Abuse

Why have I hesitated to write this? It’s been on my mind for a while, but hasn’t been written…
Abuse? What is abuse and what isn’t? I think I may hit a few nerves here…

As seen on Facebook … https://www.facebook.com/tothorseponymag/posts/1922337571341546

Recently, I was chatting to a client. He has a super big horse and rides for fun, for relaxation, and forgetting about his work at the end of a busy day. Yes, the horse has some talent, but his main job – a switch off for his owner’s brain. The owner was telling me, sadly, that he couldn’t ride that week. Why not, I asked. Well, because his regular trainer was riding the horse in a competition the next weekend, and told him that he, the owner, doesn’t ride well enough, so if she, the trainer, wants to win, he must leave the horse to her. To say I was taken aback is a bit of an understatement…

I said to him… It’s your horse. Yes. Do you want him to compete? No. Did you organise the trainer to compete the horse? No. Did you decide that competing the horse was a good idea? No. The horse is YOUR HORSE…. YOURS…. You OWN the horse, and what the horse does or does not do, is your responsibility and choice. If you own a horse and decide to paint him pink and ride him bareback through the town eating candy floss, it’s YOUR decision, because it’s YOUR horse, not your trainer’s horse, not my horse, not your next-door neighbour’s horse.

He smiled sadly and said, well within reason, right? If he chose to abuse the horse, to ride it with barbed wire in the horse’s mouth, I’d step in, wouldn’t I? It wouldn’t be his choice then? If a trainer sees abuse, the trainer will walk out and refuse to come back? What would I do if I arrived to teach a lesson, saw a horse in something horrendous, such as wire in it’s mouth? Stay or go? And is his novice riding horse abuse? Shooo… It opens up another can of worms, since what is abuse in the opinion of one trainer, is perfectly ok for another…

which bit is abusive?)
which bit is abusive?

In some people’s eyes, riding a horse is abusive, and riding should be banned.  Other’s think pleasure riding is ok, but not competitions, racing or jumping.  Others think anything goes.  Some would ban racing, or jumping, or cross country, or bits, or shoes.  I often think that riding school ponies have a tough time, especially in the yards where teachers are yelling out kick, kick, kick, kick….  When else do we tell kids to kick animals?  Some people are fine with whatever – it’s only an animal, right?  And each and every one of us must draw the line of what we consider abuse.

Every situation could be abusive.  Is a stable abusive?  Well, if the horse is locked in 24 hours a day, with no bedding, little food, no exercise and no light, absolutely.  If kept in for a few hours at a time, with a deep bed, hay, clean water, sunlight, fresh air, a friend, maybe a view, then no, it’s not.  Saddle?  If it fits well, is clean, supple, not girthed too tightly, then sure, you’re good to go.  If it doesn’t fit, is dirty and rubbing, broken, or the horse has back pain, then it’s abusive – I know where I draw my line – do you?

Recently I was in Bali – and a friend of mine always says – how can you go there?  It’s full of stray dogs, she couldn’t cope with seeing them.  And yes, there are many strays, skinny, bad skin conditions, no where to go…  But, there are amazing people who are running de-sexing clinics, who are trapping dogs to treat their skin and vaccinate them and feeding street dogs.  When I go there, I see the improvements as much as seeing the troubles.  People also know that I spend a lot of my time helping with the Gili Cart Horses.  Again, if you see them for the first time, you can think abuse. There are still an awful lot of issues to address, but, again, things are so much better, year on year.  Friends say, how can you go there and see that?  You are meant to love horses; how can you condone that?  Because, if we all turned our backs on these stray dogs, or working horses, who would help them?  Would things improve?  Of course not.  If you can slowly make changes, dripping water on the rock, then it’s worth doing, yes?

Before and after – which is abuse? The neglected, cracked and broken hooves, or wearing shoes? This is the same horse, a couple of days apart
Before and after – which is abuse? The neglected, cracked and broken hooves, or wearing shoes? This is the same horse, a couple of days apart

I was approached to go and teach in a certain yard a couple of years ago.  I arrived and was fairly appalled at the state of the horses.  I watched part of a lesson and it was even worse.  I then discovered that riders were expected to sign a confidentiality / non-disclosure document before beginning lessons or stabling there, to ensure they said nothing about what they saw happening.  Did I agree to teach?  No.  They were set in their ways, they knew that people wouldn’t like their practices, or they wouldn’t have that document, and yet they carried on.  Would I have been able to make a difference?  No.

