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.

Book review – Animal Osteopathy by Tony Nevin – part 2

Following on from our previous book review (click here if you missed part 1!) of this incredible book, we take a look at the chapter on horses. This has been written by an impressive collection of professionals; Chris Colles, Tony Nevin, Brendan Atkin, Julia Brooks, David Gutteridge and the wealth of experience shows.

 

I was particularly struck by the understanding of how the different professionals needed to operate together, and the inter-dependency of those professionals, including farriers and saddlers. The horse varies from the other animals in this book as it is usually a performance animal, so the expectation is higher. For example, your pet dog may be fine if it recovers 70% of movement in its leg, whereas horses tend to need recover 100% in order to be able to perform. You probably can’t achieve unless you work together as a team.

 

There is a section on different injuries that your horse can obtain and their corresponding rates of recovery, which while fascinating, is not a good read if you are nervous about vets’ bills! Joking aside, the clarity in prognosis is very useful, as it is better to fully understand the likelihood of recovery and to what level before one begins on rehabilitation.

 

The section about how to treat a horse is a must-read for anyone who is considering osteopathy as a career or indeed any related bodywork type training, such as massage or physio. The description on how to clearly assess and work with the horse and owner will be invaluable to your career. Even if it is not something you are considering training to do, if you have a horse this is well worth a read. If you understand what a professional is meant to be doing when they come and treat your horse, then you can assess whether they are competent even if it is not your field of expertise.

 

The insight into treating horses whilst sedated is fascinating, especially the description of how the “feel” of a sedated horse varies from an un-sedated one. Should you ever be in the position of having to discuss this with your vet and osteopath you will remarkably well informed and will understand why and what they are doing.

 

As before, this book is very engaging, regardless of whether or not you are a professional. It is readable by a lay person, you don’t need a science degree to understand it, but the insight gained will be invaluable to you as a horse owner.

Keep your eyes peeled for the 3rd installment of our book review, and if you can’t wait, order your copy of Animal Osteopathy today!

 

Back to basics…

Starting again, often means going back to basics. You might groan internally at the thought of going back to simply practicing walk to trot transitions, but those basics are the building blocks for everything that follows after. If you can’t ride a nice, smooth, responsive walk to trot transition how will you be able to ride a good trot to canter transition? If you can’t ride a good square halt, will you be able to independently move your horses’ legs in lateral work?

If you have started your horse again, you might feel as though you have slithered all the way down the snakes to the very beginning of the game, but those basics are imperative. Time spent on the basics, make the advanced work so much easier. Anything we build up from houses to horses rely on good foundations.

This time we have all experienced, this period of retreat has enabled many of us to go back to basics. It has allowed us the time to start over, to remember things we had forgotten about. Though it may have been uncomfortable, and unpleasant for some people, for others it has given them the time to reconnect, to go back to basics.

Sometimes we over-complicate our lives by forgetting about the basics, and we can do the same with our horses. For both of us, the basics are important. After all there is no use learning Mandarin, if you have forgotten how to kind. It is fantastic is your horse can do a flying change, but it is really of no use, if you can’t do a good canter transition in the first place.

Tricks are impressive, we all get blown away by a flashy trot or a person who can speak 10 languages. But in reality the transition that gets one into the flashy trot is more important than the flashiness. And speaking 10 languages is of no use if you can’t be kind in any of them…

Learning is liberating!

Learning is something we tend to think of as doing as a child. When we were children, we learnt all the time. How to walk, how to talk, how to read, how to do a cartwheel, how to tie a shoelace, the list goes on. But as adults, often established and successful in our career we can fall into only doing what we already know.

Learning as an adult is a different experience to learning as a child. As adults we assume, we should know how to do things, we should know all the answers. (We don’t!) So, admitting that we don’t know something is a brave move indeed. But learning a new skill as an adult can be a very rewarding and engaging process.

