The Jack Bull

How strongly do you stand by your Ethics?

A couple of months ago, a British event rider went a bit whip happy around a large, prestigious three-day event.  Within a day, two of his sponsors withdraw their backing.  They cited welfare – the wellbeing of horses is their for first priority and they felt it was time to part company.  Good for them – brilliant.  And, the one company had a lot of new followers on social media immediately, posts saying things like, I don’t know what you sell, but I’m buying two. People putting their money where their mouth is, backing ethical business and ethical riders.

On the other hand, some very unethical riders have merchandise lines, and people will say – oh I hate what that dressage rider does to her horses, but I have her saddle and ten of her saddle pads…  I have asked riders – if you don’t like what she stands for, why did you buy her saddle?  Well, they reply – the saddle wasn’t physically hers, she has nothing to do with it. Really?  The saddle company pay her a large commission to be the face of the brand.  If everyone who doesn’t like what she does, were to boycott the brand, and better yet to write to the brand and say, I’m boycotting you because of this rider – do you know what?  Things would change.  Hitting them in their pocket is the only way things will improve.  I love watching Mark Todd ride – I think he is genius, he is the consummate master of his craft, he is always fair to his horses, and he is a genuinely nice human being.  Oh look, Mark Todd breeches, yes please.  A great product, supporting the deal he has with a brand.  Awesome.  That abusive lady dressage rider’s riding jacket?  Ya, no, maybe not…

Mark Todd, the greatest rider ever? Photo By Henry Bucklow/Lazy Photography (Sffubs) - Own work; originally published at, CC BY-SA 3.0,
Mark Todd and NZB Land Vision at the Quarry during the cross-country phase of Badminton Horse Trials 2011. Mark Todd, the greatest rider ever? Photo By Henry Bucklow/Lazy Photography (Sffubs) – Own work; originally published at, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Why am I thinking of this now?  Ethics. What is important to you?

Have you watched a movie called The Jack Bull?  Its awesome.  It must be from the late 1990’s, a western starring John Cusack.  I was in my yard about 18 years ago (isn’t that scary??? How did I get so old?), grumpy and snapping, on a mission to rescue a horse who was being mistreated.  I was gunning for his owner and nothing and nobody was going to stop me.  A friend was standing in the yard giggling at my grumpiness, saying Oh My, are you The Jack Bull?  Did they write the movie about you?  Of course, I had to watch it.  The plot, in short, is about a cowboy who has to leave two of his horses as security when he can’t pay a toll on a road.  He leaves them and his employee for two weeks and when he comes back he finds his horses beaten and abused, and his friend and employee, vanished.  He fights for what is right, he fights for what he believes. The title?  His friend says to him, you are part bulldog and part Jack Russel – the strength of a Bulldog when angered, the dogged tenacity of the Jack Russel when he has something in his grip.  And yes, when I’m on a mission, A Jack Bull is a pretty good description.

The Jack Bull. By Source (WP:NFCC#4), Fair use,
The Jack Bull. By Source (WP:NFCC#4), Fair use,

Recently I had a very difficult conversation.  A good friend who I desperately didn’t want to upset or lose our friendship, has something going on that just doesn’t sit well with me.  And so, finally, after a long time of debating, I had to speak my mind.  I don’t like confrontations or unrest, but I couldn’t sit on the fence any longer.  What will happen?  I don’t know. Do I sleep better at night?  I’m sad that I upset someone lovely, and sad that I may have lost a valued friend, but yes, morally, ethically I feel better for making a stand.

So, my question to you….  Are you standing up for what you believe?  Are you a Jack Bull?  Or do you have an opinion and ethics until it is inconvenient?  Do you buy that rider’s brand of jacket because its pretty and pink and has a brand name on it?  Even though you profess not to like her methods?  Or do you stand by your morals and write to the manufacturers and say, I’m not helping you make money out of abuse?  What is the saying – I’d rather die on my feet than live on my knees? Are you willing to stand and be counted? Where do you stand?

F&%# Off Button

“My F&%# off button is broken”, my friend would complain. It was a game we would play, walking through town… You know all of those fund raisers, marketers, “please try my test product” people? Do you seem to attract them, or do they ignore you? My friend and I would try to keep them away, and it’s generally done with your &%$@ off button… You just walk along, and without saying anything or doing anything, they step back… Know what I mean? We’d walk along and check that they didn’t approach. But, sometimes they do. It did frustrate me, she was much better at playing the game than I was…

As you walk through a paddock of horses, are they drawn to you or pushed away?
As you walk through a paddock of horses, are they drawn to you or pushed away?

