Do EXACTLY as I say …..

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

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

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

London House with candy stripes
London House with candy stripes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Disruptive Innovation

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

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

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

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

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

My favourite question, is, “Why?”.

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


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


“Maybe he’ll fling his head???”

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

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

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

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

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

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


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New Year Resolutions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Welcome to the Year of the Rat everyone!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Christmas is coming!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Christmas Everyone!

Dare to ask questions

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

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

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

Dare to Ask Questions
Dare to Ask Questions

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

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

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

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

“Can you explain something else?”

“Can I ask another question?”

“What about this?”

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


The Mustang Programme

I’m sitting at 40,000ft, just for a change, and decided that I’d kick back and watch movies for the alternative experience – and look, back on my laptop….  Why?  Well, for a blog or two, the reasons of which suddenly tied together.

A Gili cart pony – “Animal Welfare” or “Animal Rights”?

I’ve just watched a movie called The Mustang.  It’s interesting, not pretty, not “nice”, but it passed an hour and a half.  The story follows a herd of wild American Mustangs who are rounded up from the dessert using a helicopter and placed in a men’s prison in the middle of nowhere.  The inmates train them, and they are then auctioned off as riding horses, many into the police force, border control and other law enforcement.  In light of a couple of recent events it really made me think.

There are (according to the movie) around 100,000 wild / feral mustangs living in USA.  Due to land use, loss of habitat and “over population”, these numbers are controlled by the Bureau of Land Management.  Some horses are caught and immediately euthanized – the skeptic in me suspects that they are trucked to Mexico and turned into dog food, but don’t quote me on that one.  Many end up standing in dry lots for the rest of their days, some end up being backed, trained and become riding horses.

Now there are two ways of looking at this.  Animal rights – these horses have the right to roam wild in their home – they are (or should be) a source of national pride, heritage, a National Treasure.  And, certain people will fight for that one thing – leave them alone.  Yes, for sure, that would be first prize.  Is that going to happen?  No.  We need to try to protect the land, but rose-tinted glasses off, its not going to happen fast.

Who is to blame?  The US government for not protecting them?  Yes.  The US cattle ranchers, greedy for land?  Yes.  People wanting cheap, USA raised, steak?  Yes.  Locally produced beef cattle mean the animals are not transported so far (often in bad conditions) to slaughter, so closer grazing land means better cattle welfare and lower carbon emissions from slaughter trucks, both things that another group are fighting for.  Who is right?  The roaming rights of the horses or the welfare of the cattle?  Are the 7 billion people on the planet to blame, for breeding at an alarming rate?  Yes.  So, will these horses be allowed to live out their days, wild and free?  No.  And the people fighting for “animal rights” are not going to win on two fronts – they antagonise people, so break fragile goodwill that can be formed, and they are fighting a fight they cannot win.  The land is not going to stay wild, much as it should.

And there arrives, the second opinion, not animal rights, but animal welfare.  The horses are going to be taken off the land – yes, we need to try to protect this habitat but in the short term, for the next 5, 10 years, the horses are going to come off.  So, how can we help the welfare of these horses?  Is the meat market best?  Uh, no.  But again, as long as people want cheap meat and dog food, people like Temple Grandin are doing an amazing job of trying to improve slaughterhouses.  (That’s a whole other story).  Standing in a dry lot for 10 years?  No, much as people think they shouldn’t be trained or ridden, is standing in a tiny square forever, being treated as a prisoner, the life for a wild horse?  No.  This prison program is trying to do three things – it gives a new chance to these horses – they have a purpose, which makes them of value, and sadly when dealing with something like a government, the only thing that has a value is a dollar value.  Seeing wild horses gallop and live the life they should – that is not quantifiable in a dollar value.  In our eyes we consider it priceless – on the tax books its considered worth less.  So, give the horses a dollar value.  If people have paid for something they look after it.  These horses don’t have to spend their days bored to death – they move, they patrol borders or police the streets.  They roam.  They are ambassadors for their fellow horses who are still wild – when people know about things, they protect them.  Secondly, they are rehabbing prisoners – inmates involved in the program are significantly less likely to reoffend because the horses teach them empathy, respect, self-discipline, patience.  Again, it’s not ideal for horses to be in jail, is it?  But it’s not ideal for humans to be there either, and as long as people hurt, kill and hate each other, there are going to be prisons.  Again – do you put on rose-tinted glasses and say it shouldn’t happen, or do you look at ways to improve things?  And, finally, the auctions raise money for land management.  Your view on that point depends on how well you think the land is being managed…

So, what happened recently that I am saying ties in?  On Gili Trawangan, and in a show jumping arena, animal rights people were running around with little hand-written “animal rights, horses shouldn’t be ridden” signs.  In Egypt, there is an awesome group called Prince Fluffy Kareem who are doing an incredible job at improving a horrific situation, largely by gaining the respect and co-operation of the local people.

