Tag: riding

Equitation Motivation

No one naturally wakes up feeling motivated . People may wake up feeling an urgency or an excitement for what the day may hold. But motivation is not an instinct, it doesn’t spontaneously materialise if you eat well, drink plenty of water and sleep a solid 7 hours a night. In fact there are people (or have been) that survive eating junk food, embracing alcoholism and hard drugs and still wake feeling motivated. Just a simple Google search will throw up (literally) Vincent Van Gogh, Stephen King, Alexander the Great, Leonard Nimoy, and Betty Ford. Motivation has nothing to do with healthy living, practicing yoga or eating organic food. Living in a luxurious home, wearing designer clothes, driving an expensive car, dining out often, going on exotic holidays…just have the novelty factor, one which is temporary, and probably wholly unfulfilling especially in terms of daily self-motivation.

The only way to get motivated is to generate it.

Generating motivation starts within the brain with a decision, a promise, and one you will stick to no matter what. It’s about staying focused and drowning out all the useless noise of life.  On a personal level I cannot wait to find a good day to write, a day in which I have the energy of a spring lamb, or I would never type a single word. No matter how well I sleep and eat (and I do) every single morning I have about as much energy as that forgotten limp lettuce oozing mush in your salad draw.

But my decision, my promise to myself is I must write.

3

I had a very good vet once, and since, but this man is memorable for his lack of bed-side manner. Bereft of any bedside manner myself, and being quite envious of people that have mastered the art of diplomacy, caused me to really like him, a kindred spirit if you like. Once when handing him the phone to directly speak to a livery about his horse he covered the mouth piece and asked Is he moderately intelligent, or a simpleton? He wasn’t being rude, not in my book. He wanted to understand on what level he should explain a slipping stifle and bad conformation to someone he had never met.

Several months later he was stood chatting with me about my own horse and enquired what I planned to do with her. I didn’t really have any solid plans, just the usual stuff i.e. a bit of show-jumping, sponsored rides, maybe dressage etc. His response was Well, you had better get on with it then or you’ll miss the boat.

Maybe  a simple, flippant  comment but it had an impact on me because he was right, and it gave me pause for thought. People that go through life trying a bit of this, and a bit of that never actually achieve anything worthwhile. They don’t do so because they haven’t committed themselves. They have no single focus and that promise to themselves was never made. The motivation they so sorely needed was never generated.

I hear non-concrete aspirations all the time from horse owners no matter what their level of experience or ability, or what age their horse is. But stop waiting, the right time to make promises and generate motivation is immediately.

2

Instead of planning flat-work lessons in the spring, do it now, pick up the phone and book it. If you want to start getting out in the box more and exploring new hacking tracks, get loading. If you’re going to start introducing your horse to pole work soon, do it tomorrow, not soon. You tell me you have started groundwork training, but have you? Can you show me your 3 month plan and what exercises you will be doing? You would like to hunt but you missed this year’s season, but didn’t you say that last year?

If both the owner and horse is fit and well then the excuses are just that, excuses. Yes you can find the time, and yes you will find the money and yes we have all been there juggling the kids and a job. Take all those plans and put them in motion today. Take that first step, whether it’s a phone call or putting together a quarterly program. Get prepared and be prepared because planning is the key to your success and this is what will generate your motivation.  We are not talking about training for the Olympics here, although by all means do, but even happy hackers need motivation! So what if the ground is slushy in the winter, and baked hard in the summer, plan your route and climb aboard right now!

Write down your goals and start planning to achieve them immediately, or, and in the words of my favourite vet You will miss the boat.

…and what happened to my brilliant vet? He got fed up of moaning housewives that owned horses and returned to his first love, the racing industry. His words not mine, like I’ve already stated… he wasn’t the most diplomatic fella on the planet.

Images: Pixabay, CC0 Creative Commons, Free for commercial use , No attribution required https://pixabay.com/

Modified by author

Is Riding Dangerous?

This was the subject of a conversation I had many years ago with a woman in her 30’s. She was very typical of a person that rode in their teens but gave up for all the usual reasons such as university, getting married, having a career and raising a family. Some of us do all that yet still keep horses, those that do not often yearn for their own horse again. Thirty-something always seems the most common age to re-enter the equestrian life. The kids have become more independent, plus the finances are looking healthy, and more importantly, the passion for horses still remains .