I see it as a wheel, turning either forwards or backwards.  With the Bali dogs and Gili ponies, the wheel is, inch by inch, rolling forwards.  Things are getting better.  With the yard above – no, the wheel is either still or more likely, rolling the wrong way.  What to do about it?  I don’t know.  I still think about those poor horses, but a cure I haven’t found.

When I owned ponies, I had one leased out to a young rider.  The pony still lived with me, but she would take him up to her trainer’s yard for lessons.  The pony always seemed happy enough, so I left it.  He was strong and could really take a hold so was ridden in a fat rubber pelham with rounding’s and a padded curb chain.  One day, he arrived back from a jumping lesson.  He seemed nervous about having his bridle removed, and then wouldn’t eat.  Gut instinct – I checked his mouth and it was raw in places, bruised and sensitive in others….  Sure enough, on checking, the trainer had changed bridles, got on and “schooled” the pony herself.  That day, the lease was cancelled, the child and parents asked to remove themselves from my yard, and the “trainer” was told what I thought.  This trainer was angry – did I not realise she was an ex-international show jumper who had won X, Y and Z?  Yes, I did, and did I care?  No.  Sadly, it can still be the ex-champion, old-school trainers who can be part of the problem.  They can get hung up on what worked then, and won’t move with the times (not always, I know a lot of old school, amazing trainers too!)  Can anyone hurt my pony?  No.  Did that pony work for his living in the school, jump, go to competitions, get ridden in his pelham and a saddle?  Yes.  Again, draw your line.

a soft rubber snaffle – is any bit abusive? Doesn’t it depend on the hands holding the reins?
a soft rubber snaffle – is any bit abusive? Doesn’t it depend on the hands holding the reins?

I went on a two-week interview at a big yard in Germany some time ago.  They produce, compete and sell competition horses, the big names with the big price tags.  And yes, I rode some of the big-name stallions.  And yes, I was offered my contract.  Did I take it?  No, that was one of the most abusive horse situations that I have ever been in, and I still have nightmares about it.  Just because your horse cost $1,000,000 doesn’t mean he has a good life…  When money is involved, the horse must produce the goods, even when not physically or emotionally ready.

When working with trainers, it is YOUR responsibility to safe guard your horse… When I was competing a lot, I’d have clinics with different trainers.  If they asked me to get after the horse, get him more reactive, push him a little harder, I would, it’s often why you need the input to make your horse that bit more…  But, if they asked me to put tack on him that I didn’t like, or jump higher when I could feel the horse struggling, then I’d refuse, because as a horse’s caretaker, it’s my job to stand by what I believe.  If I say to a pupil we are going to try X, and they were adamantly opposed, I’d respect them more for standing up for their and their horse’s rights, than for meekly following my instructions…  If you don’t agree with someone, for your horse’s sake, say so.

So, my pupil’s question – if I walked into a yard and a rider was expecting me to teach them with barbed wire in the horse’s mouth, would I stay or go?  It depends.  If it is an inexperienced rider, who has an open mind, who has been put in this situation by their tradition, culture or a bullying instructor, I’d stay.  I’d talk to them, convince them, just for today, to take the wire out and see what we could do.  I’d work on education, because if I walked out, who would be helping the horse, and this rider’s future horses?  I do walk into situations I don’t like sometimes, and by dripping water on the rock, I can usually change them.  If this was happening in the yard with the confidentiality form, or the yard in Germany, then what would I do?  Then, I’d walk away.  Because you can say what you like, it isn’t going to change.  You know that saying – If you don’t want to learn, no one can make you…  But if you WANT to learn, then no one can stop you…

So, where do you draw your personal line?

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Chameleons

Some days it’s serious…)

Chameleons

I was accused of being a chameleon this morning. I had just finished a long morning of lessons (fortunately in an indoor, since it was chucking it down…) and a group of the riders and I headed off for brunch. The discussion moved to, what do you have for breakfast? Well, my reply started, it all depends on where I am… In some countries where we start really early, I don’t have breakfast, but we break early and go for mid-morning snacks. Other places, we’ll all get up and cereal. Where I’m staying now, I grab a protein bar on the run. Just so long as there is always coffee, all you riders are ok… If there isn’t any, who ever is first in the arena is in trouble. Hmm, so no set breakfast then? No.

