Starting Over

Oh, I so don’t want to write this.  And chances are, by tomorrow I’ll delete or, or bury it in the back of a file to never see the light of day, but it wants to be written, and I won’t get back to sleep until I do…  Its 3am, and the earth gently shook us awake – I’m currently sitting in the middle of the “Ring of fire”, and little shakes are a very common occurrence.  In itself, it probably wouldn’t have woken me, but, just dozing, my brain was racing and flighting with my heart, so any excuse to get up, right? (P.S. #1.  It wasn’t such a gentle little shake – at 4.7 it was a big enough bounce…)

This whole Covid 19 thing has every one a little shook up.  But it strikes me from a different angle.  I don’t see people scared to die, but people who are scared to live.

Mr Grey – the heart break and trauma this little horse caused me…
Mr Grey – the heart break and trauma this little horse caused me…

I helped to treat a cat yesterday / today (depending on how you see 3am, it really is the middle of the night in my books….)  He looked dead, lying in his cage, and part of the reason I’m sitting doing this is to wait for light to go and see if he is a dead patient or a live patient in his hospital bed.  He’d been brought in, badly dehydrated, eyes and nose pus-filled and gummed shut, very weak and skinny.  My friend said – he won’t live and went to get the right drugs, and as I sat with him, I said, please can we try…  A saline drip, some anti-biotic, clean swabs to wipe his eyes and mouth.  My heart agreed, give him the magic blue stuff and let him sleep.  My brain got in the way – we can save him; he deserves a fighting chance. (P.S. #2…..  The cat didn’t make it.  I went to check him this morning, but he’d gone in the night.  I’m a little bit sad…)

Years ago, a friend and I were working in a yard, where there were some ancient, almost blind and toothless old ponies who were still wheeled out for the tiny kids lead rein walks.  We, privately, called them “The Walkers”.  As in, the walking dead.  The mind and the brain – they aren’t the same thing at all.  The brain can make the heartbeat, and the gut digest, the legs move.  But, just because the brain is functioning, doesn’t mean the mind is at home.

In horses we have a name for this – learned helplessness.  The horse has tried to work out the world, he has tried to fight back against too much pressure, an unfair workload, or a bad situation, and been forced through his literal kicking over of the traces.  He can’t fight back anymore, and so slips into learned helplessness, where his body complies, but his eyes betray him.

I don’t think I’m scared to die.  I’m not about to jump off the roof – don’t worry – but when my time comes, it’s ok.  The secret is – we’re all dying, right?  Death and taxes.  And, sadly, this virus is making an awful lot of people face this awfully fast.  But, it isn’t just the fear of dying.  It’s the fear of financial collapse, and the fear of losing someone close to you, the fear of the unknown, the fear of…?   The fear of thinking, maybe you’re not bullet proof.

What makes me sad, is how many people out there are walkers already, and it’s those people who are most scared about this.  They get up in the morning, they get dressed, they go to work.  They come home, they have dinner, they go to bed.  And in the morning, they get up, they get dressed and they go to work.  Their brain is driving them, but they have lost their soul.  Someone recently was telling me about the difference between motivation and inspiration.  The motivated keep being motivated to get up, get dressed and go to work.  The inspired, live.

I’ve been involved with many, many horses and animals who have died.  When you rescue them, many don’t survive.  I understand why the suicide rate in vets and animal rescue is so high.  Often, more often than people realize, my threat to go hammock testing and give up on horses isn’t a joke.  As I sat, holding that cat, there is a huge internal conflict – let him die peacefully, with two people who care, or stuff him full of drugs that probably won’t help him and leave him alone in a cage, to die without someone near.  And when I deal with a horse who is shut down because his owner is too competitive, or a horse who is sore because someone hasn’t noticed how bad his saddle is – I could walk away and not come back.

want to come hammock testing with me?
want to come hammock testing with me?

But if I do walk away, how much will I become one of the walking dead myself?  For whatever reason, animals and I are so intrinsically connected.  Recently I was talking to someone about how often I come into contact with animals, just to help them die.  She said, it’s an honour, like being midwife to their soul.  I can’t go that far – but sometimes it’s the gift you can give them when they’ve suffered too much already.  And, if and when I do walk away from the horses, I know I’ll disconnect with a part of me.

