Monday, 2 November 2015

Character and chaos (or rather Tramadol, frustration and self assessment)

So, I was half way through writing my next blog whilst sat in the doctor's waiting room at the end of August, prior to some rather invasive (but necessary) surgery when I got distracted by the GP calling my name.  Then the snowball of organising my family, horses (and mental state) for the impending op, and subsequent weeks of inability took over.  No bother, I foolishly thought, I shall whimsically write my blogs and remaining clinic notes in hospital and while I recover.  Wrong!  You think as an ex-nurse I'd have a clue that I would feel like I'd been battered by Thor's hammer (no pun intended!)  apparently not.  I felt so awful I did not even want wine.  This is unheard of, even after hours in labour, giving birth (and a c-section) I could still find the strength to uncork and pour... (and shove over whoever got in the way of the fridge).

But all is well, and I'm glad to be on the flip side of things.  Recovery will still take a wee while but I feel I've now turned a corner.

Despite not having the energy to type or do anything other than imitate a hibernating bear, the thoughts have been stewing in my pain addled brain, ready to burst upon the page in horsemanship splendour. 
So enjoy, and I hope my rambling make some sort of sense.

The topic I mentally keep revisiting is one that Buck discusses in his book Believe (if you haven't read it, go do that now...).

The Qualities for Success.  Buck goes on to list 8 qualities which horses have and humans should emulate.

1. Intuition
2. Sensitivity
3. Change
4. Presence
5. A non aggressive attitude
6. Determination
7. Humility
8. Love

I'd like to think I am good with 1, 2, 6 and 8.  Always a work in progress, but these four traits come fairly easily to me.  Numbers 3, 4, 5 and 7 however, somewhat less so.

Now reading that list it would be easy to assume that if I have difficulty with change, presence, a non aggressive attitude and humility that I a) wouldn't be a bundle of fun to be around and b) am some sort of degenerate thug.  I'm happy to report I have been know to be fun and people even enjoy my company (go figure) and I'm about as aggressive as a sock.

What I am and indeed what the horses have helped me be, is self aware.  So, let me run through that list again quickly...

1. Intuition - now my mum used to nickname me the witch, for no other reason other than I am very perceptive without actually having to think about it.  I have also learned (the hard way) that when I don't listen to that 'little voice in my head', it is to my detriment.  Horses have helped me develop this skill and I know if I am on the right track.

2. Sensitivity - I am very sensitive to the emotions of people around me.  I can walk in to a room and pick up on the vibe of the people in there.   To feel the subtle change is key in this kind of horsemanship.

3. Change -  Well lets be honest, who is good at change? We are creatures of habit who like to grind our own little rut into the dirt.  Then life happens and we are forced to change and grow.  Change isn't always a bad thing and I am much better adapting to it and being open.  I'm I all signing and dancing in embracing it, er not quite...  But I have changed, I am adapting and honing the skills I need to enhance who I need to be, to be a better horsewoman.

4. Presence - in today's thoroughly sterile modern world of technology, it is increasingly difficult to be in the moment, to stay present in what is happening around us and what we are experiencing.  Heck, most people are too busy taking selfies of what they are taking part in rather than immersing themselves in the actually 'doing'.   Horses are only ever in the present... Maite reminds me of that everyday!!

5. A non aggressive attitude - Now this can be interpreted several ways but for me personally it is all to do with defensiveness.  This can be misconstrued as being aggressive.  Flight or fight.  This ties in with presence.  You bring your attitude and your baggage to the table then you will not be in the present working with your horse, and you will receive some very accurate equine feedback.

6. Determination - According to my husband I have too much of this.  I am very much the type of person if you tell me I can't do something, that's red rag to a bull and becomes incentive to prove you wrong.  However, with maturity comes some common sense and I now stop to think if I SHOULD ;)   Now, with horses you need something about you, you need the guts, you need TRY (but remember to end on a good note, don't lose sight of the slightest try).

7. Humility - This is a tricky one as if you have a problem with humility, people would assume that you are immodest, but I struggle the other way.  I have to remember my self worth.   Be humble and remember the enormous amount of trust a horse has to let you work with him, and ride him. Respect him.

8. Love - Where would we be without it?  I love hard and fall fast.  Horses are my all consuming passion.  Horses are my best friends, I love them deeply.  I also respect my fellow human, we're all in this for the love of horses I hope.

The above is my interpretation of these 8 qualities.  I hope you can see horses and life, it really is all the same.

Next time, where I am in my journey with Maite (with all of the above) and some day three clinic notes!

See you on the flip side x
(Won't be as long until the next one I promise)

Sunday, 30 August 2015

Presence and Parables

“You cannot teach a man anything, you can only help him 

find it within himself.”

― Galileo 

In a previously life a was a nursing student, and at some point I saw this quote and jotted it down on a mini post-it note and stuck it on my laptop.  Years have passed but this sticky little piece of paper has endured. Through several house moves and life changes, I could never bring myself to throw it out.  For the last few years it's been stuck on a bookshelf in my kitchen (now supported by sticky tape as it no longer has the ability to adhere on it's own) in an attempt that maybe my children would read it and learn from it.  Or so I thought.  I've now come to realise that that's not why I've kept it.  I kept it as I had no clue what it actually meant.  Of course I understood the literal meaning, and I'm sure I thought I knew what the deeper meaning to this message was all about.  Wrong.  I now realise I did not have a blind clue.

I had an interesting conversation with someone recently, who although enjoyed one of the clinics, found herself frustrated by the storytelling that Buck does.  She said she found herself thinking, "Oh why doesn't he just get on with it".   Hmm, that got me thinking and my response would be this.   Buck's stories are tales of his experiences over the years.  They not only serve as fascinating stories in their own right, but if you really listen to him, they are parables to illustrate a point or particular detail of your horsemanship.  If you do not listen, you miss the subtle nuances of his teachings.

Since this exchange I've gone on to think how many of us are in the room, or arena, or indeed in a conversation, but not actually present?  How many of us think we are listening to someone or our horse, but we are actually humouring the pause in our own diatribe, desperate to start our own talking or doing again?  How many of us are presented with a wealth of information or an experience and consciously or unconsciously ignore it?

I'm not talking about enthusiasm here, we all can get a bit carried away when it comes to talking about or doing something we love.  I'm talking of a complete lack of respect of who we are with (human and equine) and also a lack of respect for ourselves.  Why do we not value our own potential for development to actually absorb as much as we can, especially in a teaching situation.  We are there by our own choosing, because we want to learn, we want to be better.  Or do we?  Or do we just want to be there, and expect our horse to try, when in reality we are not actually present, therefore not trying OUR best but expect the best from our horse?

This kind of horsemanship is really about pushing the envelope in our own ability.  No one can do it for you.  If you truly want to progress and for your horse to progress, you have to be present, you have to take in as much as you are personally able to, you have to go beyond being a mechanic, you have to WANT this.

To be present, to be open, to be able to give it a go, to listen, to walk away thinking yes I got as much as was able to take from today. To TRY.

To have respect for the clinician, the other participants, your horse and YOURSELF.

Yes this is a journey, and don't misunderstand me, I'm not saying you have to be an expert and think you have it all mastered before you begin.  What I am saying is if you want to chase and hone the qualities it takes to be good with horses, feel, timing, precision, then you need to start by being present.  Feel your horse, listen to him, experience the ride.  Otherwise you will be so busy getting on with it, you'll miss both the journey and the destination.