Some days it’s serious…)
Some days it’s serious…

The conversation moved on – who ate healthy and who didn’t?  Again, I replied, it depends.  Some places where I stay, its all salad, vegan, healthy.  The next week will be cheese, chocolate and grabbing a muffin for lunch on the hoof…  The next is all about 7 course meals, the next is about 1 meal a day.  Where ever I am, what ever situation I’m in, I adapt.

And, do you drink?  Well, in some places yes, its about mojitos for lunch, wine for dinner, and whiskey chasers for nightcaps.  In others, its all about coffee, tea and water.  And then, in others, it’s all coconut water.

At which point, you arrived in this conversation – you’re a chameleon!  What is it that YOU like, not what suits that week.  And honestly, I can’t tell you, because I don’t think I know…

Some days have wheels…)
Some days have wheels…)

A similar situation last week – I was staying with a friend, doing a lot of writing and admin.  He would head off to work and I’d be in front of my laptop, listening to Mantovani as I typed.  A couple of hours later, he’d return and there would be Guns ‘n Roses.  The next day might start with Pink and move to Gershwin.  The next was Disturbed…  And when he walked in on Vivaldi, he couldn’t hold his tongue anymore – so what music do you actually LIKE?  Is the classical stuff there to help you think?  Well, I like it all, I replied.  Some days it’s a shout along to Meatloaf day, other times, its chill to The Piano Guys – it really depends on the day.  Hmm, he thought…

In some places, I’m happy to park in front of the TV and vegetate.  In others, I can’t sit still.  Sometimes I like exploring and adventure, sometimes I need time to be quiet.  What do I like?  I like to walk, to hike, to swim, to dive, to “people”, to have closed doors, to eat out, to hibernate.  I like loud, I like quiet.  I can tell you, about the only thing I know I dislike with a passion is to be cold…

Is it a problem?  Most people don’t think so, but my music and breakfast friends both think it is…  Is it my indecisive nature that lets me escape from making decisions?  Possibly.  Where do you want to live – oh, so many choices…  Where do you like to go – oh, everywhere…  who do you like to teach – Ooooh, everyone…  Which breed of horse do you like – oh, all and none, it depends on the individual…  Which discipline do you like to ride or teach the most – oh, all of them, sometimes dressage, sometimes jumping, sometimes equitation…  Do you like teaching beginners / advanced, kids or adults?  oh, yes….  Is my chameleon / indecision a blessing or a curse – well, who knows…  I’ll start making decisions – or maybe I won’t….

Some days we play…
Some days we play…

So, what about you?  Do you like schooling, or going for a gallop down the beach (Me? Both).  Do you like sitting quietly with your horse, or are you always needing to be “doing”?  (Me? Both).  Do you like working over poles, or sticking to more traditional flat schooling?  (Me? Both – are we seeing a pattern here?).  Do you like riding babies or experienced school masters (Me?  Yes, OK, we don’t need to keep asking) (But, for the record, both!)

And, what about your horse?  Your horse needs consistency.  He needs you to be predictable – legs mean go, still means stop.  A pat means well done.  Contact is contact.  He needs his known house, his regular feed times and feed type.  He needs his friends and his routine.  But, the happiest of horses I know, have variety in their work.  On Monday they’ll hack and have a canter round the fields.  On Tuesday they will lunge.  On Wednesday they have some schooling.  On Thursday they’ll do fast work at a canter track.  On Friday they do poles and gymnastics.  On Saturday they jump courses.  Sunday is rest.  (This isn’t in any way a work plan, it just shows how we can be flexible).    The fast work is cardio and fun.  The gymnastics tests reaction, the schooling is educating and so it goes.  A horse who goes into an arena EVERY DAY, or jumps EVERY DAY, or lunges EVERY DAY is often the horse who becomes sour and dull.

And some days – Well…..
And some days – Well…..

What do you like to do?  What does your horse like to do?  How do you keep a freshness in you schooling?  And, just out of nosiness, what do you listen to when you’re are tap tap tap tapping out on your laptop?

Happy Riding!

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Is Different Right or Wrong? 

Is your circle as round as one of these balloons?

Is Different Right or Wrong?

When ever I go to Bali, I do indulge in some massages…  Who wouldn’t, yes?  There is one lady who comes to the villa, and she is so unbelievably good.  Any little kinks and knots that are floating around, she can generally get them out pretty quick, and you leave her feeling amazing.  I’ve had a fair number of sessions with her, she knows me, I know her and her usual routine and it works.