This virus, I think, is asking people to reconnect with that part of themselves, the part that I’d lose.  The part that many people are scared to wake up.  It’s asking people to sit quietly.  (Oooh, that’s so my challenge…)  It’s asking them to re-evaluate.  It’s asking them to ask, if I don’t do my normal, what else is possible?  It’s asking you to sit still with your horse, your cat, your dog, your family, your own mind, and reconnect.  Years ago, a bank had the slogan – “Where will your spark take you”.  I’ve always loved that concept.  The virus is asking people to find their spark, because so many people have lost it.  I, personally, need to process some stuff, I need to see what is possible, and, in coming to a little speck of a tropical island, I’ve got time for debating what is possible.  The timing, for me, couldn’t have been better.

What’s possible for you?  Where is your spark going to take you, on your new adventure, post Covid 19?

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Staying Home …

I’ve thought about this before, began writing it, stopped, started again, deleted it.  And at the moment, it’s fresh in my mind again.

I don’t actually live anywhere – most people know that.  No house, no rent, no furniture, no ties.  Which I think is perfect.

“Where do you live?”

“Well, now, this week, I live in Gili Trawangan, but last week I lived in Bali, the week before that, I lived in Singapore.”

Gili
Gili

“Where did you come from?”

“Well, do you mean which airport?  Or last week?  Or last long-haul flight?  Or???”

And, what’s really blown me away this past week, is the number of messages that I’ve had, saying, are you OK?  Please come home, your bed (and Cat) are waiting for you…  So many people saying that their home is my home, and that if I need somewhere to hold up, their house is open.  Which, I find incredibly humbling…  Someone asked me a while ago if I consider myself wealthy.  My reply was, if I look at my bank account, no.  But yes, I am incredibly wealthy, as this week has proved.

Another friend said, please get to England as fast as possible – you need to be with family and friends.  That’s a challenge, with my mom in South Africa and brothers in UK and Kenya, as well as cousins in every corner of the globe – family is not place, anymore than home is.  When people have been forced from their native country due to politics, and have scattered worldwide, “home” is no longer there, so, where is the new home?

And so, my reply to her – well, I am home.  I have ponies, and I have the sea.  In every country, wherever you go, you walk into a stable yard, and you could be anywhere.  Any yard, has the same routine – you count the number of pony legs and divide by four…  Is everyone alive and healthy, does everyone look happy and anticipating breakfast?  Is the grumpy mare putting her ears back, is the greedy one nickering for his feed?  Top up empty water buckets.  Take around the hay.  Mix breakfast feeds.  Open paddocks, unlock tack rooms, muck out stables, scrub out water buckets, empty wheelbarrows, put horses out…  In any yard, I can just get on and help with yard work, because horses are horses, no matter where they are.  And yards are yards, mucking out, sweeping, scrubbing feed bins, it’s all the same.  Same same but different, as they say in Asia.

Horses and stable yards
Horses and stable yards

Horses speak the same language, no matter what dialect the words come from.  They need the same things, they offer the same things.  You can move them backwards or forwards with a gesture or a glance, they co-operate with the human, the human co-operates with the pony.

In big yards, grooms are bantering, yelling light-hearted abuse.  In racing yards, the appies touch their stick to their cap – “mornin’ m’am”.  The sun comes up slowly, horses start moving out, hooves on concrete, horses calling, bits being crunched.  In competition yards, the first strings go to the horse walker, or out hacking with the grooms, the trainers head to arenas.  In riding schools, lessons begin, the words of the instructors always follow a familiar cadence, no matter the language.  Which country are you in?  It doesn’t matter, welcome home, welcome to the familiar, the feel of routine and peace.

If you think you’re lost, or far from home, the horses will welcome you and remind you that they create home, it’s not a place, it’s a feeling.  It’s the sounds, sights, smells of the yard waking up, ready for another day.

In normal time, my usual life before social distancing and lockdown, I’m generally at home, even though my passport will show that I’m in a far-off country.

In a couple of yards where I go often, I’ll be standing talking to a human, or watching a horse work, or teaching, and I’ll hear a whicker, or feel a bump in the small of my back, as one of my four legged friends sees that I’ve arrived and hauls their human over so they can say hi, or nickers until they call me over.  They replace being able to pop to a familiar coffee shop or visiting a childhood friend.  They hold the space, and always offer a “welcome home”.

The Value of the Plastic Pony.

In Singapore, I teach some of my clinics on a simulator horse, called Plastic Jack.  And, honestly, I think Plastic Jack is worth his weight in gold.

