Mongol Derby 2018

Baby Turtle

Mongol Derby 2018

Have you ever heard of a reverse bucket list?

You have heard of a bucket list, right? That wonderful list of things that you still want to do in your life – mine is so long, and keeps growing. Every time someone says – have you thought of this, or have you done that, I say oooh… Yes please, let’s go… Our buckets lists are all so individual – some people have a list that makes me say, well, ok… It may be things like get a passport and travel to a different country; get a job in a new place; go on a solo holiday… All of these things are my every day life, so I wouldn’t consider any of those a challenge. Other people have a horse related bucket list – ride in 10 different countries; improve your dressage scores, go up a grade in show jumping; ride your horse bareback. There is always something new to learn or try with your horse, I still have several different courses and ideas that I want to explore relating horses…

One idea that I loved, that I explored a few years ago, was something called a reverse bucket list – instead of looking at things you are wanting to do, list the things that you are proud to have done already. If you have an office (you have to have a house to have an office, and you have to have an office to have office walls, right?) you can write them on separate post-it notes, and stick them all over your walls as daily inspiration / affirmations, or if, as me, you don’t have walls, you can write a list on a sheet of paper. Again, some things I look at and don’t think they need to go on my list – cantering down a beach for example. But, if you take the things that you are proud of, or which were important to you, and list them, it can be quite cool…

Walking up Kili for charity. Collecting funds and equipment for the Gili cart ponies. Rescuing animals. Supporting a close friend through cancer. Moving my horses out of Zimbabwe… You get the idea. When something appears too difficult, think of what you have already been through, done or accomplished, and things look easier. Maybe your list would be celebrating your 50th wedding anniversary, writing a book or raising a family. No two people would ever have an identical list. And, why do I think this is so important? Am I just filling in time? No, I don’t believe so.

Turtle hatching
Turtle hatching

Everyone, human and animal, needs a challenge. One of the most striking reminders that I had of this, was watching a nest of turtle eggs hatch. The hatchlings had to break through their shells, orient themselves and walk across the sand to the sea. We could not help them, as they had to go through this initial fight, the will to live and fight and survive, to set themselves up for a long life at sea. In the same way, chicks break through shells, and young animals such as foals, must find their feet and their milk source. Often, it is the challenge to do something that gives strength. If you watch people who have overcome a crisis, a challenge or a disability, they are the stronger people. Some things in my life have been tough… Do I regret them? Generally, no. Of course, I would rather not have lost friends and family, but do I regret having known them to lose them? No, don’t cry because it is over, smile because it happened…

Baby Turtle
Baby Turtle

And so, why am I writing this, right now? Well, I believe in trying to find something new to do or try every day, as well as one major challenge a year. Last year, I climbed Mt Kilimanjaro, this year was more of a mental and squeamish challenge as I joined an equine dissection work shop. For me, being a softie when it comes to horses as well as a strict vegetarian and hating the look, smell and feel of meat, sitting through three days of cold with a dead horse was somewhat challenging… And now, I have 2018’s challenge all set up… A few months ago, I filled out the application form for the Ultimate Challenge… I wasn’t sure I would be hearing back from them, but got the call for an interview… A few days later, I received the magical golden ticket… Yes, you are in… So, what is this magic?

On 08/08/18 – a very auspicious day in the Asian thinking – 8th of August – 40 riders will be setting off to race 1,000km across the Mongol Steppes, retracing the route of Genghis Khan’s mail route, in what is the World’s Longest and Toughest horse race. And yes, I will be one of those 40 riders. Am I excited? Beyond excited! And why am I thinking bucket list again? Well, this challenges me on various levels. It is survival skills to the ultimate level – you and a pony, in the middle of nowhere, sleeping rough with no help, in a place where it can get to -10 degrees. Finding my way across 1,000km with no help… It’s you, a GPS and a map, and off you go… Riding 25 unknown ponies is slightly less of a challenge in my eyes since it is my job and has been for many, many years. Fund raising an enormous amount of money when I am hopeless at that – well, that really is a challenge. Getting fit again – that is something I am not especially good at doing. Going off to a new country, well, again, that is something I do all the time. Finding enough protein that can be carried on a pony while following a meat free diet – again, slightly challenging.

And, why am I doing it? Well. Because it is there. Because it will push me to limits that I have never found. Because it is adventure, out of the ordinary and exciting. Because it gives me a reason to get fit, to push harder, not to sit back on my laurels and live my life as just a series of ho hum, another day, days. Because, I do think we need to keep moving, keep pushing our elephant up hills, keep growing, keep reaching for the next mountain on the next horizon…

I challenge you – write your reverse bucket list, see what you have achieved in your life that you are proud of – and please, share it with me?! I am intrigued with humans, what we do, what we think, and what it is that makes you go, yes, me, me, I did that…. And talking about challenges – you know I have about $10,000 to raise? Any offers? A penny or two would be awesome! Thank you in advance…

More about the Mongol Derby 2018

Huge thanks to those who’ve already contributed!!  I’m so grateful.  You can read more about if via the link below or the page here on my website.

Go Fund Me for the Mongol Derby 2018
Go Fund Me for the Mongol Derby 2018

Dressage? Or Orbitss?

Dressage? Or Orbitss?

Dressage means different things to different people.  Even the word sounds complicated and off-putting to some people!  In simple terms Dressage means to train or “dress” the horse.  For some people, dressage is what you do with your pony only if you don’t want to jump, who would go round and round in circles by choice?!  Maybe it’s time to think again…

Think about what happens when you go to a jumping show. You’ll spend about 3 minutes inside the arena.  Of that time you’ll actually be jumping for about 15 seconds. The rest of the time you’ll be asking your pony to slow down (shorten his stride), speed up (lengthen his stride), turn right and left, keep in canter, change the rein, all in a balanced, even, obedient way.  That is a fairly good description of dressage!

When you take your pony on an outride and he sees a terrible horse–eating plastic bag monster waiting in the hedge to attack him, his easiest escape route is to leap into the middle of the road.  If there is a car coming this isn’t really where you want to be.  If your pony has done some dressage and is a responsive, trained pony you’ll be able to push him back towards the verge of the road with your legs (called leg yielding) and so avoid being squashed.  Most of the gates you come across these days are electric but the common old farm gate is much easier to open and close if your pony will move around the gate listening to your legs (turn on the forehand).