These conversations always, literally always, go the same way. The person worries about taking care of their kids should anything dire happen to them, who will run the home, how will they survive without a second income etc? My response to her was You are more likely to slip in the bath and break your arm, than hurt yourself falling off a horse. A week later the same lady fell from a chair hanging fairy lights and broke her arm in several places. Yes, several places. Not a hairline fracture, not a nice clean single fracture, but in several places.

Five strikes and you’re out

That’s how I think of horse riding, handling and anything pertaining to horses. To explain, let’s think about the lady hanging fairy lights. The first strike came from using a chair instead of a ladder. The second strike came from over-reaching, or reaching too high, the third strike is exactly why the first and second strike occurred, bad planning and lack of preparation. She has 2 strikes left, but it doesn’t take a mathematician to work out the odds are now stacked against her. I wasn’t in the room with her, I can only guess where the last two remaining strikes came from. But once those strikes became 5, she fell.

Horse riding is about not stacking those odds against you and not gaining those 5 strikes. Even then, I have to tell you, something that you could have never imagined planning and training for, may still happen.

Heli

But that will be just one strike. You already know those strikes, I don’t have to tell you what they could be. There will be something you already know that will affect your horse on a hack, or in the show ring, or when loading and leading. Those that know those strikes but carry on regardless…then yes, for those people horse riding is dangerous.

Some forms of riding will definitely be more risky than others such as point to point, cross country and racing that are potentially more hazardous than dressage, or a hack around the local woods. Add speed, and add jumps and the potential for a fall increases, yet the people that partake in such sports do so fully aware of the risks. Some people are risk takers, others are not. The average horse rider is not a risk taker, they have more in common with the fairy light lady than Oliver Townend.

Eventing

Keeping Safe

Riding and being around horses is as safe as you want it to be. The training and level of experience of the horse needs to be appropriate for the work it’s doing, it also needs to fully accommodate the ability, level and experience of the rider. Training is something an owner needs to be doing all of the time and striving to continually learn. The most common falls I have seen have been the result of the horse shying sharply or bolting. But it’s not necessarily the cause, in both cases the actual reason people fall is because they lose balance during such an episode. Yet the more a person rides, the less likely a fall will occur, simply because they are improving their seat every single time they ride. Those losing balance on spooky, bolting horses…shouldn’t be on spooky, bolting horses, right?

While I don’t believe any horse will be absolutely 100% bombproof, there will definitely be horses that are less likely to spook through competent training. Yet a novice rider is already at one strike, simply for being unbalanced,  riding a spooky animal is 2 strikes, what else is it going to take before the balance between safe and dangerous is looking unfavourable?

The novice rider will be safe with one strike but only on the appropriate horse, and in an environment and situation that particular horse is comfortable being in. So know your level, understand the level of experience and training the horse has had, continue to improve your own knowledge, training and experience so that when something unexpected does occur, it’s just one strike, not one of many, this will keep the balance in your favour.

Some will argue there will always be an element of risk when riding a horse, and you will have no argument from me. But no more risky than driving a car, walking down the stairs, being on a plane, crossing the road…or even hanging fairy lights.

 

Images: CC0 Creative Commons, Free for commercial use, No attribution required. Pixabay https://pixabay.com/

Bombproofing: Sniffing For Confidence

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.

Continue reading “Bombproofing: Sniffing For Confidence”

Why I Hate Spurs

I am just going to come out and say it. Spurs should only be used if you are a very, VERY good rider. If a rider does not have the skills, knowledge or patience to re-educate a horse with desensitised sides, which is why the majority of bad riders are using them, then spurs are the last thing they need. It is not my intention to become part of the no bits, no spurs, no anything brigade. Spurs may have their place in the equestrian world, and are traditionally used all over the planet, in my view, to refine the leg aid. An extremely well trained horse may for whatever reason ignore the leg, and I use the word ‘ignore’ loosely. There could be many reasons why the horse has not responded in that particular instance. So strapped to the leg of an expert, one that is aware of their own movements and know exactly what they are asking of the horse, then yes spurs have their place. But then compare that to someone that has been riding 3 years and are strapping spurs on because they are about to do a pre-novice dressage test, or jump 60 cm at the local show.