This time, I booked a massage but this regular lady was busy, so sent another lady who she works with.  The new masseuse was a lovely lady too, and also did a great job, but was totally different.  Everything, from the scent of the oil she used, to where she started from, to the pressure she exerted and the types of movements was different.  Initially, I was a bit unsettled – I couldn’t anticipate the next move, and the routine was challenged.  We humans, even me who lives in a constant state of flux, like routine.  We go back to our favourite coffee shop, to the same table, the same waiter and order the same coffee, for a little comfort.  And yes, when I’m travelling, I do often seek out a Starbucks.  So, some things I stick to, because in Bali I eat Corn Fritters in Green Ginger and Deep Fried Oreos at On, and have a massage with Siti.

I have to go to Green Ginger whenever I’m in Bali for the Corn Fritter Fix…
I have to go to Green Ginger whenever I’m in Bali for the Corn Fritter Fix…

 

After my new massage, I stretched and moved, experimented, and yes, she had indeed loosened off travel wary muscles and ironed out computer working kinks.  Her technique was different, for sure, but was it wrong?  They both did a good job…  They both took an hour…  They both left me feeling loose and languid…  Who was right and who was wrong.  Neither, of course.  They both had the same goal in mind and achieved their outcome.

Same thing – most people know my little addiction to corn fritters – and I have them often, all over the world.  In each country, someone kindly cooks them for me.  And they are each different.  So, which is the wrong way, or the right way to prepare them?  Ummm…  I have my favorites, but are the others incorrect?

Another one that strikes me, how often do you always go somewhere, from point A to point B, on the same route?  I know I do.  Again, in Bali this trip, I was riding the bike back to the villa in the evening and a friend was riding his along behind me.  At a certain intersection I know he always turns left, I always turn right.  Our individual roads meet up again at a point further on.  He followed me right, and a block later rode along side, saying, I don’t like this route.  Same thing with when I catch taxis in Kuala Lumpur.  There are at least 5 different routes to one of the places I go, almost daily.  So, the traffic is about the same, the distance and condition of the road make a level playing field…  Who is right?

Of course, these are all ridiculous questions, there is not really a right and a wrong.  And so we get to the riding industry.  There are so many really amazing coaches out there, really talented people teaching truly amazing lessons.  I’ll often just sit in a yard and watch a lesson, thinking oh wow, I hadn’t thought of explaining it quite like that.  And, obviously there are also some, who you watch, thinking, hmm, I maybe wouldn’t have done that quite like that.  Who is right and who is wrong.  If your pupil and horse are happy, pain free, safe, enjoying their lesson and progressing, I think you’re doing a lot right.  I explain a circle by saying, think of a clock with 12, 3, 6, 9 o’clock.  A young instructor I worked with would always explain to her child pupils that balloons could be short and round, or long and skinny, and circles were the short round balloons.  I thought that was genius.  Which one of us explained a circle correctly.  Neither, and both.  If our pupils could ride a fairly round circle at the end of a session, we all won.

Is your circle as round as one of these balloons?
Is your circle as round as one of these balloons?

I know that I teach very differently to a lot of other coaches.  For some people it resonates, they enjoy their lessons, they learn.  Other people can’t get their head around what I’m talking about – its too different, its often too slow, and its not for them – fair enough, you were open minded enough to try something new, and hopefully you’ll find some one who speaks your language.  There are 7 billion of us here, we all speak different languages, live in different cultures, have a different way of learning, we cannot expect a one size fits all with any form of education.

Of course, there are some trainers who I do think are wrong.  A trainer who abuses the horse; who ridicules or undermines a pupil; a trainer who is rude, obnoxious or arrogant; a trainer who treats the horse as a bicycle, or is in such a hurry that they physically break horse down…  In my opinion, these trainers are dangerous, and yes, their methods are wrong.

So, you as the rider – what do you do about?  Use your freedom of choice.  Try out a few trainers.  Who “speaks” to you, in your language, that you think huh, yes.  We are all on a path to our end goal.  If you book a massage, you want to be relaxed and pain free.  If you are going to the beach, you want to get there without getting caught in a traffic jam.  And, if you are riding a horse, I am guessing we all want to be safe, in control and enjoy our ride be it through the village, round a course of jumps or in a dressage arena.  But, there are so many routes to get there, and the choice belongs to you, your ethics, your opinion.  I hope your choice is the right one for you!