So, dressage is just a way of saying that you’re training your pony to be a safe, easy, responsive ride, making it more pleasant for both of you to have some fun in whatever you do.

How do you start?  In Germany, there was developed (many years ago) something called the Scales of Training.  It begins by saying that the horse must travel forward with energy (impulsion) and go straight.  At the top end of the scale, your horse has developed enough gymnastic ability (power, flexibility, balance) and knowledge to be able to perform the highest movements.  Let’s look at a simpler way to get started…

To start with, work through the word ORBITSS.  Each letter of ORBITSS represents something that you and your pony can work on improving.

Obedience

Obedience starts orbitss off.  Think about what obedience means.  If your Mom asks you to do your homework and you go and do it, you’re being obedient. If you carry on playing your computer game, your not!  Now think about how that works with your pony.  If you close your leg and ask him to step forward, and he does step forward, it’s an obedient response.  If he ignores you and carries on snoozing in the sun he’s disobedient.  Ride your pony around for a few minutes just thinking about whether or not he listens to you.  Ride some transitions (changes of pace, e.g., walk to trot).  Most ponies are either more obedient to going faster or going slower, it’s your job to work out which and try and teach your pony to be obedient to both sets of instructions.  Think about what else you ask your pony – turn right, turn left, circle, go past the gate, go away from his friends, stand still – and work out how obedient or disobedient your pony is?  This is the first step of having a pony who is a pleasure to ride.

Rhythm

Rhythm comes up next.  Which is what?  Listen to your favorite song.  Chances are that in the background there is a drummer who is holding the beat of the song and helping everyone else stay together.  That’s the rhythm.  When your pony walks he moves each leg on its own, so if he walks on a hard surface you’ll hear 1 – 2 – 3 – 4 as each foot touches the ground.  If your pony holds a good rhythm he’ll sound like the drummer – even and regular.  His walk will be 1 – 2 – 3 – 4 – 1 – 2 – 3 – 4 – 1 – 2 – 3 – 4.  If his rhythm isn’t as good it’ll be more like 1 – 23412 – – – 341 –  2 – 3  – 4 -1234.  See the difference?  This works for all your pony’s paces, the walk being 4 beat, trot 2 beat, canter 3 beat and gallop 4 beat.  All the winning show jumpers, eventers, even race horses’ can hold a good, even rhythm.  The easiest way for you to start feeling rhythm is to ride to music.  Next time you school your pony, put the radio or a CD on.  The walk, trot and canter all have different rhythms so different music will be better with different paces and some music won’t fit with anything at all!  A word of warning – don’t ride with earphones on, attached to your MP3 player.  If your pony leaps in the air because of a sudden loud noise that you didn’t hear, the chances are that you’ll part company!  Also, the pony often gets the idea, listens to the music and starts holding a better rhythm, give him a chance to try!  Stick to having a portable CD player on the fence or have a car with loud speakers parked by the arena with its door open.  Start the music quite softly and turn the volume up as your pony gets used to it.

Balance

Balance is Orbitss “B”.  Balance is what keeps tight rope walkers on their wire 20m off the ground, and keeps you on your bike.  In dressage, balance is described as the pony having his weight equally carried on all four legs, easier for him to do on his own then when we add tack and a rider.  Remember when you ran down a really steep hill?  The further down the hill you went, the more your body ran away with your legs and the more you felt like you were going to topple over and roll down the hill?  That’s what happens when you lose your balance.  Ponies are normally balanced when they are loose in their paddock.  There is equal weight on all four legs.  When we start training a young pony he often starts off carrying more weight on his front legs then his back legs.  If we train him correctly with the help of dressage he’ll gradually develop the strength to balance himself (and you) on all four legs again.  The advanced pony will end up carrying most of his weight (and yours) on his back legs, making balance easier.  Balance comes from a mixture of all the letters in Orbitss.  Read and work on the others and you’ll find balance will come.  The most common type of lack of balance you’ll feel is when a pony leans on your hands and pulls you forward. This is called being “On the Forehand” and is because the pony’s weight is all being carried on his front legs.  Imagine that you are riding over a frozen lake, a thick layer of ice over the water underneath.  A balanced pony is light on his feet and could canter over the lake without cracking the ice.  An unbalanced pony will be heavy and hard on the ice, crack it and fall through.  The more balanced your pony, the quieter his footfalls sound.  Think especially about the next letter’s word….

Impulsion

Impulsion is a fancy word for energy, power.  A race horse can travel at 35km an hour – he has great propulsion (forward movement) but not always much impulsion.  A highly trained dressage horse can trot on the spot (Piaffe). He has almost no propulsion (forward movement) but a massive amount of impulsion (power).  So, impulsion is not speed.  Impulsion comes from the pony bringing his back legs under his body and using their power to push forward.  A pony with impulsion will normally be balanced and move forwards obediently.  A pony lacking in impulsion will often be on the forehand and lazy about moving forward when you squeeze with your legs, because it’s an effort to drag himself forward with his front legs.  Think of a tractor dragging a plough.  The plough’s energy comes from the front (the tractor) and the sharp front part of the plough’s blades dig into the ground. If your pony’s movement comes from the front legs pulling forward, his nose and shoulders pull down towards the ground and your hands on the reins support him.  Now think of a plane going down the runway to take off.  All the power is from behind, pushing the plane forward and it takes a light touch from the pilot to lift the plane’s nose off the ground.  If this is your pony, his hindquarters are pushing him forward into a light contact with your hands and he finds it easy to do whatever you ask.  When developing impulsion your greatest tool is transitions – changes through walk, trot and canter.  Next time you ride, start by doing 100 quick transitions – all jumbled up, and you’ll find that as he pushes off his hind legs to go faster or swings his hind legs under himself to slow down his impulsion will improve.  It has great effect on obedience and balance to!

