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“At home with Ben Atkinson” – a review

I first met Ben at Organised Equestrian’s 2017 clinic with Frederic Pignon and Magali Delgado. To be honest, I just thought he was a trick rider. His horses could clearly do some cool things but I wasn’t really that convinced that how he’d got there would be up my street. It looked cool though.

I was riding myself with Magali that year and I remember us all sat around the fire pit at lunchtime and Ben talking about his family, and his horses, and how he prepares for performances. I was struck by how open and friendly he seemed, and I felt my perception shift a little.

Later on I bumped into him walking back from the car park and we exchanged a few words, and I again found myself thinking that perhaps this was someone who was more on the horse’s level that I had assumed.

I’m pretty fussy about my horsemanship. I respect many different types, techniques and even philosophies of training, and I understand that different people have different journeys, but for me and what I do with MY horses, I am very selective. I am sure that a lot of you are the same.

I can confirm, after watching At home with Ben Atkinson and writing six pages of notes, that his philosophy and principles work for me. I am certain that everyone will take something from this production, regardless of your experience, goals or background. And I can also confirm that it will make you feel good (which I know can be a risk for some of us more sensitive horsepeople). These are happy horses.

We open with Ben working with a younger horse, on some of the very basic “foundation” commands.

When I was younger, a now nameless faceless instructor once told me “Grand Prix is just the basics done really really well”. The message was so powerful and I’ve repeated it so many times that I’ve forgotten who told it to me, but I could hear it again while watching Ben and his youngster, Graham.

From day 1, Ben focuses on working the body and the mind, working smarter, so more efficiently, and with precision. Because if you get it right the first time, you don’t have to go back to it.

The real unique selling point? Something I’ve always been looking for but never found? Someone to just TELL ME WHERE IM SUPPOSED TO BE!

Like literally. Put your right shoulder here, your left leg there, raise your stick to this point and put your other hand over here and do THIS. Create THIS exact response. Then repeat.

This is the magic. Ben talks about the magic of the liberty performance, and even refers to it as sleight of hand. Sleight of hand is created by consistently practising the same movement over and over again. This is Ben’s magic. He is completely consistent in his body and his cues.

He builds a language, a vocabulary with the horse, and most importantly, his physical pronunciation of the language is exact. I am HERE, you should be THERE, we will go HERE. He is clear, and consistent, and this fosters confidence in his horses, because they can speak the same language.

It is this same clarity with the horses that Ben brings to how he teaches and explains what he is doing, and it is very valuable. Often I find myself questioning the nuances of what I can see a trainer doing, but as I was doing this in my head, Ben was explaining with words my questions. He is very confident in his own movements, everything is deliberate. Because of this, he can relay in almost real time what he is doing.

There are little pieces of philosophy scattered through this feature, and some need to be experienced firsthand as you watch it yourself, but I want to share with you my two favourites:

1. The “Harry Potter” rule – hold your whip like your wand and there will be magic

2. Training horses is like laying one sheet of paper on top of another every day

I thought – how many pieces of paper until you make a book?

What kind of book do you want to write?

As our day with Ben progresses, we join him as he works with more and more advanced horses. The building blocks are starting to come together, and you can see how one fits on top of another, and another.

For many of us, we have been playing with concepts like yielding to and from pressure, desensitisation, flexion and lightness for a long time. If you want some real refinement for those concepts, you can find it here. If you are clear and consistent you can put a pin right in the spot you want. Just right THERE. Perfect. The more perfect blocks you can build, the more confident you and your horse can be in your language, and the more transferable your vocabulary becomes.

We started with a young horse in a round pen with a halter and a lead rope. We’re now Roman riding a team of four horses around an arena. It doesn’t feel any different. The path has been laid, and Ben is right, anyone can do this, it is all a language built on basic principles and written one word at a time until suddenly you can write sonnets and poems and ballads together. Nice. Very nice.

There are a thousand little puzzle pieces I haven’t included in this, because I would be here a very long time (!), the specific details that make the difference between good and excellent in a response that are so often missed out. These details needs to be watched first hand.

A note on price, as this is a review, you can rent At home with Ben Atkinson for £9.99, and purchase for £24.99. This is a feature length production, which is packed from start to finish with information and education. I can confidently recommend with hand on heart value for money with this product, and I would actually recommend purchasing, because you will likely want to watch it again at some point. I am sure I will be once I have had time to lick and chew and play around. If you want to rent instead, you can be assured that even if you rent twice you are still in good value. Stamp of approval from me!

An Easter weekend/bank holiday treat, I’ve had a lovely afternoon watching and reflecting and writing, I look forward to watching everyone enjoy this piece as much as I have!

You can find At home with Ben Atkinson at http://www.organisedequestrian.com, go and grab yourselves a notebook and some popcorn and settle in, I can’t wait to hear what you all think!

For now, peace out and pony love,

Lucy

 

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Ben Atkinson,the Retake Day 2 –

Mijas and I made it to day 2! Result!

Over the last two sessions it felt like we have been tinkering around, tightening screws and adjusting the pieces.

