How big is your why?

How big is your why?

Slightly odd question, isn’t it?  Someone asked me that recently, when I told them of a plan that is ticking over in the back of my mind.  How big is your why?  Huh?

She explained – let’s say, you are thinking “I want to get fit”.  How big is your why?  Because, next month we are going for a hike in the mountains, and I want to be able to keep up.  Is that a good enough why?  No.  For one, you’re not really invested in it, for two, in a month’s time, after your hike, where is that inspiration going to take you?  Ok, how about, because at the end of the year I’m going to climb Kilimanjaro, and if I’m not fit enough, it’s going to kick my butt.  Again, that’s better, but is it enough?  If you’re anything like me, no, it’s not big enough.  I did this a couple of years ago – I’m going to get fit to climb Kili, and I did….  Ummm….  Zero training.  I just plodded up that hill.  So, my why wasn’t big enough to get me out there to do my fitness training.  I’m going to get fit so I can play soccer with my kids instead of watching from the side-line?  Yes, that could do it.  I’m going to fit to have more energy to run my business and have time family time.  Yup, that could be it too.

Made it up the little hill, but how much fitness work had I done?  Well, not much…
Made it up the little hill, but how much fitness work had I done? Well, not much…

A long, long time ago – well over 20 years – I decided that I wasn’t eating meat.  Now, my three loves in life were steak, Bovril and an African delicacy called Biltong – a dried meat similar to beef jerky.  When I said I was going vegetarian, everyone who knew me laughed, thinking oh yes, this’ll last a week.  And, it has lasted, coming up for 30 years.  Because?  I had an enormous WHY.  I wasn’t going to eat my friends anymore.  Cut and dried.  It was absolutely no effort to stop, and I’ve never been tempted back.  My WHY was more than enough.  For the past 5 years or so, I’ve debated going full on vegan, but….  I just love cheese and chocolate.  Pizza?  How do you say no?  About 3 years ago, I was coughing a cough that just wouldn’t leave.  Doctor after doctor told me that I could try this medicine or that, but nothing worked.  Finally, after three separate people told me that it was dairy, I had a go, and removed all dairy from my diet for a month.  Lo and behold, after about 4 days, I stopped coughing.  Magic.  After the month, I started to reintroduce dairy, and the one thing that would make me cough was – milk in my coffee.  That why was big enough – I haven’t had milk in tea or coffee since then, and magically, I don’t cough.  But I also figured out that I could eat cheese and chocolate….  They both make my throat itch, but I can cope with that….

Mmmmm, the black coffee is a go, but can I give up the cake to go with it?
Mmmmm, the black coffee is a go, but can I give up the cake to go with it?

As a WHY, it isn’t big enough.  Recently, I was staying in an area where there are lots, lot, lots of dairies and dairy cows.  They were well enough looked after, but the sight of them wearing computerised bracelets to tell the farmers of their number, yield and vital statistics was depressing.  And watching the new mum’s bellow for their babies as they were taken away….  I think I may have found a big enough WHY to stop me eating dairy.

A while ago, I went to teach a new client, and as I walked in, this rider said to me – “yes, I know, I’m overweight”.  Well OK, let’s get on with it, we went about our lesson.  He did battle – his joints are under pressure; the doctor is threatening knee surgery and the risk of diabetes.  He’s not fit, and although his very large and up to weight hunter type horse can carry him, it would make both of their lives easier if he lost the weight.  I didn’t mention it though.  Afterwards, his wife, who was watching, commented that I hadn’t said anything about his weight.  I replied, he knows about his weight.  The doctor has told him.  His regular riding instructor has told him.  You have told him.  My telling him wasn’t going to be a big enough WHY.  When he decides, when the weight gets to him and a WHY appears on his radar, he’ll choose to lose the weight and it’ll happen relatively easily.  But until then?  Not happening.

You want to improve your riding?  Why?  To win a ribbon at a show?  Not enough.  Because your yard suggested you came for a lesson?  Not enough.  Because your horse has the beginnings of kissing spines, and your vet has said that if you don’t get organised and ride in balance, you’ll end up putting your horse down?  Yes, that could be a good enough why.

You want to lose weight?  Why?  To feel healthier?  No.  Because your family has booked an epic riding safari and their weight limit is 80kg…  Yup, that could be the why.

No one is going to be able to teach you a skill, or help you quit something, or get you into a different mindset unless you decide to go there.  And, why do you want to go there?  Well, you need to figure out your own WHY…

One of the best riding lessons ….

