Falling in love…

For various reasons (all of which are within the Government guidelines for what you are allowed to do during this time) my 8 year old daughter has spent some of the latter part of the lockdown on a dressage yard with the wonderful Leonie Brown of Daneswood Dressage learning about horses from mucking out, grooming to riding. Okay, so maybe we haven’t done much formal learning, but how many other lessons has she learnt during this time? This is her description of this time…

“Because I have ridden for a little every day, sometimes more than once a day, I have got better much quicker than just riding occasionally. I have ridden Tom and Nelson, I have hacked Nelson and I have been practicing a dressage test with Tom and Nelson. I used to be scared of trotting but now I am not.

I have learnt to tack up, put their saddles on, and their rugs on. I can put a headcollar on. I take the Shetlands for lead rein hacks and run so that they can trot.I helped Leonie do flag work with her horse Quince.

I comb them and brush them. I gave Tom a bath, this was my first time. I liked it. I can fetch all the horses in from the field. I can poo pick. We have electric fencing so the horses can’t get out. I have to wake up really early to go to the yard, I get really sleepy! I am getting much fitter, my muscles are getting stronger.

I am now in love with horses, but my two favorite are Tom and Nelson. I would like to run a yard when I am older, because I like being with horses. I went on my first hack in this lockdown and this is my favorite thing to do with horses.”

Here is a video of Amy’s first hack – click here!

Children are remarkable, they will remember the good parts of the lockdown, they will remember the things they learnt, the experiences they might not have had, they won’t see what we see. You are all doing an amazing job!

The importance of being outside…

I love being outside. Don’t get me wrong I am very grateful that I have a house and love going inside at the end of the day. But being outside is wonderful. Other European countries have had far more severe lockdowns than we have experienced with many not allowed to go outside at all. Without the ability to go outside, my mental health would have been shattered.

It has been long know about the restorative properties of a walk. Sad, go for a walk. Angry, go for walk. Bored, go for a walk. Confused, go for a walk. Walking improves mental health, reduces blood pressure, improves fitness, reduces stress. Walking is the wonder drug we are always searching for and it is free.

Part of the joy of walking is the exercise part, but part of the joy is being outside. Don’t simply stay cooped up inside four walls. Just popping your head out of the door will help. We shouldn’t simply sit all day slumped in front of a screen. Even brief periods of standing up and stretching make a huge difference.

We are now allowed to go out more than once a day, if we want. Remember everyone is different. Some people are happy with a short walk once a day, other like nothing better than a dog walk, a bike ride and a run all in one day. If you think your neighbor seems to be going a bit overboard, imagine how cooped up they felt before.

We all have different limits, different sticking points, different absolutes. We all respond to the same situation in different ways, our tolerances vary. However, we can all benefit from the healing powers of a walk. So make sure that you take one. No matter how terrible you feel at the beginning of the walk. You will almost certainly feel better by the end.

Steady does it…

You know that wonderful moment when you first get back on your horse after they have been off work. Yes, that one… You want to get on, ride all day, gallop across every field, half-pass from corner to corner, do endless simple changes, jump every fence…but you can’t, can you.

And neither will we be able to. The lockdown restrictions won’t just disappear and the world will snap back to how it once was. They will gradually relax, gradually we will have more freedom, more liberty, more opportunities. We have to be patient, almost I suspect, more patient than before. After all the self-control required to simply ride your horse for 5 mins after not being able to ride for 6 weeks of box rest, is far greater than simply not riding at all.

When you are rehabbing a horse after injury, or box-rest, you start with walking, then gradually introduce a few trot steps,and then a little more trotting and then a few strides of canter. You build up the time minute by minute and the energy levels each day and in time you are able to do everything you want.

But if you miss out the painstaking steps of building fitness and stamina for fleeting pleasure, your fitness has no longevity, it will let you down, you will re-injure, you must take it steady, you must build up gradually. Then in time you will be galloping across that field, attending that show, jumping those fences or simply hacking down a dappled country track.

And we must do the same. If we run around like lunatics doing everything we run the risk of putting ourselves back to square one, and that would not be a good thing! But if we build slowly, follow the advice, we should be able to rebuild our “fitness” and soon be out and about enjoying the world again…

Box rest tricks

If your horse is on box rest you are advised to give him plenty of things to play with. Mirrors in his stable, radios to listen to, turnips on ropes to provide him with things to chew. We need to treat ourselves in the same way. We need things to do, music to listen to, food to chew on, games to play. We need to keep ourselves occupied, stop ourselves from developing stable vices. Our brains need entertainment, our minds need stimulation.

We are at least allowed out for a walk every day, some horses on box rest are not even allowed out for a small in-hand walk. Though if you have a horse that is struggling with box rest it may be worth talking to your vet about walking him in hand once a day. Sometimes the psychological benefit of a daily walk will be worth the small stress placed upon the injury.

