Just teach the trees …

No matter how beautiful or distracting they are, please do not teach the trees…

At the moment I am doing a big clear out, trying to get rid of mountains of papers, lightening my suitcase, and looking to find that elusive piece of paper that seems to have vanished…  And, at the bottom of the pile, I have found an old certificate, which is what has nudged my mind down this path.

Many, many, years ago, I had just left school and a friend and I spent our times hanging out with our horses.  I was already eventing big time, and the excuse was that my horse needed hours of road work (he was too fit if I’m honest, could tow me around an open track and still be running away with me at the end, hardly even breathing hard), and I was schooling horses for owners to fund my eventing, so, the days at the yard just happened…  Our mothers despaired at our tomboy-ness and my friend’s mother came up with a plan – go on a modelling course.  We reluctantly agreed (well, we weren’t given much choice actually) so off we went.  We did our time, got through our hours, returned to our ponies.  (Being 6-foot-tall, and at that time ultra-skinny, they offered me a modelling contract, on condition that I lost a couple of kilograms…  Talk about the unhealthy effects of modelling…  There were the gym guys telling me to do weights to build up for my eventing, sports doctors telling me to add more protein to build up, and the models telling me to lose weight – let’s just say the modelling, thankfully, never happened…)  We were handed our certificates at the end, which is the bit of paper I started this with, somehow it managed to survive all these years…

My first event horse, "Golden Marble" who ensured that I spent so much time at the yard
My first event horse, “Golden Marble” who ensured that I spent so much time at the yard

Also, many, many years ago, I went to a coaching seminar and during the Q&A session after lessons, a coach asked what he should do if expected to teach a student at a lower level than he regularly agreed to.  The guest speaker advised him to just get through it – by “Just Teaching the Trees” if that is what it took.  Choose a tree and direct your comments that way.  I was beyond shocked and, if I am honest, it did have a profound effect on my coaching – never, ever will I make a pupil feel unimportant.  If you’re there to help someone, help them.  If you are not interested, don’t be there in the first place.  Don’t just get through the hours to receive your pay check.

No matter how beautiful or distracting they are, please do not teach the trees…
No matter how beautiful or distracting they are, please do not teach the trees…

Now, that whole modelling course, I swear, they were teaching trees.  The agency had obviously decided that either they needed to make more money, or try to find new models, and so, a course was put on.  The thing that has made me remember it for all these years, is how utterly unprofessional and disinterested they were.  The lady running it would be chatting to her boyfriend / husband / model friend most of the time, throwing the odd comment to us occasionally.  She would set a task for us to do and wonder off, not supervising at all.  We really were an inconvenience and her lack of interest was appalling.  How does anyone run a business like that?

Over the years, I have ended up doing a lot of examining, and must admit to failing more than my fair share of wanna be instructors.  If you are teaching, you have to invest in your clients.  You need to have an interest in helping them to improve, and them getting something tangible out of their sessions.  Even under exam stress, you can see the instructors who genuinely want their pupils to gain something.  And you can see the ones who will be teaching at home, sitting on the fence, drinking their coffee and talking to their groupies on the rail, or checking their phone messages.

As an instructor, what do I want from my pupil?  A willingness to learn; a desire to be there; an open mind; a sense of exploration; the courage to speak up; the appreciation of having a very large animal willing to interact and work together; a sense of fun…

And what should you, as a pupil what from your instructor?  A desire to help you; an understanding of their subject; an empathy for you and your horse; a moral code to protect you both; the same sense of gratitude to the four-legged team member; the same sense of fun and exploration, but ultimately, the respect for you, the client, to actually be there imparting knowledge to YOU and not chatting to a TREE…

What would you add in your quest for the perfect instructor?

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Saving Money With Horses

Does your horse need new shoes? Could he go with a half set, or barefoot?

Saving Money With Horses

I’m writing this sitting in a hairdresser, spending vast amounts of money on something I’d rather not be doing.  And it always makes me think….  When I had my own horses, I had no hesitation in handing over huge amounts of cash to the farrier, vet, dentist etc, but always balked at spending a fraction of that amount on my own shoes, Dr, dentist etc.  My horses would get regular back massage, while I…  Didn’t.  Keeping horses is very expensive – you have to cut costs where you can. So, where can you save money?

Farriers / trimming.

