Our animals as teachers

Animals teach us so much about ourselves. They teach us patience and kindness, they teach us wisdom and tolerance. They teach us that you cannot use the same techniques for every situation. They teach us to be flexible and adaptable. They make us better people.

All the lessons you learn with your animals are transferable. Lessons from your horses can be applied to your dogs, lessons from your dogs can be applied to your toddler. The experience of having trained another being to do something, will always stand you in good stead. Whether you are training your dog not to jump up, or your horse to a do a better half-pass, many of the principles remain the same.

Animals have the ability to show us our good and our bad, our weaknesses and our strengths. Maybe we are not as patient as we could be, maybe we can be too prescriptive, whatever your flaw (and we all have them!) animals will show you. Because animals can’t tell you what you are doing wrong, you can’t become defensive. Your dog doesn’t say “Gosh you are so intolerant, why are you always like that, you’re such a bad person.” Your dog simply reflects you shouting at it, and makes you see your own behaviour reflecting back at yourself.

Great teachers always show rather than tell. We learn better by being shown. Animals are not judgmental in their feedback, whereas humans find it difficult to give feedback without adding their judgment in. Animals provide us with such a fantastic opportunity to learn more about ourselves. So the next time you think how much your animals cost you, think of the lessons they have taught you, and how much richness and depth they have bought to your life, and suddenly, they will seen cheap at the price!

Learning is liberating!

Learning is something we tend to think of as doing as a child. When we were children, we learnt all the time. How to walk, how to talk, how to read, how to do a cartwheel, how to tie a shoelace, the list goes on. But as adults, often established and successful in our career we can fall into only doing what we already know.

Learning as an adult is a different experience to learning as a child. As adults we assume, we should know how to do things, we should know all the answers. (We don’t!) So, admitting that we don’t know something is a brave move indeed. But learning a new skill as an adult can be a very rewarding and engaging process.

Now is the ideal time to learn a new skill. Have you always wanted to learn to knit? Learn to draw? Learn to play a musical instruments? Take this opportunity in this strange new world and try and make something with it. We are going to have to learn to live in our new world, so the skill of learning will be vital.

And remember that the very act of learning a new skill is good for your brain, and your neural pathways. This is a great description of why it is so good for you: “Education is key to slowing brain aging. Simply put, the more you know, the more you stretch your brain’s capacity for learning.” Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD, Cardiology.

So, look after your horse, look after your brain – what’s not to love?!

Please stay safe, look after those around you, offer help to the vulnerable and needy. Don’t let fear rule us, act out of love and compassion.

Little things…

Some problems seem so huge, so insurmountable that we can’t begin to work out where to start. Take climate change. What do we do? Where do we even begin? With little steps. Everything we do has an effect. Every action has an opposite and equal reaction – this is a fundamental law of physics (Newton’s Third Law). Every single action. If we all make small changes that overall effect will add up.

It is the same with our horses. You can’t change your hairy un-backed four year-old into a gleaming rosette machine overnight. But you can start with teaching him to stand nicely, and to be groomed. Then gradually teach him to accept a numnah and then a saddle. Little by little and over the years, you can create a massive transformation.

And sometimes we will make mistakes, sometimes we will go too fast, or down the wrong path, and that too is okay. It is okay to make mistakes, it is okay to fail, we are humans not robots. You might rush teaching your horse to canter, because the trot felt so good. You might be tired and grab a plastic coated ready meal. It’s okay, because tomorrow you can take your time and establish the trot before you canter. And tomorrow you can make a homemade meal.

We are not perfect, we are trying to be better. Life is a series of learnings, of opportunities, of successes and of failures, but tomorrow always bring you chance to do better. You are never too small to make a difference. No matter how small the step, a step forwards is always a step forwards. And by the very act of trying, by your very intentions in your heart you are making a difference. Keep going, keep trying, you will get there. It might be hard and it might be difficult, but it is worth it…

The Art of Learning

I love learning. I find it endlessly fascinating to find out about things that interest me and to read and to share what I have learnt with others. I like the whole process and that moment when things click into place. But that moment can sometimes come from an unexpected source. Sometimes the best things that I have learnt are ideas or ways of being that I can transfer across from one to scenario to another. So I use tips for how to deal with a toddler on my puppy, and tips for how to house train my puppy on my husband…

I was reflecting the other day on the conversation that always occurs around Monty Roberts. People will always say; my horse won’t … but on being asked if they thought it would do it for Monty, the answer was usually “yes.” This is the training aspect of Understanding Horse Performance; Brain, Pain, or Training that we refer to, and one of the questions that we ask is “will your horse do what is asked if someone else asks him?” This is not saying that you are bad, or not good, just that you might not have progressed as far in your learning as another individual. If the answer to this is yes, then it is simply a case of training yourself, before you train the horse.

