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.

Learning to be an Equestrian, not just a dressage rider…

Guest blog by Jane Broomfield of Silverdale Horses

When talking to various people in the horse world, I get a little concerned when they describe a person that has just started their journey with horses as competitor in a specific discipline, for example, a hunter jumper rider, a barrel racer, or a dressage rider.

Take a moment to work out what that means…. from the first time they sit on a horse, they have already been put into a “class”….

The job of that first coach is to teach a new rider how to begin their journey as an equestrian.

New riders need to be taught a basic understanding of the seat, the connection between the arms, hands and bit, basic good position, and how to ride a horse that may not do exactly as you would expect.

Like horses, riders need to be treated as individuals… Not a one size fits all approach

I spend as much time as it takes with each client to get them secure in their seat. They need to understand the correct position of their bodies, use each aid independently and have an idea how to react when things don’t go quite to plan. This takes time and patience from all parties.  I explain that this is what is going to happen and it will take time.

Riders should not be rushed, you would not expect a runner to run a marathon after 5 training sessions!

Fix your position, before trying to ‘fix’ your horse

Like our horses, we also have a correct way of going, regardless of the discipline.  Even experienced riders need to check them from time to time, it is scary how quickly we can fall into bad habits.

Holding your arms and hands correctly is not just for dressage, its for jumping and all other forms of riding too!

A rider with straight arms,  hands below the horses neck and open hands means they have no real control, and a horse that lives on the forehand. Relaxed shoulders, elastic elbows, thumbs up and carry your own hands.

Shoulder, hip, heel line is for all!

Imagine if your horse magically disappears, would you fall on your arse?  Then, you will fall on your arse when you horse does in fact disappear! Because at some point they will!!

Practice your 2-point

Everyone  should be able to ride in 2-Point or  jumping position, you never know when you will need it!

Independent leg aids

The ability to use your legs independently and move your horse away from the leg is necessary for both the dressage and jumper ring, even out on the trails…. How else are you going to get close enough to the gate to open it without having to dismount!

And keep a open mind

We can all learn from each other and we should all learn how to ride a dressage test, navigate a round of jumps or ride gymkhana games, you might just learn something new!!

With thanks to Jane Broomfield

5 top tips for riding in collecting rings

How to ride safely in a collecting ring.

 

It’s showtime! Which definitely means having warm up in busy collecting rings, but also for anyone who shares an arena at a yard, here are our top tips for having a nice ride in the company of others.

1: 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.

2: 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.

3: Do not block the entrance – simple courtesy mainly, but also horses 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.

4: 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.

5: 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.

 

Pippa’s Journey (so far!)

Pippa is my 11 year old 16.2hh mare who I have owned since she was about six month old. From a young age we (my partner Paul and I) showed her in hand for many years until we decided to start up a family business in Stourport on Severn 7 years ago. During that time Pippa had been lightly backed and had an absolutely gorgeous foal named Kipper (shired by my own little stallion Bertie,) however we sadly lost Kipper as a young colt.

 

Due to having Kipper and our energy being focused on the new business, Pippa became a much loved family pet but had very little work. She was a very green nine year old who had barely cantered with anyone on her back let alone anything else. It was until the summer of 2017 where I started again with Pippa and began to ride her.

 

During the summer I went to Lincomb’s adult camp which was one of the best decisions I made. It kick-started my motivation and boosted my confidence and I began to discover how much talent Pippa really had. She had never jumped before or done cross country but at this camp we did everything! During one of the lessons at the camp I met my instructor Angela, who has since been a massive help and incredibly supportive along Pippa’s journey. We began to have jumping lessons as well as flat work lessons and even began competing in local competitions.

 

However, things suddenly hit rock bottom in September 2017 when two weeks after I had lost my other mare Kalini, to colic (who I had also owned since a foal) Pippa too had colic and I was faced with the impossible decision as to whether to put her through surgery or not. After deciding to send her the next few hours were some of the longest hours of my like waiting to get the call from the vet to tell me how the surgery went. Luckily she pulled through but there was a huge road for recovery. Since then I have always known she was a fighter, there was just something in Pippa which made her fight that my other mare unfortunately did not have.

 

2018 was rather a quiet year for Pippa. She spent most of the year recovering and I wanted to give her as much time as she needed. We began doing some light work towards the end of the year and even some small dressage tests but had not been back jumping or cross country. During this time I began to sense that something was wrong due to her behaviour, mainly on the ground. She began to skip into canter on the left rein in particular. Due to her surgery I was determined to get everything checked and make sure that she was okay.

 

In early 2019 I booked Pippa in to see physiotherapist Sue Palmer and after an initial assessment Sue recommended I see a vet and suspected that she could have ulcers. From this I booked her in for an appointment at the vets and after a endoscopy they were able to confirm that she had two gastric ulcers, one that was stage 1 and another which was a stage 2 ulcer.

 

After some treatment (and some more treatment to prevent them coming back) Pippa is now on the mend (again). We have began to have some lessons and the improvement is already amazing. We have even began jumping again and it seems that Pippa has definitely missed it to say the least. I’m definitely excited for the summer and have booked into Lincomb’s adult camp once again hopefully alongside some local competitions for the summer. I’ve had many horses over the years but she is my one in a million horse and my absolute pride and joy. It has taken us a while but hopefully we can begin to expand both mine and her abilities and have some fun again.

 

With thanks to Emily for sharing her story with us. If you have a story you would like to share, please email lizzie@ethicalhorseproducts.co.uk