Stuck at home?

I am sure that you all feel, like I do, that we are stuck in some very bad movie. And it is really hard to think, or concentrate, or try and work out what to do. But the sun still rises, horses still want their breakfast, we still go out and listen to the birds. Some parts of life still trundle onwards.

Above all it is vital that we stay safe, and we do our utmost to continue to care for our horses. But these are unprecedented times, adaptability and flexibility are key to managing this period of time.

Make contingency plans. Are your horses at home? Are they at a livery yard? If they are at a livery, what are you going to if you have to self-isolate? Ask for help. Remember people want to help. In times of crisis people feel better if they can help others. Offer to help others. If you are going to yard anyway can do muck out for someone else? Can you turn out for someone who has very bad asthma and has been told to stay at home?

If you can get to your horse, what are you going to do? If you usually would be preparing for the competition season, why not find another aim? There are lots of virtual shows popping up which look like great fun! Or why not plan some lovely hacks? Explore an area you wouldn’t usually go to? Trainers are still teaching, either in person, or virtually. So if there is something you want to master, that elusive shoulders-in for example, why not give yourself that as a goal?

Setting ourselves challenges and goals gives us motivation and helps us to deal with periods of uncertainty. So even if they were not the goals you wanted to work towards, a sense of purpose is still useful. Or pick something entirely different. Maybe you normal do showing, well not try and teach your horse to bow? Think outside the box, there are endless things we can do with our horses even if we can’t ride them, or compete them. To be honest just hugging them is great!

 

Should you stay or should you go?

The ongoing conversation that seem to be having with people is whether or not they should stop doing things because of the Coronavirus. This is a tricky one. The FEI is in close discussions with Japan over Tokyo 2020, imagine training for the Olympics, you are healthy, your horse is sound, you’ve been selected, and then it is cancelled. It puts your decision about whether to attend an event into perspective!

Like with everything I suspect the best advice is to be sensible. Government advice is to wash your hands often, to stay away from people who seem obviously ill, and to stay home if you are unwell. The PM has confirmed that sick pay will be paid from the first day that you are off sick, as long as you meet the qualifying criteria.

So should you go to that show you have been working towards? You need to weigh up the risks. Are you likely to come into close contact with people? Probably not. Are the people at the show likely to have come from overseas? Probably not, as they have spent all their money on their horses! If you have been training but consider it unwise to venture out too much in public, why not enter an online dressage test? Check out Dressage 4 All! 

The scientists are hoping that if they can delay the outbreak till the summer months, that the impact will be far less than if it had hit in the depths of winter. The other main consideration is who do you come into close contact with? Do you look after an elderly relative? Or do you ride horses for someone who is critically ill? Think about who else may be affected if you were to catch it and act accordingly. We can’t tell what will happen, the analysts have a variety of predictions ranging in severity, but no-one really knows. So, sit tight, be sensible and wash your hands!

Asking the right people

Asking for advice is a very sensible step, but it can go wrong. If you ask the wrong questions you will get the wrong advice, but also if you ask the wrong people you will get the wrong advice. Well, not necessarily wrong, but not the right advice for you.

So, a head teacher that I know was looking for a new computer system. He had not found out what systems the schools near him were using, he had gone to the best schools in the area and found out what they were using. It wasn’t the most expensive system, but it certainly was the best. His logic was that a great school would have a great system and the same applies to yards.

If you want to know which physio to use, ask the people who are doing well. If you want to know which trainer to go to, ask the people who ride beautifully or horses look so happy. People like being asked, they like giving advice. Just make sure that it is the right advice for you.

If you aren’t even sure where to start, look around, listen, and find people who seem to be having a nice time with their horses. That lady smiling as she hacks down the lane. That lady beaming as she trots down the centre line of her dressage test. After all it is meant to be fun! Or look for people with a similar type of horse. If you have a gorgeous stocky cob, ask other people with gorgeous stocky cobs, rather than flighty arabs. Advice needs to be for you and your needs, so spend time not only working out what question to ask, but also who to ask. Then you stand a reasonable chance of the advice that you are given, being useful for you.

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.

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.

Re-use, recycle, reduce…

For anyone who has tried to live a more eco-friendly life, you will know that it is not easy! However, there are great businesses out there who have put together eco-friendly ranges of products to make your life easier.