So back to my post-it note.  I'm finally beginning to understand what these words mean.  I'm finally finding within myself what Buck is trying to teach us, and it really does have to come from us.

All of us learn differently.  The 3 main learning styles are visual, audible and kinesthetic, and I appreciate that parables may not be everyone's cup of tea, however, if you dial in mentally at Buck's clinics, what unfolds across 3 days is a rich tapestry of life, skill and experience.  Not just his or yours, but everyone's who is there, both human and equine.  It's a bounty of learning.

It is exactly the same with the horses.  Buck sets it up for them to find the answer themselves, he doesn't force them or do it for them.  He also does the same with us, and his tales are just another key to help us unlock that door.. all we have to do is listen.

See you on the flip side xx

Friday, 14 August 2015

Adventures of a Flat Footed, Buddhist, Drag Queen

I think it was on day 2 that I asked Buck a question about my horse being obedient but I felt he was mentally elsewhere.   He was responsive and respectful to my aids, but he didn't quite feel 'in the room' with me.

Buck told me as nicely as he possibly could that I needed to be more interesting for my horse.  Essentially, Tuff has to tune me out to tune something else in (this also applies to horses that like to make war/crabby expression with other horses).

Hmmm, now I knew this in a roundabout way before I asked the question.  I am very aware that I need to keep Tuff's attention, as with too much head space he makes up his own fun, but I never really considered that I needed to be more interesting, and more to the point what would classify as interesting to my horse?

Forever in the aim to become more horseman than horse mechanic I came home and really have sat and thought about this.  Am I ever interesting when in the saddle?  Or do I play out the same exercises in an attempt to make us both feel like winners?  In one regard, refining feel and softness, but sometimes paying the penalty of being considered regimented and dull to my horse?  What was lacking here (apart from wine dissolved brain cells)?

There is no doubt the exercises Buck showed us at Aintree have definitely helped spice up things in the menage, giving us both another level of communication, but I could not help feel I was fundamentally missing something.

Then it clicked.. whilst having a conversation about a cardigan, that in my husband's opinion made me look like a monk...  Tuff needed a purpose and I needed to try something different.  My cardigan had a purpose, and it fulfilled it well.  However it was not my usual look, but it felt good.  This is what I needed to apply to my horsemanship.  I'll get to the drag queen bit later...

So I made a commitment to take my riding out of the arena, and find purpose out on the trail.  Fairly simplistic in idea, but interesting in execution.   There are potentially a lot of distractions out hacking.  Be it other horses, riders, cars, sheep, cows, killer cyclists and ramblers or even the distraction as a rider to completely switch off and hand over the reins to your horse.   Never a good idea, but as a tired and harassed mum, is sometimes tempting.  So for a full two weeks I set off with Buck's voice in my ear and to begin with a simple ask of my horse... feel my focus and follow my feel in direction and speed.

So this exercise basically required Tuff to be on a loose rein and go in the direction I wanted him to go at the speed I wanted him to go.   My job was to not micromanage and only pick up the reins once he made a mistake (or if we were in mortal danger)  oh and to have lazer like focus.  Now focus is one of those things I am supremely good at when needed to be (i.e in mortal danger or if there is only one piece of cake left) but I can sometime be a very lazy rider, and once I start nattering, switch of completely and be a incompetant leader.  Tuff has the attention span of a gnat and is the nosiest horse I've ever met, so I was expecting a fair amount of correction both of myself and with him in the beginning, but what I found out about myself and my horse is when I upped the ante, so did he.

Treat them how you want them to be, not where they are.  There it is again.  This Buck fella knows his stuff :)

So Tuff and I continued our adventures, and I found myself introducing more and more of the exercises covered at Aintree, out on the trail.  But more importantly I was using them for a purpose, not just randomly implementing them.   They started to make sense to Tuff on another level.   Soft feel and getting to those feet proved useful when riding out with dear Clara, an older slower lovely mare.  Moving the front over particularly useful for avoiding gigantic rabbit holes, back up and moving the front and hind with precision for the many gates we encounter, following my focus is indispensable for many a situation, particularly when going through narrow gaps with your feet up on your horses neck!   Of course it was not all rosy, there were times Tuff was worried but I found he trusted my judgement, and that his feet were becoming mine and I can start to take them anywhere I need them to go... also short serpentines are invaluable when coming across killer soya bean pickers!

But the highlight for me, someone who has struggled to trust my riding and judgement for so long, was the long fast controlled trots on a loose rein, over open countryside, with my horse feeling totally one with me and moving in complete synchronicity underneath me.   Together in gait, speed, aim and focus.  Complete joy.  Buck is still teaching me long after the clinic has ended, as is Tuff.

So why the flat footed drag queen?  Well in the spirit of change and with a family holiday looming, I dug out my sandals and painted my blue-white toes a shocking shade of coral in an attempt to look 'normal' for a week.   Apparently I look better in my riding clothes... and like a drag queen in anything else...pass the wine!

See you on the flip side x

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Buck-et List

When written in Chinese, the word 'crisis' is composed of two characters. One represents danger and the other represents opportunity.
John F. Kennedy

After another lovely evening at my hospitable friend Layla's house, I lay in bed that night processing the events of day 2.  Tuff and I's long serpentines without reins that day were great.  Flowing, fluid and on point (most of the time).  We then moved on to getting down to the feet with a soft feel and seeing how slow we could get the walk steps, could we hang a foot in the air? With softness? Almost and yes!  When I got to Tuff's feet we had some beautiful, slow, controlled movement.   We also revisited stopping with a soft feel, again I felt we were making good progress with this.  Just as I was floating around the arena with a big smile on my face, Buck encouraged those of us that were doing well with this to start to think about picking a hind foot to stop on.  Hmmm... easier said than done.  Well the choosing the foot was easy...stopping on it with softness less so.  So as I lay in bed that night, my brain was playing...

Right Hind, Right Front, Left Hind, Left Front... over and over, while visualising and remembering how my horse felt both in the walk and when asking for the stop.  Feel down to the feet.  Being particular is intense work for the brain!  So after a mini mental workout I gave in to sleep, ready for day 3.

Day 3 -I think you can see the change in me in the picture above.  Tuff and I came through those arena gates loud, proud, ready to learn and completely focused.  I seized the opportunity from Buck through the fog of my own crisis, and my boy gave me his all in return.

We revisited the exercises from the following two days.  During which it was interesting to witness the progression with each horse and within each partnership.  For me, what was evident was the change between Tuff and I.  Not a change in which we were different to each other, more of an organic growth, where my horse was almost relieved when I expected more from him, as the clarity in the task and inevitably in the release, gave him great comfort.   He felt like a winner, I felt like a semi-competent horseman and above all we felt like a team.  He got softer, and lighter.  I became more particular with my body, more considered in the feel that I was offering him.  I began to really train myself to guide with my legs and use my whole body to operate my horse.  My hands were less tools of necessity and more for refinement.

The exercise I'd like to talk about that is really a linchpin for all of this is the short serpentine.

This exercise predominantly is looking for the horse to use all four corners of itself while reaching even.  This is achieved by asking the horse to walk forward while being laterally bended at 90 degrees, with ears level, poll higher than the withers.  Imagine if you will, out on a trail, riding around a small bush.. (or sage brush if in USA).