Today, we put our building blocks together, and what we created just felt so beautiful.

My riding has completely changed. I can’t think of one thing about my body that is the same as it was before we first rode with Ben five weeks ago.

We came out again and worked more on our leg yield, circles and canter transitions. I tried to keep my elbows softer, and was somewhat successful. My next big job is to keep my legs positioned supportively, so that she is between my legs, with me touching her the whole time, rather than taking the leg off completely which prevents me from lifting her up underneath me into transitions and gaits generally.

My other major breakthrough today was the idea of every aid I give being like a pulsing or twitching motion not a continuous pressure. Like cooking with a pinch of salt or pepper, rather than just pouring the salt in and then trying to correct it when it’s too salty!

Just a little bit, then a little more, a little of this and a little of that. A little forwards, a little outside rein, a little inside leg, a little flexion, a little half halt, everything little. Then release, then again, then release, then something else, then release. Soft and smooth and open, no brace, just moving with the horse.

It’s actually really hard to do! Especially when you’re training new muscles, because you’re tensing things that have never tensed before, whilst simultaneously trying to relax those things! But I was blown away by the softness, and how quickly the end result came to be so beautiful; the power of being in the right place at the right time!

My brain is so saturated, so many pieces are clicking into place and today I really felt like it was right. Only a few strides here and there but we were going together, softly, nicely, in harmony.

I think, after all this time, I might finally be getting into dressage…oh dear!! Well, it’s an exciting new horizon to explore!

Ben had Mijas and I working on a few fun sideways and lateral exercises around poles at the end of the session. I’ve worked with these kind of exercises before, but never with this level of precision, and it really made me realise how small you can break it down, and how powerful that can be.

Every muscle in my body aches too! Muscles I didn’t even know I had, my feet, my calves, my hips, my thighs, stomach, shoulders, arms, wrists, fingers, everything. Everything aches. I imagine Mijas is feeling somewhat similar. Tomorrow I will be sure to give her a good massage! (And try to find one for myself!)

What an incredible experience this has been with her, I feel so blessed and so lucky, and like I am finally on a path that lights a fire in my soul!

Mijas is so smart and talented too, and it truly fascinated me how motivated she is to get it right with me, and how much she will fill in to make it right. I had that addictive feeling today, where I felt like we were together, working on the same goal.

It’s not perfect, but we’re getting there!

With Lawrence, it still often feels like I am doing things to him, because he finds the dominance play so hard, even though I know the things we are doing are good for him and his body especially, but it is unusual for me to feel like we are in it together in the same way. He says yes because our connection is strong, and he trusts me that what we are doing will make him feel better in the end, but I’m still not sure if he would choose it for himself. Ambivalent is perhaps a good word for his energy in the arena now.

But Mijas? She has motivation to work with me to the end goal. I haven’t quite figured out what she really likes yet, I know some things she really hates, but I’m not quite sure on what makes her tick….it’s like a breath of fresh air though to have a shared vision together, and to know that she is by my side, even if I’m not quite sure why she is, or what makes her tick yet, is a magical feeling!

What a weekend! I can hand on heart recommend Ben Atkinson’s instruction, and as ever, massive kudos and applause for Organised Equestrian for always creating such a great learning environment!

Although the world is topsy turvy right now, there is another chance to catch Ben at his demonstration on the 9th October (here), or at his next clinic in Yorkshire (here)! If you can, I can assure you it will be well worth attending.

But for now, I need to stretch out my weary muscles and rest my brain, so

Peace out and pony love,

Lucy

Find my write up for the first half of this clinic here

And the start of this journey here

Follow us on Facebook at Horseman’s Log!

Ben Atkinson, the Retake – every cloud has a silver lining!

Sometimes in life you get an opportunity for a second chance. It’s pretty unusual, but the cards all stacked up and myself and Mijas have been so privileged to have another opportunity to ride with Ben, only a few weeks later!

These strange and tumultuous times have postponed Frederic Pignon and Magali Delgado from returning to us as planned this weekend, and although this is an almighty cloud, I cannot help but bask in my own silver lining, as Ben has filled the slot so brilliantly!

Mijas and I have been working hard, since I ran what felt like 100 miles with Mr Darcy last time I have been going to the gym, and I am so thankful that Mijas came sound so quickly and we were able to get right back on the horse (as it were)!

Mostly, I have been trying to work on keeping my pelvis tipped farther backwards, keeping my weight down through my knees, my arms straight through to my thumbs, my shoulders relaxed, my toes tucked under my horse and my riding the same no matter what my reins were doing. I could feel that my core muscles were getting stronger, and things definitely FELT better sometimes, but I wasn’t really sure if they WERE better or not!

For Mijas, this kind of work was/is quite stressful, so we usually work in a frame for a few days, then take a few days to decompress and lope about working on our transitions and steering Freestyle, and our Parelli patterns.

The week leading up to this clinic, I worked on Freestyle, to get her nice and loose, and then had one session in a frame the day before, which has seemed to work quite well.

