Compensation – moving the pain

At the moment, I’m walking around with a knee brace on.  Long story short, I’ve upset the ligaments, tendons and cartilage in my knee, and the best way forward seems to be wearing a big black metal brace, with hinges that allow it to bend, and elastic bands built into it, creating a resistance to make me work harder.  My knee’s habit of wobbling alarmingly from side to side, or giving way entirely has now been stopped all together.  Which is awesome, in theory.  However…  There must be a downside, right?  There so often is…  Because my knee is now tracking forward and backward without rotation, the joints above and below – hip and ankle – are now under unusual use and are in a fair amount of pain.  Which impacts my back, because for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.  If one thing can’t do its usual practice, often it affects something else.

Which leads me to think about both horses and riders.

Horses compensate in, mainly, two ways.  The part that most of us (hopefully) know, understand and accept, is that they will move out of the way of pain.  A horse pulls off his front shoe.  Because he now draws his weight up, off, back, behind the nude hoof, he gets sore in the shoulder / long back muscle on the same side as the hoof that lost the shoe.  If this is more on going (a hoof abscess, punctured sole etc), he can get sore in the opposite hind quarter, because it transfers away, across the diagonal.  If he is sore in his mouth, he may raise his head higher when ridden, so dropping down in his back, so ending up with back pain, from a sore tooth.  You get the idea.  I remember a horse a long time ago who was put down for suspected kissing spines. In post mortem, they discovered the issue was a tooth abscess.  He was so sore in his mouth that he hollowed his back and went in a kissing spine kind of way.  The horse could have been saved if they’d delved a little deeper into his secrets.

Ummmm, what does a chicken have to do with compensation in all this then? Keep reading – see why he could wear side reins!
Ummmm, what does a chicken have to do with compensation in all this then? Keep reading – see why he could wear side reins!

The other way that a horse will compensate is, possibly, less obvious, but I think, even more important to understand.  If water is flowing down a river, and the river is blocked, or dammed up, the water will find a new route – maybe it will flood low lying ground or find a new route for the river to flow.  Water wants to move, so will find a new way.

How does this apply to our horse?  I am going to direct this towards lunging, but it applies in all work.  I hate lunging with any form of gadget or rein (other than the lunge rein).  Horses are designed to move their heads while they walk.  When you, as a human, walk along, you swing your arms, yes?  Your right arm swings forwards with your left leg and vice versa.  That is why, if you have to walk with a crutch or walking stick, you hold it in the opposite hand.  Why do we do this?  It keeps us balanced – as mammals who are vertical, we swing our arms forward and back to help with our vertical balance.  Now a horse, who is a more horizontal mammal, can’t use his arms to swing, since he doesn’t have any…  So, he nods his head forward and back, so that his long neck can help to stabilise his length.  People who watch a lot of racing may have heard the expression that a horse won on the nod – meaning that as his head nodded forwards, it took his nose a fraction out in front of the second placed horse.

So, lets take this horse, who is meant to move his head, and tie his head in one place, because that is what we are told to do, right?  We put him into side reins, or German reins, or a Market Harborough, or a bungee or whatever you use / call it, that holds his head in one place. And now, he must run around like that, often on a circle, which isn’t that normal for a horse in the first place. And, we wonder why it goes wrong… Let me tie your hands to your sides and make you run fast around in circles…  You want the water (horse) to move, but you create a blockage in the movement, so, the water (horse) finds another way.

Apparently – clever people have worked it out – a horse has 17 different routes of evading a pair of side reins on a lunge circle.  I have never tried to work them out, or count, but off the top of my head – swing quarters in, swing quarters out, drop shoulder in, drop shoulder out.  Lean on the rein, tuck behind the rein.  Tip to the right, tip to the left.  Stop tracking the inside hind through, stop tracking the outside hind through.  Rotate the withers in or out.  Its like my knee brace – stop the wiggle somewhere, another joint has to move differently.