So when taking the horse either right or left, you still need to consider where those feet are, and get in time with the front leg you are taking in that direction, so that it is not a random swinging of the horse around.  To do that would be the equivalent of tripping the horse up.  Knocking them off balance in that way would soon equal a horse that doesn't want to move.   You allow a straight step or two before taking the horse in the other direction.  This allows you to get timed up with the other front leg before asking for the movement.   Do not make the mistake of taking a lot of steps in between the change of direction and allowing your horse to travel 10 ft.  All you will achieve is taking the brace out, then putting it back in with too many steps, taking it out again, putting it back in again.... you see where I'm going with this.   It will equal a long time before you achieve what you've set out to, which is a horse without brace, moving all four corners even.  Now Buck talks about 'legs only' with the long serpentine, but the short serpentine should never be legs only.  Buck also recommends the short serpentine if you ever find yourself on a horse that feels like it's going to blow.  Get on that short serpentine until you feel a change.  Buck told us a lovely story about his daughter being sceptical about the need to teach the short serpentine when she was younger.  She now teaches the colt start classes at MSU and has all of her participants do this exercise!

Tuff felt initially stiffer with the short serpentine during the third day, but we soon worked out the brace and heaviness and took it to a good place.  The picture below shows us in full swing.

Again it comes back to timing, feel and feet.  Think all the way down to the ground when you ride your horse.

I am still digesting all of the information Buck shared with us in those three days.  They passed far too quickly and after the changes made in three days, I cannot imagine what we would all look like after a week under his tutelage.

I will be forever grateful to Tina Griffen, Buck and Mary Brannaman, and all the support team for making Aintree the wonderful event it was.   Also the support of my husband Matt who took care of our little family while I was galavanting.

Buck gave me something back that I was missing.  His gentleness of spirit and kindness is a gift.  Thank you Buck.

 Finally I have to thank the one and only Mr T.  Tuff gave me his huge heart and soul during those 3 days.  He is a wonderful partner, teacher and completely my soul mate, I will treasure the memories we made at Aintree forever.

So what's next in my horsemanship?  Well in the words of Coldplay, "I'd rather be a comma than a full stop".  I will continue my journey of improvement, not only for myself but for both my horses.  I will continue my blog (with more exercises from the clinic), teaching, riding and shooting for the moon.   This level of horsemanship, refinement, and connection is definitely worth chasing.

I will leave you with a song....  

Mr T and I will see you on the flip side xxxxx

Sunday, 12 July 2015

Amy, Amy, Amy..

When you write a song, you have to remember how you felt, you have to remember what the weather was like, how his neck smelt.... - Amy Winehouse

Now I was a sucker for Winehouse's talent.  Whatever her personal struggles were, she was a talented songwriter, and a voice from another time.  Although it is a simplistic description above, this quote can not only be applied to any encounter in life, but in a clinic environment it serves to remind us that learning it multi-faceted experience.

You have to remember the participation, the detail from your involvement.  What it evoked in you, not just how it made you feel at the time, but how it made you feel afterwards.  Did it galavanise something within you?  Or strip back what you thought you knew and set you on a different path?

When recollecting my time at Aintree I take a leaf from Amy's book; although I have no sense of smell so that one is lost on me!  I try to remember how my horse felt, how my emotions affected him and the situation,  what the environment was like, and what the clinician and other participants brought to the mix.   Now that's a whole load of information right there, and that's before any breakdown of what was actually being taught at the time...  It's a heady mix of information, feel, emotion, skill; topped off with a lashing of vulnerability as to maximise your learning you have to be open to what is being presented in front of you.

Doesn't that all sound exciting?  Well it was.  It was exhilarating, enthralling and somewhat exhausting!

Day 2 was an eye opener.  After a good meal and decent nights sleep at my friend Layla's house, we drove back to Aintree the following morning.  Throughout the journey, my brain was on a bitter diatribe loop.... I'd survived day 1, I could just go home now couldn't I?  Now, I know that's not actually what I wanted to do, but my old best friend 'doubt' had woken up bright and cheery.   This was further exacerbated by how Tuff was; slightly tucked up, and perceived by me to be stressed from being in all night.  I know this horse inside out, and as soon as he had his halter on he let down somewhat, but the wheel of perpetual self doubt was in full swing.  My emotional state fuelled his and he went down to the arena like Seabiscuit.  He was not actually doing anything dramatic, he was obedient and to anyone else he probably looked fine.  But I could feel every bit of insecurity course through him, straight back into me like a circuit.   By the time we were in the arena and warming up, it all felt too much for me.  I quietly got on with what we were doing and as we worked around the arena, I came across fellow participant Ann who took one look at me and said, "Are you ok?"  

There's that timing again.

I confessed to Ann that it was all feeling a bit too much this morning.  Ann reassured me we all felt the same, including that we've survived day 1, let's go home! feeling.   Wow, did that make me feel better....  Ann then encouraged me to go and tell Buck how I felt.  "WHAT??"  My brain was screaming "Go speak to Buck when I look like I'm emotionally unhinged!!!???!!!!  Are you SERIOUS??"  

Luckily poor Ann did not hear my mental outburst, I simply replied I couldn't possibly, I didn't want to embarrass myself, or look foolish in front of someone I respected.  Ann appreciated that my week had been unusual with what happened to Dad, and hugged me.  As she did, I started to cry.  

At that moment Buck walked into the arena, and I tried to pull myself together.  Ann turned to me and said,

"Go and speak to him, I'll come with you.  If Buck knew you were struggling, and you didn't ask him for help, he would be disappointed as that's what he's here for"  (I may be paraphrasing here, but I think I covered the main bits Ann?)

So Ann and I approached Buck just as he was sorting out his microphone, (which he turned off as we spoke).  He asked me if I was ok and I said, "I'm not a crier, but..... " (then I cried a little, slightly mortifying)
I told Buck I felt that I was unravelling emotionally, that my horse didn't feel connected, and I was unsure what I needed to do/or that if I could do this.

Buck was as calm and serene as usual and said, "Ok, let's see what you've got going on", to which Tuff and ran through our groundwork.  Buck then said, "Well, he looks alright to me.  Go and take your time, get him moving out some more and when you're ready, get on".  I thanked him, he gave me a smile and said, "You're welcome".

As I walked away, the floodgates opened a bit, and there was a passing of tissues between old and new friends.  I set about continuing my groundwork while everyone had mounted up and was listening to Buck, and it was not too long before I joined them.  The relief and release I felt was immense.  In a short interaction, Buck had simultaneously taken the immense pressure I'd put on myself from me, and redirected me in a positive way.  He hadn't given me sympathy or help me wallow and stay in a place of turmoil, he hadn't belittled me or been frustrated at me for being upset;  he simply redirected me to where I needed to be mentally, where I could find comfort and relief.  

Treat them how you want them to be, not how they are.  Doesn't just apply to horses.   
(It works very well with husbands too.)

It wasn't about my horse, it was an amplified version of what was going on within me.  But I think Buck knew that.

The second day saw two distinct things happen for me:

  • Firstly, I hands down had the best ride on my horse ever.  He was absolutely amazing, and gave me his all.  He was a DUDE!
  • Secondly, the wheel of doubt has been put out of commission.  Permanently.  There has been a seismic shift within me, my confidence is growing and I know I can do this.  It's reinforced the horseman I am, and the horseman I'm yet to become.  
  • Thirdly, (ok, I know I said two things but this is pretty important).  The people I met at the clinic were all awesome.  But to those who gave me support, or I experienced a shared kinship with,  I am so glad our paths crossed and I hope we will meet again. You are all like minded souls and special people.  Ann, thank you for your help that day.    

