Word on the street is that this has been a funny old year, with a huge amount of loss and some rather turbulent events. Brexit and Trump have stirred things up pretty considerably and who knows where that will lead us. The war in Syria is a humanitarian disaster and a media and political playground. With regards to ‘celebrity deaths’, well the toll does seem very high, but that’s probably in part because the heroes of our youth got a bit older. Also, I think we start looking for it – once you start searching out patterns they can be found everywhere really.
In terms of personal turbulence, this has been quite a bit of that, however I bet that would be true for everyone. I think it’s called being alive. It may be possible to make things a little more stable by choosing a life more ordinary, but even then, maybe not. I guess some of the choices I have made lend themselves to a certain level of chaos so I can’t complain about that too much.
Of course, I have learned some things throughout 2016. Whether I apply those lessons in 2017, now that’s another thing.
No 1. Don’t expect to know what is around the corner, and certainly don’t get hung up on it. I think this year, probably for the first time ever, I might have managed to ever so occasionally live by this. Not most of the time you understand, but for more sustained periods, I have lost myself in the process and stopped worrying so much about the outcome. If ever there was a profession or hobby to keep throwing this lesson in sharp relief, it’s trying to do anything with horses.
Last Christmas (you gave me your…Oh, George) I had two mares, Remy and Jasmina. The golden boy was out of action in a major way having finally succumbed to neurological problems that had been dogging him since I bought him; I was consistently working with Tycoon after many false starts and had backed Garbanzo 5 years after I bought him. Following the death of my Mum I had stopped teaching and was just about getting from day to day. I relied heavily on friends and Herbie (my dalmation) to keep going and most of the time felt like I really wasn’t.
A year later Tycoon is dead and Herbie is dead. Remy is at a retirement home as a result of discovering she has impaired vision in both eyes, and Jasmina is currently in the field not being ridden due to a problem with her back. Garbanzo is sold. During the course of the year I totally lost my love of horses and my nerve (the sudden death of your most beloved horse, plus 6 months of trying to manage a semi-blind, dangerously panic struck Lipizzaner can do that to you). Carnage. And yet, I finish this year enjoying horses more than I have in a long time. Des is back under saddle and slowly improving, and I have a new horse called Fuego who is sweet and straightforward. Buzz has joined me as I go around the farm and is proving to be an excellent companion that I hope Herbie would approve of. I am really enjoying teaching again. I did not see any of that coming; the one thing you can count on is change.
No 2. We love to solve problems, so stop wishing they weren’t there. I have enjoyed reading Mark Manson’s, ‘The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F**K’ this year and a few things have really stuck with me. One being the reminder that humans gain contentment from solving problems, not from not having them in the first place. Where horses are concerned you definitely cannot start at perfect, so you might as well enjoy working on the challenges and problems which present themselves to you. And when you solve one, be ready for the next one which is about to show up.
No 3. It shouldn’t be that hard. This sounds like a contradiction to No 2, but this is specific to working with equines and is actually the nature of the problem you have to solve. If they really can’t handle everyday things like leading in and out, hanging out with their mates, minor changes or some new things in their lives, then there is probably something wrong. A horse should be able to do basic horse stuff without it being traumatic for them. And if you’re working with them and their behaviour is extreme, and you are pretty sure you are teaching things in a way which makes sense and doesn’t provoke panic (so if you’re sticking draw reins on your horse, go back 100 steps) then you should at least consider that they hurt.
No 4. If you feeling out of love with teaching, charge more or learn something new. This was one of the most valuable pieces of advice I was given this year. I was fed up with teaching – both people and horses. My confidence was at rock bottom, and I didn’t know if I had anything to offer anyone which was of value. I didn’t feel in the mind set to charge more (but I will be!) so instead I started two new courses. Learning has re-inspired me, given something new to share and re-affirmed that I was on the right track. I hope I can share this with a few more people in 2017.
No 5. The world is really beautiful. Thank you to the earth for this spring, summer, autumn and winter. And thank you to my 4 legged and 2 legged friends for offering me opportunities to enjoy it in good company.
No 6. Your horse might need something you weren’t planning to give. It is usually hopeless thinking you know what you want ‘to do’ with your horse. Well it is if you care about how they feel about the whole thing. You might get a new horse thinking you will train them to high school (I refer you to Remy) and end up having to learn a whole new chapter in equine anatomy. In fact, it might lead you to starting a course on the very subject. You might want to head out on to the moor for a ride but that day your horse is feeling iffy about mounting so you need to unpick that and give up on other plans. You may be resolute you won’t use pressure, or treats, or -R or whatever, and then along comes a horse that means you have to go back to your drawing board and start again.
N 7. You can’t rely on your teachers for all the answers. I am hugely grateful for having worked with some incredible horse people this year, both teacher and colleagues. I have learned a lot from them and will continue to seek out people who know things I would like to get my hands on. But this is only valuable when it is paired with your own purposeful practice. And this will involve mistakes, and failures and heartache and hard work. Got to suck that shit up.
No 8. It’s OK to love your horses, but try not to take things too personally. Once you start trying to do things to make your horses ‘like you’ inevitably you end up doing stuff that doesn’t feel good to them. Do the best you can to present yourself in a way which makes sense to them and might help them to feel better. But don’t try to bribe or force love out of them.
No 9. Music is still great. Any horse that spends time with me has to spend a lot of time listening to music. I’ve got a song by The Japanese House on repeat at the moment and I think Des hates it, but he likes Europop, so there’s no compromise to be found there.
No 10. People and horses are mostly excellent, and if they’re not, it’s almost always because something buggered them up along the way which they probably didn’t choose. Try to remember that when they’re pissing you off.
Happy 2017 and one thing we can rely on is that tomorrow is another day!