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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Recognition of Prior Learning

Recognition of Prior Learning

Recognition of prior learning – (or agreeing that yes, you already know stuff…)

Ummm..... A lesson prompted my indoor skydiving - teaching teaches me about new ways to look at old problems...
Ummm….. A lesson prompted my indoor skydiving – teaching teaches me about new ways to look at old problems…

Many, many years ago (oh I feel old…) I taught a fairly novice man, on his sweet but also novice mare.  He’d had a few months of riding, could basically walk, trot, canter, but that was about it.  The mare was about 5 years old, and also knew walk, trot, canter, and that was about it too.

When we started, they were wondering around the arena, steering was more about where the wind took them.  So, that was where we began – and instantly, after me explaining a few points, he could steer better than a lot of experienced riders.  Hmmm…  And, the reason I am thinking about this now, recently I seem to have had a spate of these lessons.

When I meet a pupil for the first time, I ask them two questions.  Well, I ask quite a few more, (I’m not nosey, honest…)  but these are the important two.  What do you know?  As in, what sport do you play; what hobby do you have; what musical instrument do you understand; what have you done that has created body patterns, or muscle memory?  A lot of people won’t understand if I ask what neural pathways they have built, but “do you play sport?” is something that people can answer.  When a pupil walks in, I automatically take some previous learning into account.  Do I have to teach him how to speak?  How to sit vertical?  Do I have to teach him that he is sitting on a horse, or that the fences of the arena mean that he has to stay near me?  No, I accept that all of that is previous learning, which makes my life easier – imagine having to start by teaching him his ABC?  The other question I ask is, do you have any injury, pain, or issue that I need to be aware of?  Hopefully no.  If yes, what?  Partly so I can help, or at least not make it worse, and partly because I want them, the rider, to be part of how we are going to manage this and move on safely.

So, back to my first rider.

“What sport do you play?” I asked

“Ah, nothing really, I’m too busy with work, and with my horse.”

“What is work, what do you spend most of your awake hours doing?”

“Either flying a plane (I’m a pilot), flying a computer, or sitting on my mare.  All things sitting…”

Hmm, I thought, I didn’t believe him.  There was immediately too much poise and balance in his body, too high an understanding of tensegrity.

“What sport did you play in the past?”

“Ah, nothing really, a bit of stuff at school, you know, the usual.”

I let it slide – one thing that I have definitely learned, is that people “forget” to talk about big chunks of crucial information, and they will come to light sooner or later.

His understanding of steering was remarkable, and he instinctively knew how to use his core.  Within 20 minutes, he and his little mare were walking a dead straight rectangle around the arena and holding it on into trot.  Over my time there, we had a few lessons, each one I began by saying – remind me, what sport do you play?  And he’d smile and shake his head.  We ramped up the technicality of the work, and he and his horse just absorbed it like sponges.

After one particularly challenging lesson, where I really pushed his new found steering skills, he said you know, this reminds me – (and I thought, ah, here we go…) – when I was younger, I used to be a professional sky diver.  (I didn’t know it was a profession?)  In one of those teams for festivals and displays, where thirty of them jump out of planes, and form patterns in the sky.  They link hands in groups of five, then spin away and link feet with 10 others, then flow back into pairs, and all join together, all at 120 miles an hour, at 15,000 feet…  How do you think you steer when there is nothing to push against?  No wall to lean on, no ground to give yourself resistance.  You use your eyes to look (you go where you look), you use your intention, and you steer your core, or trunk muscles.   The second I had explained steering, through the use of his core, his pelvis, his thighs and his eyes, he’d put himself back into skydiving practice, and his little mare had instantly understood.  He spoke her language.  I didn’t teach him anything he didn’t know.  I just asked him the right questions to put himself into a place of prior learning.  All those years of skydiving were the real lesson.

Recently I had three different riders on three different horses, in three different situations.  The first, again a novice man.  What sports?  Ah, a bit of tennis, jog a bit, fairly active you know.  Bit of yoga stretching, move around, swim sometimes.