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Developing Habits

of course I have given up on chocolate…

Developing Habits

It’s a bit odd, isn’t it, how our brain works, and habits become habits? You know the whole New Years resolution bit?  I will A, B, C…  I will give up chocolate…  I will try harder on the vegan bit…  (And yes, those two work together, clever huh?  Two birds, one stone…)  I will procrastinate less, I will save more…  You know the deal.  And by the 10th of Jan – sorry, what resolution?  Did I make one?

of course I have given up on chocolate…
Of course I have given up on chocolate…

I decided, 2018, it would be my year of buying nothing.  Well, within reason.  On my allowed list – groceries – you got to keep up with essentials, like coffee and marmite, you know; Toiletries – yes, I do still brush my teeth… travel / plane tickets – yup, my life does kind of need these… and, well that is about it really…  “Stuff” is off the list – clothes, electronics, odds and ends, the whole detritus of living, which, when I am packing, means I need a suitcase size hand bag to drag all the useless extras around the world.

Yup, trying out the Bamboo Toothbrush…
Yup, trying out the Bamboo Toothbrush…

 

And, from Jan 1st until Feb 20th, I did not buy anything more than a new toothbrush.  And actually it was easy and pretty liberating – no need to wander the airport looking at the vastly inflated special deals, since I wasn’t buying anyway.  No need to just stop in at the mall on the way home.  Saving time, saving money, but mainly changing how I use the earth’s resourse’s with less frivolous abandon…

And then, the worst happened.  My poor mobile / cell / hand phones have a tough life, I manage to kill them quite fast, and though my current phone is alive and well, one morning last week I woke up thinking, must be time to get going soon – how long until my alarm goes off DING?  Looked at my phone – and it was about 10 minutes after DING time – but alas alack, my phone had refused to DING…  Luckily my internal alarm decided to step in.  Had I hit the snooze button?  Had I turned the alarm off in my sleep?  When it happened three mornings in a row, and I had fortunately woken up on my own brain power, I decided this was a tad dangerous when I had appointments to keep with ponies and their humans in indoor arenas in the early mornings.  So, after much internal debate, I trotted off to the mall and bought myself an alarm clock.  I did consider buying a new phone, but other than the alarm, all is good with the old one.  I stood in the shop in a real dithering frozen moment – I didn’t want to buy it, but was there a choice?  Not really, I wasn’t about to enlist someone else to phone me every morning.  I put the clock on the cashier’s desk, and reluctantly handed over my hard earned cash.  I didn’t want to do this…

it’s kinda cute, right?
it’s kinda cute, right?

A couple of days later, I saw a ridiculous coffee cup while buying my coffee and marmite allowance in the supermarket, picked it up and marched off to the check out.  It was crazy – the body of the mug painted like a pony, with four little stubby feet on it’s base, and the handle extending out to the side to form the pony’s head and neck.  I was only buying it for the ridiculous factor, nothing more.  Before I got there, I woke up – hang on, I’m not buying anything – why am I doing this?  And put the crazy pony back into the crazy pony herd…

Yesterday, I was sitting at an airport – just for a change. They were handing out the immigration forms for the landing side of our journey, so I took one and started digging in my overloaded handbag for a pen – ahh, no pen, this is a problem.  I was about to get up and wander to find a shop for a hugely over priced pen, when I thought hang on, this is the year of no buying, I already have SO many pens, somewhere.  Looked around – happened to be sitting next to my pilot, who was awaiting the same plane – an organised pilot who had a pen in his pocket…  Excuse me, please could I possibly borrow your pen Mr Pilot?  Of course – filled out my form, much thanks given…

For almost two months of this year, I bought nothing.  My brain had become adamant that this is what we are doing – it means something to me, and I haven’t missed buying stuff, haven’t regretted not adding to my overloaded suitcase…  And yet, at my first fall off the wagon – buying that ticking alarm clock – it opened the floodgate of consuming.  It’ll take a few more days, but I think I can get back on the wagon.

So, my question – what do you buy your horse that really doesn’t need buying?  Does he really NEED 36 different cooler rugs in 14 shades of pink?  Do you really NEED 49 pairs of socks?  (OK, bad example, of course you do NEED 49 pairs of socks, I think I probably have about 100 pairs…)  And what about your riding resolution?  Did you resolve not to use that gadget someone convinced you to put on your horse?  You didn’t use it for a month, and once it found its mouldy way out of the cupboard, it’s firmly back in place?  What would be a good new rule to put in place, and how long will you need to make it a better habit?

Happy Riding!

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