Sunday, 26 June 2016

I can only be me, and you can only be you

A big part of my life within horses has been aiming, wishing and wanting to be like other riders.

To be able to ride longer, harder, better and braver.

To find the drive and the means to compete, and compete well, and to head home knowing my horse and I did our best.

I've had lots of great instructors, been friends with many accomplished riders and devoured many books by wonderful authors with great ideas. Often it's been great to follow in their footsteps, to learn and grow and fill in tiny bits of the puzzle.

But the flip side of that is treading your own path. 

And looking to your horse for the answer instead of the people around you. 

Sooner or later (much later for me, I've dragged my feet) it's just you and the horse, and no one can really help you work it out. Except your horse, who gives you feedback constantly, if you choose to listen. 

People can advise, they can encourage, but they can't sit in the saddle with you, or sit in your head and offer a different thought. 

It's a bit like a marriage - outsiders might have an opinion, might offer advice or a compliment - but only the two people in it can really make it work. 

And when you accept that there are some paths you have to navigate alone, you need to think how you're going to do it, and who you need to be to do it.

Gradually, painfully, slowly, I am accepting the kind of horsewoman I am when there's no one else around to save me and all I have is whatever Zed is telling me at any given moment.

And I've given a lot of thought to the kind of horsewoman I want to grow into. 

There's no set criteria, it's more ephemeral than that. Here are some of the ideas that float about when I think about this

It has a lot to do with setting a high standard for myself. I don't shout or hit anyway but I can always be more patient. As the owner of a young horse I like the sentiments of Denny Emerson: "Putter, putter, putter.

I must listen. If everyone else in the whole entire world is standing around the arena applauding us and I can feel Zed feels like shit about the whole thing...I have to listen to him, and only him. People will applaud basically anything, see public hangings/ Xfactor, but horses are totally honest. They don't know how to lie. 

I have to be able to offer what I want. If I want Zed to be supple, focused, hard working and kind then I have to be those things too. And not just for the three hours I spend at the yard, but all the time (a high aim, but you've got to try). Life at the stables inevitably bleeds into everything else I do. I have to be committed to meditation and yoga. I have to be patient in the rest of my life. You can't walk around screaming, shouting and crying and then switch on some kind of Dalai Lama act when you're with your horse.

I'm slow. I can't rush through things. I have to go over old ground again and again and then gradually the time feels right to try the next thing. I feel myself start to get a bit frustrated or bored (or Zed tells me that he's frustrated or bored) and then I bottle it a couple of times until I get fed up enough just to go for it. I hope as the years go by I'll get a better feel for moving things forward but for now I have to accept that to other people, I'm slow. I'm painfully slow. And that has to be okay because I've tried fast and it doesn't work for me.

I have to keep turning up. I can live with being slow but I must be at the yard every single day and do whatever needs to be done until it's done. Cady suffered so much in her younger years because I didn't put the hours in unless it suited me. In time I want to make this second nature. I'm very dedicated to Zed but I still have to threaten and cajole myself  to work hard and push myself and I hope that evolves into something more fruitful because it's exhausting chasing yourself! 

I would do it all differently if I had a do-over with Cady

I want to be grateful. Always. For all the little gifts Zed gives me. When he lets me catch him, when he stands still, when he yawns and stretches if I give him a massage, when he loose schools over tiny jumps, when he tries hard for our rides, when he learns quickly, when it goes tits up...I'm grateful to have him every day, and for all the effort he puts in on his side. I lost Rodney in one day. It does happen. Nothing is guaranteed so there's no sense in waiting for some mythical time in the future when you and your horse are perfectly perfect and fart rainbows. 

Horse of a lifetime

I'm a coward...and I'm brave. This is a strange one. I know there are many times when I take the easier route and stick to my comfort zone with Zed, but there have also been moments when the wheels are falling off and I'll still ride. I'll still get on him when he feels all snazzy and wound up. I think that takes guts, even though my instinct is that I'm kind of yellow.

I'm not saying these ideas are right, whatever that means, but after much trial and error, they feel right to me. Someone else's list will be the polar opposite and that's right for them. I can only be me, and you can only be you.

So what about you? Where are you and where are you hoping to go? What's important to you when it comes to your life with horses?

For me, it's beautifully, perfectly summed up by my favourite blogger, Kate from A Year with Horses.

The quote that sits at the top of her blog is: "How I am with my horse is more important than what I do with my horse."

To me - that's it. That's the heart of it. 

Saturday, 25 June 2016

Zed stands still and I keep breathing

We enjoyed a happy moment yesterday.  

For about 10 days I've asked someone to hold Zed while I get on because we'd been having a few hairy moments. 

I was getting on one day (just me and Zed) when he jigged about and stepped on the mounting block which really upset him (and he was already upset hence the initial jigging) so we had a rather wild few moments before we could continue and he was pretty bothered for the rest of the ride.

After that I'd get on and he'd either have a jump about or get really tense as I tried to find my stirrup. Not ideal or safe. Of course, I was on high alert throughout as well so we were feeding each other's anxiety in a rather potent circle. 

After picking up the Jenny Rolfe book about breathing and horses I decided to try and get myself much more relaxed and breathing properly and then try to mount in a less defensive way.

At first we just stood at the mounting block. Then I put my foot in the stirrup and did some more deep, slow breaths. Then we walked around the school once for a break before returning to the mounting block.

Gradually he became less fidgety and his neck was much more relaxed. We got to the point where it felt about right just to pick up the reins softly, put my weight in the stirrup and swing over and on to his back. I pretended it was Rodney I was riding (he was perfect to mount) shut my eyes and took a leap of faith.

Zed lifted his head for a fraction as if he was thinking, but stood very still, and then we moved off at a very steady walk, instead of our usual champagne cork display. 

I kept paying attention to my breath as we rode around and he stayed much more relaxed, actually he even felt a bit stiff at times which makes sense as we've had some longer, harder rides where he's whisked about in trot for five minutes before we could move to a gentler pace.

Every ride seems to change at this point, and each time we need to do different things. We'd begun doing a five minute trot at the start last week, just to get us moving and breathing, and it worked a charm. Before that, starting in walk just seemed to be building tension. 

Yesterday we had a better start, and walking seemed more appropriate as a warm up. I didn't do too much. I was very pleased that we both felt more relaxed. We did some trotting poles on both reins and some transitions and that felt like enough.

Zed is teaching me a lot. It's hard work, and it requires a lot of thinking and action, and a willingness to be wrong, and keep trying. But it feels good too, as if we're slowly figuring each other out a bit at a time.

Monday, 20 June 2016

Time to get tough

My life in a nutshell

Zed had his first mini lesson today. We worked on: gentle spiral circles, rein changes, W/T transitions and trotting poles.


So much so that he went all whirly and tired at the end and I had to jump off before he evaporated into a monster shit storm.

He was so sweaty. I do not ride him for long enough. I think I might be in danger of being lazy. Or complacent. Or both.

So I've treated myself to a big fat glaring truth-telling machine.

From now on the rule is - No Getting Off Until AT LEAST 20 minutes have elapsed.*

*Unless there's an equine-assisted dismount of course.

And if I'm riding a horse that is more mature and less fledgling...40 minutes.


Time to get Tough.