Antipodean

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 Confidence…

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KOX4X4Cc3j0

I was on tour with my dance company recently, a two and a half day journey to Brno, Czech Republic via Vienna, we had been invited to perform at some kind of centenary celebration. 

After the show I made a B-line back to the hotel, ordered room service, and settled down to an evenings work, Spring/Summer is a busy time for saddles and a lot of admin work for me.

Like so many of us, I will often head on over to Youtube in-between client correspondence, writing, general research and sometimes some shopping… for Sanson of course. I settled into a stream of Youtube videos, starting with some of my favourites from Buck, to watch them again and see if I heard it with different ears, saw it with new eyes.

I came across this video in the recommended section from New Zealand show jumper Vicki Wilson.  Now, Australians are not New Zealanders and vice versa, but as fellow Antipodean’s we certainly share a number of similar characteristics.

I noticed a number of things in Vicki’s manner that I related to and a number of things I strongly admire not only in horse people, but people in general.  She had a very strong work fixation.  Vicki was full of facts, and did not hold back on any of them.  Despite vigorously riding, treating and diagnosing horses during this session, she barely drew breath and kept pumping out what she knew in a no nonsense, direct and clear manner.  It is a different mentality from perhaps the Polish or ‘well-raised’ European culture of behaviour I find myself living by. 

Often I am confronted by people who tend to hold back, say nothing, disguise themselves or their thoughts and opinions, and I find that very frustrating.  Aussies and Kiwis are sort of honest to the point of blunt or rude, generally, and many well raised European’s find this shocking about me.  I like people in Vicki’s vein who can just directly address an issue.  They tell you what they are good at without false modesty, but also tell you without self-resentment what they cannot do.  She was result orientated, did not waste her time on audience pleasantries, showmanship or being pretty and beautiful, she barely looked at the audience, she was totally focused on her work.  Vicki’s chiropractic adjustments on these horses to an untrained eye, and even her riding, to someone who is perhaps obsessed with Dressage propaganda, would look rough, aggressive and potentially painful. 

Make no mistake about it, Vicki knows exactly what she is doing.  She just feels no need to dress it up to protect fragile sensibilities, or egos.  A very Antipodean trait.  Made me feel like a proud ANZAC to be honest.  Her riding seat looks like a secure jumpers seat to me.  She changed leads and reins in the blink of an eye.  She was addressing 25 technical elements within 10 strides and did it clean, fast and decisively, so fast you would have to watch it in slow motion to get all the points and then could write 5 pages descriptions on 5 seconds of ride… I could anyway.  This is a FUNCTIONAL rider.  Not a FORM rider.  Something I need another blog to write about.

Her message cannot be more important.  Pain.  She focuses on physical pain affecting mental pain.  I would go one step further and say that mental pain can eventually cause physical pain.  When I got injured in my dancing, it was always something that occurred at a time when I felt bad about my work.  Then, -BOOP- an injury, like my body gave me the exit that my mind was searching for.  My mum would call is psycho-symatic.

Vicki says ‘Your horse did not wake up that morning and decide to be naughty.’

She argues that horses misbehave because they are sore, or in pain.  And it may or may not be the bit, as the first bay gelding had the same symptoms without a bridle.  Once you correct that pain, the behaviour abates.  Some pain is mental also, but I totally understand that Vicki, coming from a sport jumping background, is probably aware of this, but absolutely cannot speak that openly to her sport clients, or in a mainstream equestrian environment, people would throw her out as contrived modern psycho-babble.  But I bet if you got with her one on one, during a treatment, she would say the same.


She definitely alluded to it.  Saying ‘There is still so much memory!’  Movement memory.  Pain memory.  Long after the pathology healed the memory of it stays in the body like a ghost.  And what she does is perform a type of exorcism for that memory through not only her adjustments, but her riding but also her energy.  How can she take an incredibly sore horse, that has the potential to strike, buck and harm someone, and she just takes their whole damn leg in her hands and pulls it every which way and not get hurt?  Experience and confidence!  She doesn’t approach the horse timidly, she approaches very aware, but very decisive, and I think the horses respond in turn.  Her blood pressure and adrenaline is low and her internal monologue says only ‘I am here to help’

This way she can put the horse through potentially dangerous positions, and the horse gives her the chance, goes out on a limb with her and trusts her.  Because her energy represents help, not harm.

I saw it last summer when I had Sanson’s teeth floated.  After asking all around the Alupjarrah’s for who is the best for teeth and barefoot trimming, I finally got the number to a bloke named Mordecai Love (Fabulous name!)  who was the brother of Dallas Love, a lady who ran another Horse Trekking centre a few valleys over.   Mordecai had spent a great deal of his horse career in the USA and apparently when it came to teeth he was a bit of a wizard.  He also trained his sisters horses with a style of western dressage and was famously fickle and hard to get a hold of, having been semi retired from his trimming and teeth gigs.