The other aspect of trying to life a more eco-friendly life is changing your outlook. Re-use, recycle, reduce…the key is in the reduce. How many things that we buy do we really need? Do you need another girth? (Your horse, not you!) Or are you buying it because you want to? We live in a society that encourages consumerism, that teaches you that you need more. You don’t. Think before you buy, simply buying less means you are living a more eco-friendly life. If you have to buy, buy good products that will last and less of them. Yes, they are more expensive, but they last longer…

Re-use…if you have finished using something for its original purpose look around and think what else you can use it for. I’ve seen old feed bags remade into tote bags, and there literally hundreds of ideas for re-purposing plastic containers on the internet. Let your imagination run wild!

If you have exhausted all available uses for your item, rather than simply slinging it in the bin to go to landfill, see if you can recycle it. Lots more products can be recycled than simply what you can put in your household recycling bin. It can a bit of research, but if it is something you use regularly (like a feed supplement) it is worth working out the most eco-friendly way to dispose of the container.

Every little bit helps, nobody can be perfect, but if everyone tries to do something small, it can add up to a massive change. So remember, re-use, recycle, reduce…

My journey…part 2…

By Amy Craske

To that end, I am part of a team of volunteers from a remarkably diverse variety of backgrounds and experiences, all hoping to share that experience with the next generation. The Pony Club will initially be based online, to make it truly accessible, aiming to eventually partner with accredited Pony Club venues who share the compassionate Concordia ethos.

The website will have quizzes, games and activities to complete, and a wealth of educational material made both in-house and by some of our partner organisations such as The Equitopia Center. We are hoping to cover many of the subjects missing from the existing traditional children’s organisations, and take a much closer look at areas such as equine ethology and ideal habitats, which are often glossed over. We are also hoping to give a greater focus to areas of horsemanship that the non-competitive rider may be more interested in, and indeed for those children who choose not to ride at all.

The Club will also have a range of achievement certificates and awards, again covering a much wider area than traditional pony club groups, aiming again to make sure that there is something for everyone; higher levels for older children who want to specialise in a particular area, and simple challenges for younger children wanting to learn basic principles. The educational material we will provide will be, wherever possible and if relevant, backed up by the best available research.

Rather than follow any one particular method, we intend to be inclusive of all methods which have the pony’s best interests at heart. We most of all want to encourage children to THINK about what they are doing with their horses and ponies, to follow their consciences, and to decide for themselves which paths to follow. The website is currently under construction, and we are now beginning the mammoth task of creating the educational material to go in it – a bit daunting, especially finding the time around jobs and families, but I’m sure this is going to be an incredibly rewarding task!

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Image: by Florian van Duyn via Unsplash

Hello and welcome!

We like to help other people share their ideas and thoughts, which is why we always try and have guest bloggers, as well as our own blogs. So we are delighted to introduce Amy who will be a regular guest blogger for us here at Ethical Horse Products.

 

Hello horse fans! Nice to meet you. I’m Amy, and I’ve been riding since I was 5, had ponies since I finally nagged my non-horsey parents into submission at 13 and worked with them on and off most of my life. I’ll happily admit in my youth I was a ‘limpet’ who would get on anything, and give it a smack and a kick if it didn’t comply; when I got my own and tried to use these tactics with a horse I was also trying to build a relationship with, I started to think about the way we do things with horses a bit more critically.

I moved on to working for a couple of dealers/show producers and that solidified my unease; a lot of force, gadgets and over riding of permanently stabled, weak and overweight youngsters put me right off the horse industry. I knew I wasn’t happy with the way things were done but didn’t have the confidence or knowledge to challenge it.

I found Intelligent Horsemanship which showed me alternatives for communicating with and training our horses were out there, and encouraged me to consider things from the horse’s perspective. A few years ago I also found Ride With Your Mind and Mary Wanless, which helped me solve some long-standing problems with my riding. It has also helped me in my teaching, giving me a method to help solve some of the problems I could see but struggled to change.

I am now studying with Mary, although I am not yet an accredited teacher. I now work at a local riding school in Norfolk  a few days a week alongside Heather Cook, an accredited RWYM coach, and teach freelance which I love. To be honest I happily steal tactics and ideas from anyone who has ethics and welfare as their top priority! I especially enjoy working with people to improve or repair their relationships with their horses, and encouraging them to learn how their horses think; I also love working with people new to horses, as it is lovely to foster in other people the same love for horses I have had since the first time I saw a pony!!

Having educated myself about horse psychology and ethology, learning theory, and the natural habitats equines are adapted for, I am amazed how little of this is covered by the traditional equine educational organisations. I try to use this knowledge and experience to help people solve groundwork and handling issues, and I also do quite a lot of clipping and trimming, aiming for the horse’s experience to be as pleasant and stress-free as possible.