As for Buck, I'm sure he didn't give a second thought about our chat that day, as that is the level of respect and consistency he gives everyone and every horse.  But I am still very grateful.

The picture at the beginning of the blog is of our conversation that morning.

The Road to Buck will never be over for me, but it's one I am enjoying travelling on, and since the clinic has lead me to this... :)

See you on the flip side x

Saturday, 4 July 2015

What is your truth?

 "The truth is the most dramatic story you can tell."  

                                                                              Robert Redford

This quote really resonated with me when I read it.   We are all unique, with stories to tell, and to each our reality is our own.  We can both experience the same event, and have a completely different recollection of it, and feelings assigned to that reality.

Before I delve into the first day of Buck's clinic, I want to share with you a glimmer into my truth.  Why for me this was about more than horsemanship.   Apart from the loss of my father, this clinic was always going to be a turning point in my horsemanship career for me.  Eight years ago I had to walk away from life as I knew it.  My horse, my job, house, everything.  I was a well educated nurse, wife and mother who after several years of having her confidence and self esteem eroded, walked away from a toxic marriage.  No one knew that abuse had taken place, no one knew that I was repeatedly punished for having horses in my life, no one knew I had to make a choice, as I wasn't sure if I could survive it any longer.

I didn't know if I'd ever have horses in my life again.  It's who I am, so I felt bereft.

But when I did, what shocked me the most was this constant, the absolute comfort and certainty of my confidence and skill with them, was shaken.   I openly embraced having horses again (and I have a wonderful husband and another child, life moves on and as Buck says, you can't live in two places at once) but this was the area of my life that was stuck, this was the area that has taken 7 years to repair.  For the most part the horses have helped by being my friend, helping me see I can trust my own judgement, and by not judging me.  They are my therapists and confidants and I will be forever grateful.  But the Road to Buck has been a longer one for me, than even I imagined.

So you can see this, for me, was far more than if I could take my horse to a Buck clinic, this was more about me having the faith in myself that I could go and feel I belonged there as a horsewoman and be the partner I needed to be for Tuff.  I'm pleased to say I felt I did that.

The first morning understandably everyone was nervous.  I felt very focused (although a bit sick) and set about warming up in front of the crowd.  Music played, an party vibe buzz filled the morning air, it was a good atmosphere.  It was even better when I had a few familiar, and not so familiar faces, come up to me and say they were rooting for us, and they'd been reading this blog (gulp)!

Normally everyone would be mounted by the time Buck joined a H1 clinic, but due to the nerves, Buck allowed us some more online time before mounting.. well, I was first up in the saddle...

Here I am, first day, riding alongside Buck (whoop!) Photo courtesy of my friends Joy & Heather x

I have to say at this point, as soon as Buck entered the area, there was a collective figurative sigh from the participants.  I have never met someone with such a calming, solid energy as Buck.  He was a joy to be around.  We felt it, and so did the horses.  So that's what I believed helped my cowgirl spirit and we went on to have an absolutely fantastic first day.  Exercises will be covered in detail in future blog, I promise!

Buck made us all feel at home, told us we were among friends and not to be shy.  We set about various tasks, including long serpentines.  Now these, Mr T and I usually have down pat, but I think my hands and legs were possibly on a delay system from messages coming from the old noodle up top, so when it came to asking questions, I found myself asking one I thought I wouldn't need to.   Now the emphasis here isn't actually about what I asked Buck (or the fact I was the first person to ask him a question!  I felt so comfortable it was easy),  it is the manner in which he responded.   I asked Buck about what should I do as I felt completely out of time when helping Tuff with the hand on the reach across when performing the long serpentine.....

Buck rode right up to me, read my name badge, backed up (this was all fluid and seamless on a horse he'd been on less than a couple of hours) and said, "well Kate....there will be times when you have your timing in sync, and then times when you feel like you've dropped the anchor...."  (I'll cover that in more detail soon).  What I found so, humble, so HUMAN, is that he took the time and the effort to read my name badge and address me by my name.  Well what's so special about that I bet you're wondering?  It is that the simple act of respect, that acknowledgement of me (and indeed everyone Buck spoke to) as a person that spoke volumes about him.   I knew before we began I would be in the presence of an exceptional horseman, I knew right then that I was also in the presence of an exceptional human being.

So, in that nanosecond I remembered we all have a cross to bear, and our own baggage, be it hand luggage or cargo sized, but that I would be absolutely fine, I could be authentic, real, and that wouldn't be perceived as a weakness in this man's eyes.   It would simply be my truth.

As we all know, horses are nothing but authentic, and now, I appreciate what the comfort of being truly accepted feels like for them.

See you on the flip side x

Sunday, 28 June 2015

Hot in The City

We're off!  Leaving Barnack, Lincolnshire.

                            We've arrived!  Aintee at Night...

My writing skills are marginally better than my photography skills, so please excuse the blurring above.  It came from a combination of fatigue, hunger and overwhelming EXCITEMENT!  What you are gazing upon in the picture above, is Aintree at approximately 10.35PM on Friday the 12th of June 2015.

That's right, Mr T and I had arrived.

We had a very smooth journey thanks to Manningtree Horsebox Hire, who chauffeured us in style.  I had planned to self drive, but due to my Dad's funeral being a few days beforehand I decided I needed to be sensible and someone else drive across country for 4 hours.

The air of excitement was tangible as we drove through the Melling Road entrance, greeted by T Team members who guided us as to where to go and what to do.  Now considering 50 horses were arriving, all of which after 10PM at night, I cannot praise the efforts of Tina Griffen and her team highly enough, it was seamlessly smooth.

Tuff travelled beautifully, and once I checked in, collected our paperwork and stable number, he walked off the lorry without a bead of sweat, cool as a cucumber and we presented, passport in hand, for inspection prior to being admitted into stables.   Once clear, Joshua Steer showed us to our 'room', which was already made up (and thank you Josh for adding my extra bedding to my stable)  and in between lots of 'hellos' and 'how are you?' I left Tuff to settle while I grabbed his haynet & waterbucket (priority number one) and then starting unpacking all my gear.  This was the only downside to being dropped off... I had to unload EVERYTHING into my locker.   I have since come to call this the 'Aintree workout'.   In very warm evening conditions, several trips back and forth with a squeaky wheelbarrow really did render me 'hot in the city'.  But the atmosphere was very relaxed and flowing despite the time of day and volume of horses, due entirely to the organisational ninja Tina is, her great team of assistants and helpers, and the camaraderie of all the clinic participants.

So I eventually collapsed into the 4 bed jockey accommodation at at around 1 AM.  I was solo in the room at that time, but I had some lovely neighbours (Sara & her helpers).   Over the course of the next hour or so, the room filled up.   No sleep was had by me, this was due to the heat, the excitement, and the mistakenly consumed Latte at 10.25 PM.... caffeine was not a friend.

Thankfully, everyone else looked like I did the following morning at 5.45 AM when I wandered into the ladies... sleep deprived, but excited.  I'm sure the shock of seeing me with my PJ's and cowboy boots woke a few people up.

Now at this point I have to say I was in a complete trance... I went through the motions of washing, dressing, attending to Tuff (who had had a brilliant night, our neighbour commented she had to pop her head over the door to see if there was a horse in there he was so quiet and chilled!)  but internally a storm was brewing and an internal argument was taking place....