The only animal designed to keep its head still, is a chicken…  Pick up a chicken (a live one, not one about to go into a roasting tray…)  and notice that he keeps his head straight out in front of him.  Tilt his body to the right or to the left, and notice that he keeps his beak level, and eyes straight in front.  This chicken, he would be great in a pair of side reins, but a horse, not so much.  We lunge in side reins because for so many years, we have focused on getting his head down, but fortunately now, more and more people are realising that we should be working on getting the back UP.  All that lunging on a small circle with side reins does, is, wears out his joints, places strains on his tendons and ligaments, gets him fitter and fitter (for those who lunge their horse to get rid of excess energy – he’ll get more and more of that excess energy!) and reconfirms his favourite method of evasion… He compensates for having his head tied down, but letting the movement wiggle out somewhere else.

Long reining – me with a knee brace, compensating, him not having to worry about compensating at all!
Long reining – me with a knee brace, compensating, him not having to worry about compensating at all!

What do we do instead?  Preferably – lunge with a rope halter and lunge rein or learn to long rein with two reins.  Both take more skill than traditional lunging, but both offer so much more in the results that can be achieved…  You can send the horse in straight lines, curved lines, big circles, some small turns, and can alter where you ASK his head to go, rather than forcing one position.

What do you do with your horse that he is possibly avoiding or compensating for? How can you help rather than hinder him? So, in my example, will give up the side reins and take on a better way to do things?


Have you always wanted to ride a horse out into the sea? So, what’s stopping you?

Do you know what an earworm is? Its that piece of music that gets stuck in your brain, like chewing gum stuck to the sole of your shoes.  Maybe it’s the irritating muzac from the “Please keep holding” of a phone queue, or the equally irritating jingle from an advert.  Or (hopefully) it’s some thing that is actually pretty cool from a song you like to listen too. Whatever it is, once it’s stuck, it can be hard to get rid of.  Sometimes its not a bad thing…  There is a Robbie William’s song, First They Ignore You.  One line goes “When you think we’re lost, we’re exploring” and I have to say, whenever I’m somewhere new and I get lost, it’s the line that always pops into my head…

Maybe your spark will help you explore a mountain?)
Maybe your spark will help you explore a mountain?

A while ago, I had a fairly regular pupil, (when I actually lived in one place) and during one of our early lessons together, we discussed something that she needed to work on. I said to her something along the lines of – if you’re not aware of something, you can’t fix it.  The earworm that she still has, a long time later is, “If you are aware of it, you are working on it”.  Which she now applies to all aspects of her life.

One group of people who are trying desperately to plant earworms into your brain, are advertising copywriters. And the one advert that always pops up in my mind – a brilliant slogan for a Singaporean bank – “Where will your spark take you?”  It just speaks to me – what can that spark ignite and where will it lead?

Most people who know me, know I like going on adventures (no, really??). That is partly where my spark takes me.  Under seas, on top of mountains, across savannahs, over half a million air miles in the last couple of years.  But how about in real life?  Well, I guess it takes me around the world, into an awful lot of different arenas, meeting different 2 and 4 legged clients and friends, and has led me to start KudaGuru instead of just sticking with working for other people.  My initial spark had me helping out a bunch of horses in Zimbabwe, and setting up my own yard there, called Ballyaugh.  That spark involved a lot of young people, and I love the fact that the spark seems to have lived on in many of them…

Last year, (you may have read my New Year blog a few weeks ago?) seemed to be a bit of a stagnant year – my spark didn’t seem to be ready to take me anywhere except round and round in circles… So, I am in the process of working out just where my spark can take me in 2018.

An old friend of mine used to say that when something was not quite going smoothly, that it could be like pushing an elephant up a hill. Her theory was, if it’s meant to happen, and its your spark, the elephant will walk itself up the hill quite happily.  But the less its meant to be, the harder you have to work to make the elephant move…  2017 seemed to have a lot of elephants!

Have you always wanted to ride a horse out into the sea? So, what’s stopping you?
Have you always wanted to ride a horse out into the sea? So, what’s stopping you

So, I’m sitting planning where my spark is going to be taking me in 2018… Clearing the way for all those elephants to march themselves along, and following my earworm…

But now, I want to ask you a question, and would love to hear your answers…. Where will your spark take YOU?  With your horse?  Maybe a different way of working, or a new discipline?  A new way of keeping him?  A new method of increasing your fitness?  What about in your non-horse life?  Is the spark going to take you round the world?  Or into a new job?  Think for a moment, where will the spark take you?