I feel like we are peeling back the layers of the onion, and those many many pieces that I have been working so hard on were all in the background this time, the problems of yesterday, and Ben gave me a whole new set of issues to improve and correct!

(I’m actually taking this as quite a good sign, that we’re not still working on the same stuff as last time – I’m hoping this means I have been at least somewhat successful in working on what he gave us before!)

The headline act for today:

ELBOWS!

Elbows elbows elbows elbows elbows!

Elbows!

Mijas is such a gift, because with her, when I get myself in the right place, she gives me everything and it is just amazing! Every time I got my body in the right place, she slotted everything else together for me, and I could really feel the difference I was making when I wasn’t getting it quite right for her.

My elbows need to be softer, like a spring, to maintain a supportive contact but without bracing, and to move without tensing, so that everything is light and flexible and moving with her, not tensing against her.

I also need to stop relying on my inside rein so much. It’s a strange one this, I think a dusty remnant of my days in the riding school: left rein to go left, right rein to go right. So when I’m on a left rein circle, my brain goes “left rein left!”, when actually I need my left (inside) leg to shape her around the circle, my right (outside) rein to support her to stay balanced (not overbent and in a good frame, to my understanding), my left shoulder back and my weight in my left stirrup to direct the shoulders to create the circle and my hands low and symmetrical, touching her mane. Reprogramming that inside rein is possibly the hardest part, because it’s such a subconscious habit, even though it should actually be pretty quiet in reality, and serves no positive purpose.

And of course, whilst I’m focusing on all these new things, I still need to keep my back and shoulders straight but not tense, my pelvis bowl tilted backwards, my knees open, my legs long and slightly further back, my toes tucked under my horse and my fingertips touching my palms, and in a straight line through to my thumbs. Oh yeah, and try to breathe every once in a while, it helps!

There are a few things to remember here (!), and by the second half of the session my legs were ACHING like a workout! But we did so well together and I couldn’t be more proud of gorgeous Mijas. She is so special, with so much heart and try. We worked on some canter transitions towards the end of the session and we had two where we both (mostly me who actually needed to) managed to keep ourselves together and it’s was just like magic! Like we were lifting up in perfect balance together into a beautiful canter, two souls on the same wavelength, just incredible.

(I’m actually getting a bit emotional thinking about it over my glass of wine at the end of this awesome day, don’t tell anyone will you!)

The more you know, the less you know you know, and my list of things to work on has grown exponentially today. I couldn’t be more excited, and I can’t wait to return tomorrow to consolidate and enhance.

I am so grateful to have been given another opportunity to work with Ben, the stars have aligned for Mijas and I these past few months, and I intend to ride this wave for as long as I possibly can, it’s been such a rush so far, and it seems like we’re only going from strength to strength together!

But for now, I need some zzz’s, and to prepare for whatever tomorrow brings, so,

Peace out and pony love,

Lucy

To catch up on our first clinic together with Ben, click here!

Coming soon:

Lawrence update – where are we now?

Horse School launches our first series!

Follow us on Facebook @ Horseman’s Log!

Ben Atkinson 2020 Day 2 – Expect the Unexpected!

There are a great many sayings about the best laid plans, and it is my true belief that one of the most important skills you can have as a horseman is adaptability.

Overnight, Mijas and her herd had a BIG family row, one of the biggest I’ve ever seen, and as a result most of the herd had been put out of action when I arrived on Sunday morning, including Mijas.

So, time to change the game plan!

I am exceptionally privileged to have the opportunities that I do, and Larisa offered me her beautiful Mr Darcy for a ground session instead. An opportunity not to be missed, he is a gorgeous Oldenburg with a trot to DIE for.

Faced with such an exciting afternoon ahead, as well as the whole day to watch the other riders progress, I just couldn’t find it in myself to be disappointed. Of course I wished for Mijas to be sound again by the time I saw her this evening, but I couldn’t help but bask in the gigantic silver lining I had just been given!

Watching the other riders gave me such a warm glow (helped along by a VERY hot Sun!). Every single person had a noticeable progression of their clarity, consistency or confidence, and sometimes all three!

One rider in particular had wanted to set her horse up for starting liberty. Ben had helped put the send and return in for the nervous Thoroughbred on the first day, and let me tell you, it was a show! But Ben stuck with it and by the end of the second day, the rider and her horse had some beautiful moments walking together at Liberty with an amazing feeling and emotion from the horse. I always find it so magical when that first “catching game” type experience goes well for the horse, it can produce such a big breakthrough in such a short amount of time. I remember the first day Lawrence came towards me rather than running away when I came into his field, and how beautiful that moment was for me. Such a rewarding session to watch someone else find such harmony.

After lunch, I went to catch Darcy. We’ve never really played together without a fitness purpose, and I wanted us to get properly acquainted before we started pushing the boundaries!

He’s just a dream, he makes you work hard to earn the leadership and will test you at every chance he gets, but once you get the connection it’s like fire on your fingertips! Even though the weather was sweltering I couldn’t resist 10 minutes at Liberty! It was just a dream, to see that back arch and the neck round out as I drew him in was almost addictive!

