How big is your why?

How big is your why?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One of the best riding lessons ….

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Perspectives

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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The Third Alternative

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

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

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

Option A

Option B

Option C

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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So you want to buy a dressage horse …..

School should only be for smart people.  I mean come on, your child might be cute, but if they aren’t going to win academic prizes and become a doctor or lawyer, your wasting your time sending them to school, aren’t you?  If your child is going to be average and end up with a non-academic job, school is a waste of time and effort.  Isn’t it?

I imagine that comment going down like a lead balloon.  School is (generally) for all kids.  It doesn’t matter if they are bright and going to become a doctor, all kids need to be able to write, read, add 2 + 2 (or at least know how to turn on a calculator).  Some form of history, geography and science would be useful.  And, if they aren’t ultra-talented, they still need an education.  When girls are educated, birth rates (population) drop, there is less poverty, more enrichment and development.  Health and welfare improve.  Education is power.

And why am I on about this.  Do you know what enrages me more than almost anything else in the equine world – I want to do dressage, I need to buy a dressage horse.  A dressage horse isn’t a thing.  The word “Dressage” means training.  To do dressage doesn’t mean to take part in a beauty competition, it means to take a green horse, and to train it.  A horse doing dressage is exactly the same as a child doing school.

Chico the New Forest Pony, is being trained in dressage on long reins… Is he a dressage horse? In fancy blood lines, no, but in stretching into a free walk, absolutely!
Chico the New Forest Pony, is being trained in dressage on long reins… Is he a dressage horse? In fancy blood lines, no, but in stretching into a free walk, absolutely!

Some children are more gifted at maths and sciences.  Some are gifted in language.  Some are not academic at all, but all children can be taught something.  Even the most mentally disabled children can learn things, such as getting dressed, feeding themselves, walking, or smiling when someone they know enters the room.  Sure, not all kids will be doctors, but do you even hear a parent saying, oh, this one isn’t so bright and I wanted a doctor child, so I’ll go and get a brighter child?  Horses are not for dressage, dressage is for horses.  There is so much more skill in taking a horse who is slightly less able and training him in dressage, than taking an athlete and calling him a dressage horse, just because he has naturally easier paces.

Dressage is about making a horse’s life easier and longer.  He learns to move in better balance.  He learns to move lightly on the ground.  He learns how to move straight.  His body is given longevity.  He moves like a dancer.  He doesn’t receive training in dressage to win ribbons.

Many, many moons ago, I was riding a young mare in Elementary.  I was still at the point where I thought elementary was really quite clever.  We were lucky enough to have a big, grown up, dressage trainer come to town, and off I went, taking this little mare for a clinic.  When I was introducing the mare and I, I told him, we are doing dressage.  Really, he asked, what grade.  Elementary.  Now, he wasn’t the nicest person, but what he said has always stuck with me…  Elementary?  Elementary?  That’s not dressage, its basic flatwork.  Even the simplest hack or most unruly show jumper can do Elementary, dressage only begins at advanced.     Elementary is the absolute primary school for kids, we only begin real dressage much later.  Hmmmm…

This is one of the most important videos that I wish more rider’s would watch and take note of…  When is a dressage horse not a dressage horse?

Fast forward a few years, and there I am, working for a show jumper in Belgium.  Now, this is another very big grown up, having won 4 Olympic medals.  On one of the first days, I watched him school a horse.  He rode in walk, trot and canter, he rode collected and extended.  He rode lines of shoulder in, travers, renver, big swinging half passes and diagonals of tempi changes.  He collected into canter pirouettes and had the horse reaching in elastic, stretchy free walks.  After 45 minutes of impressive schooling he stopped, and I asked if the horse was a visiting dressage horse.  Certainly not, he replied, she’s the horse I am preparing for my daughter, to begin training as a jumper.  No horse can jump if it doesn’t have the basic education on the flat.  Basic, I asked?  Why yes, basic. If the horse cannot lengthen, shorten, be held straight and change leads, how will the horse even make it around a course of show jumps?  The only things a high-level dressage horse knows that a showjumper doesn’t, are piaffe, passage, quicker flying changes and more sit in pirouettes.  A show jumper, an event horse, a hack pleasure horse, should be able to do an advanced dressage test.  Incredible advice from a champion rider.

So, unless you’re heading for the Olympics, tell me again, why do you need to buy a particular horse to do dressage on?

