Helping others…

The other day I was driving along the road. There was a man sat on a wet pavement. While I was trying to turn across the road, I watched 4 people just walk past the man sat on the ground. By the time I had parked my car and ran back across the road, one other lady had stopped. Together we tried to help the man, wrapped him in a blanket, as he was growing cold refusing to move, called an ambulance and then waited.

In all this time, one older man stopped and asked if we were okay. The other people simply stepped around us and the man sat upon the wet pavement. I hope that it is just the effect of the pandemic that is making people so stressed, that they simply don’t have any capacity to stop and help. But I would have hoped that more people would have stopped.

I hope that after this period of time, that life will settle down, and that people will go back to behaving properly. But in the meantime, please try and help. Even a kindly word can go  long way to making people feel better. People don’t need large gestures, they need simple expressions of kindness, a soft touch, or a gentle word, a moment out of your day, may make someone else’s day. You will never know the effect that one simple gesture can have on another person.

So remember, be kind, check those around you are okay, don’t let this terribly stressful time rob us of our humanity. If you are so stressed that you simply can’t reach out to anyone else, then ask for help. We can’t all help people all the time, sometimes, we too need to be helped. But if everyone helps we they can, the world will be a little bit better every day.

Principles of training

I love training animals, and what I also love is how transferable skills are. I read books on training horses, books on training dogs, books on training children and what is noticeable is how the skills and lessons I learn when working with one I can use on another.

All the scenarios are different. Teaching your toddler to use a potty, teaching your horse to do a half-pass and teaching your dog to sit, may at first glance appear different, but there are themes of similarity through all of these.

Firstly, they all have a clear outcome. You know what you want to achieve. In each instance you want to teach them to do something rather than to teach them not to do something. In each scenario you praise the moment that they begin to do what you are asking, praise and reward.

Rewards don’t have to an actual “thing”, rewards can be a sticker chart, a piece of cheese, or the release of pressure. (I’ll leave it up to you to match up the rewards with the scenario!)

In each instance you ask for something to happen, you praise and reward the moment an attempt to do what you asked is made, and then you repeat. And as the understanding expands, so you begin to only praise when you are closer to the desired outcome.

In all instances, if you ask in an unclear manner or are inconsistent, you will make it harder for the other party involved. If some days you can’t be bothered with potty training and just leave your toddler in nappies, if you put your legs in different places on the horse, and if you use a different word for sit every time, you will make life harder for yourself.

Equally if you don’t praise and reward the other party has no idea whether or not they have done what you wanted. The repetition means that the other party learns. So, all of these three scenarios can be broken down into the same stages. Ask, praise, reward, repeat.

I would also put wait in there. When we are learning something, it can take time for our brains to process the information and work out what we are being asked to do. Think how slow you are the first time you do something new, and then how it becomes second nature once you have done it many times? So, after you have asked, pause, give them a chance to work out what you are asking and how they are going to do it. If you make the time span on your instruction being followed too small, you are asking for problems.

So, ask, pause, praise, reward and repeat.

 

It’s not just repetition…

Everyone always says keep doing it, it will get better. Keep trying, keep practicing. This is true, but only to a point. Practice does make perfect,  but only good practice works.

Imagine. You are teaching your horse to canter. Each time you ask for canter, you put your outside leg too far back and your horse bucks into canter. What do you think will happen if you keep on doing the same thing? Your horse will learn that when you put your leg that far back he bucks into canter. You have practiced, you have followed the instruction, but you have only practiced the wrong aid, so it hasn’t worked.

It would have been better in this instance to think, I am struggling with this, so I will wait until my next lesson and then check I am doing it right, rather than keep on doing it wrong. Maybe you could have just practiced your walk trot transitions for the week till your lesson instead.

Of course sometimes we aren’t sure whether we are doing right, but if you aren’t sure, then see whether you think you are getting the right response. Are you teaching your dog to sit? Is it sitting properly? Or does it keep lying down instead? Are you teaching your horse to wait in his stable doorway without rushing? Is it working? Most the time we know when we are doing it right, as we get the right reaction. Be mindful of whether the result you are aiming for is the same as the one you are getting.

Training is fascinating and endlessly rewarding and training using repetition is an essential part of that training, but it is vitally important to make sure that you are doing good practice not bad practice, as only perfect practice makes perfect.

