Selfie-itis

Selfie-itis

I’ve been following a business coach for a year or so.  She helps you plan, gives ideas and has some reasonably good thoughts.  And, today, I removed her from my contact list, unsubscribed, unfollowed, gone.

As you go through the unsubscribe procedure, up comes a list of – We’re so sorry to see you go…  Please tick the relevant box as to why you have decided to leave us…

Too many emails

Not enough emails

You didn’t subscribe

This no longer interests you

Etc Etc Etc.

The box I wanted to tick wasn’t there…  You just pressed my irritation button once too often.  You are irrelevant.

What did she did?

Well, at times she’s a little too pushy a salesperson for me, but what actually got me – the incessant selfies.  Now, I already don’t get selfies at the best of times.  I’m far too busy seeing, watching, learning, seeking, to stop and pose.  I don’t care what I look like, or what I’m wearing, as long as its clean and comfortable.  And I don’t generally look at other people’s selfies other than quickly scrolling through the feed.  On a personal page – if it’s your thing, off you go.  But on a professional page?

I’m far more interested in what people SEE, than in what people are seen to be.

This is a business coach.  She is selling herself as a professional, offering a professional service.  I’m only interested in her brain.  Why do I want to see her posing in thirty different outfits in thirty different coffee shops?  How is that going to help me do what I do?  I want to know what she is thinking.  Yes, thoughts are not easy to photograph and put on Instagram.  But, its easy to take a photo of what she is seeing.

I take loads of photos.  Check out my Instagram and there are over 1,300 pictures.  How many selfies?  Uh, about 3, and generally when I’m trying to catch the people riding horses behind me.  What are the pictures of?  What I can see, what makes me happy, what makes me think, what inspires me.  I post what is going on inside my brain, not what new sunglasses I have…  And like-minded people are the ones who I respect and follow.  Yes, trainers post pictures of themselves riding, but this is showing their expertise and training methods, their understanding of how the horse is moving and working, their appreciation of their dancing partner, it’s not a “Pose, smile, click, edit, filter, post – aren’t I gorgeous”  selfie moment.

As a respect to ourselves, our clients, our instructors, we do have to keep up appearances.  When I go to teach, I wear clean, tidy jeans, (or long, smart shorts in some places), a respectable shirt, closed shoes.  Hair tied out the way, cap if its sunny.  Practical, tidy.  It’s a disrespect to myself and my clients, who are paying money for my time and knowledge, to turn up late, dirty, untidy or unprepared.  I notice and appreciate if their horse is well brushed, with clean

tack (as respect for their horse), and they’ve clean and tidy themselves.  An old instructor of mine wouldn’t teach anyone who hadn’t polished their boots.  “If you don’t care of your boots and appearance, you’ll take other short cuts and not care about the bigger picture” he would say.  And, obviously, working with horses, a part of this is safety.

Brains, thoughts, ideas, inspire and excite me.  Tell me what you think.  Tell me your interests, your ponderings.  Talk to me about the universe, about science and art; culture and politics.  Compassion, empathy, kindness, are beautiful things and are so valuable.  The selfie you took, of you sitting drinking your fancy coffee looking as if you’re deep in thought about what business ideas you are going to pass on to me?  Oh, please, go away…

Control

It’s odd, isn’t it, what suddenly makes us think?  Or more, what suddenly makes you put into words what you just know…  I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how to teach people to teach, how much I just take for granted and how you actually need to be able to put words to things.

At the moment, I’ve been hanging out with a little mare with a very big attitude.  If you didn’t know her, you’d swear she’d kill you.  You go to catch her, she pins her ears back, swings her bum to you, squeals with irritation.  But if you tell her to knock it off, walk up to her and put her halter on, she’s actually very sweet and obliging, she just likes to pretend.  She’s been put onto medication for suspected PPID and has to have 20 tablets, twice a day.  It’s pretty simple, crush them in a pestle and mortar, put them in a syringe and squirt them down her mouth.  And every morning when I go to give it to her, she pins her ears, walks out of her stall into the little run out the back, swings her bum at me and makes her opinion very known.  “I’m not happy with this situation, I’m cross, you’re going to have to make an effort and come and catch me”.

I walk into her stable, out into the run, up to her, pat her, tell her that she’s very beautiful and absolutely in charge, put her halter on, take her back inside, where the syringe is waiting.  She needs that moment, to make sure she and I both know that she’s in charge.  She’ll agree, if I ask her nicely, but don’t take it for granted.

