Happy New Year!

By Lizzie Hopkinson

So have you made a resolution? Maybe you have made many, or maybe just the one? New Year’s resolutions are fantastic, they give the opportunity to set our minds forward and to think about what we would like to achieve. (Remember to write them down so you don’t forget!) It doesn’t matter how small or large they seem to others, the important thing is that you choose them.  Keeping them is harder…

I think having a small resolution is good, as we are more likely to be able to achieve small steps. Breaking down goals into component steps, makes the big goal more manageable and ensures that we can work systematically towards that goal.

If your New Year’s resolution is to hack out alone, break that goal down. Make a series of small goals that you can work towards, ensuring that you feel a sense of accomplishment along the way, rather than simply feeling daunted by the magnitude of your aim.

So, small goals could be; leading your horse in hand for a walk by yourselves, hacking in company, hacking in company, but going lead, riding your horse down the drive by yourself, riding alone in the school, practising mounting and dismounting in different locations.

Suddenly by working your way through each of those goals, you have given yourself the tools you need to hack alone. Yet without those steps, you may have become discouraged from your aim.

So when you are thinking about your New Year’s resolutions, make sure you break down each goal into bite-sized chunks, this will help you, by encouraging you, rather than overwhelming you.

Comment below with your New Year’s resolutions, and let us know how you get on!

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Photo by Crazy nana on Unsplash

Bombproofing my ponies

By Lizzie Hopkinson

 

When I was young, I kept my ponies on the farm up the road. It was a traditional working farm with tractors, livestock, dogs, landrovers, trailers. The stables were in an old building, past which the farmer would trundle as he went around his day. I was allowed to ride around the farm, past the plough, the bailer, the harrows. My jumps were made of items I had been given, oil drums, old feed sacks. I rode with friends on their bikes, sharing the ponies and the bikes between us. My ponies were bombproof. Nothing we met out and about was any different to what we encountered in our everyday life.

Looking back, I realise that without realising it, I was bombproofing those ponies, exposing them to the very things that they could be scared of, so that they learnt that they were normal and unthreatening. A case of unconscious competence. Later on, I kept my horses in purpose built yards, with access to a clear school, those horses were not bombproof. Those horses would react to tractors and trailers if confronted with them. Gradually I learnt that what I had done as a child was correct, but now I had to learn to do it from first principles, I had to do it consciously, and learn conscious competence.

Once I had realised what I had lost as I had grown-up, moved up, I had to go out of my way to re-create the conditions that had once been on my doorstep. So that I purposely began to school my horses in the fields, around the tractor, leave random items spread across the field, rugs, old feed sacks pinned down with stones, until I realised that the field I schooled my horses in, was effectively a re-creation of the farm of my childhood. But these horses were bombproof. Used to being asked for shoulder-in, or a half-pass around an old pile of timber, or a strategically placed trailer, they were unfazed when meeting the same hazards out hacking.

I fear today that these farms, such as the ones from my childhood are vanishing, lost to commercialisation.  The conditions that I took for granted, no longer exist, and with them the opportunities they presented. But we need our horses to be around the very things that we will meet. So, we must re-create these old farmyards, full of clattering and clanking, full of sights, sounds and smells, so that our horses are unfazed. A crisp packet in a hedge is no threat if your stable is covered with old plastic sacks, the tractor approaching you down the lane, is not a source of worry if you see it passing back and forth all day. Rather than worrying that you could meet out hacking, and avoiding it, actively seek out obstacles, so that your horse becomes confident in the presence of the unexpected and you can enjoy your time together.

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Photo by Teo Zac on Unsplash

Hacking – the best and the worst

By Lizzie Hopkinson

Hacking, for me, sums up the very best and the very worse of horses. Some of the best moments of my life have been spent in the countryside with my horses. I have been lucky enough to live in some beautiful places with access to endless stunning off-road hacking, forestry land, moorland and perfect English bridleways. I have ridden across Welsh mountains on Welsh ponies and across Irish heathland on Irish cobs, and I am grateful for those stunning experiences. Equally I have ridden horses in narrow hedge-bound roads, with dangerous traffic, ridden horses for people that have been less than truthful about their behaviour. I’ve encountered my fair share of near misses and moments that leave your heart in your mouth, and your pulse racing.

My problem has been that as my near misses have mounted up I have become increasingly worried about riding on the roads. Not in the fields, not on rocky tracks, or narrow passes, simply on the roads. The traffic has increased in both volume and velocity leaving us at the mercy of the drivers. I recently drove along a B road that I used to hack along as a child. In the mile long stretch I used to maybe pass one or two cars 20 years ago, nowadays is comprised of a stream of HGV lorries driving fast and aggressively along the bendy road.