I saw this scenario beautifully illustrated in a dog training class the other day. A lady with a collie said she couldn’t groom her dog, it wouldn’t let her. She handed the dog over to the trainer. 30 seconds later I turned back to see the dog sitting patiently while the dog trainer groomed it. It was a classic “Monty Moment”. It was such a clear example of how we get ourselves in a muddle. She was convinced she couldn’t do it, so therefore the dog couldn’t do it. Once the professional had shown the dog what was required, he could then train the owner to do it. Once she had seen him do it, she knew she could do it.

So remember to ask for help, and take every opportunity to learn something from someone else.

How to make more time

By Sue Palmer

“It’s not a matter of getting more time, it’s a matter of making more time”


In this time of crazy mad rushing around to get everything done, it’s easy to think that we haven’t got enough time.  My post last week was titled ‘Do you have enough time?’, and talked about some of my learnings from Dr Brene Brown and Dr Alex Pang (https://www.ethicalhorseproducts.co.uk/ehpblog/confidence/doyouhaveneoughtime/).


I think it’s Dr Pang, in his book ‘Rest’, who mentions that it’s not a matter of getting more time, it’s a matter of making more time.  Or it might have been Brendon Burchard in his book ‘High Performance Habits’, which I’ve also read (listened to on www.audible.co.uk) more than once in the last few weeks (I spend a lot of time driving to clinics and between clients!).  Whoever mentioned it, it really struck a bell with me.  I spend too much time drifting, being distracted with unnecessary tasks, and losing focus.  But more importantly, I’m not sure what my ‘focus’ is.  If I can develop a focus, a goal, a dream, then I can plan towards that goal.  The plan can be big (a 5yr plan, for example), and then broken down into smaller pieces (a monthly, weekly and daily plan).  This way, my goals become achievable, rather than some unreachable dream that’s never going to happen.


As is the case so often in life, this links into what I know and love so clearly with the horses.  In my behavioural work I’ve always talked about knowing what it is you want to achieve, and then breaking that down into smaller pieces.  It might be that you want to compete at a one day event, and you’ve got to break that down into smaller pieces like competing at a dressage competition, going cross country schooling, doing some grid work exercises to improve your show jumping skills.  Or it might be that you want your horse to stand still in his own space, and you need to break that down into having him stand still with you by his head, knowing exactly what your own body is doing down to the detail of which direction are your eyes looking and which direction are your toes pointing, and learning to correct him as he starts to move the first foot out of place rather than waiting until he’s moved three feet.  Many roads lead to Rome.  Your individual path may not be the same as that of your next door neighbour, and you may change your mind about which path you’d like to take along the way (I’m reminded of climbing down the rocks onto the beach yesterday, where my son and I took very different paths from the same starting point but ended up in the same place), and that’s ok.  But if you don’t know what your goal is and you don’t have a plan A to get you there, then you’re less likely to get to where you’d like to be.


That’s how I think we can ‘make time’.  By removing the distractions and the misdirections through having a clear goal and an effective plan.  What’s your thoughts?

Don’t miss out on more great articles, sign up to our newsletter today

Distance Learning

By Sue Palmer

Have you ever tried distance learning? If so, how did you get on with it? I studied with the Open University, and I absolutely loved it. I am a self-motivated learner, often finding it easier to learn from books, videos and the Internet rather than lectures, so I guess that distance learning suits me.


Today I worked with a lovely coloured gelding who is struggling with motivation. In just a couple of sessions, we have achieved some dramatic changes, and it’s lovely to see the smile on his owner’s face. Like so many horses, this horse is outside of my usual travelling area, and therefore I am unable to arrange a follow-up to visit due to lack of time. If only I could fly a helicopter! I discussed with his owner the possibility of continuing some level of work together through video feedback, and she was very enthusiastic.


My diary is now so busy that I am struggling to help some of the horses that I would desperately like to help. In addition, I have always been passionate about spreading the message of Brain, Pain or Training worldwide. Because of this I am starting to look at how I might offer distance assessment.


