Winter motivation for you all

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Only got 4 poles/jumps? No worries, try these exercises out at home. You don’t need to always jump big to train for the questions that course designers ask at shows.
Pinwheel of Death aka Circle of Death – terrible nickname for a great exercise!!! The poles can be placed on a 20m diameter circle to start with, and decrease once you build collection and balance with your horse. This means that the inside edge of each pole should be about 54ft apart on either side of the circle. Start with poles on the ground and then try making them cavaletti height (approx. 12-18 inches). You should probably get about 4 strides between each pole, but don’t focus on the strides but rather the rhythm and bend and jumping from center to center. You will soon figure out what is the optimum number of strides for your horse that will enable you to smoothly jump each in the same rhythm and not run past the next one (if this happens, you are going too fast and/or not keeping the bend over the pole/cavaletti).
Switchbacks aka Zig-zag line: These poles/cavaletti can be placed end to end at about right angles to each other (just make sure you have left enough room for the rollback from the arena fence). Plan your rollback before getting to each pole/cavaletti (create the new bend and have your legs in the correct position to ask for the change over the pole) and remember to use your eyes to rollback on a straight line perpendicular to the next pole. Maintain a quiet, steady rhythm, start with larger rollback circles and then decrease the size of the rollbacks as you are more organised and keep them symmetrical.
Bending lines: These can be done as poles on the ground, cavalettis or jumps. You can play around with the distances, but remember it will depend on the size of the fence, as well as the size of the horse/pony. If they are poles on the ground, then allow 3-4 feet landing and takeoff, then a regular horses non-jumping stride is 12 feet, so a bending 5 stride line of poles on the ground will be 66-68 ft on the curve, same with cavaletti. If they are fences of about 90cm and above, then you can build it on 70-72 ft. Depending on the number of strides you want, you need to adjust the above numbers by 12 feet (subtract 12 feet for 4 strides, add 12 feet for 6). Remember to ride the turn and get to the fence perpendicular and plan your bending line. Do you expect your horse to do a flying lead change over the fence? If so, you need to give him the correct aids before you take off so he can change in the air. Practice getting your legs aids in place the second last stride before he takes off. Stay smooth and use your eyes, this exercise is about planning ahead.
Lead Finder: Great exercise for those that struggle with knowing which lead you’re on. Better if these are cavaletti than poles. Distances can be a quiet 3 or 4 strides between the first two poles (42/44 ft or 54/56 ft). The curving distances to either side can be whatever you like it to be, just base it on a 11-12 foot canter stride, and allow 3-4 feet landing and takeoff (for cavaletti sized jumps, need 6 feet take off and landing for 90cm and above sized jumps)
Bending Bounce Massacre – this is for experienced combinations only. It requires plenty of preparation and correct aids at the correct time. Make sure you are using your leg and rein aids properly and not leaning to show the horse where to go. Slow canter in, distance between the centre of each pole/cavaletti is 9-10 feet.
Figure 8 Bouncy house aka The magic square: Great exercise to start to teach your horse flying changes, or practice the changes without leaning and remaining as straight as possible. It gives the horse 2 chances to change it lead, usually they will change in front over the first pole and behind over the second pole. These need to be about 11-12 feet apart, which will make a perfect square if you have 12 feet poles, if not, you will have just a small gap between the ends. Remember to start changes the bend as you approach the first pole and “ask” with your legs gently as you pop over the first poleand keep your legs there while cantering over the second. Don’t speed up, let the poles do the work and the horse think about what is happening. You need to canter straight through the square, and not lean and cut corners, ensuring that you use your leg and rein aids properly.
Across the Center: No particular distance required here, it will help improve your eye and make you maintain a smooth rhythm to get nice balanced corners and remain straight after the pole. Inside leg here with this one guys!
The serpentine can be placed at whatever distance you find challenging enough, probably 20m between the center of each pole is a good starting point. These can be poles on the ground or cavaletti, or jumps. Use your eyes to help get your body in the correct position before each pole (look ahead to the next pole) have your legs in the correct position and horse focused and bending in the direction you are about to turn. Can you do this one smoothly each direction.
TIP: Most of these exercise will highlight your horses stiff side (the side they fall in on) and their hollow side (the side they bulge on) so they should start to get you thinking about counteracting them maybe with more inside leg, or perhaps straightening with the outside rein and leg.
All of these exercise are for canter, but are great group exercises and most can be used for walk/trotters as well. (not bounces massacre though).