 

 

Punishment Chair

Last summer, I was exploring a new town and handed over a vast amount of cash to explore their famous palace.  It was well worth it, after my bank balance had recovered.  (And yes, I do know why all these places charge a small fortune – it costs a massive amount to maintain these ancient buildings, but it’s still always an internal debate for me – do I pay that much, or just enjoy from the outside?)

As I was wandering through the rooms, there in the children’s nursery stood a very tall, very narrow, very rickety looking small chair, a tiny child’s high chair, with exceptionally long legs.  I was just thinking the legs looked as if they had had some uneven wear and tear – all four legs seemed to be slightly different heights, leading to the rickety appearance.   As I was looking, one of the castle guides came up, and asked if I knew what I was looking at.  A child’s chair?  Well, yes.

But this is different – this is a punishment chair.  Huh?  This chair dated back to 1700 or 1800 ish.  The royal nannies who looked after the young princes and princesses were not allowed to physically raise a hand to a child or punish them in any way.  Which meant that these young royals were running riot.  So, they developed the punishment chair.  Because of its height, with it’s extremely narrow base, it was already not terribly stable.  Add to that the legs all being at different heights, and the whole thing was liable to topple over.

https://www.scotiana.com/scottish-castles-series-falkland-palace-part-2/

Sadly, photographs are not allowed within the palace, and the only image I can find of the chair, is this one that isn’t terribly clear…

https://www.flickr.com/photos/147846958@N06/46352902201/in/album-72157668431082618/

https://www.flickr.com/photos/147846958@N06/32480811208/in/album-72157668431082618/

And this was the first naughty chair.  If a young prince or princess was being naughty, they were put in the chair for a while.  And while in the chair, they had to sit absolutely still, otherwise it would topple over.  Quick fix for temper tantrums, right?  The staff didn’t inflict any actual punishment, but the child very soon learnt to be still and quiet.  Hmmm…. And what does that have to do with you, and why I’m writing this?

How often have you heard instructors yelling across arenas, just sit still, stop fidgeting, and relax, just sit there.  There is nothing relaxing about sitting still – it takes a fair amount of physical effort to “just sit still”.  Hello, it was a method of punishment…  It takes physical and mental effort to be still.   I bet those young royals learnt about using their core and stabilizing themselves in a hurry.  It shouldn’t be torturous to sit still, but it certainly isn’t something to “just relax” about either.

(In a totally unrelated thought – follow me here – just think about normal school kids. They have to sit still in class, not get distracted, not move about, not make a noise, and if they don’t – straight onto Ritalin….  Hello, sitting still is torture!)

But, it also made me think about horses, and what we inflict upon them.   Get your horse’s head down – put him in one position and keep him there….  How is this not a torturous punishment?  Every living being, be it human, horse, cat, dog, any animal, needs to MOVE.  You cannot tell a rider or a horse to sit still in one position and hold it.  And yet, what do we spend much of our time doing?

Happy Valentine’s Day

It’s Valentines – which made me think for a moment…  I don’t do the whole “significant other” …  I love my independence and the ability to up and off at a moment’s notice, and having to discuss with a partner about what, where and how is really not my thing.  I even resist going on holidays with a friend, since there is always the, “Well, where would you like to go, and what would you like to eat?” conversation.  But I do have a whole team of “matchmakers” in my life, without whom, what I do would be impossible…

They even ply me with chocolates…
They even ply me with chocolates…

In every city that I go, I have a wonderful lady (I really don’t know why they are all ladies – come on guys, catch up), who organises my life.  They chat to venue owners, they contact riders, they cajole people who they think would be interested in booking a strange lesson with an unknown person, and they “matchmake” all my meetings and lessons.  I believe there have been literal blood, sweat and tears involved…

Sometimes, they get it wrong – oh my, yes.  They’ll arrange a lesson with someone who’s mindset and ethics is a mile off mine, hoping that we may have a meeting of ideas, but the rider is really not ready to discuss a new way of thinking, and it’s that really awkward blind date – especially with the pony being the third wheel and trying to side of the more friendly, relaxed way of working.  But generally, my matchmakers are right on the money.  Once they convince a rider to have one lesson, we usually have a lot more.

