I have read several articles recently regarding bombproofing and many of them offer some handy tips and tricks. Most of them provide information on what many of us would do anyway in terms of schooling with a plastic bag, or tying one to the arena fence. But what I would like to add is something all of the articles left out, and the 2 things I do which are so fundamental I would consider it a dangerous oversight not to do.
I had a moment of confuzzlement recently. Reading equine body language does not come from watching several horse videos or from owning horses for many years. It comes from watching domestic and wild horses in person, online, studying images and experiencing a million moments on yards and often, observing how humans respond to horses, and vice versa. It takes all those things, and over a lifetime.
I raised my chin to look directly above me, the tall birch trees were swaying in synchronised unity. A million leaves being rattled by the wind had the sound not unlike a fast moving river moving over boulders. I admonished myself for having the stupidity to ride my horse through the large copse of trees on such a gusty day. But I had been ambling along oblivious to both the weather and where the track led. Furthermore the track had forked before the wood, so I had indeed the option of riding around it, missing it entirely. But no, I had been riding along like Dolly Daydream and it hadn’t occurred to me branches, even trees may fall on such a gusty day. Well, not until I saw how much the birch trees were swaying. Even the crows had the sense to leave long before the stupid human turned up. We should probably get out of this wood I muttered to my horse. My horse, who was also taking part in this Dolly Daydream episode, was gently chewing on her bit while gazing down the track. I don’t know what I was thinking, well, evidently nothing. It occurs to me now ‘thinking nothing’ is not such a bad thing sometimes. It really hadn’t dawned on me it might be dangerous to hack on such a windy day, and for good reason, nothing eventful happened.
Whoever came up with that line should be cold hosed on a winter morning, naked.Those that are fond of saying it should stop and think how those words may impact a child. I cringe when I hear an adult saying it to a group of children, it’s worse than cringing, I feel like someone has physically slapped me and it makes me wince. The line I usually hear next is check your diagonal!
See where I’m going with this?
Turnout was cancelled. I was keeping my horse on part-livery which included hay, bedding and a groom that would do all the turning out and bringing in. 20 plus years ago part-livery used to include everything apart from someone exercising the horse. You could expect all the mucking out to be completed, the horse groomed, even the tack would be cleaned. If an owner is doing more than actually tacking up and riding, then yards have no right to call it part-livery.
It was a tall young woman who was striding past my stable that yelled out the news the horses would spend the entire day and night stuck in a 12 by 12 feet wooden box. I had only been at this yard for 2 days, and had chosen the place specifically to get extra help with my horse. I was looking forward to having more quality time, rather than spending time doing all the chores.
Consider a person that has been show-jumping for the last 15 years then one day with a gut-churning realisation they suddenly feel apprehensive about the up-coming show this weekend. As the event draws ever closer the nerves increase and by the Saturday they are a quivering scared mess that would prefer root-canal than to actually be in the ring all of 6 minutes.
Losing confidence is the realisation you don’t know what you are doing, that’s it in a nutshell and it’s nothing to be ashamed of.
One might argue that this theory doesn’t make sense because they have had many lessons and have been jumping since they were 7 years old. But consider who taught you, was it Carl Hester or your best friends neighbour from down the street that used to ride back in the 1970’s?
Maybe the person was a qualified instructor and for some reason having this qualification means they can provide all the knowledge you will ever need to successfully excel at show-jumping. Has anyone ever asked an instructor to provide evidence that they excelled at show-jumping or any other discipline? I know I haven’t.
On reflection it seems rather risky and stupid to climb on board such a large animal to negotiate a number of jumps without checking the credentials of the instructor. Then consider the person who is teaching you without this qualification. Perhaps it’s someone that rides dressage only, or it’s the yard manager, or it’s just about anyone that owns or works with horses. People assume when they book a lesson for themselves or their child the person standing in the arena must be a professional.
It’s a very dangerous assumption.
This could mean the very foundation of your education in riding flatwork, jumping, hacking, endurance or cross-country is built on very shaky, crumbly ground. The knowledge you have built up in any discipline could be the equivalent of looking at a jig-saw with 102 pieces missing and the full picture is never revealed. The brain is an amazing organ that continually gathers information to help you survive, flourish and become successful. As the years tick by the brain will continually look for those missing pieces. Eventually your sub-conscious starts filtering through information to you that the brain is not just growing impatient for those pieces, it has accepted the jig-saw will never be completed.
The brain is saying stop.
Consider this; I get invited to conduct a lecture at Oxford University to give a speech on quantum physics. Well firstly I can talk, and have been doing so for 45 years. I have studied quantum physics and do in-fact have a science degree. I’m a grown woman that can operate a car to get me to the venue, and I know how to dress appropriately. Therefore I am fully equipped to conduct this lecture, right?
No, and the very thought of doing so is already making me nervous!
Now consider what’s missing; I am not accustomed to public speaking and quantum physics is a complex subject and was just one module during a very long degree in which I mainly studied Earth science and geology. There are too many jig-saw pieces missing for my brain to feel confident in conducting such a lecture. So while it may seem evident I have every right to be in that lecture hall, Professor Cox I am not.
The brain is telling me if the full picture cannot be understood then my chances of been successful are slim. This is translated as feeling nervous and not confident, even quite scared. This shaking foundation would register a very strong 7.9 on the Richter scale. My brain rightfully so, will tell me not to proceed.
An accident may damage your confidence, but if your confidence was in a good place to start with and built on a very good foundation of knowledge and skills, then I believe this is quickly overcome. Even the best riders will fall off…sometimes, even if it’s rare. Blaming a fall for a loss of confidence just isn’t acceptable. Blaming a fall for a complete loss of confidence when your foundation of knowledge was not strong in the first place is acceptable.
Confidence comes from knowing exactly what you are doing.
Tread with caution who you choose to gain knowledge from, as I am all too aware there are instructors teaching right now that themselves don’t ride anymore due to confidence issues.
What will they teach you?