Now Buck mentions timing a lot.  In reference to the horses feet, our feel, in life...  I think like a lot of people I haven't given the timing of things much thought (apart from my horses feet).  Well looking back over the weekend at Aintree, I feel that accurate timing was all around me.  This is why..

The internal struggle I had that Saturday morning was fuelled by several factors:

1. I had rocked up to Aintree that Friday night, knowing no one in person (virtually I had met a lot of lovely people going).  My good friend Layla couldn't be with me until just as the clinic started.   Now normally, being an extrovert that wouldn't bother me at all, I'll talk to anyone, it's getting me to shut up that's the problem.  I was so busy, on the surface I was fine, but that first morning I was feeling overwhelmed and rapidly convincing myself I'd made a mistake.

2.  I cannot escape that those feelings came from the fact that the Monday prior I had said bye to Dad.  Now if you're a regular reader of my blog you'll know that it was never a question that I was not going to go to Buck's clinic.  It meant way too much to me, but honestly I was still shell shocked with what happened.  My week had gone along these lines... Funeral, hangover, packing, washing horse, more packing, Aintree.

Now I bet you are thinking well where did the timing come in.   This is the neat bit...

1.  Those nice neighbours from the jockey accommodation?  Well, while I was trying to force some toast and juice down my throat sat in the cafe on the Saturday morning, they came and joined me.  Now they probably don't realise this, but their kindness and offer to help me get ready that morning single handedly stopped me from backing out.  Sara's friend Meg helped me get Tuff ready and even helped guide Layla to the clinic while I was going down to the arena.  Thank you guys, you really reminded me why I was there.

Oh and I was in room 13 in the Jockey accommodation, I took that as a good omen, it's my lucky number :)

2.  Now without sounding all cosmic and a bit batty, the timing of this clinic was a blessing for me.  At first I thought it was a happy coincidence, something to aim for after something so awful.  Turned out it was not about that at all, it far exceeded it.  I will go on to explain more over the next couple of blogs, but instantly, in that first morning of the clinic, I felt a whole lot better about life.

Horses aren't the only ones who shut down, Buck can see that.

Timing is everything.

See you on the flip side x

PS  Everyone was so lovely, it really made me push through. I wanted more than anything to be there, and seeing other people want so much to be there too was uplifting! Don't worry my blogs will get cheerier, and have more horsemanship in soon. That first night was pivotal for me, and opened my eyes to that I was exactly where I was meant to be at that time in my life x

Saturday, 20 June 2015

Where do I begin?

Firstly, the official bit.....This blog is my own work.  I do not represent Buck Brannaman, Total Horsemanship, or Aintree International Arena.  Pictures courtesy of my lovely friend Layla Nulty :)

Right where do I begin?  Apart from the obvious, my horse is gorgeous (please see above).

Now the dust has begun to settle in my feeble brain, I will be writing several blogs to cover everything that happened in what has to be, THE best clinic I have ever experienced.

Hats off to Tina Griffen and what I have now dubbed, The 'A' Team, in making this event happen and run so very smoothly!

Format will go as follows....

  • 2 or possibly 3 blogs, detailing MY experience of attending this event.  The sights, sounds, people, get the idea.  
  • Then there will be wine consumed, by at least me, possibly you too (unless you are under 18).   
  • I will then write another 3 blogs detailing exercises, words of wisdom, observations from the clinic. 
  • Then more wine for me, as writing is thirsty work :)

Sounds good? Great!

I will now leave you with one snippet that stuck with me throughout this clinic....'Treat them how you want them to be, not how they are'.  I can confirm this works with husbands too :)

See you on the flip side (V V V soon) x

Monday, 1 June 2015

Stop all the Clocks

Grief is like a wave.  It ripples and swirls, the pull of an undercurrent just under the surface, gathering it up into a crescendo.  This climaxes into taking whatever you thought you were, and smashing it against shards of pain so sharp and violent, your broken heart feels like it may never beat again. Then it pulls you under.

Deep, dark, unforgiving grief is my new bedfellow.

My Dad is dead.

Just typing those words breaks me in ways I thought were not possible.  Saying it out loud makes it too real to bear.  Watching people go about their daily lives offends me.  Why aren't they crippled as I am?  Why doesn't the world stop to acknowledge our loss?  Why is he gone?

The nurse in me understands why, the daughter in me thinks they are lying.  That he'll phone me to moan at me for having too many horses and spending too much on them, that he'll be taking the mick out of us all and saying 'GOTCHA'.  Knowing I'll never hear his voice again renders me mute.  My legs feel full of lead, my stomach full of bile, yet I endure, as plans need to be made, children and horses need to be cared for, and ultimately I am my Father's daughter, and his strength never faultered.

My husband has been my rock, and my family & friends have rallied.  I love you all.

If you're wondering why I'm posting this in my blog, here's why.

  • I'm a writer, it's how I process my feelings.
  • My Dad knew what participating in this clinic meant to me, he would want me to still attend.  So I will be.  
  • My horses are my steady constant and my best therapists.  They will pull me out of the abyss.
So my friends, I will be raising my beautiful engraved 'Buck clinic' glass to my Dad, and I know he'll be proud of me for doing what I love, and living life.

See you on the flip side Dad xx

Thursday, 28 May 2015

Time to bite the (Nutri) Bullet ... a draft blog from before the 2015 clinic that I have just found, and has made me smile :)

Now spring grass summons a time of joy and worry for horse owners in the UK.  We are concerned with such nasties as laminitis and our horses looking a bit too well in the girth area.  Well, a recent training session had me woefully pondering over my own girth area (expect me to sporting the above at Aintree).

Let me set the scene.  It was a warm sunny day (which means it is not raining and is unbearably humid in England), and I had planned to ride Mr T in the afternoon.  My lovely friend at the yard Julia has recently acquired a new horse on loan, a stalwart older mare named Clara and was keen to get her out on the local trail ride.  I haven't ventured that far with Mr T yet, but he as so good on the ground and we have covered lots of miles walking together over the years, I offered to come with her on foot in the morning in order to give him a good look around and to ensure we could adequately fit through or over any obstacles etc.  So off we set.

It started pleasantly enough, lots to see, squeezing through very narrow gaps due to overgrowth of local vegetation, dog walkers, birds, a lovely cool breeze, 2 chatty friends, relaxed horses, bliss.

Then it hit.  After traipsing through some undulating ground up onto the road to head back, I realised I was walking on a slight, but most unforgiving incline to get home.  Tuff was not bothered, neither was Clara (or Julia), I on the other hand could start to feel a slight burn in my hamstrings....  This quickly was forgotten about when I had more pressing matters to attend to, such as breathing.  There's nothing quite like trotting a horse on foot, on a hill, around blind corners on a road to get the heart pumping.  I went from puce in colour to the most vibrant scarlet.  The colour I imagine I would go if I ever saw 'Magic Mike' in the flesh.   

Why the heck did I come out with no hat and no tack on my blinking horse?  As it was, had it not been breaking the highway code to do so, I was considering flopping my wibbly body over his withers, Bridget's to the sky and hoping for the best.... 

So as I was gulping for air, and knowing we'd be going past my house, I put in an emergency call to the husband (who fortunately was working from home) for two icy glasses of water STAT!  I was also very grateful at this point that my horse walks at the speed I do and is always 'with' me (thanks Buck!).  I use the word speed loosely, imagine more the tempo of a herd of turtles stampeding across a river of peanut butter.... Anyway, after a quick H2O pit stop, and some environmentally friendly garden maintenance by Tuff, we headed for the yard.

