Control

It’s odd, isn’t it, what suddenly makes us think?  Or more, what suddenly makes you put into words what you just know…  I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how to teach people to teach, how much I just take for granted and how you actually need to be able to put words to things.

At the moment, I’ve been hanging out with a little mare with a very big attitude.  If you didn’t know her, you’d swear she’d kill you.  You go to catch her, she pins her ears back, swings her bum to you, squeals with irritation.  But if you tell her to knock it off, walk up to her and put her halter on, she’s actually very sweet and obliging, she just likes to pretend.  She’s been put onto medication for suspected PPID and has to have 20 tablets, twice a day.  It’s pretty simple, crush them in a pestle and mortar, put them in a syringe and squirt them down her mouth.  And every morning when I go to give it to her, she pins her ears, walks out of her stall into the little run out the back, swings her bum at me and makes her opinion very known.  “I’m not happy with this situation, I’m cross, you’re going to have to make an effort and come and catch me”.

I walk into her stable, out into the run, up to her, pat her, tell her that she’s very beautiful and absolutely in charge, put her halter on, take her back inside, where the syringe is waiting.  She needs that moment, to make sure she and I both know that she’s in charge.  She’ll agree, if I ask her nicely, but don’t take it for granted.

This morning, without thinking about it, as I went to catch her I was chatting nonsense to her, saying yes Xena, of course you’re in control.  And it suddenly a whole lot of stuff make sense…

This is my route in and out of the cycle parking, at least twice a day.  And, honestly, it gives me the heebie jeebies at times…  (Isn’t that an awesome expression?  It’s right up there with discombobulated and splendiferous, just makes you understand in an instant).

 

Sometimes, without consciously thinking, I just cycle straight through.  I’m aiming forward, straight, go, and have acres of room.  Other days I’m thinking arrrgh, going hit the tree, going to hit the wall, arrgh, look how close the wall is…  And guess what?  I have numerous skinned toes, ankles and fingers from those trees and wall…  At the moment it’s a bit worse.  Why?  Because the bike I am currently borrowing has no brakes.  Generally, this is ok.  The island paths and trails are rough enough that you get a little smooth run downhill, but almost immediately you hit sand or an uphill that slows you down.  This path and lack of brakes however, don’t go well together.  It dawned on me, as I was chatting to Xena, that on my bike when I have brakes, I know I’m in control.  And, if I know I have control, it gives me confidence to zoom through the gaps without thinking, without touching my brakes, and without hitting the walls.   And on my brakeless bike, I hesitate…  And if you hesitate and look at the wall….  One of the most common things I say to pupils – you go where you look.  What you think, you create.

That’s exactly what Xena was telling me this morning.  By knowing that she could walk away, by knowing that she moves my feet to follow her, and by pulling sweary marey faces at me, she has control of the situation.  She’s in control and its her willingness to accept me and my tube of medicine that allows it to happen, not my control over her.  By me allowing her to walk away, I’m giving her the control she needs, to co-operate as a willing partner.  Mutual respect.

 

I’m very sweet…)
I’m very sweet…)
Unless you go into my space, which I control…
Unless you go into my space, which I control…
And then, I’m friendly again, as long is it’s on my terms…
And then, I’m friendly again, as long is it’s on my terms…

Many moons ago, I had an awesome friend who could communicate with animals.  And one of the things that she drummed into my head – don’t pick up cats.  It’s humiliating, rude and embarrassing.  How would you like it if some giant lived in your house and was forever picking you up?  You’re snoozing in the sun, and they pick you up.  You’re enjoying a bath, and they pick you up.  It’s just rude, takes away your control and makes you feel discombobulated (Love that word…)  You can’t settle, you feel out of control and unsettled so you bite, scratch or hide under the bed. The little Bat Cat kitten, very early on developed a great trick.  If she wanted to be picked up, she’d mew, mew, until you put your hand down.  And instantly, if she wanted to be up, she’d half jump into your hand, wrap her paws around your wrist and ask to come up.  In this way, she had control.  So many people treat animals as dolls to play with – I have a kitten / puppy / tarantula would you like to hold it / pet it / treat it as a living teddy bear.  My friend’s cats would sit and watch.  If they chose, they’d hop onto the couch next to you.  Often, they’d curl up in your lap.  But, they were in control, it was their choice and so they were ultra-confident, because they had control.  If they didn’t like a situation, they’d leave.  Simple.