Tempo

Tempo comes up next and is often confused with rhythm because the two seem quite similar.  Rhythm was about the beat, Tempo is about the speed of the beat and just to make it take even more thought, tempo is often affected by balance!  Ride a canter to trot transition.  Remember the feeling of having a nice canter then riding to trot only to get a horrible, fast, running trot that you then had to slow down?  What happens there is the pony doesn’t use his hind legs to slow down, he loses his balance and all his weight ends up on his front legs (On the Forehand), so he has to rush with his front legs to stop his nose from ploughing into the ground.  Those horrible running steps are the change of tempo – his trot was really fast and then you slowed it down.  So, a pony with a bad tempo will go faster, slower, faster, slower in a pace.  The time between each beat can stay the same so his rhythm will be even but his speed isn’t.  The most common time for the tempo to change is in the strides following a transition.  Think about counting a beat in your head and often the pony will follow your lead and hold a more even tempo.

Straightness and Suppleness

Straightness and Suppleness come together at the end of Orbitss for the two S’s.  The pony’s two right legs should work on the same track and his left legs should work on their own track.  Think of a train – all the wheels on the right of each carriage follow the same length of steel track, the wheels on the left follow their track.  No matter how the track turns and twists around bends, straights and corners, each set of wheels follow their own track.  If you watch a pony coming toward you only the front legs should be visible.  If the pony is going away, only his hind legs.  Practice riding straight lines in your arena, up the centre, quarter lines or even just a metre or two in from the track.  See if you can keep your pony straight, if he wiggles like a worm or drifts back towards the fence.  Think of your two legs like the walls of a narrow tunnel, if he drifts to the right, the right wall (your right leg) pushes against his side to push him back toward the left.  If he drifts left, your left “wall” does the correcting.

Even on a circle, you want your pony to travel straight, that is, the hind legs following the front, – think of your railway tracks.  The hind legs follow in the same prints left by the front legs, the pony being supple enough in his body to follow the shape of the curve without throwing his shoulders or quarters to the outside.  A thick plank of wood isn’t supple; it has no bend in it to follow the line of a circle.  A dressage whip is supple; it can bend and flex to form a different shape.  Practice riding different circles, serpentines and curves, see if you can feel if his shoulders and quarters are following an even line.  To make it harder, draw a circle in the sand of an arena and try to keep your pony’s right and left legs evenly on either side of the line.

So, next time you ride, think of a letter or two and see if you can work out how well you and your pony are doing.  Once you get an idea of the whole of ORBITSS and can correct some of the weaker parts, you’re on track to ride a good dressage test, or improve your jumping.  Once it’s easy on your pony because you’ve got used to assessing him, get together with some friends and their ponies, swop around and give yourselves 20 min to assess the new pony.  Then compare ideas with his usual rider and see if you all agree.

 

And breathe

And breathe....

And breathe

And breathe....
And breathe….

Some of you know all about my ridiculous life, others have a vague idea, and others are only just hearing about who I am and what I do – I live a very nomadic life, whizzing around the world and playing with ponies, in between writing blogs, articles and building up a library of online lessons.  In fact, my phone’s app has just told me that I have clocked up almost half a million miles since 2015.  Scary…  One of the most common things I hear is – you have an awesome life, one long holiday…  Now, I fully agree with the first part of that statement – I have an awesome life.  The second part…  Um, no.  Life is not one long holiday…

So, June and July were hectic, running around Asia.  August was insane, bouncing around through South Africa.  And September was Italy and some training for me at Mary Wanless’s base in the Cotswolds.  I must admit, I was incredibly tired, grumpy and stressed.  My to do list was growing longer by the day, and seemed an insurmountable peak.  Whenever I had a free half hour, I would look at my list, decide that all the jobs would take days, not worth even starting, and play on Facebook instead.  It really was dreadful, and the more days that passed, the more unanswered emails there were, the closer to needing to book flights, the more deadlines loomed, the less I wanted to do, because the more stressed I was becoming about being so far behind and missing so many deadlines.

I posted HELP on Facebook (you know, Facebook really is a procrastinators paradise – so much to do, so many distractions), and got lots of great advice – write a list; do the smallest job first; download this software; hire a PA.  And, I did…  Nothing.  Nada.  Not a thing.  Switched to watching TED talks about finding motivation and avoiding procrastination…  And, still did nothing.

Finally, I arrive here in Sunny Singapore, where I now sit, and due to holidays, people coming, people going, the loss of some horses etc etc, I have a whole heap less lessons that usual, and you know what?  My sanity (well, my version of it…  Don’t comment please), has been restored.  A whole lot of sleep helped.  A few 12-hour nights of total utter dead to the world-ness.  And, then, several whole afternoons in front of my laptop.  I had the time to actually take on a task, work through it and get it done.  I haven’t got many things crossed off my list, because most things on there will require months and many, many hours, but the elephant I have been trying to shift up the hill has lightened slightly, he might not be heading up the hill, but at least he isn’t sliding back down it.

I had a close friend who always said to me, if three different people come up to you and say the same thing, it is the universe trying to send you a message.  Well, a friend and pupil came up to me on arrival in Singapore, gave me a big hug and said, you really look like you need a rest – and she was the sixth person in the last month to say something along the lines of – you need a rest, when is there YOU time, you gonna get sick soon etc.  And you know what?  It was the universe taking out a big hammer.  By having less lessons booked, it removed a huge amount of time issues, gave me time to breathe, and now that I have started getting things done, they are flowing along beautifully.  This week has been incredibly productive, and I have started to feel human again.  I have a hectic time again between now and Christmas, when I will really be taking a holiday, but this 10 days of respite has really stopped me grinding to a halt.

Make time to relax and unwind.

Which leads me to think about riders and horse owners.  How often do riders say, I HAVE to get to ride my horse – he waits for his turn to work…  You know what.  He doesn’t.  He doesn’t aspire to jump higher, practice his half pass or get to the next Olympics.  If he has access to paddocks, can self-exercise and bumble around, has friends, food, water and shelter, he is perfectly happy to have some down time while you have your down time.  My own horses often seemed to come back better after a rest, having had a chance to learn to horse again, rather than be a sporting partner.  If he lives in a stable and has no access to turn out, then yes, you need to do something with him, but maybe hack out, turn out into an area if there are no paddocks, loose lunge, do some liberty work, something or anything that is different.

For the rider too, take some time out.  Try out a new sport or hobby.  Go for a walk, swim, hit the gym, lie on the couch with a book or go off to a tropical island for a week.  Its easy to get bogged down in life, but you know what?  Sometimes we need to stop, or else our body will break and stop us for longer!!!  What are you going to do for your break?

