Yes, but

Yes, but……

A friend posted something on Facebook recently, that made me smile to myself.  It was one of these inspirational posters / quotes, along the lines, of always having an open mind to experience adventure, because you never know when the next awesome thing will come along.  Now, this is something that I am very much open to, believe whole heartily, and everyone knows I’m always ready for adventure, but it was who posted it that made me smile.  This particular person is open to adventure, BUT, only when it’s neat, tidy, clean and in a ribbon bedecked, safe little box.  Adventure?  Yes, but…  A long while ago, three friends (including me) went on a trip together.  Friend A had planned a day’s outing.  Great, I said.  Friend B, said, ummm…  No.  It wasn’t in her comfort zone, it wasn’t the kind of thing that she wanted to do.  Which did cause a whole pile of friction.  And the problem came about, because although she pushes for adventure, she has a whole lot of Yes, but…

It’s a great big world to have adventures…. How much are you open to?

We’re all different – how boring would the world be if we were all the same, carbon copies of each other?  But, we need to be aware of our differences.  Everyone has a comfort zone, a stretch zone, a learning zone and a panic, out of control zone.  This lady I’m talking about?  Well, her comfort zone is her town, her regular coffee shops, restaurants, cinema, shopping malls, office.  Easy peasy.  Her stretch zone would be travelling to a different country, trying a new yoga or Pilates class, something a little out of the norm.  Learning zone – something a bit bigger, maybe travelling to a new country alone, or taking a pottery weekend course.  And her out of control, panic zone, her “yes, but” zone is along the lines of scuba diving, skydiving, camping, something that has her saying “yes to adventure, but NO”.    Now, I’m a bit weird, we all know that.  There is only one, particular thing that would have me saying, ummmm, No.  (And no, we’re not going there right now!)  But ANYTHING else, if it is morally, ethically, legally ok, I’m game.  A couple of things may begin to push my buttons – scuba diving through a very tight shipwreck where my tank has to be manoeuvred through – oh yes, that’s a challenge.  Being a passenger on the back of a motor bike – yes, I have doubts.  I’ll still say, yes, let’s go.

There are mountains to climb – do you climb them?

I did a challenge a few years back called the Cherry Challenge.  I can’t remember all of the details, but it was along the lines of a lady had been clearing her Grandmother’s house and found her stash of treasures – soaps, lotions, potions, wines and chocolates that had been given to her as gifts, that she had put aside and saved for a special occasion.  And, saved them for so long that she had died and not enjoyed them.  This lady thought no, life is for the living, and so, every single day she does something that she has never done before.  Most days it’s something small, like buy a new flavour of teabags or jam.  Go to a new coffee shop, order a latte instead of a cappuccino.  Take your packed lunch out to the park, drive a new route to the supermarket.  These baby challenges are well within the reach of 99% of people and don’t cost a lot either.  Maybe once a month, she’ll drive to a neighbouring town, or take a new hiking trail she wanted to try.  As long as it is all something she has never done.  When we did it, we found all sorts of really random things to do, even walking home from work backwards, surfing on a tea tray down the stairs, and eating dinner blind folded.  Of course, there are some big challenges too, climbing Mt Kilimanjaro is a good stretch.  And, learning to scuba dive was another big one for me.  And, what may challenge one person won’t challenge another.  Going to a new coffee shop instead of your regular can be a big step for some, where travelling alone to a new country is another day in the office for me.  (I highly recommend the cherry challenge for everyone; it definitely adds some flavour to life!)

As part of our cherry challenge, we wrote a reverse bucket list – things that we had already done, that we were proud of…. How often do we look back and think, how far have I come?

And why is this relevant to a horse blog?  Well, what I do is not mainstream.  It’s thinking a long way out of the box for many people.  Where is your breath going?  How are the water hoses?  Is your horse on a balance beam?  These are all very normal questions you’ll hear during one of my sessions.  And, many riders are very open to the new way of thinking.  But, my most challenging riders are those who say “Yes, but….”

Can you imagine that your horse has two long water hoses running from his hocks, up his back legs, over his pelvis, under the saddle, up his neck, and that the movement of his muscles is similar to water travelling through the hoses, and we need to pick his back up?  Yes….  But…..  I want to get his head down.