Now is the ideal time to learn a new skill. Have you always wanted to learn to knit? Learn to draw? Learn to play a musical instruments? Take this opportunity in this strange new world and try and make something with it. We are going to have to learn to live in our new world, so the skill of learning will be vital.

And remember that the very act of learning a new skill is good for your brain, and your neural pathways. This is a great description of why it is so good for you: “Education is key to slowing brain aging. Simply put, the more you know, the more you stretch your brain’s capacity for learning.” Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD, Cardiology.

So, look after your horse, look after your brain – what’s not to love?!

Please stay safe, look after those around you, offer help to the vulnerable and needy. Don’t let fear rule us, act out of love and compassion.

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.

5 things we love to do in the Autumn

Summer has slipped away and left behind a trail of golden leaves as we move into Autumn. As with all seasons, there are both good and bad points to this part of the year. Here are our top five things to do with your horse in the autumn.

1 – Look back at this year and look forward to the next one. We are so busy doing and being, and paying bills, and working, and riding and, and, and that we forget to take a moment to pause and reflect. Autumn is a great time to just take a moment and think about your achievements throughout the year, and maybe to consider some goals that you have for the forthcoming year.

2 – Learning. As the evening begin to draw in, and daylight hours start to slip away, it becomes harder and harder to spend hours in the saddle. However, it does become much easier to sit inside and read a book or watch a DVD! Take some time to improve your knowledge, not even necessarily about horses, expanding your knowledge is fantastic for your brain and yourself in general. “Understanding Horse Performance Brain, Pain, or Training?” is our highly recommended book and DVD.

3 – Massaging your horse. One of our favourite things to do with our horses when we cannot ride them. Massage is enjoyable for both horse and owner, and can really help improve your bond with your horse. Horse Massage for Horse Owners is a great place to start.

4 – Enjoy the Autumn colours. We love Autumn, the changing leaves and landscape can be startlingly beautiful. Make some time to get out in it and enjoy it. If you can’t ride, take your horse for a walk with you.

5 – Carrot or baited stretches. Another lovely way to spend time with your horse, both improving your bond, and helping him to stay flexible and mobile. Check out the brilliant book and DVD “Activate your horse’s core.” Remember carrot stretches are not appropriate for all horses, and stay safe.

Enjoy Autumn with your horses!

Little things…

Some problems seem so huge, so insurmountable that we can’t begin to work out where to start. Take climate change. What do we do? Where do we even begin? With little steps. Everything we do has an effect. Every action has an opposite and equal reaction – this is a fundamental law of physics (Newton’s Third Law). Every single action. If we all make small changes that overall effect will add up.

It is the same with our horses. You can’t change your hairy un-backed four year-old into a gleaming rosette machine overnight. But you can start with teaching him to stand nicely, and to be groomed. Then gradually teach him to accept a numnah and then a saddle. Little by little and over the years, you can create a massive transformation.

And sometimes we will make mistakes, sometimes we will go too fast, or down the wrong path, and that too is okay. It is okay to make mistakes, it is okay to fail, we are humans not robots. You might rush teaching your horse to canter, because the trot felt so good. You might be tired and grab a plastic coated ready meal. It’s okay, because tomorrow you can take your time and establish the trot before you canter. And tomorrow you can make a homemade meal.

We are not perfect, we are trying to be better. Life is a series of learnings, of opportunities, of successes and of failures, but tomorrow always bring you chance to do better. You are never too small to make a difference. No matter how small the step, a step forwards is always a step forwards. And by the very act of trying, by your very intentions in your heart you are making a difference. Keep going, keep trying, you will get there. It might be hard and it might be difficult, but it is worth it…

The difference between sympathy and empathy

Someone has fallen down a well. Sympathy stands above the well and calls down: “How awful! I’m so sorry for you!” Empathy climbs down into the well and says: “It’s dark down here, that must be hard for you.” Indifference says: “I don’t have a well. That will never happen to me.”