Continue reading “Why I Hate Spurs”

Little Girls Own Chilled Out Ponies

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.

Continue reading “Little Girls Own Chilled Out Ponies”

Too windy To Ride?

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.

Continue reading “Too windy To Ride?”

Don’t Look Down, You Will End Up There

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?

Continue reading “Don’t Look Down, You Will End Up There”

The Emergency Dismount

Meredith and Linda had been meeting up at 10 am every Sunday for the last 6 months in order to hack out together. There was nothing particularly different about this day, they also chose to ride the same usual trail. The two ladies enjoyed each other’s company and would ride side by side chatting about the previous week’s events which involved work and family life. They both enjoyed this particular route as it consisted of a woodland trail that would lead to open country side with gentle grass slopes. There was one such slope that the two ladies always chose to canter up, and this day was no exception.

Meredith would always lead the canter as her horse was more sensible and easier to control. Interestingly however, no-one had ever suggested to Linda that if her horse was not easy to control, perhaps cantering through open country-side might be a bad idea. Both ladies went into trot, and canter quickly resumed as the horses had already anticipated this gait. Within 2 seconds this ‘normal’ day became catastrophically different from all the other days they had ridden together.

Linda’s horse was not interested in a sedate canter up the hill and went into gallop, quickly outpacing Meredith’s horse. The latter was not accustomed to being left behind, so quickly followed suit which meant both horses were now racing uncontrollably up the hill. Usually in these situations the rider will swear profusely while trying to regain control and will anticipate the horse will probably stop at the top of the hill as normal. Things may have turned out this way but Meredith decided to perform an emergency dismount (her words) when she could see that Linda had lost control of her horse, and her own horse had then become strong. In what have must been a split second decision, Meredith decided her life was in danger so threw herself from her horse. Unfortunately Meredith’s right fibular wasn’t designed to accommodate 11 stone of human hitting sun-baked ground at 25 mph so responded in a way which meant Meredith’s riding hat would be left gathering dust for the next 14 months.

Here you may think I’m about to wrap the story up, and inform you of the absolute disadvantages of using the emergency dismount, but no, it gets worse.

Linda was doing relatively fine during the first 4 seconds of this bolt, and even though she had lost control, nothing had really changed during this short interval. Both horse and rider were heading up the hill at neck breaking speed, so while probably terrified she was at least still in the saddle.

Linda had almost reached the top of the hill and her horse was starting to slow, at this point I fully believe Linda may have been able to gain control. Additionally the horse had probably been unwittingly trained to stop here anyway, as both women had done exactly that for the last 6 months. Meredith’s horse however, which was now riderless, completely out of control, and undoubtedly spooked at his riders dismount swept past Linda like a run-away freight train. The circumstances of what unseated Linda at this point are unclear, but they would be multitudinous non-the-less.

Linda’s hat will not be gathering dust for the next 14 months like Meredith’s, as Linda is now paralysed from the waist down and will be in a wheelchair for the rest of her life.

Was this an unavoidable accident? Not in my view.

Rightly or wrongly I believe Meredith put Linda in terrible danger by not continuing to try and gain control of her horse. Linda’s chances of gaining control with a panicking galloping riderless horse behind, beside or in-front of her were greatly diminished. All sorts of catastrophic events could have occurred with this horse running in a blind panic, there may have been children in the area, or even a busy road to cross further on. The hill should have not been cantered up every single time the ladies were out, and riding the exact same trail was a mistake. I am by no means blaming Meredith for Linda’s now tragic circumstances. However Meredith gave up all responsibility of the animal and the proceeding events by removing herself from the horse and the situation…to the detriment of Linda.

But rather than list all the things that were not right, let’s turn to this very dangerous, very misconstrued term I’ve heard bandied about over the last few years…The Emergency Dismount. Here is an example of myself performing such a thing; My friend and I are hacking out together at a steady walk and her horse spooks sharply at a pheasant flying up from beneath us. She is thrown to the floor and hurts herself. This is a location that I never intended to dismount, but it is now necessary as my friend needs help. I have done various things in this situation but they mostly consist of checking the person is ok, catching the loose horse, and ringing an ambulance if need be. An emergency dismount plainly speaking means an unplanned dismount when a situation deems it necessary. Ideally you will dismount when the horse is relatively calm, and standing still.

