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 revoluciĆ³n! ..... 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