Do we adapt the exercise for the rider or the rider for the exercise?
Because I run several group show jumping lessons each week, as well as many private lessons, I tend to build a new set of exercises in the jumping arena each Wednesday morning. This gives me an opportunity to teach nearly all of my riders the concepts that the exercise is designed to demonstrate.
But not all riders are of the same level or have the same ability. Do I adapt the exercise or the rider? Here are my thoughts.
If the rider does not have a secure and effective seat, or the horse is young and inexperienced I will always adapt the exercise. There are many ways to do this. Obviously you will adjust the height of the fence to where both the horse and rider are confident. You can adjust the distances to factor in the height or length of stride of the horse, the riders ability to produce the canter needed for the distance, the difficulty of the line, or the number of fences involved in the exercise. You can adapt the line so a turn is bigger and allows more preparation time to rebalance.
I believe we need to ensure both the horse and rider are able to ride the exercise balanced, in rhythm and with confidence before I increase the difficulty to where we need to adapt the horse and/or rider to the exercise. Before asking the combination to ride an exercise that requires a greater amount of skill I always ensure the rider is able to demonstrate the required action on the flat before asking them to do so in a jumping exercise.
Examples of this may be adjusting the canter in a related line, so I am ensuring the rider can adjust the canter on the flat. Creating a jump that asks the horse to round his back better over the fence allowing the shoulders to fully lift and extend. I ensure the rider can create a canter that is rounder over the back and have more jump. Asking the horse to do a flying change over the fence, I first make sure the rider is able to fully feel when the horse is correctly bending from the inside leg into the outside rein and is able to use their aids correctly before asking for the change. Anything that I am asking from the combination in an exercise we school it on the flat or over small poles on the ground first.
Once the horse and rider are able to produce what is required to complete the exercise I then allow them to ride the exercise that is encouraging the combination to produce a better quality jump via an exercise that challenges them.
Intuition plays a big part here, and I believe it is important we put pressure on and then take pressure of when schooling fences. The fences do not need to be ‘big’ to improve the overall performance, as whenever we are trying something new we often get it wrong. That is normal so I keep the fences smaller until both the horse and rider understand the question.
If I build a bigger more challenging fence/exercise, and the horse has put in a big effort to successfully negotiate that, I will then move to a smaller and easier exercise where the horse needs to put less effort in to solve the question. That way we are rewarding the effort, which in turn is helping to keep the horse stay confident, interested and promote a good work ethic.
If we spend the time getting the quality and concepts happening over smaller fences it is then easier to pop them up to a more challenging height as both the horse and rider have the skills and strength necessary to produce the bigger jump. If we hurry to a bigger height before doing the basic skills it only comes back to bite us later when the horse starts stopping or running through fences because the rider isn’t yet able to create the canter and balance required for the higher heights. Re-educating a frightened or unconfident horse and rider takes many times longer to fix then the time it would have taken to teach the basic concepts in the first place.
So in a nutshell, I adapt the exercise for the rider first and then when the combination is ready I create the exercise to adapt the horse and rider to be able to successfully complete it improving overall ability and performance.
My husband, Tony has a favourite saying.
“Frustration precedes enlightenment”
Many times in the midst of frustration, he has lovingly said those words to me. My first thought was “I can tell you where to stick your enlightenment” but thankfully the words never came out.
He has used this expression for years, and we often say it and laugh when things have been a bit tough, however over the last few years I am beginning to understand this concept from a much deeper level.
When something is annoying or slightly irritating we aren’t strongly driven to do anything to change the experience. We just put up with it. Sometimes the effort or action required to change the situation is so fearful, uncertain or difficult that sticking with the irritation is a far more enticing option. We tell ourselves that it is really not that bad, and things will sort themselves out soon.
However, if left that irritation starts to get worse, it becomes increasingly disturbing to a point that we can’t NOT think about it. It get’s so frustrating that we become so irritated that we are willing to do ANYTHING to get rid of it. Including, the effort or action that we once thought too hard or fearful.
Now we are willing to learn what we need to, face what we were avoiding, do what we have to as there is no other option. Ignoring it and hoping it will go away is now so painful that it has been taken off the table as even worth considering. All this is left is to find a solution.
Time and time again I have seen with my clients and experienced first hand the power in making the decision to do something about it. As soon as the decision is made, the answers come. What looked like an enormous mountain from afar, has a far nicer walking track up the slope once your at the foot of the mountain too see.
Another great quote I love is
“When the student is ready, the teacher will come”.
This is so relevant here, as when we ask the question, what do I need to learn to solve this problem, somewhere as if like magic, the right person or right experience shows up, ready to teach us exactly what it is we need.
Now I get excited when frustrations come up as I know on the other side of this is understanding, knowledge and growth.
I may still want to throw something at Tony’s head if he says it to me in a heightened state of frustration, but it know he is right (Don’t tell him I said so)
I’ve attached a funky graph to explain the curve of learning something new. It show’s how initially we have tons of confidence, but as we start to learn more about our subject our confidence drops somewhat and we get frustrated, but that is part of the process and by sticking with it we eventually get to the other side where we have grown dramatically in knowledge and experience and the confidence in ourselves is heightened once again. Now with more understanding and self awareness.
The real work was done not when we were confident, but rather when we felt like we were failing. When we decide we are ready to change, the solutions will come.
I’m sure your all familiar with the pre competition feelings of anxiety, nervousness and nausea.
Standing there waiting for your turn, hoping your stomach would settle down. Wishing your hands would stop shaking and worrying that your going to forget something in the ring. Having all the worst case scenarios go through your head, and staring at the fence you are most afraid of on course. Your heart is pumping through your chest and your mouth has lost all ability to produce saliva. The world around you gets dark and starts closing in from the edges and you start to feel dizzy and faint until you realise you haven’t breathed for 3 minutes. You take a giant panicked breath to get some oxygen back in to the lungs. You can’t decide if you want to get on with it, or outa there. What is happening to me you ask.