Well I called and called and called him, texted and pleaded, climbed onto the stable roof to get reception and finally Mordecai showed up one Wednesday about a week before our truck arrived for Poland.  I was expecting Sanson to be sedated, he had never been to the dentist, and can be very reactive to pain, confusion or discomfort.  Well, Mordecai stepped up with the confidence and groundedness of an experienced and confident horse person, and floated Sanson single handedly, without sedation, while absent mindedly chatting with me about what he was doing.  Having probably never been spoilt by the clean and cushy northern European horse sport scene, spending his whole life in remote Spanish mountains or hard American plains, where the horses were not pampered athletes but integrated members of work and life, he worked without confusion, sweat dripping, wide calloused hands treating my horses mouth with a delicacy that would not have crushed a rose petal, and yet somehow holding a mildly surprised, 600 kg, famously dramatic draft horse in place.  I helped of course, but eventually Sanson showed obvious signals of enjoying himself.  After he gave a huge sigh and licked and chewed for about 5 minutes.  His mouth needed some work, and will need it annually for his whole life.  But his first trip to the dentist was kind of like a curious and strange, but overwhelmingly positive experience for him.  This was due to Mordecai’s approach, which I so much prefer to some of the neurotic, over cautious cultures further north of the Med’.  
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I was struck by Mordecai’s ability to do something dangerous, safely, quickly and successfully, not only because he had the right technique, but because he sort of ‘didn’t give a shit’, If you know what I mean.  He just walked up there, knew all the possibilities and just did the damn thing he was asked to do because he knew it was for the horses good.  He didn’t agonise over every glance of the eye, each nervous stamp of a hoof, he just spread his weighted and calm energy over the horse and did his job, and did it fast and well, without sedation or hesitation. 

I am hunting for people like this.  People not ruled by fear, timidity or uncertainty.  Who approach life and horses with confidence and vigour, without the desire to camouflage their excellence.         

Awake

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Thelma and Louise.  One of my favourite movies.  I have always been a sucker for female centric, under-dog celebrating adventure movies.  Add in a road trip in the desert and rule breaking for a good cause and you have me hog-tied and trussed up, a believer. 

When I first saw this movie, it was about 4 years back.  I was living in a lovely little pre-war apartment in a quiet corner of the outer city centre of Warsaw.  In this apartment I think I might have passed through some of the loneliest and yet the most important years of my life, as I was forced to put my self under inspection, take a look at my character and decide what was serving me and what was not.  Like a Soul Spring Cleaning, but 3 years long.

It was a late Spring weekend, and I was up way past my bedtime, in fact, the birds were singing, and the eastern sky was tinged with indigo over the slate roof of my neighbours.  I was streaming ‘Thelma and Louise’ for the first time over my busted 6 years old Macbook, barely wheezing to life each time I turned him on.  I had no wifi, but a plug-in flash cable that was rather temperamental, I often had to ‘hold’ the cable in for the connection to work.  A rather poignant metaphor for how much direct manhandling my life required… I literally had to force things by arbitration for them to work for me at all, everything in my life felt like an uphill slog in deep mud, in the rain, and yet my internal stamina just kept putting one foot in front of the other.  I had heard of this movie, but never seen it.  In a rather creative mood I was needing something that would take my mind off things.

It was then, crouched in my bed in a tangle of bed sheets, alone, with the dawn breaking that Thelma turned to Louise, sunburnt, dirt on her cheeks, running through the desert for their lives for the mere fact of just being alive, Thelma said to Louise;

“I feel really awake. I don’t recall ever feeling this awake. You know? Everything looks different now. You feel like that? You feel like you got something to live for now?”

and then,

“Something’s, like, crossed over in me and I can’t go back. I mean I just couldn’t live.”f159916fbf2b83f892bf9d2d75e96e26--tv-quotes-movie-quotes.jpg

I was blown down.  I cannot remember watching a movie, that took what could be considered a mainstream minority as the focus characters, and had them express an emotion I was so rawly familiar with, and expressed it so directly, cleanly and beautifully.  


Are. You. Awake?  Are you awake! 


Are your eyes open, are you seeing straight?  Are you living your life through a filter, smoke screen and mirrors, or have you embraced the truth, the whole truth, the objective impersonal truth which is yet also so incredible vital to us personally.

I am at a point in my life where something has crossed over in me and I can’t go back.  I am awake.  I am alive.  I am living, breathing, sensing, seeing and feeling, I am alive.  I respond to my environment authentically and naturally.   I can see that one lime green leaf on the top of that birch over there, just breaking through weeks later than its Spring comrades, stretching towards the early summer sun.  I can see the whole sky a shallow and clear blue at three in the afternoon.   I can see a city of people, consumed by small windows of troubles, sleeping as they walk.  