Love in all its shapes and sizes

Over the years I have had many different animals, horses, dogs, cats, chickens, geese. I have loved them all in different ways and for different reasons. I have had horses that I have loved because they were beautifully well schooled and a delight to train. I have had horses that I adored because they were cute and they let me sit down beside them in their fields. I have had horses that were rescued from mud drenched Welsh hillsides and ones bought from manicured yards in green belt land.

I have had dogs which I have loved for their crazy exuberance, and others for their cuddles. Big dogs and small dogs, dogs that were well-trained and others that were less so. Some from puppies and some as rescue. All the animals that I have had, all with their different quirks and foibles.

One thing that has always struck me is this. That while I have loved them all, and in different ways, it is how we fall in love with them that is curious. Many we fall in love with gradually, as we get to know them, as we start to appreciate their characters, whereas other simply fall like a jigsaw place into a part of our heart that we didn’t know was missing.

These loves are not better or worse, after all they are all simply love. And our love for our animals fills our days with joy. So if you are worrying about whether you will love your new horse or dog the same as your current, you probably won’t love them in the same way, nor will you fall in love in the same time span, but rest assured you will love them and each animal will give you something that you didn’t know you were missing…

Changing priorities…

Life changes, and with it our priorities change. Adjusting to our changing priorities can be difficult, sometimes it feels like you have been focused on some target for many years, and suddenly it loses its allure, and we realise that our priorities have changed.

Remember when you were young, and staying out all night was great fun? And now being tucked up in bed with a good book by 10pm is the ultimate delight? That is simply your priorities changing. As our life changes our views, our outlooks change.

When you were younger riding horses as fast as possible was an aim, now a spook-free hack is a delight. When we were younger we might have been more results driven, and gained satisfaction from winning at a show, or beating our rival. Though often as you get older, you appreciate the delights of training more than the pinnacle of the competition.

Age changes us, experiences, both good and bad, change us, so that our priorities change. If you have had a bad fall, success might be a hack without feeling nervous. If are older, a ride where your hip doesn’t hurt might be the ultimate indicator of success. These aspirations are no less valid or important they are just different. All our personal goals are just that, they are personal, they are all equally valid and important. We cannot judge our goals against the goals of others. We don’t know what battles other people are fighting, we don’t know what constitutes success to someone else.

So be kind, to yourself and to others. Even if your aims aren’t as seemingly ambitious as they once were they are still your aims. They are still valid and you should still be proud of them. Take a moment to look back at where you have come from…

Things to do in the rain…

The rain is rolling down my window panes with a seamless backdrop of grey skies. October is heralding in winter in all its gloomy glory. But our horses are still there waiting for us by their gates, or standing in their boxes, sleeping under the patter of rain on sheet roofing. They still need attention and interaction.

Some people are happy to ride in the rain, as are some horses, but some people hate it, or are starting to struggle with the darkening evenings. Sometimes riding isn’t an option, but there are other things you can do with your horse.

Grooming is a great way to spend time bonding with your horse. Old-fashioned grooms used to spend hours strapping their charges, bringing a gleam to their coat and giving their muscles a work out at the same time. In our time pushed world, we tend to go for quick fix, a quick flip round the tack areas before saddling up. But spending time just grooming your horse will be therapeutic and rewarding for both of you.

Massaging is another brilliant bonding exercise, learning some of the basic massage skills is an invaluable tool to have in your knowledge banks. Take a look at our ever popular “Horse Massage for Horse Owners” book, which will teach you how to give your own horse a lovely massage.

Our best-selling “Activate Your Horse’s Core” teaches you how to do stretches with your horse that will increase his flexibility, these exercises are invaluable to help your horse improve his evenness from side to side, and give you another activity to do with your horse.

Using a combination of the three will help you to spend enjoyable time with your horse, on those rain drenched, miserable days when you don’t want to ride, or even take him for an in-hand walk. Having a collection of different things to do, will prevent you both getting bored and will give hours of enjoyment and pleasure in each others company.

Making the best of it…

The first action to take is to throw away our preconceived notions of what we should be doing, or what we want to be doing and instead concentrate on what we can do. If we are always yearning for something else, we forget to enjoy what we have. After all if we are not happy with what we have, why do we think we will be happy with more?

The world is often difficult and even more so at the moment. So adjust your expectations and your threshold for happiness will change also. If your reduce your aims while life is challenging, you are more likely to reach your objectives and then feel satisfied. Setting yourself up to fail, doesn’t get you anywhere.

