Dark nights, short days

It’s not the weather that is depressing about the winter, though that can be tedious, it is the short days. The lack of daylight is my biggest problem. There is so little day in which to fit in everything that I want to do outside.

On work days you watch the light slowly fade from the skies and realise that you still have 2 hours left of staring at your computer before you can even go outside. And if you work outside, the day is suddenly incredibly short.

I don’t mind the cold, or even the rain, after all, there is no such thing as bad weather, simply bad clothes! This is true to an extent, buying decent outdoor clothes which are suitable for the location and the activity does make a difference. Walking clothes are designed for walking in, riding clothes are designed for riding. Even though it can seem extravagant to have specific different clothes for different activities it does make a difference.

Especially this year. This year walking is our saving grace, why else has there been such a rise in the price of puppies? The footpaths are once again full of people, carparks by well-known walks are overflowing onto the lanes. This year the money you haven’t spent in the pub, I suggest investing in good outdoor jackets, fleeces, layers. Layers are your friend, trapping in heat, providing you with the ability to alter your clothing depending upon intensity level. On, off, on off all day!

But clothing can’t help the day length, and unless you are lucky enough to have a floodlit arena or an indoor school, its simply too dark to ride. This said, simply hanging out with your horse at the end of the day can be a pleasant change from your office. Relaxing and de-stressing time spent simply being with your horse can be wonderful. If you want something to do with your horse that you can do in your stable, take a look at our books, Activate Your Horse’s Core, or Horse Massage for Horse Owners.

And remember it is less than 4 weeks till the shortest day, and then the days start getting longer again!

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…

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…

The Importance of Praise

I read this great story the other day about a teacher. The teacher wrote 20 sums on the board in front of a classroom full of teenagers. One of them was wrong. The teenagers started laughing. The teacher asked them why they were laughing, and the teenagers said “because you made a mistake.” The teacher said, “You laughed at me for the one sum that I got wrong, but you didn’t praise me for the 19 sums that I got right.” The teacher continued, “this is what will happen to you all during your working life, you won’t get praised when you do well, only criticised when you do badly.”

Firstly, he was quite right! The importance of praise in the workplace seems to be a foreign concept to many employers or managers, yet people will work so much harder for you if they feel appreciated. It’s not simply a question of being paid, people want to feel valued. Great employers have the ability to make everyone from the floor workers, to the managers, feel appreciated, it is one of the hallmarks of a good business.

Exactly the same thing applies to our horses. The good riders make their horses want to give that extra bit. Like the good employers whose staff will stay late to help, the horses of good riders will make that extra effort. If you praise your horse for all the things he gets right, he too will feel valued, and will understand what you want him to do. We forget to praise, we remember to criticise.

How often do you tie your horse up, groom your horse, tack-up and then your horse starts to fidget and you tell him off? But did you praise him for standing still all that time? Probably not! Exactly the same happens in our ridden work, we criticise our horses when they make a mistake (despite the fact we were probably responsible for it!) and forget to praise.

Interestingly the ratio between praise and criticism was subjected to academic research and reported in the Harvard Business Review. The ideal ratio is 6 positive comments to 1 negative comment. So the next time that you ride, or even handle your horse, try this. Make sure you have praised 6 times, before you criticise, and see what effect it has on your horse (and yourself!)

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…

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.