This morning, without thinking about it, as I went to catch her I was chatting nonsense to her, saying yes Xena, of course you’re in control.  And it suddenly a whole lot of stuff make sense…

This is my route in and out of the cycle parking, at least twice a day.  And, honestly, it gives me the heebie jeebies at times…  (Isn’t that an awesome expression?  It’s right up there with discombobulated and splendiferous, just makes you understand in an instant).

 

Sometimes, without consciously thinking, I just cycle straight through.  I’m aiming forward, straight, go, and have acres of room.  Other days I’m thinking arrrgh, going hit the tree, going to hit the wall, arrgh, look how close the wall is…  And guess what?  I have numerous skinned toes, ankles and fingers from those trees and wall…  At the moment it’s a bit worse.  Why?  Because the bike I am currently borrowing has no brakes.  Generally, this is ok.  The island paths and trails are rough enough that you get a little smooth run downhill, but almost immediately you hit sand or an uphill that slows you down.  This path and lack of brakes however, don’t go well together.  It dawned on me, as I was chatting to Xena, that on my bike when I have brakes, I know I’m in control.  And, if I know I have control, it gives me confidence to zoom through the gaps without thinking, without touching my brakes, and without hitting the walls.   And on my brakeless bike, I hesitate…  And if you hesitate and look at the wall….  One of the most common things I say to pupils – you go where you look.  What you think, you create.

That’s exactly what Xena was telling me this morning.  By knowing that she could walk away, by knowing that she moves my feet to follow her, and by pulling sweary marey faces at me, she has control of the situation.  She’s in control and its her willingness to accept me and my tube of medicine that allows it to happen, not my control over her.  By me allowing her to walk away, I’m giving her the control she needs, to co-operate as a willing partner.  Mutual respect.

 

I’m very sweet…)
I’m very sweet…)
Unless you go into my space, which I control…
Unless you go into my space, which I control…
And then, I’m friendly again, as long is it’s on my terms…
And then, I’m friendly again, as long is it’s on my terms…

Many moons ago, I had an awesome friend who could communicate with animals.  And one of the things that she drummed into my head – don’t pick up cats.  It’s humiliating, rude and embarrassing.  How would you like it if some giant lived in your house and was forever picking you up?  You’re snoozing in the sun, and they pick you up.  You’re enjoying a bath, and they pick you up.  It’s just rude, takes away your control and makes you feel discombobulated (Love that word…)  You can’t settle, you feel out of control and unsettled so you bite, scratch or hide under the bed. The little Bat Cat kitten, very early on developed a great trick.  If she wanted to be picked up, she’d mew, mew, until you put your hand down.  And instantly, if she wanted to be up, she’d half jump into your hand, wrap her paws around your wrist and ask to come up.  In this way, she had control.  So many people treat animals as dolls to play with – I have a kitten / puppy / tarantula would you like to hold it / pet it / treat it as a living teddy bear.  My friend’s cats would sit and watch.  If they chose, they’d hop onto the couch next to you.  Often, they’d curl up in your lap.  But, they were in control, it was their choice and so they were ultra-confident, because they had control.  If they didn’t like a situation, they’d leave.  Simple.

Think of small kids who are forced to go and hug Great Uncle George, even though they hate Great Uncle George because he makes them feel uncomfortable?  But, because the parents insist on manners, they’re forced to go, and they have zero control of the situation.  This causes stress, worry, and “bad manners”.  Other parents, if the child doesn’t want to go to hug Great Uncle George shrug it off – sorry, they’re just shy.  The child leaves with a sense of control and is more confident.  The book I’m currently reading about PTSD deals with too – if a person is used to being put into a bad situation and having no say, it becomes their norm, which is a problem…

How many horses have any element of control?  They don’t like a situation, tough luck buddy.  How often do these conversations happen…

Horse; I don’t like this hard leather girth…  I’m going to show you by grinding my teeth, pinning my ears back, kicking out a hind foot, and maybe even biting you…

Human; Don’t be a prat, it’s only a girth.  And it was expensive.  And matches my name brand saddle.

Horse; I hate being in this cage (stable) so I’m going to box walk and kick the wall…

Human; Arh, pretty pony with a pink blanket, you’ll be warm and dry here…

Horse; I’m not cold, I don’t need a rug, I’m going to snap at you as you put it on, and then rip it off…

Human; Don’t you be bad and break your expensive new pink blanket…

Horse;  I can’t go forward, my feet hurt and you’re pulling my mouth.

