I was reading a very old book recently…

I was reading a very old book recently – the 1952 Pony Club Annual – which was mostly just a little bit of entertainment…  Would you know how to judge the yearly horse against tractor ploughing match?  But, one article made me think.

The subject was, “Judging a Showing Class”.  It was explaining what the judges have to do, how to behave, how to judge a class keeping good time, being fair, acting professionally.  And he made a comment that I think too many people nowadays forget.

When faced with a large class, he said, it’s all too easy to pick out the top 5 or 6 ponies going around and ignore the rest.  But, everyone has paid the same amount of entry fee, everyone has put in the effort of training their horse, grooming and plaiting him, getting him loaded or riding him to the show ground and trying their best, while being there.  Everyone is showing respect to the judge by being properly turned out and following the rules, and so, everyone deserves equal treatment.  Every horse or pony in the class should be inspected, they should be watched walk, trot and cantering around the arena.  Their conformation and movement is judged as they come back to walk, and they stand in the lineup.  You cannot ignore someone because their horse is smaller, or younger, less polished or the rider is a lower level, they’ve all tried.  They all deserve to be seen.

These two cuties, Socks and Lucy, were lent to my riding school many years ago, to work with the kids. They were best buddies and liked to stay together. They both had a job, both put their hours in… Did one deserve more respect than the other, just because one had short ears and one had longer ones?
These two cuties, Socks and Lucy, were lent to my riding school many years ago, to work with the kids. They were best buddies and liked to stay together. They both had a job, both put their hours in… Did one deserve more respect than the other, just because one had short ears and one had longer ones?

And so, I think about lessons.  So often a rider will walk in and apologise because they are a novice, or “only hack”, or don’t want to compete.  Being a visiting clinician, people often treat me as some all-knowing, all seeing oracle, who’ll judge them and find them wanting.  So often, the first words that I hear are – I’m sorry, I honestly think I’m probably wasting your time, but I thought I’d come along…

Every person who comes into my arena has taken the same steps….  They’ve thought about the fact that they are willing and interested to learn or change; maybe they’ve researched who I am, read some of my blogs; that they’ll take the risk that someone new will be honest and fair to them, and not tear them down; that they’ve organised to borrow a horse, or to get themselves and their own horse ready and to wherever I am; they have often taken extra time to groom and polish their horse, tack and themselves, to present an attractive and professional appearance; to hand over the cold hard cash….  Whether they have an Olympic quality warmblood, an off the track thoroughbred, a little borrowed riding school pony, they have all invested time and effort to be there, so surely, they deserve equal care and attention back?

I’m reminded about a saying that my own mentor often uses – A rosebud is no lesser than a rose.  Every horse and rider are on their own journey, and being on the first few rung of the ladder is no better or worse than being 100 steps further along…

Another of my riding school ponies, Haiwon, could turn his hoof to most things, from mounted games (first picture) to show jumping, to eventing, but playing double donkey games with his smaller riders was just as much fun for him – he didn’t judge how big or experienced his jockeys were, he just got on with smiling…
Another of my riding school ponies, Haiwon, could turn his hoof to most things, from mounted games (first picture) to show jumping, to eventing, but playing double donkey games with his smaller riders was just as much fun for him – he didn’t judge how big or experienced his jockeys were, he just got on with smiling…

One of my absolute pet peeves is walking into a yard, a riding school, wherever, and seeing the coach sitting on the fence, staring at his phone, yelling out, “yes, yes, well done, that was good, do it again…”  The rider is hearing the voice float across to them, and are focusing and doing, and the coach is….  Staring at his phone.  Even worse, with the surge in use of wireless walkie talkie radios, is the chatting to the peanut gallery.  The rider has an earpiece and is doing their thing out in the arena.  The coach has the microphone and possibly another receiving earpiece.  All of which is fine, and often so valuable, until the coach has a circle of adoring fans around them.  The coach turns on the microphone and says “ok, good, use more leg, do it again”, and then mutes the microphone, and chats with his groupies – “yes, great, so dinner tonight, the new restaurant sounds good, who is the designated driver, because you know, it’s not going to be me…”  And turns the microphone back on to say, “yes, better, do it again and add more leg”.  This often happens with that newer, lower level rider who is demanding less of his attention.  They’ve invested the time, effort, and money to be there, don’t they deserve the same respect?

