What does your horse do when you do his girth up?

Is your horse happy when you do his girth up? If the answer is yes, then good, but make sure you know what to do should that no longer be the case. It is all too easy for our horses to slip, or spin in the field, or simply turn awkwardly and strain a muscle. You might not see this, you might not know, until you go to girth up your horse and he puts his ears back. Equally you might have a horse that has always put his ears back, and you have simply accepted it as part of his behaviour.

Remember your horse is only capable of communicating with you through his behaviour, it is up to us to make sure that we are listening. We always recommend that you begin with the eliminating the possibility that the horse is in pain before you begin to alter the behaviour. There is no point is challenging your horse’s behaviour till you are confident that it is not a pain response. All you are doing if you do that, is cutting off the opportunity for the horse to communicate with you.

Your horse may have always put his ears back, or started doing it recently, either way you can start to resolve this problem. Have a good professional check your horse over, so that you can rule out whether the behaviour is a pain issue. This may include a physio or osteopath, a saddle fitter, a dentist. Remember pain can be referred, so don’t assume it must be a problem with the girth.

Once you have thoroughly investigated and are confident that the horse is not in pain, then two things will happen. Either the behaviour will stop, as the horse realises he is not in pain, or it will continue, as a learnt response. The horse has learnt the association between the girth being done up and pain. Their behaviour is a response that has been learnt from the pain reaction. It is possible to re-train the horse not to respond in this way.

Begin the re-training by breaking down the process into small pieces and re-training each part of the process. Identify where the horse’s reaction begins. Does he start to fidget when you pick up the saddle, or does he only flinch when you actually do the girth up? Dependent on the severity of the reaction, it will take a proportional length of time to correct the training.

Remember to spend time on each stage of the process, rewarding the desired response with praise, or some action that your horse enjoys, such a scratch on the withers. Be wary of simply using food as a reward, as this can lead to further problems. Once each stage of the process has been broken down and worked on, you will be able to join them together and be able to saddle and girth up your horse, while he remains happy and relaxed.

Some people have all the luck…

…no really, they do!

You meet people who just seem lucky, the horse they pick wins, their raffle tickets comes up first, their card hand bristles with great cards, while yours is full of nondescript 3s and 4s.

I noticed the other day whilst playing scrabble with my grandfather that every handful of letters he picked out were consistently full of high scoring fantastic letters. Every hand, without fail. My hand had the usual mix of indifferent letters with the occasional good ones thrown in.

It’s such a great metaphor for life. Some people simply do have great luck, what they do with it is up to them. Most people have average luck. But in scrabble if you play well it is possible to beat the person with the great set of letters, not every time, but it is possible.

So when you see the lucky girl at the show, with the amazing horse and the seemingly effortless life, remember you can also do well. You can have trained harder, you can have spent more time with your horse, so that you know instinctively that they are going to struggle with the flag in the corner, so you are going to need extra bend coming into that corner to prevent a spook.

My dressage cobs could on a good day beat flighty warmbloods simply by steadily carrying out their tests and being well trained. So, we may not have all the luck, but if we do the most we can with the luck we are given, we can achieve anything!

And remember even the lucky have bad days, and every so often I can beat my grandfather at scrabble and my satisfaction is always increased by knowing that I have beaten him with a less strong hand than his hand.

Are you having a bad day?

Everyone has a bad day every so often, and then every so often you have a terrible day when you feel like you have slithered all the way down the longest snake on the snakes and ladders board, right back to the bottom…

Sounds familiar? Don’t despair! First take a few deep breaths. When we are anxious we breath more shallowly and take in less oxygen, our brains interpret this a stress and then we become more anxious. So breathe – I know its hard but it really does help, you can do it anywhere, you can do it discretely, its free and you can do it by yourself.

Once you have breathed, tell yourself it is okay to have a bad day. You are not a robot you don’t function the same from day to day, we are affected by the world around us, and our triggers. We are constantly in motion, and evolving.

Remind yourself how far you have come, don’t focus on today, imagine a graph, steadily rising, this is simply a blip, not a trend.

Reduce your expectations for today. So, you had planned with your new found confidence to go on a longer hack by yourself today, but that was going to be a challenge so today is not a good day to do that. Why not lead your horse round that hack instead? Or do some groundwork or give them a massage? This is not failure, it is adjusting to the circumstances, it is sensible.

Be kind, don’t beat yourself up. Don’t say things to yourself that you wouldn’t say to someone else. Look after yourself, chocolate, hot bath, early night, good book, whatever you need.

And then tomorrow, you will wake up and the world will look different, feel different and you will wonder why yesterday seemed so tricky, and then you will carry on with your day…

Mind your words…

We all know the old saying, “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me,” and we all know it’s rubbish. Words don’t break your bones, but they can break parts of your soul, which is infinitely more precious than bones.