So I asked Ben to work with us on Spanish walk and Passage, I have a vague notion of how to create Spanish walk but I have never been particularly successful. I didn’t have the first clue about passage. Had I realised how the passage should be, I would not have chosen it in 32 degree heat in my black jodhpurs!

The Spanish walk is actually all about getting out of the horse’s way and not asking too low. You want the horse to be reaching up and out always, and if you keep the whip at the knee, you are always blocking the movement. Instead come up near the chin, where a kerb chain would sit, and ask from there.

If you imagine yourself doing front crawl swimming, as you’re bringing the left arm over the top of your head, you want your head straight, or if anything, slightly to the right, and vice versa on the other side. I was tending to unconsciously flex Darcy’s head towards the inside, which was actually blocking his movement and restricting the lift. I couldn’t have asked for a better teacher in Darcy, when I got it right, it was PERFECT and when I got it wrong, it sucked!

We moved on to the passage, which was a workout let me tell you! If I’d have realised what it entailed I may have chosen differently to save my poor legs in those black jodhpurs, but I’ve been told i didn’t look as deceased as I felt (!). Running around the arena trying to keep up with Darcy, keep balanced, not fall over (I was only partially successful with this), not have him or I step on the rope, stay straight, cue at the right time and place, not get in the way and above all REMEMBER TO BREATHE was another exercise in multitasking that I was mostly only somewhat successful in. But of course, with a horse as majestic as Darcy, when it’s right, it’s RIGHT, and it felt like we were flying for those couple of good strides before I collapsed back into a sweaty floppy mess!!

I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to work with two amazing horses this weekend. I’ve had a bit of time to reflect and what I have really taken away from this weekend is the value of consistency in my training. The tasks and techniques that Ben has set me up with are complicated yes, but only in so much as that I am physically unable to keep all of my plates spinning due to a simple lack of practice. If I do these exercises daily, then I have absolute confidence that my skills will improve.

This is a rare and exciting piece of clarity in my training plan. All I have to do now is follow the plan and do the practice, and I’ll get results. I am so thankful that when I saw Mijas today that she was more sound, and I used my extra time today to finally get back out with Lawrence, and go to the gym, to improve my fitness so that I can be in the right place at the right time for my horses.

Thank you so much Ben, for giving me so much to work on, explaining it so well, and giving me the motivation to get back to my fitness and get back to my consistency!

I have no doubt that I will continue to have instruction from Ben in the future, and I would highly recommend that anyone do the same. I guarantee he can help you with whatever you are working on.

As ever, thank you to Larisa and Nicole and Organised Equestrian, for always bringing the magic and bridging the gap between trainers and riders so well. It was just fabulous to be back at an event.

Thank you to Larisa, for letting me ride and play with your awesome horses, for letting me learn and get it wrong and pick at all your hard woven threads as I improve, I promise I’m trying my best!

And finally, thank you to everyone who reads these ridiculous things that I throw out of my head! I love writing them, and it truly means so much to me when I hear people have enjoyed my posts.

Keep your eyes peeled, I have a few exciting pieces lined up and I am very excited to share them with you all!

For now, peace out and pony love

Lucy

Find my second clinic with Ben here!

Ben Atkinson 2020 Day 1 – WOW WOW WOW

What a day!

First off, it is just SO good for the soul to be at a horse event. I really hadn’t realised how much I had missed that feeling until I turned up this morning. 

Pulling in at Willow Fields with the flags out and the marquee up and dozens of cars parked felt like coming home. Lockdown has been kind to me, and I haven’t had much to complain of, but I hadn’t realised how much I’d desperately missed the magic of Organised Equestrian events.

I rode today with Mijas, Larisa Tasker’s Spanish mare, who I’ve only begun working with very recently. I played with her a few times a couple of years back and we didn’t really gel, I think we were both just still too stubborn and mareish (!)…

But something clicked for us about 2/3 months back and we’ve been taking leaps and bounds together! Mijas has a long and tumultuous history including Classical Spanish dressage training, and she has a lot in the bank that I haven’t got the skills to tap into (so far). She’s a wonderful sensitive mare who fills in so many gaps for me, bless her soul, and I was excited to get some help with my position and aids to progress my riding technique. 

Ben’s clinic is titled “Clarity, Consistency and Confidence”, and if you aren’t familiar with his work I’d recommend my previous review of his At Home with Ben Atkinson training film. Ben is a stunt, trick and film rider and trainer with a pretty impressive portfolio for a 26 year old, built on the back of perseverance and commitment.

The variety of riders across the day made for great watching, we saw work on shoulder in, piaffe, brideless riding, rearing, and a very interesting session on preparation for liberty and draw work. 

Ben is very young, but very knowledgeable, and I think his greatest asset is that his training methods and perception of the horse and human picture is firmly rooted in the physicality of what both partners are doing. 

There are many trainers, clinicians and riders who will talk about feel, timing, balance, movement and progression, some world class. A common theme that I’ve always struggled with is the use of phrases like “bring the horse round and through”, or “go more with the horse”…sometimes I can’t help but think “I’m on top of the bloody horse, how much more “with it” do you want me to get?!?!”