Human; Don’t be lazy or I’ll wear bigger spurs…

The horse is trying to have some control over his life.  He’s trying to show what makes him unsettled or uncomfortable, and so often, we take away what little control he has over his life and environment.  And when you can’t apply the brakes at all, suddenly you feel pretty out of control…  How do you think learned helplessness happens?

 

 

 

The Art of Long Lining

I clearly remember many, many years when I was doing my GCSE in Horsemanship (Yes, it was a thing, an actual school exam, equivalent to O levels, in Horses) at the local riding school.  It was a two year course, a few hours a week and counted as one of your exams.  Our instructor introduced us to long lining, and I was hooked.

Continental long lining keeps the reins safely away from the horse’s hind legs…. I don’t ride with my hands by his hocks, why would I want to train with the reins coming from there?
Continental long lining keeps the reins safely away from the horse’s hind legs…. I don’t ride with my hands by his hocks, why would I want to train with the reins coming from there?

She used her own mare, as none of the school ponies had been taught how to work on lines, but she was a firm believer.  So, we all had a go at driving her mare around and around the indoor.  Looking back, it was basic, Irish lining, but it planted the seed.

Roll on, over the years and I’ve been lucky enough to have worked with some true long lining geniuses who showed me what an amazing, powerful, art form it really is.  Many of these people weren’t great teachers.  They’d be working a horse, with me watching intently, and then hand me the reins.  Initially, those poor horses had to try and decipher my fumbled attempts.   This was the first, and truly one of the best lessons in conscious / unconscious competence.

 

These trainers had no idea how good they were at doing this, and generally no idea how to teach it.  I bumbled my way along, and found my way on unconscious competence, over the years.

A few years ago, someone who I have utmost respect for, as a trainer and teacher, asked me to teach her to long line.  I said, uh, I don’t think I can.  I pick up the reins and it’s like coming home.  I can see the horse isn’t straight, or is twisting, or loading a limb, and I can fix it.  But, I don’t necessarily know how I did it.  So began a process.  I did teach her to long line.  I’d do a bit, she’d watch and talk through what she thought I was doing.  She’d do a bit, I’d watch and see what I could change in her body, with my words.  My turn again, I’d focus on certain bits of my body, or where my attention was going.  And, we made progress.

One day, her horse wasn’t doing a movement well or easily.  I took the reins, and couldn’t solve the issue either.  When I thought about why not, I realized that I was actually trying to put what I was doing into words, I couldn’t do anything right.  As soon as I just let the thought go and trusted my instinct, the horse performed the movement beautifully.

So, why am I going on about all this now?

This horse is showing us how his crookedness is highlighted and encouraged by work on one lunge line. How would you correct this on the lunge? I’m not convinced that you could… But, on long lines things could be changed
This horse is showing us how his crookedness is highlighted and encouraged by work on one lunge line. How would you correct this on the lunge? I’m not convinced that you could… But, using long lining things could be changed

Long lining is such a vital part of my toolkit.  Most issues can be resolved on the lines, and humans improve as riders too.  Their hands get softer, their eye improves and clarity sinks in.  Many people work their horses in hand, and then under saddle, but this crucial link is missed out, making the horse’s life and understanding more difficult.  Long lining done badly can be incredibly harmful.  And having ropes down, around the hocks is dangerous, but done correctly, and with the reins held up by the withers, its magic.

I have been teaching this more and more over the past few years, and everyone who discovers this skill is hooked.

Want to find out more and sign up?
Just follow the link: Long Lining Course!

Why I am talking about this now?  Finally I’ve made a plan to teach this online…  It’s in two sections, this, first section is explaining the basics – what it means, equipment you need, how to start.  Next section will be the skills to start to change and improve your horse’s way of going.  I’m excited to be able to share this magic, hope you’ll join me for the ride!

The gorgeous Blue helps to teach this course, here, by showing how to get a horse who is clearly crooked…..
The gorgeous Blue helps to teach this course, here, by showing how to get a horse who is clearly crooked…..
To become a horse who is straight…
To become a horse who is straight…

Sign up NOW! Part Two is just around the corner!

Confidence or Competence

Confidence or Competence

One of the yards where I used to work, had a long and involved insurance form to fill out before we could let clients ride.  I was always interested in one particular answer and would read it before going out to teach them.

After the usual Name, Address, Age etc, it asked, what is your riding experience?  And gave a list, from which you had to pick one answer.

I have never ridden.

I have ridden at walk.

I have walked, trotted and tried / can rise to trot.

I have cantered.

I can canter, could complete a simple dressage test and jump.

I could ride any horse in any circumstances.

