Lets Get Back To Basics

‘The Basics’…if we can get those down then we’re flying right? Yes, you bet you’re right! However sadly, they are often overlooked, ignored, and downplayed, because of their simplicity, often, to our own, and our horse’s detriment. 

So which basics am I talking about exactly? 

Your basic NEEDS.  

The things you need to get you through each day, and to keep you bright and breezy while you’re at it! And, equally as important of course, we’ll be talking about your horses’ basic needs too. 

If these needs are not met, in a consistent way, not only will it potentially break down the next session you have with your horse, it can break down your whole relationship. You see, they’re kind of a big deal, and again, often COMPLETELY disregarded. 

When things go wrong, or aren’t heading in the way we would like, we often find ourselves grappling around, frustrated, and looking for what we did wrong. We seek out how to do things better, and desperately search for the answers, when actually, there’s so many of them in the tiny everyday things we do….or don’t do! 

So, let’s start off with you, the human. What are your basic needs? Where did this idea even come from? 

Well, according to human psychologist Abraham Maslow’s popular theory, we all function according to a ‘Hierarchy of Needs’, which is often depicted in pyramid form. 

At the bottom of the pyramid, are our most basic of needs, that we need in order to SURVIVE.  

These include sleep, food, water, safety (I.e., we are not stressed or in fight/flight).  

Further up the pyramid, our needs include friendship, socialising, feeling accomplished, meetings goals, and ultimately (at the top) achieving our full potential, and feeling fulfilled, and happy in life. 

So, the bottom line (quite literally) is, if we want to meet our needs further up the pyramid, to feel fulfilled, happy, and like we are meeting our goals in life and with our horses, we MUST meet our needs at the foundation of the pyramid. 

Now that leads me to ask, how often have you turned up to a session with your horse feeling tired? Hungry/thirsty? Over caffeinated, highly sugared, and under nourished? Stressed from the day? 

How have those sessions gone? Did you meet your full potential? Could you communicate with your horse with clarity and calm? Could you think clearly? Did you get frustrated easily? Could you physically execute what you needed to, to the best of your ability? 

My guess? Probably not. The crazy thing is, this can all be SO easily rectified, and just by making a few small changes in your life, you can achieve so much more, with your horse, and beyond.  

By just making sure you are properly hydrated for a start, you can change your WHOLE day.  

You’re probably reading this thinking you don’t have time to meet those needs.  

Us horse people are a busy lot, we often run on empty, survive on a cup of tea/coffee and a biscuit, and assume we can just crack on with our day, whizzing from one thing to the next, trying to tick things off the list, look after the other humans and animals in our life, and definitely not having time to look after ourselves properly in the process.  

Well, I’m here to tell you that you do have time. And you MUST make the time for you. You only get one life, and you only get one body, and in order to do all the things you need to, and meet all those goals you want to, you MUST look after yourself. Put your own damn oxygen mask on first. You cannot pour from an empty cup! Think of all the things you could do and achieve (and how different it would feel) if you could give from a cup of overflow….?!  

Now look, it doesn’t have to be anything drastic, I’m not talking about a buffet at breakfast, or yoga in your lunch hour, but particularly when we’re relating it to working with your horse, start with asking yourself the following questions before you start a session. 

Am I well rested? Am I hydrated/fed? Do I feel calm? 

If not, it’s time to address those before you start. Drink a glass of water, pack a sandwich, have a power nap, or chuck on a 5-10 min meditation (these are so easy to access nowadays for free from everywhere). Plan your day so you KNOW you can meet those needs. Then see how different you feel. I guarantee you, it’ll improve your day, and improve your time with your horse.  

The small things really do all add up to the big things. So, look after those basic needs, and they’ll look after you, and your horse! 

Your Horses Basic Needs 

Of course, there are two players in any partnership, and your horses’ basic needs are just as important as yours. 

Their pyramid looks very similar to yours, at the foundation, you have their needs for survival, food, water, and sleep. 

But this is where things get a little more complicated. Horses’ lives are very different now they are domesticated, we have humanized them, regimented them, and taken away a lot of their ‘natural’ ways of being. It’s also important to remember, that as prey animals, they also have a few key things that need to be considered, in order to feel SAFE and therefore happy and stress free in their lives with us. 

So how can we tweak things to improve their lifestyle, and therefore our relationships with them? 

Hydration is easy, we all know the old ‘provide clean, fresh water at all times’ from our pony club days.  

Sleep? This is an interesting one. We all know horses can rest and sleep standing up, but does your horse feel relaxed enough to lay down and get their nourishing REM sleep for at least 30 minutes a day? If not, that may be something to look at. How can you help your horse to feel ‘safer’ and more comfortable so that they can achieve that? Just like us, not getting enough real rest and sleep can lead to edginess, stress, anxiety, and of course, tiredness! 

Food. Nutrition and hard feed wise, this all depends on the level of work your horse is in, their breeding, and their genetics, so it is important here that you consult a nutritionist to ensure you are not over/under feeding them the hard stuff, which can result in changes of energy, weight, and other behavioral/physiological problems relating to diet. One easy thing though…is levels of forage. Horses in their natural environments wander for miles, every day, foraging and eating roughage, which helps keep their digestive system functioning and healthy, and keeps them MOVING and happy. Providing ad lib forage and turnout, is the easiest way to meet this need. 