It always fascinates me, watching how people react to each other. Those fundraiser people, and marketers, they are so good at reading people. If someone walks past looking ahead, striding along, with a purpose, often they don’t bother them – the target has their F&%# off button firmly engaged. Sometimes it is when you put on your sunglasses and earphones, and they see that you have blinds up, not talking. Those who walk past looking less secure in their own skin, hesitant in where they are or where they are going, almost apologetic in being, and the marketers will get them… And those people are most likely to give them money too, since often they can’t say no.

I’m at my worst getting onto a plane. My flying time is my time, it’s where I switch off from the world. I get in my seat, next to the window, and don’t talk to me. I used to do it with props, by opening my book, putting on ear phones and leaning against the wall… Now though, I can do it without aids – I get in my seat and there are walls between me and my neighbours. Please, please, don’t be the seat neighbour who tries to talk to me – because I just won’t.

Why am I thinking about this now? I had lunch with a friend recently and we were discussing teaching and lessons, and how I read people. How do you do that, she asked? Do what, I replied? Well, just know stuff… A large part, I think, is reading what they are saying with their body.

Is electricity real? Uhh, yes. Can you see it? No. So, you must believe its there. We have the same forces within us – an electricity or a current, an energy and boundaries, unseen but (hopefully) felt / experienced / adhered to by other people.

There was a study done over a few years – I think, actually, it is still ongoing – about footballers and what makes the brilliant ones brilliant. Someone is running towards you, kicking the ball along in front of them. Are they going to send the ball to your right or to your left? There is a slight dodge, wobble, look to where they are going to go, maybe a flicker in their eye. The kids who go on to become elite footballers are the ones who can read it, and the really elite players just can’t get it wrong – as the player is running towards them with the ball, they can predict the movement.

When walking through town with my mom, she is forever complaining that when I walk, or when my brothers walk, people move out of our way, while she spends her life dodging. Just walk straight, I tell her – they’ll move. And, they do. For me. And for my brother’s. They end up walking into her. What’s the difference? Playing chicken? It’s intention – I’m just walking, and people believe that as I am walking, I won’t move, but they don’t believe her (warning – don’t try this with anyone pushing a pushchair / pram… They are a little insane, rules don’t apply…) How does this work? We do read each other, we know what people are thinking or how they are going to react, without registering or acknowledging it.

We project energy around us. Your friend walks in looking tired. How do you know? You just do. The footballer knows the ball is going right. Because, how? It just is. Maybe there was an eye flicker, maybe they are projecting energy in that direction. When someone is walking towards you down the footpath, they are going to move or not… How do you know? You just do. Think of that very charismatic, magnetic person…. They are charming, they are liked, good things just happen to them. How are they like that? They project positive, interested, interactive, high vibration energy. They attract people. Think about that slightly apologetic, world weary person. You can see them coming too.
Can I teach this? How to read this? I’m not convinced that I can. Thinking back to the conversation with my friend – how do you just know. Well, I do. When some one walks into the arena with their horse, I always spend 5 minutes or so just chatting to them. Letting them settle into their own skin, into their horse’s skin, into the space they are in. You can see it when they find their way to a good spot… They move in an easier way, they breathe. How can you not see it, I ask people?

Can horses teach this? Oh yes. You watch a horse being lunged. A novice is trying, the horse won’t go forwards, he spins around to go the other way, or he turns into the middle and stops. The poor person has no hope. The instructor walks in and the horse obediently trots along at the end of the line. The instructor didn’t appear to do anything different, and yet the horse just behaves. So, why did the horse behave? Simply, because he believes the trainer. In the way that the elite footballer knows the ball is going right or left, the horse knows whether or not to take the lunger seriously. In the same way the marketer knows if your %&$@ off button is working or not, your horse knows. He knows if you are sending him out, or drawing him in… How seriously does your horse take you?



You are utterly insane and irresponsible …

“You are utterly insane and irresponsible, how awful” or “Oh my, wonderful, I am so jealous” are the two comments most commonly offered by people when I tell them what I do for a living – freelance coaching.  With a twist.  The area that I cover is – anywhere in the world.  Some locations are recurring, including Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Kenya, South Africa, England, Germany and Spain, while others are one offs – such as Italy or Costa Rica.