 

 

 

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Online Theory Courses.

Notes - The bulk of my earthly belongings

Online Theory Courses.

Notes - The bulk of my earthly belongings
Notes – The bulk of my earthly belongings

This picture is a small portion of what makes up the bulk of my earthly belongings – notes.  Boxes of them.  For 20 odd years I have lectured again, again, again to Pony Clubbers, Brownies, Girl guides, boy scouts, grooms, pony campers, ABRS student, and professional students – the young instructors to be, getting ready for their British Horse Society and South African federation teaching exams.  And, during that time, I have written an awful lot of course handouts, lesson plans, test sheets, diagrams (ya, I really can’t draw) and and and….    Vet notes for people who suddenly say Help, my horse has ringbone, what is it and what do I do about it?  And for clients saying help – I have bought land and am building a stable – where do I start.

Do you know all these parts? Or do you need a brush up?
Do you know all these parts? Or do you need a brush up?

My awesome students have managed to average a 97% pass rate (I did say they were awesome) so maybe there is something useful in all these piles of notes.  Now, my problem is – I travel around the globe (you may have noticed this?) And those irritating airlines don’t like me taking 500kg of paper notes with me on my flights, so all this resource was, temporarily, unavailable.   Which is crazy, considering how many of my pupils want to learn more about horse care, are thinking of taking the plunge and buying a horse, dealing with an unsoundness or are biting their finger nails, getting ready to take an exam.  And, considering the hours I put in researching, developing and putting all that knowledge into a user friendly, compact format that made an almost fail proof resource for my students.

So which is the shoe for a front hoof, and which is the hind? Do you know the difference?
So which is the shoe for a front hoof, and which is the hind? Do you know the difference?

So, a big part of my current job, is putting all of this onto my laptop – making those 20 odd years of research and studying available again – and you know, it’s pretty cool!  Reminds me of some of the simple things I have forgotten to teach because they are such ingrained habits, made me look for new illustrations, made me research new information about things that I haven’t updated in all these years.  And yes, my mother is very happy that she has one less box in her house already!  Only about 10 to go….

There are lots of people doing this now – teaching online, so what makes this different?  Well two things – for starters, not only was I a lecturer, but I was an examiner.  So yes, I got all the daft, confused and non-thinking answers.  And every time I got a really daft answer, the whole problem got included in the notes relevant to that exam, meaning that when my pupils went and sat it, they didn’t say the same thing.  And the other?  Well, having worked full time with horses, teaching and running yards on 5 continents, in a huge diversity of countries, climates, conditions and cultures, I got to see the good things and not so good in each place – what worked really well in a certain place, that wasn’t thought of somewhere else, so we can put a different spin on the same problem.

This is common in some countries – any idea what it is for?
This is common in some countries – any idea what it is for?

Anything useful for you?  That depends…  Are you keen to learn?  Do you have a horse who you want to do the best for?  Do you have a specific problem?  Well then yes, there is something there for you.  Every day more is getting added to my laptop and weekly there is more appearing online…  Some is free, sadly some isn’t since I need to earn my airfares.  And, another thing I love about it?  Read it, learn it, think about it, and when I appear at your yard, we can do all the practical stuff, quickly, easily, saving you money in not having to cover the theory in lesson time and passing tests first time – a pretty good deal I think…  Who is in?

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A Little Bit of Tuscany

How good does that look?)

A Little Bit of Tuscany

I had never been to Italy, but it was on the list…  So, when yoga retreat organiser, Raven, said “How about we do the next one in Tuscany”, how could I say no?

Tuscany is fairly central in Italy, with Florence as it’s capital city and art and wine as two of the things it is most famous for.  What’s not to like?  We were heading to a villa in the province of Lucca, with the walled commune city of Lucca as its central point.     My journey began in Rome, with three trains leading me to my final destination.

Rome
Rome

The train from Rome was high speed, state of the art, smooth, comfortable and very organised.  As I changed trains in Florence to get on the district line, this luxury morphed in to a rattle trap old metal box, held together by a wing and a prayer, that left 45 minutes late, just because it could….  I did have a slight sinking of the stomach moment.  Arriving into Pisa, it really showed that we were getting more and more rural by the kilometre, and our late departure from Florence meant I had missed my connection to Lucca.  The thought of waiting another 90 minutes for the next train proved more than my brain could cope with, so taxi it was – and an introduction to the death defying adventure that can be enjoyed daily, driving on the Italian roads.   At this point I was questioning our plan, but arriving at Villa Benvenuti and meeting Sara, the owner, calmed all my qualms.  (Firstly, even before meeting Sara, due to a wild boar sow and her 4 children running, squealing, along side my taxi before diving off towards the vineyards.  Anywhere that has happy wild boar choosing to live there must be a good place).

The villa is stunning, set on a large plot of land with several old established fruit trees and a small vineyard.  Is there anything better than wandering through the grounds, picking figs off the tree and grapes and tomatoes off the vine and munching on their sun warmed gooey-ness for breakfast?  And then of course seeing what lovely Ornella, our Italian chef for the week, would come up with using all these amazing fresh ingredients.  Every time I go on one of these retreats, I say I am not eating much…  Well, how can you resist fresh bread and nocciolata, with piping hot Italian coffee for breakfast.  Pear, cheese, walnut and honey salad or fig and cream cheese, or apple and fennel soup, or aubergine, tomato and mozzarella stack for lunch, followed by gnudi, pastas and risottos for dinner?  And then of course, all those desserts….  Tiramisu, chocolate mousse, slow baked figs….  Hmmm….  As ever, don’t come on a retreat if you are dieting.

How good does that look?)
How good does that look?)

Between Caribbean Raven, our Florida yoga teacher, Angel, and Zimbabwean me, we were a pretty diverse group for starters, but once guests arrived from US, Australia (via Singapore), Sweden, UK and Holland, we could have held international talks.  This international flavour is one of the things I love about our yoga retreat weeks – from the first night, dinner conversation flows with stories of different cultures, new adventures, people’s travels to exotic places and the general ebb and flow of people figuring out who is who.  And of course, the free-flowing bubbles always helps the conversation along.

