Once upon a time the weather was lovely. By this, I mean last weekend, when I was massaging people and horses outdoors (well the people were in a tent) and we all had t-shirts on. This weekend we have had to cancel a clinic due to the hideousness of the wind and rain. Winter is coming, and for those of us who live on the side of a Tor, 1300 feet above sea level, this can be a bit of a challenge horse wise.
However, even if you don’t live in such an extreme landscape with it’s accompanying climate, the onset of bad weather can fill all horse owners with dread. Here we go again; plastic bags in wellies to keep out the wet (oh hang, Small ate my wellies, so I don’t own any); foot abscesses (already got duct tape and pads on one set of feet); wet tack; no daylight; huge haylage bills; and usually, less riding. Blurggh. So, how are we going to keep our spirits up? Here are some ideas...
Spend time with your horse doing nothing! We tend to be so busy and always ‘doing’ (even grooming is usually done in the spirit of a job) that we forget how mellow horses actually are and how much they like to just do nothing together. You could listen to a radio play together or literally just hang the f*** out.
Do some reading about horses! When you can’t ride then you have more time to pour over those books you bought and haven’t opened. I’ve been commissioned to write a book (advance already spent on ponies, no writing done so far...) so am doing a tonne of research, and there is a world of wonderfulness out there to be had. I’ll do another blog about some books you might enjoy at a later date.
Learn about how your horses body works. Spend some time with a book in one hand and your other hand on your horse to get to grips with where those muscles actually are, and what they feel like. Feel up other people’s horses if they’ll let you, a very fit horse will feel very different from a retired horse, a draught horse will have a different tone to his muscles than a TB.
Get your basic handling to the level of art form. Make your leading something people would pay to watch. Make picking up your horse’s feet a thing of wonder. Get totally in tune with your horse’s diagonal pairs in a back up of silk. I’ll be running an on-line course about some of this stuff over the winter so look out for that.
Do something off your horse which will help you and your horse when you get back in the saddle. Join a yoga or Pilates class. Practice some meditation. Get a massage. Go out with your friends and laugh until you cry/wet yourself (depending on age).
Do an online course! I never thought I would get much from virtual learning, but I joined Karen Rolfe’s on-line classroom for a few months and got tonnes from it. There are lots of people sharing incredible information at a not huge prices. We’re in an incredible age of information sharing, lap it up! Go to some demonstrations or watch some masterclasses. Even if it’s not someone you would usually be drawn to, you’ll almost always learn something.
*Sleep. Lie down. Drink wine. Sleep. If you have any other ideas about what we can all do to keep our morale up when the weather is grim and the horses are soggy, please share. I should add, this may be a temporary blip and we’ll have a beautiful autumn and a crisp winter and then slide into a sunny spring. Maybe.
Here are two of my marvellous clients a few weeks ago enjoying a lesson on the moor
Over ten years ago I was fortunate enough to come across Tom and Sarah Widdicombe. It was at a time in my life when I had a horse I couldn’t do much with, and they showed me a way of working with horses that opened my eyes to a whole other world of possibility. They were two of the best horse people I have come across. The subtle art of horsemanship they exposed me to, where feel was developed between you and horse down a simple rope, or every time you placed your hand on your horse (or were near them...) well, my goodness, this was something different.
However, even they had come across a horse that horsemanship alone couldn’t provide the answers for. They had actually bred her, a small, round, black and white cob, called Bullet. They sold Bullet and her life under saddle started really well, but somewhere along the line she became anxious about being ridden, and despite her diminutive stature, she started to scare some people. She had extreme separation anxiety, with the capacity to spray riders off sideways as she span round in ever decreasing circles. It’s surprisingly hard to sit on a short wheel based, highly mobile horse as its legs go ten to the dozen, wizzing round at high speed. I know, because I sat on her during this time, and it was quite a disconcerting experience. She would go behind the bit, tuck her nose in and rush around. You had no way of communicating with her, as if you picked up any contact she just made her neck shorter and shorter. No one had taught her to overflex, but no one knew what to do about it either.
Tom and Sarah really wanted to help the person out who now owned her, so they took her back to see what they could get sorted. They both recounted long, interminable sessions using every cowboy trick they knew to try to get Bullet to relax, and change her ideas about being back up in the field with her friends. Sarah recalls many a sleepless night wondering what on earth they might be able to do. Then one morning she read this in ‘Racinet explains Baucher’ - ‘ The big discovery one makes when one starts studying and applying Baucherist techniques is that once light in hand, that is relaxed and mobile in his lower jaw, a horse becomes disciplined’. At the same time, they had a copy of ‘The Twisted Truths of Modern Dressage’, so armed with these two texts, they headed out to see what they could explain to Bullet through the bit.
The first few attempts were a little challenging for all involved, as Sarah stood in front of Bullet and asked her to open her poll, mobilize her jaw, and stay with the bit (and her hands). To begin with, this seemed like complete insanity to Bullet, but as they progressed it began to have a profound effect on her body and her brain. Much to their amazement, it began to change Bullet’s entire understanding of riding and being with people. When she felt worried they were able to ask her to mobilize her jaw, and this reached right into the inside of the little horse, and she was able to relax and focus on what they were asking her to do. Bullet is the horse that lead us to really investigate Philippe Karl and the school of Légèreté, and ultimately for me to end up training with Mr Karl. Bullet is now 20, and having had several years off, she has now come back into work as my second horse for the course. She is totally marvelous and I am very grateful for the places she has brought us to.