Growing up and learning to ride, I was the good pupil, who tried desperately to follow my coaches prompts – make the horse forward, get the horse round, use more leg, ride the canter, being some of those shouted instructions that I would be furiously trying to follow.  It wouldn’t have occurred to me to voice my inner thought of – How?  How do I make the horse rounder?  How do I keep my leg still?  How do I get my lazy horse more forward or my whizzy horse to settle?  Somehow, lots of excellent coaching produced a rider able to compete across the disciplines and produce horses, but there was always that little inner dialogue of – how is this working?  Teaching was a challenge, because I could always see the problem, and see what I wanted to change but often lacked the words or linear set of cues to get the changes I wanted for my pupils.

Thousands of miles in dressage arenas, jumping arenas, cross country courses, race tracks, endurance tracks, bridle paths and lunge rings later, my back started to give out, partly due to a lot of incorrect posture along the way.  At that point I was already experimenting with many ideas, but discovered Mary Wanless and her “Ride With Your Mind” system.  Finally, I had some of the “how to” answers.  How does the horse come rounder?  How can I protect my back?  In her words – she teaches a “tool kit” – things that we as riders need to get our head around.  I became a certified RWYM coach, and that opened my mind to more possibilities and thoughts, creating an eclectic mix that I use today.

I count myself lucky in that I have managed to experience a lot of different things, partly for fun, partly as teaching research, which allows me to connect to my pupils existing skills and has put me in front of some amazing coaches across a lot of different sports.  This year, a rider with scuba diving experience was battling with her horse’s flying changes to the right, while to the left was great.  Our discussion revolved around how, when asking for the left changes, she put her body into scuba diving positive buoyancy mode, while when asking for the difficult right changes she went into negative buoyancy mode.  Instantly, by accessing muscle memory that her body understood, she could ride the changes in either direction.  A young rider was battling with her jumping position and a discussion around our shared interest in rock climbing fixed the issue.  (You can’t pull up with your arms, you have to push up with your core and legs).  And yet another rider was constantly slightly behind the movement, causing frustration and irritation on her sensitive pony, which we worked through…  How?  That morning, I had climbed off a plane with a heavy back pack.  On getting onto the escalator going up towards immigration, the back pack had pulled backwards on my shoulders, almost pulling me off my feet.  I had to engage my core, match the packs backward force with my own forward force, so keeping me vertical on the escalator.  This rider was being the back pack pulling her little gelding backwards.  As soon as we worked through how to engage her core to match his forward momentum, all was better in their world.

Lessons are eclectic, thoughtful and make a rider stop and think.  “Be a frog” or “more tennis balls” have been shouted across arenas, after discussion with riders has made this the explanation that puts them where their horse and I need them to be.    My business is Kuda Guru, which means Horse Teacher.  People assume it means I am the horse riding instructor, but the spin I put on it is, your horse is your teacher, I just translate.

The first question I ask of a rider during a lesson – if I could fix one thing, what would it be?  They will answer, I wish he was more forward / straighter / rhythmic / slower / had impulsion / was balanced.  And in my mind, I always think, if I could ask the horse, what would he wish for?  Generally, the answer I imagine is the same as that the rider just gave.  The rider who says, I wish my horse had a better rhythm, is often a rider who is not riding in a rhythm themselves.  And I bet their horse is thinking, I wish my rider had a better rhythm.  We can’t make the horse have a better rhythm, but if the rider and I can put a better rhythm into that rider, the horse now has a dancing partner that he can work with.  At that point, the horse generally finds rhythm, breathes a sigh of relief and I get to translate – look at that, your horse has rhythm, don’t believe me, believe him.  When your horse goes better, believe that you are doing something right…  He is the expert at being the horse, all I do is translate.

So, what do you wish for when riding your horse?  Would he wish for the same thing?  How can you create that in your own body?

If you would like to follow my travels, thoughts, blogs and learn more, you can follow my Facebook page,  or my new and improved website will be up and running this month at

Happy Riding!


Is Different Right or Wrong? 

Is your circle as round as one of these balloons?

Is Different Right or Wrong?

When ever I go to Bali, I do indulge in some massages…  Who wouldn’t, yes?  There is one lady who comes to the villa, and she is so unbelievably good.  Any little kinks and knots that are floating around, she can generally get them out pretty quick, and you leave her feeling amazing.  I’ve had a fair number of sessions with her, she knows me, I know her and her usual routine and it works.