There are so many, brilliantly fabulous coaches and trainers out there, more often than not doing amazing work.  So, to riders who are accepting less attention, less help, less focus – please, please, stand up and be seen!  Just because you “only hack out” or “only borrow a riding school pony” you are important, you are just as deserving of good training, you should be seen….  Find one of the many brilliant coaches who really will invest time and care into your training, you’ll certainly feel the benefits…

The addiction of STUFF

One thing that I have always hoarded far too much – books.  Even now, stuck on a little dot of an island, I have 6 books on the go at the same time – 4 are on my kindle and 2 are actual books.  And, I do have a couple of crates and bags scattered around the world, mainly…  books.

One of my current books is a page a day on self-disciple, motivation, and anti-procrastination.  It is pretty easy, that one page a day.  A couple of days ago, the theme was something that already resonates with me.  It said, we should try to simplify, live with less.  It makes you more focused, less distracted, more able to deal with coping in bad situations where you do have to live without something, and more resourceful about being able to adapt.

I already live simply – no house, no furniture, no animals, no physical office or workspace.  Only carrying with me what will fit into my suitcase.  I have been threatening for years to attempt the 100 item challenge – you can only own 100 things.  But, you know…  books….

Very slightly OCD about my packing - everything has to be straight...
Very slightly OCD about my packing – everything has to be straight…

When I flew into Asia, I came with my giant, 30kg suitcase and 8kg hand luggage.  When I flew onto Bali, I came with 12kg of luggage, leaving the bulk in Singapore.  I have travelled with less, because it’s only been a short trip, with less things to do, less commitment, less need of things.  So, now here I sit, with about 5 changes of clothes, my laptop, 2 books, a kindle and ummm….  That’s about it.  I certainly have less than 100 items, can’t trim down my possessions much more, and do you know what?  It’s awesome.  Less thinking everyday about what to wear, what to do, tidying up, sorting out.  It’s very cool.  So when the book said, see what you can trim and delete from your life – well, not a lot really.  (It does help that all you need here are a pair of shorts, a t-shirt and a pair of flip flops…)

What’s all this got to do with horses?  Who, honestly, keeps things clutter free and easy with their horses?

Years ago, I worked for an Olympic 3-day eventer.  He had about 10 horses, and the tiniest little tack room ever.  Each horse had a halter and a bridle; a rug or two.  And that was basically it.  There were maybe 5 saddles, a handful of bits, a pile of clean saddle pads, and….  The horses were ridden in simple snaffles, cavesson nosebands, no martingales or gadgets, nothing.  On one occasion, I asked him if I could hack one of the horses out with a martingale, because he could get quite full of himself and explosive.  Sure, was the reply – if you can find one in my tack room?  He’d said this with certainty, because he knew that he didn’t own one.  (He later asked me – do you know what a martingale is?  Well, yes, I replied – strap from girth to reins, passes through a neck strap?  No, he explained, it’s a flashing neon sign, saying that the horse’s owner doesn’t care to educate him and just ties his head down instead…  I haven’t used a martingale since…)

When I had my yard in Zimbabwe, every horse had a halter and a fly fringe.  All the riding horses had a simple snaffle bridle.  Most had a winter rug, and there were a variety of saddles, certainly not one each.  Each groom had a grooming kit, there was a first aid kit, a pile of working and show saddle pads, and….  Nothing.  80 horses shared one very small tackroom, because their kit was so simple.  No gadgets, no martingales, very few boots, one or two flash nosebands.

My world fits into this little carry on...
My world fits into this little carry on…

I look at some of the yards (most of them) where I go to teach – horses each have vast tack closets, enormous tackrooms, and riders still store their collection of 89 different coloured matchy matchy sets of saddle pads at home.  I did tell one young rider that the only reason she had a horse was because she figured that at her age, it was not appropriate to dress up Barbie dolls any more…

So, my challenge to you – could you strip down to less than 100 items in your tack cupboard?  Could you ride your horse just in a simple snaffle and saddle?  No martingales, no gadgets, no nosebands, no side reins or bungees or multitudes of 89 different coloured saddle pads?  It really does make your life simpler!





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Why am I on a Facebook detox?