Once they are set up with those who all are interested, my amazing helpers then get into hyper organised mode, and fill my dance card…  It’s really no use me trying from the other side of the globe – people contacting me, saying can I have a lesson at this time in venue A, when someone else is an hour later at venue B, and I don’t have a clue where anything is, or the politics of who is welcome to who’s yard….  So, by the time I arrive, there is a colour coded, beautifully efficient list of names, times, locations, and all I have to do is pitch up.  It’s just MAGIC!

And, my wonderful helpers don’t even stop there!  Many welcome me into their homes, they cook vegetarian meals (even if it’s out of their norm), they ply me with chocolate, coffee and wine, they don’t complain about how I am so not a morning person, they fetch and carry, they share their cats, and they’re just awesome.

I get to share their cats!
I get to share their cats!

One of these special people was quizzing me for the dates I’m looking at for their area – I told her some dates, and, the very next day, she tells me that there are over 90 lessons booked – talk about speed dating!

Last week, one amazing organiser, organised a massage, lunch, chocolate, and tourism on the free day – this week, my current spectacular person is sourcing cough sweets, painkillers and “knock it on the head” flu meds.  You see, my life is like Valentines every day!

If you are the kind of person who likes having a “significant other human” in your life – Happy Valentines.  If your S.O., is four legged – well done you, even happier days.  And, if you’re like me – buy yourself that chocolate, it’s all about treating your self right!  Oh, and please buy a carrot for your pony!

Priorities

Every situation will bring about a different priority.  In Singapore, all cars must be parked by reversing in, nose facing out.  Because? The car parks there are so small that it’s a bit of a jigsaw puzzle getting in.  In the event of fire, they want to evacuate fast, which is much easier if everyone is going forwards.  In Germany, they all park nose first.  Why?  Because, reverse parking means exhaust pipes against walls which leave dirty marks.  Evacuation isn’t a priority.  They do, however, have a lot of spaces painted pink, which are for single women.  These are closest to the lifts and security, well-lit and bright, because their priority is stopping the attacks on lone women leaving work late.  And now, here I am, thinking of this in Kenya.  Again, they reverse park for the bulk of the time, and yet there is space, and the majority of parking is outside, where there is less fire risk.  So why?  Terrorism.  Kenya has been victim of few terror attacks, and again, evacuation is faster if you’re pointing the right way.  

So, what’s the relevance to you?  

Picking out hooves should be a priority for everyone.
Picking out hooves should be a priority for everyone.

In every country, every community, every culture, we deal with what is the most urgent.  In Nordic countries in winter, snow control is vital.  This wouldn’t be much of an issue on the Middle East.  In Africa, we worry about Malaria and tick bite fever, not really an issue in Europe.

In the UK in particular, things seem to be becoming more and more pedantic.  Yes, a horse must be comfortable and well cared for.  But where it gets me is if it clouds people’s judgement. 

When I am in foreign countries, I often get asked to help people with their tack fitting, shoeing or feeding issues.  Two feeding issues made me think recently.  The first has a big, strong, exuberant young warmblood.  He forgot to stop growing and is a VERY big and strong young lad.  He is, if anything, rather too prosperous…  He is a little too round and well covered and has a little too much boing in his step.  His owner asked me to check out her feeding schedule since she had been reprimanded by her vet for not feeding him enough.  Ummm, I said…  On the back of her hard feed bag is the feeding guide.  For a horse of his size, he should be getting 5kg.  He is currently getting 3.5kg.  But he is also on 15kg of very good quality hay, as well as chaff, extra sugar beet, vits and mins etc.  He is VERY well fed, and looks as if he is VERY well fed.  Did your vet ask about what else he is getting I asked?  No, she replied, only about how much hard feed he is on.  Maybe, particularly a vet, should trust his eyes instead of sticking to the letter of what the feed bag says? 

The other was about an adviser who lives in a country that has excellent feed, hay and grazing, telling a questioning owner in a country with bad feed, bad hay and no grass, that they should dramatically reduce what they feed their horse out of a bucket.  Yes, if the horse in question was getting a few hours of high-quality grass grazing they could be eating less, or even if they had a lot more access to better hay, but with no grass, limited bad hay, they wanted to reduce his food?  Well, no, how can you advise from a different country without asking for enough information? 

Horses should be fed according to where they are and the quality of their grazing and hay among other considerations, not solely by the very general guide lines on the back of the feed bag
Horses should be fed according to where they are and the quality of their grazing and hay among other considerations, not solely by the very general guide lines on the back of the feed bag

Both the vet and the feed advisor are qualified professions and I am sure they are good at their jobs, however, they both have a different country priority.   