If you are struggling with stress and anxiety at the moment, don’t expect your riding to be calm and measured. You will only end up beating yourself up over it. Reduce your expectations. Now might not be the best time to try and teach your horse half-pass, instead do the things you both find easy, so that you end your schooling session smiling.

It doesn’t matter if you put back your desire to a medium level dressage test for another 6 months, in the grand scheme of things at the end of your life you are not going to lie there thinking about the fact that it took you a year longer to move up a level than you had planned. Remember the 5 rule. If it isn’t going to worry you in 5 years time, don’t spend more than 5 minutes worrying about it now.

Life can be difficult,  but it can be rewarding and entertaining and enjoyable, and even if it the moment we have to look a little harder and a little deeper to find the pleasure in the moments, they are still there…

The weirdest year…

It’s October next week. October, in my mind, the first of the closing months of the year, which means that the oddest year ever is drawing to a close. Next year may well be challenging, but hopefully it won’t be as shocking, as unexpected.

October is evenings drawing in, it’s open fires and hot chocolate, it’s muddy fields and the smell of damp dogs and horses. It’s cold fingers and finding last years gloves. It’s the leaves beginning to fall and that first chill in the air.

As the nights begin to draw in, we start to wonder what we will do on the those evenings, what we will do with our horses, now that we can no longer stay outside all evening, basking in the glorious rays. We need other things to do on those damp and dark evenings. Activate Your Horse’s Core gives a great set of exercises to help improve your horse’s core, think yoga, pilates, think good stretching and how much fitter you feel if you do this for yourself.

Your horse will benefit just as you do from activating his core. You know those ladies you see gliding around with perfect posture, while you are slumped over to one side? Your horse will be like that too! Improving your core helps your flexibility and can reduce your likelihood of injury, what’s not to love?

Activate Your Horse’s Core is comprised of a book and DVD, so that you can study the exercises at home before using them on your horse. The pages of the book are plastic coated, so it will survive being dropped on the stable floor and slobbered on! (We would advise against dropping it in your horse’s water though!)

Activate Your Horse’s Core is a perfect October present for yourself, in case you need a little cheering up at the prospect of dark evenings and short days.

Letting go…

The mental flexibility required at the moment is immense. The world is in a state of flux, and change is now a daily occurrence. Staying balanced during this time is a feat of mental gymnastics. Letting go of pre-conceptions is a huge part of mental flexibility. Making the most of what you can do, rather than hankering after the unobtainable is a life lesson in happiness.

This lesson can be applied to anything. This week I had to let go of my notion about how long my child should do swimming lessons for, as it is simply not practical to do swimming lessons during this time. Once I had let go of this fixed idea in my mind, other possibilities opened, other sports that are less restricted than swimming. It was a prime example in the merit of letting go.

The same applies in our schooling sessions. Sometimes we can come out with a fixed idea of what we want to work on today. And sometimes it will go to plan, but other days it simply won’t. At this point you are left with two options; battle away with your horse because, that’s what you had decided to do, or, take a step back, let go of your fixed idea and do something else. This is not “letting your horse win” or “not standing up to them” it is simply having a plan b. A lesson learnt through force and stubbornness will never be as effective as one learnt through enthusiasm and collaboration. So letting go, may be the best thing you ever do.

Be kind to yourself, the world is a complicated place, always and even more so at the moment, but learning to let go of your fixed ideas, will help you to flex and adapt in a rapidly changing world.

The right time for a challenge

A lot of life is about timing. Sometimes the right things happen at the wrong time, and sometimes the wrong things happen at the right time. Sometimes opportunities arise at the perfect timing. But we are not entirely powerless. We need to be aware of the timing of life, and how different periods of our life present different challenges.

It is good to stretch ourselves. It is good to challenge ourselves, but it is also important to pick your timing. You may want to learn to jump your horse, but if you are currently so stressed that all you can manage to do is simply groom him every evening, this is probably not the best time. If you have young children who wake you up all night, now is probably not the best time to do that difficult online course you had been looking at.

Don’t set yourself up for failure by not understanding the importance of timing. Timing is everything. If you are working on your trot canter transitions, there are some that feel effortless and others that don’t. Some of this is down to the timing of when you ask for the canter. There are good moments to ask for canter and bad ones. There are good times to challenge yourself and bad ones.

Sometimes there is no choice, you simply have to do it now. Take the job, ask for canter, you may be pressured by money, or your dressage test may say canter at M. But sometimes there is a choice and when there is a choice, make sure you take a moment to consider the timing of your choice. It may not be the wrong choice, but it may be the wrong time…