Why we love our animals…

We love our animals, they are always so pleased to see us. Our dogs bark manically spinning in excitement and rejoicing in pleasure at seeing us again. Our horses wicker, snuffling against our cheeks, their whiskers tickling us. Some say; animals only love us because we feed them. I don’t agree. They love us in a much more straight-forward way. Our bonds with our animals is so much less complex than our bonds with people.

Relationships with people are more layered, more convoluted. Often we are related to them, some we chose for love, but our lives are clouded over by the stress of work, money, illness, so the love is pushed down, hidden over. But with our animals it doesn’t matter. Stressed? Hug a pony. Bad day at work? Hug a dog. Boss shouted at you? Stroke your cat. Works every time.

Animals are also the best outlet at Christmas. I love Christmas, I love seeing my family, but it can get a bit overwhelming, you can need a break. Popping out to walk the dog even for half an hour can give you a vital break from the festive fun. Christmas day hacks are delightful, especially in the morning when the roads can be wonderfully quiet.

Exercise is also the perfect counterpart to the endless eating and drinking that goes on over Christmas and can leave us feeling grumpy and lethargic. Even in dismal weather, wrap up warm, and get outside, you will feel better. And the best thing about animals is you have no excuses they have to be exercised, cared for, hugged, chatted to. So when the world is getting a bit much, when you long for peace and quiet and the wind in your face, rain on your back, get outside, take your dog for a walk, your horse for a hack and then when you come home again you will relish the warmth, the company and the cheer.

Christmas dilemmas…

Christmas should be magical. Roaring fires, too much food, nice drinks, bad sweaters, presents, Christmas trees, hats, mittens, family games, the list goes on… Sadly in reality that magic has to be generated and managed, often (I’m not trying to cause a row!) by the “mum.” As always the potential for arguments is high.

Our household argument is over whether the kids have too many presents. I like to give things that are useful, clothes, books, games, rather than endless plastic tat that gets broken, thrown away ignored. I also like to give experiences, lessons, days out rather than things. When people ask me what my children want, I generally ask for clothes, or money towards something that they actually really do want. Some people would consider this boring…but you can have fun without money. We make stockings for the animals, so that they can join in. We make gifts for people, and enjoy the time we spend together doing this.

When you are thinking of presents to buy for people, why not consider a book or DVD? Learning a new skill appeals to everyone, and is a great idea for those who are tricky to buy for. And if you are really stuck for present ideas for your horsey friends, why not make them horse shaped biscuits!

There are some great subscription gifts that will be really well received, like Intelligent Horsemanship which for a surprisingly reasonable price gives you great magazines throughout the year, discounts and free online access to brilliant resources. If you think this sounds like a great gift – click here!

But remember that the most important thing you can give this Christmas is your time. Time spent with your loved ones, time spent chatting, sharing, laughing, time spent playing and eating, and when it all gets a bit much, you can always escape to the stables!

Five top tips for coping with our horses in the winter.

Let’s be honest, most of us would rather not have to deal with winter with our horses, and probably wish that Santa would bring us endless sunny days for our stockings. But, sadly, winter is something that we have to endure with our horses, so here are some top tips to help you enjoy the winter time with your horses.
1. Don’t think that you have to ride. There are many times in the winter when the weather is simply not good enough to ride, but don’t regard this as a missed opportunity. Instead spend that time doing something else with your horse, such as grooming or massaging him. That time improving your relationship is never wasted.
2. Do be flexible. If the weather goes mild and you can get out and ride, make the most of it. Being adaptable with our days over the winter is vital to hep us react in a non-stressful way to whatever the winter weather brings us.
3. Use the time to organise your tack room, or sort through your boxes of old tack. Anything you no longer use can be donated to many of the horse rescue charities, who are always willing to receive donations. Then, when the sunny days appear, you won’t have to waste those precious hours searching for your favourite numnah.
4. Spend some time learning. We are so busy always that we forget to make the time to improve our knowledge. But the winter is the perfect opportunity to spend some time learning. There are many great online courses, books and DVDs available to help you increase your understanding of your horse.
5. Work on your groundwork. The key to all that you do with your horse lies in your groundwork. Can your horse stand quietly at the end of a 12ft rope for up to 10 minutes? No – well why not use this winter as an opportunity to teach him.

And remember, that Spring will come!

It’s beginning to look like…

You know the rest! Whether you love it or hate it, Christmas comes round steadily every year, and every year brings with the same conversations, the same choices, the same frenzied consumerism which many people strive so firmly to avoid. It is this time of year more than any other that it is hard to escape the relentless need to spend, spend, spend. The rest of the year I find it relatively easy to not buy, but Christmas can feel overwhelming.

I try and stick to the maxim of; buy from small businesses, buy something useful, or make a gift. I try my hardest to stay away from mass produced plastic rubbish sold in mega stores, after all if there is anything you want along those lines, you can usually find it in your local charity shop. But I find myself beset by the ‘have I bought enough’ question, which isn’t a reflection of my own feelings, simply a reflection of society.