There is no way I would throw myself off a moving horse and I will hang on for dear life if I have been unseated. The times I have been thrown have been so fast and unexpected that I have hit the floor with relaxed muscles.

Leave the intended dismount at trot, canter and gallop to the professional stunt people and trick riders. They have spent many years perfecting this technique but still probably broke bones along the way, it also unlikely they call it an emergency dismount. If anyone would like to practice an emergency dismount at canter or gallop perhaps stand on the roof of a car travelling at 25 mph and throw yourself off, I already know you won’t be so keen on the idea.

*This is a true story although the names have been changed

Confessions of a Hunter: Part 2

Hedge Dwelling

The earliest records of the now almost extinct sport of Hedge Dwelling can be dated as far back as 1540. It is widely believed the sport coincided with the sport of fox hunting that had been growing in popularity in Norfolk since 1534. Traditionally hunting on horseback mainly focused on tracking deer but due to the decrease in deer populations open land was subsequently enclosed for protection purposes. This proved something of a hindrance to the hunters that ideally needed vast areas of open land to track deer successfully. Subsequently hunters began focusing their attention on hunting fox and hare. However this sport relied on flushing out small prey from hedge-rows which unfortunately hindered the hounds that had difficulty penetrating the dense foliage, due to the thorny and abrasive nature of the plants.

Records show around this time the sport of Hedge Dwelling rapidly grew in popularity as people were needed to flush out the prey that would go to ground in almost impenetrable undergrowth. Traditional attire of the Hedge Dweller consisted of a hat made of a hard substance which researchers theorise could have been made of whale bone, a thick tightly woven woollen jacket which was both water-proof and could protect a person from thorns, knee high leather boots and leather gloves. A stick with a deer antler handle was often carried to knock away thicker branches.

As said previously this sport is almost extinct, but I myself had the privilege of partaking in this ancient past time very recently. It is an early start for most people that hunt as there is much to do, which ultimately culminates in both horse and person attending the meet with the strictest punctuality and with a good standard of presentation. With this in mind the responsible hunter would expect to retire to bed at 9 pm in order to be at the stables at 6 a.m.  For reasons that escape me, although I have a vague recollection that whiskey may have been involved, I ‘retired’ to bed at 3 a.m. Therefore I was feeling somewhat bewildered that I was being prodded just 2 hours later by someone insisting one should adorn a pair of jodhpurs and to stick ‘that mess’ under a hair net.

My trusted steed was on true form as usual and is at best a handful even for someone that is compos mentis. However a thoroughbred intoxicated by whiskey fumes is a thing of nightmares for the rider that is non-compos mentis. As the previous night’s mascara was migrating down my cheeks and the hair-net struggling to do its job it appeared my reputation with this particular hunt was also about to unravel. Fortunately I was somewhat relieved to notice the hedge-rows consisted of a particularly dense and thorny variety of plant. Remembering the ancient sport of Hedge Dweller I was quick to grab the opportunity to redeem myself and volunteered to take my sturdy stick with the antler handle and be Chief Hedge Dweller for the day. I had planned to ask the Master permission but unfortunately he was not to be seen, nor the hounds or indeed, anyone else. I had unwittingly galloped off in another direction entirely away from the rest of the field during a lapse of consciousness. I put this partial black-out down to a dodgy prawn from last night’s malaba curry.

Hunting 2

My horse took her semi-conscious rider back to the lorry to which she quite happily loaded herself, and enjoyed the full hay net that had been tied up there. Fortunately there was a troublesome hedge-row quite close by that was crying out for the services of a Hedge Dweller and I was keen to carry out my duty post haste. By happy chance the traditional attire of this ancient sport was almost exactly the same attire worn by hunts in modern times, so I was well protected.

After a length of time being Chief Hedge Dweller I realised I was been prodded for the second time in just a few short hours. My friendly lorry driver had returned from following the hunt on foot, and felt a little baffled to find a horse on his lorry but no client in sight. According to him the sound of gentle snores were emanating from a nearby hedge and on investigating…found me. I vehemently dispute his recollection that I was asleep! No, I stand by the fact that I was an asset to the hunt this day by volunteering to flush out prey from the under-growth and felt proud to be upholding the ancient tradition of Hedge Dwelling.

