Step by step

I was reminded yet again about breaking down difficult challenges into smaller pieces. I know this, but constantly seem to forget it and just become overwhelmed. Yet this single piece of advice is constantly reflecting through my life. In work, at home, in relationships, in anything that requires training – horses, dogs, children, husbands…whatever the issue is, if you break it down it will become manageable.

Your boss gives you some seemingly mammoth task (bosses love doing this!), break it down into small pieces, tackle it one piece at a time. You need to teach your child to tidy their room, break it down, first put away the books, and then the clothes, suddenly each job becomes doable, and our stress is swept away.

You wouldn’t expect your horse to be able to a half-pass unless you had broken down the exercise into steps? So why do we expect ourselves to be able to do things without breaking it down into steps? In order to teach the half-pass we first need a balanced trot or canter, we need a good leg yield, a good shoulders-in and quarters-in, only once we can move all the legs of the horse, can we add all the pieces together and ask for a leg yield.

Don’t do the same with yourself, don’t ask for a leg yield without having learnt the component parts. Don’t set yourself up to fail. Set yourself up to succeed! If you spend time on the building blocks the rest will follow. If you are finding something difficult stop and think, can I leg yield before I half-pass, can I walk before I run? We wouldn’t do it our horses, so don’t do it to ourselves. Give yourself the optimum conditions to succeed, don’t send yourself off to do a medium dressage test when you are working at novice level at home. Be kind to yourself, as you would to others…

Our animals as teachers

Animals teach us so much about ourselves. They teach us patience and kindness, they teach us wisdom and tolerance. They teach us that you cannot use the same techniques for every situation. They teach us to be flexible and adaptable. They make us better people.

All the lessons you learn with your animals are transferable. Lessons from your horses can be applied to your dogs, lessons from your dogs can be applied to your toddler. The experience of having trained another being to do something, will always stand you in good stead. Whether you are training your dog not to jump up, or your horse to a do a better half-pass, many of the principles remain the same.

Animals have the ability to show us our good and our bad, our weaknesses and our strengths. Maybe we are not as patient as we could be, maybe we can be too prescriptive, whatever your flaw (and we all have them!) animals will show you. Because animals can’t tell you what you are doing wrong, you can’t become defensive. Your dog doesn’t say “Gosh you are so intolerant, why are you always like that, you’re such a bad person.” Your dog simply reflects you shouting at it, and makes you see your own behaviour reflecting back at yourself.

Great teachers always show rather than tell. We learn better by being shown. Animals are not judgmental in their feedback, whereas humans find it difficult to give feedback without adding their judgment in. Animals provide us with such a fantastic opportunity to learn more about ourselves. So the next time you think how much your animals cost you, think of the lessons they have taught you, and how much richness and depth they have bought to your life, and suddenly, they will seen cheap at the price!

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.

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!