I can see my horse and in a glance I can see, feel, hear, sense and know where he is today, internally.  And from him, I know what the next step that day is.  Same with my clients and their horses.  I look at the horse and I ‘diagnose’ their energy, what I then say to their owner is just ideas I take from their horse, not from a training manual.  I cannot remember the last day when I arrived at a stable with a prescribed agenda of activities.  I had general list of possibilities,  but I am awake to my world.  It’s no different from the vast, vast library of knowledge available to any Equestrian, if they choose to go out there and learn.  I connect authentically with how I honestly feel that day, good, bad and ugly, let the next step comes from the horse.
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I am pretty comfortable with ugly, a rare trait for a classically trained dancer.  For me, absence of Ugly Fear is beautiful, and that invigorates me.  Nothing worse than someone drowning under the illusion that they are supposed to always have things pretty and particular, that is for me the opposite of invigorating, but stifling. 


Check yourself.  Are you sleep walking?  Are you living?  Or are you drifting? 

Wake up.  Now.eade3bc039e45f4eddafea7b66fde48c.jpg

Shake

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Your hands shake.  Your heart pounds.  Your cheeks flush.  Your breath catches.

Fear.

We have all felt it.  Anyone who is around horses, even the very experienced, feel it.

Overtime fear fades- if we empower ourselves with information.  If we don’t beat fear by learning, fear simply converts and disguises itself upon you, and lives on you, like a Monkey on your back. Because fact is, you have forgotten to learn from your environment, so you take the fear with you everywhere.  Into your home, your relationships, and eventually into your horses. 

One of my favourite Horseman, Buck Brannaman, whom I had the privilege to attend his first UK clinic at Aintree International Equestrian Centre in 2015, put it best.

‘Fear is like an animal…  The only way you can kill that animal is with information. … Imagine being able to honestly say in your heart that ‘There is not a horse in the world I am afraid of’.  Imagine the pleasure of working with horses then? …For some people that can seem like a mountain too high to climb.  Well, I guess that depends on how much you like to climb. ‘ 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dOM5saEFBgM


Lately I have seen fear seep its insidious fumes into stables I frequently visit.  Otherwise beautiful, happy places of learning, horses and fun, fear had begun to transform these locations into perverted distortions of what they really were.  Splicing reality into something which makes people feel unsafe.  I’m hyper sensitive to my environment, my ballet director says it is an aspect of my ‘artistic personality’ that he likes, but it means I become privy to changes in my environment even when the change is small.  I can sense it like a smell.  I can feel it in my gut. Or see it like a mirage.  But, fear is an illusion.  It is a construct we choose to participate in, or not.

I have encountered a lot of fear in my life.
When I left home at 18, flew to the other side of the world to start a new life, I found myself alone at a cafe in Singapore Airport at 5am, afraid out of my mind.
When my ballet teacher in Zurich revealed himself to be a domineering, egotistical, aggressive, old school Russian/German Ballet, traumatising nightmare, from 9am to 12 noon 6 days a week, I was afraid.
When I stood at the foot of the largest Opera House in Europe, about to try and become the first Australian to find employment there, I was terrified that I was inadequate.
When I loaded Sanson onto a trailer, and sat in the cabin of a truck that was about to drive across the whole of Europe and towards a totally unknown future for me, I was scared, but excited.
-And yet-

I found my way through the Airport, finished the cafe breakfast, and started a new life which has grown beyond my wildest dreams.

I finished my studies with that teacher, with Positive Psychology assistance from my late, sweet mentor Paulette Mifsud, I graduated with a Swiss Diploma, happy and exhilarated.
I got that job in Warsaw, became the first employed Australian dancer in Poland, and got a quality job that even this teacher himself said he ‘Never Expected I Could Get’

Sanson came back to Poland healthy and continues to flourish under my care. He is my life guide, my compass towards change.

The only way I could face down fear was by learning.  Learning FAST!  I adapted to my environment faster than anyone else believed I could.  I creatively constructed my reality to something positive, and not destructive.  If I needed a new skill, I learned it.  And it didn’t take me 20 years to do it.  If I needed new experiences, I went out there and got them.  If I had no money, I made it work somehow and did ‘that thing’ anyway. 
Translated into horsemanship, it means that when I stand in front of a horse, like Sanson, who someone tells me ‘Once put someone in Hospital’, I am no longer controlled by fear.  I am awake, aware, and learning from what is in front of me.  And this is what brought Sanson and I together. ❤

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This has given me and un-SHAKE-able faith in myself.  I know in my heart, that no matter what, I am going to be ok!  Even the good days and the bad days, I am living them.  Despite the critics, I am still here.  I am not just surviving, but I am thriving.  I am not stopping next to the critics so they can drag my down, I bless them on their path and go on my way, leaving them behind.  I have proved this time and time again and apparently, still proving it today!

I cannot expect everyone to be a fast learner.  Fact is, I learn fast because my life has been scary, on a frequent basis, so my ‘positive-response-to-fear-muscle’ is very strong.  But I suspect I make some people uncomfortable, if for no other reason than they see me as mercurial, changing too much.  Whether they are able to realise it or not, they know its because I am learning from them, even as they speak to me.  This can unnerve people, especially if they have something to hide, are uncomfortable with intelligence generally, or are insecure about being perceived as ignorant.

