Horses are complicated animals, very complicated. Less complicated to an expert perhaps, but only after years of dedication, observations, gaining knowledge and working around them does an expert understand equine behaviour and psychology. In this respect a novice has no clue to the complexities of the equine brain. To a person that has no knowledge of horses whatsoever they must seem very uncomplicated, perhaps just a four legged mammal that people ride. This is why I write about horses, if I live another 40 years I will still not have even scratched the surface of the many subjects relating to equine behaviour. It’s a harrowing journey in some respects because as I gain more knowledge, I am also haunted by the mistakes I have made in the past. My aim now is to spend the next 40 years striving to get things right. I write because if I could help just one person avoid my mistakes and help someone understand their horse better, I know at least that horse will have a better life.
Slate grey mountainous cumulonimbus clouds had been rolling across the valley toward my location for the last half an hour. I hastened my attempt to remove every trace of manure from the paddock as the aerial equivalent of the Atlantic Ocean projected angry towering waves of water vapour high up into the stratosphere. Continue reading “The Fragile Horse”
A carpet of wet leaves were saturating my bare feet while squelching their disapproval as I ran through the dense copse of trees. Sunlight was penetrating the bows of branches that had now shed their autumn presentation. My mouth felt parched from running and the sun appeared overly bright even for an undressed canopy. I raised my arm to shield my eyes and continued to run. Continue reading “The Wrong Knickers”
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?
The blood curdling screams tore through the air like a hot poker being driven into fresh snow and exceeded the sound level of a glacier calving off the Antarctic Peninsula. If those screams had been heard at 2 a.m on a housing estate in Milton Keynes the police would have been called, an ambulance…heck, it would have warranted an armed response. But there was no reaction from the 30 something people that were in close proximity to this woman. Was she on fire, or was she witnessing the skies ripping open to reveal Jesus and the 4 horseman of the Apocalypse?
No she was experiencing a downhill, 30 mph flat-out gallop with the The Kimblewick Hunt. This screaming woman was behind me, as nearly everybody was considering I was riding the fastest pony ever to exist in the entire history of the planet. My 3 ring gag was about as much use as a sandbag used to hold back a tsunami. Even years later I am on occasion still jolted awake by the sound of the Master shouting “If you can’t control that horse you will go home!”
I do not turn my head to the sound of the terrified screams because things are going well for me. At least I tell myself that if my hearing is still intact I am therefore still alive. I daren’t move a muscle because in these situations ‘that image’ always pops into the equestrians head. Yes, you are in the midst of a flat out gallop and you imagine the horse tripping. It becomes apparent my nightmare pony has a plan to keep us both alive, for at the bottom of the hill is an open gate. If this had been a Sunday afternoon stroll with the labrador, this innocent looking gate would have proved no threat what so ever. But unless the laws of physics could be miraculously re-written in the next 20 seconds, 30 horses passing through this gate would be the equivalent of a speeding elephant trying to successfully negotiate a cat-flap. As we both passed last year’s winner of point to point (easily) while simultaneously committing the cardinal sin of passing the Master, we both pass through that opening unscathed. Well nearly, my ears stung quite considerably at someone shouting, but I hastily reassured myself that the person ‘who should go home’ wasn’t me.
We pull up and look back, and its carnage. Knee caps have been removed and indeed it’s now apparent it’s the Master himself that needs to go home. Well technically he needs a hospital and 6 months bed rest. He’s not alone either as I spot various people that have been ungraciously torn from their horse by every hunter’s worst nightmare…the fence post. There are even stirrup leathers and irons now adorning both posts. Hunters are sensible people and we always know how to react in such harrowing situations, yes we break out the whiskey and fags.
Theresa May has recently declared she would like to lift the ban on hunting and that she will renew the Tory pledge to hold a free vote on overturning the ban. This will undoubtedly upset various animal rights groups. Admittedly politics isn’t my cup of tea and I am happily perched on the fence over this, and can actually see reason in both arguments regarding ‘for and against’ hunting. I have seen a hare killed once by the hounds and the entire event of this animal departing our gracious planet lasted approximately 2 seconds. From half a mile away it resembled a hurricane of hounds dancing in a dust-bowl, and then it was over. The animals ate the hare and it would have barely been a mouthful each. The articles I have read depicting hunts chasing a terrified fox relentlessly for 3 hours was something I have never experienced.