I was reflecting on this while considering how you give advice. Do you sail in stating exactly what someone should do, pointing out all the things they are doing wrong, or do you edge around the subject, never quite actually saying what you feel, or do you take the criticism sandwich approach and slide your advice inside two compliments.

I try to do the latter (emphasis on try!). I also try not to dole out unsolicited advice as there is nothing more annoying, other than when I believe it is necessary.

The other day two people said much the same thing to me but in entirely different ways. The first delivered in a heated discussion made me defensive, and closed. The second delivered kindly with empathy during a supportive conversation made me reflect upon my behaviour and see that point of view. It’s not what you say but how you say it…

So, if you see someone doing something with their horse that you think could be dangerous, or simply just not going to work, before you sail in all guns blazing consider how to approach it. For example someone is trying to load their horse on a slippy yard with lots of shouting. You could sail in with “don’t be stupid that’s not how you do it!” or you could say “horses that don’t load are really tricky, I had a horse that didn’t load, shall we help you move your trailer to an easier space and get some treats and stuff?”

You still might not get anywhere with the second approach, but you certainly increase your chances of having some chance of the person considering your suggestions.

So remember be careful with your words, for while they may not like sticks break bones, they can like arrows, wound.

Not just a hobby…

You probably view your horses as a hobby, or an indulgence, but it is not that many years ago that the skills of being able to ride, or drive or to look after a horse would be crucial to your survival. In the pre-car age horses were used extensively, both as a mode of transport and as part of your working team. It was only through the mass arrival of the motorcar that horses became obsolete.

But, if the predicted oil demise happens before the technology that will enable electric cars to become a genuine alternative happens, how else could you get around? By horse. Wouldn’t that be great? You could ride to work on your horse, along empty roads (there’s no fuel left in my scenario!) and tether him in your work’s unused car park…

Suddenly the horse would no longer be a luxury or an inconvenience, but would be an asset and your skills would be essential. Get your driving skills going, grab yourself a carriage and some harness and you are ready to go into business…horse drawn taxi service anyone?

I know this is unlikely, but the idea of living in a world where we all traveled by foot, bike or horse, just seems better…slower…but better. So the next time someone makes a comment about how you are wasting your time and money on horses, just tell them it’s an investment in the future! It might not be true, but it will probably shut them up and leave you free to imagine a world where all the roads are filled with the clip clop of horses hooves, rather than the endless roar of cars.

Photo credit Simon Palmer

Here comes Autumn!

I’m just starting to feel the first chill of Autumn in the air. I love Autumn, and here are our top five things to do with your horse in the autumn.

1 – Look back at this year and look forward to the next one. We are so busy doing and being, and paying bills, and working, and riding and, and, and that we forget to take a moment to pause and reflect. Autumn is a great time to just take a moment and think about your achievements throughout the year, and maybe to consider some goals that you have for the forthcoming year.

2 – Learning. As the evening begin to draw in, and daylight hours start to slip away, it becomes harder and harder to spend hours in the saddle. However, it does become much easier to sit inside and read a book or watch a DVD! Take some time to improve your knowledge, not even necessarily about horses, expanding your knowledge is fantastic for your brain and yourself in general. “Understanding Horse Performance Brain, Pain, or Training?” is our highly recommended book and DVD.

3 – Massaging your horse. One of our favourite things to do with our horses when we cannot ride them. Massage is enjoyable for both horse and owner, and can really help improve your bond with your horse. Horse Massage for Horse Owners is a great place to start.

4 – Enjoy the Autumn colours. We love Autumn, the changing leaves and landscape can be startlingly beautiful. Make some time to get out in it and enjoy it. If you can’t ride, take your horse for a walk with you.

5 – Carrot or baited stretches. Another lovely way to spend time with your horse, both improving your bond, and helping him to stay flexible and mobile. Check out the brilliant book and DVD “Activate your horse’s core.” Remember carrot stretches are not appropriate for all horses, and stay safe.

Enjoy Autumn with your horses!

Making the best of it

“It’s not about the cards you’re dealt, but how you play the hand.”

This quote is one of my favorite ones, it’s just so true. You can’t change what family you are born into, your physical characteristics, your innate nature (to a degree!). Accidents happen, terrible things happen, and sometimes wonderful things happen, incredible opportunities arise, but it is how you react that determines how your life will be.

It is a great quote to think of when everything seems to be going wrong, or when people around you seem to have more luck than you. Remember they have just been dealt a different hand of cards, they probably have struggles you cannot even imagine, we have no idea.

Some people seem to have everything, their life seems to be effortless, they were always standing in the right place at the right, but it is also what they did when standing there that counts. Other people might not have capitalised on the same opportunity in the same way.

Every encounter you have can be an opportunity, can represent a door opening, or it can simply be an encounter. It’s down to your perception. The next time you think, “why does that always happen to them?” think, “I wonder what they do to enable that to happen?”