In the UK we are allowed a daily walk, other European countries are experiencing a more severe lockdown, sometimes without a walk. I fear I would rapidly begin cribbing and weaving if we were not allowed out for a walk everyday.

Remember just like horses all people will adapt differently. Some will be perfectly happy in their stables with lots to eat, and television to watch. Whereas others will be pacing around their stalls, kicking the walls and threatening to bite vast chunks out of their humans. If you are in the second category, that is okay. It is okay to not be coping, it is an unnatural situation. But if you are coping on box rest, that is fantastic, just remember we are all different, we all cope with things differently. Our horses are all different, they all cope with things differently. A laid back cob may be perfectly happy in his stable, whereas a over-excited youngster may find it very difficult to cope with.

We will all get through this. In our own ways and using different techniques and tricks. We will all cope with it differently, and some better than others and that is just one of those things.

Brave new world

In this brave new world, it is okay not to be okay. It is okay to feel like you cannot cope. It is okay to struggle. None of us were prepared for this. No strategy devised for keeping ourselves happy and healthy ever had these restrictions placed upon it. But time will pass, this will end. Remember, every day that passes, we get one day closer to the end.

Humans are incredibly adaptable. Already people have come up with new ways of living, new strategies to get them through their days. We are, when faced with no other choice, remarkably inventive. I hope that you have found new ways to be, new ways to cope in this new world.

Share your tricks and tips with others. If we all have one good idea and share them, imagine how many good ideas we will have altogether? Lots! Anything that works for you, whether it is a game that you are playing with your horses, or a way to make baked beans taste more interesting…

Discard the old rules that you had. I have always had screen time limits with my child, not any longer! In the grand scheme of things another hour spent watching television is not the end of the world. Most of the rules that we held were designed for a world we are no longer living in. You need to flex with the changing circumstances, you need to change according to what is happening in front of you.

The only thing that shouldn’t ever change is kindness. Today we need kindness more than ever. We need to not judge others, offer help if people are struggling, check in with your neighbours, your family, your friends, your work colleagues. Everyone will be coping with this differently, but everyone is affected, in some way.

Box rest for humans

I have much enjoyed the analogies comparing box rest for horses to self isolation for humans. I wonder how many people after this will feel slightly more sympathy to their confined horses! Hopefully we will remember the lessons learned during this time and make more of an effort to entertain our box rest horses in the future. We, after all, have television, internet, books, magazine, craft, a whole world of entertainment at our fingertips. Our horses have four walls and we wonder why they develop stable vices?

Indeed I see the attraction of weaving or crib, or eating my bedding and I have a whole house to wander round in, with endless different forms of entertainment. Knowing how much I look forward to my daily exercise, I can only imagine how much a horse would enjoy their walk in hand time during the day. Most horses on box rest are allowed some walking in hand time.

There is no point mending your horse’s tendon only to have created stable vices in the process. Similarly it is vitally important for us to look our mental health during this time. Anyone with existing mental health issues will be struggling at the moment. If that’s you, it will get better, it’s okay to not be coping, it is harder for you. If you know anyone with mental health issues, please check in with them, they are probably not okay.

Remember it’s not a competition, everyone will be having vastly different experiences during this time. A nurse working all hours with no family will be having an entirely time to a family stuck together in a house with small children. These are not comparable experiences, but they are happening at the same time as a result of the same scenario. All we can do is the best with the time that is given to us. Take care of yourself and those around you.

There are no words…

There are no words for this time. We have no map to follow for this time. All the normal rules no longer apply. The ways we previously lived our lives, filled our time, occupied ourselves no longer work. The world is different, shockingly so.

All we can is adapt, and then adapt some more. Never has the ability to be flexible been more essential. Human beings are endlessly flexible, we do adapt and change to our unique circumstances, and more extraordinarily we get used to it really quickly. Within a matter of weeks this strange new world that we are inhabiting will become our new normal.

So all we can do is keep putting one foot in front of the other, keep going, keep smiling, keep being imaginative in how we meet the challenges before us. And this time will pass, we will look back on it in wonder at how we coped. But we will cope. Better than we think we will.

Please be sensible during this time. I know it is boring, but now is not the time to try and back that nice 3 year. The NHS need us to stay out of hospitals. I know it is so tempting if you aren’t at work, the sun is shining and there is your 3 year old all ready and waiting. But really don’t!

There will be plenty of time later, there will be time to do everything that you want to do. But now is not that time. Now is the time to follow the guidelines, do what you are told and be sensible!

Please look after yourselves, stay safe, look after those around you, the elderly and the vulnerable. Shop from small local businesses, support your friends, neighbors and family. At this time of separation we are more connected than ever.

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!