Why am I on a Facebook detox?

Have you ever had a conversation, where you chatted to a friend, an acquaintance, a client, a boss, a stranger, and over the hour chat most of the things that were said were positive – friendly chat about life, issues, events, work performance etc.  But, one sentence or comment was negative or barbed.

Are social media and negative news leaving you feeling sluggish and lethargic?
Are social media and negative news leaving you feeling sluggish and lethargic?

“Oh, it’s ok for some, that they (you) have the money to visit London…”

“Oh course, when you did that, I wouldn’t have made that mistake, or chosen that route…”

“Yes, well we all know that you love to procrastinate…”

“When are you going to get a real job?”

And afterwards, what is the part of the conversation you remember?

As Baz Luhrmann says in his song, Wear Sunscreen…  “Remember compliments you receive, forget the insults, if you succeed in doing this, tell me how…”

Negativity, sadly, sticks.

Criticism comes in two main varieties – positive criticism and negative criticism.  Positive is necessary, and important.  Negative – well, it sucks.  I use this so much in my teaching.

“Well, done, that trot is looking so much better – you were on the correct diagonal, you had Snowy moving with so much more energy and you were both much closer to staying in balance.  Now, we need to think about how we can improve your steering”, is a lot more effective than “Will you EVER stop cutting your corners?”

I have had countless pupils over the years, who were preparing for exams and tests.  As an examiner, I know that many candidates fall down on speaking to the examiner.  Oral exams are not that common and putting the feel of a ride into words is somewhat challenging.  So, chunks of the lessons would be them creating feedback.  I would send them off to a task – jump the course, ride the dressage movement, practice those canter transitions, and then call them back, asking for feedback.  9 times out of 10, they’d start with – “I rode the combination badly”, or “the simple change sucked”.  They’d list all the negatives with utmost confidence, possibly because they thought that the examiner would be judging them, so they’d put themselves down first.  When I asked them what was good, they’d often go blank.  They were better at destructive criticism than at positive criticism.

I’d say no, no.  Not good enough.  I want to hear three positives first.  Blank look in reply.  So, I’d demonstrate the feedback that works.  One,  you and Snowy kept a great rhythm throughout the course.  He was forward, active and taking you to the fence.  Two, the tricky line from the black oxer to the pink upright, you got in a good way.  You were worried about him going in four strides or chipping in a fifth, and you stuck to the plan and got four.  Three, when he bucked after the final red oxer, you were ready for him and didn’t get pushed onto his neck.  Now, the negatives – one, you cut the corner into the combination which is why it was a bit of a scramble.  Two, that big jump over the final red oxer had you left behind, which is why he bucked, and three, yes, your lower leg was still unstable, but that is something we can work with.

One of the things that irritates me badly as a teacher, is if someone comes into the arena, looks around and says “Oh no, my horse absolutely won’t jump the wall”.  I often say, well then, put him back in his stable and I’ll go and have a coffee.  If you’ve decided that YOU’RE not jumping the wall, we might as well all give up already.  That cheesy old adage, if you have decided that you can, or cannot, you’re right…   If you start out negative, nothing will change.

OK, how does this have anything to do with my Facebook detox?  Social media, news media, many people at this point in time are very negative.  This is understandable in today’s situation – it’s not a great time at the moment, is it?  People are stressed about friends or family becoming ill, losing their income, sitting home alone, and, and, and…  What they say, think, or write, often reflects this negative mindset.  And, like a snowball, it grows.

I currently am restructuring my business and online courses.  I have great ideas flying through my head, all the steps that I want to take, how I want to get there, to help more people in a good way.  I’d sit down filled with good intentions and fired up, and quickly check in on emails and social media.  And enter the darkness….  One particular post annoyed me – well, it wasn’t the post, it was the feedback.  The video showed a young girl on her fabulous pony, having fun with some jumps.  Yes, there were mistakes, but it was a happy, laughing child and her gung-ho bouncy, happy pony.  You couldn’t help but smile.  And then the comments start – her hands aren‘t good enough, she shouldn’t be allowed to jump;  why is the pony in a bit, poor animal should be bitless, don’t you know bits are cruel; pony should be shod, can’t jump cross country barefoot; I’m sure the saddle doesn’t fit; ponies shouldn’t be ridden, it’s against pony rights;  OMG, how can a mother let her small child do that, doesn’t she know jumping damages the child’s spine…  On and on.  They took lighthearted fun, which the pony was invested in, and turned it negative.  There were many comments that reflected my thoughts, but if you were the mother, coach or later, the child (when she’s old enough to understand) which comments would be heard?