My true passion and goal is to encourage people to have a real sense of empathy for their horses, and perhaps by extension other humans too! I started blogging almost as a way to try and get some of the thousands of thoughts about horses and horse training that spin through my head on a daily basis into some sort of order, as much for myself as to explain myself to others. I’m hoping it will also help me find other horse geeks to discuss things with!

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Why we need good foundations

I wrote a blog a few weeks ago – “Why we need good foundations” I was touched to be contacted by a lady who said how much this had helped her when she had hit a bump during her journey with her horse. Much of what we write, we send out into the world hoping that it may help someone, but not knowing whether it actually does. So it is lovely to receive feedback from a reader.

Amy has shared her story with us here:

‘Why we need good foundations’ 

The link to this blog popped into my inbox at just the right time. I was beating myself up over the first big mistake I’ve made with my little project pony Lola, and feeling very thankful it hadn’t ended badly. I felt so stupid, and like I’d let her down. Lola is a very green seven year old, who I bought from a friend who just didn’t have time for her – she has been backed but not particularly well, or handled much in general. This meant she was showing some physical and behavioural issues. So, I have been trying to take her right back to basics and restart her, alongside treatment and exercises from an ACPAT physio. We have been a bit limited, due to me having a grass round pen – mostly doing groundwork and long reining in walk as the ground was so hard. But…I finally got another companion pony to keep her fieldmate company, so we could go out. I’d taken her out in hand, for which she was relaxed and impeccably behaved, and out long reining in the pen and round the edges of her paddock was getting really soft and responsive. So I decided with a helper to go out and long rein in the 50 or so acre pea field behind us. She was so relaxed that I got rather cocky…I decided to ask my helper to unclip her rope from her head so I could drop some trot work in a large circle, which was fabulous for about 30 seconds until she shot off, panicked and spun around, meaning the long reins had wrapped around her legs and I had to drop them, and she then disappeared into the distance!! Luckily she only went along the fence boundaries and after the longest 5 minutes of my life, including a few heart stopping moments when she headed towards a road, she calmed down and headed towards my friend who calmly clipped the rope back on. I was feeling pretty fed up when I read Lizzie’s blog, and I made me decide to reevaluate my attitude towards it; yes it was scary and worrying, but I was very lucky she was uninjured and didn’t go far, and I wanted to learn from it. So, what did it tell me? What cracks did it show up in our foundations? Well, I’d obviously asked far too much of Lola to go from the space in a round pen to a massive field and not panic; she simply didn’t know how to organise herself in that much space, or how to stay on a fairly balanced circle without the round pen walls to guide her. I also realised if only taken her out once in hand, and it was far too big a jump to long rein without the insurance of having my helper clipped on; I’d forgotten that Lola, as with many other sensitive horses I’ve worked with, struggles when being asked to cope with more than one new thing at a time. So, it’s back to repairing those foundations, doing more long reining in a secure area and more walking in hand before I venture out into a pea field again! 

 

With thanks to Amy, and if you would like to share your story with us, please email lizzie@ethicalhorseproducts.co.uk

 

I have a dream…

By Sue Palmer

No horse wakes up in the morning and thinks “Today I’m going to be naughty. Today I’m going to be deliberately difficult.” What we see as ‘problem behaviour’ is the horse’s way of asking for help.

I have a dream that one day a sore horse’s plea for help will be listened to, understood, and acted upon.

I have a dream that one day, people will ask the right questions and search for the right answers, rather than try to extinguish a behaviour with force or violence.

I have a dream that one day, horse and rider will work together in harmony to overcome difficulties, rather than fighting each other.

There’s a saying that ‘many roads lead to Rome’, and at the Ethical Horsemanship Association (EHA) there will be others sharing your journey, no matter which road you’re taking towards improving the welfare of the horse. There are sore horses in every walk of life, from happy hacker to Olympic eventer, and their language is the same, no matter what their ‘job’ is. Every horse owner I’ve every met wants the best for their horse, whether that’s to enhance his life as a ‘field ornament’, or to compete successfully in 160km endurance rides.

At EHA we are surrounded by a network of people who share these dreams, and have similar dreams of their own. The seeds of change have been planted, and they are growing throughout the world. To continue to grow, these seeds need ongoing care and attention. For these dreams to become reality, our horses need you and I to play an active part in the revolution. We must share our passion, our knowledge, our ideas and our experiences, for the love of the horse.

I see sore horses every day, and am extremely privileged to be in a position to help them directly, but to reach more horses I need your help. This is why my team and I have founded EHA, in the belief that our shared compassion can create a better world for the horse. To lead change, you need to be the change, and our horses are reliant on you to step up to the challenge.

Click here to join today