Animal right activists may even gain a little comfort in knowing what the average hunter experiences out in the field. A small number of riders leave after the opening meet, more leave after the first hour. Add to that those that retire early when losing a shoe, and those riders that get lost or left behind. I can assure you 4 people will fall at the first hedge, another 3 will be wiped out by a fence post, and another 6 will be terrified at that downhill gallop.
Talking of which, what did happen to the screaming woman? After the whiskey and fags, and mopping up of various ungraciously dismounted folk, and bagging up an assortment of knee-caps she was last seen walking up a country lane toward the direction of her horse-box. Was she ever seen out hunting again? No.
The advert will nearly always start with how the owner is full of regret, they nearly always have a sad heart, sometimes family circumstances forces a heart-breaking sale, and apparently it’s time to let this amazing horse go to his forever home. This horse is incredible and will ensure the next owner can compete to a high standard. Next comes the parentage, and there will be some long-winded name the writer assumes everyone will have heard of. I believe some people may be interested in blood-lines but I also believe those buyers won’t be on Facebook looking for a ‘good-do’er’. Moving on, this horse will have hunted, competed at both show-jumping and dressage, is good in all traffic, good to shoe, box, load, travel, clip, catch and is 100% bombproof with 3 good paces and ‘easy’ in all ways. There it is, in black and white, the generic horse selling advert.
The writer will not tell you they hunted just the once because during the meet when the farmer’s wife was handing out sausage rolls and mulled wine the horse reared 97 times and kicked out at the hounds running around its hooves. The first jump was negotiated at a heart-stopping flat out gallop but in the last stride the horse did a gravity defying 30 mph to 0 mph sliding halt. But hey, all was not lost, the rider at least made the jump while the horse followed the hunt on the other side of the hedge leaving them quickly alone with just the sound of the wind for company and the ever fading bark of the hounds.
Competing at both jumping and dressage is true enough (probably). The advert would be too long if it actually included that while the rider was performing the part of the test that required ‘a medium walk on a loose rein’ the horse actually napped out of the arena door. Or that a relative/friend was drafted in to stand with a whip and a ready click of the tongue at the scary looking upright. This doesn’t matter because after the second attempt of the course it went ok-ish and they were pleased with the clear round rosette that now proudly adorns the fridge. Plus they did win occasionally, the year the horse and rider dressed up as Santa and Rudolf at the yard Christmas Show was a resounding success and over the years the story may become a little embellished to where it wasn’t a Christmas Show, no they actually won the Working Hunter class.
The horse was obviously good in traffic some 3 years ago when a group from the yard went for a hack around the village on a quiet Sunday afternoon. They met at least 4 cars and even John on his bicycle that was off to visit his Aunty Mavis who lived ‘down the way’. The horse wasn’t too sure about John and his bicycle, but going past this nightmare contraption sideways while snorting with a clattering of hooves still counted as been quite good, mainly because no-one died.
No-one ever seems to question why a 12 year old horse wouldn’t be good to shoe and box, but these details seem to add some padding to the already outstanding achievements of this amazing horse. As is the 3 good paces, I should hope so! I have to reach back, way back, in my memory to try to recall a sound horse that is missing a good pace, but I’m struggling to recollect a horse that can cope with both walk and canter, but is unable to execute a reasonable trot. Clipping always goes swimmingly well although it can be somewhat of a hurried affair to get it completed before the Sedalin wears off. Loading is also entirely possible, but the advert omits minor details such as it takes 3 hours, 46 carrots, a lunge line, 4 people and a bucket of feed to actually complete the mission of getting the horse on the trailer. But getting to a show on time is entirely possible if you start attempting the load at 4 a.m.
The ‘good to catch’ is somewhat worrying and things have not gone well if you have a horse that does not trust a human approaching it with a head-collar. There could be various reasons why, too many to include here, but all those reasons add up to a whole. This whole has produced an animal that wants nothing to do with you at all. Logic defies me why people then think it’s acceptable to tack such an animal up to ride. There is some work to do here and it does not involve riding.
Many adverts contain the same generic information yet no two horses have had exactly the same training and experiences. Never assume an 8 year or 12 year old horse has seen everything, or is experienced in all manner of environments and situations. You may just end up with an equine brain full of incorrect training and faced with undoing 12 years of miscommunication and unpleasant experiences. If all of these adverts contain the same generic information, then what aren’t they telling you? The adverts won’t contain information that includes intermittent lameness and bouts of colic. Or that yes, the horse is great on the road, but avoid garbage collection days, the horse cannot tolerate wheelie bins.
Lastly…100% bombproof? There is no such thing.