Stepping outside the box

It is very easy to simply do the same thing that we have always done. Whether it be the same exercises in the school or following the same route out hacking. It is all too easy to become entrenched in our habits. Stepping outside the box can give you fresh insight and a different perspective into your riding and your relationship with your horse.

Do you always work your horse in the school through the same set of exercises and through the same paces in the same order? For examples, lots of us begin in walk before progressing through trot work, and then finally to canter. Why not try working the canter before the trot? It can have the effect of opening the trot up and can be beneficial.

Or if you find that your horse seems a little stale, try going around the block in the opposite direction that you usually go. Suddenly, it will seem like a whole fresh new hack. Or you could try leading your horse around your usual walk. Both of you will gain a new perspective from doing that, and work in hand will always help your ridden relationship.

It is so easy to do the same things over and over, but sometimes it is good to set yourself a challenge and step outside of your comfort zone. It doesn’t have to be a competition or a huge challenge, it could be taking your horse to a different venue to school him or meeting up with a friend to go for a hack. Or going for an all-day hack (check your weather forecast first!) Whatever you choose to do that is different from your everyday routine will give you a new experience.

Every time we try something new, we learn something. It may simply be that we learn not to do that again! But trying out new things is good for us and our horses. Experiences can always be put towards learning, so that our knowledge and understanding increases.

Girthing issues?

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.

Top 5 tips for riding in a collecting ring

We are all feeling a little ring rusty after our prolonged period of box rest, and probably over-excited to be out and about again! So in case anyone needs a bit of a re-fresh, here are our top 5 tips for riding safely and responsibly in a collecting ring.

Top 5 Tips:

Pass left to left – the oldest and simplest of the rules. Always pass left to left when working on the outer track. If you struggle with left and right, write an “L” and an “R” on the back of your gloves.

Walk on an inner track – this allows riders travelling at a faster speed to continue around the outside, without you getting in their way. Likewise when transitioning down to a walk check there is not someone cantering up behind you, who might not be prepared for you to slow down.

Do not block the entrance – simple courtesy mainly, but also horse can often nap leaving or entering the collecting ring or arena, so it basic safety to keep it clear for people who may be having a difficult time persuading their horse to enter or exit.

Look up! – do not ride round staring down. Firstly it will tip your centre of gravity forwards, causing your shoulders to round and straining your neck, and secondly you cannot see where you are going! Simply being observant while riding with others will make you safer in the arena. It is always good to notice that there is a horse out of control at the other end, giving you plenty of time to come back to a walk and calm your own horse down.

Red flag on right, white flag on left – if there are flags on jumps, be sure to follow this rule, thereby preventing head on collisions. Do not cross in front of jumps without being very sure that no-one is approaching and certainly do not loiter around in front of the jumps.

If everyone can follow these tips for good arena and collecting ring use, we will all have a more enjoyable time. Remember a smile goes a long way, riding and competing are meant to be fun! Also, we are all human, mistakes happen. It is very easy to get engrossed in what we are doing and forget to look around and nearly crash. But most people will be forgiving as long as you apologise. A simple “sorry” goes a long way and can prevent a small incident escalating into a massive row. Do put a green ribbon on a young horse, and a red ribbon on a kicker, so that other people are aware of your horse’s behaviour. If we all act responsibly and politely we will all enjoy ourselves.

How to bomb proof 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.

The importance of confidence on the ground

When I remember competing as a child, my primary emotion is one of anxiety. Even now I can feel my heart race, my stomach chewing over on itself, and my mouth sticky with fear. I was a nervous child, an anxious competitor and my horse was bargy on the ground. My anxiety around competitions would kick in the day before, as I contemplated the day ahead. Every part of the day was a source of anxiety from the grooming, the plaiting, the loading, the tacking up, the mounting, to the actual test. Such was the behaviour of my horse that the entire day became a mountain to overcome. My mother would on occasion trail round the show ground until she found a strong man to help with my horse.

As an adult, I now look back on that scenario with slight disbelief. No-one ever suggested that I could improve my horse’s behaviour on the ground, my trainers were focused on my ridden results, my mother simply accepted that that was how the horse behaved, and as a child I didn’t realise that I could strongly influence his behaviour. As an adult, I would take young horses to shows and spend most the day teaching them to stand quietly in the car park, the collecting ring, and only once I had taught them that lesson in however many trips it took, would I ever compete them.