Ben talks about Clarity, Consistency and Confidence, and he teaches how he preaches, with a clarity of instruction that I haven’t experienced often before, and is such a breath of fresh air! 

He will tell you exactly where to put your hand, your leg, your whip, how to do it consistently every time, and exactly what you are looking for from the horse. 

Grand Prix is just the basics done really well, and I was already thoroughly enjoying watching the other riders and picking up a few exercises for Lawrence and I to try out together (yay! A plan!!)…

I got Mijas ready, and I could feel just a little bit of nerves in my chest. I think Ben can seem quite intimidating from the outside. He is so knowledgeable, and has earned the right to be confident in what he does simply through the extraordinary amount of hours he has put into his horsemanship. So I was a little anxious. My riding is exponentially better since I started riding Mijas, but I still flop about like a wonky raggedy doll most of the time!

We started out just playing with the shoulder on the ground – Mijas can be pretty dominant with it – and Ben gave me a whole bunch of progressions to work with to take me right up to that cool thing I’ve seen people do where their horse yields the fore quarters side to side really fast, like cow cutting! (No I can’t remember the name of that manoeuvre, it’s been a long hot day!)

Then I got on board, and that’s where the magic really started! After a quick warm up and some shoulder in, Ben had me working on my position in trot, and getting the balance right in me and her. 

What a magical experience. I felt like I was riding in the Olympics every time we came together and it was just the most amazing feeling!

The multitasking was seriously hard work! Let me give you a list of all the things I had to try to remember to do all at once:

– sit on my seat pockets, like my pelvis is a bowl and I’m pouring water out the back

– keep my reins short and my arms long

– but not too long, and keep my inside elbow veins in a straight line down through my wrists and thumbs

– tuck my toes under my horse

– relax my shoulders

– keep my outside rein stable to reassure her

– play with the ring finger on my inside rein but keep my fingers together not splayed

– look where I’m going (!)

– keep her straight in the neck but on the circle

– guide with the outside leg to stop her falling out

– guide with the inside leg to shape the circle

– push the trot forward through my seat and energy

– maintain a good contact, don’t abandon her with too much lightness

– try to remember to breathe and feel the magic! 

And this is just the stuff I can remember!! Let me tell you, every time Ben would point something out to me, something else would fall apart! Get the legs right and the arms were gone, get the arms, and the shoulders tensed, get the shoulders, and veer halfway across the school with my legs flopping about! Every now and again, for a couple of strides, I’d get perfection! Then back to dropping balls and spinning plates until I could keep it ALL together for maybe a stride or two then drop it all again!

Mijas was just incredible, and an hour flew by like five minutes. I had expected Ben to have a lot to teach me, but his teaching style also really suited me and I gained so much, even more than I could ever have expected.

The best moment of the day for me though really came at the end of the session. I felt Mijas’ energy drop, and her stride getting choppy, and I pushed her on with the encouragement that we were doing so well, and I was so proud of her even though she was getting tired. I hadn’t done another half a circle before Ben said that he could see that she was getting tired and he thought that was a good place to quit.

My respect for him as a horseman jumped massively with that statement. He has a very good eye and to see what I had felt just a couple of moments earlier, and then have the experience and savvy to call it for us then was just the perfect end to the session for us both.

It feels like there is nothing Mijas and I can’t accomplish after today, and I can’t wait to get back on tomorrow and feel that feeling all over again! 

I really cannot recommend Ben’s instruction highly enough. He has such a wide breadth of knowledge, and he put me so at ease with his friendly, confident teaching style. If you can catch the second day of this event, I would encourage you to do so, or check out his videos and video lesson opportunities on the Organised Equestrian Horsemanship Hub.

I am off to bed now to dream about dressage horses and liberty and get some shut eye before I do it again tomorrow! I hope to see some of you there!

For now, peace out and pony love,

Lucy

Check out Day 2 here!

Meditation: a clear mind

Elsa Sinclair first said the phrase to me “meditate on your horse”. It has really stuck in my mind, and I’ve found myself coming back to the idea often, to embellish it and build on how that feels for me.

At first it was literal meditation for me, with Lawrence. Being together in peace and harmony and just existing, no thoughts or goals in mind. Lawrence and I really enjoy this kind of meditation together, and he will often quickly say yes if I offer it.

Just watching the world go by…

More recently, meditation has started to seep more into my dominant play time (in this context, any time where I am playing with pressure and leadership). Specifically, in the feeling of being present and focused in the moment.

My life is moving fast at the moment, recently I confess a little faster than I can comfortably keep up with. But growth happens outside our comfort zone, as I keep saying to myself, and anyway, movement is often a good thing.

So my horse time has become a more sacred place for me, somewhere I can return to, unchanging and comforting, somewhere that is a safe space away from whatever else is happening. It’s pretty powerful, and I want to kick open the floodgates of this feeling and really immerse myself in creating that place where my mind is clear and focused.

