Use of Gadgets

and this is how fast he is working it out – just a few minutes later

I read somewhere, the rider is an artist or sculptor, the horse is the medium with which he works.  (And, if anyone has the origin or author, please let me know!)  I like this image.  A friend had two photos on her fridge door.  One was a scruffy, dirty little dark grey colt, with a long black mane and tail, thick winter coat, unshod and slightly long hooves, a bit unkempt. Tail dragging on the ground where it hadn’t been trimmed.  He was slightly ewe necked, weak behind and totally undeveloped.  He was standing, looking slightly wild eyed, in a headcollar, an unseen person holding him steady.  The other photo on her fridge door, shows a magnificent dressage horse, stunningly turned out, gleaming pure white coat, clean, brushed out mane and tail also pure white, tidy hooves, beautiful topline with a big cresty neck and lovely development through his back, quarters and thighs.  Truly, a stunning horse bursting with health and power. He is standing square, oozing confidence and charisma, in a double bridle and dressage saddle, ready for work. And, yes, it is the same horse, taken about 8 years apart.

This horse, was truly an artist’s creation.  He was never hurried or pressured, he was sculpted step by step, sometimes one step forwards, two steps back.  As he was being produced, he was given time to find balance; his muscles were given time to develop; the wrong muscles were given time to soften and let go; his brain was given time to understand; he was given time to become confident and trial new behaviour; he was given time for deep practice, to slowly, slowly understand and create something magnificent.

Another quote that I adore – “I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free” – Michelangelo.  (Even I know this one’s origin!)  This horse, that I am describing above, that is exactly what happened with him and his training – the stunning, calm, presence filled creature in the second photo was always there, and my friend had the knowledge and patience to carve until she set him free.

So, why am I writing this?

Did Michelangelo take power tools to his marble and produce his angel at record speed? Of course not, he would have taken his time, felt the marble, thought and felt about what he was producing, and as an artist, filed away bit by bit.

The classically trained horses have the benefit of time, they are produced over years, so that if he only offers piaffe at 12, it doesn’t matter, because its part of the process, not a race to the finish line.  Which is why these horses stay sound and working into their twenties.

And my point is?  Well, I have been trying to work out, just why would trainers use gadgets?  In my opinion, draw reins, tie downs, martingales, balance reins, should be burned.  There is no place for them.  So, just why do some trainers love them?  Here are my theories…

Can you ride your horse in a simple snaffle and loose cavesson noseband
Can you ride your horse in a simple snaffle and loose cavesson noseband?

The first is the one that I can most empathise with – you have a nice young horse for a novice rider and want the rider to feel what they are aiming for – you don’t want to damage the horse’s back by letting him run around with his head in the air, but the rider hasn’t learned the feel.  Ideally, find the rider a schoolmaster to have some lessons on, but having taught in all sorts of weird and wonderful places, I know it isn’t always possible…   Do I agree with it?  No. But, it’s the one answer that I can see some logic behind.

Next, they want fast answers.  As I said, Michelangelo took time to carve his angel.  But, if he was being pressured to mass produce pieces to sell quickly, to get more chunks of marble out there to the public, and he had a power tool to hand, would it have made it quicker?  Sure.  He could have produced 50 in the time it took to carve 1.  And, since so many were being made, it would be ok if a couple were chipped or flawed, right?  Quantity over quality.  If you own a stallion and want to get his progeny out there and competing, to get more mares in, to raise the stud fee, then you want his babies out there fast, (often mass produced) and winning at 3 or 4 years old.  So, for speed and faster financial reward, use gadgets.

Ego, I also think, can play a role.  If I, as a trainer, am teaching a lesson, and the horse’s head is in the air, am I concerned with what bystanders may be thinking?  Am I looking at the other trainers walking by, and thinking, oooh, this looks bad, my pupil has her horse’s head in the air – what will that mean for my reputation, best I tie it’s head down…  I remember once, riding a riding school horse.  He didn’t go forward, had no go off the leg, and, honestly, felt quite unlevel.  I was just trucking him along the track, with his head in the air, just working on GO. I later found out, one of the junior instructors was very concerned about the fact that this horse’s head was in the air.  Would it have benefited myself or my horse to tie his head down?  No.  Would it have made the junior instructor happier to see his head tucked in?  Oh yes

This horse is at the beginning of his session.  All he is wearing is a rope halter and his boots…  Will he change the way he is going?  This gorgeous horse is Road Runner, owned by Genevieve West
This horse is at the beginning of his session. All he is wearing is a rope halter and his boots… Will he change the way he is going? This gorgeous horse is Road Runner, owned by Genevieve West