Its far quicker for me to ask you if you know what a rambutan tastes like, then to start explaining it from the beginning… If you’ve eaten one, you have prior knowledge…
Its far quicker for me to ask you if you know what a rambutan tastes like, then to start explaining it from the beginning… If you’ve eaten one, you have prior knowledge…

Its far quicker for me to ask you if you know what a rambutan tastes like, then to start explaining it from the beginning…  If you’ve eaten one, you have prior knowledge…

We began our lessons, and I started working on his foot and leg position.  As ever, we all have a good well-behaved leg that sits still, and the other wayward leg, he was no exception.  We talked about angles, keeping his knee down, keeping both feet parallel to each other and the floor.  Imagine you’re skiing I suggested – your skis both have to point down the mountain – if the toes are heading in different directions, you may find yourself in trouble…  Ahh, he said, I used to ski a lot.  (Ding, ding ding, went my brain, this is what I was waiting to hear…)  “I always had to slightly snowplow with this right leg, because it would turn the ski out.”  As we went along, the lesson became more ski orientated…  Kneeling onto the ski boots, turning a bottle top, cruising the moguls.  By the second lesson, he admitted to having been a ski instructor in his past.  He’d been taught to teach, but he’d also taken the time out to break down movements and figure out how to teach them to people who didn’t get it.  We had quite a few lessons, and each one involved a fair amount of me asking – so tell me, how would you have explained X to a ski pupil.  He’d walk his horse around, and as he was answering me, he’d be putting his words into effect in his body, and the horse he was riding – a great hairy old beginner plod cob – would magically become beautiful, light and balanced….  After many of his lessons he’d say to me – magic, thank you, you’re a great teacher, when in reality he was teaching himself – he was the great teacher.  The skills he needed to ride the horse were almost identical to the skills he had developed to ski and to teach skiing.  I didn’t need or want him to reinvent the wheel – we both had a much simpler time by simply asking him to remember what he already knew.

Two more followed soon after – maybe because it was on my mind and I was debating writing this…  Both quite novice riders.  One was struggling to keep his horse in trot and not dropping back to walk.  Have you ever played a musical instrument, I asked?  Yes!  He’s a drummer, has practiced drumming for 20 years, since he was little, 3 hours a day, every single day.  Awesome.  So, a trot is approx. 70 bpm.  You and your horse are dancing partners.  Or drumming pairs.  Walking is approx. 50 bpm.  So, either you can keep the beat in your head (and body) and maintain your rising trot or, he can lead you into following his beat.  It’s not about bigger muscles, it’s about focus – who is drumming who?  And guess what (magic wand…) the horse kept trotting.  Did I magically fix it?  No, 21,900 hours of drumming practice fixed the issue.  Why reinvent the wheel when his body already knew what to do?

An archer has a body filled with neuro pathways that allow her to shoot without thinking… All we need to do is to tap into that understanding…
An archer has a body filled with neuro pathways that allow her to shoot without thinking… All we need to do is to tap into that understanding…

An archer has a body filled with neuro pathways that allow her to shoot without thinking…  All we need to do is to tap into that understanding…

The final one – a little slip of a girl.  Can’t keep her horse straight.  What else do you do?  Archery.  Awesome – there is a target (imaginary) at the end of each side of the arena.  As you come around the corner, breathe, ground yourself to take the shot, stay focused and shoot for the target with your core muscles, that do truly release the arrow…  Oh, look at that, suddenly your horse goes straight…..

Ambassador

Interesting, how things come in a full circle….  I have so many questions at the moment, and a group of young teenagers made me think of some of my own answers.   

I hate zoos; make no secret of the fact, and avoid them at all costs.  Animals shouldn’t live in cages, restricted in movement, and being watched and used to entertain the humans.  I know the arguements, and have debated it in previous blogs.  If we (humans) are destroying habitats, hunting and poaching wildlife, we owe that same wildlife protection so they don’t disappear entirely.  We need to guard the gene pools etc etc.  But do I personally like zoos and go to visit? No.   

I visited Singapore zoo last year, with Lucia and a animal communication group (http://natural-connexion.com/to meet Charlie (https://kudaguru.com/charlie-and-challenging-our-thinking/ 

2020before COVID really took a hold, I went with a similar group, this time through Loesje and her Linking Awareness  (https://linkingawareness.com/linking-awareness/what-is-linking-awareness/ ) to stay with some rescue elephants in Malaysia. And again, it was very challenging for me on many fronts.  These elephants have come into contact with humans through different situations – wildlife /farmer conflict, zoos, tourism etc, and are now “problems”.  They are being kept in the best way possible, bearing in mind that being so humanised they can never be released back into the wild.  Their options are, living in small cages in a zoo, being euthanised, or living with the largest amount of freedom, peace, herd interaction and happiness that they practically have.  It’s a good compromise, with good people.  Is it an ideal situation?  No.  And I struggle with it.  Large, wild animals shouldn’t be fenced in.   