Because my mind is quite scattered, I have been finding it hard to set down proper goals at the moment. Lawrence is not as physically comfortable in this changeable weather either, which is limiting his yes answers, which is ok, but limits my goal choices too. As it happens, all of the horses I’m hanging out with at the moment have been in different places in their journeys recently too, or needed to slow down for a few days for whatever reason and change their plans. But I have been determined to try anyway, simply because I have needed the escape to that peaceful horse place, and so I have finally broken through the fear of “I don’t know what I’m doing/what the plan is, so maybe it’s better to just leave it”.

I thought I didn’t have any goals because I didn’t have any physical goals, or technique goals, but without even realising I’d given myself the most powerful goal I’ve had in ages: to be PRESENT.

When I am present, let go of all other thoughts and focus solely on my horse and the moment, they show me the rest, and tell my what I need to do, what we are working on today. All I have to do is turn up, and the horse will do the rest. The trick is, I don’t think I ever turned up this much before.

By spending all this energy deciding what I thought needed to be worked on, I blocked out my ability to truly hear the horse, and listen and observe without my own agenda. By turning up with the one pure goal of just BEING THERE and only there, I opened the door for the horse to be there with me.

It’s so simple too, although of course not always easy! Just to clear my mind and reduce my world to living inside my connection to my horse in that moment. And feeling what happens. Even the biggest discussions and problems of the session seem more peaceful this way.

This feels like a wonderful breakthrough. I would encourage everyone to forget their goals for a session or two and just BE. Standing still for a moment to check out your surroundings helps you choose the best path to take next.

As ever, I hope you all enjoy my mad ramblings!

For now, peace out and pony love

Lucy

Progress is not linear

I’m writing this at the end of a session, which is pretty unusual for me, but I think this one is a good moment.

Lawrence has become my main focus over the last week or so. For those who don’t know, we haven’t been riding for probably close to two years, because of various physical issues and the long rehabilitation process. Every now and again I’d ask the question, and invariably get a “no”. I’m ok if we never ride again. There is so much more to be achieved and so much to learn without being on his back.

Alongside Sunami, we’ve been on a fitness journey of late, and as my focus shifted to Lawrence, who was starting to become more able and confident with the patterns and the physical demand. I decided I needed to make things a little harder, so I thought I’d try him saddled, just on the ground. I figured it would be a good thing for him to have the saddle on without riding anyway, so he doesn’t always have that association.

It went well. I was pleased. The next day, we came out again, and it went even better. We were over at the pedestal, and he came around beside it as if I was mounting. I asked, and he stayed quiet and waiting, so I hopped on. He looked around at me, happy and relaxed, and so we went off on a 30 second mooch, he licked and chewed and I got off. We went for our after-session-chillout and he had loads of thinking to do, licking and chewing and feeling very open.

The next day we came out again. Same thing. “This is going great!” I figured. The day after, I put the bridle on and asked for a moment of soft feel. It seemed good. Don’t get me wrong, it was clear the whole thing was quite difficult. Putting the girth on slowly, taking the time to address every time he got nervous, checking in all the time to make sure he hadn’t shut down. But it was going well. I felt like we were pushing the boundaries but doing it together. The next day we did the same thing again.

Yesterday, he didn’t want to come to play.

I didn’t really think much of it, I read it as his way of saying “hard work yesterday, not today”. “No problem” I said, “let’s do something different then”. And so we had a lovely session of liberty, super connected and he even asked to stay in a bit longer when I finished the session.

So when I got my saddle out today and went to get him, my heart sank when he turned and walked away.

It could just be that I’ve put that pattern in by responding to his walk away yesterday with a liberty session, and he wanted the same today, but it was a looong walk away, and I feel like there is something else going on there. Everything means something. That action means “no”, and something put that in there.

When I started on the fitness, I had the same problem for a few days, because the work was hard. As the work became easier the problem resolved. But in our relationship, riding is about respect. He massively respects my decision every time I respect his decision of saying no to riding. It has strengthened our relationship and allowed him to open up to me about why, and trust me to try to help him fix the bits of him that hurt, even when the fixing hurts a bit too. He said yes, after all this time, and if I ignore him saying no now, can I respect myself?

He did have a bit of tension and soreness around his sacroiliac today. I helped him out with it, but then found myself at a dead end. I quit on a release from his sacroiliac, and went to get his lunch, as is our pattern for the end of the session.

What do I do now? I suspect that going from 0-100 was just a little fast for him, that I went too fast for him in my excitement to progress, and he is feeling the burn, kind of like when you go for a run too many days in a row!

And it’s ok, we’ll work it out, this is new territory and neither of us can be expected to know which choices to make all the time. I could have gone slower, he could have been more open today, and given the session a chance.

But the question remains, what now? Whatever the minutia of why he’s made these decisions, the underlying cause is most likely physical strength. Or a lack of.

So, we collect ourselves and we try again. Our next session, we’ll come out, we’ll do our ground fitness, and then we’ll go into the arena and work on our soft feel from the ground. We’ll break it down. And if that’s still too hard we’ll go back to the fitness and get our confidence back again. Rome wasn’t built in a day eh?

