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…

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!

Always ask questions

Small children ask endless questions. ‘Why does the moon stay in the sky?’ ‘Why do I have to eat broccoli?’ ‘Where do birds sleep?’ As we get older we stop asking as many questions, we get complacent about the wonders of the world, and awkward at the idea of making a fuss.

When I became a director on a Multi-Academy Trust Board I was told to actively ask questions, to challenge what I was told, not to simply go along with it. Now I find that having been told to questioning in one area, I have become questioning in other areas. This is not simply being difficult, but more a case of not just accepting what is laid down in front of you. I realise how easy it is to be accepting of what you are told, and not to question it.

There are so many areas where it is easy to go along with what other people have told you. From the ‘this farrier is great’ comments, to the ‘don’t buy a horse from that dealer,’ ones. The world is full of endless opinions that we should question. You don’t need to go round treating everyone as though you are in a board meeting (you would rapidly lose friends!) but it is worth just keeping in mind.

It is wise to simply raise the question in your mind, ‘if the farrier is so good, why is horse always lame?’ or finding out that the dealer had refused to sell a horse to that individual because they didn’t deem it a good match. We all slant the world with our own version of reality, so all comments will always be from that person’s perception, our challenge is to not always take that at face value, but just do a mental check.

Most people will try and offer you the best advice, most people are generally kind about others, but it is sensible to always remember to maintain a questioning mind, so that you reduce the risk of slipping into the complacency of never questioning what you are told.

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.

I can see the light!

It’s coming, it’s coming! Already you can see the evenings drawing out, already I have been outside after 5pm without torches, walking on the moor in Devon. Already I am assessing the cloud cover to work out how more light we are getting this evening. Already the days are lengthening, already Spring is coming…

I am like a kid at Christmas about day length. Every day I get increasingly more excited, and tell other people how excited I am as well! A little like some people do about the snow…I go round saying, “look how light it is!” as though they haven’t noticed…

But it is amazing as the days lengthen, suddenly you can see all the hours you will have, all the fun you will have, all the evening hacks, the sunny evenings sitting on fences watching ponies, the quietness at the end of a sun-drenched day. Suddenly it unfolds in front of you, stretching out into time like a promise.

The winter is forgotten in a flash. The mud, the wind, the stumbling, sliding ground under foot, suddenly it has all gone, eradicated, disappeared, wiped out from your memories.

So here’s to the lengthening hours, here’s to daylight, here’s to riding in the natural light, after work, before work, after school. Here’s to never being inside, to no more dark evenings, to no more television, to no more watching the rain hammer down your windows. Here’s to moulting ponies, and dry gateways. Here’s to tan lines, and sweaty saddlepads. Here’s to leafy tracks and gentle grassy slopes. Here’s to sore muscles and hat hair. Here’s to summer. It’s coming, you can feel it in the aching stretch of daylight, hanging tenaciously in the air. It’s coming, it nearly here, it’s just around the corner…

(Possibly a little preemptive, but even thinking about it is cheering!)

Making the best of it…

This is Britain, number one topic of conversation in Britain is the weather. The thing about the weather is it is always changing, you can never depend on it, and you can’t predict what sort of weather you are going to get on any given day.

One day you are schooling your horse in lovely sunshine, the next day it is too hot and he is really sluggish. The next day you get on and the wind is blowing and he is really spooky, and then the following day it is pouring with rain and your horse spend the entire session pushing his quarters inwards. It can get really frustrating!

Acceptance is the key to everything. If you turn up at the show on Sunday morning, and the weather which has previously been perfectly sunny all week, suddenly turns into a howling gale, the first thing to do is to accept it. Yes, your horse would have gone better in perfect weather, but so would everyone else’s. Yes, you would have had a nicer day in the sunshine, but it’s not happening. Some things we can control, for example our reactions to our circumstances, how well we have prepared our horse for the show, but on the day we can’t control everything.

If you never ride your horse when it is windy, you are going to struggle at the show. However, if you have made a point of always riding your horse in all weathers, you can at least feel prepared going into the ring.

So remember, we live in Britain we can’t control the weather, but we can control how we cope with it. Make sure your horse is used to being worked in all types of weather. Remember to accept that the conditions on the day may not be perfect, but we just have to make the best of what we have.

Off horse exercises!

By Amy Craske

A good part of the work I do is as a riding instructor, both at a local riding school and freelancing with people’s own horses. I’m training with Mary Wanless and Ride With Your Mind to become a rider biomechanics coach, so I do focus a fair bit on people’s position and how the horse is responding to it. If you ever get a chance to have a that kind of lesson, I highly recommend it. If you have, I’m sure you will have been surprised at the huge difference making small changes to your position can make to your horse’s way of going. The thing is, often riding in a more balanced and effective position is hard work – it requires you to use muscles that just don’t get used very much on a daily basis! Sitting in an office chair, or whatever your daily job entails, rarely requires you to keep your balance on a moving object! And this is without even thinking about undoing any bad riding habits your body may have gotten into.

 

Adding to the problem of fitness is the fact that many of us are slightly divorced from what is going on with our bodies; our proprioception is not very good. If you haven’t heard the term before, lift your hand up and touch your ear. Did you need to be able to see your ear to be able to touch it accurately? That’s because you are using your proprioception. Unfortunately, most people have more difficulty working out what their lower leg is doing than finding their ear! Given all this, I’m often asked what people can do out of lessons to keep the good work going. Obviously the ideal would be to ride lots more! But with how busy most of us are this is difficult, and if you are going to a riding school may require remortgaging!! Lots of different riding methods have their own exercises to help with specific issues, I know RWYM. But for a general work out which will TONE your muscles, give you greater control and proprioception I personally think Pilates, Yoga or Feldenkrais are brilliant. They both, with a good instructor, also have an element of helping you control your breathing, practice mindfulness and get better at centring yourself, all of which are enormously useful skills around horses. So, do you have any other recommendations?