Can you feel how adding power to your core, and having your alignment is going to make you more stable, so allowing an independent seat?  Yes….  But…..  Can’t you just make my hands still?

Yes, I know what your lessons are about, I know it’s not mainstream, and I know I’m going to be asked to think out of the box…..  But, I don’t think I can.

Some people are ready to go on a big adventure and challenge their thinking, others, they just want a lesson where they are told to sit up straight, use more leg and make their horse rounder.  I want new thinking, yes, but…  I’m not that brave.

Adventures are scary places, letting your dragon (fear) out of its box is not always easy, but that knife edge of scary / uncomfortable / uneasy / challenge, that is where the learning and growth happens.  You need to jump off the cliff to find your wings…

Discombobulation

A little while ago, I was at a horse show, helping some pupils with their horses and classes.  On one particular day, we had walked up to the main arena to watch some of the big class of the morning.  They were jumping 1.30m, which although not huge, is big enough.  As we arrived, a rider who is one of the leading jumpers in the country was just beginning his round.  He jumped the first couple a little scrappily – missed his stride coming in, got in too deep then stood a bit far off.  He got it together and had a few better fences, and then missed a couple again.  The horse, usually very careful, had a fence down, then another, then another.  Right in front of where we were standing was a pretty big triple combination.  He cleared the first but had come in too fast and hit the second.  In hitting the second, they were in a muddle and the final distance just wasn’t happening.  They took off for the last, ploughed head long through it, getting tangled up in poles, and both came down hard, the horse crashing over the rider and both skidding across the sand.  The horse, luckily, did all he could to avoid falling on his rider, and was up and walking away in a moment.  Grooms, vets, officials, all rushed in, the horse was caught, the ambulance crew ran in with a back board and the rider was carried out.  Minutes later, fortunately, the rider walked away from the ambulance, having been only winded and shocked.  Accidents happen, right?  And horse and rider both walked away unscathed.  So, why am I writing about this?

Jumping is a higher risk sport, shouldn’t you make sure you are 100% fit and focused to protect your horse?
Jumping is a higher risk sport, shouldn’t you make sure you are 100% fit and focused to protect your horse?

As we were watching him ride, my first thought was, what’s wrong.  He can ride, his horse can jump and normally they are good to watch together.  But, on this occasion they were discombobulated and all over the place.  He was missing strides, the horse was missing cues and leaving legs behind, it was starting to look desperate and scrappy, the rider chasing strides and the horse backing off.  I had just been saying this round isn’t happening, when crash.

We heard afterwards that they had just had a bad fall in the warm up arena.  The horse had fallen, and the rider had injured his leg.  The ambulance crew had already been called in, strapped his ankle and administered a pain killer.  The horse was checked, deemed sound and fit to continue, and the rider had remounted, jumped another fence and come into the main competition arena.

We talk about riding being a high-risk sport, and about the rider being correctly prepared, with good instruction and careful matching of horse to rider.  Riders must wear hats, body protectors, boots, gloves.  They must focus, not be over horsed, over faced and have as much competence as confidence.  I have said often that a rider is literally placing their life in my hands when I’m teaching them, and it’s my responsibility to be careful, but their responsibility to listen.  We shouldn’t be riding dangerous horses.  But what about the rider’s responsibility to the horse?

A horse doesn’t ask to be ridden.  He doesn’t ask to jump, to be in a competition, to be put in a horse box.  He is there because we choose to put him there, and he is there because he is obliging enough to agree.  He could easily say no (well, hopefully he could – in some instances a horse will say no but sadly won’t be heard).  And so, we should be thinking about his well-being.

We mock footballers when they fall over, chip a nail and act as if they are dying.  We all know those prima donna riders who take a light little tumble and act as if it’s the end of the world.  And, we generally congratulate and cheer on the rider who has taken a fall and, Well Done, gets back up and carries on.  But, are we doing the right thing?

I think it’s great that the fall and out rule applies – if you are in a competition and have a fall, you are automatically eliminated from the class and can only carry on in the entire competition once you have passed a medical exam.  And, if its just nerves and pride that are dented, getting up and getting on is great.  But, if the fall is bad enough to require treatment or pain killers, should we as the rider put our horses at risk to carry on?  In this case, the horse wasn’t injured in the first fall and was sound to carry on.  His confidence was dented though.  And the fall in the main arena could have resulted in serious injury or even been fatal.