A lot of people will have seen them – life size “horses” sitting atop a platform and computer, allowing them to halt, walk, trot and canter.  The movement feels similar to that of a live horse, although not exactly the same since he isn’t swinging his weight along with all four legs.

A few times now, I have gone simulator indoor skydiving, mainly to figure out exactly how I’m using my core and how I can influence my direction and stability with nothing to reach out and hold onto, or floor to push off.  Last time, I chatted to the dive instructor and asked him how lifelike it was.  Similar, was his reply.  You get the upward push of air, but you don’t get the pockets of turbulence, the sudden rush of up or down draught, and you certainly don’t get the cross wind.  When flying through the air outside, you get wind from all directions, in a simulator tube, it’s all one way.  (As I write this, sitting in a plane, I can certainly vouch for what happens with up draughts, down draughts and cross winds).  A wind tunnel is too regular and even.  And, that is similar to what happens on Plastic Jack.  He’s very safe.  No one has fallen off, you don’t even have to wear a hard hat, and there isn’t any tilt through his corners, or falling in or out around the circle, but it’s as close as.

Now, some people sit on a version of Jack for 5 minutes, use the pressure sensors and get a read out of what the pony’s sensor panels have to say – you are 56% to the left, and 63% tipping forwards.  And that, in my opinion, is a bit worth less.  A fun joyride, sure, but does it actually teach you anything or help?

Where Jack comes into his own, is when we can play.  Before the rider gets on, we work through a whole variety of exercises to understand and experiment through tensegrity and alignment.  We’ve sat on Styrofoam or polystyrene balls, blown up balloons, and pulled each other around.  We’ve thought of how balls bounce, how violin strings are tensioned and how our diaphragm works.  And, we’ve watched videos of Charlotte and worked through photographs of the last Olympics.  Now, finally, we get on Plastic Jack and we play with low tensegrity, high tensegrity, having both seat bones, stability of the fascia spiral lines using bands, and the way in which blowing up a balloon activates the core.  By having Jack cantering along in one place, I can stand next to the rider and place my hands where I want them too, asking them to push one side of their pelvis, fill in their back, breathe to their kidneys or rest their head against the head rest in their car in a much clearer way than they ever could sitting atop a real live, moving horse.  The proof comes in the next day, when their regular coach says – Oh My, I can see a change in your riding…

So, you up for a challenge?  Find out if there is a local version of Plastic Jack and go along for a lesson.  It can be tricky to find someone to actually teach you on one, rather than just getting a printout, but if you can find a horse and a trainer, magic will happen!

 

My reading list …

Sometimes, you read a book and it fills you with this weird evangelical zeal, and you become convinced that the shattered world will never be put back together unless and until all living humans read the book.
–John Green, The Fault in Our Stars

I am a reader – I always have two, three, sometimes four books on the go.  There’ll be something light, easy fiction to waste time in an airport.  A horse textbook of some description, and something technical, on coaching, or physics, or anatomy, or philosophy or, or…  And so, when asked about a book, it’s always tricky – oh, where to start?

One of my first favourites, obviously, was Black Beauty, way back when.  I recently found an old copy of it, and re-read it, just to see.  It’s like sitting down to tea and conversation with an old friend.

We read it now, almost 150 years after it was written (1877) and are fairly horrified at some of the things in it.  Taking horses into war.  Carriage horses hauled up into a frame with bearing reins.  Horses working as pit ponies.  All things that most people now are not so happy with.

(Yes, bearing reins still exist, now, more politely called overcheck or side check, but hopefully (naïvely?) they aren’t over tightened as they were for poor old Black Beauty).

But, as I was reading, I wondered, if someone re-wrote Black Beauty now, what would people in 2170 be thinking?

Rolkur, or LDR jumps up.  Is that as bad as sending horses into war?  Cranking shut nosebands, the need for blood rules at competitions?  Western classes and races for 2-year olds?  Will riding horses at all be frowned upon – there is already a group of people who say that any work on horses is cruel and unnatural.   Will we even still keep horses as companions, or will the only horses be those who live wild?  Will there still be horses at all, the rate our green spaces are being consumed.  Or, will we still have them, but only living in high rise apartment type blocks.

If books can truly change the way we think, can we not take a few lessons from Anna Sewell.  What worries you now, that will be looked at in a few years to come, and have our descendants asking, just how did they get away with that???

So, what else is on my list?