Think of small kids who are forced to go and hug Great Uncle George, even though they hate Great Uncle George because he makes them feel uncomfortable?  But, because the parents insist on manners, they’re forced to go, and they have zero control of the situation.  This causes stress, worry, and “bad manners”.  Other parents, if the child doesn’t want to go to hug Great Uncle George shrug it off – sorry, they’re just shy.  The child leaves with a sense of control and is more confident.  The book I’m currently reading about PTSD deals with too – if a person is used to being put into a bad situation and having no say, it becomes their norm, which is a problem…

How many horses have any element of control?  They don’t like a situation, tough luck buddy.  How often do these conversations happen…

Horse; I don’t like this hard leather girth…  I’m going to show you by grinding my teeth, pinning my ears back, kicking out a hind foot, and maybe even biting you…

Human; Don’t be a prat, it’s only a girth.  And it was expensive.  And matches my name brand saddle.

Horse; I hate being in this cage (stable) so I’m going to box walk and kick the wall…

Human; Arh, pretty pony with a pink blanket, you’ll be warm and dry here…

Horse; I’m not cold, I don’t need a rug, I’m going to snap at you as you put it on, and then rip it off…

Human; Don’t you be bad and break your expensive new pink blanket…

Horse;  I can’t go forward, my feet hurt and you’re pulling my mouth.

Human; Don’t be lazy or I’ll wear bigger spurs…

The horse is trying to have some control over his life.  He’s trying to show what makes him unsettled or uncomfortable, and so often, we take away what little control he has over his life and environment.  And when you can’t apply the brakes at all, suddenly you feel pretty out of control…  How do you think learned helplessness happens?

 

 

 

Are you doing your required reading?

Oh, I may tread on some toes here – there is a fine line to this one.

When I start teaching a new pupil, one of the first things that I ask them – who is the most important teacher you will ever have?  Sometimes, if their full-time coach is near, I see them (the coach) grow a little taller, lean a little nearer…..  Am I going to say me?  Am I going to say them?  No.  The most important trainer in your life, for ever and always, at any given time, is the four-legged coach you are sitting on / leading / handling.  He is the only one who truly knows the impact of how you are sitting or what you are doing, and he is the only one who has zero ego or pre-existing opinions.  If you do something right, comfortable or clear, he says yes.  If you are fuzzy, rough or unfocused, he says no.  It’s that simple.

I’m just the co-coach – it’s the two big brown boys here who are the real teachers
I’m just the co-coach – it’s the two big brown boys here who are the real teachers

I read a huge amount, but I tend not to read equine books.  I read books on philosophy, movement, psychology, martial arts, diving – I think I’d read the phone book if I had nothing else, but horse books?  A few, but not often…  Yes, way back in the dark ages, I read the Pony Club Manual and, and, and, all the required text needed to lay down the base rules, keep me and my pupils safe, pass my BHS exams etc, but not many of the “Classical Training” manuals.

A few days ago, a very good friend who I trust implicitly, sent me a message – “read this book, but you’ll hate me for it.”  I dutifully downloaded it and began to read.  Yes, I don’t fully like what I’m reading, a lot of it is close to the bone, but it’s good stuff…  That’s a whole other story.  But the bit that prompted this?

The lack of literature on the topic was a handicap, but my great teacher, Elvin Semrad, had taught us to be skeptical about textbooks.  We had only one real textbook, he said: our patients.  We should trust only what we could learn from them – and from our own experience.”

Later in the text, this doctor asks his professor, “Would you call this patient X syndrome or Y syndrome….?”  And the great professor said, “I’d call him Michael”.  The more we read, very often the more we over think and over complicate.

Some of the greatest horse trainers who I have ever seen working with horses have never read a book in their lives.  Often, kids can do amazing things with ponies.  Have they read the classic trainers works?  No, they’re still learning “The cat sat on the mat”.  So, how do they do it, without all this learning that we must do, reading we must focus on, lessons we need to be taught?  They follow their gut, use their intuition and watch and listen to their ponies.  Can I tell you a secret?  The ponies haven’t read the books either…

I am often asked, how do I plan my lessons?  How do I know what to teach, when?  And currently, I’m sitting in front of my laptop trying to put together a course that many people have requested – and the problem is – I just don’t know.  When I sit to write, things like this, they just appear on my laptop screen in front of me, but when I try to write a technical “How to”, I often get stuck….  Well, it depends on this, or that.  It depends on who the pupil is, how they think, the structure of their horse or the quality of their interaction.  Things cannot truly be taught by reading text, the only way to learn is to look at the horse in front of you and ask him questions.