The best piece of advice I was ever given about hacking out on the roads was “the horse has not won if you dismount”. For some reason lodged in the recesses of my brain, I had laboured under the idea that I had to stay on, that I was a failure if I got off. That one sentence changed my attitude towards hacking entirely. On a bad day (mine not the horses) I could spend half the hack on my feet, but on a good day was happy to hack past all sorts of obstacles. By removing the necessity to remain mounted I found that I was enjoying my hacking once again, and gradually the bad days became less and the good days more.

I would spend many happy hours playing with horses around obstacles in the field, so that by the time they were out hacking they had seen all sorts. I have also tried, wherever I lived to befriend farmers who would let me ride my horses around their tractors until they ceased to be bothered by them.

We live in a beautiful country for those of us lucky enough to have access to it. While we cannot change the behaviour of those around us, we can do our best to make ourselves as confident and as safe as we can, so that we can navigate the roads to hopefully reach the delights of the countryside that surrounds us.

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Help! Loose Horse!

It is every rider’s worst nightmare…a peaceful hack suddenly shattered by an unscheduled dismount. Whether caused by a spook, a stumble, a spin, you find yourself on the ground staring up at the clouds, and all you can hear is the clatter of slowly fading hooves as your horse disappears over the horizon…

Now in an ideal world, your horse, with all their natural instincts would make their own way home. However, our human intervention has dampened down many of the natural instincts of the horse and many horses cannot find their own way home. Most horses are upset by suddenly losing their rider and panic. It can be hard for anyone finding a loose horse to know what to do. I always keep rope in my car after having to walk a loose horse 3 miles with a headcollar constructed out of my shoelaces!

I have personally experienced various situations where having emergency contact details on my horse would have made a bad situation so much better! And having emergency details on myself, as anyone who has tried to talk to someone with concussion will be able to verify!

We have teamed up with OneLifeID to provide our readers with an exclusive discount code to use on the OneLifeId website. To order your ID please visit https://www.onelifeid.com/page/news?id=20 and use the code HORSEPHYSIO at the checkout to gain your 10% discount.

Believe me, the person who catches your horse on the road, will be so grateful to have a number to call, as will the person who finds you. Remember in medical emergencies time is of the essence and knowing any illnesses that you already suffer from, can be vital in saving lives.

If you have horses who can do a good Houdini act, ID tags on fieldsafe headcollars are also a fantastic idea!

Please remember that while we cannot protect ourselves against every conceivable accident, we can take sensible precautions to ensure that we are covered should the worse happen. If you are not confident hacking your horse out, please consider working with your horse in hand, or in the school till you are confident to hack out. Please see our “10 of the Best” book on “Confidence out hacking.” The OneLife ID can’t protect you against the unexpected, but it can help improve the outcome. Stay safe, get OneLifeID. To order your ID please visit https://www.onelifeid.com/page/news?id=20 and use the code HORSEPHYSIO at the checkout to gain your 10% discount.

Is your horse’s cup full?

Listening to a book called ‘Playful Parenting’ I heard an interesting description of ‘attachment parenting’. Please note that I’m describing this in my own words and not quoting, but as I recall it the author Larry (Lawrence Cohen) talks about the child having a cup which needs to be refilled often with attention, love, support, encouragement, warmth, hugs, kisses, and all the good physical, emotional and spiritual things that a parent or care giver can give a child. When upsets happen, the child is hurt or their energy is drained, the cup empties a little, and they’ll need to return to the parent for a refill. Some children have leaky cups that need refilling even more often, and some children have broken cups. If a child’s cup becomes empty he will find if difficult to cope, and will often show this through undesirable behaviour. It can be hard as a parent to see that behaviour as a request for a refill of love and caring.

I’ve been thinking for a while about ‘attachment theory’ in the parenting world in relation to working with horses. This description struck a chord with me, because the author talks about how if you make a mistake, perhaps for example you yell at your child when you really shouldn’t have, then the cup is emptied a little and you will need to refill it. A couple of years ago I was lucky enough to do a course walk around Gatcombe Horse Trials with Harry, where he described his relationship with Meade his horse when he was jumping around the cross country in terms of banking. He said that when he got things right and helped his horse out, it was like putting a deposit in the bank. When he got things wrong and his horse had to help him out, it was like making a withdrawal. The aim was always to keep in the black!
I think this can apply equally well to the leisure rider who is simply looking for a trusting relationship with their horse. We all make mistakes, have bad days, and take our feelings with us to the yard on occasion. But if the rest of the time we can balance this with oodles of time, affection, and as much understanding as we can manage, then hopefully we can keep our horses cup full.