Education, understanding, empathy.  A group, I suspect the same group as behind the little hand-written protest signs, released a badly informed, inflammatory video about the Egyptian pyramid horses a couple of weeks ago, and a lot of PFK’s work got a lot harder as locals thought it was them.  All that hard won trust?  Down the drain in one idiotic moment.  They’ve even had to move yards, so much damage by radical Animal Rights groups, who are only interested in outrageous headlines.  In every one of these cases, they are looking at the perfect world – horses live wild in endless acres of grassy paddocks; all natural land is protected; people don’t live in poverty or have to earn a living; all humans are convinced not to eat meat.  Yes, it would be lovely wouldn’t it?  And let’s go for world peace, total climate change reversal and unicorns flying across the rainbows.

Someone asked me recently if people with “all talk and no action” were the ones who annoyed me.  It’s the two extremes of people who annoy me – the idealists who are saying anything less than world peace is a problem, and the pessimists who say it’s all so bad nothing can be done.  The people I respect?  The realists, the one who are making a change.  The Prison Mustang program.  Prince Fluffy Kareem.  Horses of Gili.  The ones who are not scared to roll up their sleeves and say – yes, it’s a difficult situation and not perfect, but how can we make the welfare better.  None of us are living in a perfect world – the humans either – so how can we start to pull together and make a positive change?  What is your contribution to a better world?

A frog in boiling water ….

So, here’s the question – how much do the people around you really see you?

It’s not a criticism, it’s being human.  But, I find it interesting, and it’s why my bouncing around the world, works.

I arrived to teach a lesson recently, a very teachable, enthusiastic, focused young lady.  I’ve taught her a fair amount – 3 times a clinic for 4 or 5 clinics, so I know her well.  This time, she had a new horse.  She was riding around at the beginning, letting the horse amble on a long rein as we chatted, I asked her, what’s changed?  Uh, she replied – new horse?  No, no, I said, something in you?

Nothing – no difference, just a new horse.

Something is different.  New gym?


New sport?


New instructor?


More time studying?


Hmmm….  Something is off, something has changed.  New car?  Change in driving?  New bed?  New desk and computer layout?

No, she kept insisting, nothing is different.

I wasn’t convinced, but figured that what ever it was, the answer would come. And it did – 5 minutes later…

Oh, OH, OHHHH……  Oh?

The doctor has diagnosed asthma, a tightening in her breathing.  There you go, – that’s it.  She’s always had a pattern to round her shoulders, but there was a shortening through the front of her body, a holding, a lack of breath is a good description.

I was teaching recently, in an indoor arena. They had hung a couple of plastic hawks up, to try to keep pigeons from nesting in the rafters. The funny thing was, the horses didn’t notice the new hawk… Until, on a vile, windy day, there was enough draught to make the hawk “fly” and move on the wind. Suddenly, every horse was head up, ears up, noticing the bird. It took a waving red flag before they noticed that something had changed….

The seasons change – do you notice just how slowly the leaves begin to turn?

I asked her, for our next session, to use her new asthma pump before she got on, and, would you look at that – she sat straighter, softer, with a more relaxed, easier way than before.  And – look even more – look at how her new horse lengthened her neck, opened her chest, reached into the rein and started to breathe deeply through-out her whole body.

Now, this young rider is lucky to have a very good instructor who pays proper attention to detail, and a dedicated Mom who is often there videoing.  But, they didn’t pick it up….  Because they couldn’t.  They see her every day, they don’t see the gradual, millimeter by millimeter change because it’s not in our human make up.

