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.

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Are you confident?

By Lizzie Hopkinson


Confidence on the ground is one of the fundamentally most important areas that you can address in relation to working with your horse. Horses are unarguably potentially dangerous. “Some seemingly straightforward activities such as leading a horse out to its paddock can result in fatal kicks.” Medical Equestrian Association. While we cannot remove all risk associated with horses, we can, by educating ourselves, decrease the risk potential. Turning three horses out at once on a windy night without a hat, is inherently more risky than turning one horse out at a time whilst wearing a hat. Part of education is learning where the risk lies. If you have spent time working with your horse on the ground and your horse is responsive to your commands, you are optimising your chances of success.

According to the current statistics into horse related injuries, 80% occur while mounted, and 20% of injuries occur while the horse is being handled. Interestingly dismounted injures require hospitalization in 42% of the cases, while only 30% of mounted injuries require hospitalization. However, if we can improve our relationship with our horses on the ground, we can not only reduce the likelihood of an unmounted injury, but also reduce the likelihood of a ridden injury. By educating ourselves, we can help to protect ourselves during the time that we spend with our horses.

When handling horses make sure that you are wearing a suitable hat, gloves and good boots. You could consider wearing a body protector if this would increase your confidence.  Horses are unpredictable and by learning more about them and increasing our understanding of them we can improve our chances of knowing how they are going to behave. If you feel protected then you will feel more confident and this will help you to handle your horse more effectively. “The most frequent cause of death and serious injury for mounted and dismounted horse activities is head injury.”

According to research in the British Medical Journal during research into the hazards of horse-riding; “It was found that 70% of the 20 accidents could be thought attributable to the behaviour of the horse at the time, and seven of these were in the spinal injuries group. Rider error was a significant contribution in seven cases, and in two instances the rider was under instruction at the time. There was also inadequate experience of the rider in seven cases, of which five were thought to show inadequate supervision.” This research seems to conclude that either the rider did not know enough, or the horse misbehaved. If we remove the premise that the horse misbehaved and instead view it as the horse was not sufficiently trained, then the vast proportion of the accidents could have been prevented by training both the horse and the rider.

By improving your confidence on the ground, you will improve your skill. As your skill improves so will your relationship with your horse. We cannot prevent all accidents, but we can prevent the preventable ones. By learning to handle our horses with clarity on the ground we will become more confident. We will learn to “read” their behaviour as we become more in-tune to their reactions.


  • Medical Equestrian Association
  • Brainline
  • Silver, J. and Parry, J. (1991). Hazards of horse-riding as a popular sport. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 25(2), pp.105-110.

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Photo by Joachim Marian Winkler from Pixabay

Changing ways …………..Our ups and downs……………

Thank you to Claire for sharing her story with us…


After a 7 year break from riding and completely losing my confidence, I was starting to get itchy feet and desperate to get back in the saddle. I booked a few lessons and realised how much I missed horses in my life. I started to ride a friends thoroughbred called Carlow who started to build my confidence but unfortunately he had to be retired. So I started looking for a horse of my own. Having always owned cobs previously, I was on the lookout for a cob around 16hh ……….

I was in no rush, but when the advert for a lovely ex-racehorse  came up in my search , I couldn’t resist enquiring after all the fun Carlow had given me I thought I would give him a try . I am a really  nervous rider and  when I rode him in her school , he proved to be a little greener than I anticipated and a little unsure of his rather unschooled jockey so I began to wonder if he was right for me . Then Becky took us out on the hack of a lifetime, hacking is NOT a strong point for me so to canter a strange horse in an open field was a massive achievement. There was something about this boy that ignited a spark in me. I mulled it over with friends and my husband and decided to go ahead and buy him.

Once home I really did wonder if I’d taken on a bit more than I could chew. He had a heart of gold but needed lots of training and wasn’t getting as much work as he needed so was getting a bit fresh having not long finished his racing career.  When we took him out to new places he was VERY excitable. And I started to find every excuse possible to not ride. It took blood sweat and tears , lots of help and support from friends we carried on together . And Becky helped us with regular lessons,  coaching and support.

Jerry and attended Riding Club clinics at lots of different venues, some of which proved a little too exciting for him . We’ve had a bash at a dressage to music clinic. We were even asked to take part in a training demo with an audience of about 70 people .  He had been placed at nearly every dressage show he’s been to but he gets fresh in scary new venues.

