Two become one… Cheque’s tale.

I’m sure many of you will remember Cheque. As a three year old he was the first horse to join me in my new adventure at Quinta do Brejo. Soon after he turned four a visitor from Sweden fell in love with him and decided to change her life by becoming a horse owner.  Her decision was (after spending many years away from riding) taken with the heart, but even then there was no denying that they suited each other very well. And after only a short time back in the saddle for the rider, and a short time under saddle for the horse – a lovely and fitting partnership started to develop.

Cheque, PSL Lusitano and Charlotte Wittbom, Summer 2012

Cheque, PSL Lusitano and Charlotte Wittbom, Summer 2012

Now another year of schooling and maturing has passed and it is getting close to the day when Cheque will make the trip to Sweden and his lovely new home. The year has prepared both horse and owner for what will soon take place – both mentally and practically. After some initial fears about the task she had let herself in for, Cheque’s new owner has taken an active part in her new horse’s development, visiting us at Quinto do Brejo regularly and making all the right preparations at home.

Cheque, PSL Lusitano and Charlotte Wittbom, Summer 2012

Cheque has been a joy to train. His confidence, balance, temperament and movement have combined to make a very capable young horse, whose potential his owner can soon continue to realise.  In the same way, Cheque’s owner has also developed her riding, her way with horses and her mindset as the trainer and guardian of a beautiful Lusitano.

The next few images show some glimpses of the journey Cheque and his owner have taken together, from their first meeting, through their training sessions together over the last year (including just last week). I hope you enjoy them….

Cheque, PSL Lusitano and her owner, Summer 2011

Cheque and his owner, Summer 2011

Cheque, PSL Lusitano and his owner, April 2012

Cheque and his owner, April 2012

Cheque, PSL Lusitano and his owner, Summer 2012

Cheque and his owner, Summer 2012

Moon Fox Spanish Mustang with Charlotte Wittbom

Over the Moon

And so with heavy hearts we have waved goodbye to Moon Fox, the Spanish Mustang mare we have had the pleasure of training here at Quinto do Brejo for the past four months.

Moon came to us as a five year old at the beginning of her schooling and has now rejoined her owner to continue her development into the very fine horse I know she will become. It has been a wonderful experience to work with such a beautiful strong mare and to know her unique characteristics as well as those she shares with her Lusitano cousins.  Every horse I come to know brings new experiences and new learning.

Spanish Mustang Mare 'Moon Fox'

At five years old, Moon’s musculature was already beginning to be well developed, but having lacked the gymnastic work that would often take place from around the fourth birthday, her physique was quite tight and inflexible.  We started then with a lot of work in hand to supple and free her in walk. This helped to build the right foundations for the balance and strength necessary for ridden work.

Moon Fox Spanish Mustang with Charlotte Wittbom

On the other hand, being five years old, Moon had the mental maturity to progress quickly with the ridden work. You will see from the photographs that we found we were able to introduce the double bridle relatively soon in her training. For a young horse at Moon’s stage of development, this is more helpful in encouraging and supporting flexions of the neck and the suppling work from the ground, than as an aid to collection (as the horse matures, there will be more potential for collection in ridden work).

Moon Fox Spanish Mustang with Charlotte Wittbom

The early photographs also show that Moon’s physiology gave her a tendancy to fall on to her forehand. Therefore we incorporated lots of exercises – such as rein-back from the ground – to encourage her to carry her weight more evenly.

Moon Fox Spanish Mustang with Charlotte Wittbom

By the end of her period of schooling with us, Moon had progressed very well through the basic lateral work and is beginning to find self-carriage in the more difficult lateral exercises such as haunches-in and half-pass.  She is very attentive to the seat and can be ridden with a very light hand, which shows that she has both the physical and mental maturity to enjoy her work at a higher level of training.

Moon Fox Spanish Mustang with Charlotte Wittbom and owner, Julie Ann Rees

I’ve had a lovely time training Moon and I wish all the best for her and her owner. They have the makings of a great partnership and I’m sure will have a wonderful journey together.

Spanish Mustang mare, Moon Fox and owner, Julie Ann Rees with Charlotte Wittbom

The New Moon and Shooting Stars

As promised: Here are some pictures of Moon Fox – the Spanish Mustang mare – after one month of training with me at Quinta do Brejo. She has been a lovely horse to work with – strong, willing and trusting. Our early work focussed mainly on developing communication and rapport through lunge work and then on suppleness and responsiveness through working in hand from the ground.  With that foundation, she’s now feeling lovely as we begin our ridden work.