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/48757.The_Tao_of_Pooh?ac=1&from_search=true&qid=TsrpTSaD4C&rank=1

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/1567626.For_the_Good_of_the_Horse?ac=1&from_search=true&qid=Sdr8LpPLF1&rank=1

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/7038501-know-your-horse?ac=1&from_search=true&qid=3fTDTkXOrO&rank=1

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/846854.Horses_Never_Lie?ac=1&from_search=true&qid=RoWfas1GNm&rank=1

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/792161.War_Horse?ac=1&from_search=true&qid=GbEaDZiT5T&rank=1

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/5771014-the-talent-code?ac=1&from_search=true&qid=Gp6cSabxOA&rank=1

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/20564378-simple-pushes?ac=1&from_search=true&qid=UeIVcCzhGW&rank=1

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/7691665-richard-bandler-s-guide-to-trance-formation-make-your-life-great?from_search=true&qid=sXelZqiFM9&rank=3

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/103758.Zen_in_the_Art_of_Archery?ac=1&from_search=true&qid=1dSylMpiA9&rank=1

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/31624484-the-horse-dancer?ac=1&from_search=true&qid=M9mTSWmAEI&rank=1

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/5660300-wild-pony?ac=1&from_search=true&qid=HAyGLumQd3&rank=2

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/84119.The_Horse_and_His_Boy?ac=1&from_search=true&qid=2gMxmDAsWa&rank=1

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/133803.The_Good_Good_Pig?from_search=true&qid=A71afqssUp&rank=12

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/24178.Charlotte_s_Web?from_search=true&qid=sggwsmMqYM&rank=1

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/157993.The_Little_Prince?ac=1&from_search=true&qid=lmmP5r3OTF&rank=1

What’s on your list?

 

Do EXACTLY as I say …..

This was going around social media recently and I thought it was brilliant, did you see it?

https://media.giphy.com/media/56ZzyfR2UK0H6/giphy.gif

Taking things too literally is something that happens so often, with our language or message not being what we actually mean.

There is a house in London which has been causing quite a stir.  A neat little cul-de-sac road, with about 12 townhouses.  One town house is owned by a lady, as an investment.  She’d just bought it and was dealing with other issues, so this little house’s front looked more and more neglected, run down and sad.  The other home-owners began making a lot of noise – it’s ugly, it’s bringing down the neighbourhood, you need to clean it up.  She kept saying, yes, no panic, it would happen.  They took her to court – the judge ruled, it must be painted immediately.  So, she did.  In lumo pink and white, candy stripes.  The judge had said paint it – she did.  Literally.  Did she do anything wrong?  Well, not if you listen to the words.  The other homeowners in the street, in despair, went back to court.  We cannot have a lumo pink and white candy cane striped house on our upmarket street…..  Make her cover it up immediately!  The judge complied – cover it immediately.  So, she did.

London House with candy stripes
London House with candy stripes

She did exactly as asked – she covered the candy canes.  And now, it’s even uglier than before.  The other homeowners have given up – how do you fight with someone who does exactly as you ask?  And now it sits – probably for longer than it would have if they had just left her alone in the first place.

Another extreme example comes from an old racehorse urban legend – did it happen?  A trainer had a new young exercise rider, who, although she could ride well, had never had anything to do with racehorses or riding work gallops.  On her first ride out, he said to her to canter the horse to the back straight, and at the corner, to “jump off and let him run”.  What he meant – hold him collected, balanced between hand and leg and contained until she reached a certain furlong marker, and at that point, to soften her contact, let him jump off, as in starting blocks, and to gallop as he could….  What happened…  At the marker, she dropped her stirrups, dismounted and…   well….  Let him go.

But, it’s something that I do encounter all the time in arenas.  Sit up straight – what is meant…  Go into a martial art state of strength and balance, from military days.  What happens?  A ridiculous hyperextension of the lower back as riders contort themselves into pretzels.

Put your inside leg on the girth – this was a magical instruction, in 1700 when girths were 6 inches further back than they are today. Now, it just puts rider’s in a chair seat, landing heavy on their rumps.

Use your contact – make the horse round.  The result?  Sawing away at his mouth or fixing the hand and dragging his head down.  The intention?  Hold a light, polite contact and send the horse into it, inviting him to lift his back and work throughout his body.

Heels down, often results in the rider pushing their foot forwards, (especially adults, from driving I wonder?) instead of allowing their leg to lengthen and their ankle to naturally shorten in front, allowing their foot to be parallel to the ground, or slightly toe up.  Toes up, would be a much better use of words.