My initial thoughts are that this will involve you videoing your horse completing a set of exercises that are carefully explained, and completing a detailed questionnaire, then you and I discussing the findings and where to go next. Is this something that you, or someone you know, might be interested in? Is it similar to anything that you have experienced in the past? If so, I’d love to hear from you.


Here’s to the future! Sue 🙂

Sue’s standpoint – Happy New Year

All around people are celebrating the New Year, or bemoaning going back to work.  Children are slowly coming down from the sugar high, and adults are promising themselves they’ll work off the Christmas dinner over the coming weeks.


I’m firmly of the belief that every day is the start of a new year.  1st January is just a date.  Each day you wake up is a fresh start, and a reason to celebrate.  Some days are harder than others, some months are tough, and sometimes we look back and wonder quite how we got through the year.  Many around me are struggling in one or more ways at the moment, and for me, it’s supremely important to be there for my friends when they need me, offering commiseration as well as celebration.


Most of you will be aware of my big new project this year, launching the Ethical Horsemanship Association in conjunction with technology whizz (and super-husband) Simon, and writing / marketing genius Lizzie Hopkinson.  I’m immensely proud of what we’ve produced together, and am looking forward to welcoming on board those who would like to share our journey.  If you’re not sure what I’m talking about, take a look at www.ethicalhorsemanshipassociation.co.uk – membership is available now.


The other thing I’m excited to announce is the return to some level of behavioural work (www.intelligenthorsemanship.co.uk).  For the past few years I have focused entirely on physio work, writing several books and producing DVDs, and building the Ethical Horsemanship Association and Ethical Horse Products (www.ethicalhorseproducts.co.uk).  Now it’s time for me to build another layer of knowledge and experience, and this year I am focusing on developing my communication skills, probably in the form of courses in mentoring or coaching in some way.


I really, really want the Brain, Pain or Training (http://www.ethicalhorseproducts.co.uk/QuickShop/Specials.php) message to go worldwide, because I honestly believe that it’s key in improving horse welfare and many horse / rider relationships.  The message in one form or another is gradually filtering through from various individuals and organisations, which is fantastic news.  What I’d like to learn this year is how people want / need to hear the message in order for it to have a lasting impact on them.  I would like them to be convinced enough that they tell their friends, or even shout it from the rooftops! Horses can only communicate pain or discomfort through their behaviour or performance, and as an owner or rider, you can learn to tell the difference between brain, pain or training.  Social proof (people doing what they see others do) is what the horses need, and I’d like to see so many people checking for pain before forcing an issue, that forcing the issue becomes far more frowned upon than it currently is.


If you have personal experience of books or courses that have helped you develop your communication skills, I’d really appreciate them!


Happy New Year!

Don’t miss out on more great articles, sign up to our newsletter today.

Back on track

By Sue Palmer

Listening to Professor Hilary Clayton at the Centaur Biomechanics Sports Science conference at Hartpury last Saturday was inspirational, as always! I had almost completely lost my voice, which wasn’t great for catching up with people, but I squeaked my way through. It stopped me asking any questions in the lectures though, I couldn’t shout loud enough!


Thanks to my wonderful sister and brother in law offering child care for the day, Simon and I were both able to go. Simon manned a stand with our products on, including Brain, Pain or Training, the Equiband System, Activate Your Horse’s Core, and his stunning big cat calendars. Amongst others, we caught up with BPT guest contributors Sue Norton (President of the Society of Master Saddlers) and Mary Wanless (Ride With Your Mind), old friends including RAMP members (www.rampregister.org) ACPAT Chartered Physiotherapist Nycky Edleston and Osteopath Alison O’Dochartaigh, colleagues including Sophie Gent (www.syncthermology.com), and new contacts including Neue Schule researcher Dr Caroline Benoist (www.nsbits.com). It was a busy day for someone with practically no voice!


My favourite lecture was Hilary’s on how you can help preserve the health of your horse’s back. The pictures of the dorsal spinous processes and facet joints with degenerative changes have to be seen to be believed – how on earth does the body continue to function when there’s no longer a hole between the vertebra for the spinal nerve to emerge from?! I find anatomy and physiology eternally fascinating, the wonders of science never cease to amaze me.


Hilary’s lecture reminded me that if someone has back pain, there is around an 80% chance of that back pain recurring at a later stage. If the right exercises are done religiously, however, the chance of recurrence drops to around 30%! Back pain is related to loss of function of core stability muscles, including the multifidus muscle, usually on one side more than the other. Again, the correct exercise program can not only help regain the muscle, but also the symmetry. It seems very likely that the situation will be similar in many ways for horses, since their musculoskeletal system has the same basic components as ours.