Recently, a group of girls were brought to me by one of their Mums.  They used to ride, but now have adamantly decided that riding schools are cruel and abusive.  Their mum still rides.  Would I be able to help them debate the issue?  Oh, how to push my own buttons…. 

I said to the girls – if I asked you to help me save the 5 toed orange spotted purple lipped tree lizard of Outer Mongolia, would you? Probably not.  Why not?  Because you don’t know them; you don’t see their value; you don’t care about them because why should you?  It’s human nature to protect that which we care about.   

is there a different rule for different types of animal?
is there a different rule for different types of animal?

Is it ideal that we keep horses in stables? No.  But, they’re domestically bred and raised, turning them wild would be a cruel death sentence.  In the country where they live, there is limited space, they cannot live together, outdoors as a herd.   

Horses need the three freedoms.  Freedom to form friendships and groom, touch, interact.  These horses all have low stable walls, they placed side by side with friends, they can groom and stand together, and in paddocks they go out in pairs or groups.  Second freedom – the freedom to self select forage.  Again, not ideal, but they always have grass or feed in their stables, they hand walk to select forage outside, and they’re never hungry.  Thirdly, the freedom of movement.  Ah, here’s where the girls have issue….  They live in 4m square boxes.  But, they go for walks, they are ridden, they do get daily turnout.  In an imperfect world, they are getting the best compromise that the humans can offer.   

These horses are the ambassadors of their species, and, to a degree, of the planet.  If you know and love a horse, you care for him.  If you care for him, you make sure his paddock is rubbish free and has clean water.  If you need his water to be clean, you care about the pollution source upstream. We instructors are responsible for bringing in the next generation of horse carers, and if we don’t take the time to educate, communicate with, and challenge the thinking of the next generation, we’re refusing our responsibility.   Talking to this next generation made me realize, my issues with zoos, is precisely their issue with riding schools, and yet I can justify it my own brain.   

I have honestly been debating long and hard about giving up working with horses.  But in talking to them, I changed my words.  Horses don’t work for me.  I work for them.  I work FOR them, as one of their ambassador’s…  The girls are looking at the situation from a different stand point, and just maybe, so am I.   

Is your horse there for you, as your pet or competition bicycle, or are you there for your horse?  Is there a difference?  Let me know what you decide….   

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Empathy and Anthropomorphism

Empathy and Anthropomorphism

These two, for me, have very different meanings.  However, for same people, the lines are blurred.  Yesterday, Bat Cat, (the kitten who is currently allowing me to share her space and wisdom) reminded me.

Her life, to a degree, revolves around food.  And bugs.  And getting into trouble.  As a tiny baby, she got milk from a syringe, progressed to two tiny ketchup serving dishes, and then, last month (when I decided she was actually going to survive) I bought her three very kitsch, shiny plastic dishes.  Purple for water, yellow for biscuits and green for squishy.  This past week, she kind of stopped eating her squishy meat.  She seemed well, playful, happy, but not eating meat.  Biscuits yes, but half the time she spills then out of her bowl, then chases and hunts them, adding to the fun.  Then, it dawned on me, as I watched her picking at her breakfast.  The bowl is high and narrow.  Now her head is cat size, not kitten size, it must be hard to get her head down to eat, without rubbing her whiskers.  I bought her a flatter saucer yesterday, and guess what? She ravenously attacked her squishy meat.

When I went to the shop, the people I was with laughed when I told them that Bat didn’t like her bowl – honestly, that cat is spoilt.  If I’d said she didn’t like the colour, yes.  But, watching her trying to fit her whiskers in…  Imagine trying to cut your food with a knife, if the handle rubbed your hand?  We could have gone through buying different types of meat, cooking chicken, vet check, vitamin injection, when all she needed was a better shaped plate.    That’s empathy – understanding how a person or an animal might be feeling physical, emotional or mental stress, discomfort, joy, hunger, grief…  Understanding, and empathising that the bowl must be catching on her whiskers.

Anthropomorphism is a very different.  It’s giving an animal human emotion.  If I’d said, Bat doesn’t like her bowl because it’s green, and we don’t like green, or, she wants to have something new, that’s anthropomorphism.  “A horse must live in a stable in winter to keep him warm, cosy, dry… I wouldn’t like to be outside, poor pony doesn’t, either.”  Most horses, given adequate hay and a rug / winter coat / open field shelter, are far happier and healthier living out.  Given the choice, they only come inside during the heat of the day to avoid flies.  But, we see a thick straw bed and feel happy, so our horses must agree.  A horse sees confinement in a cage, the loss of freedom and choice if we are empathetic to his needs.  We see comfort, and impose that, and again, that is anthropomorphism.

