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…

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…

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.

Top 5 tips for riding in a collecting ring

We are all feeling a little ring rusty after our prolonged period of box rest, and probably over-excited to be out and about again! So in case anyone needs a bit of a re-fresh, here are our top 5 tips for riding safely and responsibly in a collecting ring.

Top 5 Tips:

Pass left to left – the oldest and simplest of the rules. Always pass left to left when working on the outer track. If you struggle with left and right, write an “L” and an “R” on the back of your gloves.

Walk on an inner track – this allows riders travelling at a faster speed to continue around the outside, without you getting in their way. Likewise when transitioning down to a walk check there is not someone cantering up behind you, who might not be prepared for you to slow down.

Do not block the entrance – simple courtesy mainly, but also horse can often nap leaving or entering the collecting ring or arena, so it basic safety to keep it clear for people who may be having a difficult time persuading their horse to enter or exit.

Look up! – do not ride round staring down. Firstly it will tip your centre of gravity forwards, causing your shoulders to round and straining your neck, and secondly you cannot see where you are going! Simply being observant while riding with others will make you safer in the arena. It is always good to notice that there is a horse out of control at the other end, giving you plenty of time to come back to a walk and calm your own horse down.

Red flag on right, white flag on left – if there are flags on jumps, be sure to follow this rule, thereby preventing head on collisions. Do not cross in front of jumps without being very sure that no-one is approaching and certainly do not loiter around in front of the jumps.

If everyone can follow these tips for good arena and collecting ring use, we will all have a more enjoyable time. Remember a smile goes a long way, riding and competing are meant to be fun! Also, we are all human, mistakes happen. It is very easy to get engrossed in what we are doing and forget to look around and nearly crash. But most people will be forgiving as long as you apologise. A simple “sorry” goes a long way and can prevent a small incident escalating into a massive row. Do put a green ribbon on a young horse, and a red ribbon on a kicker, so that other people are aware of your horse’s behaviour. If we all act responsibly and politely we will all enjoy ourselves.

It’s too hot!

It’s too hot…I struggle in the heat, my brain hurts, I can’t do what I usually do and have to change my day around so that I do all the outside things early and late rather than during the day as I usually do. Flexibility, that skill that is so important at the moment, becomes even more important during hot weather.

Flexibility, the ability to adapt easily to changing circumstances, is, I think, one of the most important skills that we can learn. I think they should teach children flexibility in school rather than some of the things that they seem to spend their time doing. That would be a far more useful lesson, than how an oxbow lake is formed (literally the only lesson I can remember from geography at school, and has had no practical application ever in my life, whereas mental flexibility I need every day and have never been taught!)

At the moment we need flexibility every day, every hour, as the world and our circumstances change in a kaleidoscope of chaos. Applying flexibility to our horses is just as important as applying flexibility to our own lives. If you bring your horse out to school him and you had planned to a particular exercise that your trainer had given you, it is important to make sure that that exercise is relevant for this day. If it is an exercise to stop your horse rushing, but your horse is very sluggish when you try to school him that day, the exercise is no longer relevant. It is better to think of a new exercise than simply to carry on with the other exercise, because that was what you had planned.

So the next time you come out to ride, make sure you are responding to how your horse is today, and training him from there, rather than simply following your plan. People change, horses change, we need to be flexible to adapt to what is before us.

Spring…it’s coming!

I just love Spring, and its nearly here! You can feel it in the air, despite the cold, that the sun is just starting to peep around the corner, the days are rapidly lengthening, galloping forwards into summer. It is wonderful!

But before you go out and saddle up and ride over the mountains for hours, leaving both you your horse aching and limping the next day, take a moment. Over the winter we spend more time indoors, sat down, wrapped up in layers of clothes. We don’t stretch (other to reach for more chocolate or the television remote) we huddle. We curl our shoulders against the wind as we haul sodden rugs across badly lit yards. We shrink our heads downwards to try and cradle some tiny remnant of warmth in our bodies. Then out comes the sun, and ta-dah! We throw our arms out wide, stretch and wonder why everything hurts…

Take it slowly, unfurl yourself from your winter ball, begin doing some stretches every day. This is for both you and your horse, there is no use one of you being all fit and supple is the other is creaky and stiff. Simple stretching exercises will help to get your muscles working again.

Build up your exercise gradually. Don’t suddenly go out for hours, I know it is tempting in the sun to savour every last moment but injuring either yourself or your horse will be far more frustrating than limiting yourself to one canter up that glorious sunny field.