I should add at this point we have an unusual amount of JCB/building activity in our village due to some new internet cables being laid.   Now, in my youth (think back to a period just after the dinosaurs, but before the internet came to the masses) I used to attract a few (unwelcome of course) comments from builders, so as we walked past a few having a tea break, I braced myself for some sort of verbal annoyance.  What I hadn't bargained for was this gem...

"Has your lawnmower packed in and that's why you took your horse round to mow the lawn?" 

Shocking I know, that a middle aged woman, purple in the face, sweating, walking a horse, didn't inspire anything else, and don't get me wrong I'm glad it didn't, HOWEVER, the combination of hypnotic jiggly jogging, severe lack of air, and the mundane gardening comments from builders has cemented, the idea at least, to try and eat a bit better and increase my fitness.

I mean I spend a lot of time, thought, energy and indeed wonga, meticulously planning Mr T's well being.  The best diet, tack, massage, chiropractor, top farrier, integrated fitness programme, mental preparation for clinic etc....

My planning for my own physical prep has been as follows..

  • Some fairly inconsistently applied physio exercises (sorry Frodo).
  • Some warm up stretching prior to riding which consists of me looking like the hippo ballerina from the old yoghurt adverts that used to be on telly.
  • Ensuring both hands can smoothly and effortlessly deliver wine and chocolate to my mouth at alternate intervals.  This one I'm good at.

The only time 'core' or 'cardio' are mentioned is when I've mistakenly eaten fruit, or I'm asleep after the wine and my husband is checking I'm still with the land of the living.

So a well known blender has been purchased and I have been frantically throwing a myriad of different coloured fruits and veg in there, in an attempt to feel healthy and virtuous.  Although the kids weren't impressed when it told them I'd liquefied Shrek & Kermit.....

Oh, and I did ride Tuff that afternoon (go me!) however, muscle fatigue had peaked by teatime and I then couldn't move by 730 pm....

Now where is the cake?

See you on the flip side x

Monday, 25 May 2015

The Old Grey Mare ain't what she used to be....

No, I don't mean Maite...

I read the above book just after the birth of my second child.   It was a no holds barred account of motherhood from a brilliantly frank, funny author, and contained details of all the stuff that happens to you as a person following being a vessel for 9 months.  The stuff that is real, messy, totally life changing and that sometimes leaves you rocking in a corner mumbling. "I can't do this!"  Completely normal, but not necessarily something society peddles or prepares you for.  Equally, becoming a parent can be a fantastic, beautiful, life affirming event, but you can't have the light without some shade.   This book became a lifeline in my times of serious self doubt about my skills, appearance, feelings and if I was generally doing it right.

This is one of the reasons when I came across Buck I was instantly hooked.  His way with horses is real, purposeful and maintains the dignity of the animal.  He does not dress it up to be all fuzzy and perfect, as it often is not.  Horses are large, unpredictable flight animals, but when handled with empathy and with an understanding of their psychology and physiology, everyone can win.

Now I have come across situations with horses while teaching where for one reason or another clients have gotten themselves to a dark place.  Now let me be crystal clear here, by dark I do not mean situations where deliberate, wilful abuse has taken place.  What I am referring to is where through lack of education, understanding or sometimes plain ignorance, the horse and rider feel there is no hope.  Some would argue that this is abuse, and to an extent I'd agree.  I do believe that we have a duty of care to be as educated and open as possible for the good of the horse.  I also believe that most people in this kind of situation are genuinely trying to do right by their animal and have decided the alternative road of submission and force is one they do not want to go down, and have realised a lot of harm can come from good intention.

The biggest challenge I have found is people struggle with having boundaries and discipline with their horses.  Ironically I see this a lot with children too.  Parent doesn't want to be too 'hard' by setting appropriate boundaries, and telling little Johnny no is 'mean'.  What ensues is a tireless negotiation with blurred lines and confused offspring.  Children need consistency and draw comfort from knowing what's what.  No different with our horses.   Some people think keeping him out of your space is 'mean' and not letting him walk up and all over you uninvited is 'hard'.  You can love your horse (and your child) without being walked over.

Yet some never stopped to question the figure of 8 piece of leather strapping their horses mouth shut, the draw reins holding his head down, the constant jabbing with a spur while simultaneously giving him nowhere to go in front, as his bit is cranked so far up his face he looks like the joker....and why not?

Because that's unfortunately accepted.
Your horse dragging you from A to B?  That's normal!  Spins around as you try to mount?  No worries, I've got 5 friends to hold him!

In short my friends, the obstacle is FEAR.

  • Fear of being different, of being the odd one out (Livery yards are an interesting social experiment, the Big Brother cameras would have fun on some).
  • Fear of having no control once aforementioned garb has been removed from horses face.
  • Fear that it means never being able to compete again (as much as I love the natural horsemanship movement, they've got a lot to answer for on this one, yes you can be an educated horse person and have competitive goals...)
  • Fear that it means admitting they don't know everything (There's that EGO again).
But just like the horses, with people you can't get them to the point where they fear making a mistake, or knock the curiosity out of them.  So I try my best not to judge and when people approach me interested in what I do, I try my best not to let my enthusiasm get the better of me and jump down their throats :)

This is where I feel Buck's visit and his material will be the instrumental.  It will allow those unfamiliar with the way he works to see that good horsemanship is exactly that... good.  

Simple, effective, and presented to the horse in a way he understands.  

I do think change is afoot.  Never has there been so much opportunity in this country to ride and spectate with some really exceptional horsemen.  There have been so many clinics this year, that if time and money were no object I'd be front and centre at most.   Mark Rashid  & Warwick Schiller have just visited, Martin Black is in the UK at the moment, Dave Stuart will be here in the summer and of course Buck is here for the first time in June.

There is also a wealth of support amongst riders seeking a different path, and willing to push themselves for the good of their horses.  I'm sure I'll make some firm friends at Aintree.

Buck is my one clinic this year, to ride with and learn from him is an amazing opportunity.  I'm not going to lie, I'm scared to death.  I'll be hauling Tuff for 5-6 hours on my own and pushing myself mentally, physically and emotionally at the clinic.   But hey, this old grey mare ain't what she used to be, and will most likely be found at some point in a corner saying, "I can't do this!"  But I will, as this is an exciting time to be a horsewoman.

Viva la revolución! ..... for horses everywhere x

See you on the flip side x

Sunday, 24 May 2015

Step by Step (oo baby)

Sorry about the title, those as old as me will recognise this as New Kids On The Block song from 1990 (if any of you say you were not born at this point, keep that info to yourself when we meet!)

Who knew that an American boy band were singing about horsemanship!  Ok, ok, so maybe it was more about dating girls with perms and having baggy trousers, but this song struck a cord with me this week when it came to thinking about training horses (feel free at this point to rush to YouTube to listen to 5 minutes and 26 seconds of 90's goodness, I'll wait...)

You're back? Really you came back after listening to that?  You're nuttier than me....

Now as I was saying...  Step by step (oo baby), gonna get to you girrrrrl.  Or in this case my horses feet.

Step....  Set it up for success
Step.... Offer a good deal
Step.... Reward the slightest try

I really want you in my wooooorrrrrrllllddd!!!

Step... keep your emotions in check
Step... let the horse make mistakes so you can both learn
Step...consistency... be the human your horse needs you to be and reliable

I really thinks it's just a matter of ttiiiiimmeeeee!!!