Everyone is different, everyone has different financial obligations and priorities. Some people save all year to buy their children masses of presents, other prefer to buy random presents throughout the year. I like the random present approach myself, buying things as they take my fancy for people I love at varying times of the year, seems a much more personal gift than an obligatory gift bought in haste for a certain day, but we are all different!

So whatever your views are on Christmas, just make sure they are yours, that you are not guilted into spending more than you can afford by a society that has confused love with presents. A carefully chosen thoughtful gift will always delight. Buy them with love and kindness and the size or the quantity doesn’t matter, but the love does.

Winter blues

The winter can be a hard time for many of us. Our positive energy seems to leech away with the sunshine and things that were once easy can seem very hard. Trying to pull a heavy rug onto your horse can seem dispiriting and arduous when you know that on another day you would be able to do it without a seconds thought. Life can seem like that sometimes, as though you are wading through treacle, and the winter can be a tricky time of year.

Here are some top tips to help you cope with the winter:

Accept it. Accept that it is harder, you will find it more difficult, have less energy, feel more overwhelmed. Acceptance helps us deal with things, as we are no longer fighting against them, but rather using our energy to find solutions.

Remember it doesn’t last for ever. It can feel interminable as you are sliding around in the mud with sharp horses pulling on your arms, but actually it is only for a few months and then the tips of the daffodils will appear.

Be kind to yourself. It’s natural to be more tired, less enthusiastic in the winter. We live in a society that is always driving people forwards. It’s not always helpful. It is okay to take time out, to not always strive to achieve.

Enjoy the good bits. Some moments in winter are glorious. The flip side of the shorter days is that we get to see sunrise and sunset, and watching the winter sun rise over frosty fields has to be one of the most wonderful views. If you didn’t have horses you wouldn’t get to be out in the beautiful winter landscape.

The winter isn’t all doom and gloom, and remember the days are ticking along, and it won’t be that long till it’s spring again!

It’s okay to praise yourself!

We are taught when young not to be proud, not to say how great we are, not to agree with people when they compliment us. It has taken me a long time as an adult not to shrug of compliments with a negative comment, but simply to accept them kindly. We become confused between pride and positive self-image, the lines have become blurred and we fall into negative self-image.

But it is okay to praise oneself, it is good to feel proud of your achievements. Often other people won’t see them as achievements, they won’t even notice, so sometimes the only person who can praise us, is our-self.  You managed to get on your horse at the mounting block without your heart racing with nerves. No-one else can see that, they just see you getting on. You manage to have a light-hearted conversation with the  girl at the till, when you have spent 20 years suffering with acute social anxiety. No-one else can see that.

Often the only person that really understands how well you have done, is you. So congratulate yourself, praise yourself. Look back and see how very far you have come. It is not important what is the eyes of others, it is important that you understand your own achievements, and acknowledge them to yourself.

This is not false pride, nor arrogance, it is self-care, self-love, it is understanding that your path through life may not be the easiest, but it is yours and you are doing the very best that you can. And remember that other people may feel just like you. That lady with the big smile who has just trotted a circle, that may be the first time she has trotted without wanting to get off. We have no idea what other people are going through, be kind, always…

Stages of grief

Grief brings with it a host of emotions, and loss of an animal can strike us just as hard as loss of a person. For some people their relationships with their animals can be more loving and intense than their relationships with people. I know I have long conversations with my dog, and probably spend more time with her than any other member of my family.

Grief is said to have stages, the 5 stages of grief and loss are: 1. Denial and isolation; 2. Anger; 3. Bargaining; 4. Depression; 5. Acceptance. However it is important to remember that we don’t follow these stages in an orderly fashion, but can either flip between them, circle round them, rattle quickly through one and spend months on another. Grief is personal.

We are all different, everyone will experience grief differently and to varying degrees. There is no right or wrong way. You may be more upset over the death of your dog than a your uncle, that is also okay. Our relationships differ, so our response to loss will also differ. Don’t let anyone tell you that your grief is wrong, or to get over it. It takes as long as it takes you. There is no time limit on grief.

If you find your emotions overwhelming consider talking to someone, grief counselors can be very helpful in supporting you while you are going through a difficult time. Remember to ask for help and remember you are not alone.

Conversely if you are supporting someone who is experiencing grief, make sure your support is helpful. People can inadvertently be tactless and say things which make people feel worse. In your communication make sure that you make the other person feel heard, being empathetic can go a long way towards making someone feel better.

And remember, grief is the price we pay for love.

How to bombproof your horse…

We have all been there. Peacefully hacking along, enjoying the view, when suddenly your horse launches itself sideways, leaving your heart thumping, and your nerves trembling. Spooking is one of the main reasons why people do not hack their horses out, but it is possible to help your horse build in confidence and reduce the possibility of spooking.