After a particularly spectacular tantrum from his lordship I decided enough was enough , I simply couldn’t cope with this anymore I was at rock bottom emotionally and confidence wise, I sent him back to Becky.

Cutting a long story short he came back to me and was to go on sales livery at the yard next to us owned by Claire Ward.  He proved to be a big hit there and behaved impeccably, after a week I had a phone call to see if I wanted to go for a lesson there as a slot had come free that evening ….the lesson was to be on Jerry, I wasn’t sure how I felt about this. It turned out to be a fantastic lesson and after a LOT of tears I realised I just couldn’t sell him.  Claire helped me with him and she rode him a couple of times a week when my work load meant I couldn’t exercise him as much as I needed to.

All was going well until disaster struck and he went very lame.  Lots of investigation work followed involving a trip to Newmarket where he had Gamma Scintigraphy to establish where the lameness was coming from.  It seemed to be that the Sacroiliac Joint was causing the issues and Jerry was medicated.

This is where our journey with Sue Palmer (The Horse Physio) began………

Having chatted in depth with my friend Lisa Harrison about her journey with her horse Bluebell and how the changes they had made and how their relationship had improved. After much deliberating, I pressed send on the S.O.S. message to Sue.

Once I had poured my heart out to Sue (who very patiently listened and understood) she assessed Jerry from both a physio and behavioural point of view and very confidently declared she could help us (cue more tears).  My lack of confidence was far more deep routed than I had realised.

We have taken things literally one step at a time from the very beginning of horsemanship to a point of learning to actually lead my horse correctly (having ridden for well over 20 years this came as a shock that I had just taken such a simple task for granted).

My demeanour around Jerry was all wrong , I cursed around him and at him a heck of a lot which led to a negative mindset straight away, I had to learn to leave my daily stresses at the car and only  work with Jerry with a positive attitude. I am now able to change my views on training sessions, there is no longer a bad session, it’s always looked upon as a learning opportunity.  I try very hard not to view myself have having done something wrong, more like could I have done that differently.

Having done a lot of dog training, I was able to transfer a lot of skills into training Jerry to stand still for a particular amount of time , I could also use this training tool kit for “heel work” with my 17hh Labrador .

We have built a huge amount of trust in each other with our work in-hand during his rehab, this is paying dividends with our ridden training.

We have a long way to go but we are definitely making progress.

Jerry is turning out to be my once in a lifetime horse I would never have expected to own a thoroughbred. He’s now settled into his forever home and we have an unbreakable bond.

Sometimes a little reassurance goes a long way. Thank you Sue for everything.


If you would like to share your story please comment below!

Do you have enough time?

A friend was lamenting yesterday that she’s not a ‘good enough’ girlfriend (turns out, of course, that she is!).  I know, it sounds daft in the cold light of day, but how many of us spend a significant period of time in our ‘self talk’ telling us we’re not ….. enough (insert good, pretty, strong, clever, etc into the ….)?  I’m considering getting a tattoo on my wrist saying ‘I am enough’, but ironically, I’m not sure if I’m brave enough!!!


My inspiration on this subject is Dr Brene Brown (she says she only introduces herself as a Dr when she’s feeling the need to prove she’s good enough!), beginning with her book ‘The Gifts of Imperfection’ (  I also love her books ‘Daring Greatly’, ‘Rising Strong’, and ‘Braving the Wilderness’.  And the audio recording of her presentation ‘The Gifts of Imperfect Parenting’.  Basically anything she’s written, pretty much!


Another guy who has truly inspired me with his writing is Alex Pang, with his book ‘Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less’ (for those of you who are wondering when I find the time to read, I listen to audiobooks on on the many, many hours I spend in the car driving from yard to yard!).  Alex’s book ( is a bible to live by, from my point of view as a self employed practitioner.  It’s so easy to be drawn into working 100% of the time, because there are always horses need treating, owners to talk to, emails to reply to, diary to organise, vets to contact, CPD to be done, improvements to be made, etc, etc, and the temptation is to feel as though there isn’t enough time.  Alex says (and I’m paraphrasing here, I can’t remember what the exact words are) that it’s not a matter of getting more time, it’s a matter of making more time.