In hindsight, there was so much we could have done. Just following some the basic tips such as teaching him to stand at the end of a 12ft line quietly, would probably have solved the problem. Or asking an instructor or professional for help. Confidence on the ground would have helped me with my anxiety turning the show days into ones filled with fun rather than panic.

Feeling confident on the ground gives one a “safe place” to return to. If you are scared on the ground as well as while mounted, the only position of safety is when the day is over and experiencing that level of anxiety for a whole day has a severe impact on your adrenal system. If you are already at the limit of your capabilities for processing your adrenalin, you are then going to struggle when your levels are topped up by standard competition nerves.

By teaching our horses to behave on the ground and by increasing our own confidence on the ground, we build a better foundation for our ridden work. If we are confident on the ground, and we become worried whilst riding, we can always dismount and regain our confidence, but if we are fearful on the ground, how can we expect to be confident on our horse? All good things are built on good foundations, from houses to horses…. make sure the foundations of your relationship with your horse are good, so that you can turn your anxiety into anticipation and your panic into pleasure.

Book Review Animal Osteopathy Part 3

Continuing from the previous two book reviews, (click here if you have missed part 1 and part 2) we turn our attention to livestock and reptiles. Again, the insights into the treatment of both of these diverse groups is incredible. I had never considered the treatment of cattle or sheep, nor indeed the treatment of snakes. But one of the most striking things that I have learnt from this book, is how by understanding the structure of a species you can apply osteopathy to any animal.

 

Generally it is not considered financially viable to treat livestock using osteopathy, but there are rare breed farmers who need to ensure the maximum health of their breeding stock, as well as those animals kept as pets, from llamas to pigs. All these animals are capable of injuring themselves running round in their fields, and can all benefit from being treated, if you can manage to get near them! Treating livestock rather than pets brings up a whole host of issue, as they are not “tame” and are not used to be handled in the same way that a dog or horse is. However just like their domestic counterparts they too can benefit hugely from treatment.

 

Reptiles are a whole other ballgame, and indeed there is no other known literature on the osteopathic treatment of reptiles, so if you are reptile fan, then this will be of special interest to you. There are excellent descriptions of how to approach different types of reptiles, such as stroking tortoises under the chin to encourage them to stretch their necks out, as well as how to correctly hold snakes.

 

The descriptions of how to treat the different reptiles along with amazing photos are eye-opening. I particularly liked the pictures of a tortoise receiving treatment, it looked very happy! I had a far greater understanding of the differences in body structure and functions after reading this, and despite not having a specific interest in reptiles, nonetheless, I found this chapter absolutely fascinating!

It’s too hot!

It’s too hot…I struggle in the heat, my brain hurts, I can’t do what I usually do and have to change my day around so that I do all the outside things early and late rather than during the day as I usually do. Flexibility, that skill that is so important at the moment, becomes even more important during hot weather.

Flexibility, the ability to adapt easily to changing circumstances, is, I think, one of the most important skills that we can learn. I think they should teach children flexibility in school rather than some of the things that they seem to spend their time doing. That would be a far more useful lesson, than how an oxbow lake is formed (literally the only lesson I can remember from geography at school, and has had no practical application ever in my life, whereas mental flexibility I need every day and have never been taught!)

At the moment we need flexibility every day, every hour, as the world and our circumstances change in a kaleidoscope of chaos. Applying flexibility to our horses is just as important as applying flexibility to our own lives. If you bring your horse out to school him and you had planned to a particular exercise that your trainer had given you, it is important to make sure that that exercise is relevant for this day. If it is an exercise to stop your horse rushing, but your horse is very sluggish when you try to school him that day, the exercise is no longer relevant. It is better to think of a new exercise than simply to carry on with the other exercise, because that was what you had planned.

So the next time you come out to ride, make sure you are responding to how your horse is today, and training him from there, rather than simply following your plan. People change, horses change, we need to be flexible to adapt to what is before us.

Book review – Animal Osteopathy by Tony Nevin – part 2

Following on from our previous book review (click here if you missed part 1!) of this incredible book, we take a look at the chapter on horses. This has been written by an impressive collection of professionals; Chris Colles, Tony Nevin, Brendan Atkin, Julia Brooks, David Gutteridge and the wealth of experience shows.