I was also reminded, explaining to a young volunteer recently, how horses get flooded by too much stress and shut down, how to read the warning body language, and how to help them back from learned helplessness.  It always surprises me when people don’t just know – and it’s something I need to be more aware of….  “This horse is naughty….”  No, really, truly, he isn’t, he’s stressed or scared, asking for time and empathy.

Touch is vital for horses - they communicate between themselves through body language as well as all the other six senses, but touch is for companionship, friendship and bonding.
Touch is vital for horses – they communicate between themselves through body language as well as all the other six senses, but touch is for companionship, friendship and bonding.

In a few of the yards where I have worked, we’ve welcomed school groups, some very young (4, 5, 6-year olds) and I always seemed to end up showing these groups around.  It’s pretty scary, being a knee high 5-year-old and looking at a big old horse, with enormous teeth, bearing down on you.  I figured out the best strategy.  I’d pull out the oldest, sweetest, hopefully small pony, who would happily sleep for an hour.  Once pony was parked, I’d sit cross legged on the floor next to the pony, (yes I know, health and safety – it’s as scary, being talked at by a big, tall, scary foreigner, as being by the pony, the most important thing for me, is getting to eye level with the kids, to help them talk WITH me, and regain a little bit of their confidence) and we’d look, really look, at the pony.

Put your hand in front of your nose, can you feel your breath?  Who wants to put their hand in front of Dex’s nose and feel his breath?  Can you all see his nose move? See his ribs move?  Put your hand on your ribs, feel how they move too?  Ponies breathe just like us!

Who wants to go stand over there and clap their hands?  See how, when little Johnny claps, Dex lifted his head and moved his ears forwards?  He hears, just like you!  Who wants to feel Dex’s ears as he’s moving them back and forth?

Who wants to feel how soft his nose is? Feel his whiskers?  His whiskers are his extra eyes, to feel things in the dark and know where he might bump his nose…  Hold you hand out like this.  Move towards the wall, without looking…  Feel when your fingers bump into the wall?  That is how Dex’s whiskers work…

This is called a stethoscope, it’s magic because you can hear your heart….  We can take some turns, who wants to hear their heart? And then, once you’ve heard the lub dub of your heart, can you hear Dex’s heart?

Feel how, when you lie your arm over Dex’s neck / shoulders just here, he likes it, goes more relaxed?  That’s where his mom would have rested over him when he was a baby, it makes him feel safe.

Scratch him here, on this part called his withers.  See his nose wriggling?  How he wants to scratch you back? That’s how he’s making friends with you…

This is the famous Dex, on one of our school group tours.  How do you say thank you to your pony?  You give him a great big hug....  You don't want to hug him?  It's OK, I'll hug him for you...
This is the famous Dex, on one of our school group tours. How do you say thank you to your pony? You give him a great big hug…. You don’t want to hug him? It’s OK, I’ll hug him for you…

And guess what?  The twinkles are enthralled and forget to be scared, because the pony is just like them in so many ways.  We teach empathy, we teach respect, we teach them that ponies are sentient beings.  Isn’t that better than saying, yes, Star loves his green blanket, just like you love your green socks….  Anthropomorphism has little place in learning to understand and truly respect your four-legged friends….

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Gym Sounds

Gym Sounds

It’s funny what speaks to you, isn’t it?  What really gets into your brain.

A few years ago I was talking to a school teacher who also plays and teaches music.  I said to her, I’m utterly tone deaf.  I just couldn’t learn to play music, even hitting the triangle at the right moment in school was a challenge.  I think it’s why I can’t learn languages too – someone will tell me a word.  I’ll repeat it, they’ll say no, it’s a R not an L…  I try again, and again.  After 5 attempts they say – well, kind of.  And within 5 minutes, I’ve forgotten the word entirely.  Language just doesn’t seep into my brain.

This teacher though, said no, no one is totally tone deaf and cannot learn.  “If your phone rings (think good old land lines, without caller ID) and you answer, do you recognise the person talking?”

“Well, if I know them, of course…”

“That means, you’re not tone deaf and could learn…”

It’s an interesting theory, and one that I’m still not utterly convinced about.  I still can’t remember the Bahasa words that Joni tried to teach me this morning.