Probably, my courage was often based upon ignorance.  I did not know I had something to fear, so I just did it.   There is a fabulous Polish saying ‘If you have an impossible task nobody can do, ask the person who does not know it is impossible and they will do it’, or something like that, I think Einstein said it too.  I am very comfortable with not knowing what I am doing.  I will have a go anyway, a very Australian quality ‘Have a go!’.  That is the seed of creativity. 

One of my favourite life coaches, Iyanla Vanzant, once said ‘If you want to change your life, you have to be prepared to PISS PEOPLE OFF.  Because people will hold you to your limitations.  They will become angry when they see you breaking beyond what they thought you could not do.’

Such is the situation in which I am.  I am ruthless to the point that I won’t be stopped, held back or restricted by someone else psychological pathologies.  If they want my help and support, that’s different, that is the extension of friendship and I will gladly go there with all my heart and energy.  But everything else is passive bullying and craziness.  When I see crazy, I cross the street.  I choose to have zero tolerance for it.

Fear.  The shaking feeling in your gut that something is not right.

Well, I might shake the boat, but I always, always make it to shore.

Needs

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Being someone who approaches horses from a Natural/psychological perspective, I commonly run into people who struggle with discipline.  Often these people came from a standard or uninspiring riding school experience in their past, where both horses and students were yelled at a lot and treated as pretty inconsequential parts of a big money making stable business.  If you learned to ride well, great, if not, that’s your problem.  Just so long as your lesson bill was paid.   Often these horses were those poor broken creatures commonly seen at riding schools.  Box, saddle, arena, box.  Repeat.  Dead behind the eyes and mild constant signs of protest when used.  Used, being the operative word.  That is the extreme consequence of uncompromising discipline.  You squash and break and damage something when you’re unable to compromise and create a dialogue.   Sometimes you have to shake someone in order to get them to participate, to be expressive and energised.  Or sometimes they are over involved and need calming down.  But if you create a disciplined environment where horse and or human must just perform and no discussion about it, you will lose something.  

Eventually these horse people might start to realise something is wrong.  Their childlike sense of wonder and love and gentleness had been replaced with the grim machinery of a riding school business.  Often, they then make a choice, to get out of horses altogether, or change their approach.

Sometimes they turn to Natural Horsemanship.  It appears in many forms and we can discuss endlessly the topic in another blog.  But, generally by natural approaches we try to care for the horse first and put everything else second.  Attempt to understand them from a natural perspective mentally in order to work with them and hopefully improve their quality of life and the quality of our results.  It is a lot more complex than that of course, but it is the crux of the issue.

I was working with a client the other week and she told me of the intense guilt she felt for her activities with her horse.  She suspected her mare did not like their work together and felt guilty for it and felt she had to pay her mare for her work with carrot treats or similar.

I said to her that perhaps her mare would enjoy their work together more if she learned to work with joy instead of tension, confusion, or approaching riding like a fitness training.  What about joy?  What about love?  The pure happiness of having a horse, who is alive and healthy, and riding them in a nice and relaxed way?  Wanting to be as best you can but also not too attached to any ideals of perfection?  Maybe that was your pathway to a kind of perfection?  Take this joy you have of your forest rides for example and apply it to arena work and watch your mares expression improve?

I had another client under training who struggled to get her gelding to do what she was asking and get past his protests.  I had laid out a big blue tarpaulin, which he has seen and walked over before, and a wooden platform, akin to a trailer loading ramp, which we were asking him to walk over calmly, and he kept avoiding. 

I stopped her and said

‘We can be natural and kind and loving to our horses and still say to them ‘I NEED you to do this for me!’.”  Because what if one day our life and safety depended on it?  In an emergency during the trail ride you need a very responsive and willing horse who listens to you when you get them out of danger.  Her gelding kept having an anger response when she asked him to move through discomfort or something difficult for him.  I said that to me he wasn’t angry, he was just a very male equine energy, challenging his rider to be more present and bold in her requests of him. 
I asked her to sit up, look past the obstacle and not tolerate his evasion.  Keep him pointed at the obstacles and just no-nonsense walk through it.  Like it was no big deal because it WAS no big deal.  And he did.  Softly, calmly, perfectly walked over them like grandma’s horse.  Not because he had changed anything but because his rider had changed everything.

Natural horsemanship is not the absence of conviction or firmness!  You can be convinced of your confidence in what you ask of your horse and still be kind to them!  Conviction of your request is not being bossy or abusive because you are asking something with intelligence and a purpose.  Rather than saying ‘DO this because I said so and don’t ask questions’ you say ‘We’re going to do this because X-Y-Z and because I know what I am doing.  Your opinions will be heard but I will have the last word most of the time my friend!’. 