Our idyllic days quickly settled into routines – getting up for long, strong, hot black coffee (black like my soul…) half an hour of gentle stretching and mindfulness, a delicious breakfast and yet more coffee.  And then choices, some guests wanting to come out and play ponies, some preferring the pool or hiking trails.  A death defying car ride back for more food (sigh) and then generally more ponies or a dismounted riding theory chat, followed by more yin yoga, and (yes) more food.  And bubbles, never forget the bubbles…

Grapes!
Grapes!

Our day off included a wander within (and on top of) the walled city of Lucca, which is quite stunning and, so far, my favourite part of Italy.  This ancient commune city was built around its 11th century cathedral, and surrounded by 16th and 17th century ramparts, creating just a little history.  (Including being the birth place of Puccini).  It is just lovely, especially with the annual flower market on.  I could have done an awful lot of shopping if flowers and plants could travel across borders.

The walled city of Lucca
The walled city of Lucca

The riding was spread over a couple of yards, giving several horses to play with.  There is a very famous horse race held in Italy every year, the Palio di Siena, which has been running since 1633.  17 contrades or districts, race against each other, each putting forward one horse and rider.  These riders race their horses bareback, 3 times around the town square.  It is a controversial race due to the number of accidents and horses that are lost, but still a crucial part of their history.  Our most eccentric yard owner spoke not one work of English, but very proudly led me by the arm into his office, where a worn and weathered black and white photograph was pinned on the wall, obviously many, many years old, when he himself had been a jockey in the race.  Next to it was a portrait photograph of an ancient horse, greyed, hollows above the eyes and rubbery lips hanging loosely over long teeth.  He pointed to the horse he was racing and back to this old equine face several times, showing that he had kept his racing friend for an awful lot of years after their fame, and his affection for his horses was beautifully obvious.

My thoughts on leaving Italy – well, the food – sigh, I would be as big as a house if I lived there.  The people – open, friendly, welcoming.  The scenery, stunning.  But maybe my roots in third world countries and their love of rubber time, (promptness is optional, time is like rubber and can be stretched, 5 minutes can easily become 55 minutes) still irritate me slightly…  As a holiday making guest, being on time is optional but as an organiser, please, please can 2pm actually happen at 2pm?  Maybe?  So will I be back?  Oooh, yes please, when shall we book our ticket???

View through an open door
View through an open door
Sunset in Tuscany
Sunset in Tuscany
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Stuff

How much stuff do you actually need? In my defence, all this luggage was going with me to Gili Trawangan, much needed tack and medical supplies for the Gili Cart Pony Project.

Stuff

How much stuff do you actually need? In my defence, all this luggage was going with me to Gili Trawangan, much needed tack and medical supplies for the Gili Cart Pony Project.
How much stuff do you actually need? In my defence, all this luggage was going with me to Gili Trawangan, much needed tack and medical supplies for the Gili Cart Pony Project.

My New Year Resolution for 2017 was a lofty one – but I do think important one.  I was planning to go for zero waste.  And, what has happened?  Probably the year where I have thrown the most away.  Oh yes, don’t get me wrong – I have only used my metal water bottle, no plastic.  And, my fancy (expensive) thermal protected coffee cup is used daily – one of the best investments ever, no more take away cups.  My glass straw comes out at restaurants and food courts, my little pack of camping cutlery lives in my bag ready for use, and I always have a folding shopping bag in my pocket.  My use of single-use, flimsy plastic and takeout food junk is almost non-existent (I do slip up…).  In this regard, I have been about 95% successful.  But, in looking at our constant daily waste, I have also been looking at our over consumption.  Which is so not cool.

I live a nomadic life, hopping on and off planes at least once, twice, three times a month, And staying in regions for several months at a time.  In fact, I am typing away at this at 38,000 feet, on my way to spend 10 weeks in Asia and then 4 in South Africa.  I have to live lightly – 23 kg lightly to be exact.  Or, so I thought.  A big draw now is the airline who offers 30kg of luggage instead of 23kg – we all need that extra 7kg….  And now, several  of the airlines are offering two x 23kg suitcases, all included in your flight – a sign that we cannot fit in our 23kg allowance.  We are buying more and more, needing to fill our lives with more and more stuff…  Who says money cannot buy happiness?  Haven’t you see it in the shops?  Just buy this XXXX  and your life will be Awesome…

So, I arrived back in UK last month and urgently needed a certain important form – that bit of official paperwork which suddenly your life depends on.  And, I knew it was in a box at my nephew’s house.  Or, maybe in a box at my brother’s…  My nephew duly arrived with – 2 boxes and a suitcase, all of which had been in his garage.  My brother found a box in his cupboard under the stairs, and the suitcases at a friend’s house…  Well….  Over the past month, the local charity shop learnt exactly who I was, now greeting me when I breeze in.  A full suitcase the first day, and lots and lots of bags since.  And of course, the paper recyclers – they have been busy on my behalf too.

In a way, it’s easier for me to buy more – I get somewhere, realise I forgot to pack enough socks, so buy some more…A country isn’t as close to summer as I thought – so buy another fleece…  So, my year of zero waste has become the year of down-sizing, decluttering, sorting out and throwing out the old and unwanted…  Maybe 2018 can be the zero year…

Which, brings my thoughts back to horses.  I had 80 horses at one stage.  And the “stuff”…  I can pretty much list.  80 headcollars with flyfinges and ropes.  Around 60 bridles, mainly snaffles with cavesson nosebands.  About 3 had a flash / stronger bit etc.  2 wore martingales when they jumped.  About 6 /7 of those horses wore shoes, and only they wore brushing boots.  20 – 30 saddles, each with a saddle pad and girth.  And everyone had one blanket, for wearing at night in winter.  A pile of about 15 show saddle pads and some white ones for dressage.  That was it.  A big feed room filled with food.  Well stocked first aid cupboard.  And each groom had his bag of brushes.  A lot of the yards I go to around the world are still like that.  The best ponies often tootle into the arena with their worn old bridle and simple general purpose saddle.  More and more, owners are taking off the boots, bandages, martingales, bits, nosebands and other gadgets they had added, which have been weighing their horses down.