Many years ago, I had a brilliant vet.  One of the first times that I saw him visiting a horse, it was a mystery lameness.  As the horse was standing at the end of the driveway, groom attached to the end of the lead rope, this vet turned his back, and looked out over the paddocks.  The groom started running, the horse trotting, and still the vet seemed to be ignoring them.

“Uh”, I said – “the horse is, uh, trotting.”

“Mmmm” he replied.

The horse got to the end of the driveway, turned and came back.  When he reached us, the vet turned, walked to the horse, picked up the lame leg (that he hadn’t seen) and pressed straight onto the root of the problem.  Impressive.  He taught me so much, that vet, but this was one of the first and most important lessons – trust your ears before you trust your eyes.  He always, without fail, dealt with a lame horse with his ears, then his hands to feel, and only then his eyes.  Eyes and vision lie, ears generally don’t.

I found this video years ago and still love it – can you recognise the sounds before you watch it?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=suPDB-lCjPc&sns=em

Why am I thinking about this now?  I’m currently sitting on Gili Trawangan, a small island in Indonesia.  The only transport here is horse cart or bicycle – there are no cars or motorbikes.  And very quickly, I could recognise the hoofbeats of different horses coming before I could see them.  Here comes the grey who swings his right hind wide.  There is the chestnut who lands so much heavier on the left fore.  I didn’t fully appreciate just how ingrained it is in me.

I do know, when I’m teaching I’m watching the horse, but I’m also listening to him.

Whenever I start a lesson, I ask, if I had a magic wand, what would you like to change, improve, fix?  What are you working on, what’s the issue?  And usually, the answer I am given would be the answer the horse would give too.

“My horse is like a worm – he just wiggles all the time”

If I could ask the horse?

“This rider doesn’t sit straight or ride straight – their weight is right, their right leg kicks me left, it’s like carrying a sack full of kittens…”

Or…

“My horse lacks energy – he just won’t go forward”.

As the rider sits there, like a sack of potatoes, with no tensegrity or movement herself…

Horse?  “This rider is heavy and soggy.  If I move, she’ll fall off, so I’ll just match her energy level and keep her on board…”

But, this is the most common…

“Useless horse has no rhythm…  He’s fast, slow, 2 beat, 3 beat, hopping and skipping, nothing is regular”

And the horse?

“Useless rider has no rhythm…  She’s fast, slow, 2 beat, 3 beat, hopping and skipping, nothing is regular”

Fix?  If the rider hears and feels the beat, they become the leader of the dance.

So, when I’m teaching, especially if I have more than one horse in a group lesson, I’m listening.  If I’m watching horse and rider number one, I’m listening to horse and rider number two as my back is to them.  I’m listening to hear the regularity of the steps, and if one hoof is harder, lighter, twisting as it lands.  And, I’m listening to how hard he lands on all four hooves.  A light and balanced horse could trot across a sheet of ice or glass without cracking it…  Think of a ballerina dancing across a stage.  An unbalanced horse clunks and thumps like a sluggish tortoise, crashing through the glass or ice sheet.  If the rider is light, rhythmic, balanced, so is the horse.  If they’re lacking rhythm or landing with a thud, guess what?  So will the horse.

How to develop this feel?  Ride with a metronome.  Ride to music.  Just start to pay attention, use your ears as much as your eyes and feel…

Consequences

Consequences

It’s funny, isn’t it, how we accept that there are consequences about some things but not others.  If you don’t do your work assignment you will get a letter of warning and quite possibly fired.  We still procrastinate about getting it done, but understand the risks.  We know there will be a consequence, but…  If we over-eat during lockdown, when we put our work clothes back on, they may well have shrunk mysteriously, but…

Clicker training done right is awesome, but the consequences can be a horse who is too busy, pushy or won’t settle.
Clicker training done right is awesome, but the consequences can be a horse who is too busy, pushy or won’t settle.

And, how many of us think of consequences when we are co-living with animals?  We allow the kitten on the tables because it’s cute, and easier for us to feed him up there so the dogs don’t steal his food.  Ah, now he’s a big cat, we chase him when he pinches food off a plate, that sits exactly where his bowl was when he was a kitten.  We let the puppy crawl into our beds at night to stop her crying, but as an adult dog, shedding hair and with bone breath, she gets chased.    How can we have one rule once, and another rule later?

What about with our horses.  I had a young horse in for backing years ago.  When you put her on a lunge line, she would run at you and rear up, trying to stand on you with her front feet.  She had been doing this to her owner, which is why she was sent to me.  I later found out that as a foal, she had been taught to put her hooves on her owner’s shoulders to “give them a cuddle” and this behaviour had become firmly engrained.  Just because you think it is nice and cute today, or that it’s something you want, really think about it long term.