Would you load you horse in a horse box, and drive him if you were drunk?  No.  If I have afternoon lessons and go out for lunch, I won’t have even one glass of wine, as I think I need to be 100% focused if I’m going to be teaching.  But if we are a bit sore, a bit hungover, a bit stressed and distracted, should we be getting on a horse?  Do we put our horses at risk?  I think we do, and it’s a rider and an instructor’s duty to safe guard the horse and say no if there is an issue.

Where do you draw the line?  What is a minimal risk you would take, and where would you draw the line?

How’s your horse today?

I had an interesting chat with a client at the beginning of her lesson a few days ago.  I’d already taught her a couple of times during the same week, and as we started, I asked how she was feeling today.  Good, she said, a bit stiff after our last lesson, core and thighs had worked harder than usual, but stiff in a good way.  How was her brain?  Well, good too, what we had worked on had made sense and she’d processed all her thoughts.  And, how about your horse?  She looked at me as if I was mad.  Huh?  How’s my horse?  Well, fine of course, same as ever, she (the rider) hadn’t been away or anything, the horse had been ridden every day, of course he was the same as ever, why would I ask such a thing?

Is your horse just slotted into a small space in your day?
Is your horse just slotted into a small space in your day?

A while ago, I watched a video online.  It was a guy – life coach or similar – talking about how much we’ve lost in life, with our use of smart phones instead of small talk.  His argument – you’d have gone into a business meeting, and chatted to your colleagues – how’s the family, how was your holiday, have you recovered from your broken leg?  You make small talk, you build relationships, team work, fostering a mutual feeling of being valued.  And now, he argued, we go into the meeting room, sit down fiddling with our phones.  The meeting begins, we put our phones down.  There is a pause in proceedings – someone is turning on their power point presentation, so instead of small talk, we again pick up our phones.  End of meeting, we pick up our phones and walk out, looking down at those damn Bladdy phones.  We have lost the art of conversation.

This video struck me, partly thinking of human to human conversations, but also because it’s something I have long complained about regarding many riders and their horses.

When I had my own yard, one of the main rules was, you got whichever horse you were riding ready for his session, and you looked after him afterwards.  If you were having a lesson at 3pm, you’d need to be on the yard shortly after 2pm.  You’d check the board to see who you were allocated, walk up to his paddock, catch him, lead him in.  Groom, fetch tack, get both of you dressed and ready, and be in the arena 5 minutes before your lesson.  After the ride, you’d untack, wash or brush him off, cool him down and walk him back to his paddock.  And in this time, you’d generally end up making small talk….  “How are you doing; are you sound and walking well on all four legs; any injuries; oooh, there it is, the best itchy scratchy place just under your mane….  Are you a bit stiff after we jumped yesterday?   Ah, there is a bit of swelling there, did you get stung by something?  You happy to have your saddle put on and girthed up?”  If I asked any of my pupils how their horse was, they’d be able to give me a clear answer.

It’s nice to just spend time hanging out with your horse….   Even when she’s isn’t your horse!
It’s nice to just spend time hanging out with your horse…. Even when she’s isn’t your horse!

Now, there is an awful lot of valet riding.  You drive your car to a fancy restaurant, and as you drive up, there is a valet driver to take your car off and park it somewhere, saving you the time, effort and walk.  When you are ready to leave, your car is brought around to the front door.  Perfect.  Valet riding?  You arrive at the stable yard and your horse is led, fully tacked up and prepared, to the mounting block, where you climb aboard.  You’re led to the arena, and – look at that, you’re here.  And how is your horse?  Umm…..  It’s far less than perfect.  At the end of your lesson, the groom appears and leads your horse away, often giving them their bit of carrot on the way.  How is your relationship with your horse?  Does he even know who you are?

