How horses can be part of the problem…

Horses are wonderful. They can be brilliant for our mental health, giving us a bond without falseness, a language without words, and a chance to find ourselves in the souls of our horses. However, for some people, and in some circumstances, horses can be part of the problem rather than the solution.

Bullying on yards has not gone unreported in the equestrian media, I’m sure we have all witnessed incidents, to a greater or lesser degree. While there are many incredible yards, where you can mix with supportive and helpful peers, there are some that are more problematic. Loneliness and isolation can occur when we are surrounded by people, and indeed to feel lonely in a crowd is a peculiarly sorrowful state.

Feeling that we are on a different path to the others in our yard can leave us feeling inadequate or alone. In an ideal world, we respect the path that others are taking, but sadly in practise this rarely happens. You may enjoy walking your horse out in hand, and derive great pleasure from that bond that you have created. Your neighbour may be fiercely competitive and gain satisfaction from beating other people. It can mar our own pleasure to have scorn poured down on us.

If you are lucky enough to be able to keep your horses at home, or on your own land, you are spared having to deal with the judgement of others. However, you are stuck around the schedule of your horses and may be forced to spend longer periods of time alone than can be healthy. If you are in a good place mentally, being alone can be healing, soothing, restful, and looking after your horses can be rewarding and beneficial. At some points in our lives, however, we may not in the best of states, and those feelings can quickly morph into other less desirable emotions. Being alone can feel lonely and we can begin to feel overwhelmed with the burden of responsibility for our horses.

If you think you are starting to feel isolated in the equine world, there are steps you can take to remedy this. Consider moving yards if that is possibility, though bear in mind that all yards come with their own issues. Find a like-minded friend who you can talk to, be it online, in person. They don’t even need to have a horse, just be supportive and kind. If you are struggling caring for your horses alone, consider asking someone to help. Again, weigh up the pros and cons of this, as inviting someone else into your space can cause other issues.

If you are feeling isolated with your horses, remember that other people feel like you do. Other people feel alone and lost, others feel overwhelmed and drowning in responsibility. Keep searching for these people, for your family, keep talking, keep reaching out. You will find allies in the strangest of places. Horses are meant to be a source of joy, all too often that joy can be lost, but, it can also, be found again.

Social media – friend or foe?

As so often the extent to which social media dominates our response to events has been highlighted by a crisis. The equine herpes outbreak has littered the internet, with stories rising thick and fast out of the calamities.

Social media is fantastic. It has a role to play, but as a fact finder, it is about as reliable as a bucket with a hole in it. In the “good old days” a yard would have had a disease outbreak. Gradually, through chatting, farriers and vets travelling from yard to yard, the people in the immediate vicinity would learn of this. They would then be able to take necessary precaution and the the outbreak would subside and everything would go back to normal. With social media the news travels at lighting speed. The messages become garbled,and the truth is often discarded along the way.

People, often in good faith, dole out information to others, but there is a reason that vets and scientists spend so long training…Remember, your mates hour on google, does not equal many years of scientific training. If you are ever on any doubt about what to do, please consult a vet. Most vets will offer advice on the phone if you are seeking advice on vaccinations or what do to in the event of an outbreak. Other trusted sources are the Animal Health Trust a charity, providing science and care for animals and Dr. David Marlin, a renowned scientist. You may know of others, and please use them!

We can only do the best we can, and our animals can get sick even when we act to the best of our knowledge. But remember there is no such thing as a stupid question and vets would rather you asked that question. A question may just save the life of your much-loved animal.

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.

I can see the light!