Having pupils over horsed.  This is a biggie.  Your pupil buys a horse who is a little too much for them.  Maybe they chose the horse before becoming your pupil, or maybe you bought the horse for them, hoping that they would “grow into” each other, and now, Oh Dear, it’s bordering on being unsafe…  So, we just tie the head down.  This one is a real bug bear for me – educate, both horse and rider. School the horse correctly, teach the rider.  Slow down the lessons, teach them in a walk, until they have more control, and then in trot. Keep them on the lunge, or in a smaller arena.  Educate, don’t punish the horse for being more horse than a rider should be riding.  Buck Brannaman has a great quote – “When someone tells me they want a pushbutton horse, I say you might as well buy yourself some fairy dust.  You’ll bring that horse down to your level in no time”. That fabulous, flashy horse, can be dumbed down pretty quick in a pair of running reins.

Lazy teaching – this is another one that really annoys me.  I can’t be bothered to teach you about contact, so we’ll just pull his head down.  I CAN’T teach you how to ride the horse rounder, through his back or into a quiet hand, because I don’t have enough understanding or the words, so we’ll put draw reins on.  A trainer’s role is to train, to help the pupil to understand.  A trainer shouldn’t take a short cut to avoid teaching the lesson. This is often accompanied by the trainer sitting on the fence with a cup of coffee, a cigarette and a fan club.  Luckily, I only see this very, very rarely!

and this is how fast he is working it out – just a few minutes later
and this is how fast he is working it out – just a few minutes later

How much do you agree?  Sure, there maybe other circumstances, or other reasons that a trainer may try to convince you that using gadgets is the best option, but 99% of the time, I bet it comes down to one of these five…  What are you doing with your horse?  Are you carefully shaping the angel who lies within the marble, or are you forcing a shape that is going to chip and crack?
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You are utterly insane and irresponsible …

“You are utterly insane and irresponsible, how awful” or “Oh my, wonderful, I am so jealous” are the two comments most commonly offered by people when I tell them what I do for a living – freelance coaching.  With a twist.  The area that I cover is – anywhere in the world.  Some locations are recurring, including Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Kenya, South Africa, England, Germany and Spain, while others are one offs – such as Italy or Costa Rica.

Growing up and learning to ride, I was the good pupil, who tried desperately to follow my coaches prompts – make the horse forward, get the horse round, use more leg, ride the canter, being some of those shouted instructions that I would be furiously trying to follow.  It wouldn’t have occurred to me to voice my inner thought of – How?  How do I make the horse rounder?  How do I keep my leg still?  How do I get my lazy horse more forward or my whizzy horse to settle?  Somehow, lots of excellent coaching produced a rider able to compete across the disciplines and produce horses, but there was always that little inner dialogue of – how is this working?  Teaching was a challenge, because I could always see the problem, and see what I wanted to change but often lacked the words or linear set of cues to get the changes I wanted for my pupils.

Thousands of miles in dressage arenas, jumping arenas, cross country courses, race tracks, endurance tracks, bridle paths and lunge rings later, my back started to give out, partly due to a lot of incorrect posture along the way.  At that point I was already experimenting with many ideas, but discovered Mary Wanless and her “Ride With Your Mind” system.  Finally, I had some of the “how to” answers.  How does the horse come rounder?  How can I protect my back?  In her words – she teaches a “tool kit” – things that we as riders need to get our head around.  I became a certified RWYM coach, and that opened my mind to more possibilities and thoughts, creating an eclectic mix that I use today.

I count myself lucky in that I have managed to experience a lot of different things, partly for fun, partly as teaching research, which allows me to connect to my pupils existing skills and has put me in front of some amazing coaches across a lot of different sports.  This year, a rider with scuba diving experience was battling with her horse’s flying changes to the right, while to the left was great.  Our discussion revolved around how, when asking for the left changes, she put her body into scuba diving positive buoyancy mode, while when asking for the difficult right changes she went into negative buoyancy mode.  Instantly, by accessing muscle memory that her body understood, she could ride the changes in either direction.  A young rider was battling with her jumping position and a discussion around our shared interest in rock climbing fixed the issue.  (You can’t pull up with your arms, you have to push up with your core and legs).  And yet another rider was constantly slightly behind the movement, causing frustration and irritation on her sensitive pony, which we worked through…  How?  That morning, I had climbed off a plane with a heavy back pack.  On getting onto the escalator going up towards immigration, the back pack had pulled backwards on my shoulders, almost pulling me off my feet.  I had to engage my core, match the packs backward force with my own forward force, so keeping me vertical on the escalator.  This rider was being the back pack pulling her little gelding backwards.  As soon as we worked through how to engage her core to match his forward momentum, all was better in their world.