Uh, no.  Any trying to avoid spending here will cost you in the long run.  Just pay for the best farrier you can find.  Timing won’t save you money either.  Let’s say that your horse’s hooves grow fast, and he needs new shoes every 4 weeks.  That’s 13 farrier visits a year.  So, you make him go to 5 weeks, meaning only 10 visits a year…  That’s ok? No.  The extra wear on his joints every 5th week will lead to long term issues, costing you more in lameness, vet care and replacing your horse faster than you should have.  Find a really good farrier / trimmer / hoof technician and listen.  If they say your barefoot horse only needs trimming every 6 weeks lucky you.  If they need a full set of shoes every 4 weeks, sadly you just have to pay…

Does your horse need new shoes? Could he go with a half set, or barefoot?
Does your horse need new shoes? Could he go with a half set, or barefoot?

Dentists.

As with farriers, you just have to pay.  Most adult horses with no issues can see a dentist every 9 to 12 months.  If they have a slightly difficult jaw conformation, eat a long of grains or have bitting issues, it can be every 5 – 6 months.  Again, trying to save money will cost you.  Leaving the dentist too long can lead to your horse not chewing properly, so he doesn’t get full value from his feed, and is difficult in the contact.  You’re wasting money having lessons to fix the contact, or buying extra feed, when he’s just uncomfortable in his mouth.

Vet care.

Another no – if you are worried and think your horse needs a vet, call them.   Often, calling a vet out to a small problem stops it developing into a bigger problem, so saving you money in the long run.  The same goes for his vaccinations and especially to having a good de-worming schedule.  Discuss this with your vet – plan your worm egg counts / de-worming drug rotation etc, and stick to it.  As with shoeing, making him wait an extra few weeks each time will end up costing you a lot more in the long run.

Feed.

Sadly, another place where no, you aren’t going to cut corners.  Every horse is different and so requires different feeding.  Your native pony, working once a week and living out on good grazing probably doesn’t need feeding at all.  But, a three-star event horse, living in most of his time with hours of work a week most certainly will.  Talk to your vet or a feed nutritionist f you need to, make the best plan for your particular horse and situation, and then buy the best quality hay / feed / supplements that your horse needs.  Feeding them a bad quality / mouldy / dusty feed isn’t going to be a good money saver either.

Bedding.

Again, if your horse lives out, you won’t be thinking about bedding, but if he lives in, bedding is an expense that you cannot cut.  Some people think that putting a thin layer of straw or other bedding down, and removing it daily is a good way to go.  Unfortunately, this is expensive, both in replacing the bedding daily, but also if your horse manages to cut or scrape himself on the cold hard floor, or gets himself cast (stuck).  Put a good thick bed down, to keep him warm, draught free, less likely to get cast and protect him from concrete scrapes.  Skip this bed out as often as possible, at least 2 times a day.  (Skipping out is simply removing piles of manure before they get trampled and mixed into the clean bedding).  And do a thorough mucking out at least twice a day.  This way, the soiled bedding is removed, but a lot of clean bedding can be left in the stable.  Less bedding is added daily, and in the long run, saving can be made.  Even better, why not increase the amount of time he can spend outside in a paddock?  Even if you have to buy him an extra outdoor rug, spending his time outside is the best bedding money saver around.

A fresh layer of shavings on a bed
A fresh layer of shavings on a bed

So, where do I cut corners?

Well, equipment is a big one.  It shocks me when I walk through a tack shop and see people buying a bucket for $10, or a sponge for $5.  Yes, certain things you need to go to a saddler and spend money on.  A well fitted saddle is essential, and obviously you aren’t going to the corner store to buy your bridle.  But, buckets, clothes, sponges, containers, hosepipes etc can all be bought for a fraction of the cost at hardware stores, supermarkets or markets.  The same goes for basic medicines or first aid supplies.  I recently wrote an article listing many of the things that I buy for my first aid kit at the local supermarket, including Vaseline, honey and babies nappies.  The same goes for the expensive, must have winter clothing for riders.  Yes, your breeches need to come from the tack shop, but all your thermal layers, base fleeces, winter coats, rain coats and long socks are cheaper (and generally more suitable) coming from hiking, outdoor or motor biking shops.  As soon as they have an equestrian label on them, socks get ridiculously expensive!  Avoid the brand names to – does your horse need that brand name saddle pad?  Uh, no.  The local tack shop brand will be a fraction of the cost, and as long as it’s been well made and fits, your horse really won’t mind that it is boring white instead of glow in the dark pink with orange polka dots and a branded label.   On that thought, how much of what your horse wears, does he actually need?

