I have a little rescue dog who was rescued off the streets in the Cyprus. I love her, she is wonderful. When we got her she obviously, had had no training, so we started from scratch. She has already exceeded my expectations.
We were warned that she would probably have been used to hunt and then slung onto the streets when she was no longer wanted. Having been bred to hunt and used for just that the chances were that her prey drive would be strong. We never thought we would be able to walk her off the lead, but after 6 months, she will walk off the lead, with an excellent recall. Her heel work is brilliant, she is getting the hang of a stay. She has mainly stopped chewing when left! I was happy when I could walk her on a long lead without her howling throughout the entire walk! (That habit was particularly stressful!)
To progress her training we are doing dog classes with her, and are gearing up for our next test. The trainer said something that really struck me while giving us a pep talk. “You don’t look at the certificate, you look at the dog.”
It is so true. It is all too easy to get caught up in needing to pass, or needing a better mark, a clear round, a qualification. But at the end of the day you look at your dog and your horse. We love doing well, we like our certificates and our rosettes, but the best feeling is when you have a good schooling session with your horse, or your dog recalls across a vast field towards you. That is what you see, that is what you feel. Not the certificates, or the rosettes, but that bond between you and your animal that is better than any shiny award.
Grief is strange, it comes in waves, it hits you when you least expect it, catching you unawares at the back of your throat. Unexpected things trigger it, songs, or smells. Random vistas stir memories long buried, which can erupt into sadness. A view down a track to a gnarled tree can unleash a torrent a grief. Whether we are grieving the loss of a person or an animal, grief can still be encompassing.
I have seen a brilliant graphic illustration about grief, which shows that your grief doesn’t shrink, just that you grow bigger. We are constantly growing and changing, our love of the person or animal that we have lost never goes, it is just that we grow to accept the loss.
My favorite quote about grief is: “Grief is the price we pay for love.” This quote is attributed to the Queen, though in fact it was is part of a longer paragraph written many years before by Dr Colin Murray Parkes which I will share here with you:
“The pain of grief is just as much part of life as the joy of love:it is perhaps the price we pay for love, the cost of commitment. To ignore this fact, or to pretend that it is not so, is to put on emotional blinkers which leave us unprepared for the losses that will inevitably occur in our own lives and unprepared to help others cope with losses in theirs.”
Life is a balance of good times and bad times, a mix of sunshine showers. All we can hope is that in the end, the good outweighs the bad, and that our over-riding memories are ones of laughter, and love. If that is the case, then personally I will accept the grief, in exchange for all the fantastic times, wonderful moments, and endless memories.
One of the great things about children is their joy in the present. As we get older, we become more pre-occupied and distracted by the stresses and pressure of our life. But children have that opened-eyed awe of the world. Children will be delighted by muddy ponies grazing in a field. Children don’t think of the work, or the cost, or the scheduling of horses around work. They don’t worry about getting that extra dressage percent, or whether the lorry will pass its MOT. They just enjoy the ponies in the field.
It is so easy to forget why we fell in love. We become caught up in the crazy circus of life. We forget that as children we just loved our ponies. We loved the ones we walked past on the footpath, the ones we biked past on our way to park, the ones we were occasionally allowed to ride at the riding school. We loved them.
If you are competitive or driven, it can be easy to forget the simplicity of that first love, the love of the pony in the field. It is easy to become ensnared by ambition and competition. That is not to say that competing isn’t wonderful, that ambition isn’t brilliant, because they are. But for some people they can lose that little child who just wanted to stand on the gate and watch the ponies graze. The little child who just wanted to hug them and pat them and didn’t think about scores, and judges.
Don’t lose the little child inside you. Don’t ever lose your wonder of the world. Don’t ever lose your pleasure in those simple moments, those wonderful moments that string together to make a wonderful life. That little child standing on the gate, is still there inside of you, don’t forget that.
It’s okay to find things difficult. The world is tricky at the moment and it is okay to feel that. There was a meme going around about enjoying time with your children and spend time baking or gardening, you might have seen it. This is all well and good, but all it actually does is make parents feel guilty. All we should do is be kind to each to other. Maybe some people find the structure generated by school suits their children better, lots of people are still being expected to work from home while home schooling, which is entirely unrealistic. You may as well try and email your boss while doing a canter halfpass! Most people aren’t worried about their children not learning, they are worried about them not learning social skills, not seeing their friends.
Now more than ever we need to be kind, but not only to others but ourselves. If you wouldn’t say it to another person why would you say it to yourself. The world is challenging and it is okay to find it so. Telling people to be positive can be undermining, can make them feel their response is not valid. It’s okay to not be okay. It’s okay to realign your expectations. Remember what you see online is a snippet of other people’s lives. For every positive post people put on you have no idea how much of the day they have spent sat on the floor crying and eating chocolate biscuits.
Don’t judge your life against other people’s social media posts. The world is difficult it would wrong to expect yourself to be unaffected by the circumstances. Be kind, realign your expectations, be kind, eat biscuits, be kind, hug your ponies, be kind, ring your friend, be kind. This too shall pass
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…
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…
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!
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.
You know the rest! Whether you love it or hate it, Christmas comes round steadily every year, and every year brings with the same conversations, the same choices, the same frenzied consumerism which many people strive so firmly to avoid. It is this time of year more than any other that it is hard to escape the relentless need to spend, spend, spend. The rest of the year I find it relatively easy to not buy, but Christmas can feel overwhelming.
I try and stick to the maxim of; buy from small businesses, buy something useful, or make a gift. I try my hardest to stay away from mass produced plastic rubbish sold in mega stores, after all if there is anything you want along those lines, you can usually find it in your local charity shop. But I find myself beset by the ‘have I bought enough’ question, which isn’t a reflection of my own feelings, simply a reflection of society.
Everyone is different, everyone has different financial obligations and priorities. Some people save all year to buy their children masses of presents, other prefer to buy random presents throughout the year. I like the random present approach myself, buying things as they take my fancy for people I love at varying times of the year, seems a much more personal gift than an obligatory gift bought in haste for a certain day, but we are all different!
So whatever your views are on Christmas, just make sure they are yours, that you are not guilted into spending more than you can afford by a society that has confused love with presents. A carefully chosen thoughtful gift will always delight. Buy them with love and kindness and the size or the quantity doesn’t matter, but the love does.
How many times have you heard the words “it’s only a horse” or “it’s only a dog”? Quite a few I would imagine, and those words are just as ridiculous every time you hear them. Yes, horses, dogs, cats, parrots (other pets are available!) are not human, but it doesn’t mean our connection to them is any less important, or any less deep. In fact, I have more conversations some days with my dog than other humans. She listens better as well!
Saying goodbye to humans and animals is always hard, the advantage with animals is that we can end their suffering, when we believe the time is right, whereas humans we have to wait while they wend their ways through their final days.
The love we feel for our animals is no smaller than the love we feel for people, it is often far less complicated. Grief around people dying is often entangled with guilt or anger, whereas animals don’t generally invoke such emotions, you simply feel sadness.
But grief is the price we pay for love, so part of the relationship with our animals must include grief at the end, else the relationship would not be the same. If we didn’t love our animals we wouldn’t grieve when then they died, but then we wouldn’t have enjoyed those years of fun. Terrible though grief, it is in fact a small price for the years of love. The alternative is not to love, and that would make the world a sad and lonely place.
The love you feel for your dog, horse, parrot is just as valid as the love you feel for a person. The one does not diminish the other, and an animal is never just a dog, or just a horse. They are the recipients of your love.