We instructors need to be so careful of our language – when a rider is listening and working really hard to do as told, it’s only ourselves to blame if we give mixed instructions…

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Disruptive Innovation

Disruptive Innovation – ever heard of it?  Some have, mainly applied in business, but I love the term, and probably use it to generally.

Stubbs, the British painter, was a disruptive innovator. He dissected many, many horses, including the famous “Eclipse”, seen here, to see how things really worked.

Clayton Christensen, who invented the term, “utilized it narrowly to describe innovations that upended existing markets, but only if they fit a certain pattern he had discovered. A true disruptive innovation, he taught, first appealed only to a niche market and appeared less attractive than the powerful incumbent it eventually usurped. In fact, the incumbent typically looked down on it as inconsequential until it ate up huge swaths of its market share.”

He applied it to computers, which were originally massive, needed a degree to operate and cost over $200,000.  When they were first introduced on a tiny scale, as kid’s toys, they were slow and limited, but they gradually improved and disrupted markets.  Initially they disrupted people’s thinking too, but now?  Even as I write this, it’s on my laptop.  How could I do what I do, working internationally, without it?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mtjatz9r-Vc&feature=share&fbclid=IwAR2-qqTiU_mu6Q7YPtyNko82aD-xproAY3C6uhR4wNxEnix380ZrJ-Drrzs

Maybe innovation is enough, but I like to think of disruptive innovation – it makes you uncomfortable, makes you search for more answers…

My favourite question, is, “Why?”.

My horse can’t be ridden with out a tight noseband and a short martingale.

“Why?”

Because…..  Ummm….  My coach tells me?

“Why?”

“Maybe he’ll fling his head???”

“So, let’s try.  Disrupt the pattern, shake the box, see what happens…  Why not?”

I love it when someone’s theory disrupts my pattern.  A classic at the moment is the incredible Sharon May Davis, who is (slightly depressingly) showing how many horses are very badly compromised with the C6 / C7 vertebrae malformation.  She is certainly creating a disruptive situation.  But it’s a good thing – we need to know, and to create a solution.  She’s made me re-evaluate my opinion of some of the horses I know, and how I can help them.

I spend a lot of my time with Mary Wanless, author and brain behind Ride with Your Mind, who certainly disrupts some of my beliefs and makes me question things in new ways.  I can’t simply say now – ride the horse…  It’s so much more about anatomy, fascia lines, proprioception, mind mapping; a disruption to my understanding and thinking.  Find out more about Mary Wanless here…

I tend to dislike tack shops, because so many are just bulk selling, shiny, bling that people must have – it’s shiny and is a name brand – it must be wonderful…  I NEED this…  Even though its over-priced, your horse may hate it, adds to world pollution and capitalism, and you certainly don’t need it…  The large corporations who control the market.  Then, a little independent comes along, like Seriously Tacky, who carries a smaller line, only selling things that they actually like, are good for you and your horse, and yes, they may glitter in the light, but they’re useful too.  Disruptive Innovation for the big names in tack stores?  This describes it much better than I do!

Another disrupter for me at the moment is https://natural-connexion.com/– working with Lucia, makes me question how much we ( I ) operate on intuition – how much do we riding coaches need to step back and allow people to find their own way with their horses, with us just as guides, rather than micromanaging their every move….  Where is the line before paralysis by analysis steps in…  The ethics of riding and where we’re going on this route.

Maybe I misuse the term, but I welcome disruptive innovation – how many more possibilities are out there waiting?  What disrupts your way of thinking?  Are you willing to shake the box and see what happens?

 

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New Year Resolutions

In February.  No, I didn’t lose track of time, or forget this.  (Although, I’m in Singapore right now, and it is the Chinese Lunar New Year, so maybe I’m not really late…)

Year of the Rat, Singapore’s Chinatown on a rainy day
Year of the Rat, Singapore’s Chinatown on a rainy day