 

I was particularly struck by the understanding of how the different professionals needed to operate together, and the inter-dependency of those professionals, including farriers and saddlers. The horse varies from the other animals in this book as it is usually a performance animal, so the expectation is higher. For example, your pet dog may be fine if it recovers 70% of movement in its leg, whereas horses tend to need recover 100% in order to be able to perform. You probably can’t achieve unless you work together as a team.

 

There is a section on different injuries that your horse can obtain and their corresponding rates of recovery, which while fascinating, is not a good read if you are nervous about vets’ bills! Joking aside, the clarity in prognosis is very useful, as it is better to fully understand the likelihood of recovery and to what level before one begins on rehabilitation.

 

The section about how to treat a horse is a must-read for anyone who is considering osteopathy as a career or indeed any related bodywork type training, such as massage or physio. The description on how to clearly assess and work with the horse and owner will be invaluable to your career. Even if it is not something you are considering training to do, if you have a horse this is well worth a read. If you understand what a professional is meant to be doing when they come and treat your horse, then you can assess whether they are competent even if it is not your field of expertise.

 

The insight into treating horses whilst sedated is fascinating, especially the description of how the “feel” of a sedated horse varies from an un-sedated one. Should you ever be in the position of having to discuss this with your vet and osteopath you will remarkably well informed and will understand why and what they are doing.

 

As before, this book is very engaging, regardless of whether or not you are a professional. It is readable by a lay person, you don’t need a science degree to understand it, but the insight gained will be invaluable to you as a horse owner.

Keep your eyes peeled for the 3rd installment of our book review, and if you can’t wait, order your copy of Animal Osteopathy today!

 

Book review – Animal Osteopathy by Tony Nevin – Part 1

This is a fascinating book, full of contributions from an incredible array of highly respected people from the field of animal osteopathy. Tony Nevin, famous for his work on elephants, was one of the brilliant contributors to Sue Palmer’s excellent book Understanding Horse Performance, Brain, Pain or Training.

Animal Osteopathy is split into chapters for different species of animal, and the chapters are written by different contributors dependent upon their specialty. Whilst one might except to only be interested in the animals that one is already interested in, for example dogs and horses, actually the other chapters are equally as fascinating. I particularly found the chapter on small furries, including rabbits, rats and guinea pigs, completely riveting, having never considered that you would be able to treat such a small animal using osteopathy.

This book is a must for anyone who is considering a career in animal osteopathy, or indeed other related fields, such as physio or equine massage. It will only serve to increase your knowledge and open your eyes to the extent of what you can do with the skills you want to learn.

Equally anyone who is interested in what their osteopath is doing to their animals will find this book engrossing and absorbing. While there are sections of detailed scientific descriptions, these are well-written and can be understood and enjoyed by non-professionals. Many books veer between being too scientific for lay people to understand and too simplistic for those with a basic working knowledge of the subject. This book rides a good line between the two, which is a difficult thing to do!

The difference and similarities between the species is discussed which is eye-opening. I had never considered the difference in body mass to skeleton size across the species before, and it certainly increased my understanding of the different species of animals.

This book is far too large and impressive to be discussed in just one book review, so keep your eyes peeled for the next installment! Or if it has already tickled your fancy, click here to buy!

Back to basics…

Starting again, often means going back to basics. You might groan internally at the thought of going back to simply practicing walk to trot transitions, but those basics are the building blocks for everything that follows after. If you can’t ride a nice, smooth, responsive walk to trot transition how will you be able to ride a good trot to canter transition? If you can’t ride a good square halt, will you be able to independently move your horses’ legs in lateral work?

If you have started your horse again, you might feel as though you have slithered all the way down the snakes to the very beginning of the game, but those basics are imperative. Time spent on the basics, make the advanced work so much easier. Anything we build up from houses to horses rely on good foundations.

This time we have all experienced, this period of retreat has enabled many of us to go back to basics. It has allowed us the time to start over, to remember things we had forgotten about. Though it may have been uncomfortable, and unpleasant for some people, for others it has given them the time to reconnect, to go back to basics.

Sometimes we over-complicate our lives by forgetting about the basics, and we can do the same with our horses. For both of us, the basics are important. After all there is no use learning Mandarin, if you have forgotten how to kind. It is fantastic is your horse can do a flying change, but it is really of no use, if you can’t do a good canter transition in the first place.

Tricks are impressive, we all get blown away by a flashy trot or a person who can speak 10 languages. But in reality the transition that gets one into the flashy trot is more important than the flashiness. And speaking 10 languages is of no use if you can’t be kind in any of them…