Sometimes in desire to be delicate and kind with our horses we actually become scared to get anything done with them. 

Be courageous, be bold, be sure of yourself and watch your horses respond in kind to you.

Expression

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How important is your horses expression to you?   
I don’t mean simplistic common equestrian terms like, ‘Strong’, ‘willing’, ‘Forward’ and the like. 
32717626_10155180248292000_472165425799495680_n (1).jpg Using commonly bandied around equestrian jargon, because that is simply the tradition of communication and viewing horses with such words, can dangerously over simplify the complex behaviour of a 500 kg animal with its own thoughts, feelings and individual quirks.

So, HOW important is your horses expression to you? 
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Are you paying attention?  I mean are you REALLY paying attention to them?  As much as you can?  Are you listening for the small and quiet signals, pre-cursors to bigger issues? 

Oprah Winfery once said about life:

‘First life whispers to you.  Then it speaks.  Then it yells, until you cannot ignore it anymore’. 

As I suspect it was with Sanson, some horses are maybe a bit more unique individuals than others.  Treating all horses of the same breed with the same approach can be dangerous.  Not all Arabians are crazy nervous and not all Draft horses are dead calm.  Not all Warmbloods love sport and not all recreational horses love low expectations of their abilities.
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Sometimes, the more experienced you are, the more work with horses you’ve done, the more you become repetitious in your outlook on them.  You categorize certain horses and or their behaviours in category A, B and so on. 

But are you REALLY making an accurate assessment of that horse and what they are trying to tell you?  Or are you just being professional and getting a job done, and hope the horses make up the rest of the lost ground, if you can admit that you glazed over the details at times.

Next thing you know you have a horse who bolts out of nowhere, or bucks, or bites, or kicks and many other ways a horses protest can turn into a cry for help you cannot ignore.

But before they did that I can guarantee you that they had a moment of protest that was a whisper.
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Which is where the term Horse Whisperer I suppose comes from.  Although I don’t have much faith in that term, nor apply it to my work.  Because if I was collaborating with someone on a project and they constantly whispered to me it would drive me mad, neither do I think it is an effective way to promote good communication… ‘Whispering is better’.  What?   How about we just communicate clearly and confidently and appropriately?  Some horse might need you to ‘raise your voice’ and some need us to be low key.  That’s what good communication is about, with horses or in life, adjusting to your environment. 

But I think with horses it is more about paying attention to small changes, subtle emotional shifts, and movement information details.
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I remember I assisted my wonderful trainer Dariusz Domagała (Darek)  a couple of years back at a clinic he was hosting at a stable I frequently gave trainings at.  One of his clients was a young girl, not yet 14, with huge ambitions for the Showjumping arena, and had at the time of the clinic, not yet two weeks previously had brought to the stable a freshly castrated 6 year old grey warmblood Sporthorse gelding, whom she was the new proud and ambitious owner of.  I had been watching this girl and her gelding working for the better part of 30 minutes.  She was sitting on his back with the expression of an adolescent Terminator, urging her horse forward into a frame and practising her trot with the joy of a burnt out meat packer.  I know Darek is totally against bits, something I have a different perspective on, but he was there to teach Harmonious Seat riding technique and it is not his style to try and save people who look like they are heading for disaster.  He waits for them to come to him for help.  So he stood by silently watching this unfold, while he worked more closely with other clients who were listening to his suggestions.
Anyway, I could see that this girl had a lot of pent up energy in her as the style of my trainers clinics involved a lot of conversation and listening, she just wanted to bloody ride.  Understandable for an ambitious energetic 14 year old.
I watched her horse.  He had an overwhelmed but angry expression.  Constantly flicking tail.  A tightening of the eye at curves.  Ever present movement ticks and tiny imperceptible changes in tempo that told me he was desperately looking for a release of pressure or some reasonableness from the locomotion his little rider was subjecting him to. 
I had a bad feeling in my stomach.  Like watching a big storm roll in over the ocean.  But being powerless to stop it.  I could see this girl would absolutely not be open to receiving any of our suggestions to slow down, calm down, redirect or back off.   This horse was not yet 2 weeks in this stable and intensive training for such a young freshly castrated horse under a young rider is maybe not a good combination.  I could see by her expression that she appeared determined to ‘Get the energy out of him’.  I thought she was probably the one with the energy problem, not her horse.
Then, almost right on time, her horse exploded.  His tiny suggestions for change, or requests for release, had turned into outright exasperation and mindless anger at this ride and he decided to take matters into his own hands.  He became fully air-born for a few minutes, and with the agility of a seasoned mountain goat, flung himself about enough times to see his rider crunch unceremoniously, in front of all clinic participants, on her rib cage in the sand.   The grey set off around the arena… tail high, butt farting, at a full outright escape gallop until he looked for the first calm place in his storm, and stood by a quiet persons side, hard empty looking eyes wide and looking slightly happier… slightly. 
Through gritted teeth his little rider stomped over to him and like a pro, got back in the saddle.  But she seemed to not have learned her lesson.  Nothing had changed in her atttiude, not a moment of her horses SCREAM for change had been heard. I think she saw it rather as an affront, a humiliation and seemed hell bent on her concept that he just ‘had too much energy’ and would ride it out of him.
‘Too much energy’ is a common equestrian phrase, and the common practise is to just run it out of them.  Ok, fine… but what about the horse, as an individual?  What do they actually need?  Giving them a chance to expel excess energy through fast, forward and athletic movement is a good idea on many levels, but do you want to be a passenger on them while they go through this?   It can be a good thing to ride through together, or maybe the horse needs more space from you, not less?  Maybe they need to express themselves in a safe and controlled environment, where both parties have safety and perspective on each other.  What is the shame of getting out of the saddle in this moment, to help the horse through a personal crisis?  Rather than just ‘ride through it’, stop, take a breathe and analyse the situation.   Not that I advocate against riding as a way to solve problems, because more often than not, riding is the best solution for me too.  But it is not the only solution on the menu folks.    
A 13 year old, at a Natural Horsemanship clinic, with the mind of an old school horse breaker.  It was rather heart breaking to see frankly.  I suspected there might have been more than one problem in her home life contributing to her momentary madness.
Not 2 minutes after being back in the saddle and continuing her mindless high energy trot, again she got very violently dumped.
She got back in the saddle.  Again, she got dumped.
This time I said something.  Or I would consider myself an accessory towards abusive neglect.