Something to think about over the winter

We all know the importance of getting the correct canter established for our jumping, but sometimes it’s easier to understand why if you can see the whole process broken down into bite size chunks. Watch this clever video to get an idea of the effect of the canter stride on the approaching jump.

Lose your boots and kick up your heels

With the autumn league behind us we can all look forward to having a good fling at the north west riding clubs dinner dance tomorrow night. Unfortunately we don’t have any footage of the first dance we enjoyed at the Silver Tassie, but I think you’ll enjoy this snippet from a couple of years ago at the Station House hotel.

Ticket sales have gone well, the DJ is booked and the hotel has braced itself. Bring on the fun.

If you are a last minute shopper, like myself, you should be safe enough giving Louise or Hazel a bell to book your tickets for collection at the door. Dress code for the dance has been described in the past as ‘make an effort’!

The finale was grand

Sunday 26th saw the Donegal Gaelteacht club hosting the final of the autumn league at Templemore. The day saw it’s share of thrills and inevitable spills as riders fought it out for final placings. Results of the final leg  are as follows

league final

Letterkenny’s strength at the higher grades is tempered by a shortage of our members taking part at the lower grades but Hazel, Kerrie and Louise are certainly great flagbearers in the AP grade. Top marks for determination must go to Suzanne, who persevered with Jack and got his performance realigned for the final. Despite being one of the final day spills (which was in itself quite thrilling!) Enda had bagged enough points in the earlier legs to claim 6th place in the overall league placings.

autumn league1

autumn league2

One week to go

Today’s third leg of the league was run by ourselves. Many thanks to everyone who helped out with the many duties which go into running a successful day. As the format of the league allows riders to miss one leg of the league, or drop their lowest score if they attended all legs, we saw slightly diminished numbers this week. The league table is now interesting, though Inishowen are in a very strong position.

Nicola Coxford is unassailable in the primary division, while in advanced primary Ellen Mackey has 14 points, just 2 points ahead of both Lynne Thompson and Lauren McLaughlin who are on 12 points apiece. Intermediate rider Veronica Lafferty, with 14 points, has Mark Ward snapping at her heels as he carries 13 points into the final. Enda McClafferty shoulders the main hopes of the Letterkennyites as he has 10 points, though Cliff who has 8 points is by no means out of the running. Dawn Hyndman made it two for two as she won the advanced intermediate again on the consistent Colourado. With 14 points on her flagpole she will be keeping a weather eye over her shoulder as Cormac’s 13 points and Courtney Greene’s 11 points will certainly make for an exciting final day.


Have your say

The North West sub-region AGM is being held tomorrow evening, the 20th Nov, at 8pm in the Tir Na nOg pub, Letterkenny. Apart from the obvious social element to any riding club meeting there will also be plenty of discussion on the successes and weaknesses of the region, and the inevitable shuffling of the deck of the committee. This sub-region committee is vital if we want to prevent all decisions affecting us as members being made by people who live an awful lot further south than any of us do. For any of you who are relatively new to riding club, and may be unaware of the structures in place, we are all members of the western region, that stretches right down to Ennis and beyond. We currently enjoy the luxury of having one Donegal member on the regional board and one on the national committee, which is certainly a help in keeping our voices heard way down south, but our own sub-regional committee gives us an opportunity to put forward a united front in our efforts to be heard. Do please try to turn out to the meeting.

Hazel will also have dinner dance tickets at the meeting for anyone who wants to secure their spots before the big night.

Tickets all ready to go

Get yours this Sunday at the league from Hazel Mahoney or Louise Edwards


Inishowen pulling ahead as autumn league progresses

The second leg of the autumn league took place in Templemore yesterday and as usual the points tables are released with impressive rapidity.