Have you ever heard the story of the frog in the pot of boiling water?  A frog is sitting in a pot of cold water, and slowly, bit by bit, the water is heated.  It’s so gradual it can’t really be felt, until suddenly the frog is being boiled in his pot of water….  I know it’s happened to me in reverse – you go to soak in a lovely bath of hot, steamy water, and by the time you get out the water is lukewarm, but you don’t notice at the time.  Any situation can change so slowly that you don’t notice.  Think of how tatty the paint work of your house, or your favourite pair of jeans can become, without you seeing the change?

I was teaching recently, in an indoor arena. They had hung a couple of plastic hawks up, to try to keep pigeons from nesting in the rafters. The funny thing was, the horses didn’t notice the new hawk… Until, on a vile, windy day, there was enough draught to make the hawk “fly” and move on the wind. Suddenly, every horse was head up, ears up, noticing the bird. It took a waving red flag before they noticed that something had changed….
I was teaching recently, in an indoor arena. They had hung a couple of plastic hawks up, to try to keep pigeons from nesting in the rafters. The funny thing was, the horses didn’t notice the new hawk… Until, on a vile, windy day, there was enough draught to make the hawk “fly” and move on the wind. Suddenly, every horse was head up, ears up, noticing the bird. It took a waving red flag before they noticed that something had changed….

Something that I often suggest to people is to take a good, clear, side on photograph of their horse.  Put it away in a drawer and don’t look at it for 6 months.  Take another, new photograph and compare them.  Again, we don’t notice our horses developing (hopefully for the better) when we see them every day, but compare where you were 6 months ago?  Easy.

How about you do the same for yourself?  Take a video, or a series of photos.  Compare them to what was, or wait a few months and take some more.  It’s not only your instructor’s job to see what you’re doing.  They see you too often sometimes, to notice the tiny changes.  I’m in the lucky position of having a few months between visits, so the changes are there to see, but, especially when it’s something major, like being diagnosed with asthma.

Do you notice what changes?  Are you aware of what you do outside the arena that impacts on you and your horse?

Charlie and challenging our thinking …

We don’t learn or grow unless we challenge our thinking, our beliefs, our comfort zone.  If we stay inside our little box, where things are safe and agreeable, nothing changes.  Yes?  Last month I challenged two of my big beliefs and came up questioning my thoughts about both.

I had a friend who was an exceptionally talented animal communicator.  Now, I know a lot of people will be rolling their eyes, and as someone who is very fact and science driven, this was a challenge to my thinking too.  But, time and again, she knew stuff that she couldn’t possibly know.  One particular situation which had me shaking my head in disbelief – a horse was being led in from the paddock, and she was very lame.  She had gone out sound and come back in a few hours later on three legs.  Now, my friend and I were in different countries, different time zones, she didn’t know I was standing in a yard, didn’t know I was with a horse, or that it was a lame horse.  Next thing, my phone buzzed with a message – “she says sorry, you told her the mud was slippery, but she was playing, slipped and did the splits.  She says her right stifle is really sore.  But, she’s sorry”.  Hmmm…  Indeed, it was her right hind.  She was covered in mud.  When I checked the paddock, there were skid marks and the vets said she’d banged her right stifle.  So, explain that if you don’t believe it….  Another situation – I was leaning over a stable door checking up on a horse who had had colic the day before.  He was fine, but I just spent a moment watching him.  Next thing, he lunged at the door and bit me on the neck.  As I was stepping back in shock, my phone buzzed – “he says sorry, he’s still uncomfortable but he shouldn’t have bitten?  Did he bite you???”  She did it to me too often to ignore.  So, its something that I believe in, but I don’t (didn’t?) believe it can be taught.

Recently a friend’s cat was referred (by his vet) to their in-house BodyTalk practitioner and animal communicator.  And, again, she told my friend things that no one else would know.   This communicator was running a workshop on learning to communicate, and my friend (and her cat!) thought it was a good idea….  So, what to do?  Go with, of course.

I am a horrible pupil because I question everything, I ask why, I need to understand the reasons, can’t accept anything at face value, but I was really impressed at the teaching, the explanations, and the obvious passion, commitment and understanding of our coach.  Belief one – can this be taught?  Not sure…

Belief two – there was a niggle that I had already discussed with my friend – the last day was at the zoo, and I don’t, absolutely don’t, do zoos.  I had said I would go to the first two days, but I’d skip zoo day.  Animals shouldn’t be in cages.  They shouldn’t be fenced in, they shouldn’t be there for people to learn about, when what you are studying is not their natural behavior.  You don’t study a jail inmate and think you understand human nature.  But, Lucia, our teacher, had dealt with all issues so far in a compassionate, empathetic way, and everything gelled the first two days….