New Year 2018 – What new adventures?

A new venue in Malaysia, Horse Valley in Johor Bahru

New Year 2018 – What new adventures?

Well, A Happy New Year! As 2018 starts, the New Year is always a time for reflection and motivation, right?  So, as I look back at 2017, what am I thinking?

2017 was certainly a busy year, with several thousand lessons going on.  From a work point of view, it was pretty much what was ordered, lots of planes, bouncing around and more and more lessons.  It’s always great to meet new horses and their riders, see new issues and make more changes to help more partnerships grow.  I think (hope) that many riders continued on with having Ah ha moments, and there has certainly been some lovely feedback.

A lovely business class flight on Emirates
A lovely business class flight on Emirates

My website continues to grow larger and larger, Luckily Sue, the lovely website lady, does all my techno stuff, since we all know I have a tendency to blow up anything that is plugged into the wall, or has a battery.  Give me a friend with four legs, not something with a screen…  I’m still always waiting to hear what you would like to see more of on the website – I’d love it to be your site more than mine…

Kudaguru Website - January 2018
Kudaguru Website – January 2018

And overall, was it a year of progression? You know, there are some people who will tell you that they have 18 years of experience… But, you just know that they have 1 year of experience that they have repeated 17 more times. Their experience isn’t growing or expanding, they don’t learn more, push boundaries or challenge their learning or understanding… They learnt a set of skills, and by repeating the same job over and over again for that further 17 years, they have become ultra-proficient at what they do, but only what they do. While other people will tell you, they have 10 years of experience, but you know that they truly have more experience, because they push through situations, learning more, understanding their craft backwards, forwards and sideways. For me, 2017 wasn’t a growing year, but more of a repeating year. While many riders learnt or progressed, I am hoping that 2018 can be a more adventurous or growing year for me…

A new venue in Malaysia, Horse Valley in Johor Bahru
A new venue in Malaysia, Horse Valley in Johor Bahru

So, what was new in 2017?  The only new country visited was Italy for our annual yoga and riding retreat.  Lucca was certainly stunning, although Rome was slightly underwhelming…


Adventure wise – well, there was a tree top rope course in Brisbane for starters, and a different view of London after that, including nitrogen ice cream…  Of course, there is always a lot of food adventure – dragon’s breath cookies in Singapore, Tartufo in Rome, fresh figs in Lucca, and so many cakes all over the world!  Meeting new people, but plenty of room for more challenges!

Horse wise, working with reining Quarter Horses in Natal was a fun new project and of course spending three days at Sharon May-Davis’s equine dissection was an incredible experience.

What is the plan for 2018?  Well, hopefully a lot more travel as a tourist rather than only seeing arenas and airports!  A plan to take more tourism days and a lot more adventure.  Also, continuing on with building the Kuda Guru website, bigger and better, and learning some new skills along the way would be good….  Of course, lots more pony playing and lessons, wow, it looks as if it is going to be a busy year?

What are your plans for the year?  Hope it’s a good one!

And breathe

And breathe....

And breathe

And breathe....
And breathe….

Some of you know all about my ridiculous life, others have a vague idea, and others are only just hearing about who I am and what I do – I live a very nomadic life, whizzing around the world and playing with ponies, in between writing blogs, articles and building up a library of online lessons.  In fact, my phone’s app has just told me that I have clocked up almost half a million miles since 2015.  Scary…  One of the most common things I hear is – you have an awesome life, one long holiday…  Now, I fully agree with the first part of that statement – I have an awesome life.  The second part…  Um, no.  Life is not one long holiday…

So, June and July were hectic, running around Asia.  August was insane, bouncing around through South Africa.  And September was Italy and some training for me at Mary Wanless’s base in the Cotswolds.  I must admit, I was incredibly tired, grumpy and stressed.  My to do list was growing longer by the day, and seemed an insurmountable peak.  Whenever I had a free half hour, I would look at my list, decide that all the jobs would take days, not worth even starting, and play on Facebook instead.  It really was dreadful, and the more days that passed, the more unanswered emails there were, the closer to needing to book flights, the more deadlines loomed, the less I wanted to do, because the more stressed I was becoming about being so far behind and missing so many deadlines.