Doors open all around us, but sometimes we are too blinkered to see them. Make sure you open your eyes, be brave, be fearless, say yes, see what happens. And maybe nothing good seems to come your way, but don’t forget to keep looking, so that if it does, you don’t miss it.

Your life may not be how you pictured it, but it doesn’t mean it can’t be wonderful and fulfilling, and happy. Sometimes we have to let go of our fixed views and embrace the uncertainty.


My horse won’t canter on the left lead…

Your horse can only communicate his distress or discomfort to you via his behaviour. It is very unlikely that he is being “naughty” by not cantering on the left lead when he will do so on the right lead. Horses, in general, do not wake up in the morning thinking of ways to wind you up.

If your horse cannot canter on either leg, then he is most likely confused about the canter aid, and will need more training in order to help him to understand. But if he can canter on one leg but not the other, the problem is most likely to be physical.

Our horses, like us, can be stronger on one side than the other, so it is easier to pick up one canter than the other. Or there could be weakness or pain that is preventing him from picking up the correct lead.

Equally, it is worth checking with yourself that you are asking for the canter aid in the correct way on both reins and are not inadvertently confusing him.

Start by watching your horse walk and trot away and towards you in hand, and see if you can see any difference in movement between the right and the left side. Carrot stretches to both the left and right are a good way to see any imbalance between the two sides, making sure you stay safe while performing them. It can be advisable to seek professional advice, either a physiotherapist or similar, will be able to assess and treat your horse. They should be able to offer exercises to help you and your horse.

Once you are confidence that your horse is physically able to carry out what you are asking, you should find that he is happy to canter on both leads. There may be some initial reluctance as your horse may remember that it used to be uncomfortable, but this should soon pass, as he realises that he is now capable of cantering on the left and the right.

When should you interfere?

I was walking my dog the other day and passed a boy and his mother on the track. The boy was not wearing a bike hat. My cousin was in an induced coma for 2 weeks over Christmas some years ago, after falling from a horse wearing a hat without a safety harness. He survived, mainly due to the incredible team at Stoke hospital, but the accident has left its mark.

Consequently, I’m a bit of a fan of hats! But back to the boy on the bike. I didn’t stop and say anything, but afterwards I felt as though I should have. Yes, they were only pootling along on a soft track, but that is all it takes.

Here are some statistics from America (you can read the full report here) on the use of hats whilst cycling in children:

Without proper protection, a fall of as little as two feet can result in a skull fracture or other TBI.
Approximately 50 percent of U.S. children between 5- and 14-years-old own a helmet, and only 25 percent report always wearing it while bicycling.
Universal use of bicycle helmets by children ages 4 to 15 could prevent 45,000 head injuries.
Helmets reduce the risk of head injury by at least 45 percent, brain injury by 33 percent, facial injury by 27 percent and fatal injury by 29 percent.

So, should you interfere? I would stop if I saw a child on a pony without a hat, so why didn’t I stop for the biking child? Though it is illegal for a child to ride on the road without a hat; “The Horses (Protective Headgear for Young Riders) Act 1990 requires children under 14
years old to wear protective helmets when riding a horse on the road.” Our perception of biking must be that it is safer than riding a horse, but the statistics list cycling as the number one sport to cause head injuries, with horse riding coming in at number 11.

With hindsight I think I will say something, I would rather annoy someone, than turn around and see their child plummet to the ground, hitting their head on a stone.

The difference between sympathy and empathy

Someone has fallen down a well. Sympathy stands above the well and calls down: “How awful! I’m so sorry for you!” Empathy climbs down into the well and says: “It’s dark down here, that must be hard for you.” Indifference says: “I don’t have a well. That will never happen to me.”

Strikes a chord? How many times have we turned to someone for support but not elicited the response we had hoped for, and ended up feeling hurt. Often this is unintentional. Empathy is tricky, but like many things it is a skill, and it can be learned, improved on and mastered. Empathy, is one of the reasons that we search around for other people who have had the same experiences as we had, so that they “get it”. Don’t get me wrong, sympathy is a million times preferable to indifference, but if you can master it, empathy is the skill to aspire towards. I use the “well” scenario if I need guidance with how to react to someone else’s distress or problem.

Imagine that you are struggling to load your horse. Frustrated by your efforts, you turn to someone on your yard. You could get a variety of responses.

“Well my horse loads.”

“How awful.”

“It’s difficult when horses don’t load, I have had one that didn’t load. That must be a concern for you.”

Which response is the best? The third one! If you then want advice turn to that person.

Remember that this applies the other way round, so if someone comes to you with a problem, try and respond with empathy. Even if, to you, their problem seems small, or easily solvable, simply responding to someone with kindness and empathy can go a long way towards making that person feel supported and heard.