One of the best riding lessons that I ever had was from a back pack and an escalator.  The day before was a ten-lesson teaching day, a dash to taxi, airport, jump on a plane and a long haul, overnight flight across the world to the next teaching venue.  I was wearing a heavy, badly fitted back pack that had shoulder straps just too long, and as I bumbled along through the landing airport, sleep deprived and slow, and stepped on the upward escalator, the backward force of the pack pulling back on my shoulders almost over ran the forward force of the escalator pulling me forwards.  Just in time, muscle memory engaged my core, I went forwards to counteract the backward pull, and without leaning forwards, came into balance with the escalators force.  Lightbulb – hello, this is how a horse feels when his rider is a fraction behind the movement – as the horse is trying to go forwards, as the rider is trying to send him forwards, the rider’s slight drag, which increases their weight with a leverage effect, drags the horse backwards.  A very simple physics lesson that all rider’s need to understand, and that was clarified to me – already a trainer teaching this – in a simple non-horse lesson.

Tobogganing (off the Great Wall of China) teaches you about committing to the force of direction…
Tobogganing (off the Great Wall of China) teaches you about committing to the force of direction…

Over the years, I have been very lucky to have had some incredible training with a range of awesome riding instructors.  Many Olympic athletes, judges, brain surgeon, physicists to name a few.  There have been many moments of “Oh – that is what you mean”, as well as many incredible four legged learning partners.

Over the years, I have been very lucky to have had some incredible training with a range of awesome riding instructors.  Many Olympic athletes, judges, brain surgeon, physicists to name a few.  There have been many moments of “Oh – that is what you mean”, as well as many incredible four legged learning partners.

However….  Some of the truly incredible learning sessions have been with other trainers.  Learning to use my breath to influence a horse in spectacular ways came from a hugely talented scuba diving instructor.  His talk through of finding buoyancy, of being able to float up or sink down and using the breath to control where you are, is something that I teach all the time.  (Still haven’t managed to master one of the underwater exercises that he showed me…  I suspect when I get it, I may have a better key to teach collection).  A martial artist teaching me how to go from defence to attack was the only person who clarified distribution of balance and weight over both feet, and controlling direction of forces, how to flow seamlessly from one to the other with no outward signs, but the control of directional forces.  A rock climbing trainer taught me how an obvious looking movement, isn’t what it may seem – you don’t climb a wall by pulling yourself up with your arms, you engage your core to the wall, get your (hind) legs under you, propel yourself upwards and the only thing your hands do is give guidance and balance.  A pole dancer taught me about elevation, while a belly dancing guru taught me just how little I know about isolating muscles within the core (note to self, you need to re-visit that particular subject).

Archery involves slowing your breathing to calm your mind, and allowing your fingers to let go, more than finding force
Archery involves slowing your breathing to calm your mind, and allowing your fingers to let go, more than finding force

An indoor sky diving trainer taught me about firming up certain parts of the core to change direction, while a zip lining wild child taught me about committing to movement.  An archery trainer taught me a very surprising lesson about mindfulness, and finding focus while being relaxed in motion.  You cannot tense your fingers and force the arrow away, you have to find soft eyes, breathe where you want the arrow to go and relax your shoulder to send it there from the core.  And, a porter jogging up Mt Kilimanjaro taught me that dig deep (sit deep) has nothing to do with sitting down on your horses back, but activating a deeper line of muscle to get to a higher point.

You have to dig deep to get up the stairs – not to be confused with, give up and sit down…
You have to dig deep to get up the stairs – not to be confused with, give up and sit down…

Not all of these lessons came from teachers either.  My teaching of an elite dancer taught me more about movement, poise and balance than I was able to teach her, and all three of us (pupil, horse and trainer) left the arena with the biggest grins on our faces.  And of course, my back pack and that escalator taught their lesson too.

These are all subjects that we as riders need to understand and embrace.  It isn’t fluffy, tree-hugging new age, feel good nonsense (as some seem to think) but practical physics that the elite riders practice inherently, and that we non-elite riders need to fully understand and embrace.  (By elite riders, I am thinking of the top 100 in the world, not just farmer Jo down the road, even if he is doing a great job)