I posted HELP on Facebook (you know, Facebook really is a procrastinators paradise – so much to do, so many distractions), and got lots of great advice – write a list; do the smallest job first; download this software; hire a PA.  And, I did…  Nothing.  Nada.  Not a thing.  Switched to watching TED talks about finding motivation and avoiding procrastination…  And, still did nothing.

Finally, I arrive here in Sunny Singapore, where I now sit, and due to holidays, people coming, people going, the loss of some horses etc etc, I have a whole heap less lessons that usual, and you know what?  My sanity (well, my version of it…  Don’t comment please), has been restored.  A whole lot of sleep helped.  A few 12-hour nights of total utter dead to the world-ness.  And, then, several whole afternoons in front of my laptop.  I had the time to actually take on a task, work through it and get it done.  I haven’t got many things crossed off my list, because most things on there will require months and many, many hours, but the elephant I have been trying to shift up the hill has lightened slightly, he might not be heading up the hill, but at least he isn’t sliding back down it.

I had a close friend who always said to me, if three different people come up to you and say the same thing, it is the universe trying to send you a message.  Well, a friend and pupil came up to me on arrival in Singapore, gave me a big hug and said, you really look like you need a rest – and she was the sixth person in the last month to say something along the lines of – you need a rest, when is there YOU time, you gonna get sick soon etc.  And you know what?  It was the universe taking out a big hammer.  By having less lessons booked, it removed a huge amount of time issues, gave me time to breathe, and now that I have started getting things done, they are flowing along beautifully.  This week has been incredibly productive, and I have started to feel human again.  I have a hectic time again between now and Christmas, when I will really be taking a holiday, but this 10 days of respite has really stopped me grinding to a halt.

Make time to relax and unwind.

Which leads me to think about riders and horse owners.  How often do riders say, I HAVE to get to ride my horse – he waits for his turn to work…  You know what.  He doesn’t.  He doesn’t aspire to jump higher, practice his half pass or get to the next Olympics.  If he has access to paddocks, can self-exercise and bumble around, has friends, food, water and shelter, he is perfectly happy to have some down time while you have your down time.  My own horses often seemed to come back better after a rest, having had a chance to learn to horse again, rather than be a sporting partner.  If he lives in a stable and has no access to turn out, then yes, you need to do something with him, but maybe hack out, turn out into an area if there are no paddocks, loose lunge, do some liberty work, something or anything that is different.

For the rider too, take some time out.  Try out a new sport or hobby.  Go for a walk, swim, hit the gym, lie on the couch with a book or go off to a tropical island for a week.  Its easy to get bogged down in life, but you know what?  Sometimes we need to stop, or else our body will break and stop us for longer!!!  What are you going to do for your break?








Motivation – hmmm, at times I hate that word.

When someone asks me, what is your skill, or talent, what are you best at doing? Procrastination – finding the importance in studying people’s food photos on Facebook, studying the back of my own eyelids, going for a walk, washing my hair, anything that removes me from what I should be doing. Give me a full day of lessons, I am on it, tackling each with the same enthusiasm as the first, but give me a tax return, or reports to write – ooooh look, a butterfly….

(My internet lady, who puts all that I write into the website, will know, I have chosen to write this, rather than tackle the jobs that she has given me instead…. The lessor of two evils!) So, why am I writing this now? Well, there is an interesting pattern that I noticed a while ago, and it is still holding true, although I am not consciously pushing it.

When I am in England, I am very lucky to stay in a house belonging to a lovely lady, who is famous in the horse industry. She has been a mentor to me for some time, and other than being a ground-breaking horse person, she is always amazing me with how dedicated she is. She has written many books, and has the discipline to shut herself in her office, and get it done, while I am taking photos of her cat to post on Instagram, and watching the hot air balloons float past the window…. Are we seeing a difference here?! When she is away, I kidnap her office, park myself in her chair, set my laptop up on her desk – and do you know, I get more done there, in that week in her office than in the entire year anywhere else.