And, I’d close my laptop without doing any of the work to put my high flying ideas into practice.  Two days ago, I removed FB from my phone, and stopped logging in on my computer.  I missed it…  For about 30 seconds, and then had a feeling of relief.  And since then I have written four blogs, finished a powerpoint presentation and started the next, edited a bunch of long lining videos, and planned out what my membership scheme will look like, what I need to do, and how things will change.

When you have a positive experience, conversation, email, thought, your energy and mood is better and you get more done.  When it’s negative, blah.  I’m not saying that we all have to live with rainbows and unicorns.  Or that we should be using this time to write a novel and learn a new skill.  But, we don’t need to dwell in other people’s negative mindsets.  One of my favourite sayings ever is – You are not a tree, if you don’t like where you are, leave.  If you don’t like your job, find another one.  If you don’t like where you live, move.  If you don’t like a relationship, end it.  If you don’t like how sugar and Facebook make you feel, don’t go there…

A bumble down the beach is much more uplifting and positive than mind numbing scrolling through social media
A bumble down the beach is much more uplifting and positive than mind numbing scrolling through social media

If you don’t like the livery yard or riding school where you are, move.  If you don’t like the way your coach gets you riding your horse, find another coach who has the same ethic as you…  If you don’t like my blogs, don’t read them.  If you don’t like the relationship with your horse – look for the positives, what do you like?  Can you build on the good, or are you overwhelmed by the bad?  Sometimes, for the good of your horse and you, things need to change.

Mainly, in this unsettled time, be kind to your horse, be kind to other people who are also stressed, and mostly be kind to yourself – if something is stressing you, detox from it, remove it from your life, and find what makes you smile!

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Hiding in plain sight

I love reading – anyone who knows me, knows how I can get utterly absorbed.  I have a very eclectic taste, from fiction, biographies, philosophy, art, neurology, movement and many more.  Apologies in advance, the first few paragraphs of this blog may upset some people, but there is a point, I promise.  If you can, bear with me…  I came across a list of the 20 most powerful political books in the past 50 years, and one title intrigued me – Every 12 Seconds.  It’s written by political scientist Timothy Pachirat, and it’s about his undercover working in a commercial slaughterhouse in Great Plains, America.  It’s a large setup, where 2,500 cattle are killed a day, or one every 12 seconds.

Now, I debated this long and hard for two reasons – one, politics isn’t something that I spend a great deal of time sitting with.  I do follow it to a degree, but to read a great long textbook about it?  And really, the whole slaughterhouse scene.  I’m vegetarian, have been for a long time, but shouldn’t I actually be prepared to put my money where my mouth is?  It’s like visiting a zoo when I’m always saying that I don’t like them – really, take time to look.  Do I buy it, do I not?  Yes, no, yes, no.  Eventually I did, and it sat on my kindle, untouched for a few more weeks.  Finally, during COVID and having time, I opened the can of worms…  I’m very glad I did, it’s a great book.

Was it a challenge?  Oh yes.  Mentally, emotionally, intellectually, it was tough at times.  Has it changed my perspective and turned me into a meat eater?  No, and I think there would be more vegetarians if the book was required reading.  But Tim Pachirat’s insights really intrigued me, and I’m so glad that I read it.  I keep turning it back to the multi billion euro / dollar / pound industry that I work in.

He says, anything unpleasant, disgusting, unsettling, is hidden in plain sight.  And, as we as a culture / species have evolved, we have hidden more, in plain sight.  Back in the caveman days the mighty warrior would go out and hunt down a wild beasty, and it was hauled back in full view, everyone celebrating as it was hacked into bits to be spread around the group.  The hunter who dispatched it was the hero of the hour.  Roll on a few generations, and the killing was a little more hidden, maybe the whole beast was cut into pieces before the general public saw it.  Now, we don’t see an animal, or a head or a hoof, but a small piece of produce, wrapped in plastic and put on display in the supermarket fridge.  It’s become a product, we have removed the origins from our mind.  The kill floor is politically correctly known as the harvesting plant and it takes less than an hour for a living, breathing, sentient animal to go from “steer” to “steak”.  We wouldn’t like the conversation “What’s for dinner tonight?”  to be answered with “dead cow butt” when “rump steak” sounds so much less offensive.