New Year Resolutions have always bothered me.  I was really sick over this New Year, and was lying on the couch one day, watching daytime TV – never a good thing.  But, on this particular morning, a group of TV presenters were discussing resolutions, and the one, who was very pro, had given the other 4 presenters notebooks, and asked them to each write down 4 resolutions – one re family, one for work, one for health / well-being, and one other.  One by one, they turned over their notebooks and revealed what they had written – More quality time….  Stop checking my phone…  Date nights with my partner….  Go to gym…  Eat better…  All the standard stuff.  Until the last – who turned over her book, to reveal…  nothing.  She said – I don’t get it.  Why do we wait until a certain date?  When I want to achieve something, I work on it.  If I want to go somewhere, I book it.  If I need to buy something, I buy it.  If I want to get fit, I start walking.  If I want to improve my marriage, I talk to my husband.  We don’t have infinite time – why wait until a certain date to start working on something, when we could start today?  I just don’t get it.  Which is my thought entirely.  80% of all NYR fail.  We turn the calendar to 01.01 and blindly panic, thinking Oh My Word, I don’t have anything…  Umm….  I’m going to get fit.  And guess what?  We fail.  And then, hello mental rehearsal – I failed that, therefore I’m a failure, so I’ll sit on my couch and eat chocolate.  But, if you truly know what you want, you’ll work on it from the time you choose, and anything is possible…

My 2020 includes 6 hectic fitness challenges, and since I broke my knee two years ago, I am the least fit I have ever been in my life.  And there I was, lying on the couch at New Year (I swear it was man flu at least, could have died…).  If my resolution had been to go to gym – I’d already have failed.  But, vertical is now possible, and yesterday I power walked for 30 minutes.  I have 5 months until the first event, and my cunning plan is that if I’m fit enough for the first, slightly easier challenge, it’ll help my fitness for no 2, which will help for no 3 and so on.  We (I’m not relying on myself for all this, friend is challenged too…) will get there, because a plan is in place, not simply a “Let’s make a resolution”.

My walking route takes me around a reservoir, a good distraction from exercise…
My walking route takes me around a reservoir, a good distraction from exercise…

And yet, I still didn’t write this blog on time.  Because?  Well, there was still some niggle in the back of my mind, saying there is something else…

Kobe Bryant, world famous basketball player, died today in a helicopter crash.  And watching one of his interviews, the point became clear…

“If I had the power to turn back time, I would never use it.  Because then every moment that you go through means absolutely nothing because you can always go back and do it again.  So it loses its flavour, it loses its beauty.  When things are final, you know that these moments won’t ever come again.   If we had the power to go back and re-experience those things….  It’s silly to me.”

So many NYR across social media begin with “A new beginning!” or “A new year, a new me!”  or “Start over!”.  And I start to get twitchy.  We can’t start over.  I’ve made mistakes, I’ve had uncomfortable situations, I have things in my past I’d rather forget.  But, to actually forget them?  No way.  Every situation is a lesson, and all of these lessons make you who you are today.  I learnt not to run through airports without tying up your shoelaces, and not to step into a slippery bathtub without due care, since those two things broke my knee.  Pretty valuable, yes?

I leant not to ride horses when my little inner voice said – maybe don’t get on this one today – and I did anyway and wrecked my back.  I learnt to look for the physical reasons why horses are nasty, unpredictable or unhappy.  They’re not idiots or mean; they scared or sore or vulnerable.  I’ve learnt that people are not all good.  But they’re not all bad either.

A wise person once said to me, that in work you can have one year of experience that you repeat 17 times, or you can have 17 years of experience.  It’s not the same thing.

So, new year, new me?  New year, new plan?  New year, new horse challenge?  No thanks, I’ll just stick to having 30 years of work experience, and a few more than that of this human’s experience and work, or add on, from there….

Welcome to the Year of the Rat everyone!

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Unbelievable

I don’t watch much TV – Total Vegetation – but occasionally something grabs my attention.  Recently, I got involved in a series called Unbelievable, basically about a young woman who was raped, and because of her circumstances – grew up in foster care, previously abused, etc., – the police decided that she was unbelievable.  It’s a pretty heavy subject, but well worth watching for its own sake.  At the end, one of the characters asks for an apology, and says – just do better next time.  It was that line that got me thinking…

We often say that a rider’s first horse is a bit of a sacrificial lamb… He’s the experiment who teaches his human all that could go right, and wrong.  Certainly, when I think back to my own first horse – a hooligan called Golden Marble, who was a terror in most people’s eyes, I wish I could go back and do it all again, better.  But actually, the first horse I met with stomach ulcers, the first with eye issues, the first epileptic, the first laminitic, they all taught me valuable lessons, and I wish I could go back and do it better for them.