Restricting movement, and forage however, is not conducive to a happy, truly healthy horse, and restricting their freedom ‘to be a horse’ in this way, can affect their personality, health, and behavior exponentially. As prey and herd animals, horses were built to roam, and move. Stabling our horses for the majority of their day and their lives can be stressful to our furry friends, leading to habits such as weaving, cribbing, door kicking, box walking, over exuberance/lack of focus in work, and general ‘grumpiness’. 

 Where possible (because I know sometimes it can be difficult depending on your yard etc) turnout as much as possible (particularly 24/7) can improve your horse’s happiness and wellbeing tenfold. 

This leads nicely into the next thing that is essential to your horse’s happiness…friends! As herd animals, who depend on each other for their very survival, living life without being able to properly socialise (inc. activities like playing and grooming each other), can greatly affect your horse’s happiness and well-being, and also the way they interreact with you! 

 Without learning social cues from other horses from a young age, you may find that your horse does not exhibit ‘normal’ behavior as they have not learnt how to ‘be’ around other beings. Not only that, horses who are restricted from socialising in their every day life, will often feel frustrated and stressed, and this may show internally in introverted horses (think stomach ulcers, being ‘shut down’ etc) and/or externally in ‘vices’ as described above. 

Bearing all of the above in mind when assessing your horses lifestyle can be SO profound in the positive changes it can bring to you and your horse. A few small tweaks can make SUCH a huge difference. Again, these small changes may feel like nothing in the grand scheme of things, but they really are the foundations in which your relationship with your horse is built on. Do not underestimate them! 

So what else? 

Aside from those very basic needs, if you are questioning whether you horse is feeling ‘fulfilled’ or meeting their full, real life unicorn potential, here are some other questions you can ask, or things you can look into. 

BASIC NEEDS – food/diet, forage, friends, freedom, sleep 

PHYSIOLOGICAL- are they physically sound/well? Reg farrier, physio apps? Dentist? Gelding- is there sheath clean and free of the dreaded ‘bean’, reg worming prog? Digestion ok? Signs of stomach ulcers? 

MENTAL – are they coping with their workload? Does their training regime need to slow down or step up? Does their routine need changing? Do they need more/less variety? 

TACK/EQUIPMENT – does all of their tack fit correctly? Is all of your equipment sound and in good condition? Do you need to change bits or try without?  

Again, small tweaks here and there, or further investigation into some of the factors above can make a HUGE difference to your horses well-being.  

To conclude, bearing in mind your basic needs, and that of your horse, can add a crazy amount of enrichment to your relationship, and to both of your lives. The simple things in life, are often the most profound, and in this case, they are the living foundation in which your lives as you know them, sit. 

So make them count. 

R.E.S.P.E.C.T…find out what it means to me…?!

‘Respect’ is a bit of a buzz word in the equestrian and horsemanship industry, and in my opinion, it’s a word that is often misconstrued, and can mean very different things depending on which trainer you talk to. 

The dictionary definition is; 1. ‘a feeling of deep admiration for someone or something elicited by their abilities, qualities, or achievements’    *or*   2. due regard for the feelings, wishes, or rights of others’ 

For me, number 2 is the most integral when communicating with other living beings, horse, human, or otherwise.  

Often, you will hear some trainers, talking about ‘getting a horses respect’.  

There are a few trainers across the globe who may mean it in a potentially unpleasant way, some who mean it in the way I’m talking about in this blog, and others who don’t quite communicate how they mean it. 

For instance, I recently saw a video on a social media platform that got my goat a little, showing ‘Signs Your Horse is Disrespecting You’, detailing things such as a horse throwing his head up when being haltered, or showing distaste at having a girth tightened. Many of the things listed in that video were signs that the horse may actually be in some discomfort, and/or adequate communications lines were not present, and not, in fact, ‘disrespect’ from the horse. 

Horses are wonderful, amazing creatures, capable of learning and achieving incredible things, and ultimately, unless there is something very neurologically or hormonally wrong (or they’ve had a terrible human experience at some point in their lives) they are not out to get us, they are not looking to ‘disrespect’ us, they are simply responding to their environment, the communication they are receiving, and whether or not their needs are being met. 

For me, all relationships, across all species, should be based on MUTUAL respect and understanding, with a dash of empathy thrown in the mix also. Gaining respect through dominance, does not result in a solid foundation with horse or human, and can result in mistrust, stress, anxiety, ‘shutting down’ and inconsistent results.  

So, what about – rather than focusing on gaining a horse’s respect, we worked on establishing clear, consistent communication, and look instead, to gain their TRUST, and their FOCUS. 

What about – in moments of so-called ‘disrespectful’ behavior, we looked at the bigger picture, and asked WHY it was happening? Pain? Discomfort? Lack of understanding? Basic Needs not being met? Feeding routine?   

Often, there is a reason for the behavior, and it is up to us humans, to respect our horses enough, to look into why, and how, we can help them. 

Approaching your relationship with your horse in this manner, will result in deeper understanding, better communication, connection, and happiness and relaxation for all involved., with zero drama. 

Sounds like the perfect relationship to me…! 

What does respect mean to you? I’d love to know your thoughts!

Over and Out!

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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