The thing that affects me most though, is probably tack.  In developed countries, if a saddle is 99% ok, it’s considered a problem for some people.  A good while ago now, I walked into a riding school and several of the horses had bad saddle sores, some openly bleeding.  When I questioned the manager, I was told that was part and parcel of a riding school horse’s lot.  Did I agree?  Absolutely not.  My first priority was to fit all the saddles, allocate each horse their own saddle, the best possible option, adding pads when they could be useful, and labelling the saddles, the pads and the racks, so making sure that it could be maintained.  By European standard, where they ideal?  No.  Were the horses an awful lot more comfortable, and open wound and blood free?  Yes.  We have an obligation to do the best by our horses, but we do, realistically have to accept that we must have priorities, and often we have to offer the best we can, instead of being paralysed by the knowledge that it can’t be perfect in everyone’s eyes…. 

What compromise would you accept, where are your priorities?

Being Still

Recently, I read an interesting book – The Zen of Horse Riding by Ingrid Soren. 

One of her paragraphs made me think about a conversation that I was having recently with a couple of friends of mine…

“My body is my thoughts; my thoughts are my body.  My thoughts and my body are indivisible, and when I am sitting on Jade’s back her thoughts and my thoughts are linked, her body and my body can become one.  I become calm and relaxed, she becomes calm and relaxed.  “Sitting quietly, doing nothing, spring comes and the grass grows by itself”.  I began to understand the wisdom of doing the least to express the most.  My tendency was to rush at things and try to do too many things at the same time.  As in life…  I was all too often “painting legs on the snake”, that divine Chinese image for wasting energy.”

My friends were discussing a training program that they are currently doing online, about how being still and quiet, almost meditating, calms your horse.  The lessons are about how to sit still and invite your horse into a calmer place, which gives your horse confidence in following and being with you.  My thought was isn’t this just what every one does?   

You’re sitting on the back of a living, breathing, reactive prey animal – is this a time for an anxious brain? Shouldn’t we all be calm?
You’re sitting on the back of a living, breathing, reactive prey animal – is this a time for an anxious brain? Shouldn’t we all be calm?

The constant thread throughout my riding career was the manic, hot, difficult, often slightly insane horses.  The ones who weren’t breakable and the ones who broke people; the throw away horses who no one wanted.  The horses who were like kegs of dynamite.  One particular mare comes to mind. 

I was just starting a schooling session on her one day, when a friend arrived.  My friend sat on a jump in my arena as I cantered a 20m circle around her, she and I chatting, discussing what she had come to ask me, ignoring the horse.  I went into a light seat, and just let the mare have her head, hands resting on her neck while she went through her regular motions of beginning a schooling session.  After a few minutes of cantering around, my friend suddenly said, “Ummm, do you realise that the mare hasn’t had her feet on the ground, or been parallel to the floor since you got on?”  She would bounce, rear, leaps, bucks, twists in a lovely, athletic, graceful way, and as long as I didn’t interfere, and stayed off her back, she would do all of this in a lovely regular, joyous way.  “Yes”, I replied,” and?”  After 10 minutes of this bouncing, she’d settle and school beautifully, but if you started a session by getting after her and trying to make her conform, the forget it. 

Schooling her, and others like her, needed a blank mind – clearing thought, breathing with intention, soft hands, sit lightly, be still.  Riding these horses taught me to plan my shopping lists, run through my to do lists, write my lesson plans, because things that were dull and weren’t exciting would still our minds, thoughts, bodies.  And this was just something that was done, wasn’t it?  What do you mean people don’t?

(The Way to Perfect Horsemanship.  Trafalgar Square.  1998.  Udo Berger). “To become a good horseman, one needs to be bold, agile and relaxed.  These qualities are not physical attributes, they are psychological ones.”

A good rider needs a relaxed mind.  There is no getting away from it – the minute that a rider gets excited, stressed, worried, tense, the horse is going to be wondering what’s wrong….   “Come on you damn bladdy horse – settle and work, I’m getting nervous / stressed / impatient”.  You think this is going to work?  No.  They are either going to wonder were the lion is, or they are going to get stressed about why they are in trouble.