He does in fact give some incredibly useful and practical guides around achieving this seemingly impossible task, and I have to say that (when I implement them in a reasonable way) they work!  He talks about techniques such as starting early, which gives you the chance to work without being interfered with by others.  Taking regular rest, in particular a nap in the middle of the day (he even goes into the research around what benefits you get from a certain length of nap, or napping at a certain time, in terms of physically restorative or mentally restorative rest).  Stopping when you’re on a high, to make it easier to get going the next day.  Walking as a form of rest. The importance of day dreaming, or at least only focusing intently for a few hours a day then allowing your subconscious to continue the thought processes whilst you are engaged in other tasks.  How ‘play’ is a form of ‘rest’, and doing ‘play’ that links into things you enjoyed in your childhood is particularly effective.  I’m sure I don’t write about it well at all, but I do highly recommend the book!


What tips do you have around making more time?  I’ve found that getting up early works well for me.  I love writing, but I find it hard at the end of the day.  I’ve never worked well at the end of the day – even in my school days I can clearly remember struggling in the evenings.  A nap in the middle of the day works extremely well for me – again this is something I always used to do when I was younger (even into my 20’s, and at university in my late 20’s I found the ‘faith room’ because it was the only quiet place I could find to have a nap in the middle of the day).  Tapping into the ‘play’ I enjoyed in my childhood has helped me rediscover the fun of playing board games with the family, and it turns out that 5yr old Philip particularly enjoys chess, which is a game I enjoyed as a child.  I haven’t yet worked out how to fit walking into my daily life, but personal development is an ongoing process, and I know that more change will come in time.  There it is again – time – here’s to making more of it 🙂


Confidence – it comes and goes…

By Lizzie Hopkinson

Confidence is one of those strangely elusive things, that if you look too closely at it may vanish. Some people seem to find it effortlessly easy, while others find it a harder skill to master. Sometimes you think you have it sorted and suddenly it deserts you, leaving you floundering around.

Everyone has days like that, you are not alone. Often we can be trundling along quite happily, and suddenly we hit an “anxiety pocket” and just like that we are floundering.

There are ways to tackle this. Firstly remember to breathe! Long slow breathing is proven to calm us down and reduce our bodies stress response. Secondly, ground yourself. Grounding is a technique whereby you focus on your body and how to relates to the earth. You can read more about this here:

Reduce your expectations. So if your final goal is to be able to hack your horse by yourself, and you have previously been hacking with a friend, but you have suddenly hit an “anxiety pocket” then take a step back. You can ride in the school for a few days, you can take your horse for a walk in hand. You can spend some time doing groundwork, or simply massage him instead. After a few days, the anxiety may have passed and you will be able to carry on towards your goal.

If you push yourself too hard in the anxiety you can make the problem worse. But remember you know yourself best of all, people respond in different ways and need different types of support. So if your confidence suddenly takes a dive, work out what will help you. Most of us respond well to increased support, so see if your partner or friend can come with to ride.

Whatever the cause of your confidence dip it will bounce back, just remember to be kind to yourself.

“They have no idea about your history…”

“Take no notice of what others say about you and even less notice of what they might be thinking. They’ll do it anyway, and you should have pride in yourself and what you’ve achieved. Let them talk and don’t worry. They have no idea about your history, your memories and the life you’ve lived so far. There’s still much to be written, so get busy writing and don’t waste time thinking about what others might think. Now is the time to be at rest, at peace and as happy as you can be!” Author unknown


I read the above on a Facebook post about ageing (  The entire post appealed to me, but in particular this one grabbed at me.  The awareness that others have no idea about your history, and that they will think what they want to think anyway, so there is generally no point in taking notice of it.  I know there are cases where this is not relevant, but to many of the horse owners I work with, it’s extremely relevant.  So often I hear people making decisions based on what they think other people think, rather than basing decisions on their own instinct.


I’ve been listening to a book called ‘Buddha’s Brain’ (  The author Rick Hanson talks about the ‘first dart’ and the ‘second dart’ causing suffering.  The ‘first dart’ is the one that comes from someone else, the unkind act or words that cause you to suffer.  This is often unavoidable.  The ‘second dart’ is the one we shoot at ourselves, that says ‘I’m not good enough’ or ‘She’s right, I don’t deserve her’, etc.  This one is avoidable.  What other people think is up to them, and it’s up to us what we think.