Yoga, pilates, feldenkrais are (partly) about teaching balance, poise, being fully present, feeling the body in a movement, stretching out tension and tightness in blocked areas.  Pretty much matching what I am spending my time teaching in the arena.  In today’s modern world, we are constantly putting our bodies under pressure.  Stress or emotional pressure.  Physical pressure by eating highly processed foods, being exposed to chemicals, electrical signals, and bad posture from things such as cell phones, computers and sitting in cars.  We are too busy, too rushed and in a world of instant gratification, often lack commitment or patience.  All of these things have an impact on your riding too.  If you rush into the yard, grab your horse, hurry through preparing him, leap on and then get after him for not being fully present or immediately accessible, he will often (rightly) get upset or uncooperative.  Slow down, breathe, smell the roses (or coffee) and enjoy your horse.  The vast majority of people ride for pleasure, so slow down and enjoy it…  Looking at the other side of the coin, horses can help your yoga practice too.  Horses loosen off the lower back in a way that is hard to do.  (Which is why they are often used for Riding for the Disabled or Hippotherapy).  Horses make you breathe, they make you get outside, both physically and on the outside of your comfort zone.  And often, working through the ride will make a yoga movement clearer.

Camel riding involves feeling a whole different way of moving
Camel riding involves feeling a whole different way of moving

Strange advice from a riding trainer, but my thought for this week  – give your horse a day off, get out of the arena and go and do something else.  Go for a hike, take a sky diving, scuba diving, pole or belly dancing lesson.  Do something that takes you out of your comfort zone, into a place where you have to feel your muscles doing a new range of motion.  And maybe (hopefully) you will have a new insight to take back to the patient four-legged dancing partner….

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Perspectives

For me, 2018 was not a good year. Work was busy – awesome. Some lovely changes made by lots of enthusiastic riders – great. Some pretty amazing feedback after courses and clinics – all good. So, why wasn’t it a good year? It just wasn’t. It didn’t flow. It was lumpy. Disjointed. Travel dates didn’t work out, everything was jarring. You know when you’ve had a ride on your horse, and it was ok. He didn’t do anything wrong, but it wasn’t spectacular, and it just left an itch unscratched?

I’m often trying to see things from another angle – how is the horse feeling about that question? If a rider isn’t getting a concept, can I explain it in another way? If they don’t scuba dive and understand what I mean about buoyancy, can I explain something “as if”, (imagine you’re skiing down a hill)? And yet, why wasn’t 2018 a good year? Why can’t I explain that? Well, it was lumpy, jarring, scratchy, seemed as good an answer as any, I couldn’t see another angle since I was too much part of the situation.

At the beginning of this year, I popped in to see an awesome lady who has helped me in the past – she’s a homeopathic doctor by training but has a whole suitcase of extras that she brings to the table, and she was just the different perspective that I needed. As she started to ask the right questions, from a totally different angle, things lined up.

What did you learn in 2018? Ummm…. What challenges were over-come? Ummm…. What new countries did you explore? Only one. What adventures? Ummm….. None. How far out of your comfort zone did you stretch? Ummm…. From a personal and learning perspective, it was a year of stagnation. A few years ago, a brilliant sports coach said to me, you can do something for 20 years, you have 1 year of experience that you have repeated 20 times. Or, you can actually have 20 years of experience. It’s not the same thing at all. By doing the same thing, day in day out, month in, month out, you are not growing, or learning, or changing, but just practicing what you know until you don’t notice anymore. I try to stay out of that trap, but 2018 was just a repeat of 2017, no step forwards, no new adventure, no new learning, and that was exhausting. That stagnation was why it was lumpy and unwieldy. “Plan better”, was her prescription, “remember to play, remember to be a tourist again, go and explore, grow and stop stagnating”. Now, I live a strange, peripatetic life, how does that become stagnant? It’s not something I could have put words onto, but she hit the nail on the head. When was I last a tourist? I travel to be a tourist, what went wrong? 2018 will be remembered for….. Ummm….. Sometimes, we are tired because we need sleep. More often, we are tired because we are stuck.

I know that a lot of main stream coaches don’t get what I do. Things have a status quo in their mind, and I often upset that balance. “Sit up tall and keep your leg on the girth” has always worked for them, why am I upsetting this? Maybe, just maybe, they are too deep in the situation to see it clearly anymore? Maybe, they need someone to ask, what is sitting up straight getting you? How can we change it for you to access so much more? What is your perspective, how are you seeing?