It’s coming, it’s coming! Already you can see the evenings drawing out, already I have been outside after 5pm without torches, walking on the moor in Devon. Already I am assessing the cloud cover to work out how more light we are getting this evening. Already the days are lengthening, already Spring is coming…

I am like a kid at Christmas about day length. Every day I get increasingly more excited, and tell other people how excited I am as well! A little like some people do about the snow…I go round saying, “look how light it is!” as though they haven’t noticed…

But it is amazing as the days lengthen, suddenly you can see all the hours you will have, all the fun you will have, all the evening hacks, the sunny evenings sitting on fences watching ponies, the quietness at the end of a sun-drenched day. Suddenly it unfolds in front of you, stretching out into time like a promise.

The winter is forgotten in a flash. The mud, the wind, the stumbling, sliding ground under foot, suddenly it has all gone, eradicated, disappeared, wiped out from your memories.

So here’s to the lengthening hours, here’s to daylight, here’s to riding in the natural light, after work, before work, after school. Here’s to never being inside, to no more dark evenings, to no more television, to no more watching the rain hammer down your windows. Here’s to moulting ponies, and dry gateways. Here’s to tan lines, and sweaty saddlepads. Here’s to leafy tracks and gentle grassy slopes. Here’s to sore muscles and hat hair. Here’s to summer. It’s coming, you can feel it in the aching stretch of daylight, hanging tenaciously in the air. It’s coming, it nearly here, it’s just around the corner…

(Possibly a little preemptive, but even thinking about it is cheering!)

Get ready…

It’s not that long till the season kicks off. The days are already getting longer, you are starting to look ahead towards the shows, deciding on your aims, working out your goals for the year.

Getting fit for the coming season is really important. We all tend to put on weight over the winter, the weather encouraging us to eat! Our muscle tone diminishes with reduced exercise and our general fitness level decreases. Getting ourselves fit independently of our horses is important to help our riding. Try and walk more, or go jogging to help increase your general fitness. If jogging isn’t quite your style, why not try some yoga or stretching to keep improve flexibility and muscle tone.

As well as improving our own fitness, helping our horses to improve their muscles tone and carriage is part of preventing injury. It is all too tempting to try and skip groundwork to get out competing or out for that really long hack, but the injury risk becomes higher if we miss the important basics.

The Equiband System enables the horse to build good musculoskeletal strength and facilitates the horse in flexing up through the spine. It is not a shortcut or a gimmick, but as part of a sensible and structured rehabilitation or training schedule it may help to encourage your horse to work in an optimum way.

There are no shortcuts to making you and your horse fit, but it is important to make sure that you have the best year with your horse. Time spent now on both of your fitness, will pay dividends throughout the year, so get those trainers on and start jogging! Remember pain now will bring you pleasure later, so as you’re running through the rain picture a glorious sun-filled hack for miles and miles and miles!

 

January is rubbish!

Nobody likes January, so at least you don’t have to feel alone in your dislike of the worst of the winter months. Everyone is fed-up, tired, skint. The days are short and gray. The fields muddy and windswept. Horses are skittish and spooky. Everything seems like hard work. The summer seems like a distant memory or an unimaginable future.

But all is not lost! There are ways to cope! Remember, is really isn’t that long until the weather gets better, the days get longer. February can be lovely. In no time at all you will be complaining about flies!

Take the time to sort out your tackroom, you don’t want to waste a precious sunny day on doing it. Pick a cold (not raining!) day and drag everything out, sort out rugs to be repaired, or binned! Sweep out all those little corners, make sure you have everything in the most convenient place. Think about what you use the most, what would be better on that high shelf?

If the weather is too miserable to ride, why not spend time with your horse on the ground? You can spend some time grooming, or massaging him. You can teach him tricks. You could sit in your stable (safely!) and draw him. There are endless ways you can build on your relationship with your horse without having to actually ride. Take a look at our book and DVD Horse Massage for Horse Owners for help in learning to massage.

Remember the days are getting longer, Spring will come, the grass will grow, the mud will recede, the days will get longer, your horse will settle down, your toes will stop hurting with the cold, and quite soon you will be wandering along a track on your horse in the sunshine and you will have quite forgotten about the misery of the winter.

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.