Bling is often more expensive…
Bling is often more expensive…

Lessons

When I was a lot younger, and working as a groom for a big name evet rider, his advise was, think when you are riding, feel what is going on and work out the solution in your own mind.  Having a lesson every time you sit on a horse is never going to help you long term – as you trot up the centre line from A, or pick up your canter towards the first jump at a show, your instructor isn’t there.  You need to be able to feel, plan and do, without them telling you.  Yes, have lessons, once a week / fortnight / month.  But, ride on your own, and ask your instructor to help you by giving suggestions of your weak areas, homework ideas, and things you need to work through before you see them again.  In this day and age when most people have a camera on their phone, ask your friend to video bits of your ride and look at them afterwards, seeing what you need to work on.  It amazes me when I see people having 3 / 4 lessons a week.  And, as an instructor, I am a lot more motivated to help riders who I see trying hard to practice what we worked on, rather than those who simply wait for the next set of instructions.

But, as I am saying throughout this – spending more money initially, by buying more bedding or calling your farrier out more often, really is the best way to save money.  As the same goes – how do you want to end up with $1,000,000 after a life with horses?  Start with $2,000,000!!!

Expertise Induced Amnesia

Expertise Induced Amnesia in action.

Expertise Induced Amnesia

Over my Christmas break, I was roped into going to watch an ice hockey match.  The thought of sitting in a large open, airy warehouse, with no heating and an enormous sheet of ice in the centre isn’t really my idea of a fun evening out, but it was an entertaining few hours.

Ice Hockey Arena
Ice Hockey Arena

As I sat and watched, there were more and more parallels with the riding industry.  For starters, there are few better sights than that freshly raked dressage arena at the beginning of a day’s teaching or riding.  As you see the hoof prints and flattened areas disappear, replaced by the neat ridge and furrows left from the plough, all that is wrong in my OCD world is fixed….  And, on the ice, it is exactly the same thing.  As the skaters have moved back and forth across the ice, they cut up slices in it, chipping out fine ice shavings.  Between periods, on comes a Zamboni to smooth and flatten the ice again, and you can so clearly see the dull worn areas become smooth and shiny again.

Zamboni flattening the ice
Zamboni flattening the ice

And then, on come the players.  You should see me on skates.  Or wheels.  They don’t work.  Really.  You know the learner skater who is trying to stay vertical, clinging onto the railing around the edge of the ice rink, holding their upper body in place by sheer brute force in the arms, but legs like Bambi, going in all directions?  Yes, that’s me.  Recently I bought myself a pair of roller blades, thinking of course I could learn to do this…  I strapped them on, did up all the straps, laces and buckles…  And…  couldn’t stand up.  Truly, I couldn’t go from sitting in my chair to vertical.  Both legs went out in different directions and my butt stayed firmly in the chair seat…  Give me two feet to stand on, or four legs and a solid back to sit on, but don’t give me blades or wheels.

Skaters illustrating perfectly expertise induced amnesia.
Skaters illustrating perfectly expertise induced amnesia.

So, these skaters coming flying on, and go whizzing at speed around the ice.  As you watch them, its clear that these guys are in no way thinking about their feet.  There is not a moment of them looking down and wondering if they are keeping their balance, how hard they need to strike off to move their feet forwards, or how to go about getting around the corners.   It’s second nature, just the way that things work.  They are as safe on their skates as they are on their feet.  When they go to hit the puk, they are looking to where their team mates are, where their opponents are, and where they want the puk to go, but they aren’t thinking of how they are holding their hockey stick or how to strike the puk.  They fall often, but even then, as they are sliding across the ice on their knees, backs or noses, they are getting their balance again, getting their knees bent, feet under them and getting upright.

The guys who I was so impressed with though, were the refs.  There were three of them on the ice, and like the players, they were totally unaware of what their feet were doing.  The amazing thing was when the puk would come flying towards them at about knee height.  As the puk was a couple of metres away, they would leap in the air, let the puk pass under their skates and land again without ever looking at the puk, their feet or the ice.  At the same time that they were leaping in the air gazelle style, they were watching the players come towards them, watching the other refs, watching the players the puk was going towards and staying out of the way, avoiding being squashed by puk chasers.

Fancy Dress on Ice
Fancy Dress on Ice

Now, when I am sitting on a horse, I am not thinking much about how I am riding.  I am thinking of what my horse is doing; are all four legs equally under him or is one limb drifting in or out; is he using his back correctly; is he offering up impulsion, rhythm, balance; how is the contact…  And as I am thinking through these questions, I am making adjustments, but not having to consciously think of how I am riding or how I am sitting.  I’m thinking, I need to straighten his spine – and there it is.