I think the reason that a throwback Thursday tune resonated with me about my horses is that although the subject matter was very different, the message is similar.

Be consistent with your steps/responses when with your horse.
Take the time it takes so you both can develop and move forward.
Have a clear goal in which to aim for together, and don't be discouraged if the horse (or girl) says no.  Did you ask the question wrong or ask the wrong question?

Hmm now I wonder if the Backstreet Boys have any words of wisdom? ;)

See you on the flip side x

** Of course dating girls is a bit different lads, if she really says no, leave her alone but don't let it put you off dating, plenty more fish in the sea and all that :) xx

All roads lead to Rome....or Aintree

A picture is worth a thousand words they say, and as pictures go this one sums up the last fortnight pretty well.   

It is difficult enough with horses.  Time, money, more time, confidence, more money.  Poop.  There's always poop.  Then factor in being self employed, 4 children to love, support and drive around like a local mini cab, (oh and a husband who works most weekends and a mum with severe Alzheimer's) and the time element of horse ownership can feel a little tight.  So in a effort to combat the endless guilt of not doing enough with horses, children/family, I try to organise my week in timetable form.  I have a weekly planner and in each little 1 hour box I duly allocate (and colour code) each segment to cover work, exercising Tuff, visiting Mum and any of the children's appointments.   At this point I should probably mention the boxes are pretty full and do not include any essentials such as eating, showering, wine consumption or sleeping.

Now I know, and I'm sure you know, that horses and children rarely conform to 1 hour time slots no matter how pretty their allocated colour is.  Lime for Tuff and pink for the kids in case the OCD among you were wondering :)   

So why do I bother?  Why do I spend at least half an hour and 2 cups of tea on planning time slots if I am 99.9% sure that it'll all go to hell in a hand basket the second the alarm rings on Monday morning?  It's because if I do not at least try and set straight in my mind a riding plan for the week, Friday evening will roll around and I will be muttering into my wine glass "Huh, where the heck did the last 5 days go?"  

It's a discipline.  As no matter how dedicated a student of the horse I am, no matter how much I study the theory when the kids are asleep, how much I eat sleep and breathe horse, unless I get my butt in the saddle on a semi regular basis I am not doing myself or Tuff any justice.   

But it was not working.  The equated to my type A personality becoming very stressed with regard to being prepared enough for the clinic, being frustrated that I could not be all things to all men (& boys, girls, equines, canines etc) and generally feeling not in control.

So, I have modified my plan.  The hour time slots remain, but I am more realistic in my expectations.  Instead of aiming for an hour in the saddle 3 days a week, I've broken it down to a quality 30 mins 4-5 days a week, not including any groundwork or issues that need longer time.  It's taken the pressure off me,  it has made things more achievable, and guess what, my confidence has soared this week.   The regularity of my time in the saddle is proving to be fruitful.  My sessions with Tuff are short sweet and very successful as a result.  

I feel confident that the basics will be solid for Aintree, and that we will have a foundation together from which to get the most out of the clinic. 

So as I sit down with my timetable this morning, highlighter in hand and tea hot and steaming, feeling very smug muttering whimsically to myself... I am supermum, I am a domestic goddess, I am an organised professional horsewoman, I am ..... sooooo very, very, very SCREWED!


See you on the flip side x

Thursday, 7 May 2015

Eye of the Tiger

I'm no Rocky Balboa, however I do like to apply myself with a similar amount of tenacity when needed, but with slightly better pronunciation of words (Sorry Mr Stallone).  This trait has been tested of late, bringing myself back from injury whilst trying to implement some sort of preparation plan for Tuff under saddle.

Enter my physiotherapist who resembles Frodo from Lord of the Rings and is approximately 12 years old.  Nice enough man-child until he released the daily regime of leg and pelvic 'strengthening' exercises upon me.  I did not have the heart on our first appointment to inform him that after giving birth to 3 children my pelvic strength was a distant memory, and even then it could have been a myth,  as he looked ever so optimistic.   However, by our second appointment after he made me waddle across the room, I was quite ready to send him back to the Shire as I had the sneaking suspicion he enjoyed implementing a gymnastic embargo upon his patients.  Added to that I had now had to expose my Bridget knickers twice in a week and that's enough to send anyone to aisle 6 at 8.49am on a Friday.....  But the good news I do not have to go back for a month and I will be seeing another physiotherapist as Frodo really is going back to the Shire (well ok, not the Shire, just City hospital).   I was quite disappointed as it turns out Frodo knows one end of a horse from another... in particular he knows one end of a Quarter horse.  He casually mentioned this just as I left... cue my excited "Really? You do?  I own a QH gelding!"  (now who's 12).  Damn those Bridget's, they scare them all off... apart from Mr T and Hubby, they're made of sterner stuff.

Anyhoo, the exercises are going well.  This is when the list isn't left on top of microwave and thanks to Frodo,  I'm feeling good in the saddle.

Tuff and I have been doing ridden work 2-3 times a week, with a mixture of short arena sessions and hacks around the village.  We are building rapport and a feel for each other as well as tentatively increasing our fitness.   But more on that in the next blog.

I'm not the only one in receipt of physical therapy.  Tuff and Maite both had a visit from Amy Lambley Equine Body worker at the weekend (  

Tuff is an old hand at these treatments, he used to have them monthly along with quarterly McTimoney sessions when we lived in Essex, so he thoroughly enjoyed his massage and is in good shape.   Maite has only had one prior session where she was not convinced by the whole thing, but this time she relaxed into it and let Amy work.   Amy will be back just before we head to the clinic to iron out any wrinkles, and then once we return home to ensure Tuff is in the best shape possible.  Who said our horses are better cared for than us?  

So despite Tuff having a lame owner, we are on the right path, and I have complete eye of the tiger focus.....

Now where's the 1980's music montage, featuring me wearing a flannel tracksuit running in the rain? 

See you on the flip side x

Support.... no, I don't just mean a Sauvignon Blanc

Although I do freely admit a nice glass of white goes down a treat in a life filled with horses, children, and a rather big clinic ahead.  But no, the support I speak of comes in all shapes and forms.  From friends and well meaning well wishers it looks like this....

1. Replying to your text messages of impending meltdown and doubt (thanks Layla! Amongst others)
2. New friends who are kindred spirits on FB and are very much in the same boat sharing stories (Jane & Aintree Riders!)
3. Old friends who know you're slightly neurotic and much braver when inebriated but love you anyway       (Alison ...)
4. Husband who has gone deaf to time, energy and cost of horses in general, but is still my biggest fan :)
5. General good luck and oo that sounds exciting, genuine heartfelt love of a 'you go girl' ilk.
6.  My children who love me and think Buck is a very lucky chap to spend time with me & the mighty Mr T    (deluded little imps they are)
7.  The wine aisle at Morrisons

Then there are the comments that ruffle my feathers a bit and make me doubt myself and my horse.  They generally come across as well meaning with a sinister undertone.

1. ooo not long now is it?
2.  Are you nervous?  (Well I wasn't....)
3.  How many people are spectating????
4.  There's NO WAY that my horse would cope with that atmosphere!
5.  You're driving yourself there? (Yes, but that's been helped by the lovely Manningtree Horsebox hire)

Those little demon doubts start running around your brain eating up any confidence or excitement.  I still wonder why people are so ready to see a 'friend' or fellow human being fail.  For the most part my friends have been very supportive and the nay-sayers few and far between.  But when those nay-sayers feel it is perfectly acceptable to put the negative vibe out there, it can be quite toxic.  So I am working on my emotional fitness and not giving those thoughts head space.  I am going as a student of the horse, to learn and solidify my partnership with Tuff.  I'm sure I'll make some amazing mistakes, but that will provide a learning opportunity for everyone (feel free to thank me spectators at the time lol!).

