Don’t live for sunny days…

You can’t live your life around the weather, else you will always spend your time waiting. And time spent waiting is not time spent living. Horses teach us this lesson so well. You can’t only ride when the sun is shining, you can’t wait for those mythical perfect days, you just have to get out, no matter what. And pleasure doesn’t sit only in the perfect moments…

Pleasure sits in hacking in a summer rain storm, trickles of water running down your neck, and the noise of hooves on the wet road, as the steam rises gently from the warm fields. The scent of wet horse, and the swish of their soggy tails. The unexpected pleasures of a wet summer’s hack. Think what you miss if you only choose to live for the sunny days.

And waiting for the perfect scenario means you never do anything. Life is never perfect. There will always be a bit of grit in your oyster, a pebble in your shoe. Life isn’t about the perfect moments, it’s about finding joy in the imperfections of every day, it’s the beauty in the flaws, the joy in the oddness.

If you expect perfection you will always be disappointed, but if you set out to enjoy the moments for what they are, you will be fulfilled. So remember the next time it is raining, and you want to go hacking. Fun can be had in the strangest of ways, and maybe the joy of a wet hack will come back to on a hot, sultry day, sat in a office, wishing for a cool breeze. The memory of the sensation of your wet jods, and the sound of the raindrops falling from the trees above, will cool you far more successfully than the feeble breeze from your colleague’s fan…

 

Remembering…

One of the great things about having children is that you get to see the world through their eyes. They can see the world more clearly than us, without the lens of years of problems, stress and sadness. They appreciate the simple things without getting tangled into a mass of history. And because of this they have the ability to make us see the world like we used to see it. They make us remember all the things that we loved, before complications got in our way.

I took my daughter for a hack recently, an off-the-road hack through beautiful countryside. This was something she really wanted to do, and so we walked along on our ponies watching the trees around us, and feeling the rise and fall of the ground, and the breeze. And there was no complications, there was no need to go faster or do it better. There was no need for more. There was just us and our ponies and the countryside. And I had forgotten how very special that can be.

We can get so tangled up in our desire to improve, our ambition to be better, so caught up in our memories of all that can go wrong, we can end up forgetting why we fell in love with horses in the first place. It is easy to get pulled off our paths, it is easy to lose our way, but there in the forest I remembered why I had fallen in love with horses, and watching my daughter just loving the experience, only served to increase my own enjoyment of the hack.

So if you are doubting your love for horses, go back to the beginning. Remember why you loved them, before life and all its complications got in the way, and you may just find that that sheer joy had never gone away, it was there all along, just waiting for you to find it under the trees, with the gentle thud of hoof-beats echoing into your heart…

How to bomb proof your horse…

We have all been there. Peacefully hacking along, enjoying the view, when suddenly your horse launches itself sideways, leaving your heart thumping, and your nerves trembling. Spooking is one of the main reasons why people do not hack their horses out, but it is possible to help your horse build in confidence and reduce the possibility of spooking.

First though we have to accept that horses are flight creatures. Their survival depends on their ability to flee when in danger, the problem comes that they can’t differentiate between actual danger, for example a lion, and perceived danger for example a crisp packet in a hedge. However, with training, we can help them.

Begin with working with your horse on the ground in a safe environment, such as an arena. Make sure that your horse is listening and responsive to you on the ground. There is no point in expecting him to listen to you when he is scared, if he is incapable of doing so when he feels safe! Start with something small, such a bucket, make sure that your horse will walk quietly past the object at a distance before beginning to move closer towards it. Only once he is happy with this should you begin to increase the difficulty of what you are asking of him.

If there is something in particular that your horse is fearful of on your hack, break this down into small, manageable steps. Does he spook when passing a farm? Are their flapping plastic bags and tractors? Work on each item separately. Begin with a small plastic bag, tied to the fence, again ask him to walk past at a distance. Gradually reduce the distance between the horse and the scary object, always praising him for the correct response. Once you can lead him safely past these objects, change the environment. Set up obstacles in a field and repeat the process in this different location.

Once you are feeling confident in the field, you can progress to leading him on a hack. Again, build up slowly. Don’t head straight off to the most scary hack, but rather build in stages so that you and him can grow in confidence. Only once you can do this should you progress to hacking him out.

If when hacking you become nervous or fearful of something, find somewhere safe to dismount and lead him past. The horse has not won if you dismount. In time he will become more confident, as he watches you walk calmly past, rather than feeling you getting nervous on his back.

Horses are incredibly trusting, they put their faith in us that we will protect them. If he trusts you, he will believe you when you ask him to walk past the scary plastic bag. By carefully putting the building blocks in place and helping him to overcome his fears in small, bite-sized chunks, you can turn your anxiety into enjoyment, and your fear into pleasure. While we cannot control the environment around us, we can work to give us and our horses the tools to help control our responses to whatever we come across.

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!

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!

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.

Stepping outside the box

It is very easy to simply do the same thing that we have always done. Whether it be the same exercises in the school or following the same route out hacking. It is all too easy to become entrenched in our habits. Stepping outside the box can give you fresh insight and a different perspective into your riding and your relationship with your horse.

