How are you showing up for your horse..?

As horse people and animal lovers, we inevitably look upon our horses as our friends and family. We give them hugs, tell them our problems, and if they’re lucky (or very unlucky in Snoox’s case) we might even sing to them too!

We can also, through no fault or thought of our own, show them sides of us we’d rather we didn’t.

Lucky for us, horses are forgiving creatures, and will do what we ask, more often than not, however we ask it, despite us not necessarily being ‘our best selves’, time after time.

What do I mean by this?

Well, I could mean afew things, but ultimately, when we show up and work our horses, and we’re tired, stressed, dehydrated, hormonal, emotional, or just had a really rough day, we cannot possibly give our horses the best versions of ourselves, and therefore we cannot expect our horses to give us ‘their best selves’ back!

Of course, I am not suggesting we should discredit how we feel, and I am not suggesting on days where we don’t feel great, that we should avoid our four-legged pals completely, because as I, and the rest of you reading this will know, horses have an incredible way of healing us and making us feel better (aside from the fact that not seeing them for two days because you’re pooped is impractical for many!) and also, exercise can make us feel great too!

What I AM suggesting however, is that we NOTICE how we are showing up to our horses on any given day, and we tailor our sessions to co-inside with that.

Sometimes, a simple fix will suffice before we get to work, for instance, have your basic needs been met that day? Are you hydrated? Fed? Rested? (More info on this in my free course) (shameless plug…!) Do you need to call a friend to talk over something that happened in the day to ground yourself or help your mind unwind? Do you need to have a quick dance/karaoke party in your car to your favorite ABBA song (no? just me?!) to unwind, dispel some cortisol and get some endorphins flowing?

Other times, when an easy fix isn’t available, it’s important to have an open mind, and be flexible in your working routine, so you and your horse can have an easier session with low expectations, including lots of downtime, where you can both just relax and enjoy each other’s company. For instance, for me, if its ‘that time of the month’ and I know I’m going to be hormonal, I know that I won’t have the patience or mental clarity that I normally do, so I’ll ensure our sessions are short and not taxing on either of us.

Now, for those of you concerned that your horse HAS to be worked because they are in some kind of fitness or weight loss program, fear not! There are plenty of ways to exercise your horse, without making your tired/harassed/’just not feeling it’ self’s bucket overflow. A nice easy walk, in hand, or ridden out and about in the countryside is a lovely way for both of you to get some exercise AND relax. You could go through some ground work basics, tackle some poles or obstacles in hand to engage your horses mind and body…the possibilities are endless if you open your mind to them.

The main thing, is that you NOTICE how you’re feeling, and you address it, for your own mental and physical health, and your horses. We are SOOOO conditioned into ‘just getting on with it’ which I know I bring up a lot, but it is because it is an ongoing theme that we need to quash, as a community.

‘Just getting on with it’ causes more harm to us and our horses in the long run, and stopping, noticing, and responding accordingly to our feelings and needs, AND our horses, is so incredibly valuable to us as humans, and to horses as our partners.

Horsemanship-No Cowboy Hat Required.

What is horsemanship? Does it require a cowboy hat? Chaps? Manically waving about a carrot stick or a flag? …and why do people stop and just stare their horses all the time? 

Well, first things first. You do not need a cowboy hat, or chaps (admittedly I own both but that’s not the point here!) You can wear a cap, a hard hat, a sombrero…whatever floats your boat. Jods, leggings, breeches, joggers…whatever you like! You can use a carrot stick if you must, but they’re really not my jam…I find them abit cumbersome if I’m honest. Flags are pretty handy though, although I don’t tend to use them every day. As for stopping and staring at your horse…well, I’ll explain that later. 

Recently, with a few rather hairy and well publicised incidents in the Pentathlon in the Olympics this year, the need for a knowledge in better horsemanship across the board in the equestrian industry, has become very clear. While there is a currently a movement of ‘change makers’ gathering speed and audience at the moment (I like to include myself in this, but really, we’re looking at the big guns, like Warwick Schiller and Tristan Tucker), there is no doubt more can be done, particularly in the equestrian education sector in the UK, such as including proven techniques that help train and educate horses in a manner which works WITH the horse, focusing on connection and relationship, rather than just trying to ‘make them do the thing’. 

