34. My Girl Lollypop

Blog 34 – “My Girl Lollypop”

Via email Lola's owner, Nat informed me that Lola had been bred in the UK by people who breed a lot of showjumpers, but that they only kept those that were going to make it at the highest level.  

She was put into professional showjumping training as a 3 year old but didn’t cope with the pressure so at 4 she was sent to a dressage yard instead.  

Although the "discipline" changed the pressure did not and so Lola's undesirable behaviours (rearing, bolting, plunging) continued.  As I understand it someone at that yard knew of Nat and when the breeder decided to give up on her she suggested the owner might give her to Nat rather than anything else... 

Understanding that Lola was highly stressed and that she had been rushed Nat took Lola's shoes off, introduced her to clicker training and turned her away – good woman.  

However Nat now felt that Lola was, "Too much horse for her" and hoped that I would enjoy the things about her that she did not.

When we arrived at Nat's yard it was pouring with rain, Nat took us to Lola's stable which was in a large barn with other stables, space for storage and small, dusty indoor school.  

It was NOT love at first sight.  

Lola’s stable was Moulinexed to hell, she was unsettled, rolling her eyes and rushing around the box.  

I could see that she was all front end, with very over-developed pectoral muscles and that both, more one than the other, of her front legs turned in. 

But Lola was very friendly towards Nat and when we went into the stable she calmed down a lot.  

Nat asked if I wanted to see her move in the indoor school.  

Lola was very keen to leave the stable, was turned loose and had a good hoon around the small space showing a spectacular combination of dishing and plaiting with her front legs, tripping a couple of times over her own feet and eventually settled into a sort of trot.  On observing her calming down Nat clicked Lola, who stopped and took her treat.  

While this may seem like a good strategy the potential problem is that the horse might think that the doolally part, as well as the calming down part is also being reinforced building a “*loop” which includes the undesirable behaviour (running crazy) with the desirable behaviour (trotting calmly), this was evidenced by Lola repeating the whole loop after having taken her treat.  

(NB.  Some horses do need a good run around before they can concentrate, particularly if they have been stabled and if your horse benefits from this by all means go ahead.  Other horses, once they start running stimulate their adrenal glands and have a hard time calming down (Lola), and of course there’s the risk of injury, so know your horse and what works best for them. If you notice you have trained a “loop” which is not useful to you or your horse you will need to “clean” that “loop” up, more to follow.)  

* I am (once again) indebted to my friend Alex Kurland for introducing me to the concept of “Looping Training” more details about Alex here.)

Nat asked whether I would like to ride Lola and told me that there was a larger outdoor school that we could use.  She had already told me that she was not prepared to ride Lola herself and having lost a friend who went to try a horse that she had not seen ridden first I thought that it was unlikely that I would ride her.  

However I have “pre-flight checks” (in-hand explorations to help me gauge whether or not a horse is happy to be ridden) and agreed that we could take her outside but that I might not ride.  

By now it had stopped raining but the arena was flooded and I enjoyed Lola’s “Let’s get going” attitude as together we sploshed through puddles in-hand.  

I learned that she was fearful of the bit, any kind of contact and she would tuck her head in to evade the contact, fall onto her shoulders and rush.  

However if I acted on the noseband instead she could tolerate it and put I “whoa” as a verbal cue on an extremely high rate of reinforcement.  Using this and other strategies she calmed down and started to mirror me so I took her to the mounting block.  

She positioned herself beautifully but nodded her head up and down vigorously – communication.  

So chunking it down and using advance and retreat, going between the mounting block and back to in-hand work, when and only when I felt we were both happy that I could get on that’s what I did. 

What an experience, immediately I felt an extraordinary connection with this horse and was overwhelmed, it over-wrote any of the concerns I had about her conformation or action or my emotional readiness for another horse.  

After a few circuits of the school I whoaed Lola, who came to a stop and I found that I was in tears.  

Poor Nat, who was standing by the gate with Chris said, “It’s ok if you don’t like her.”  

I couldn’t speak, but I heard Chris tell her, “It’s ok, just leave her alone.”

Lola meets Toby at Ashen E.C.
Eventually I composed myself enough to dismount and led Lola to the gate. 

“We’re not going home with an empty horsebox then.” said Chris.  We didn't.

Next time, "Doing Right for doing Wrong" published 4th June.

For those searching online for more “instructional” resources than offered in these blogs please make use of my video downloads www.ashenec.co.uk

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