The sometimes angelic and often demonic Golden Marble – he was certainly a horse who taught me an awful lot of lessons in a hurry
The sometimes angelic and often demonic Golden Marble – he was certainly a horse who taught me an awful lot of lessons in a hurry

But, how many horses are not believed?  When I look back at the thousands of horses who I have ridden, taught alongside, owned, trained, I can list all the lines who I think, I could have done better.  It’s not the easy ones who taught me, it’s the tricky ones, the ones who, initially, I didn’t believe.   And they’re the ones who I remember and the ones who keep pushing me to learn.

A colleague of mine was saying how depressing it is that more and more horses are comprised – they suffer from C6 / C7 malformation, or EMS or PSSM, and, and, and.    But so many horses are quietly fighting their own battles, and we’re not believing them.

A friend’s young horse is having tongue issues.  She’s working through ideas – is it ulcers, is it a mouth / tooth issue, is it the type of bridle or bit, is it gelding scars, is it any form of physical pain.  And the one thing she isn’t doing, is strapping his mouth shut with a flash noseband, because she does believe him.  She knows that there is some discomfort in his body, and she needs to understand, to help him get stronger.  When she finds it, his tongue issues will stop.

My stunning Landeer – a horse who had so much to teach and who, even now, I don’t understand all his lessons – truly a horse who is still asking me to do better next time…
My stunning Landeer – a horse who had so much to teach and who, even now, I don’t understand all his lessons – truly a horse who is still asking me to do better next time…

Another client’s horse sometimes flings his head in the air.  She was advised to put him in draw reins, to stop this from happening.  So, what is she doing?  She had his back scanned for kissing spines, his teeth thoroughly checked, his feet and legs x-rayed, and now the horse is having hock injections and working on long lines to improve his core strength.  And guess what?  The head tossing has gone away.  He was complaining about sore hocks and a weak back, but because the usual coach didn’t believe him, he almost got dragged along in draw reins.

Another coach is rehabbing a pony because she was getting nasty when tacked up or ridden, and it turned out that she had awful ulcers in her gut, and it’s a miracle that she was sweet and tolerated being ridden as long as she did.  For a long time, no one believed her, so she had to shout louder.

Sometimes, we miss things.  I was given a pony years ago because he was unpredictable, nasty and often violent.  He came from a big, reputable yard, no lack of experience or knowledge.  It took me far too long to realise that he had terrible eyesight issues, and we eventually removed the offending eye.  How do I apologise to that pony?  I do better every time, as soon as I’m met with a nasty, unpredictable pony, I check his eyes, I do believe him when he says something is wrong.

Horses don’t lie.  They don’t spend hours lying down at night, thinking about how they can pretend to cough to get out of work, or how to bite when the girth is tightened to scare their child.  They don’t scheme about how to annoy their trainers, or when they’re going to buck their rider’s off.  When they say something, like get off, or I don’t like my girth, they’re being honest about an issue that is happening, or remembering pain from something that happened in the past.  They need to be believed.

When someone asks me what horses I remember the best, it’s the ones who I failed that I remember first, or clearest.  It’s the ones who I wish I could go back and do over.  But, as she says in the series – Just do better next time.  It’s the only thing that we can do, right?

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Christmas is coming!

So many people deal with their horses with an agenda – they are fitting them in between work, home, family, commitments, life, and the horse must be sandwiched into a couple of hours early morning or late evening.  Or, we make a bucket list – I want to…  ride on the beach, do a dressage test, learn half pass…  And our horse becomes the means to an end, the bicycle on which we put check points on the list.

Equine professionals are often running, between working horses, teaching lessons, running the yard, moving from location to location, and the horses become a job, part of the props.  I’ll admit that I have at times chivied a horse along, because I needed to work on something with the rider, so the horse must hurry up, come to the party and do the job.  Even then, I do try to spend a couple of minutes at the beginning and end where the horse can chat and get involved, but, realistically, we’re all on a timeline.  When I was still at school, I was told repeatedly by a lady who I used to ride for, not to go into horses as a career, because the minute something you love doing becomes a job, you lose a lot of the magic about it.  Horse mad kids who get office jobs, continue on as horse mad adults, but often those who work with horses become jaded, hurried, and lose the connection…

How divine is this mare? After a long ride, hanging out with her in the river, letting her just be a horse, was a reward for both of us…

A few weeks ago, I was hanging out in a barn of horses, mainly because I needed some photographs and it was taking a while.  As I stood leaning against a door, one of the horses came and hung out, putting her head over the door, leaning against me, then lipping through my pockets for polos, checking out my hair, and then just leaning against me when she figured that sweets weren’t forthcoming.  And, it’s pretty cool, just to be there, hanging out, and having a horse hover with you, choosing to be there.