Inishowen have the primary grade tied up, with all three contestants at this grade hailing from the eastern-most club in the area. Nicola Coxford is rapidly opening up an unassailable lead here with consecutive wins resulting in 14points on the league table.

The advanced primary grade is more competitive, with all four clubs represented. Once again Inishowen hold the driving reins with Ellen Mackey and Lynne Thompson both in strong positions. Best of the Letterkenny competitors is Kerri Chambers, who had a great day yesterday on her new mount Sasha, bagging six points for second place. With Three legs still to play for Kerri is very much in contention.

Traditionally the most competitive grade the Intermediate is typically well supported. Mark Ward of Tir Conaill and Veronica Lafferty of Inishowen have shared the top two spaces for the first two legs of the league and are joint leaders on 13 points apiece. This puts them well ahead of the pack but with riders able to drop their lowest score from the five legs of the league everything can change as the weeks go by.

Not until we reach the Advanced Intermediate/Open grade do we see our own riders to the fore, with Cormac stealing the lead here as both Inishowen and Donegal Gaelteacht are not fielding riders at this level to date. Courtney Greene is leading the charge behind Cormac but no doubt all will change over the coming legs.

The next leg of the league is next sunday, the 19th, and is being run by our own club. All help is needed to cover the various chores on the day and it really is a case of ‘many hands make light work’ so do please contact Hazel or Marina to let them know when you’re available to lend a hand.

Get the glad rags on

The annual NW Riding Clubs dinner dance is being held on Saturday 2nd December in the Silver Tassie Hotel. The night will see us return to the site of our first dinner dance, memories of which are indelibly printed in some peoples memory banks. Tickets are available at any of the legs of the autumn league, which is taking place in Templemore on Sun Nov 12th, 19th and 26th, or by contacting Louise or Hazel. Oh, one final snippet of advice…if Ryan asks for a loan of your guitar say No!

Safe rugging advice as winter kicks in

Horses commonly get their legs trapped in the cross surcingles because they are too loose. They should fit snugly to the horse’s belly, with just enough room for the flat of a hand to slide easily between the strap and the belly.

The fillet string stops the rear of the rug blowing up over the horses back when it is standing with its back to the wind. It should not hang low or the tail will come outside it when the horse moves around. If you find the tail outside the string, you need to tighten it or attach it higher up. If the tail comes outside or if the fillet string is broken or missing, horses can be suddenly startled by the rug blowing over their backs, and they rush forward, even going through fences. Also, the fillet string stops the neck piece from sliding forward on to the horse’s head. We have seen two cases where horses have been blinded by the neck piece coming over their eyes, in one case with fatal results.

Horses with high withers and little muscle around them are at risk of developing severe damage to the skin over the withers (see photo) unless the rug fits perfectly. Wither injuries are common where the rug is too big and it slides backwards, causing the upper edge to press on the withers at the top. Always check for any sensitivity to finger pressure on the withers. This is a warning sign and must be addressed immediately. Sensitivity can be checked without removing the rug, simply by pressing down on the withers with the fingertips. The horse should show no reaction to this.

Rain scald is very common in out-wintered horses wearing ‘waterproof’ rugs. Although often attributed to condensation under the rug, this seems an unlikely cause as the underside of the rug is warm. It is far more likely to be caused by a leaking rug.

Hungry horses and ponies soon realise that the rug protects them from being shocked by the fence, and they lean over it to get to grass on the other side. They can be become entangled in the fence or impaled by the poles. A quick way to deter this is to sew a piece of electric fence tape to the inside seam of the neck and allow the free end of the tape to dangle in front where it will contact the fence.

It should be possible easily to slide a hand inside at the front and down over the shoulders. We have seen the buckles injure the skin where the rug was too small and too tight at the shoulders. Conversely, if the rug is too wide at the shoulders it slips backwards and can cause shoulder rubs.

Leg strap rubs are common. It should be possible easily to pass a hand between the leg straps and the inside of the horse’s thigh, but they should not be too loose. The straps should always loop through each other.

Don’t assume everything is okay under there. Remove the rug frequently to check for rubs, rain scald and other problems.