A very tidy tack room
A very tidy tack room

Two well-known event riders who I have huge respect for each said something that I always remember.  I worked for one of them for a season, and part of my job was hacking out a very naughty young event horse who would do flick flacks down the road.  He was in a snaffle bridle, cavesson noseband and a saddle, with a pair of front brushing boots.  That was it.  One day, after a particularly naughty outing, I asked, please can I put a martingale on him when I hack him out.  The rider asked if I knew what a martingale was?  Uhh, yeah?  Strap, you know, girth to reins?  No, he replied.  A martingale is a huge flashing neon sign hanging around a horse’s neck, saying “my owner doesn’t care enough to school me”.  So, no.  Apart from the fact you can’t hack him with a martingale, I don’t own one….  Says a two time Olympic, two-time world games event rider….  I don’t own a martingale.  The other thing that made me think, was watching a different event rider teach a cross country clinic, and saying that she never schools dressage, show jumping or eventing with boots.  Think about it she says – when, as a child, you walk into the corner of the coffee table, it hurt and you started to take note of where you put your feet.  You develop spatial awareness of your body.  Do you see people going out for a jog with shin pads and knee guards?  Of course not, don’t be ridiculous.  Do you see wild horses in the bush in boots?  No.  And do you see them with self-inflicted wounds on their legs?  No.  A horse knows where his legs are, or at least he should.  Putting boots on makes them sloppy in their movement. Then they do stand on themselves.  There is no reason for boots unless your horse has the kind of conformation fault that does in fact make them brush / speedy cut / interfere.

This boy is enjoying the fact that he owns a winter rug!)
This boy is enjoying the fact that he owns a winter rug!)

Part of the problem is that we keep up with the trendy.  Years ago, an Irish rider started to win on his horse in a hackamore, a bitless bridle.  Sales of hackamores, something that was not especially popular or needed before, went through the roof.  Why?  Well clearly it was the reason this horse won a derby / medal etc.  If you use the same bitless bridle, you too can win the medal…  Buy happiness or success, it always works…  Nothing to do with the hours of blood, sweat and tears that went into the training of horse and rider.  A bit maker once said, he makes 100 different bits, two for the horse, and 98 for the rider’s brain.  So, why do we get so hung up on gear?   On one hand, hours of work, on the other, good advertising that says we can buy success and happiness….  Hmmmm, wonder why we have a problem.

So, I’ll just keep chipping away at keeping below the 23kg limit, and we’ll see if 2018 will be the zero waste year…

Motivation

Motivation – hmmm, at times I hate that word.

When someone asks me, what is your skill, or talent, what are you best at doing? Procrastination – finding the importance in studying people’s food photos on Facebook, studying the back of my own eyelids, going for a walk, washing my hair, anything that removes me from what I should be doing. Give me a full day of lessons, I am on it, tackling each with the same enthusiasm as the first, but give me a tax return, or reports to write – ooooh look, a butterfly….

(My internet lady, who puts all that I write into the website, will know, I have chosen to write this, rather than tackle the jobs that she has given me instead…. The lessor of two evils!) So, why am I writing this now? Well, there is an interesting pattern that I noticed a while ago, and it is still holding true, although I am not consciously pushing it.

When I am in England, I am very lucky to stay in a house belonging to a lovely lady, who is famous in the horse industry. She has been a mentor to me for some time, and other than being a ground-breaking horse person, she is always amazing me with how dedicated she is. She has written many books, and has the discipline to shut herself in her office, and get it done, while I am taking photos of her cat to post on Instagram, and watching the hot air balloons float past the window…. Are we seeing a difference here?! When she is away, I kidnap her office, park myself in her chair, set my laptop up on her desk – and do you know, I get more done there, in that week in her office than in the entire year anywhere else.

Now, as I sit in Singapore, I again stay with another amazing lady, this one not having to do with horses, but a high flyer in the corporate world, and having the motivation to work mostly from home – ya, no, that really wouldn’t work for me now, would it – ohh, another butterfly. And again, she travels a lot for work, and when she is away, I pinch her spot with a desk, set up my laptop in front of her office chair. The UK desk has a wonderful view of paddocks with horses, and rolling English countryside, while this desk has a view of a white wall, but in principle, they work the same.

Now, in both places, I say that I am pinching (or piggy-backing) on their work ethic, their mojo, the magic spell that they cast over their desks and offices allows me to – ohh, butterfly – sorry, allows me to concentrate and get on with the job. I think though, there are two key factors, and this is what we need to address for your riding practice too…

I am comfortable. In a lot of places, I balance my laptop on my knees, while sitting on the floor, my bed, or a sandy beach. Or I lie on the floor to write. Or lean against the counter in a coffee shop. My back aches, I have to fidget. Foot goes to sleep with the odd angle, so I get up. The sun is shining in my eyes, so I squint. Discomfort and focus are not friends. Both of these desks are set up for busy, motivated people who need to be able to sit down and crack on. Take this to your horse – your stirrups have stretched and you just can’t get them even. Oooh, this underwear really doesn’t work (while on the subject, ladies, sports bras please – you need to be comfortable). The arena hasn’t been levelled and has a rough spot that keeps grabbing your attention. There is STILL a chunk of mud in your horse’s mane, just behind his ears. And for your horse? This browband pinches my ears, but I get in trouble when I shake my head. My saddle bounces on my poor back. These bandages are too loose and are slipping around like carpet slippers. The ground is slippery and I don’t feel safe. Distractions at every turn.

The other thing though, is mental. I go into these two offices knowing that I will sit and write. My mind set is correct. I come in, leaving my phone behind. I turn the internet off, sit with a purpose and get the job done. Both these ladies use a timer to get up and move every hour, I tend to let the empty coffee cup tell me when it is time to walk to the kitchen, but my intention is set – I know I will be comfortable, with no distractions, so set my brain, body, mindset, intention, focus, whatever you choose to call it, to GO, and I work.

Again, let’s move this to your horse and arena. You have a lesson booked, or a test to practice for the upcoming show. So, you go into the arena, intending to practice you have your game ready hat on, leave your phone at the stables, choose a spot away from your friends, you focus, your horse think oh yeah, she means business and he comes to the focus party too. It is a mindset – you have decided what needs doing, so you get it done.