What is all boils down to is we'll do our best.

It did get me thinking (I know, a rarity!) and I've touched on this before, but how do we expect our horses to try and succeed if we don't set it up for ourselves to learn?  I see this time and time again, fixed ideas about who is 'good enough' to ride, or have horses, who is 'good enough' to ride at a Buck Brannaman clinic.... it's that kind of ego that needs to be let go when around horses.  My horse doesn't care if I'm Charlotte DuJardin or a stable hand at a riding school, all he cares about is the deal I offer him.  That I set it up for he and I to try something new together and I don't discourage him when it doesn't quite go as planned.

It's not vanity or ego that makes me want to push myself and ride with Buck, it's the complete opposite.  It's putting myself in a vulnerable place, open to learn, from an exceptional horseman.  Not for trophies, ribbons, or the praise of ego fuelled riders.  No, it is for Tuff, and Maite, and any other horse I get to work with down the line.  It is an attempt to improve my feel, timing and my skills as a person.

So to all the negative ninnies out there who are watching, awaiting me to fail, go grab your popcorn, I'm sure I'll give you a heck of a show, but I won't be failing my horse ;)

Anyone needs me I'll be in aisle 6.....

I'll leave you with this rather apt quote seen at a BB clinic last week

 See you on the flip side x

Friday, 10 April 2015


Apologies everyone for neglecting my blog recently.  After the dizzying highs of learning I had a place at the clinic, life likes to remind us not to get too excited and I have spent the last 6 weeks with a damaged knee due to a freak accident.  For a while I was unsure if I would make it to the clinic at all, but I'm happy to say I should be good to go.  However, I have had to reassess things somewhat while injured, and I have decided I will be taking Tuff to the clinic, not Maite.  Maite would be more suited I feel, to a Foundation Horsemanship clinic rather than the H1 we are booked onto.  Tuff and I have more of a partnership and we will learn an amazing amount under the eye of such an epic horseman.

So why the title Atomic?  Well, for me this word equals energy (and a mighty good Blondie song which ironically has a horse in the video).

Energy is physical, emotional, mental and spiritual, and no more so than in the pursuit and development of a partnership with a horse.  Horses are pure energy in one of the finest forms on this planet, it still amazes me that they allow us the privilege to ride them.  The ebb and flow of such energy, combined with ours is as Buck's describes, " a beautiful dance'.  But for some of us mere mortals, there are times the dance looks less graceful and more like a bar brawl.   Not just with the physical elements of riding and groundwork, because let's face it, co-ordination is required.... but also the interaction on a more mental and emotional level.

Now, before I get all touchy feely, I'm not implying we should be sat around playing pan pipes and feeding them lots of carrots (although who am I to judge?).  What I'm talking about here is the sometimes constant yo-yo-ing within ourselves about things.  Such as am I doing the right thing by my horse?  Am I going to irrevocably screw him up by trying xyz?  Or by not trying xyz?  This is something I drive myself nuts with and if I'm not very very careful I simply.... stop... doing....anything.   Being consciously  incompetent sucks sometimes!

Both my horses have taught me valuable lessons when I struggle about whether I am good enough to be the steward of their lives and that is to let it go (cue my 4 year old singing an Frozen song), keep putting one foot in front of the other, trust myself and trust them.  Oh and never ever stop moving forward, even at an inch at time, to try to enjoy every moment and not focus on the past or the future, and to reward the slightest try EVEN IN MYSELF.

So that's what I intend to do in June.  I intend to be a rather large sponge and take everything in.  Not just from Buck, but from the whole experience, my fellow participants, and every one of you I meet along the way.

I also intent to drop 10lbs and not fall over in front of anyone but those two things are unlikely at best ...

So I am back in the saddle next week, and more blogs will be afoot (ahoof?)

See you on the flip side

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Meet my horses...

Maîte is my new partner who I had the privilege of trialling for 5 days at Parelli Instructors Russell Higgins', Ruth Carlyle & Terri Martinus' Savvy Camp in June 2014.  What a 5 day baptism of fire that was!  Maite is a complex little soul, who is supremely intelligent and is just now showing some connection and confidence with having someone on her back.  When my long term equine soul mate Tuff went on loan during the course of 2014, I set out to find a new partner.  I'm pretty sure my list of prerequisites did not include a 4 year old 15.1hh PRE mare, but I'd seen her advertised and was inexplicably drawn to her.   When I rang her then lovely owner Tally, she informed me over the phone that this girl had a distinct presence and energy, and she would in no way be offended if I decided that she was not the one for me.  I have to admit my interest increased at this point, so off I set one overcast May day to go and view this youngster....

Yes, indeed her energy was almost tangible, and I did wonder if I had any business taking on such a well bred, intelligent mare, but when I sat on her for the first time I knew she was mine.  I am not convinced she was so set on the deal but she humoured me at least.  So, with agreement from Tally I took Maite to a 5 day clinic which exposed her lack of foundation as a baby, and exposed me as a learner.  It was intense with a group of 19 other horses, this young mare who although at times had sticky feet, she never put me in any harm and stuck with me.  I actually look back now and think I must have been brilliant or sublimely mad in taking a young horse I didn't know to such an event, but on the other side of that I believe if we coped with that together, then the world is our oyster.   Being under the eye of such a competent, intuitive horseman such as Russell was a complete pleasure and the support from Ruth and Terri was amazing.  I don't necessarily suggest you follow my lead, but it made me appreciate having a support network, particularly one of such calibre.  

Roll on a few months and my family and I have relocated to Lincolnshire, which means more grazing and horse time for Maite, but for me it means support in bringing my youngster on in the form of Jody Ruysen.  We all need support, even as professionals, and two heads are invariably better than one.

Maite is now at the stage of becoming confident and truly accepting of a rider, and I am pleased to say she will be my partner when we attend Buck Brannaman's first UK clinic this year.  I am so happy this little mare has started to take me into her heart and I firmly believe she is a horse of a lifetime.


Tuff came into my life in  February 2012 and is and always will be my funny Valentine.  He is an big, bold, bay 11 year old 15.3hh American Quarter horse and is a super learner.  Natural horsemanship has been the making of him, although he had a very good western foundation thanks to his previous owners (and my dear friends Janelle & John).  He is acutely clever but at times very insecure horse, and I have spend the last few years building his confidence and progressing together.  We have enjoyed, clinics, hacking, and refinement together.  He has been a teacher to me in more ways than one.   

I have such a connection with this horse that words cannot describe it or do it justice.  I made the hard decision last year to put him out on loan, as at the time we were living in south Essex and the livery and turnout situation did not suit him.  It broke my heart but I will always do what I believe is best for my horses.   In a fantastic turn of events we have relocated, which means January 2015 Tuff is coming home.  To say I'm happy is an understatement.   This horse has been my confidant, best friend and mind reader for 3 years and I have missed him an unmeasurable amount.

Watch out Maite, uncle Tuff is going to teach you a thing or two....

Both my horses now enjoy 24 hour turnout at a lovely yard in my village, where they can be horses and live as naturally as possible.