At the same time, we have covered our bodies with clothing to hide our nudity in plain sight – we all know what is under our clothes, but, it’s less vulgar to be hidden.  We have private bathrooms, to hide the nasty, and eat with a knife and fork, rather than ripping our food up with our hands.  Anything “dirty” is removed or hidden from the view.  We want to see pretty, not pollution or ugliness.

The kill plant hired 121 people, and each person was hidden from the view of most of the rest.  This is how the system truly works – only about 5 people actually see the cow die, and its this that keeps everyone working.  Who is to blame for the whole meat industry?  Who is the reason the cow died?  Is it the “Knocker” who actually delivers the blow?  Many workers in the plant thought that.  They were innocent bystanders, the only bad guy was the knocker.  Can you blame all 121 workers?  They work at the slaughterhouse, right?  It’s their fault…  Not in many of their eyes.  Can you blame the farmers who supplying the raw product?  Or, do you blame the average family and little Johnny sitting down to his roast beef dinner?  All, are part of the chain.  From the farmer who bred the cow, to the staff who looked after it, to the truckers who hauled it, to the slaughterhouse staff who processed it, to the supermarket who stocked it, to the consumer who ate it.  Each is responsible, but because not many people see the whole process, it’s easier to stomach.  Hidden in plain sight.

OK, lets switch to the horse industry.

We watch Joe Bloggs ride in some big competition yanking his horse into rolkur, kicking and spurring, and (most of us) say Urggg, that’s awful – Joe Bloggs is a bad man and horrid to his horse.  He’s the one responsible.  Should we include his trainer in the blame?  OK, yes, the trainer is bad too.  What about breeder, who bred a horse with legs too long for him, putting his body out of balance, because that stamp of horse sell at a higher value?  Or, the judging system that made this weak, alien horse worth more?   Maybe we should blame the judges for rewarding bad riding.  While there, shall we blame the groom for silently cranking the noseband tighter and tighter…  Or the saddler who invented crank nosebands?  (just why?)  Let’s blame the farrier who added more and more corrective shoeing to keep this “athlete” sound, and the vet for offering more joint injections for his sore legs and back.  How about laying the blame at the feet of people like me – the teachers of teachers and trainers of the grass root riders.  If little Johnny is taught from his first lesson that this thing he’s sitting on is a four legged bicycle, that to make it go is about kicking more (add more leg!) and that if it’s not totally submissive and under his power, its defective and needs replacing.

If you buy that saddle pad because it has a famous rider’s name, and you know how cruel she is, you are a part of the problem.  What about if you shop from a saddler who stocks all manner of gadgets and pulleys, draw reins, chains, stronger bits and accessories?  Or use a farrier who is known to knock horses around.  Or go to an instructor who trains every one of their pupils to have their horses behind the vertical, or all in draw reins.

A while ago, I was talking to a farrier, who shod the horses at a very famous person’s yard.  He said that the junior riders who “schooled” the young ones, would take a horse into the indoor and an hour later it would come out bloody, stressed and lathered.  The competition rider who owns the yard is somewhat suspect, but how much was hidden in plain sight, by fancy top hats and tail coats, sponsor’s lunches and first place ribbons.  How much should those junior riders be blamed too?  And all the accompanying trades alongside.  He didn’t stay shoeing there for long, simply couldn’t stomach it.

The equine industry is in more trouble than ever.  But recently I heard an awesome term – to be welfare attentive…..  What happens at your yard?  Is it best not to go into the indoor when a certain rider is sitting on her horse?  Are the draw reins tucked in a drawer?  Would you fling open all the doors, make your walls of glass and be seen, or are there murky areas that hide things in plain sight?  Come on, let’s all let the light in – there are lots of awesome yards, doing amazing things, let’s let the horses live and work in a way that nothing needs to be hidden…  Are you up for the challenge?

“The world will not be destroyed by those who do evil, but by those who watch them without doing anything.”

― Albert Einstein



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