Your horse is getting information from you all of the time.  Stressed from work?  He knows.  A bit weak kneed from your hangover?  He knows.  Nervous at the thought of today’s jumping lesson?  He knows.  Happy and excited to be going cross country?  He knows that too.  So how about you return the favour and find out a bit about him today?  We’re all busy and trying to fit our horses in amongst the rest of life, but if you go out of your way for a bit of small talk it’ll pay you back 100 times over…

Pushing the elephants up a hill

I’m writing this in a state of disillusionment.  For a while, something has been bothering me, and only during a recent online workshop that I worked out exactly what.  The thing that floated back into my mind was the real sadness of teaching a lesson a little while ago.  Let me explain…

The lady I was teaching was a new pupil, never before met, and quite new to riding itself, only having had about 15 lessons.  She was riding a horse who I know reasonably well – I have taught quite a few riders on him, and in his youth, he was a real high flyer, competing at a reasonably high level.  The gradual decline of a horse – from young and talented, in much demand, to becoming a schoolmaster for a junior, to riding school horse for the advanced weekly rider, to beginner’s quiet plod.  Sad enough for a starting point.  Anyway, he seems happy enough in his little world, to plod along.  This rider was keen and sweet, but was very unbalanced and wobbly, leaning back, getting left behind and pulling the poor old boy in the mouth at regular intervals.  Every time she accidentally socked him in the teeth, he’d stop, sigh, wait for her to get organised and plod off on his way again.  We spent much time in walk, re-arranging how she was sitting; getting her legs under her in a more effective way; explaining that his mouth is at the other end of her reins and every time she pulls, he feels it and stops.  She was lovely, very teachable, keen to learn and implemented the changes well.  When we got into trot, we worked on the correct leg aids and how to keep her balance – and our gentle soul of a schoolmaster picked up some speed, put himself in a beautiful rhythm and started to carry himself.  Oooh, she said in excitement, this is so different.  Wonderful, I replied, why?  Well, it’s so springy, she said, and he is going fast, forwards and easily…  I don’t have to whip him.  After the lesson, as we were closing up, she said she was so happy, she doesn’t like whipping her horse.  I asked her, do you whip him often?  Oh yes, came the reply, my instructor (who I also, sadly, know) sits in the corner and yells, whip him, whip him, whip him harder, to try to keep him going.  He tells me the horse is slow, stubborn and old, and will only go if I make him, by whipping him.

Golden Marble, my very first horse, the one who started it all.)
Golden Marble, my very first horse, the one who started it all.

Minute by minute, my heart fell a little more.  This sweet, kind, gentle horse, doing his best to listen to his rider when she pulled on his mouth and keep her safe, was being whipped, whipped, whipped to make him go.  Would this happen in a dog training class?  Your dog won’t sit?  Whip him harder.  And yet, it’s ok in a riding lesson.  Your parrot won’t talk?  Whip him.  Your cat won’t stay off the table?  Whip him.  Your horse is stopping when you accidentally ask?  Whip him.  Logic, right?

So, this is an isolated incident?  No.  I see this again and again.  Lazy teaching, “instructors” simply directing traffic to pass the time.  Riders who, instead of being helped and taught, are put on tied down, miserable, shut down horses.  Buyers being given bad advice by advisors who will get back hander from horse sellers.  Greedy yard owners overworking horses (and instructors).  Lame horses being sold or used for riding.  Horses, and novices, being taken for a ride, literally.

It’s a global issue.  The governing powers that be, are turning a blind eye to much abuse in the competition world, and that seems to trickle down through the ranks.  Whats the fix?  Honestly, I don’t know.  Better teacher training?  Better pay so that instructors don’t work the long hours and become stale?  Better vetting of instructors and yards?  Really, I don’t know where the change is going to come.  More novices being asked to open their eyes to what is happening in front of them?

I do what I do because I actually like horses – something that seems to be in short supply in the horse industry at the moment.  I want to make a difference, to improve that horse’s life, but also to educate the human with them, to improve the lives of all of the future horses that human will come into contact with.  But sometimes, like now, I get tired.  Disillusioned.  Fed up with swimming against what seems a tidal wave of cruelty and misunderstanding.  I know it’s not only in my industry – school teachers are giving up teaching due to spoilt brats who are over entitled and not disciplined by their doting (or lazy) parents.  Animal charity workers committing suicide over the never-ending deluge of unwanted, over bred, abused or mistreated lost souls.  Environmental activists who simply give up and vanish.  Many, many of us are in the same boat and wonder how (and why) to proceed.