It’s not just repetition…

Everyone always says keep doing it, it will get better. Keep trying, keep practicing. This is true, but only to a point. Practice does make perfect,  but only good practice works.

Imagine. You are teaching your horse to canter. Each time you ask for canter, you put your outside leg too far back and your horse bucks into canter. What do you think will happen if you keep on doing the same thing? Your horse will learn that when you put your leg that far back he bucks into canter. You have practiced, you have followed the instruction, but you have only practiced the wrong aid, so it hasn’t worked.

It would have been better in this instance to think, I am struggling with this, so I will wait until my next lesson and then check I am doing it right, rather than keep on doing it wrong. Maybe you could have just practiced your walk trot transitions for the week till your lesson instead.

Of course sometimes we aren’t sure whether we are doing right, but if you aren’t sure, then see whether you think you are getting the right response. Are you teaching your dog to sit? Is it sitting properly? Or does it keep lying down instead? Are you teaching your horse to wait in his stable doorway without rushing? Is it working? Most the time we know when we are doing it right, as we get the right reaction. Be mindful of whether the result you are aiming for is the same as the one you are getting.

Training is fascinating and endlessly rewarding and training using repetition is an essential part of that training, but it is vitally important to make sure that you are doing good practice not bad practice, as only perfect practice makes perfect.

Making the best of it…

The first action to take is to throw away our preconceived notions of what we should be doing, or what we want to be doing and instead concentrate on what we can do. If we are always yearning for something else, we forget to enjoy what we have. After all if we are not happy with what we have, why do we think we will be happy with more?

The world is often difficult and even more so at the moment. So adjust your expectations and your threshold for happiness will change also. If your reduce your aims while life is challenging, you are more likely to reach your objectives and then feel satisfied. Setting yourself up to fail, doesn’t get you anywhere.

If you are struggling with stress and anxiety at the moment, don’t expect your riding to be calm and measured. You will only end up beating yourself up over it. Reduce your expectations. Now might not be the best time to try and teach your horse half-pass, instead do the things you both find easy, so that you end your schooling session smiling.

It doesn’t matter if you put back your desire to a medium level dressage test for another 6 months, in the grand scheme of things at the end of your life you are not going to lie there thinking about the fact that it took you a year longer to move up a level than you had planned. Remember the 5 rule. If it isn’t going to worry you in 5 years time, don’t spend more than 5 minutes worrying about it now.

Life can be difficult,  but it can be rewarding and entertaining and enjoyable, and even if it the moment we have to look a little harder and a little deeper to find the pleasure in the moments, they are still there…

Letting go…

The mental flexibility required at the moment is immense. The world is in a state of flux, and change is now a daily occurrence. Staying balanced during this time is a feat of mental gymnastics. Letting go of pre-conceptions is a huge part of mental flexibility. Making the most of what you can do, rather than hankering after the unobtainable is a life lesson in happiness.

This lesson can be applied to anything. This week I had to let go of my notion about how long my child should do swimming lessons for, as it is simply not practical to do swimming lessons during this time. Once I had let go of this fixed idea in my mind, other possibilities opened, other sports that are less restricted than swimming. It was a prime example in the merit of letting go.

The same applies in our schooling sessions. Sometimes we can come out with a fixed idea of what we want to work on today. And sometimes it will go to plan, but other days it simply won’t. At this point you are left with two options; battle away with your horse because, that’s what you had decided to do, or, take a step back, let go of your fixed idea and do something else. This is not “letting your horse win” or “not standing up to them” it is simply having a plan b. A lesson learnt through force and stubbornness will never be as effective as one learnt through enthusiasm and collaboration. So letting go, may be the best thing you ever do.

Be kind to yourself, the world is a complicated place, always and even more so at the moment, but learning to let go of your fixed ideas, will help you to flex and adapt in a rapidly changing world.

Naughty or struggling? Can you tell the difference?

Our horses rarely wake up in the morning, and think “today I will be really naughty…today I will only canter on the left lead not the right lead.” This is a common issue that many of us face, and our perception of the problem is one of the key factors in helping to solve this issue.

When we train horses, we train them to accept and understand the aids that move us from trot into canter. When they are learning this can be difficult for them, as they have to work out the connection between our aids and our desired outcome. It is our job to give these aids clearly and consistently, with much praise for the correct response, so that our horses learn what we are asking for. Without praise, they won’t understand that they have done as we have asked. Praise can be verbal, or can be through the release of the aid.

When faced with a horse which will canter on the left, but not the right lead, we become frustrated. To us, in our logical human brains, we feel that the horse must be being “naughty” as we know full well that he understands and can carry out the action from trot to canter. However, it only takes some weakness, or stiffness in his body, to cause him to struggle with the transition on this rein. This imbalance in the body can be harder to pinpoint than a more obvious lameness, but it is up to us to work it out.

Horses can only communicate their pain, or distress through their actions, they have no other language. In general, they are incredibly stoic creatures who will try their very best despite the limitations of their bodies, or our, sometimes vague, aids. If your horse cannot do something that you ask of him, it is not a personal insult! He is simply trying to communicate with you, in the only manner that he knows how, and it is up to us to listen.

There are many exercises that you can do on the ground before you get anywhere near riding that will help you to listen to what he is trying to say to you. Can he bend his neck equally to both sides? There are many excellent resources available showing you how to do simple carrot stretches (beware of your fingers!). When turned in a tight circle do his hind legs step under to the same degree on both reins? Does he track up evenly when walked and trotted in-hand? Any difference on the left and right side in-hand will be likely to provide you with the key to why he is struggling with ridden work.

So, the next time you are feeling frustrated by apparent naughtiness in your horse’s behaviour, take a moment to stop. Take a moment to listen to your horse, and think about what he is trying to say. Our horses are always talking to us, when we take the time to listen, we might hear what they are trying to say.

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!