So, lets rewind back to ‘what is horsemanship?’  

The dictionary definition of ‘Horsemanship’ is the art, ability, skill, or manner of a horseman. (Ahem!…or woman!) This is fairly accurate, although I’d like to throw a big fat wadge of ‘knowledge and understanding’ into that definition too. Skill and ability can only take you so far, if you want a happy and engaged horse.  

What if you could understand why your horse does what they do, and what if you could help them learn in a way in which they actually stay relaxed? What if you could help them to feel more confident in all they do, truly helping them to be their best selves in all situations? This includes going to shows without being ‘sharp’ and losing their minds, being able to deal with plastic bags floating about, loading with no stress, lunging without being dragged around by a bucking looney, and hacking out with zero drama. What if they could truly enjoy their work and their time with you?! It’s all possible, it just requires time, patience, good preparation, and opening your mind to the possibility of trying something different.  

You may be reading this, and thinking ‘pffft, what a load of rubbish’…and you know what? That’s OK. We’re all entitled to our own opinions, and sometimes, you’re just not ready to open your mind and try something different, until… you’re ready. 

The truth is, we all question our methods at some point. I didn’t start out with a knowledge of horsemanship, I started out as a teenager in a traditional riding school, and I learnt to kick and smack my way over jumps, I learnt that if a horse dragged you about when you were leading them that ‘it was just them’, I learnt to poke a horse up the bum with a broom if they didn’t want to go into a stable or into a trailer, to a use a stronger bit if you couldn’t stop, and saw lots of much worse things in practice way back in the day.  

The frustrating thing with these methods, is that they do work in some cases. I’d like to point out however, that this is nearly always temporarily, and only to a certain degree; because essentially, you’re making the horse internalise a behavior that they’re demonstrating either through pain, fear, or lack of understanding, so we are not addressing the problem and helping them work through it, we’re just making them do x despite of it, which can cause further pain, trauma, and more adverse behaviors later on. We’re conditioned by old ways and old establishments to ‘just get on with it’, which can be damaging not only to the horse, but often to us physically, and in some cases harmful to our mindset too.  

So, what does it mean to practice horsemanship?! 

 Really, it can be as simple or as high level as you want it to be, and anything is a good start! At a basic level it can mean taking your time, and noticing your horse. It could mean learning their body language, learning about their coping mechanisms, and teaching them that they are safe in their environment, and safe with you (this is where some of the standing and staring part comes in!) It can involve a good groundwork program, where you can carry out body control movements that will help you with all you do with your horse, and one in which you can enrich your horse’s working routine with. It could include giving your horse variety in their routine, exposing them to different scenarios, and helping them ‘prepare’ for situations rather than just ‘getting on with it’. The possibilities are endless and the rewards really are many.  

To conclude, horsemanship can come in many forms (and in many outfits!) but ultimately, it all stems from a need and a want to better understand our equine friends, and to help them to be their best and happiest possible selves, in whatever situation or environment they find themselves in.  

We owe our four legged pals that much, surely…? 

(Photo Credit to Lunar Photography)

And then, there was one…

Hello All. I hope you’re arriving at this blog safe and well, and I’d like to just congratulate each and every one of us for successfully making it to March! Woohoo! Spriiiing is aaa-comin’! 

 It amazes me how fast this winter seems to be disappearing, the birds are tweeting, the flowers are doing their flowery thing, and that light at the end of the COVID tunnel also seems to be getting significantly brighter. 

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Journey to Idyllwild Part 2.

All Good Things………come to those who wait. And wait. Aaaaaand wait. 

So, I left America in the knowledge that I had my dream job secured. I was going to spend two years working for and learning from, arguably one of the best trainers in his field. I couldn’t believe my luck, and I was so excited, I felt so so lucky.

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The Journey to Idyllwild, Part 1.

I thought it might be an idea for those who don’t know me, to revisit an article (a rather long one at that) that I wrote a few years ago for Equine Distance Learning, about my travels the last few years, which led me to finally settling back in the UK and starting Idyllwild Horsemanship.
I’ll be posting snippets from the article once a month, in between my usual whimsical blogs about present times! I hope you enjoy, we could all do with a little escapism to non COVID times I think, so grab a cup of tea and get your time travelling hat on, here goes!

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