My advice, in relation to your horse at least, is to pick the support team that you would like to have supporting both you and your horse, and to listen to their advice.  If they are the right team for you, they will listen to you, and draw the answers from you, because often, that answer is inside of you just waiting for the right moment to come out.  Better sooner rather than later, for both yourself and your horse, in the majority of cases.


Trust your instinct, and surround yourself with people who behave in a way that you admire and aspire to. And remember, a smile is infectious 🙂

Collective effervescence

By Sue Palmer

Do you know why it can feel so good being part of a crowd?  Where our ‘need’ to belong to a community, to share experiences with like minded people, comes from? French sociologist Emile Durkheim coined the phrase ‘collective effervescence’ in his 1912 works ‘Elementary Forms of Religious Life’ to describe the joyful intoxication we feel during a shared experience (


You would think that the shared interest of horses would automatically give us this ‘collective effervescence’, but as I’m sure you know, it doesn’t work that way.  Passion runs high, and people have different opinions.  Whilst some of us do our best to be non-judgemental, supportive and encouraging, this is not the case across the board, and most of us have experienced some form of bullying from our fellow horsemen and women, or felt the heartache from hurtful words.


I wonder if horses have this trouble?  My instinctive thought is no, because they don’t have that troublesome (and brilliant) prefrontal lobe that gives us the ability to form such complex thought processes.  Certainly they have likes and dislikes, and they form closer bonds with some horses than with others.  They even appear to remember bonds formed years earlier, in many cases.  But deliberately causing hurt just for the sake of it?  Probably not.


My passion is for the horses, and my goal is for the horse to be heard more clearly and more accurately.  Of course it’s difficult to know what’s ‘accurate’… but that’s another discussion entirely!  My mission is to spread the word that horses can only communicate pain or discomfort through their behaviour or performance, and that as owners we can learn to differentiate between pain and behaviour and through this learning we can offer our horses the help they need.  We have established the Ethical Horsemanship Association as a safe place where people can experience that ‘collective effervescence’ through being part of an online membership organisation of like minded people – people who want the best for their horse, and who accept that no one has all the answers but everyone has something to offer.


I’ve recently experienced a situation myself where I felt extremely hurt by unkind, untrue words spoken in anger, and I know many of you will recognise this feeling.  This is unnecessary in a world where everyone is struggling to do what they can.  I’ve found the EHA to be supportive, a place I can go where people understand how I feel, and where I don’t feel judged or criticised.  The info and stories that are being shared on the forum are fascinating, and I’m looking forward to the Association growing and developing.  If you’d like to be a part of that development, visit to find out more.  I hope to see you there!

It’s easy to forget…

By Simon Palmer

I recently received a lovely email back from the organiser of one of my talks that I give to camera clubs. This particular talk was about horses (so it does have relevance!). The title of the talk is: “From Rocking to Horses”, where I describe how my photography has over time transitioned from music photography to horse photography (and now further). But it struck me as I was writing this talk, and selecting images that the importance of experiences and how they build on how we work moving forward are interlinked. How sometimes something that seems to be an accident of chance, actually is more like fate helping steer us.


The title of the talk is ambiguous on purpose. I want to suggest the need for curiosity about the talk. Normally, most of us do not enjoy dealing with ambiguity. It’s not a comfortable feeling when you don’t know how things are going to play out. You could argue that the same applies in the relationship between a horse and their human companion. Like any relationship, we simply don’t know what will happen in the future, and we can either resign ourselves to having to deal with ambiguity, or a more positive approach would be intrepid curiosity. This is something that explorers have in large quantities.


This is something I am starting to learn about when I give talks. When you go to a new venue with new people you never know how something will be received, and while some people are ultra-confident (at least on the outside), I am always worried about not meeting expectations. Perhaps I shouldn’t have picked an ambiguous title for one of my talks!


So when you receive an email that you weren’t expecting saying the feedback for was more than positive, and also if they can book you a year in advance for another, it does wonders for the brain. Let’s think about that for a moment, we really do set ourselves up to fail don’t we. We get on a horse at the start of the competition, and hope the horse doesn’t buck, plant, refuse, fall, or worse! Instead, we should settle ourselves for the fact that we are doing something we enjoy, the horse is a living breathing companion, friend, confident, who will try their level best to keep them and you safe!