A while ago, I introduced two people to each other.  Both are good people, with a genuine love of animals, kind intention, and are articulate speakers.  Both are conservationists.  But both are looking at situations from different angles.  One has the attitude that all zoos are bad, all zoos are jails, we shouldn’t be caging the innocent, we should be protecting the habitats.  I see her point.  The other says you can’t trust humans.  Humans are destroying the planet, humans are destroying the jungles, forests, the plains and the oceans, and the least we can do is safeguard the animals so that when / if we ever get our act together, we can release them back to the wild.  I see her point too.  I don’t like zoos, we need zoos.  We need to help the animals, are cages the way to go?  But, these two good people couldn’t express their thoughts clearly, and the one was unbelievably rude to the other.  That was a major lesson to me – don’t become so set in your thoughts that you ostracize the other point of view – we attract flies with sugar, not vinegar.  Having “A Point To Prove”, just becomes defensive.  I don’t want to be that person, so what to do?  Go to the zoo.

At the back of my mind – the knowledge that most horses are treated worse than a zoo animal.  We riders fool ourselves into thinking that “my horse loves his stable” when they are the only animal who is legally allowed to stand in such a small cage, outside of battery farming, and when in a stable they are effectively battery farmed.  A zoo animal, even when shut in at night, is never in as small a space as a horse.  Call your horse’s stable a cage – see how that changes your perception…  He’s caged for the winter, with an hour a day for exercise.  Getting a young horse used to being stabled is effectively crate training for dogs.

Part of Lucia’s reason for going to the zoo, was for us to meet an enormous – both in bearing and actual size – male orangutan called Charlie.  It was one of the most breath-taking experiences, sitting in front of Charlie, like sitting in audience with a great deity.  He understands when one of these groups is coming in, and he sits “in state” to greet and communicate.  Each person sits in front of him and gets a question, a word, a thought, from Charlie, through Lucia.  The skeptic could say, she’s saying something from her point of view, with the knowledge of you from the previous two days.  It’s without doubt, not that.  Even her pattern of speech is slightly different.  He sees himself as an ambassador for the planet – spread the word.  His question to the group – why do humans find it so hard to love?  Is he a prisoner?  Yes.  Is he an abused, shut down soul?  No, he’s accepting that this is his role.  I think he even embraces it.  He has such a learned, regal air about him.  We were the honored disciples in his presence.

If I’d stuck to my beliefs, I wouldn’t have gone on the course, or to the zoo.  And yes, some animals, like the elephants are, I believe, genuinely stressed and unhappy.  But most, in my opinion, are doing ok.  As well as any animal who has to live with humans can be.  Would I be rude and antagonistic to someone who challenges my view?  No, I try to see their point, and I hope to show them my point, if I can paint the picture well enough with my words.

So, did I change my beliefs?  Yes, I think so.  Do I like and choose to go to a zoo?  No, but I think that too often we anthropomorphize animals and think how we would feel in jail, which would be my absolute worst nightmare.  Some animals don’t cope, but many, especially captivity bred animals, or those with a very small natural territory, adapt as well as they can.  And some zoos, such as Singapore where we were, give the animals enrichment activity, such as hiding food, so the animals have to work for it.  I won’t be visiting zoos, but as we humans destroy the world, I’m less against them than I was before meeting Charlie.  And, have I come away as an animal communicator?   There, the jury is out…  Certainly, most people on the course seemed to have developed a much deeper empathy of the animals and answered questions they couldn’t possibly have known about each other’s pets.  That is definitely a very good thing for them, the animals and our fragile planet, and I would encourage everyone to go.  Were the people there already open-minded enough to be communicators, who just needed some help in understanding the messages?  Possibly, but it did seem to work.  Can I do it?  My logical, fact driven, science brain keeps getting in my way?  I’m so used to looking for facts and research?  So, yes, I can look at a horse and know what exercises or work he needs to do, but is that my training, experience, understanding, empathy, or communication?  Your horse isn’t going to be having a conversation in my head about whether he prefers his pink or blue saddle pad, but I’m certainly open to whatever information he cares to show me!