Strikes a chord? How many times have we turned to someone for support but not elicited the response we had hoped for, and ended up feeling hurt. Often this is unintentional. Empathy is tricky, but like many things it is a skill, and it can be learned, improved on and mastered. Empathy, is one of the reasons that we search around for other people who have had the same experiences as we had, so that they “get it”. Don’t get me wrong, sympathy is a million times preferable to indifference, but if you can master it, empathy is the skill to aspire towards. I use the “well” scenario if I need guidance with how to react to someone else’s distress or problem.

Imagine that you are struggling to load your horse. Frustrated by your efforts, you turn to someone on your yard. You could get a variety of responses.

“Well my horse loads.”

“How awful.”

“It’s difficult when horses don’t load, I have had one that didn’t load. That must be a concern for you.”

Which response is the best? The third one! If you then want advice turn to that person.

Remember that this applies the other way round, so if someone comes to you with a problem, try and respond with empathy. Even if, to you, their problem seems small, or easily solvable, simply responding to someone with kindness and empathy can go a long way towards making that person feel supported and heard.

The Art of Learning

I love learning. I find it endlessly fascinating to find out about things that interest me and to read and to share what I have learnt with others. I like the whole process and that moment when things click into place. But that moment can sometimes come from an unexpected source. Sometimes the best things that I have learnt are ideas or ways of being that I can transfer across from one to scenario to another. So I use tips for how to deal with a toddler on my puppy, and tips for how to house train my puppy on my husband…

I was reflecting the other day on the conversation that always occurs around Monty Roberts. People will always say; my horse won’t … but on being asked if they thought it would do it for Monty, the answer was usually “yes.” This is the training aspect of Understanding Horse Performance; Brain, Pain, or Training that we refer to, and one of the questions that we ask is “will your horse do what is asked if someone else asks him?” This is not saying that you are bad, or not good, just that you might not have progressed as far in your learning as another individual. If the answer to this is yes, then it is simply a case of training yourself, before you train the horse.

I saw this scenario beautifully illustrated in a dog training class the other day. A lady with a collie said she couldn’t groom her dog, it wouldn’t let her. She handed the dog over to the trainer. 30 seconds later I turned back to see the dog sitting patiently while the dog trainer groomed it. It was a classic “Monty Moment”. It was such a clear example of how we get ourselves in a muddle. She was convinced she couldn’t do it, so therefore the dog couldn’t do it. Once the professional had shown the dog what was required, he could then train the owner to do it. Once she had seen him do it, she knew she could do it.

So remember to ask for help, and take every opportunity to learn something from someone else.

Is the weather driving you mad?

We wait all winter for the summer, plodding through muddy fields, dragging wet rugs off horses, cursing the short day length which renders it impossible to get anything done. All winter we look forward to the summer and its endless hazy, sunny days where we are going to be able to spend hours playing with our horses under a gently glowing sun…

Then summer arrives, and after lulling us into a false sense of security, we are inundated with torrential rain, turning the entire countryside into something resembling soup. It is rubbish!

However, short of saving the planet, reducing the effects of our consumerist society and slowing climate change (but that is another story!), there is little we can do about the weather. The first thing to do is to accept it. Yes it is raining again, but being cross isn’t going to help. Yes, it would be lovely if the sun was out – but it isn’t.

Next make a flexible plan. You probably only have a few hours in your day where you could ride, so you can’t ride around the weather, but you can decide what you are going to do if it too wet to ride. You could sit inside, eat biscuits and mope, or you could spend some time with your horse inside. Why not give him a massage, (take a look at our book and DVD set Horse Massage for Horse Owners to get you started!), do some stretching exercises with him (Activate Your Horse’s Core has brilliant exercises in it!) or simply a really good groom?

You could maybe consider hiring an indoor school (share with a friend to keep the cost down) if you are too frustrated, or simply go riding – remember there is no such thing as bad weather, simply bad clothing!

Whatever you decide to do – enjoy it!