Lessons are eclectic, thoughtful and make a rider stop and think.  “Be a frog” or “more tennis balls” have been shouted across arenas, after discussion with riders has made this the explanation that puts them where their horse and I need them to be.    My business is Kuda Guru, which means Horse Teacher.  People assume it means I am the horse riding instructor, but the spin I put on it is, your horse is your teacher, I just translate.

The first question I ask of a rider during a lesson – if I could fix one thing, what would it be?  They will answer, I wish he was more forward / straighter / rhythmic / slower / had impulsion / was balanced.  And in my mind, I always think, if I could ask the horse, what would he wish for?  Generally, the answer I imagine is the same as that the rider just gave.  The rider who says, I wish my horse had a better rhythm, is often a rider who is not riding in a rhythm themselves.  And I bet their horse is thinking, I wish my rider had a better rhythm.  We can’t make the horse have a better rhythm, but if the rider and I can put a better rhythm into that rider, the horse now has a dancing partner that he can work with.  At that point, the horse generally finds rhythm, breathes a sigh of relief and I get to translate – look at that, your horse has rhythm, don’t believe me, believe him.  When your horse goes better, believe that you are doing something right…  He is the expert at being the horse, all I do is translate.

So, what do you wish for when riding your horse?  Would he wish for the same thing?  How can you create that in your own body?

If you would like to follow my travels, thoughts, blogs and learn more, you can follow my Facebook page,  https://www.facebook.com/Kudaguru/  or my new and improved website will be up and running this month at www.kudaguru.com

Happy Riding!

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Adding Value

Is your coach adding value?

Recently, there were three of us sitting around the table, trying to work out why a lame horse was lame.  And no, we couldn’t call the vet, since the country we were in, isn’t that easy.  We were each coming at the problem from a slightly different angle.  I was reminded about two other conversations…

One is from a friend who works in the corporate world, who is always talking about how, in every situation, you need to somehow add value to the job, situation, meeting or customer interaction.  If you are not giving value, or adding input, then why are you there?  As they say, it takes two hands to clap – if you as the coach, advisor, expert, skilled worker etc add value, then the customer, client, pupil can receive the best of what is offered.  If the coach is not adding value, the pupil cannot make an awesome, positive, constructive lesson all on their own, and equally, if the pupil is off or negative, having a bad day, its hard for the coach to do all of the work.  There has to be an interaction – there have to be two hands to clap.  Even the pupil with the best intentions of being really attentive and taking things from the lesson, can’t do that if the coach is not mentally there.  So, whenever I go into a lesson or problem-solving situation, at the back of my mind is, am I adding value to the mix?  And I inputting ideas, thoughts, helping the situation.  If you say – “that’s bad” it’s a negative that no one can draw any ideas from, but if you can say “hmmm, maybe the issue is this, but we can try x, y, z to fix it” then, you are adding value.

Is your coach adding value?
Is your coach adding value?

I was also reminded of a conversation a long time ago, with a horse health care professional.  He said, if I own a hammer, then all I see are nails…  Let’s say that we have a lame horse standing in front of us, and there are twenty of the world’s greatest authorities on lame horses.  The first is a farrier, who says, well, I see a bad nail, and a slight ridge there – the issue is in the horse’s feet.  The second is a saddler, who says the saddle is not quite square, and there could be friction just here.  That is why he is lame.  The third is a bit fitter, who says, the shape of the mouthpiece doesn’t suit this horse, that will cause resistance, tension, unlevelness…  The fourth is a chiropractor, who says the horse’s pelvis is unlevel, he’s not moving right behind.  The fifth is the riding coach, who says, the rider is crooked…  And so it goes on….  What ever my skill (my hammer) I see the issue through those eyes.  Do any of us see the whole horse?  Not entirely, no, I don’t think so.   Is there one clear reason why the horse is lame?  Sometimes, and sometimes all of these experts are right and it’s a accumulative effect of all elements…

Which leads me back to the horse who we were trying to de-code.  Did we get it right?  Not entirely, no.  I think we needed more tools in the tool kit, but we made a good start at unravelling.  How to find the right tool?  I don’t know at this point…  Is the horse constantly at the back of my mind?  Oh yes…

Do you have good body workers who can treat your horse and make him more comfortable?
Do you have good body workers who can treat your horse and make him more comfortable?