I’ll have to be a leader, and be confident in my plan and instil confidence in him. “Yes we are going to play”, “yes you can do it”, “yes it will get easier, trust me”.

He’ll have to be a partner, and trust me to take care of him, and trust that I have listened, am listening and will always listen.

Everything means something. The most important thing is that I have listened and noticed this change and now I’m going to act on it. I could have tacked up, done fitness and ridden today, as was my plan. He probably would have let me. But he would have lost respect for me. Our relationship would have suffered. And the relationship comes first. Always.

I hope that one day I’ll be emotionally fit enough to work all this out in the same session, instead of having to sack it all off to go process and figure out what to do next! One day I will. But for now, slow and steady wins the race, and I’d rather take a breath and recalibrate than keep running through the dark with no destination.

I wrote this piece a couple of days before posting it, and as I write this I’ll be going back to play again tomorrow. I hope I made good choices that day, and that I’ll continue to do so. Time will tell and the proof will be in the pudding as we come back for our next session…

For now, peace out and pony love!

Lucy

Horse school: an introduction

I can’t have been the only one who sat in the classroom at school, daydreaming out the window thinking about how cool it would be if all my lessons were about horses.

5 years on, I started my BSc Equine Science, and finally made it to horse school! I’m nowhere near finished yet, but I’ve learnt so much cool stuff along the way I’d like to start sharing it.

I want to get deep into topics like nutrition, disease and management styles, and hopefully bring some of the latest research in, because there are fascinating studies being carried out every day, that are super useful if applied right!

But I’m going to start with the basics. What better place to start?

Horses are quadriped (four legged) mammals (live young bearing, milk feeders), who were first domesticated over 6000 years ago, as far as we can tell!

Throughout time, they have served purposes including pulling carts and carriages, transportation over long distances and war.

As the world has evolved, they have increasingly become used for sporting, and now there are over 20 different types of sports on horseback, with even more variations of each!

I believe we are drawn to the horse for reasons that mirror in many ways the connection famously between “a man and his dog”. Horses are creatures of complex intelligence, who have many valuable skills to offer us, and we in turn can offer them safety, comfort and food. This is a partnership that is millenia old, and will continue for millenia to come.

But what is a horse actually made of?

Horses are prey animals, and their bodies are built to help defend themselves against predators. They are fast-moving, agile and have excellent stamina for their size. Their lungs take up a far larger volume of their chest cavity than I realised, and when fully inflated, can fill the length and breadth of their entire ribcage and take in almost 50 litres of air every single minute!

Humans usually have a resting heart rate of around 60 bpm (beats per minute), which is around 1 per second. Horses are slightly larger than humans (!), so it’s unsurprising that their resting heart rate is around 36-42 bpm.

The maximum heart rate for a middle-aged human is just under 200 bpm. But a horse? The horse can max out at up to 240 bpm if necessary. For an animal so large this is a huge range, and goes some way to explaining why anxiety attacks can be so difficult for horses to manage. Can you imagine your heart rate increasing by 600%? How difficult would it be to come down from that kind of physical high? Even if it’s over something as small as a plastic bag? Now imagine someone is shouting at you in a different language whilst you’re freaking out…..triiiiiickyyyyy!

Horses have a forebrain, midbrain and hindbrain, have been shown to have excellent memory, and an ability to learn complex patterns and communication pathways.

Their digestive system, although monogastric (one stomach), requires hind gut fermentation to break down much of the plant matter that they feed on.

There is much we don’t know yet about horses, but there is also much being discovered, and I’m excited to be able to explore the new horizons. Hopefully some of you will want to come on this journey too, and if you have any requests for topics, please do let me know, I’d love to know what people want to read about!

 

I’m going to include an informal reference list at the bottom of each of these posts, places where you can go to get stuck in and learn a bit more. I will endevour to favour sources that can be accessed by everyone, if anyone would ever like any more information, just let me know and I can find some!

For now,

 

Peace out and pony love!

 

Lucy

 

References:

https://www.britannica.com/topic/Tracing-the-History-of-Horse-Evolution-and-Domestication-1900351/Origin-of-Horse-Domestication

Horses and human history

https://www.topendsports.com/sport/horse-sports.htm

Brega, J. (2005). Essential Equine Studies – Book 1 Anatomy and Physiology. London: J.A. Allen.

 

A note on assumptions

Sometimes I learn something completely new. The novelty excites me and motivates me and I just want more!

But sometimes, I learn a whole new level of an idea I thought I already understood. I LOVE this kind of learning best. This is learning for the long haul. It takes longer, and there is no written journey, but it inspires me.

I’m sure many of you will have already heard the phrase “don’t make or teach assumptions”. I caught myself today making some assumptions that I didn’t realise I was making. Man I thought I had this down already!

I’m pretty good (I think!) at not teaching assumptions most of the time now. I am getting clearer in my communication and my horses know to listen for my direction and not assume what the next step will be.

So they’re pretty good with their assumptions. Me? Not so much.