The Strict Routine

My horse was very strong on a hack recently, and while we may have only been walking, it was still necessary to correct the speed. I hadn’t asked for this fast paced walk, in fact I was looking for a nice amble across the English county-side. The walk she had chosen felt hurried and anxious, and when I applied pressure to my reins she totally ignored it. Now I could have got home 30 minutes earlier than planned, but this needed correcting. Situations like this are no more than a nuisance at walk, yet my horse ignoring my pressure and deciding her own speed at trot and canter could prove a lot more dangerous.

Very frequently situations in the saddle are not always just connected to riding, and situations such as mine are a consequence of everything else an owner does around the horse. Yet I see very little evidence of people making this connection, I often see just the opposite. Problems in the saddle are just that, it’s a schooling problem, a bad temperament, the horse is in season, it’s the spring grass, the saddle needs re-flocking or a stronger bit is required.

A very sad situation occurred recently in which a young rider was thrown from her horse and received a fatal head injury. I may not know the exact circumstances but the article I read stated that the girl had finished riding and put the horse in the stable. For reasons unknown she brought the horse back out the stable and mounted the horse again. The hat had already been removed, as the saddle and she mounted on the concrete base. The horse bucked her off.

This is a set of circumstances in which having a strict routine could get someone hurt or killed. We see the same routine every day in which someone has finished riding, untacks the horse, grooms and feeds, or some variation of that, but usually some sort of routine is established.

Returning to my own situation of my fast paced anxious hack; this was resolved by giving some thought to what I had been doing the last few times I had both handled and ridden my horse. I had done this very same trail the last time I hacked and when I had finished I untacked my horse, groomed, fed and turned her out. I had unwittingly trained my horse that if we just get finished she will get a bowl of feed and can get back to her herd sooner. Schooling wise, I did correct this pace while riding but this was just 10% of what I needed to do to change this behaviour. I didn’t want a stronger bit, and ideally I wanted my horse not to be anxious when hacking.

The next time I handled my horse I fed her first, then groomed and did some groundwork. Some days I didn’t provide any hard feed and I avoided riding the same trail if I had hacked that way the last time. Sometimes we didn’t hack but rode in the arena, or did some road-work. Fundamentally I always did things (everything) differently than the last time. My horse is now in a situation where she cannot predict what is coming next.

Is she anxious? No.

My horse is calm because she is not in control of the situation, and if she is not in control then the person who is calling the shots…is me.

Be wary of livery yards that seem proud to advertise their horses have ‘a strict routine’. No don’t be wary, just avoid them. Ideally you want a yard that lets you mind your own business, which is entirely possible in my experience. The horses you see and hear in the morning kicking the stable doors wanting to be fed are not calm and contented horses, they are anxious.

horse-1618104_960_720

A strict routine has a knock on effect with everything someone does with their horse which involves riding and handling. The added danger is when you do something that suddenly breaks this routine. If you have ridden your horse at 4 pm every-day for the last 2 years then one morning decide to ride at 7 am, you may very well have a horse that throws a tantrum. It isn’t the bit, it isn’t the saddle, and it isn’t because your horse is mean. It’s because you have trained your horse to expect breakfast at 8 am and to be ridden at 4 pm.

I was made aware of a horseman a couple of years ago, although I do not know his name and I have never met him, all the same I tip my hat to him. He purchased a ‘dangerous’ horse. This horse was turned away for many months while the horseman just observed him. During this time the man could see nothing physically or psychologically wrong with this animal, so brought him back into work. In my mind and without a doubt I feel sure this man was bringing back balance to this horse’s brain. He was undoing years of bad horsemanship, routine, strong bits and uneducated handling…by just letting the horse be a horse for 6 months.

My partner hunted this horse several times after been cared for by this man, so you can believe me when I say this horse was not dangerous and was good as gold when ridden.

Throw that routine out, good horsemanship is not just about sitting in a saddle. Give some thought to what you do around horses. The rears, the bucks, the napping and being strong when led may just have nothing to do with your tack or because the horse is dangerous. It may just be better not to invest your money in changing tack, but investing your time in understanding horse psychology.