Recently, I spent a few days teaching, where I was sitting on a horse, teaching other riders.  Some of the owners watching, offered their horses as the moving teaching platform.  When I asked why, they laughed, saying their horses would be schooled by accident.  As I was sitting on a horse explaining how to do things like lateral work, leg yielding, or working with more bend, the horse who I was sitting on automatically offered up what we were discussing.  In the same way that the refs don’t think about how they are landing on their feet when they jump over the puk, so an experienced rider doesn’t think of how they are applying the aids to ask their horse for a movement.  In my lessons where I was sitting on a horse to teach, as I was explaining one movement, my body automatically went into position and my moveable chair automatically offered up what he or she thought I was asking.

Expertise Induced Amnesia in action.
Expertise Induced Amnesia in action.

And this is? Expertise Induced amnesia.  When you know something so well, when it is second nature, when it is as automatic as breathing, then your body automatically carries out the task.  Think of learning something new – imagine trying to learn to juggle, or my trying to learn to stand on roller blades.  It takes a huge amount of brain space.  The more you practice, the less you have to think about it.  If I passed you a pen and dictated something to write down, would you take time to work out how to hold the pen, which end you need to hold over the paper, how to form letters on the page, or would you just write?  As soon as a movement or habit is something that doesn’t require extra thinking, there you go – you could well end up with Expertise Induced Amnesia…

So, now, what is going to become your new habit?

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New Year 2018 – What new adventures?

A new venue in Malaysia, Horse Valley in Johor Bahru

New Year 2018 – What new adventures?

Well, A Happy New Year! As 2018 starts, the New Year is always a time for reflection and motivation, right?  So, as I look back at 2017, what am I thinking?

2017 was certainly a busy year, with several thousand lessons going on.  From a work point of view, it was pretty much what was ordered, lots of planes, bouncing around and more and more lessons.  It’s always great to meet new horses and their riders, see new issues and make more changes to help more partnerships grow.  I think (hope) that many riders continued on with having Ah ha moments, and there has certainly been some lovely feedback.

A lovely business class flight on Emirates
A lovely business class flight on Emirates

My website continues to grow larger and larger, Luckily Sue, the lovely website lady, does all my techno stuff, since we all know I have a tendency to blow up anything that is plugged into the wall, or has a battery.  Give me a friend with four legs, not something with a screen…  I’m still always waiting to hear what you would like to see more of on the website – I’d love it to be your site more than mine…

Kudaguru Website - January 2018
Kudaguru Website – January 2018

And overall, was it a year of progression? You know, there are some people who will tell you that they have 18 years of experience… But, you just know that they have 1 year of experience that they have repeated 17 more times. Their experience isn’t growing or expanding, they don’t learn more, push boundaries or challenge their learning or understanding… They learnt a set of skills, and by repeating the same job over and over again for that further 17 years, they have become ultra-proficient at what they do, but only what they do. While other people will tell you, they have 10 years of experience, but you know that they truly have more experience, because they push through situations, learning more, understanding their craft backwards, forwards and sideways. For me, 2017 wasn’t a growing year, but more of a repeating year. While many riders learnt or progressed, I am hoping that 2018 can be a more adventurous or growing year for me…

A new venue in Malaysia, Horse Valley in Johor Bahru
A new venue in Malaysia, Horse Valley in Johor Bahru

So, what was new in 2017?  The only new country visited was Italy for our annual yoga and riding retreat.  Lucca was certainly stunning, although Rome was slightly underwhelming…

Rome
Rome

Adventure wise – well, there was a tree top rope course in Brisbane for starters, and a different view of London after that, including nitrogen ice cream…  Of course, there is always a lot of food adventure – dragon’s breath cookies in Singapore, Tartufo in Rome, fresh figs in Lucca, and so many cakes all over the world!  Meeting new people, but plenty of room for more challenges!

Horse wise, working with reining Quarter Horses in Natal was a fun new project and of course spending three days at Sharon May-Davis’s equine dissection was an incredible experience.

What is the plan for 2018?  Well, hopefully a lot more travel as a tourist rather than only seeing arenas and airports!  A plan to take more tourism days and a lot more adventure.  Also, continuing on with building the Kuda Guru website, bigger and better, and learning some new skills along the way would be good….  Of course, lots more pony playing and lessons, wow, it looks as if it is going to be a busy year?

What are your plans for the year?  Hope it’s a good one!