When I was in the Midlands of South Africa, we went to the Nelson Mandela capture site, where, as he was pretending to be a chauffer driving a clients’ car through rural roads, he was picked up by the police. There, on the side of the road is a forest of huge, metal pillars. On entering the museum, you are led down a pathway, surrounded by plaques telling of Mandela’s life. As you walk down this brick pathway, there in front of your eyes, the metal pillars arrange themselves into a stunning sculpture of his face. As you get nearer, the face disappears, all you see is a forest of pillars. Magic? Perspective. You must be in the right place, at the right angle to see the sculpture for what it can be. And, once you’ve seen the new way of looking at things, you cannot un see it…

The Nelson Mandela capture site.
The Nelson Mandela capture site.
The Sculpture from a distance
The Sculpture from a distance
Long walk to freedom
Long walk to freedom
Approaching the sculpture
Approaching the sculpture
Once you see it ...
Once you see it …
Up close
Up close
Nelson Mandela Sculpture
Nelson Mandela Sculpture

Watch out 2019 – it’s going to be a year of adventure and magic, if 2018 was a repeat visit to 2017, then 2019 is going to make up for lost time.  Need an adventure?  Come and join me….  Meanwhile, what riding issue can you solve just by looking at it from a new perspective?  Who can ask you the right question to get you to give the right answer?

 

 

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The Third Alternative

What’s the alternative? The other one, the third one? Huh?

A friend was saying this recently, she had been told at a business conference, think of the alternatives, choice A and choice B….  And then, think of another, choice C.  Very often, option C is it.

As you stand by the kettle in the morning, would you like Tea or Coffee?  Hmmm, maybe hot water with ginger, lemon and cayenne pepper, that is a good alternative.  It’s my day off today, shall I stay in and work, or go out and have a tourist day? Actually, the weather is awful, how about I stay in with a cat and a good book, perfect (purrrr-fect even…)

Option A

Option B

Option C

I’m often asked, do I prefer bandages or boots? Definitely, I prefer option C here, nothing at all!
I’m often asked, do I prefer bandages or boots? Definitely, I prefer option C here, nothing at all!

So, why am I thinking about that now?  Recently a long-term client was chatting to me about her horse.  The horse has been showing some behavioural issues, and although he is happy to hack out through the lanes and countryside, he is becoming increasingly difficult inside the arena.  The farrier says his feet are great, the bridle and saddle fit well, his overall condition is good.  The vet found a very slight niggle, but, not really enough to cause the issues and the behaviour didn’t really resolve when they nerve blocked the area, so relieving a pain problem.  Well, it could possibly be that, or it could be that the horse is training sour for some reason.  The vet has offered two choices – the horse is retired as a paddock ornament or is put down.  The owner isn’t especially keen to do either but doesn’t want to cause the horse any more pain, if it is an issue.  So, what to do?  Well, I suggested, what is the third alternative?  She looked at me blankly?  The horse is happy to hack out?  Definitely, she replied, he marches out in front with his ears pricked.  They don’t know if it’s the trotting and cantering on turns and circles that is causing the issue.  So, the third option, and what I think is by far the most sensible, is, find someone who will take him into livery as a hack for 6 months.  Let the horse happily go out every day, in straight lines, either on his own or in groups, for pleasure or with the guides on a trail.  See if the behaviour appears (which it will if it’s medical and gets worse) and, if not, bring the horse home.  If the horse is purely training sour, the behaviour may well have disappeared as the horse has had some fun.  (The horse has now gone to his hacking home, we’ll see in a few months…)  Option A – retirement.  Option B – Put down.  Option C – try to hack…

My saddle doesn’t fit – the saddler can’t find the right one – does he have time out, or do I ride him in a badly fitted saddle?  How about, you spend a month doing alternative work with him – in hand, on the lunge or long-rein, lead him out and about in hand, ride bareback for a while.  The in-hand and long rein work could be exactly what is needed to help strengthen his back so make it easier to fit the saddle…  Option C wins again.

Do I buy a horse, or do I carry on riding on riding school horses?  How about you lease a horse, or you have a go at sharing with another owner, to get to grips with what horse ownership is all about.  Do you really have the time and money for a horse?  Do you know enough?  Sharing a horse with his owner can be a great option.

People often ask – what type of bit / saddle / bridle / rug I like to use?  What do I recommend?  I’ve even been asked to be a brand ambassador and “sell” or at least advertise a product.  Well, No.  Why not?  Because, a horse hasn’t read the same books we have.   Just because I like bit A, or bit B, doesn’t mean that he will.  With bits and saddles, its often not even bit C that works, they’ll have you looking at options until you hit option S.

 

http://www.markrashid.com/about/rockin-s-snaffle

For the record – if you’re asking me what kind of bit to start with, these are my two go to starter bits…

What issue are you having with your horse, and what are options C, D, E and F?

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