I currently have a relatively dominant presenting horse and a relatively submissive presenting horse who are both on the same pattern of fitness building. Off we go round the sundial (a circle of poles, don’t want to assume anyone’s prior language for this!) , and when asking for trot, which is usually given calmly and responsively, both horses are reluctant. Pretty similar responses but I reacted in a completely different way to each.

With Sunami, who presents much more dominantly, I immediately assumed it was because he didn’t WANT to do it. I applied pressure quickly and saw it as a respect problem. Sorry buddy!

With Lawrence, who is much more submissive, I assumed it was because he thought he COULDN’T do it. I still applied pressure until he trotted, but I was completely patient and understanding of his struggle.

Sunami tried to leave. Lawrence took at least half a circle before he managed to trot.

By assuming that my dominant horse was being dominant, I actually caused him to behave more dominantly. Luckily I realised pretty quickly that in the middle of an open field I was not going to win the leaving game, so next time I asked I just went through my phases more slowly with good intention to see what happened. Funnily enough once I gave him time and space to work out where to put his feet, he transitioned much more quickly and smoothly. The poles were actually pretty tricky for him to navigate, and he needed patience and respect from me while he worked it out. Fortunately he’s very forgiving, bless his soul.

Lawrence on the other hand, is my little poppet, and I mollycoddle him and treat him super gently and tell him all the time how I understand how hard everything is and how he just CAN’T do it right now. I do the same to myself about working out! But, we both have to do it, we’ve both got our own fitness issues and we both need to grow up and fix ‘em! When Lawrence came around for his trot transition again, I changed my intention from “can you?” to “you can!”. I lifted my energy and moved my whole body with him for the transition. I put the expectation and more importantly, my belief in him, and like magic, trot he did! By mollycoddling him, I perpetuated his own negative belief that he couldn’t do it. Good leadership? I think not!

The assumptions we make shape our horses. If we assume something will be easy or hard, or even the same from one day to another, it becomes so easy to switch off from observing what you can actually see in front of your eyes. Play with the horse who turns up on the day, not the one you think you have. Ask yourself why your horse might have reacted that way, and consider the context of your question before the characteristics that YOU have created for your horse. Your horse will run with the freedom and break through all the negative ideas you both have about what you’re capable of!

This was a lovely piece to write, I really felt like I became a better horseman with this breakthrough, I hope someone out there finds this useful one day!

For now, peace out and pony love!

Lucy

Coercion vs Communication

There are two horses in my life right now. One finds coercion very stressful, and becomes fearful and panicky. The other says no.

I didn’t even realise I was being coercive instead of communicating until recently. It started a month or so ago with the “no” horse. He is a challenge for me, and we didn’t really get along when we started working together, but I’m so glad I stuck with it, because he is such a cutie now!

As we started to learn each other we went through the following steps:

1. Me: I want you to do this thing! Him: no!

2. Me: I’m going to make it difficult for you to not do the thing I want you to do. Him: fine but I don’t like it and my heart isn’t in it

3. Me: man, this doesn’t feel nice…what do you want to do? Him: nothing.

4. Time for a rethink…

At the same time as this frustrating journey, I was noticing that still, after all these years, my fearful horse was still fearful when I raised the stick. I had kind of accepted it thinking it was his baggage and that it would just always be that way. But my experiences with my “no” horse were forcing me to rethink my way of communicating. I started to think that maybe I wasn’t actually communicating at all.

The difficulty with a topic like this is that in reality you will be actually making the same physical movement whether you are coercing or communicating. The difference is the energy and the feel behind the movement.

My “no” horse and I were getting into fights all the time, a constant battle of wills where inevitably we both became frustrated and emotional. For me this is the real difference. I realised I had to stop trying to tell him off for “not respecting my instructions”, because he didn’t care anyway, and so I started just trying to reward lightness, and reminding him of his responsibilities with no emotion. Things were getting better between us, but I was still noticing the fear in my fearful horse and that’s when I had my big breakthrough.

Imagine your horse is on a circle. They should be trotting, but they’ve broken gait to a walk. You use pressure of some sort to motivate them. But you have two choices.

You can “tell them off” and circle the stick to either tag the ground or them. You will probably move the stick sharply or quickly, with energy, and your aim will be to teach them a lesson, however softly that might be, so that they don’t break gait again.

Or, you can simply lift the stick and swing the end in a circular motion if necessary, and remind them to trot. You are relaxed, you don’t mind that they walked, it’s not a problem, you’re just letting them know what you would like them to do next.

I thought I was doing the second one. Turns out I was doing the first…in both cases I was actually doing the same physical action. But the feeling was so different.

Respect and trust are both earned. In both cases they are earned by the gift of respect from yourself, by always reacting calmly, with a peaceful energy. And it turns out, the lesson you are trying to teach will be best learned using relaxed, friendly communication.

Things have changed for me now, with both horses. My “no” horse is more of a “yes” horse, because he knows that I won’t be “coming for him” every time he makes a mistake, and that I will be fair, and respect his body. My fearful horse doesn’t panic when I pick up the stick, because even though I’ve never been hard on him physically it turns out what he was really afraid of was my emotions.

Successful communication is not achievable when negative emotions are involved. Who knew?!