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I had a job, a few years ago.  Yes, an actual job, and I lived in one country.  It wasn’t a “real” job – I was still playing with ponies, but it was a job, with a boss and working hours, and a contract and everything.  A real one.  (And, payday, which is always a plus!)

I didn’t like my job.  I didn’t like having to clock in and out, having to answer to a boss, and write SOP and DOP, and staff reports and horse usage and sustainability analysis.  I didn’t like to have to answer ridiculous emails from the more ridiculous parents, attend HR meetings and I really didn’t like having to apply for a day off.  And so, plugging in my 9 hours a day was tough, because it wasn’t what I wanted to be doing.

(Which is partly why, now, I don’t have a job…)

I’ve just spent two months in London, enjoying the summer, and while I was there, I was lucky enough to go to two concerts.  First Bon Jovi, for – what – about the 6th time?  7th maybe?  This was long planned and anticipated.  The second was hugely accidental – wandering into a Robbie Williams summer festival concert in Hyde Park.

Mr Robbie.

There I was – planning to have a little picnic sandwich dinner with my book in the park, the night before a big workshop.  Ambled through the park, largely to find a statue that I had long meant to see and accidentally stumbled upon an Event.  What is the event?  Black Eyed Peas and Robbie Williams.  Oooh.  Are there tickets?  A couple, yes.  Off we go, into a sparkly summer, hippie festival, wearing my sensible shoes, oldest layers, carrying my handbag, book and sandwich, surrounded by drunken, all day revelers with much glitter, bling and fairy wings.  Leaving was interesting – marched up to the police horse on duty at the gate….

I’m looking for my hotel.


Am not sure of the address….

Oh, which hotel?

Ummm, not sure I remember….

Uh, where was it?

Within walking distance…

Uhh, which way?

Near a statue?  (Do you know how many statues there are in London?)

Do you not have the booking on your phone?

Yes, well, my phone has gone flat – you see I didn’t mean to be here and, well…  (The horse enjoyed the itchy scratchy time, while stood there on duty).

But, I’m getting sidetracked.  You watch these bands with amazing longevity, Jon, Robbie, Axel Rose a couple of years back.  They walk on stage and BAM.  They may have aged, greyed and wrinkled, but you see the passion flowing through them.  Their eyes sparkle, they feed off the crowd, and adrenaline hits.  Suddenly, they are 20 again, you see them light up and that passion, that joy – that is why they have been around, successful for 20+ years.  I love to see it – the years fall off them and they’re just awesome.

It’s not just rock stars either.  Something I love doing is sitting chatting to people, and you meander your way into finding out what they are passionate about, and they become animated.  Their eyes are bright, they breathe deeper, sitter straighter, and they’re off, explaining, engrossed.

“Physical Energy” at Kensington Gardens. By George Frederic Watts.
So many things attract me to this – he saw it as “that restless
physical impulse to seek the still unachieved in the domain of
material things”.  So much my journey. “Physical Energy” – the name,
dynamic, moving, shifting. And, there are four casts of it – one in
London, one in South Africa, one in Harare (my home town) and one in
Surrey. Too many coincidences for me not to seek it out. It’s a very
impressive, massive, piece of art.

Now, I “work” for myself.  (Ya, I still don’t work) and I often do 10 or 11 hour days.  I go for a couple of months without a day off.  I run, from arena to taxi, to airport, to taxi to arena, and here I sit at 21.34 writing this, before another 5.30am start.  But, it’s not a drag now.  I don’t resent the boss.  Because, when I had a job, I lost the passion.  9 hour days for a paycheck is brutal.  11 hour days for play and passion are a privilege.

They say that horses are not a job but a lifestyle.  And it’s true.  You can’t clock out on a horse with colic or have a lie in on a day off if he’s waiting for his breakfast.  It took reminding from my mates Jon and Robbie to remember what passion and drive look like, but when you find it again – wind up the clockwork mouse and off you go.

So, are you settling, compromising, making do, paycheck to paycheck, or are you passionate about what you do?  Are you playing with ponies, or tied to a lead weight?  One of my favourite sayings – “You are not a tree, if you don’t like the situation you’re in, leaf…..”