So, what is your hammer?  When you approach a horse problem, what can you bring to the table?  I think it’s your responsibility, as an owner, as a rider, to be able to bring something to the table.  Read, study, watch your horse.  Maybe the value you can bring to the table is an awareness – he always trashes his bed and this week it was too tidy for him to have been lying down.  He always eats all of his hay overnight, but this week there has been some left.  He always stretches before walking out of the stable, but this week he didn’t want too…  Notice things, that is often the first big key in sorting something out…  Is he drinking less water?  Is he grinding his teeth when he didn’t in the past?  Is he wearing out the toe of his shoe?  What’s different?

What do I bring to the table?  I know horses.  I know what is right and what isn’t.  I can see gait patterns.  I can see straightness and irregular steps.  I believe my gut reaction that says something is off or not.  I have a sense of horses and have picked up a fair amount of anatomy and symptoms.  I can tell you if a saddle is bad, or a bit is too big, or the shoes are too small.  Am I a vet, or a farrier?  No.   But I can often tell you where you need to be looking, or what expert to bring in.

How well or badly shod is your horse? Can you farrier add value to the discussion?
How well or badly shod is your horse? Can you farrier add value to the discussion?

So, who do you have around your table?  If your horse came out of his stable lame or sick tomorrow, who would add value to him and his recovery?  How can you surround yourself with people who not only have a hammer, but a screwdriver, pliers and a wrench too?  And, what value can you add, to his life, to your conversations with him, and to your lessons?  Where do you add value?  Can you add value to his surroundings and wellbeing?  Sometimes something as simple as a thicker bed, or patch of sand to roll in can add value to his day.  If horses could pick their owners, would your horse pick you.

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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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Why Kudaguru?

One of the Malaysian Kuda Gurus…

Why Kuda Guru?

It’s funny how it always goes in spates – people asking me, so what does Kuda Guru mean, then?  And, generally its which area in the world I am currently sitting in.  Here in Asia, people rarely ask.

Kuda, means horse in Bahasa Malay and Bahasa Indonesia, so, it begins to make a little bit of sense now, yes?  Guru, obviously means teacher, guide, expert or master.

About 8 years ago, I was working full time in Malaysia, in an area called Johor Bahru, which is the border town between Malaysia and Singapore.  It’s quite industrial and tends to be filled with a lot of Singapore commuters too.  Malaysian’s working in Singapore get the best of both worlds – the cheaper Malaysian rents and being able to stay with their families, as well as earning the much higher Singapore wages (and, sadly also enjoy the many hours of sitting on their motorbikes at the border, in very long queues).  There is a big riding school / livery yard / hotel just outside JB (as Johor Bahru is more commonly known), where I was working.

Jahor Bahru where Kuda Guru came about.
Jahor Bahru where Kuda Guru came about.

I’m hopeless at languages, really, honestly, cannot learn them, no matter how hard I try.  So, living in the hotel, I enlisted a couple of the front of house staff to teach me Bahasa Malay.  It took me about a month to get Selamat Pagi (Good morning) and Apa kabar (How are you?).  Really.  A whole month.  I did also learn quite quickly about Apa ini?  (What is this?) when the grooms would bring me the wrong horse, or the right horse with the wrong saddle etc…  But the phrase that seemed clearest, fastest, was Kuda belak (the horses are back) which would be shouted from one end of the yard to the other, to tell the grooms that the trail riding horses were seen coming back out of the jungle.  Every groom who had a horse in the ride that we had shipped out a couple of hours before, would come out and stand and wait for his horse to get close enough, so he could help the guest down and take his charge off for their welcome cold shower.  My first introduction to Kuda.

Now, since we were out in the jungle, there wasn’t an awful lot to do – um, nothing really.  We had a swimming pool at the neighbouring hotel, and another restaurant there, but one of our big highlights was going into the nearest kampong (village) to the very big Tesco supermarket.  *sigh* such was our hectic social life…  One of the other instructors and I would hitch a lift in with the car owning chef, or phone for a cab, and a real taxi would pick us up.  And then, on coming out of our exciting trip, there would generally be 3 or 4 “taxi” cars sitting outside.  These would have been the Grab / Uber cars, except in those days, Grab / Uber didn’t exist.  So, these random young Malay men would be sitting on the off chance that someone would need a ride, haggle over the price, load their unsuspecting passengers into the back of the (usually slightly dodgy) car and take them wherever they needed to go.  In that time, we were proudly shown bright green zebra print fake fur seats…  A first aid kit…  A fire extinguisher.…  and more bling CD’s hung on grubby ribbon over the rear-view mirror than you would imagine possible…  There were several times, whipping up and down the narrow, steep and winding hill roads where we did consider the possibility of our imminent death…