Sue and I talk about presenting and she hates the thought of standing up in front of a group of people and speaking. Something I hasten to add she is very good at, but still the rudeness of the brain telling her she is going to die is controlling her. Once the adrenaline kicks in she is OK, and blows people away. I know this because people tell me afterwards. It’s the same adrenaline that we feel on the horse, but instead of harnessing it to allow us to achieve the very thing we bought the horse for, fun, enjoyment, competition, it runs away with us, and causes the horse to think there’s a problem. We sabotage our own fun. The ambiguity of the result throws us off, and then potentially the horse throws us off too!


I love presenting, it’s something I enjoy, and whether or not people think I’m good at it, I enjoy it. You should try that with your horse, enjoy it for the experience it should be, not for the unseen moment that hasn’t and probably never will happen. Ambiguity….embrace it just for fun…

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Public speaking nerves

By Sue Palmer

I’m wondering how many of us get nervous public speaking, or in fact, how many simply don’t ever speak in public because of nerves?  And what tips people have to overcome it?

Last week I was privileged to speak at an event where the speaker after me was none other than Olympian William Fox-Pitt (who seems like a really lovely man, and who gave a great talk about the horses in his life, lots of fascinating insights!).  Before me was Ellie Bradsell (, who really got the crowd going!

I’d planned carefully to the point where I could speak without any notes.  I gave a practical based talk, getting the audience to do an exercise themselves so that they could feel the muscle spasm / weakness / restriction in range of movement, explaining how they might assess for that on their horse, and then giving an exercise that might help address each.  I picked three different areas to cover, and was really pleased with how the audience interacted (including William Fox-Pitt!).

I give talks fairly regularly now, perhaps once a month or so, and I always enjoy them.  The trouble is that there isn’t time in the diary to fit more in right now, especially because of the travelling, so we’re hoping to offer more online in the future.  This is the first time in a long time though that I’ve got really nervous.  It seemed to hit me a couple of hours before the event that I was talking in such esteemed company, and somehow that seemed to make a really big difference.

So my question to you is – what tips do you have to help me get over this if it happens again (or to help anyone else suffering from a similar problem)?  I’m a ‘feel the fear and do it anyway’ kind of person, so it won’t put me off, and normally I’d throw myself in the deep end and just do more and more until I was comfortable doing it.  Clearly though I can’t get out every week to give a talk to a couple of hundred people, so is there anything I can do?!

Thanks in advance!


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What do you dream of achieving?

By Sue Palmer

There’s always a bit of doubt in my mind over whether or not to like liberty work. I think it’s to do with the way we’re told that some of the training is done, though I’ve not personally witnessed harsh training towards liberty work. All the harshness I’ve seen is when the horse is connected in some way to the handler or rider, usually through headcollar and lead rope or through bridle, so that the horse cannot easily escape the abuse. I’m sure, of course, that a lot of liberty work is also started with the horse in a situation that he cannot easily escape from, and that’s where rumour has it that the harsh behaviour occurs. Certainly when you watch some liberty work, the horses ears are flat back throughout and he doesn’t appear to be enjoying himself. Others, however, are a joy to watch, and I think on balance, today at least, I’m a fan ?


I came across this clip through (, and I thought it was lovely to watch. Horse and handler look like they’re having so much fun! I don’t know what techniques were used to train this, but I know I’d be very proud if I could play like this with my horse.


It’s not liberty work, but this is probably one of my favourite examples of someone riding bareback and bridle-less:


I did have a go myself a few years back at some bareback and bridle-less riding with my beautiful mare Belvedere, here’s the evidence: It’s not quite up to Stacey’s standard! As you can see, I used a treat based approach. I’ve always loved riding bareback, and have hacked out bareback as well as with a saddle on since I was a child. I can remember having a discussion with my Mum about the pros and cons (for the horse) of riding bareback when I was about 12yrs old, after I’d been out for a couple of hours on my pony without a saddle. We decided at that time that it probably depended largely on how well balanced the rider was.


What do you dream of achieving with your horse? What would you need to change in order for you to get there? And how can you make those changes happen?

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