It’s interesting to watch, when a group of people do meditation or yoga in a paddock full of horses, how the horses generally walk up and see what’s going on.  When they feel the group’s slow breathing, low heart rate and clear minds, they hang out, their breathing slows, they doze.  We forget that as gregarious animals they depend on feeling each others heart rates to stay alive – literally.  A herd of horses are grazing, most have their heads down, a few doze, one or two are on security duty.  One horse is startled, their head comes up, heart rate increase, they take a deep gulp of air in preparation to RUN, and the whole herd reacts in a second.  The last to react is the lion’s dinner. 

Even in play, when one runs, we all run…
Even in play, when one runs, we all run…

As a rider, if you are waiting for the plastic bag in the corner to bite your horse – guess what happens?  Where as, if you are cool, calm, breathing and ignoring the plastic lion, guess what your horse is doing? 

I talk sometimes about talented riders not being able to teach because they say, well I don’t know how to tell you – you just sit there and the horse will become more collected / elevated / just more, what do you mean you don’t know how?  It’s just something that happens…  I didn’t think I was a coach who battled with this, because I do know it doesn’t just come naturally.  But, this conversation was an eye opener for me….  What do you mean, people don’t clear their minds, breathe and soften their edges when they ride? 

Do you do this naturally, or is this a skill you need to learn?

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Hang on let me ask my app….

I must have an amazing body…  If I haven’t drunk enough water, I feel dehydrated and head achy.  If I have drunk enough, I feel clear and brighter.  If I haven’t eaten enough, I feel hungry, and if I’ve eaten too much, I feel lazy and over full.  If I had a good night sleep, I wake up feeling refreshed and ready for action, and if I slept badly, I struggle to get out of bed and have a slower start.  AND, if I exercise, I sleep better, feel better, and get fitter.  Isn’t that incredible?  Isn’t that such a spectacular thing?  I should thank my body, clearly it’s a bit of a rarity, since so many people seem to need a Fitbit to tell them all of that amazing information. 

Do you know, in USA, they have a thing called Nature deficit disorder.  They say it’s affecting millions of people, mainly kids.  Some schools actually have bootcamp to fix it – they put a class load of kids on a school bus, remove their Fitbit, smart watches, phones, earphones, laptops, and take them out to the wilderness.  Once there, they have them walk across grass, stand in streams, lie on a sunbaked rock, and actually feel, smell, taste, see and hear.  Listen to the birds.  Feel the rough ground.  Taste the clean water.  Smell the wild flowers.  Look at the view.  I think it’s incredibly sad that kids need to be taught to put their technology down and see what a running river looks like.  And imagine the shock – you can walk across a field without posting on social media how many steps your Fitbit said you took.  Shocking – people walk without recording it.  Imagine that.

Alexa – is this a good view?  Should I feel happy?  If I walk across the valley, how many steps will I log?  Will I get to my 10,000 for the day?
Alexa – is this a good view? Should I feel happy? If I walk across the valley, how many steps will I log? Will I get to my 10,000 for the day?

And here is another contradiction – your Fitbit tells you to get up and walk, that you’ve been sitting still for too long.  But…  Your smart home Alexa can turn on the lights and the TV without you having to stand up and walk to the light switch, so allowing you to sit still for longer.  Because heaven help those poor people, who have to stand up and walk to the light switch… 

I break technology – many people who know me know that I am a “slider” – things break.  If I wear watches, they stop and run backwards.  Clocks stop working, anything that is charging when I try to use it either turns off or gives shocks.  Laptops and phones don’t last long, and printers – don’t even go there.  And, it’s something I am incredibly grateful for.  Even if I could wear a Fitbit or have an Alexa, I wouldn’t even if you paid me.  I know many people are excited by technology and the developments, but really, I think the more developments there are, the more disconnected humans become and the less we trust our brains, our bodies, our instincts. 

 

https://www.stufftoblowyourmind.com/podcasts/watch-stoppers.htm

I have a phone, a laptop, a kindle and an ipod.  And that is about it.  And, that is the way it’s staying.

Does this affect the horse industry?  Yes.  With people needing to be told if they had a bad night’s sleep, they are becoming more and more disconnected from their bodies.  You ask some one to feel their body or their horse’s movement and they look blankly at you as if you are asking them to fly to the moon.  And no, they can’t consult their computer about whether or not their horse is moving well.  If you cannot trust yourself to know if you had walked far enough today, how are you going to instinctively know if your horse is active enough?  We need to dump our dependency on the technology, get back to be fully functioning human beings and start using our inbuilt apps – the noticing ones that we were actually born with…