So anyway, on one particular exciting Tesco evening, I came breezing out and a young man was waiting beside his car.  Taxi taxi, miss, taxi, he was calling.  I said yes, please, I need to go to…  And he said yes, yes, I know Kuda Guru.  And so, my introduction, that all the grooms and pretty much all the kampong unofficial taxi drivers knew the Kuda Guru.  Slightly dodgy again?!

One of the Malaysian Kuda Gurus…
One of the Malaysian Kuda Gurus…

Now, if you take this literally, horse teacher.  I, however take it slightly differently –  horse teacher, as in, the master happens to be an equine.  Who knows best what a horse feels like?  Um, a horse.  Who knows when a horse becomes unbalanced?  A horse?  Who knows what this particular rider feels like?  Maybe a horse?  And how many secrets does a horse keep?  About his rider?  None.  You watch a horse, you can see where his attention is…  How rhythmic his rider is….  If he is comfortable or in pain…    If he understands an instruction…  If he is happy or battling to cope.  All of these things, he wears as plain as his heart on his sleeve.  So, by thinking Kuda Guru – my thinking then becomes, your horse is your teacher – why am I here in the arena with you?  Purely as the translator.  After all these years, about the only language that I appear to understand beyond hello and how are you, is horse.  So, when you go out to greet your horse tomorrow morning, please, please say, Selamat Pagi Kuda Guru, Apa Kabar?!  Have fun!

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Machines as Horses

While here, Secret Miracle, is more of a hack type of pon

So, this is weird, random, and maybe just me… But do you ever find yourself comparing a vehicle to a horse?

It started many years ago, when lecturing a group of teenagers for their Pony Club test… Thinking about horse types. A hunter is a tough, workmanlike all-terrain vehicle that can work all day, over rough ground. It can climb slopes, drop off banks, wind through forests, speeding up in open flat areas. It also needs stamina to go and go. Think, SUV – a land rover, jeep, something big and tough, that a farmer would drive around in.

This pony, Ballyaugh Miscellaneous, or Missy for short, would be a hunter type of pony - thick set and tough
This pony, Ballyaugh Miscellaneous, or Missy for short, would be a hunter type of pony – thick set and tough

A riding horse is more like your average day by day city car – drop kids at school, get to work, do your shopping. It’s a horse who is easy and reliable.

This pony - Ballyaugh Melrose, is more of a riding pony type, a little finer than Missy
This pony – Ballyaugh Melrose, is more of a riding pony type, a little finer than Missy

A hack, is the sports car of the equine world… It’s the Ferrari that you pose around town in, something fancy, ultra-easy to ride, and very flashy…

While here, Secret Miracle, is more of a hack type of pon
While here, Secret Miracle, is more of a hack type of pony

Fast forward a few years… I was living in the Caribbean and was island hopping in a tiny little plane. So, when you sit in the enormous, double story, long distance places, it’s like sitting on a great big warmblood… They lumber up the runway, take a long distance run up, and powerfully launch upwards… Things are slow, pedantic, but you feel the blast of power and once going, they just run on forever.

the lumbering great giants
The lumbering great giants

Back to the island hoppers… They are like a kid’s jumping pony. They stand on the runway, quivering in the wind, like the naughty little pony being held down by the long-suffering Pony Club Parents. As they’re released, the leap forwards, bounce, bounce, bounce, and leap upwards, going almost vertically up, trying to get as high as possible before crossing the coast and hitting the land / sea cross winds. As you’re sitting up there, they’re are buffeted by the elements, not having the weight and endurance of the great big warmblood planes, but so much more manoeuvrable… And, I’ve discovered it’s not just the island hoppers, crossing the Kenyan Savannah in a small Caravan plane us just the same, dropping down, watching the game from just above the trees. And, alas, some planes feel a lot like tired old riding school horses, launching in an unco-ordinated way, where you close your eyes, grit your teeth, hang on and hope…

Up close and personal in a tiny plane, landing on safari in Keny
Up close and personal in a tiny plane, landing on safari in Kenya

What really made me think recently, though… A while ago I was teaching a young rider, moving from her sensible first pony onto a bigger, faster, jumping pony. She was feeling over horsed, just so much more power. He moved bigger, faster, just more horse. More sensitive too – her old pony needed a good tap tap with the calf to get him going, but the new pony, breathe on his sides and he’s off… I kept saying to her, honestly, you’re safe. He’s not running away from you, he’s just powerful. If anything, I’m ultra-careful – she wouldn’t have been on him if I thought her unsafe, or worried that he would really be too much for her to handle. But, her brain couldn’t quite get around it.

