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?!

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?

Just teach the trees …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saving Money With Horses

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

Saving Money With Horses

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

Farriers / trimming.

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

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

Dentists.

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

Vet care.

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

Feed.

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

Bedding.

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

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

So, where do I cut corners?

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

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

Lessons

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

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

Expertise Induced Amnesia

Expertise Induced Amnesia in action.

Expertise Induced Amnesia

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

Ice Hockey Arena
Ice Hockey Arena

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

Zamboni flattening the ice
Zamboni flattening the ice

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

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

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

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

Fancy Dress on Ice
Fancy Dress on Ice

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

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

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

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

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

SaveSave

SaveSave

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New Year 2018 – What new adventures?

A new venue in Malaysia, Horse Valley in Johor Bahru

New Year 2018 – What new adventures?

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

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

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

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

Kudaguru Website - January 2018
Kudaguru Website – January 2018

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

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

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

Rome
Rome

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

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

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

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

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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