I was thinking about it now, as we run up into Christmas.  We humans are even busier than usual, chasing our tails as “The Big Day” gets closer.  For a change, I’m not buying an animal presents this year, since I’m animal – less this Christmas, but so many people are out there spending a small fortune on their horses, buying a new saddle pad that the horse doesn’t care about, or extra oats that he doesn’t need.

The best thing that we can actually give our horses?  How about just giving them some time?  Horses love it when they have company – have you ever just sat under a tree in your horse’s paddock, and noticed how often they wander over and graze right by your feet?  And, this mare, who chose to stand right next to me, leaning on me, even when she knew that there weren’t any food treats involved.  They like people hanging out – if the people are bringing the right energy or intention with them.  If you’re hanging out to put another check on your list, you’ll probably find them wandering off in the opposite direction….  A lot more is achieved when you’re not trying to achieve anything…

This was taken, unbeknown to me, during a huge thunderstorm. I was taking shelter in the stable yard, sitting on the front of this horse’s box when he ambled over to hang out and watch the rain together…

Recently there’s been a rash of research published – Horses can read emotions…  Horses are better than Prozac…  Horses help recovering PTSD soldiers.  Horses can read facial expressions…  True horse people say – yes?  Obviously?  Surely, they didn’t need thousands of dollars of research budget to find that out?  Horses, when we spend quality time with them, make us feel better, turn us into better humans.  They teach a lot more about empathy and humanity than most humans.

And now, at Christmas, being still is the gift that your horse offers you.  Much as there may be a gift under your tree that says it’s from your horse, chances are he didn’t trot down the high street to buy it…  But, given the chance he’ll give you the best gift that money can’t buy – time, peace, pause, a brief respite from the hustle and bustle of shopping.  Go out to your paddock or barn, and sit or stand quietly, lean on the door or fence, and just hang out.  Let your horse be with you, let him offer you peace and companionship, which is surely the point of Christmas…

Happy Christmas Everyone!

Dare to ask questions

“Dare to ask questions. There are answers to any question.”
–Lailah Gifty Akita

I read this quote recently, and thought it’s that simple, but so many people seem to come unstuck when it comes to asking a question.

When I start a lesson with a new client, one of the first things that I’ll say to them – this is a three-way conversation.  There are three of us here in the arena, each with a brain and an opinion…

Dare to Ask Questions
Dare to Ask Questions

I’m going to keep asking you, the rider, questions….  Do you feel that?  Do you notice this?  Remember how you felt when you were skiing down that mountain; hiking up that hill; doing somersaults in the gym….   Does that make sense?  And, at any time, you, the rider can say – no.  No, I can’t feel my right foot moving.  No, I don’t get the feeling of tone from when I was shooting hoops.  No, that picture of balancing a tennis ball doesn’t make sense in my brain.

The horse has a massive part of this three-way conversation.  Who knows what the rider actually feels like?  Who knows if the horse finds it easy to keep his balance, or if the rider is being left behind and is difficult to carry?  The horse is the only one who knows what it feels like to be a horse, the only one to feel what it is like to carry this particular rider.  The horse has the most important opinion of all.   If the horse suddenly lifts his back, reaches into the rein, starts to move in a more balanced manner, he approves of the changes that the rider is making.  If he suddenly hollows, tilts, twists, then his opinion is less positive.

But, what of the third part of the conversation?  The rider must have a voice, dare to ask questions.  Do we think we’ll sound stupid?  Or show ourselves up?

As the lesson is unfolding, I’m asking “does this make sense?”  And, I’m really hoping that the rider will say “yes, yes it makes sense, and how about this?”, or “what about that”.

“Can you explain something else?”

“Can I ask another question?”

“What about this?”

Believe me, no question is stupid – I’ve been asked a whole host more questions than I’d have thought possible…  Some are showing me that I didn’t do a good enough job of explaining.  Some make me think.  Some are a lot more observant than I’d have thought that level of rider would be noticing.  And some, I’ll say, yes, I’ll explain that in a lesson or two’s time, but today isn’t the day.  But, are people wrong to ask the questions?  Not at all, for every question there’ll be an answer.