Get your horse checked over by a trusted professional. The winter can be hard on horses, alternating between wet slippery fields and standing in stables, it is all too easy for them to slip or twist. Having your horse checked over before you start increasing their work load will help to prevent problems from manifesting. Likewise make sure that their saddle has been checked, their teeth have been checked. Ensure your worming and vaccinations are all up to date, so that you know that you are all good to go!

Spending some time taking it slowly in the early Spring, will help to keep you and your horse healthy and well, and make sure that you can enjoy all that the summer has to offer. Don’t go mad! Build everything slowly and steadily and you will have a wonderful time this year with your horse!

Should you stay or should you go?

The ongoing conversation that seem to be having with people is whether or not they should stop doing things because of the Coronavirus. This is a tricky one. The FEI is in close discussions with Japan over Tokyo 2020, imagine training for the Olympics, you are healthy, your horse is sound, you’ve been selected, and then it is cancelled. It puts your decision about whether to attend an event into perspective!

Like with everything I suspect the best advice is to be sensible. Government advice is to wash your hands often, to stay away from people who seem obviously ill, and to stay home if you are unwell. The PM has confirmed that sick pay will be paid from the first day that you are off sick, as long as you meet the qualifying criteria.

So should you go to that show you have been working towards? You need to weigh up the risks. Are you likely to come into close contact with people? Probably not. Are the people at the show likely to have come from overseas? Probably not, as they have spent all their money on their horses! If you have been training but consider it unwise to venture out too much in public, why not enter an online dressage test? Check out Dressage 4 All! 

The scientists are hoping that if they can delay the outbreak till the summer months, that the impact will be far less than if it had hit in the depths of winter. The other main consideration is who do you come into close contact with? Do you look after an elderly relative? Or do you ride horses for someone who is critically ill? Think about who else may be affected if you were to catch it and act accordingly. We can’t tell what will happen, the analysts have a variety of predictions ranging in severity, but no-one really knows. So, sit tight, be sensible and wash your hands!

Little by little…

…one walks far. I love this Peruvian proverb, it seems so apt for the modern day and everything that we do. I have seen it on a necklace, that’s on the wish list!

It fits so perfectly with everything. Want to compete your horse in a dressage test when it won’t even trot?  Approach it one step at a time, rather than sitting down and giving up. Work on the walk, practice your trot transition. Aim for one nice trot stride, come back to walk and then praise. Gradually that one nice trot stride will become a whole long side, gradually you will be able to maintain a whole circuit. In time, you will be able to add in a canter transition and repeat the whole exercise. Next you simply take your horse somewhere else and practice doing it in a different environment. And, then you are ready to compete.

Everything is possible. Your filthy, muddy, hairy pony in the field can be transformed into a gleaming show pony. Your terrible puppy that chews and runs round you can be transformed into an obedient well-trained dog. Your incredibly long list of things to do, can be broken down into small parts, which you can tick off.

Remember a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Every rider you admire or look up to had to learn rising trot, no-one was born knowing how to make a horse Piaffe. You can do anything that you want to do, you can learn to be good at anything. Everything simply requires the building blocks of learning. If you try and make your hairy pony do a half-pass it probably won’t, but if you teach it to leg yield, and then a few steps of shoulder-in and then build onto that some quarters-in, suddenly a few steps of half-pass are going to be there, and before you know it, you will be half-passing happily from one side of the school and back again.

Asking the right people

Asking for advice is a very sensible step, but it can go wrong. If you ask the wrong questions you will get the wrong advice, but also if you ask the wrong people you will get the wrong advice. Well, not necessarily wrong, but not the right advice for you.

So, a head teacher that I know was looking for a new computer system. He had not found out what systems the schools near him were using, he had gone to the best schools in the area and found out what they were using. It wasn’t the most expensive system, but it certainly was the best. His logic was that a great school would have a great system and the same applies to yards.

If you want to know which physio to use, ask the people who are doing well. If you want to know which trainer to go to, ask the people who ride beautifully or horses look so happy. People like being asked, they like giving advice. Just make sure that it is the right advice for you.

If you aren’t even sure where to start, look around, listen, and find people who seem to be having a nice time with their horses. That lady smiling as she hacks down the lane. That lady beaming as she trots down the centre line of her dressage test. After all it is meant to be fun! Or look for people with a similar type of horse. If you have a gorgeous stocky cob, ask other people with gorgeous stocky cobs, rather than flighty arabs. Advice needs to be for you and your needs, so spend time not only working out what question to ask, but also who to ask. Then you stand a reasonable chance of the advice that you are given, being useful for you.