I love Leonardo Da Vinci, because when I look at his sketches, that’s how I see things too.  If you look at his Vitruvian Man ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vitruvian_Man ), that is how horses appear in my mind – I’m drawing angles and lines on them, seeing them in motion, seeing what they need or don’t…  How can a textbook teach that, when there are around 59 million horses in the world, and they’re all different?  Where do you even begin?

Seen in London, at a Leonardo exhibition – just love his work
Seen in London, at a Leonardo exhibition – just love his work

There’s a balance, between practical, awesome horse people who read loads and still allow horses to teach them, and those people who read all the dusty old tomes, can spout off how Classical Trainer X taught Y, but couldn’t recognise a horse if it walked out in front of them.

I love the fact that this professor and author have the same belief.  The author of this book says that for one year they were not allowed to read textbooks – and since then he has been the most voracious of readers, devouring everything he could get his hands on.  But that year got him to stop thinking in his head and start to look, listen, feel and notice what his patients were there to teach him…  Could you go a year without reading, and learn to listen to your gut?  Your most important teacher may well be thanking you…

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=soSTiBnug1Y

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4OxI3XA9fMs

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DMVTAHmwkkU

Staying Home …

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

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

“Where do you live?”

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

Gili
Gili

“Where did you come from?”

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

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

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

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

Horses and stable yards
Horses and stable yards

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

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

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

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

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

The 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.

https://beta.charitycommission.gov.uk/charity-details/?regid=1156400&subid=0

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?

Socks for the Gili Ponies

My “holiday” a couple of months ago, was a quick flip back to Gili, which many people know holds a special place in my world.  I have written several times in the past about the Gili Cart Ponies, and some of those blogs and articles can be found here….

Last year, the Gili islands and Lombok suffered from a series of devasting earthquakes and I wanted to see for myself how the island was recovering.  Lombok, the biggest island in the area was hardest hit, with over 500 people dying, many more injured and still there are thousands of people living homeless in tents.

Rescued pony Salju going for her evening constitutional…
Rescued pony Salju going for her evening constitutional…

The staff on the three Gili islands are mostly from Lombok, they either commute daily (it’s only 10 minutes by boat) or have moved onto the smaller islands, but their families often remain at home in Lombok.  Because of this, when the earthquake hit Lombok in such a devasting way, most staff returned home immediately.  This included drivers and caregivers of the cart ponies.  Fortunately, some people remained on the Gili islands, such as

Chaos ensued for many months – a shortage of food and water, looting, local crime, the total ban of all tourists, devasting losses of human and animal life.  When the drivers fled Gili, most of them opened the pony’s stables and left them free to fend for themselves.  The majority of the cart ponies are stallions, so a couple of hundred loose stallions running wild on the island.  And, those still in their stables had to be found and fed and watered.

The islands are only now, really coming back to life.  Tourism is picking up and life is beginning to return to normal.  As I wandered around the island, there is still a lot of damage, deserted restaurants and hotels, piles of rubble and rebuilding, but there is definitely a feel of hope and a new start.  Luckily, the reefs seem relatively unharmed, and the stunning marine life is healthy and doing well.  (Yes, my holiday had to include a few dives, of course…)

There are still huge piles of rubble and much construction on the island
There are still huge piles of rubble and much construction on the island

And, part of my reason to visit, was to see the new Horses of Gili stable yard and vet clinic.  There has been no full-time vet on the islands, but now, through the dedication of Tori Taylor, (of Horses of Gili, and Lutwala dive) a new 8 horse barn is being built, along with a small vet surgery, housing for a vet, a farrier workshop and a charity shop.  Interviews are being held for a full-time vet, whose wages will be covered through donations.  The stables will be occupied by rescues who need some TLC while recovering from injury or illness.  This is a massive undertaking, and Tori desperately needs help with funding the project.  As ever, donations of tack and equipment are also most welcome…

Construction of the horse hospital was well under way when I visited, and now, at last, it’s up and running!
Construction of the horse hospital was well under way when I visited, and now, at last, it’s up and running!
Xena, a pony rescued with severely infected feet, checking out what will become her new home
Xena, a pony rescued with severely infected feet, checking out what will become her new home

Two other things that I was so excited about – one, the condition of the rubbish / garbage collecting ponies.  In the past, these ponies have suffered the hardest life, really being the bottom of the pecking order.  Now, thanks to www.animalaidabroad.com and www.giliecotrucst.co.id these ponies are fat, well, bright and living in clean, solid, well ventilated stables.  They are being shod with good quality shoes, have new harness, and the governing bodies of the island have allowed a few motorised golf carts to assist in the collection of recycling, so making the ponies jobs a lot easier.