It amazed me, the number of people who would tick the last option.  If they did, I would ask them about it.  And, tell them that I’d never tick that box…

“But, you’re the instructor?” they’d say.

Tomala (grey) and Ballybay – two very challenging mares who struggled to find riders
Tomala (grey) and Ballybay – two very challenging mares who struggled to find riders

And I’d answer that I would be happy to ride most horses in most circumstances, but certainly not all.  A bucking bronco in a rodeo?  Uh, no.  A racehorse in the Grand National?  No thanks.  A “show horse” tight in rolkur and stressed about his upcoming dressage test?  No, just no.  So, any horse in any situation?  No.

Confidence vs competence is a question that comes up at times and should come up a lot more.  As a kid, we were taught to ride without stirrups, bareback, backwards, and some of the ponies we got thrown onto…  Well, they were interesting.  But, we leant how to ride through most situations on a variety of horses.  We got more confident, and wham bam, a pony would ditch us, and we’d come back to earth, literally.

Roll on a few years, and I had a couple of difficult ponies in my yard.  It started to become more and more challenging to find riders for these ponies.  Parents would much rather pay for readymade, easier ponies for their little twinkle to get on, and win on from day one, than for them to possibly have falls and challenges with a tricky pony.

When teaching in certain countries now, health and safety rears its (often ugly, in my opinion) head.  In some places, we can still do no stirrups etc, but in many places’ things have to be ultra-safe.  And yes, kids should be safe.  I always insist on them wearing helmets, body protectors are mandatory in some yards, ponies should be appropriate to the level of rider, comfortable and safe tack, etc,.  But, it’s important that riders develop competence and an understanding of where they are at, as fast as their confidence grows.

And so, ponies who need a better rider, and a rider who thinks, are often redundant because no suitable rider exists.  And we are seeing more and more over bitted, gadget-ed up, draw reined in horses, because the riders simply can’t cope.  Their expectation of their ability far outweighs their reality.   Watch show jumping videos from 20 years ago – most horses were in snaffles, cavesson nosebands, maybe a martingale.  Some didn’t even have boots.  The riders were truly competent – they were masters at the craft.  Now, with the ridiculous amount of bitting up, nosebands, gadgets?  Many are confident, not competent.

So, why bother?  Does it make a difference?

This is competence...  John Whitaker and Milton, jumping at the absolute top of their game, in a simple snaffle bridle and long running martingale.  No gadgets in sight...
HP0GM4 World Equestrian Games, Stockholm, 1990, John Whitaker (GBR) riding Milton – This is competence… John Whitaker and Milton, jumping at the absolute top of their game, in a simple snaffle bridle and long running martingale. No gadgets in sight…
And, this, sadly, is not...
And, this, sadly, is not…

Oh yes.  At another yard where I worked, we instructors didn’t have anything to do with taking bookings.  We would just get the message of a rider / pair / group of riders coming in, ages, weights and experience – beginner, intermediate or advanced.  We had, in the yard, a variety of horses to choose from, some very simple and safe for beginners, some who would be a little bit faster or more challenging and some nice, educated horses for experienced riders, who we just couldn’t put novices onto.  And, do you know the number of people who would book as advanced, and just their approach to the horses would tell us that they were beginners.  “How much experience do you actually have?”  I asked more than once.  Ah, I rode my grandpa’s horses around the farm 20 years ago – I know what I’m doing, and I want to go fast.  Most of the time we’d sigh, return the horse we had ready and get a quieter one out.  Occasionally we’d stick with the horse who was ready, if the client was rude and belligerent about their riding ability.  Didn’t happen often, but generally didn’t end well.

An extreme example of this was a rider a while ago.  I vaguely knew them, had met a couple of times over the years.  I heard through the grapevine that they’d been killed in a riding accident.  On talking to the trainer where it happened, she said that the horse was actually really nice, but too much for him.  He’d bought the horse because it was big, flashy, extravagant and the dealer / agent had told him he looked great on it.  If he’d had a slightly steadier horse, chances are that it wouldn’t have happened.  And the horse now is going well for a new owner who has more experience.  A tragedy that wouldn’t have happened if the rider’s competence had grown in tune with his confidence.

Closer to home, a friend and I booked a beach ride about a year ago.  When we arrived, she told the guide that yes, she was very experienced, had ridden her whole life, had horses (all of which is true), while I told him, yes, I can ride a bit.  She looked at me with raised eyebrows.  As I had anticipated, I got an awesome little horse who tootled along on a long rein, allowing me to sit back, relax and enjoy the scenery, while she got a hot little youngster who spooked and pranced his way along, keeping her with her hands full.  Who had the best ride?

