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…

Falling in love…

For various reasons (all of which are within the Government guidelines for what you are allowed to do during this time) my 8 year old daughter has spent some of the latter part of the lockdown on a dressage yard with the wonderful Leonie Brown of Daneswood Dressage learning about horses from mucking out, grooming to riding. Okay, so maybe we haven’t done much formal learning, but how many other lessons has she learnt during this time? This is her description of this time…

“Because I have ridden for a little every day, sometimes more than once a day, I have got better much quicker than just riding occasionally. I have ridden Tom and Nelson, I have hacked Nelson and I have been practicing a dressage test with Tom and Nelson. I used to be scared of trotting but now I am not.

I have learnt to tack up, put their saddles on, and their rugs on. I can put a headcollar on. I take the Shetlands for lead rein hacks and run so that they can trot.I helped Leonie do flag work with her horse Quince.

I comb them and brush them. I gave Tom a bath, this was my first time. I liked it. I can fetch all the horses in from the field. I can poo pick. We have electric fencing so the horses can’t get out. I have to wake up really early to go to the yard, I get really sleepy! I am getting much fitter, my muscles are getting stronger.

I am now in love with horses, but my two favorite are Tom and Nelson. I would like to run a yard when I am older, because I like being with horses. I went on my first hack in this lockdown and this is my favorite thing to do with horses.”

Here is a video of Amy’s first hack – click here!

Children are remarkable, they will remember the good parts of the lockdown, they will remember the things they learnt, the experiences they might not have had, they won’t see what we see. You are all doing an amazing job!

The importance of being outside…

I love being outside. Don’t get me wrong I am very grateful that I have a house and love going inside at the end of the day. But being outside is wonderful. Other European countries have had far more severe lockdowns than we have experienced with many not allowed to go outside at all. Without the ability to go outside, my mental health would have been shattered.

It has been long know about the restorative properties of a walk. Sad, go for a walk. Angry, go for walk. Bored, go for a walk. Confused, go for a walk. Walking improves mental health, reduces blood pressure, improves fitness, reduces stress. Walking is the wonder drug we are always searching for and it is free.

Part of the joy of walking is the exercise part, but part of the joy is being outside. Don’t simply stay cooped up inside four walls. Just popping your head out of the door will help. We shouldn’t simply sit all day slumped in front of a screen. Even brief periods of standing up and stretching make a huge difference.

We are now allowed to go out more than once a day, if we want. Remember everyone is different. Some people are happy with a short walk once a day, other like nothing better than a dog walk, a bike ride and a run all in one day. If you think your neighbor seems to be going a bit overboard, imagine how cooped up they felt before.

We all have different limits, different sticking points, different absolutes. We all respond to the same situation in different ways, our tolerances vary. However, we can all benefit from the healing powers of a walk. So make sure that you take one. No matter how terrible you feel at the beginning of the walk. You will almost certainly feel better by the end.

Steady does it…

You know that wonderful moment when you first get back on your horse after they have been off work. Yes, that one… You want to get on, ride all day, gallop across every field, half-pass from corner to corner, do endless simple changes, jump every fence…but you can’t, can you.

And neither will we be able to. The lockdown restrictions won’t just disappear and the world will snap back to how it once was. They will gradually relax, gradually we will have more freedom, more liberty, more opportunities. We have to be patient, almost I suspect, more patient than before. After all the self-control required to simply ride your horse for 5 mins after not being able to ride for 6 weeks of box rest, is far greater than simply not riding at all.

When you are rehabbing a horse after injury, or box-rest, you start with walking, then gradually introduce a few trot steps,and then a little more trotting and then a few strides of canter. You build up the time minute by minute and the energy levels each day and in time you are able to do everything you want.

But if you miss out the painstaking steps of building fitness and stamina for fleeting pleasure, your fitness has no longevity, it will let you down, you will re-injure, you must take it steady, you must build up gradually. Then in time you will be galloping across that field, attending that show, jumping those fences or simply hacking down a dappled country track.

And we must do the same. If we run around like lunatics doing everything we run the risk of putting ourselves back to square one, and that would not be a good thing! But if we build slowly, follow the advice, we should be able to rebuild our “fitness” and soon be out and about enjoying the world again…

It’s okay to just be surviving…

There are so many stories of how people are doing wonderful things. From Captain Tom Moore raising over £30 million for the NHS, to children learning to sew to make headbands for care givers. From your neighbour who talks about how this time has made her recreate her childhood with board games and blanket forts, to your friend who has started to learn Mandarin…

I am not diminishing from anyone’s achievements and I am blown away by the level of community spirit that has risen around us during this crisis. However, if you are struggling, then seeing other people’s achievements can sometimes just feel like a criticism. If you are floundering around, struggling from day to day, spending your time trying to control the waves of panic breaking over you, threatening to drown you and you are managing to still breathe, then you are doing amazingly.

It is just as incredible to manage to carry on breathing if you are in the midst of a panic attack, as it is to raise money for charity. We are all different and we all have different responses to the same thing. Some people rush round being busy, others retreat to bed. Our experiences are unique to us.

If you are just concentrating on existing, you are doing an amazing job. Don’t feel peer pressure to be bettering yourself during this time. We may all be in the same storm, but we are all in different boats. Some people’s boats may be big, sturdy, seaworthy and well stocked with food and love. Other people’s boats may be small and leaking and it is simply taking all their time to bail out the water as quickly as it comes in, they only have the time to stay afloat. They only have the energy to survive…