This time, I booked a massage but this regular lady was busy, so sent another lady who she works with.  The new masseuse was a lovely lady too, and also did a great job, but was totally different.  Everything, from the scent of the oil she used, to where she started from, to the pressure she exerted and the types of movements was different.  Initially, I was a bit unsettled – I couldn’t anticipate the next move, and the routine was challenged.  We humans, even me who lives in a constant state of flux, like routine.  We go back to our favourite coffee shop, to the same table, the same waiter and order the same coffee, for a little comfort.  And yes, when I’m travelling, I do often seek out a Starbucks.  So, some things I stick to, because in Bali I eat Corn Fritters in Green Ginger and Deep Fried Oreos at On, and have a massage with Siti.

I have to go to Green Ginger whenever I’m in Bali for the Corn Fritter Fix…
I have to go to Green Ginger whenever I’m in Bali for the Corn Fritter Fix…


After my new massage, I stretched and moved, experimented, and yes, she had indeed loosened off travel wary muscles and ironed out computer working kinks.  Her technique was different, for sure, but was it wrong?  They both did a good job…  They both took an hour…  They both left me feeling loose and languid…  Who was right and who was wrong.  Neither, of course.  They both had the same goal in mind and achieved their outcome.

Same thing – most people know my little addiction to corn fritters – and I have them often, all over the world.  In each country, someone kindly cooks them for me.  And they are each different.  So, which is the wrong way, or the right way to prepare them?  Ummm…  I have my favorites, but are the others incorrect?

Another one that strikes me, how often do you always go somewhere, from point A to point B, on the same route?  I know I do.  Again, in Bali this trip, I was riding the bike back to the villa in the evening and a friend was riding his along behind me.  At a certain intersection I know he always turns left, I always turn right.  Our individual roads meet up again at a point further on.  He followed me right, and a block later rode along side, saying, I don’t like this route.  Same thing with when I catch taxis in Kuala Lumpur.  There are at least 5 different routes to one of the places I go, almost daily.  So, the traffic is about the same, the distance and condition of the road make a level playing field…  Who is right?

Of course, these are all ridiculous questions, there is not really a right and a wrong.  And so we get to the riding industry.  There are so many really amazing coaches out there, really talented people teaching truly amazing lessons.  I’ll often just sit in a yard and watch a lesson, thinking oh wow, I hadn’t thought of explaining it quite like that.  And, obviously there are also some, who you watch, thinking, hmm, I maybe wouldn’t have done that quite like that.  Who is right and who is wrong.  If your pupil and horse are happy, pain free, safe, enjoying their lesson and progressing, I think you’re doing a lot right.  I explain a circle by saying, think of a clock with 12, 3, 6, 9 o’clock.  A young instructor I worked with would always explain to her child pupils that balloons could be short and round, or long and skinny, and circles were the short round balloons.  I thought that was genius.  Which one of us explained a circle correctly.  Neither, and both.  If our pupils could ride a fairly round circle at the end of a session, we all won.

Is your circle as round as one of these balloons?
Is your circle as round as one of these balloons?

I know that I teach very differently to a lot of other coaches.  For some people it resonates, they enjoy their lessons, they learn.  Other people can’t get their head around what I’m talking about – its too different, its often too slow, and its not for them – fair enough, you were open minded enough to try something new, and hopefully you’ll find some one who speaks your language.  There are 7 billion of us here, we all speak different languages, live in different cultures, have a different way of learning, we cannot expect a one size fits all with any form of education.

Of course, there are some trainers who I do think are wrong.  A trainer who abuses the horse; who ridicules or undermines a pupil; a trainer who is rude, obnoxious or arrogant; a trainer who treats the horse as a bicycle, or is in such a hurry that they physically break horse down…  In my opinion, these trainers are dangerous, and yes, their methods are wrong.

So, you as the rider – what do you do about?  Use your freedom of choice.  Try out a few trainers.  Who “speaks” to you, in your language, that you think huh, yes.  We are all on a path to our end goal.  If you book a massage, you want to be relaxed and pain free.  If you are going to the beach, you want to get there without getting caught in a traffic jam.  And, if you are riding a horse, I am guessing we all want to be safe, in control and enjoy our ride be it through the village, round a course of jumps or in a dressage arena.  But, there are so many routes to get there, and the choice belongs to you, your ethics, your opinion.  I hope your choice is the right one for you!


Why Kudaguru?