“I respectfully suggest now that you get in the saddle and do something simple, only.  Walk, stop, walk, stop and finish!  Your horse is overloaded and needs more space, or you’re going to get seriously hurt’

I got nothing but a disgusted expression and an angry glare through her tears.
I have since learned that she continues to jump him and her horse performs beautifully for her.  Though I have not seen it with my own eyes, I wonder how her horse feels about his life with her?  Is he happy? Does his life make sense to him?  If given the choice, would he want to be with his rider, in activity and without? 

My point is, how important is your horses expression to you? 

To me it is the difference between life and death, potentially.

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For more information on my trainer Darek and his stable and methods, check out their website http://www.stajnia-stara-dabrowa.pl/  or contact me.  I can help you get English information too, they frequently host international clients. 🙂

Slow

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Slow

Go slowly.  Where is the rush? 

Why do we have to do it all now, be it all now, be perfect yesterday? 

From the beginning of my journey with horses my very solemn promise to myself was

‘I am in no rush’

And therefore my progress has been quite fast.

Fast is slow and slow is fast.   This applies to horses and maybe also with life.

Go to fast with someone and you might fall apart, overwhelm them.  Be in no rush and next thing you know you found a soul mate.

Everything has its own timing.  But in order for natural timing to work we must be able to surrender.  We must give up the human need to manipulate, achieve, strive and control.  Surrender to something bigger than ourselves, whatever that may be.  

If we can do just that one thing, surrender to going slowly, I think we would be well on our way to doing so much better with our horses and ourselves. 31961865_10155163753042000_170694769280811008_n

Prejudice

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Prejudice

There is a lot of segregation in the horse community.  People feel pressured to ‘pick a style’.

Natural. Classical.  Dressage. Jumping. Recreational.  Rustic.  Posh. 

A lot of thought is given to the colour of the tack, to the type of riding clothes, to the equipment you use and the techniques and methods you follow.
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Ok.  Fine.  But what about the horse? 

What style of riding do YOU follow?  This question makes me confused because where is the horse in that?  Maybe people may think I treat horses as a type of God, but for me, they really are.

How about we look at the horse we are with at any one time and try to find out what THEY are good at, what their natural inclinations are, and capitalise on that?  Rather than imposing our own ambitionsor styles upon them.

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Fashion, ambition, even pedagogical education can all act as prejudice.

I’ve seen people who are self proclaimed Natural Horsemanship devotees who value no violence and pain to the horse, whom when their horse wouldn’t stand still to be brushed, took the end of they boot into their horses stomach with a mindless kick.

I’ve seen high level dressage riders in spurs and a double bridle treat their horses with joy, respect and gentleness. 

Be careful of the package something comes wrapped in, but pay VERY close attention to the substance.  A natural trainer may have simply taken the prejudice commonly associated with classical riding and just put it in a different costume, different equipment, different name.  That is all just superficial.  

The most important perspective is that of the horse.  Their experience of our activities with them.  NOT the other way around.

For me everything else is merely a formality.

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Busy

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I lead busy a life.  Sometimes however, it feels like the busy life leads me.  My question lately is ‘How healthy is ‘busy’ exactly?’  And how this applies to horses and to my life.

Since the spring started the equestrian community woke up.  After a one year presence and consistent advertising, what I predicted more or less came true, and explosion of interest and work for my saddle dealership took hold of me.  This is great and very welcome, as the income from this helps me to clear some debts, expand my business, fix odd and ends around my apartment that need doing, order and stock pile horse and pet feed for the financially difficult autumn and winter, and maybe… just maybe… put enough away to go on a little holiday this summer. 