Hilary described how the Equiband system was designed to trigger the reflexes in the skin and hair follicles, to cause the horse to activate those core muscles, and How this increased dynamic core stability has been demonstrated in two trials at the Royal Veterinary College. She also described the in hand exercises (baited stretches and others) in the book and DVD Activate Your Horse’s Core, which is written by Hilary and by Dr Narelle Stubbs. The baited stretches included in this have again been demonstrated to improve core musculature, this time in three separate studies, with each  study finding increased cross sectional diameter of the multifidus muscle with either 30 or 60 days of doing the exercises once a day, each exercise repeated three or more times, and done three to five times a week.


To be in the company of so many knowledgeable and enthusiastic horse people was a privilege, and to be able to share it with my husband was the icing on the cake. Next to watch on live streaming the demo that Mary Wanless did the day before… watch this space!


Don’t miss out on more great articles, sign up to our newsletter today!

On letting go…

Storm is the sort of horse that makes people stop and stare. When he is moving, especially free, he has awesome movement and presence; he has the ‘X’ factor. So, he should be the competition horse of my dreams… Right?

And here is the kicker…it has just never happened.

His breeding and conformation is good, he feels awesome to ride and I can even sit his lengthened trot! But we have never really got the competition thing together.  Due to a series of life events, he has had to go on the back burner, and then when I do have the consistent time, he has managed to gain another “issue”. Strange and seemingly random swellings are his speciality.

For so long now, I have felt to blame for his lack of progress, the absence of rosettes and titles that a horse like him should supposedly have. The pressure I have put on myself to go out and show what he can really do has been a constant niggle at the back of my mind. Until the other day…

As I was walking him to his stall for the night, again failing to do anything with him, I thought, why the stress? Yes, he may be capable of the higher level movements, but does he care?

Does he care that he does not know how to piaffe on command? I doubt it.

Does he care he is not out at shows every weekend? I think he is probably pleased he is not.

Do I love just being with him, and working on his manners and ground work, and enhancing his way of going under saddle?  Yes.

So, do I have plans for him? Yes, of course I do. Would I like to go to competitions with him? It might be nice. Does it matter if I do not? No!

So I am letting go of the pressure I put on myself to make this awesome horse a “winning machine”, and to just enjoy the process of discovering what we can do together, even if no one else ever sees it.

Our guest blogger is Jane Broomfield from Silverdale Horses, Canada.

Don’t miss out on more great articles and offers, sign up to our newsletter today.

Sue’s standpoint – taking your time

I tend to think of my life as jam packed, life lived at a run – I like it that way, so please don’t think I’m complaining! But a couple of days in London recently had me pining for the relatively slow pace of life I live in Stafford! Sometimes it’s only by taking a step back that you recognise what you’ve got, or what you’ve achieved. There’s a tendency for us to look at the lives of those we admire, whose lives we think we’d like to live – but we see them through social media, or at a show, or on a family day out, and these snippets of their lives are of course just a snapshot, and give a very false view of that person’s life. From the outside you see success, or a loving relationship, or red rosettes. On the inside is sweat and tears, and their own individual troubles. In London, there’s the opportunity to see the other side, walking past homeless people lying quietly or with signs crying out for help – again there is no way of knowing what’s led that person to that place, or what their individual troubles may be, but I think most of us would be very grateful not to be in their position.


When you watch a horse and rider working together in harmony, without gadgets it force, there is no way of really knowing what it took for that person to get there. One thing that’s guaranteed though is that it’s taken hours and hours and hours, and that there will have been a myriad of mistakes and frustrations along the way. It’s entirely unrealistic to expect to ride like Carl Hester, or to understand your horse like Richard Davison would, unless you’ve spent a similar number of hours.


I wrote Brain, Pain or Training to help you to understand your horse more easily and more accurately, and I was supported by 27 guest contributors, and by 9 case studies who were brave enough to share some of their trials and tribulations with the reader – although of course there is still no way of knowing how their ‘horse world’ fits into their ‘home world’ or their ‘work world’. I hope that this book and DVD inspires you to keep at it, to search for the path that’s right for you and your horse, to find the team that offers the support you need. Don’t give up now – you can do it!

Don’t miss out on more great articles, sign up to our newsletter today.