Now, as I sit in Singapore, I again stay with another amazing lady, this one not having to do with horses, but a high flyer in the corporate world, and having the motivation to work mostly from home – ya, no, that really wouldn’t work for me now, would it – ohh, another butterfly. And again, she travels a lot for work, and when she is away, I pinch her spot with a desk, set up my laptop in front of her office chair. The UK desk has a wonderful view of paddocks with horses, and rolling English countryside, while this desk has a view of a white wall, but in principle, they work the same.

Now, in both places, I say that I am pinching (or piggy-backing) on their work ethic, their mojo, the magic spell that they cast over their desks and offices allows me to – ohh, butterfly – sorry, allows me to concentrate and get on with the job. I think though, there are two key factors, and this is what we need to address for your riding practice too…

I am comfortable. In a lot of places, I balance my laptop on my knees, while sitting on the floor, my bed, or a sandy beach. Or I lie on the floor to write. Or lean against the counter in a coffee shop. My back aches, I have to fidget. Foot goes to sleep with the odd angle, so I get up. The sun is shining in my eyes, so I squint. Discomfort and focus are not friends. Both of these desks are set up for busy, motivated people who need to be able to sit down and crack on. Take this to your horse – your stirrups have stretched and you just can’t get them even. Oooh, this underwear really doesn’t work (while on the subject, ladies, sports bras please – you need to be comfortable). The arena hasn’t been levelled and has a rough spot that keeps grabbing your attention. There is STILL a chunk of mud in your horse’s mane, just behind his ears. And for your horse? This browband pinches my ears, but I get in trouble when I shake my head. My saddle bounces on my poor back. These bandages are too loose and are slipping around like carpet slippers. The ground is slippery and I don’t feel safe. Distractions at every turn.

The other thing though, is mental. I go into these two offices knowing that I will sit and write. My mind set is correct. I come in, leaving my phone behind. I turn the internet off, sit with a purpose and get the job done. Both these ladies use a timer to get up and move every hour, I tend to let the empty coffee cup tell me when it is time to walk to the kitchen, but my intention is set – I know I will be comfortable, with no distractions, so set my brain, body, mindset, intention, focus, whatever you choose to call it, to GO, and I work.

Again, let’s move this to your horse and arena. You have a lesson booked, or a test to practice for the upcoming show. So, you go into the arena, intending to practice you have your game ready hat on, leave your phone at the stables, choose a spot away from your friends, you focus, your horse think oh yeah, she means business and he comes to the focus party too. It is a mindset – you have decided what needs doing, so you get it done.

If you tried to school your horse, and your mind wasn’t really on it. Your boot was rubbing your ankle, and that pair of knickers really didn’t work. Your horse’s boot slipped so you had to get off to fix it. And, you had your phone in your pocket, and when it rang, you answered it and had an argument with you significant other. The schooling session went to pot, you got demotivated, and went for a hack around the block instead. A few days later, you look – right to the arena, or left to the forest trail? Ah, the arena was awful, lets go play in the forest. This pattern happens for two weeks, you go back to the arena. Your horse’s boot is still slipping. AND now he is stiff, having done no suppling work for two weeks. Give up, go to the beach. You see how easy it is to lose that mojo?

The opposite, you are comfortable in your clothes (a regular bra, with a sports bra over the top works great, ladies). Your horse is comfortable in his tack – you bought him a longer browband, had the saddler fit a saddle and ditched the bandages. You schooled away from your friends and phone, had an awesome ride, and are feeling inspired to keep this upward trend happening.

It isn’t the magic desk, or the view. Its comfort and mindset. What is interrupting your schooling? What is stopping your progress? Is it out of your control? (like a rainy spell, where the arenas flood), or in your control (get that sports bra). Do you need help (give me a call, I travel to you!!!), or do you just need to focus? Are you both comfortable? Do you have goal to work for?

Right then, I am off to file my tax return – oooh look, my coffee cup is empty….