So, next time that you’re off to ride an unknown horse, or are looking to buy a horse, ask yourself first, am I more confident, or more competent?  I know which one I’d rather…

 

 

 

Attendance or achievement?

This is something really important to me, and I’ve had it mind to write about for ages, but watching events unfold in front of me has clarified it again.

Attendance or Attainment.  What does the difference mean to you?

Attendance is to attend something.  To have made an appearance.  Last summer I did a lot of CPD days, (continued professional development days) and at the end, we were given our “6 hours CPD” certificates, whether or not we slept through it, interacted, agreed, disagreed or learnt.  Some were awesome, others were…  Well…

Attainment is to achieve.  When I was head of testing for the Pony Club, I had no issues failing the kids.  Well, let’s rephrase that.  When I was lecturing them, I’d always prepare them for the grade above what we were doing.  If they were aiming for C test, I’d make sure they could pass their C+ with flying colours.  Partly because I don’t believe in failure.  Partly because, coming from little old Zimbabwe (and teaching a lot of embassy / expat kids) I wanted to make sure the standards were high, so that when these kids went back to the first world they came from, people would be impressed with their knowledge gathered in Africa, not be making exceptions for them.  But, if I was examining and an unprepared kid, or a kid with a know-it-all attitude came along, I’d fail them.  Later, as an examiner for The South African National Equestrian Federation, I did fail a fairly high proportion of instructor hopefuls.  If you can’t do the skills, you don’t get your bit of paper just for attending.  It’s that simple.

A lot of courses are only aimed at giving enough information so that participants can answer the questions.  “Here is a 100-page book to study…  You really only need to read chapter 5 and read the list of past questions on page 89, because that’s where the exam questions come from”.  How often have you heard that one?  I have.  And that, I think, is attendance, not attainment.

Albert Einstein is credited with the quote – “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough”.

To this end, when I was Chief Instructor for the Pony Club, all the older kids had to lecture the younger ones.  The older C+ kids lectured the E and D kids.  The B and A test kids lectured the D+’s and C’s.  It freed up instructor’s time, but it was mainly to clarify things for the older kids.  If you can’t explain to a 10-year-old how to assemble a bridle, maybe you don’t understand it well enough yourself…

Why am I thinking of all of this now?  I’m sitting at a dive centre, (https://www.facebook.com/lutwaladive/) watching some people do their PADI Rescue Diver Course.  In some centres, the course is done in about 2 / 3 days.  A morning watching videos.  An afternoon in the pool.  A day in the sea.  Wham, Bam, thank you M’am, you’ve attended the course, here’s you bit of paper.  Here, it’s a bit different.  Breaking down the skills.  Doing the theory, then in the pool.  Then the sea.  Back to watching the video, reading the book, discussing the scenarios.  In the water, out of the water.  This morning, there was a “accident”.  Oh My Word, someone is “drowning” out to sea, quickly, quickly, can someone rescue him – Oh The Drama…  It’s taking up a good week.  They’ve had to drag in a body against the tide – exhausted rescuers.  They had to hunt for a weight belt and plot the search area.  They haven’t attended the course, they’ve learnt the information, they’ve done everything practically.  They’ve taken twice as much time, been tired and overwhelmed, and they have understood.  Some people would be bored and frustrated.  And you know what?  If I were to have an accident, or to get lost at sea, do you know who I’d rather have out looking for me?  The ones who have attended a two-day course, or the ones who have achieved pulling in a “dead body” against the current and plotted a proper search area?

When I learnt to dive, we took it really slow.  My dive instructor was pedantic about safety and understanding.  We went through the theory, we did all the drills, we worked out the compass and plotting on land.  We tested, learnt, practiced, practiced.  It helped that he was my friend.  It helped that we had no rush.  It helped that he taught some of the world’s biggest VIP’s and so had to be ultra-cautious.  And, I learnt properly, carefully, thoroughly, and so it made sense.

A couple of years ago, I did a two-day free diving course.  There was a set syllabus.  Morning one – yoga practice.  Pool practice.  Afternoon one, yoga practice, pool practice.  Skills 1, 2, 3, 4.  Day two, pool practice, afternoon, sea practice, you WILL dive to 20m, stay 30 seconds, come back up.  The instructor was disinterested.  He had a list to follow, we were drilled through his list.  He damn near drowned me, and I didn’t finish the course.  He was unprepared and only had one thought in mind – to get through his two days.

See the difference?

As a pupil, which way would you rather learn?  As an instructor, honestly, how do you teach?