Charlotte Wittbom riding Spanish Mustang mare 'Moon Fox' at Quinta do Brejo

In the pictures (which you can click to enlarge) you’ll see we’re working a lot in walk, with some transitions in and out of trot, to help develop Moon’s balance and musculature. A young horse, or one early in her training will often have a tendency to fall onto the forehand and be a little uncoordinated until her strength and poise improve enough that she can carry herself in collection underneath the rider. So while we’re schooling I’m encouraging Moon to work toward a better balance with the influence of my own position in the saddle and with sensitive use of the hands. We take things little by little, so that progress is steady and surefooted and we both finish on a good note, looking forward to the next time.

Charlotte Wittbom schooling Spanish Mustang mare 'Moon Fox' at Quinta do Brejo

Charlotte Wittbom schooling Spanish Mustang mare 'Moon Fox' at Quinta do BrejoCharlotte Wittbom schooling Spanish Mustang mare 'Moon Fox' at Quinta do Brejo

In other news: Yesterday a fashion house photographed their new collection with Quinta do Brejo and our horses as a backdrop. Here are a few behind the scenes shots of the day…

Charlotte Wittbom riding Vip; Don Tomaz Noronha Alerção riding Sado at Quinta do Brejo.Charlotte Wittbom riding Vip at Quinta do Brejo.Charlotte Wittbom riding Vip; Don Tomaz Noronha Alerção riding Sado at Quinta do Brejo.Charlotte Wittbom riding Vip at Quinta do Brejo.Charlotte Wittbom riding Vip at Quinta do Brejo.

Polishing Diamonds

We’re enjoying beautiful winter sunshine here in Portugal and looking out over the quiet fields with horses grazing, my mind is taken back to my recent clinics in Sweden, which were as rewarding and interesting as always. One of the favourite aspects of my work is to see the progress of long-term students and how each of them has taken something different from our sessions together and made it their own. And of course it’s very exciting to meet new students with their individual challenges and aspirations. Each and every combination of horse and rider is unique and I never get tired of taking my part and seeing where it can lead for all of us.

Now, back in Portugal, the new year is in full swing here at Quinta do Brejo, where we have three new arrivals waiting to begin their schooling with us.

Two are three year olds; the other – whose name is Diamante (featured in the video below) – is four, and yesterday was ridden free in the arena for the first time. Diamante has Veiga blood (one of the most significant and historic of the Lusitano bloodlines) and – as is typical with those from his line – he is sensitive, but he has shown a very good mind. Diamante is the Portuguese word for diamond and we’re certainly taking a lot of pleasure from polishing him.  We will introduce the other horses to you in the coming weeks.

Cheque’s Progress

This is Cheque, who you might remember from a previous post. He is a 4 year old Lusitano stallion – the first horse I brought with me to Quinta do Brejo. Now he’s been in training for almost a year.

Cheque is going to stay with me for a few more months of schooling before he moves to his new home in Sweden and I’m very pleased I’ll get the chance to see him develop – he’s a lovely horse to work with.  At this point in his training we’re still working on the basics, but now I’m also adding some lateral steps and a few transitions from walk to his programme.

This video shows our first attempt at a counter canter in our small arena. The counter canter is a good exercise to help a horse develop his balance, but Cheque is a little young to do very much of this exercise, so we take it gently and only every now and again. His canter in general is now becoming more balanced, even though he sometimes drops a little onto his forehand. He can do this in trot too, but he is a big young horse with a lot to carry and is still growing. With time, and as his musculature develops, his balance will improve.  It’s important not to rush a young horse into advanced work before they are ready. And adding lots of variety in the work we do ensures we don’t ask too much of them too soon.

I also do a lot of work from the ground with Cheque, which helps with his suppleness.  Cavalettis and easier jumps help with his athletic development, but they also add variety and stimulation in his work – it’s good that he has fun too!

I try always to read the signals the horse is giving me so that I only ask for what he can give me.  A young horse goes through different stages of growth and development – their physicality, mental maturity and even their changing teeth will all impact on the way that they respond to the work we’re asking of them.  So if it sometimes feels that the horse is a bit unbalanced again or not always developing forward, I don’t worry. I try to think of our development together (and the relationship he’ll form with his new owner) as a long journey, not a sprint – given time and patient work, the pieces will fall into place.