next to a friend and giving her some hay and her feed. I left her relatively happy, knowing if she was going to do something silly that at least Murray would be the one to deal with it and I wouldn’t have to haha.
I was up early the next morning to head back to the property and give Birdie a good groom. I hooked the float back up and parked up in the paddock where the rest of the participants were going to be parking. This was Birdie’s first time being tied up next to a float for a long period of time and me expecting her to behave. This is something she’s going to need to do when we go to shows so this was a relatively quiet environment that she could learn how to do this in. She honestly did so well. She was a bit antsy at the beginning but the rest of the time she was tied up, she was a champ. Ate her hay, drank her water and just chilled out next to the float. I was so proud of her.
We started the day with a bit of theory, with Murray talking about how the horse’s nervous system works and what state of mind we want the horse to be in to enable us to teach it something. Then it was onto ground work. This was what I was really looking forward to for Birdie, she is still learning her manners and learning how not to push you around so any help we could get for this would be great. There was about 8 of us on the clinic so we all spread out around the arena with our horses of all sorts and sizes including a brand new broken in baby, a little pony and some large half clydies. And my gorgeous OTTB of course.
The first exercise had us starting with establishing our personal space and asking the horse to exist outside our space. Nervous horses often want to be in your space (or don’t acknowledge your space at all) so getting them okay with holding their own space is important. We did this by asking them to back up and chill out away from you. One of Murray’s favourite mottos is “Ask as loud as you need to but as quiet as you can” so we first started with giving them a cue, mine is ‘Back up’ with a shake of the lead rope, and then amplifying that until the make a try in the right direction. It took Birdie a few good tries to get her to step back and I had to be really loud with my cues at the start but by the end of it, she moved back and held her own space with a quiet word and shake of the lead. I was so stoaked with her ability to handle herself in this new environment with a bunch of strange horses around.
Next it was on to putting new buttons on the horse to have them move their shoulders and hindquarters away when asked. Murray showed us the cues and we practiced until they had got it. Birdie was awesome again with this. Really chilled out but listening and able to keep her attention on me.
By then it was time for lunch which was a ham and cheese scroll from the bakery and a muesli bar. For Birdie it was a small feed, some hay and a little of that same muesli bar. When I first got Birdie, she wouldn’t eat treats. I tried the old favourites of apples and carrots but she was having none of it but a couple of weeks ago she ate a carrot one of my grazing mates offered her so I thought I would give the muesli bar a try. She sniffed it for a long, long time and then finally ate it. She did her funny lip thing she does whenever she tastes something new and then looked for more. What a cutie. She chilled out next to the float for the rest of the lunch.
After lunch it was ridden work. Most of the ridden work involved getting the horses to loosen up and flex their necks from one side to the other so they better use their bodies while being ridden. Birdie found this difficult. I really think I need to get someone to come and do some body work on her for one but she also found the concept hard. She obviously has been taught that moving her head means moving her body which is not the right aid. Moving a horse should be moving the head PLUS putting the leg on. We finally got there but it took quite a few times doing it for it to stick.
Once we had the flexion we added leg, getting the horses to step up under themselves. Birdie got this one fine haha so we kept going back to just the flexion to remind her of that part. We then tried doing it while moving in a straight line e.g. a shoulder in. Birdie found this confusing and we probably only got a few good steps of it. I decided to stop trying after that because she was getting pretty worked up over it while having all the horses move around her. It still was a good ride.
We ended the day at about 3pm. I had had some good conversations with some of the other riders throughout the day so we swapped facebook names and agreed to ride together one day. After everyone had left, Murray worked on Birdie’s float loading some more. While he was doing it and watching her react to his cues, he mentioned that he thinks she is very sensitive (my thoughts exactly) and probably was bullied through a lot of things in the past since she really takes a while to come down a level to chill out and digest what she is learning. Once he had her going on and off the float pretty well, he got me to give it a go and work on my techniques. She did really well so we took her on and off a few times before it was time to leave properly. I said goodbye to Ryan and Murray and toodled off home.
She did really well the whole trip back until we were back at the grazing. She saw me through the window as I got out to open the gate and started calling like crazy. Once we were up at the sheds where her friends happened to be tied up, they started calling back and all she wanted to do was get out of the float. One of my grazing mates came to help me get her unloaded since the sounds of her kicks were resonating for miles. I made sure to warn her to stay off the side while she did the ramp and unhooked the bum chain which was great because Birdie didn’t stop the kicking until she was backing up. Apparently it was quite a show. Oh well, she did great the rest of the time.
I put her to bed and left totally buzzing and ready for a hot shower and something to eat. Kaipaki Horsemanship is going to have more clinics coming up so hopefully I can get along to more! In the meantime, we’ll be working on some of the skills we put into practice at this one.