One of the Malaysian Kuda Gurus…

Why Kuda Guru?

It’s funny how it always goes in spates – people asking me, so what does Kuda Guru mean, then?  And, generally its which area in the world I am currently sitting in.  Here in Asia, people rarely ask.

Kuda, means horse in Bahasa Malay and Bahasa Indonesia, so, it begins to make a little bit of sense now, yes?  Guru, obviously means teacher, guide, expert or master.

About 8 years ago, I was working full time in Malaysia, in an area called Johor Bahru, which is the border town between Malaysia and Singapore.  It’s quite industrial and tends to be filled with a lot of Singapore commuters too.  Malaysian’s working in Singapore get the best of both worlds – the cheaper Malaysian rents and being able to stay with their families, as well as earning the much higher Singapore wages (and, sadly also enjoy the many hours of sitting on their motorbikes at the border, in very long queues).  There is a big riding school / livery yard / hotel just outside JB (as Johor Bahru is more commonly known), where I was working.

Jahor Bahru where Kuda Guru came about.
Jahor Bahru where Kuda Guru came about.

I’m hopeless at languages, really, honestly, cannot learn them, no matter how hard I try.  So, living in the hotel, I enlisted a couple of the front of house staff to teach me Bahasa Malay.  It took me about a month to get Selamat Pagi (Good morning) and Apa kabar (How are you?).  Really.  A whole month.  I did also learn quite quickly about Apa ini?  (What is this?) when the grooms would bring me the wrong horse, or the right horse with the wrong saddle etc…  But the phrase that seemed clearest, fastest, was Kuda belak (the horses are back) which would be shouted from one end of the yard to the other, to tell the grooms that the trail riding horses were seen coming back out of the jungle.  Every groom who had a horse in the ride that we had shipped out a couple of hours before, would come out and stand and wait for his horse to get close enough, so he could help the guest down and take his charge off for their welcome cold shower.  My first introduction to Kuda.

Now, since we were out in the jungle, there wasn’t an awful lot to do – um, nothing really.  We had a swimming pool at the neighbouring hotel, and another restaurant there, but one of our big highlights was going into the nearest kampong (village) to the very big Tesco supermarket.  *sigh* such was our hectic social life…  One of the other instructors and I would hitch a lift in with the car owning chef, or phone for a cab, and a real taxi would pick us up.  And then, on coming out of our exciting trip, there would generally be 3 or 4 “taxi” cars sitting outside.  These would have been the Grab / Uber cars, except in those days, Grab / Uber didn’t exist.  So, these random young Malay men would be sitting on the off chance that someone would need a ride, haggle over the price, load their unsuspecting passengers into the back of the (usually slightly dodgy) car and take them wherever they needed to go.  In that time, we were proudly shown bright green zebra print fake fur seats…  A first aid kit…  A fire extinguisher.…  and more bling CD’s hung on grubby ribbon over the rear-view mirror than you would imagine possible…  There were several times, whipping up and down the narrow, steep and winding hill roads where we did consider the possibility of our imminent death…

So anyway, on one particular exciting Tesco evening, I came breezing out and a young man was waiting beside his car.  Taxi taxi, miss, taxi, he was calling.  I said yes, please, I need to go to…  And he said yes, yes, I know Kuda Guru.  And so, my introduction, that all the grooms and pretty much all the kampong unofficial taxi drivers knew the Kuda Guru.  Slightly dodgy again?!

One of the Malaysian Kuda Gurus…
One of the Malaysian Kuda Gurus…

Now, if you take this literally, horse teacher.  I, however take it slightly differently –  horse teacher, as in, the master happens to be an equine.  Who knows best what a horse feels like?  Um, a horse.  Who knows when a horse becomes unbalanced?  A horse?  Who knows what this particular rider feels like?  Maybe a horse?  And how many secrets does a horse keep?  About his rider?  None.  You watch a horse, you can see where his attention is…  How rhythmic his rider is….  If he is comfortable or in pain…    If he understands an instruction…  If he is happy or battling to cope.  All of these things, he wears as plain as his heart on his sleeve.  So, by thinking Kuda Guru – my thinking then becomes, your horse is your teacher – why am I here in the arena with you?  Purely as the translator.  After all these years, about the only language that I appear to understand beyond hello and how are you, is horse.  So, when you go out to greet your horse tomorrow morning, please, please say, Selamat Pagi Kuda Guru, Apa Kabar?!  Have fun!