Another long ago client wanted to teach her horse a trick while the horse was off work for some reason, and she still wanted to train something.  She taught her horse to say please, asking for a carrot.  The thing that the horse had to do, was hold her front leg in the air, like a dog asking to shake paws.  When the horse was back in work and I went to school her, do you know how irritating it was to groom, tack up and lead the horse, when she kept pawing at you with her front hoof, asking for carrots?  If you are going to train a behaviour, you need to make absolutely certain that you have thought it through.  And, it’s a huge problem in ridden horses.

An unplanned, and really interesting issue was with a little riding school horse.  He’d been privately owned by a teenager who was a nervous rider.  They would all, as a group of friends, ride to the beach quite often and as soon as the horse’s hooves hit the sand, the braver kids would kick into canter.  Our nervous rider would be coming along at the back, knowing this would happen.  As she saw the first riders get to the sand, she’d grab a hold of a big chunk of her horse’s mane.  He’d lurch into canter after his buddies, and they’d be off, at speed, down the beach.  I met the horse several years later.  He had been sold to a riding school and I was teaching a school client on him.  As I was about to start the lesson, one of the regular instructors shouted out to me – just don’t let the rider grab his mane….  When he had arrived at the school, the instructors had discovered an issue.  Anytime a novice rider was a bit wobbly going into trot or canter, or had lost a stirrup, this horse would suddenly canter off.  They worked out – the rider would feel insecure, and either the instructor would yell, “grab the mane” or the rider would instinctively catch a hold of something.  And, all those years of cantering off on the beach…  You know what the horse had learnt?  If the rider grabs the mane, the job of the horse is to go into canter…  That nervous teenager had taught the horse a cue, and the cue had a consequence.

There is one horse who, when I teach his human, I stand outside the fence.  I refuse to go into the arena with him.  He’s dangerous and unpredictable, and when he is pushed a little harder and asked for something which he feels is challenging, such as a turn on the forehand in both directions, having to move both the right and the left hind, he barges in towards the person on the ground and tries to run them over.  It’s a nasty behaviour and very deliberate.  And the reason he does it?  He was taught to roll over a yoga ball as a natural horsemanship game, and since then knows if he threatens to roll over the person, the person runs out of the way.  A very dangerous consequence…

If you ask for go, you might just get go….
If you ask for go, you might just get go….

Now, one of the most common issues.  We, as riders either prefer a horse with more whoa, or more go.  I’m a lazy rider, I hate having to use my leg, so would rather have a horse who will take me forwards.  Other, more cautious riders feel unsafe on these horses and would rather one who, if in doubt, stops.  I had a horse, again many years ago, who looked wild and impressive.  He was a massive black Thoroughbred, big-boned and broad for a TB, was very forward going, and would gently dance his way along the roads when I hacked him.  One of my staff, an instructor who taught the beginners, coveted this horse and desperately wanted to ride him.  One day, I let her hack him out and she came back almost in tears.  The fire breathing dragon horse, who I enjoyed, was terrifying for her when she was on top.  She stuck to the steadier horses after that ride, actually figured out she preferred more whoa.

What’s this got to do with consequences?  Recently I was teaching a lady on her horse, who lacked go.  He’d become dead to the leg and the “go” button was a bit broken.  Please, please, she begged, I really want him to go forwards with more impulsion and less work from me.  And so, what did we focus on?  We got the horse travelling forward.  DON’T use more leg, get more reaction from LESS leg, was the lesson aim.  Transitions, exercises, moving him around.  Do less, be stiller and lighter, allow the horse freedom to travel more forwards.  It worked like a charm.  The horse suddenly found the hand brake off, he lifted his back, stretched into the rein and travelled forward beautifully.

“Whoa” cried his rider – “he’s running away with me”.

“Uh, no”, was my reply, all he is doing is travelling actively forward, lightly on his feet, having found go.

The lesson’s hour came to an end with a worried rider who was convinced that her dull horse was running away uncontrollably, when actually, he was just moving out well, doing exactly what she had asked for.  The consequence of asking for go?  You get go….

By all means, train your horse, teach him things, refine your own skills and riding abilities, but….  Think carefully about what it is that you are training.  Are you really ready for the consequences?

 

Selfie-itis

Selfie-itis

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

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

Too many emails

Not enough emails

You didn’t subscribe

This no longer interests you

Etc Etc Etc.

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

What did she did?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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