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!

Change…

This will change everything for ever. The world won’t simply go back to how it once was, and neither will we. We will all have been profoundly changed by this time. We will have accessed parts of ourselves that we haven’t before. Aspects of our characters will have been revealed to us, the good, the bad and the ugly.

In Buddhism, you go on retreat in order to learn more about yourself, to address issues, to force yourself to contemplate the less desirable aspects of yourself. We have effectively been forced into retreat, the whole world is being forced to confront their worse selves without the distractions of everyday life. This is not a comfortable process, but it is a necessity for growth.

This is why we can’t go back, because we will not be the same people who stepped into our houses and shut the door. We will be changed, forever. We will have changed, grown, altered in immeasurable ways. We cannot simply go back to who we once were. We can only go forwards, uncomfortable though that may be.

This is not what any of us would have chosen, it is far easier to rattle through life never really addressing anything, than to sit down and take stock. It has been forced upon us. But we have to make the most of it, we have to regard it as an opportunity for change, for expansion, for growth. We must always strive to embrace change, to embrace the unknown, to remember how very brave we are.

The world is waiting, catching its breath, in all its glory, it is resting, recuperating, ready for when we burst forth, as better people from our long period of reflection. Everything will be different, we will all be different, the world will be different, and hopefully better…

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.

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!

 

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!

Confidence – it will return…

The rubbish winter is drawing to an end. Winter is hard work. The short day length combined with the erratically changeable weather so common across the United Kingdom, leaves us rushing and struggling. Our horses, usually a source of pleasure, become another daily battle. As the moments when we do manage to ride become less frequent, the enjoyment of riding can diminish.

Most things become better with practise, and confidence is no difference. On the downside, it is easy to fall out of practise if we don’t keep on performing a skill. It only takes 48 hrs to begin losing muscle, so imagine that confidence is similar to a muscle, lack of exercise over the winter can lead to reduced strength, and nerves can flit in and diminish our enjoyment.

However, there are ways to combat our winter nerves. Reduce your expectation, don’t judge your winter riding against your summer riding, the prevailing conditions are so very different, that it is simply an unfair comparison. There are plenty of ways to enjoy spending time with your horse in the winter that don’t involve riding, so if you are battling with your nerves in the winter, why not spend time grooming or massaging your horse, you hopefully will enjoy the opportunity to bond with your horse in an unpressured way.

Remember we are coming out of the winter now and as we start up again be kind to yourself. Don’t expect everything to click back into place straight away. But as the days lengthen and we get to spend more consistent time in the saddle, you will find your confidence will return rapidly. Just like your muscles, it is possible to build your confidence back up again, by simply working it a little bit every day. And just like muscles – your confidence will be strong 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.

Bucking – why does it happen?

Remember horses do not wake up in the morning and suddenly decide to be naughty! It is up to us to interpret their actions, find the root of the problem, and then take the necessary steps to resolve the issue.

So let’s take a look at the top five reasons why a horse may buck.

  • Release – Horses in fields will buck of their own accord, often attributed to “high spirits”, these horses generally appear to be revelling in the sensation and freedom of movement.
  • Fear – Horses will often buck when startled or scared. This is part of the flight response that keeps them safe from predators.
  • Pain – Horses cannot tell us they are in pain, often there only form of communication is through “naughty” behaviour.
  • Confusion – Your horse may not understand what you are trying to ask of him, he may react to this confusion by bucking, as he will want the confusion to stop.
  • Learnt behaviour – A horse (or more often a pony!) may have bucked once, often out of confusion, and then the rider may have dismounted. If this pattern is repeated a few times the horse may learn that if he bucked, he is essentially “rewarded” by the rider dismounting. It is all too easy to get into this scenario with your horse. If you are struggling consider consulting an equine behaviourist IHRA (Intelligent Horsemanship Recommended Associate) to help.

Bucking can be very scary, it is better to find a trusted professional to help you than put yourself in danger. Remember horses can only communicate through their behaviour, there are very few naughty horses, but there are however lots of horses in pain, scared or confused. It is our job as horse owners to understand their behaviour and work out what they are trying to tell us. Please ask for help if you are struggling with bucking in your horse or pony. This is where the value of having a trusted team of professionals is priceless. If you have a trusted instructor, saddler, vet, physio, farrier, between you all, you will be able to understand and resolve the problem.