If you tried to school your horse, and your mind wasn’t really on it. Your boot was rubbing your ankle, and that pair of knickers really didn’t work. Your horse’s boot slipped so you had to get off to fix it. And, you had your phone in your pocket, and when it rang, you answered it and had an argument with you significant other. The schooling session went to pot, you got demotivated, and went for a hack around the block instead. A few days later, you look – right to the arena, or left to the forest trail? Ah, the arena was awful, lets go play in the forest. This pattern happens for two weeks, you go back to the arena. Your horse’s boot is still slipping. AND now he is stiff, having done no suppling work for two weeks. Give up, go to the beach. You see how easy it is to lose that mojo?

The opposite, you are comfortable in your clothes (a regular bra, with a sports bra over the top works great, ladies). Your horse is comfortable in his tack – you bought him a longer browband, had the saddler fit a saddle and ditched the bandages. You schooled away from your friends and phone, had an awesome ride, and are feeling inspired to keep this upward trend happening.

It isn’t the magic desk, or the view. Its comfort and mindset. What is interrupting your schooling? What is stopping your progress? Is it out of your control? (like a rainy spell, where the arenas flood), or in your control (get that sports bra). Do you need help (give me a call, I travel to you!!!), or do you just need to focus? Are you both comfortable? Do you have goal to work for?

Right then, I am off to file my tax return – oooh look, my coffee cup is empty….

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Squirrel

Squirrel
Squirrel
Squirrel

Squirrel – a vital instruction in my arena.  What?

Think of a squirrel – cute little furry beast, sitting in his tree.  He spies an acorn down there on the floor, and has to clamber down his tree to reach the floor, safely but quickly before someone else gets his acorn.  With me so far?

Now, what seems like a great kid’s game is actually a really good way to keep riders safe.

From their very first lesson, riders should be taught the correct way to dismount – take the rein in the left hand, remove feet from stirrups, lean well forwards, swinging the right leg high, up and over the pony’s quarters without kicking him, and landing on both feet beside the horse’s left shoulder / ribs.  They should be holding the reins, still in control.  In squirrel, we practice doing this on command, first in halt, then walk, trot and eventually even in canter.

Chat to your riders, explaining what a squirrel is (in some countries there are none, so kids don’t know what they are) and that at random points throughout the lesson, you might shout SQUIRREL.  When you do, they must take their feet out of the stirrups, reins in left hand, swing the right leg over, and keep up with the pony, in whatever pace he is in.  Start in halt – whole ride prepare to halt – whole ride halt, and whole ride SQUIRREL.  The riders should follow their normal dismount routine and land on the ground, hand on the reins, keeping their feet still, so both they and their ponies remain standing still.  Start this on the left rein, so that they dismount on the normal (left) side, landing on the inner edge of their pony (towards the inside on the arena rather than out by the rail).  Once they can do this, practice on the right rein.  Here you have a choice – either they have to steer their pony a stride in, off the track, allowing space to land between the pony and the rail, or (the option I prefer) they have to dismount from the pony’s right hand side.

Once they can do this, skip out the halt part – as they are walking around the track (again, start on the left rein) – out of the blue, yell SQUIRREL – and they keep their ponies in walk, feet out, reins in left hand, swing off the saddle and land next to the pony, but as soon as they land they walk, so keeping the pony moving.  As long as they keep walking, the pony shouldn’t break stride.  Some ponies get a tad confused at this – a good school pony waits when his charge falls off, and now we as telling him to keep walking when they hit the floor?  After a few strides, the rider can stop their feet, come to a halt, tell their pony to halt, and remount.  This is repeated exactly the same in trot if they are able – very little riders on too big a pony can’t – there is simply too big a drop.  But, otherwise, the ponies are trotting, squirrel command given, riders leap off, landing in a jog and keep trotting until an instruction is given, bringing ponies and riders through walk to halt.  Advanced riders can do it in canter – not easy, so be wary of introducing this.  Why?  Why on earth would you do this?

I teach this for three main reasons;

First reason – its fun, and really good practice for gymkhana games (mounted games) when rider’s leap of at speed to do something (e.g., throw a ball, run over balance blocks etc) and vault back on.  These games ponies don’t stop for mounting and dismounting – the rider’s must learn to keep up, and bounce on and off while in motion.

Second reason – it does help to get over the fear of falling.  If you are used to deliberately bouncing off your pony, the thought of falling off him is less scary.  There are times when the rider will leap off and land on their bum instead of their feet, and find out that it doesn’t hurt all that much.

The final reason though, is the important one, and it can save you and your riders from a very dangerous situation.  I have used it twice in just this way.

The first time, I was teaching a group of 4 or 5 riders, teenagers who I had taught from beginners, all well versed in riding and in playing squirrel.  I would, once a month or so, yell out squirrel at a totally random point in their lessons to make sure they were paying attention.  During this particular lesson, I saw a strange grey, foggy looking cloud coming over the arena as we were working.  A few seconds later, I realised that this cloud was actually an enormous swarm of bees on the move.  This could have been a disaster – if that swarm had dropped down and started to sting horses with kids on board…  I dread to think what could have happened.  Squirrel – everyone was off, jogging as their horses trotted, bringing them back to walk and then halt, and looking expectantly as they all thought this was the game.  We all stood still, watched the bees fly overhead, and once they had all safely passed, hopped back on and continued our lesson.

The second time, was a semi private lesson with two riders.  One was on a young horse, who was wearing a running martingale.  Now, this bit of kit has rings that run loosely up and down the reins.  This young horse had a habit of playing with his chin and bouncing his head, trying to catch anything he could in his mouth to chew it.  We were walking on a long rein to give the horses a breather, when he started to play with his bit.  In this fuss, fuss, fuss with his mouth, he managed to hook one of the rings of his martingale onto his tooth, and within a second started to panic.  Again, squirrel, both riders on the floor in an instant, and luckily his rider was experienced and fast thinking enough to stop him, keep him calm and free his mouth.  (I already had an aversion to martingales at this point, but from that day onwards, it is rare to see me ride or work a horse in a martingale!).

Both of these situations could, potentially been bad situations to be in, and both worked out well.  It is possible that they would have been fine anyway, but I believe that it was the squirrel game that saved al involved from serious injury.  And, you can have fun too!

https://www.facebook.com/MountedGamesWorld/videos/948988078547679/ – Have a look at this video to see some vaulting in action!