The current condition of the garbage ponies – isn’t he stunning?)
The current condition of the garbage ponies – isn’t he stunning?)
The old, weak, traditional shoe…)
The old, weak, traditional shoe…)
That snaps far too easily
That snaps far too easily
Compared to the shoes they are now wearing
Compared to the shoes they are now wearing
Another garbage pony, this one getting his pedicure and new shoes…
Another garbage pony, this one getting his pedicure and new shoes…

The other thing was something I was carrying – socks!  A fabulous supporter, Michelle Harrison, together with Raymond Peterson of www.socksforhorses.com organised the donation of 6 sets of their amazing socks!  These Silver Whinny socks are fabric that is treated with silver and allow legs to breathe while helping to heal some really nasty diseases and injuries.     For those who have been following Horses of Gili for a while, you will remember Miracle, the little chidoma mare who had her entire leg degloved due to an accident.  It took well over a year to heal, but she is 100% now, and that is certainly thanks in part to her Silver Whinny socks as well as all of the TLC that she received.

Miracle’s leg, mid-way through healing
Miracle’s leg, mid-way through healing
Socks! Thank you Raymond Peterson of www.socksforhorses.com
Socks! Thank you Raymond Peterson of www.socksforhorses.com
Vashna and Tori checking out their socks – awesome to have, but hopefully they’ll remain in the vet cupboard for a while…
Vashna and Tori checking out their socks – awesome to have, but hopefully they’ll remain in the vet cupboard for a while…

It’s awesome when people such as Michelle, Raymond and companies like Socks for Horses get involved in projects like this, thank you!

 

Do you know how they save a particularly beautiful or loved tree in the African bush?

Do you know how they save a particularly beautiful or loved tree in the African bush?  They hang a beehive in its branches.  

As you are riding across the bush, you can see these trees, often big Acacia trees, with a hollowed-out tree truck, barrel or box hanging from a big branch.   And how would this save the tree?  Elephants hate bees…

 

As elephants walk across the savannah, they have very few predators.  Not a lot out there can damage a fully-grown adult.  They rule the bush, rubbing against trees and eating a huge amount to fuel their not particularly efficient digestion. 

As they find a tree that buzzes with the sound of a swarm of bees though, they move away in a hurry.  How can such small insects do anything damaging to such huge animals?

If an elephant wants to take the branches off a tree to eat the leaves, he must lift his trunk to use it as a hand – he grasps the branch and pulls it down.  And at that moment, an angry bee can sting him on the trunk.  As soon as he gets stung, his trunk can begin to swell up, and a swollen trunk is useless at gathering food or water.  And so, that little bee can bring down something as big as an elephant.  

(Incidentally, this is why you don’t see drone footage of elephants – when a herd of elephants hear a drone buzzing around above them, they think of swarms of bees and so they disappear in a hurry).  

So, why is this relevant to us?  Well, the first thing that I thought of, was how one small person can make a lot of noise and make a change.  Just because something is accepted as the normal – (why do you do it this way?  Because we always have) doesn’t mean that it’s the way it has to be. I love this quote…

“If you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito.”  ― The Dalai Lama

 

And, in the horse industry, there have been many bees or mosquitoes who have brought about changes.  Off the top of my head, think Mary Wanless with her Ride with your Mind, Mark Rashid with looking at horses as sentient beings, Temple Grandin with her ethical cattle slaughter, and Prince Fluffy Kareem with their project to help the pyramid tourist horses.  Do you feel strongly about something?  Do you sit back and think, well that’s not right…  Or, are you a bee bringing down an elephant?   

Joy

In one of the places where I stay, there is about a 5-minute walk to the nearest supermarket, and so, I do it often.  Chocolate and coffee, you know, vital daily necessities…

And, at one point, you walk along side a row of houses, where, midway down, lives a lovely little tabby cat.  That is all I know about her – which is the house she lives in.  And, that she is my friend.  As other people walk past, and ignore her, she sits on the little brick pillar at the end of her footpath, and watches the world go by.  And then, when she sees me coming and I talk to her, she is all mewing and purring, standing with all four feet tucked into the little bit of space, and we greet with head bumps and rubs and purrs.  It’s purely a happy greeting – I don’t have food or anything for her, she has nothing for me, but we chat for a few minutes and it leaves both of us with a smile.  A very simple interaction, with no real point other than to make us happy.