I am a small business owner.  My small business, if I had the time for it, at the moment could function as a full time job, as the amount of work surrounds it takes up about those kinds of hours.  In between admin, correspondence, saddle cleaning care and logistics, couriers and all the minutiae of the work is very time consuming and it is basically only me doing that with my one assistant.

Honestly, I love the freedom of making, creating and accomplishing my own work.  But I also work another full time job, in which the schedule and hours are constantly changing and I have no control and say over my time and duties there.  So I must fit everything around that.  It is a tricky balancing act and most of the time I succeed.

But how healthy is busy?  If I am doing all this in order to not only support my horse and myself but maybe to better my future too, is it worth it if at the end of the day I am too exhausted to cook, eat, or be mentally and emotionally available to my partner, my friends and family?  I cannot remember the last time I Skyped my family in Australia, or even my best friend in Switzerland. 

And when I get to Sanson, how healthy is it to be ‘busy’ with him?  If I was the type of trainer where I created a horse who simply does everything I tell him and he long since learned that his comfort, thoughts or opinions don’t matter, sure… I could go to the stable with a busy attitude and get what I needed from my horse.

But I am not this trainer.

I have decided to take a pathway where I welcome, require and value Sanson- or any other horses- input into their activities.  I don’t let them call the shots over me and ultimately I assert my rights as a leader, guide and their caretaker, but I definitely want an expressive horse who knows they can tell me if they are in discomfort, confusion or stress- for whatever reason.

If I approach Sanson with my andrenelin high, to-do list long, and expectations strong, I know that I am going to be a slightly vile and off putting two legged creature to him.  Horses don’t understand such energy.  They can be conditioned to cope with it, but they do not understand time like we do.  Time just Is to them and so are they.  Their rhythms are different and so is their perspective on the world.

So when I am busy and overwhelmed from my career and work, I try to treat the stable as a location that time forgot.  This can be a challenge as the stable is now also a place intermingled with my work, as I start to give trainings to other borders and frequently am called upon for saddle fittings and consultations even within my own stable.  But that doesn’t stop me from protecting my time with Sanson.  As much as I can, I put a bubble around us in which the outside world cannot penetrate.  Like an alter or a place of reflection and worship. 

My time with my horse is important and sacred to me.  Sanson needs and appreciates this!  He knows when I pull my phone out, either when on the ground or in the saddle, and he absolutely hates it.  He wants me to be present with him… he needs a very present rider to feel safe and guided well.  He hates it when I talk to other people when I work with him.  Many times he trotted or cantered away when during groundwork someone brought me a coffee and I just looked at them and said ‘Thank you’. 

To my horse our time together for him is also very important.  He had some bad experiences with people and his body is all that he has.  He needs me to respect that.  And a busy attitude is a sign of disrespect to him. 

At least that is how I feel it. 22236466_10154670497597000_1790532185_n

Unity

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Unity, harmony, togetherness.

For most horse people it seems to be a sort of holy grail of horsemanship.  The moment when two bodies become one, you are no longer only human, the horse is no longer only a horse, you are one blended creature moving together.

Take a look at this photo:

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This is from last weekend.  Here I am introducing Sanson to the new larger riding arena and (finally) working on some straight lines after a whole winter in the round pen.  He started to get very fed up with bending, me too!

The ground is still half frozen.  And a third of the pen has sharp tree roots in situ that we are waiting for thaw so we can dig them up and farrow the ground.  I could no longer wait, for this to happen and dislike waiting if I can make a creative solution work.

I raked the ground and found all the roots.  Spray painted them yellow, and showed each of them to Sanson, let him sniff.  Now we have a very natural slalom course! all hazards clearly marked, and now nice large calm place to progress together.

But back to Unity.

Can you see how he mirrors me?  To an outside observer our session that day looked pretty boring, just walking around and breathing a lot.  But this is HUGE deal for us.

Sanson came to me with a number of inherited issues.  Through the retraining process I peeled back the layers to see what was there (See blog: ‘The Trauma Onion’), and help him through his baggage, unpack it all, and let it go.

In the process I am doing the same for myself.  Letting go of my baggage.  That’s what this type of horsemanship does for you.  Instead of running from your stuff, you confront it, let it go and find a kind of healing and rejuvenation.

It has been a huge year of change for Sanson and I.  With his nerves frayed due to end of a long, cold, wet winter he is telling me he needs a lot of time for himself to get grounded and feel warm and rested again.  And work together needs be a lot of focus on low energy, low pressure and just enjoying each others company.  Could it be also that he might be letting go of his past, and offering me ground zero, the opportunity to build our activities back up from a place of relaxation, respect and joy?  Rather than tension, pressure and old fears?