A scooter's road in Bali
A scooter’s road in Bali

In a couple of places that I go too, we move around by motorbike and scooter. I always use the same little scooter, and in my weird mind, it’s like a little coloured cob. Workmanlike, reliable, not overly fast or powerful and certainly won’t run away with you… This last trip, my little cob of a scooter was lame, so I borrowed a different bike. This was bigger, heavier, faster, and just an awful lot more power. A warmblood of a bike compared to my cob. Tootling around town, was initially interesting… The hand accelerator control was a lot more sensitive, the brake reacted faster, but the bike itself was heavier around the bends and corners. After the first day, I was reminded of my words to my young rider – it’s exactly the same, stop and go are in the same places, it’s totally safe, just a bigger rev….

OK, I’ll be more patient with riders transitioning into bigger ponies in future!

So, what kind of horse or pony do you drive to work?!

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Earworms

Have you always wanted to ride a horse out into the sea? So, what’s stopping you?

Do you know what an earworm is? Its that piece of music that gets stuck in your brain, like chewing gum stuck to the sole of your shoes.  Maybe it’s the irritating muzac from the “Please keep holding” of a phone queue, or the equally irritating jingle from an advert.  Or (hopefully) it’s some thing that is actually pretty cool from a song you like to listen too. Whatever it is, once it’s stuck, it can be hard to get rid of.  Sometimes its not a bad thing…  There is a Robbie William’s song, First They Ignore You.  One line goes “When you think we’re lost, we’re exploring” and I have to say, whenever I’m somewhere new and I get lost, it’s the line that always pops into my head…

Maybe your spark will help you explore a mountain?)
Maybe your spark will help you explore a mountain?

A while ago, I had a fairly regular pupil, (when I actually lived in one place) and during one of our early lessons together, we discussed something that she needed to work on. I said to her something along the lines of – if you’re not aware of something, you can’t fix it.  The earworm that she still has, a long time later is, “If you are aware of it, you are working on it”.  Which she now applies to all aspects of her life.

One group of people who are trying desperately to plant earworms into your brain, are advertising copywriters. And the one advert that always pops up in my mind – a brilliant slogan for a Singaporean bank – “Where will your spark take you?”  It just speaks to me – what can that spark ignite and where will it lead?

Most people who know me, know I like going on adventures (no, really??). That is partly where my spark takes me.  Under seas, on top of mountains, across savannahs, over half a million air miles in the last couple of years.  But how about in real life?  Well, I guess it takes me around the world, into an awful lot of different arenas, meeting different 2 and 4 legged clients and friends, and has led me to start KudaGuru instead of just sticking with working for other people.  My initial spark had me helping out a bunch of horses in Zimbabwe, and setting up my own yard there, called Ballyaugh.  That spark involved a lot of young people, and I love the fact that the spark seems to have lived on in many of them…

Last year, (you may have read my New Year blog a few weeks ago?) seemed to be a bit of a stagnant year – my spark didn’t seem to be ready to take me anywhere except round and round in circles… So, I am in the process of working out just where my spark can take me in 2018.

An old friend of mine used to say that when something was not quite going smoothly, that it could be like pushing an elephant up a hill. Her theory was, if it’s meant to happen, and its your spark, the elephant will walk itself up the hill quite happily.  But the less its meant to be, the harder you have to work to make the elephant move…  2017 seemed to have a lot of elephants!

Have you always wanted to ride a horse out into the sea? So, what’s stopping you?
Have you always wanted to ride a horse out into the sea? So, what’s stopping you

So, I’m sitting planning where my spark is going to be taking me in 2018… Clearing the way for all those elephants to march themselves along, and following my earworm…

But now, I want to ask you a question, and would love to hear your answers…. Where will your spark take YOU?  With your horse?  Maybe a different way of working, or a new discipline?  A new way of keeping him?  A new method of increasing your fitness?  What about in your non-horse life?  Is the spark going to take you round the world?  Or into a new job?  Think for a moment, where will the spark take you?

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