Under cat - definitely one of my joy places...
Under cat – definitely one of my joy places…

A while ago, I was in Singapore, leaving a shopping centre, where the pavement passes the bus stop.  It was 6pm and crowded with people leaving work, coming into the shopping centre, finding hawker centres for food, just the hustle bustle of a city evening.  And there was a little girl, standing on the edge of the bus stop.  She must have been about 3 or 4, and was there with her Mom or Nanny, and she was waiting for a bus to arrive.  But, clearly, she wasn’t waiting for the bus, but for who was on it.  She was so excited, going from foot to foot, knees pumping up and down as she bounced.   Every few seconds she would turn and look at her Mom or Nanny, grin, even squeal, with joy, and then go back to looking ahead and bouncing from foot to foot.   I slowed down, even more than the crowds made me, to watch and see what would happen…  The next bus pulled in, and as the crowd all came out, there was a man, looking for her.  “Daddy, Daddy, Daddy”, she shouted, so excited that she literally couldn’t contain herself, wriggling with happiness.  This was clearly a ritual that was quite common for both.

Daddy crouched down, open armed, picked her up, swung her around, all the time she was bouncing with joy.  There is simply no other word for it.  And, everyone around them started to smile to – how can you not?

How often are we stressed, or rushing, running from point A to point B and not taking the time to stop and smell the coffee?  Recently I met up with a pony who I hadn’t seen for a very long time. I sat on the poles closing him inside his pen and we had a good chat for a while, him lipping at my hair and hands, checking my pockets for carrots, nothing pushy or bolshie, just a friend who was happy to see me and saying his hellos the best way that he could. Horses greet each other through touch – we humans may be happy with a smile or inclination of the head, but ponies need an actual physical contact.  After a couple of minutes, I went to stand up, and he snaked his neck around me, effectively pinning me to the poles of his door.  He was enjoying having contact with a friend and wasn’t ready to stop just yet.

Kids still play hopscotch on the street! Certainly makes me happy!
Kids still play hopscotch on the street! Certainly makes me happy!

How often do we just hurry through our days and through our lives and forget that a lot of this life is meant to be finding happiness?  And, we are in a hurry to work harder to buy a fancier horse / house / car / watch because it is this that will make us happy, when in reality there are so many little pleasures around us much of the time, if we were just to take the time to sit and enjoy them…  So, have you hugged your horse today?

 

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Stuff

How much stuff do you actually need? In my defence, all this luggage was going with me to Gili Trawangan, much needed tack and medical supplies for the Gili Cart Pony Project.

Stuff

How much stuff do you actually need? In my defence, all this luggage was going with me to Gili Trawangan, much needed tack and medical supplies for the Gili Cart Pony Project.
How much stuff do you actually need? In my defence, all this luggage was going with me to Gili Trawangan, much needed tack and medical supplies for the Gili Cart Pony Project.

My New Year Resolution for 2017 was a lofty one – but I do think important one.  I was planning to go for zero waste.  And, what has happened?  Probably the year where I have thrown the most away.  Oh yes, don’t get me wrong – I have only used my metal water bottle, no plastic.  And, my fancy (expensive) thermal protected coffee cup is used daily – one of the best investments ever, no more take away cups.  My glass straw comes out at restaurants and food courts, my little pack of camping cutlery lives in my bag ready for use, and I always have a folding shopping bag in my pocket.  My use of single-use, flimsy plastic and takeout food junk is almost non-existent (I do slip up…).  In this regard, I have been about 95% successful.  But, in looking at our constant daily waste, I have also been looking at our over consumption.  Which is so not cool.