A month ago I changed tactics from making him more athletic to project Super Plod, and it seems he really appreciated it.  Today when I arrived at the stable, I went into the paddock and said hello to another horse.  He proceeded to immediately come up to me.  First he checked me for Pumpernickle bread (his new obsession) but then stood with me and sighed and looked at me like…

“what are we doing today?’

Warmed my heart!

In the above photo, you can see how he matches whatever leg I take with the same stride.  Even his foot now strikes the ground at the same angle as me.  Our concentration is the same.  Focused on each other, but also focused on ourselves, keeping our emotions low, and figuring out how to balance on this choppy, half frozen spring ground.  I’m taking my GoPro to stable and will be filming sessions sproadically for me to review later, I don’t have a trainer, I am self training, so this is the best way I know to get perspective on our time together.

It looks like nothing, no big tricks, no high energy fireworks, no gimicks.

Just being together.  Doing the same thing at the same time.  Is that not what good quality riding is all about really?

Needless to say, this translates over into the saddle.  I can direct him so lightly and softly, with both my hands and pelvis.  He starts turning without the inside rein now too.  But I am very aware not to overwhelm him in this time of transition.  I always check with him, and he always gives me a signal when he is ready to be done.  His concentration for our training can only go so far, and if I go slowly, I will quickly build him up.  Rushing will break him down.  Already today we went twice as long as the weekend.  Then he told me he was about ready to be done, that he felt good enough to finish.  I asked him just to keep going another round, and see if he can hold himself together he did.  Stopped like a prince.

Then he arched his neck like a stallion.

One of his former trainer/riders Emma, and my good friend, said she only ever saw Sanson crest and present himself during a stop in activity, all proud and happy with himself, when he was with me.  It never fails to make me smile.

Unity can only be achieved by true cooperation.  When you join forces without an agenda.  You listen to them and put their needs first.  And they listen to you and put your needs first too.  Best way I know to make a safe and happy horse.  Not a bad strategy for relationships with people too I guess.

Today just before mounting I looked at him, just to check how he felt, and usually he was high headed eyes tense during mounting.  Today he slow blinked and sort of said

“Well go on then!  You can get up, I’m alright’

Love your horses this Spring folks and let them show you the way!

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Why?

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Our horses ask this question all the time, no matter what we ask them.

‘Come with me’

‘Why?’

‘Walk.’

‘Why?’

‘Trot.’

‘Why?’

‘Canter.’

‘Why?’

Too often I see that people either don’t see their horses asking them a question, or they see their horse challenging them.  Maybe the horse is.  But maybe the horse needed to challenge their human.

I see people answer to a horses’ ‘Why?’ with;

‘Because I said so’

‘Because it’s your job.’

‘You have to.’

‘You have no choice but to follow my direction.’

 

I think horses deserve so much better, and have so much more to offer.  If you don’t have a good answer to a ‘Why?” but continue to push them to submit, follow, respond and acquiesce, you’ll always miss something in the horse.  The horse will never be truly authentically generous with you because you won’t let them.  The horse see’s only your barrier, your fear, your bossiness, your mindless need to control, dominate and force a result and the result in the horse is that they cannot be 100% themselves with you.

Do it long enough and you have a broken horse.  Indeed the long standing word for a well trained horse is ‘Well broken’.

Broken horses can come in many forms.  There is the dead behind the eyes trail plod or school master, who long since gave up the need to express their needs and wants and just perform without vitality, understanding or joy.  There is the mindless ‘difficult’ horse who was made so crazy by the Behaviour Prison they were subjected to that they decided that their life with people must be one long protest, they run away, they kick, bite, attack, or become unridable out of a chronic need to protest their situation, they need some understanding and their humans seem hell bent on NOT understanding them.  And the worst, is the horse who does everything you ask, never dead behind the eyes, but there is a small sign of discontent at every moment, a tightening in the eyes, swishing tail, anxious mouth, sudden departure from set tasks… and when you take them back to the paddock, the moment you unclip the lead rope they turn and walk away from you like you never existed, or what you just did with them had zero value to them and their life.

Well I am sorry if I have to BREAK something; to make the horse not whole in order to have me be successful with or at horse riding and horsemanship, then I would question the need for me to be with horses at all.

I never want to break the horses I work with, be it my own or others.  My whole goal is about developing a rapport, relationship and common understanding with the horse, by first learning where they are coming from, who they are, their habits, inclinations, energies and attitudes, and working with them from where they are at.  I show them gently that they can show me everything they have to say, I will listen.  I will even take into account much of what they say.  I reserve the last word for safeties sake.  But I also try never to put the horse in a task or situation where I am not 95-100% certain they will be able to do it and do it well.  If they have an unsafe moment, usually it is my fault.  So, in theory, it is possible to never have to ‘reprimand’ the horse.  You can just make your work together a mutual conversation, even if you have misunderstandings.

So many horse people see misunderstandings as a challenge to their sense of control and leadership.  Those same people might have broken horses.

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