Vermiculture

Vermiculture

Vermiculture
Vermiculture

A horse can produce 7 – 8 tons of manure every year.  Add to that the wheelbarrow of bedding that goes to the muck heap with the manure and it can become a pretty big problem to deal with.

One option to disposing of all this waste is Vermicompost.  This is employing hundreds of earthworms to come in and eat their way through your muckheap, turning it into valuable compost.  For once worms can be a good thing!

The worms used are very different to the internal parasites that horse owners work so hard to banish.  There are 1800 species of earthworm.  The most commonly used for Vermicompost is Eisenia Fetida, more often known as the compost worm, manure worm, red worm or red wiggler.  These worms have the added advantage of rapid reproduction, meaning they’ll keep up with your ever increasing muck heap.

Why bother to introduce worms?  They’ll produce vastly superior compost.   You can then use it to fertilise your fields and garden (grow carrots for your horse) or sell to supplement your feed bill.

There are also disadvantages of vermicomposting.  Although it reduces your muck heap faster, it does require more labour then the traditional composting methods.

The depth of the muck heap must not be greater then 1m, otherwise the heap will compact too much – these worms like to be near the surface.  This means that you’ll need a greater surface area to spread your heap out, rather then stacking it higher.

The worms are happy anywhere between freezing and 35 degrees C.  If it gets colder you’ll need to ensure enough fresh manure to keep the heat up.  The reverse is also true.  Fresh manure in large amounts can heat up to much.  If there are a lot of horses producing large amounts of manure, you need to allow it to compost to a lower heat before introducing the worms.

Worms breathe through their skin.  Just like humans they need air to breathe.  If the bedding they worm lives in gets to dry, their skin gets dry and they die.  This makes them vulnerable to drought.

The main disadvantage to this scheme is that you need money to buy the worms.  You’ll pay around £20 per kg of worms.  Experts recommend a 1 to 1 ratio – 1kg of worms to 1kg of food.  But remember, worms are rapid reproducers and will double their population in 90 days.  So you can start out small and let them take care of their numbers to a certain degree.

If you go ahead and give vermicomposting a go, remember the 5 essentials that your new partners will need to stay healthy and happy.

  1. Hospitable living conditions.  Comfortable bedding.
  2. Constant supply of food. They’ll each eat at least half of their own body weight every day, sometimes up to their full body weight.
  3. Moisture – 50% moisture by weight.
  4. This means that the muck heap mustn’t be tightly packed.  Allow air in for the worms to breathe.
  5. Protection from extremes in temperature.

The worms bedding material mustn’t compact too tightly.  Horse manure and straw are one of the best materials for worms.  The manure makes a good feed, the straw allows aeration.  Shredded paper included into the mixture makes it even more ideal.  The paper is more absorbent and so will ensure that the muck heap retains enough moisture.

Some people are concerned with the effects of deworming medicine on the earthworms in the compost.  Generally the thought is that it’s safe.  In metabolising the drug, the horse’s system breaks it down and 95% of it is absorbed.  However, it’s recommended as better to be safe and not use the manure for one week following deworming.  This manure should be composted as usual, away from the earthworms.

With the use of the earthworms, your muck heap will reduce dramatically within 2 – 3 months.  The worms remove all smell from the compost, speed up the process and provide you with a useful additional income.

 

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Horse Types

Horse Types

Horses come in differing types - from the lighter riding horse in front, to the heavyweight horse at the back.
Horses come in differing types – from the lighter riding horse in front, to the heavyweight horse at the back.

There is often confusion about what is meant by the different types of horse.  It is not a complicated subject, just something that needs a little thought followed by going out and actually looking around at horses.  A showing show is an ideal place, where horses are competing against others of the same type and you can develop an eye similar to the judge.

A hack’s purpose was to be seen and make his rider look stylish.  As the gentry would ride through Hyde Park on a Sunday morning, they wanted to see and be seen and their hack was the horse to do it on. Think of driving a Porsche or Ferrari as the modern day version. The hack should have impeccable manners, be light and pleasurable to ride and beautiful to look at.

Hunter’s are meant to be able to cope with a day following hounds. If we think of cars again, think tough 4 x 4 Landrovers. They must be sure footed, sensible, have endless stamina and be up to carrying the weight of their riders. They are a heavier more substantial type then the hack. Working hunters must be clean (blemish / scar free), bold jumpers with courage and dependability.  The diameter of the bone directly beneath the horse’s knee is measured, and that is described as the amount of bone that a horse has.  A hunter will have more bone then a hack, meaning more substance and capable of carrying more weight.

Riding horses, or riding club horses are somewhere in between hacks and hunters. They’d be your typical family car.  Not as flashy as the hack, lighter in bone then the hunter, they are useful general purpose horses. For the show ring they still need to be good looking, well schooled and a pleasure to ride.

Cobs are the transit vans of the horse world. Traditionally, one day your cob would be pulling the plough in the field, hunting the next and taking the family to church on a Sunday in the trap. They are often described as big horses on pony legs. They must be safe, sensible and easy to keep and ride.

Horses are also divided into hot, warm or cold bloods. This has nothing to do with temperature but type and temperament.
Originally there were hot bloods and cold bloods. Hot blooded horses were found in the warmer countries and deserts. These include Arabs, Barbs and later, Thoroughbreds. These horses are light in bone, fine skinned and dainty. They move fast, have quick reactions and are often more nervous then their cold blooded peers. Their light frames require little effort to move at speed over distances, fine coats allow heat loss and small, hard hooves are light and manoeuvrable on hard ground. Their lack of bulk makes them light on their feet to reduce concussion when there is little give in the ground.

Cold blooded horses are the other extreme. The Shire and Clydesdale would be good examples. They are heavier in their bodies with great strength and stamina. The colder climates where they developed meant thicker coats, great shaggy manes and tails and “feathers” on the lower legs. Big hooves gave a greater weight bearing surface for their heavier bodies and meant they could travel on top of mud rather then sinking into it.

The warmblood is a relatively modern cross of the two. Its purpose is to combine the quick athletic lightness of the Thoroughbred with the strength, stamina and (generally) more personable temperament of the cold blood. This type of horse is the most commonly used in high level equestrian sport.