Do you always work your horse in the school through the same set of exercises and through the same paces in the same order? For examples, lots of us begin in walk before progressing through trot work, and then finally to canter. Why not try working the canter before the trot? It can have the effect of opening the trot up and can be beneficial.

Or if you find that your horse seems a little stale, try going around the block in the opposite direction that you usually go. Suddenly, it will seem like a whole fresh new hack. Or you could try leading your horse around your usual walk. Both of you will gain a new perspective from doing that, and work in hand will always help your ridden relationship.

It is so easy to do the same things over and over, but sometimes it is good to set yourself a challenge and step outside of your comfort zone. It doesn’t have to be a competition or a huge challenge, it could be taking your horse to a different venue to school him or meeting up with a friend to go for a hack. Or going for an all-day hack (check your weather forecast first!) Whatever you choose to do that is different from your everyday routine will give you a new experience.

Every time we try something new, we learn something. It may simply be that we learn not to do that again! But trying out new things is good for us and our horses. Experiences can always be put towards learning, so that our knowledge and understanding increases.

I can see the light!

It’s coming, it’s coming! Already you can see the evenings drawing out, already I have been outside after 5pm without torches, walking on the moor in Devon. Already I am assessing the cloud cover to work out how more light we are getting this evening. Already the days are lengthening, already Spring is coming…

I am like a kid at Christmas about day length. Every day I get increasingly more excited, and tell other people how excited I am as well! A little like some people do about the snow…I go round saying, “look how light it is!” as though they haven’t noticed…

But it is amazing as the days lengthen, suddenly you can see all the hours you will have, all the fun you will have, all the evening hacks, the sunny evenings sitting on fences watching ponies, the quietness at the end of a sun-drenched day. Suddenly it unfolds in front of you, stretching out into time like a promise.

The winter is forgotten in a flash. The mud, the wind, the stumbling, sliding ground under foot, suddenly it has all gone, eradicated, disappeared, wiped out from your memories.

So here’s to the lengthening hours, here’s to daylight, here’s to riding in the natural light, after work, before work, after school. Here’s to never being inside, to no more dark evenings, to no more television, to no more watching the rain hammer down your windows. Here’s to moulting ponies, and dry gateways. Here’s to tan lines, and sweaty saddlepads. Here’s to leafy tracks and gentle grassy slopes. Here’s to sore muscles and hat hair. Here’s to summer. It’s coming, you can feel it in the aching stretch of daylight, hanging tenaciously in the air. It’s coming, it nearly here, it’s just around the corner…

(Possibly a little preemptive, but even thinking about it is cheering!)

Get ready…

It’s not that long till the season kicks off. The days are already getting longer, you are starting to look ahead towards the shows, deciding on your aims, working out your goals for the year.

Getting fit for the coming season is really important. We all tend to put on weight over the winter, the weather encouraging us to eat! Our muscle tone diminishes with reduced exercise and our general fitness level decreases. Getting ourselves fit independently of our horses is important to help our riding. Try and walk more, or go jogging to help increase your general fitness. If jogging isn’t quite your style, why not try some yoga or stretching to keep improve flexibility and muscle tone.

As well as improving our own fitness, helping our horses to improve their muscles tone and carriage is part of preventing injury. It is all too tempting to try and skip groundwork to get out competing or out for that really long hack, but the injury risk becomes higher if we miss the important basics.

The Equiband System enables the horse to build good musculoskeletal strength and facilitates the horse in flexing up through the spine. It is not a shortcut or a gimmick, but as part of a sensible and structured rehabilitation or training schedule it may help to encourage your horse to work in an optimum way.

There are no shortcuts to making you and your horse fit, but it is important to make sure that you have the best year with your horse. Time spent now on both of your fitness, will pay dividends throughout the year, so get those trainers on and start jogging! Remember pain now will bring you pleasure later, so as you’re running through the rain picture a glorious sun-filled hack for miles and miles and miles!

 

January is rubbish!

Nobody likes January, so at least you don’t have to feel alone in your dislike of the worst of the winter months. Everyone is fed-up, tired, skint. The days are short and gray. The fields muddy and windswept. Horses are skittish and spooky. Everything seems like hard work. The summer seems like a distant memory or an unimaginable future.

But all is not lost! There are ways to cope! Remember, is really isn’t that long until the weather gets better, the days get longer. February can be lovely. In no time at all you will be complaining about flies!

Take the time to sort out your tackroom, you don’t want to waste a precious sunny day on doing it. Pick a cold (not raining!) day and drag everything out, sort out rugs to be repaired, or binned! Sweep out all those little corners, make sure you have everything in the most convenient place. Think about what you use the most, what would be better on that high shelf?

If the weather is too miserable to ride, why not spend time with your horse on the ground? You can spend some time grooming, or massaging him. You can teach him tricks. You could sit in your stable (safely!) and draw him. There are endless ways you can build on your relationship with your horse without having to actually ride. Take a look at our book and DVD Horse Massage for Horse Owners for help in learning to massage.

Remember the days are getting longer, Spring will come, the grass will grow, the mud will recede, the days will get longer, your horse will settle down, your toes will stop hurting with the cold, and quite soon you will be wandering along a track on your horse in the sunshine and you will have quite forgotten about the misery of the winter.