I live a nomadic life, hopping on and off planes at least once, twice, three times a month, And staying in regions for several months at a time.  In fact, I am typing away at this at 38,000 feet, on my way to spend 10 weeks in Asia and then 4 in South Africa.  I have to live lightly – 23 kg lightly to be exact.  Or, so I thought.  A big draw now is the airline who offers 30kg of luggage instead of 23kg – we all need that extra 7kg….  And now, several  of the airlines are offering two x 23kg suitcases, all included in your flight – a sign that we cannot fit in our 23kg allowance.  We are buying more and more, needing to fill our lives with more and more stuff…  Who says money cannot buy happiness?  Haven’t you see it in the shops?  Just buy this XXXX  and your life will be Awesome…

So, I arrived back in UK last month and urgently needed a certain important form – that bit of official paperwork which suddenly your life depends on.  And, I knew it was in a box at my nephew’s house.  Or, maybe in a box at my brother’s…  My nephew duly arrived with – 2 boxes and a suitcase, all of which had been in his garage.  My brother found a box in his cupboard under the stairs, and the suitcases at a friend’s house…  Well….  Over the past month, the local charity shop learnt exactly who I was, now greeting me when I breeze in.  A full suitcase the first day, and lots and lots of bags since.  And of course, the paper recyclers – they have been busy on my behalf too.

In a way, it’s easier for me to buy more – I get somewhere, realise I forgot to pack enough socks, so buy some more…A country isn’t as close to summer as I thought – so buy another fleece…  So, my year of zero waste has become the year of down-sizing, decluttering, sorting out and throwing out the old and unwanted…  Maybe 2018 can be the zero year…

Which, brings my thoughts back to horses.  I had 80 horses at one stage.  And the “stuff”…  I can pretty much list.  80 headcollars with flyfinges and ropes.  Around 60 bridles, mainly snaffles with cavesson nosebands.  About 3 had a flash / stronger bit etc.  2 wore martingales when they jumped.  About 6 /7 of those horses wore shoes, and only they wore brushing boots.  20 – 30 saddles, each with a saddle pad and girth.  And everyone had one blanket, for wearing at night in winter.  A pile of about 15 show saddle pads and some white ones for dressage.  That was it.  A big feed room filled with food.  Well stocked first aid cupboard.  And each groom had his bag of brushes.  A lot of the yards I go to around the world are still like that.  The best ponies often tootle into the arena with their worn old bridle and simple general purpose saddle.  More and more, owners are taking off the boots, bandages, martingales, bits, nosebands and other gadgets they had added, which have been weighing their horses down.

A very tidy tack room
A very tidy tack room

Two well-known event riders who I have huge respect for each said something that I always remember.  I worked for one of them for a season, and part of my job was hacking out a very naughty young event horse who would do flick flacks down the road.  He was in a snaffle bridle, cavesson noseband and a saddle, with a pair of front brushing boots.  That was it.  One day, after a particularly naughty outing, I asked, please can I put a martingale on him when I hack him out.  The rider asked if I knew what a martingale was?  Uhh, yeah?  Strap, you know, girth to reins?  No, he replied.  A martingale is a huge flashing neon sign hanging around a horse’s neck, saying “my owner doesn’t care enough to school me”.  So, no.  Apart from the fact you can’t hack him with a martingale, I don’t own one….  Says a two time Olympic, two-time world games event rider….  I don’t own a martingale.  The other thing that made me think, was watching a different event rider teach a cross country clinic, and saying that she never schools dressage, show jumping or eventing with boots.  Think about it she says – when, as a child, you walk into the corner of the coffee table, it hurt and you started to take note of where you put your feet.  You develop spatial awareness of your body.  Do you see people going out for a jog with shin pads and knee guards?  Of course not, don’t be ridiculous.  Do you see wild horses in the bush in boots?  No.  And do you see them with self-inflicted wounds on their legs?  No.  A horse knows where his legs are, or at least he should.  Putting boots on makes them sloppy in their movement. Then they do stand on themselves.  There is no reason for boots unless your horse has the kind of conformation fault that does in fact make them brush / speedy cut / interfere.

This boy is enjoying the fact that he owns a winter rug!)
This boy is enjoying the fact that he owns a winter rug!)

Part of the problem is that we keep up with the trendy.  Years ago, an Irish rider started to win on his horse in a hackamore, a bitless bridle.  Sales of hackamores, something that was not especially popular or needed before, went through the roof.  Why?  Well clearly it was the reason this horse won a derby / medal etc.  If you use the same bitless bridle, you too can win the medal…  Buy happiness or success, it always works…  Nothing to do with the hours of blood, sweat and tears that went into the training of horse and rider.  A bit maker once said, he makes 100 different bits, two for the horse, and 98 for the rider’s brain.  So, why do we get so hung up on gear?   On one hand, hours of work, on the other, good advertising that says we can buy success and happiness….  Hmmmm, wonder why we have a problem.

So, I’ll just keep chipping away at keeping below the 23kg limit, and we’ll see if 2018 will be the zero waste year…