First though we have to accept that horses are flight creatures. Their survival depends on their ability to flee when in danger, the problem comes that they can’t differentiate between actual danger, for example a lion, and perceived danger for example a crisp packet in a hedge. However, with training, we can help them.

Begin with working with your horse on the ground in a safe environment, such as an arena. Make sure that your horse is listening and responsive to you on the ground. There is no point in expecting him to listen to you when he is scared, if he is incapable of doing so when he feels safe! Start with something small, such a bucket, make sure that your horse will walk quietly past the object at a distance before beginning to move closer towards it. Only once he is happy with this should you begin to increase the difficulty of what you are asking of him.

If there is something in particular that your horse is fearful of on your hack, break this down into small, manageable steps. Does he spook when passing a farm? Are their flapping plastic bags and tractors? Work on each item separately. Begin with a small plastic bag, tied to the fence, again ask him to walk past at a distance. Gradually reduce the distance between the horse and the scary object, always praising him for the correct response. Once you can lead him safely past these objects, change the environment. Set up obstacles in a field and repeat the process in this different location.

Once you are feeling confident in the field, you can progress to leading him on a hack. Again, build up slowly. Don’t head straight off to the most scary hack, but rather build in stages so that you and him can grow in confidence. Only once you can do this should you progress to hacking him out.

If when hacking you become nervous or fearful of something, find somewhere safe to dismount and lead him past. The horse has not won if you dismount. In time he will become more confident, as he watches you walk calmly past, rather than feeling you getting nervous on his back.

Horses are incredibly trusting, they put their faith in us that we will protect them. If he trusts you, he will believe you when you ask him to walk past the scary plastic bag. By carefully putting the building blocks in place and helping him to overcome his fears in small, bite-sized chunks, you can turn your anxiety into enjoyment, and your fear into pleasure. While we cannot control the environment around us, we can work to give us and our horses the tools to help control our responses to whatever we come across.

Post surgery care is vital

In the USA, 90% of the sales of Equiband are with recommendation from a vet. The value in the Equiband for horses in rehabilitation from surgery, in particular Kissing Spine surgery, is particularly note-worthy. With horses, as in humans, the results from surgery are so very often down to how well the exercises recommended post-operatively are carried out. By ensuring that we give our horses the best post-surgery care, we increase their chances of a full and complete recovery. If the Equiband can help with this, then, for that alone, this system is priceless.

The Equiband system is ideal for use across a range of ages, and conditions of horses, not just for those in post-surgery rehab. The eventer Elena Hengel, 2016 USEA North American Junior & Young Rider Eventing Championships CICY2* participant who currently trains with Will Coleman, uses the Equiband system extensively; “While I ordered the band with a particular horse in mind, I now use it on all of my horses.”

Due to the design of the Equiband and how it clips onto the saddlecloth, it can be used for a period of time during work and then removed. Though it is important to dismount before removing the bands.  It is not designed to be used all the time, but instead to be used consistently as part of a program to improve the conditioning of the muscles. The use can then be reduced over time, as the back becomes stronger. It is suitable for the old or the young. The competition horses and the pleasure rides. It has been developed to help improve muscle function, and for this purpose it is perfect across an incredible range of scenarios.

The Equiband system is a unique system that has to ability to help build and maintain your horse’s muscular structure, so that he can optimise his movement and comfort. Due to the design it is not possible for the horse to “cheat” in anyway, so that he will be able to build good muscles, and good habits in the use of his body. This time spent correctly conditioning the horse’s back, will pay dividends over the years, giving you many hours of pleasure with your happy and healthy horse.

If you can’t warrant the expense of the Equiband system, but would like to be able to develop your horse’s core strength, then the exercises in the book and DVD by Hilary Clayton Activate Your Horse’s Core, will help you to achieve this.

To order your Equiband, please click here!

It’s only…

How many times have you heard the words “it’s only a horse” or “it’s only a dog”? Quite a few I would imagine, and those words are just as ridiculous every time you hear them. Yes, horses, dogs, cats, parrots (other pets are available!) are not human, but it doesn’t mean our connection to them is any less important, or any less deep. In fact, I have more conversations some days with my dog than other humans. She listens better as well!

Saying goodbye to humans and animals is always hard, the advantage with animals is that we can end their suffering, when we believe the time is right, whereas humans we have to wait while they wend their ways through their final days.

The love we feel for our animals is no smaller than the love we feel for people, it is often far less complicated. Grief around people dying is often entangled with guilt or anger, whereas animals don’t generally invoke such emotions, you simply feel sadness.

But grief is the price we pay for love, so part of the relationship with our animals must include grief at the end, else the relationship would not be the same. If we didn’t love our animals we wouldn’t grieve when then they died, but then we wouldn’t have enjoyed those years of fun. Terrible though grief, it is in fact a small price for the years of love. The alternative is not to love, and that would make the world a sad and lonely place.

The love you feel for your dog, horse, parrot is just as valid as the love you feel for a person. The one does not diminish the other, and an animal is never just a dog, or just a horse. They are the recipients of your love.