Why do we get nervous and what can we do to reduce the anxiety?
Nerves prior to an event are normal. It is our bodies way of responding to thoughts we are having about an event in the future. Our body is preparing as best as it can do undertake the activity well. Thousands of years ago this was important when we were hunting for food or looking out for leapords. The threats were very real, and getting it wrong could mean life or death. Our bodies are incredibly well designed and can respond to a perceived threat in milliseconds.
What thoughts you have about the event will determine what hormones and chemicals get turned on and where the blood goes.
Nerves aren’t always negative. You get them when you are about to do something exciting. For example, if you are on your way to an awesome concert or about to go out with a bunch of mates you still get nervous. Depending on the perceived experience, all day prior to the event your stomach may be uneasy and you have some excitement buzzing in your chest. The feelings in your body are very similar to pre competition anxiety. I fact if your were to have exactly the same sensations in your body just as your were about to enter the ring, your would say it is nerves, when in fact it is excitement.
When I am in the start box ready to depart for cross country, I feel a range of emotions and sensations come through my body but the most prominent one is excitement. I know that for the next 10 minutes I get to have the time of my life. I know it will be the biggest buzz. Things may go wrong, but for the most part I am expecting it to be so much fun. So, my body is saying let’s go, come on, I can’t wait any longer.
It is important to differentiate when getting ready for an event if perhaps it is excitement rather than nerves playing a role here.
There is a saying in the psychology world:
“Anxiety is excitement without breath”
If you notice that in fact you aren’t really nervous in the sense that you think something fearful could happen, but the bodily sensations of excitement is making it difficult to concentrate then the best thing to do is take 5 minutes and concentrate on your breath. It is simple to do, doesn’t take long and hugely effective.
Find a place when you are comfortable. It can be sitting or standing. You don’t have to be away from a crowd, it can be an hour before or in the warm up immediately before you compete. I tend to do this for 10mins an hour or two prior to the competition and then I do it again for 1 min immediately before I go in the ring.
Ideally, if possible close your eyes and notice your breath. If you can’t close your eyes, simply focus on something close to you and haze your eyes a little so your thoughts aren’t being taken away by something you notice in the external. Breath in through your nose and feel the air filling your lungs. Feel them fill all the way to your belly. Count the in breath to 4, and then breath out for 8.
Do this slowly and keep concentrating on your breath. During this time you can say a mantra if you like. In your mind you may say “This is simple, this is easy, this is fun” or “What I need will come to me when it’s needed” or “Keep your rhythm, the rest will come” You can say anything you want (as long as it’s empowering)
Do this for at least 4 rounds.
No one will notice your doing it. It’s your time to lower your heart rate back down and bring the blood back into the brain so you can concentrate on the job at hand.
If your wondering where the blood went when I say bring it back to the brain, well it was busy in the stomach. Our bodies are designed to flee if we are in danger so if you are anxious and your thoughts are saying to the body “We could be in danger here, this is something we need to worry about”. It will act accordingly and try to expel as much undigested food from the stomach and small intestine as it can. Either by vomiting, or diarrhoea. That is why we often get an upset stomach when we are nervous. The brain has told the “holy shit we are about to die” receptors to engage and prepare for take off. The stomach empties it’s contents and hormones are released into the blood stream travelling straight to the muscles to prepare for immediate take off.
This is where you might notice the shaking. Large volumes of the hormones adrenaline and the energy source adenosine tri phosphate enter the muscles causing them to turn on. If the muscles don’t engage, the energy expended, and the body moved, then the energy is stored and you get sensations of tingling or shaking. It is their way of saying, you told me to prepare for battle. We are ready, where is the battle? Come on, we've got this.
If after some time, if we don’t engage in battle, all the energy that was sent to the muscles get’s used up and we stop shaking. The problem here is that because the muscles didn’t get an opportunity to run and move and use the energy sources to create movement, a large volume of bi products is left over in the muscles as they weren’t flushed through by the lymphatic system and increased blood supply through exercise. This can cause pain and cramping as well as leaving us exhausted.
If your wondering why you might get home absolutely exhausted from an event where you didn’t physically work hard, but were anxious for a lot of day then this in one of the reasons. Your body was preparing all day, but never got to step foot in the game so all the chemicals in your body never got an opportunity to naturally excrete via energy production and heat, therefore got stuck in your body. Your lymphatic system will spend the next 12 hours mopping up and excreting all the bi products and toxins left over. That take’s a lot of energy
If you are a shaker, then the best thing you can do is move your body. Go for a run, or a long walk. A strong brisk walk for 5 or 10 minutes prior to competition is ideal. Take your dog or horse along with you. Walk with momentum and power, get your heart rate up. This isn’t the time to dawdle. You want to hear your breath. If you have a mantra, say it during this walk. Give yourself 2 minutes when you get back from the walk to concentrate on your breath and bring your heart rate back down. You will notice that the shaking has stopped and you are feeling much calmer now.
So, now that you are exhausted reading that little paragraph lets look at how we can avoid this happening in the first place.
First things first, I CAN NOT STRESS ENOUGH at how connected our thoughts and bodies are. As soon as we think anything our brain releases chemicals, and certain receptors in the body are turned on. This is almost instantaneous, and can range from subtle feelings to almost been blown over by both physical and emotional sensations that are so loud and painful ignoring them is almost impossible. At whatever end of the spectrum you are feeling a sensation, it still came from one single thought.
So, it makes sense that in order to take control of our body and the sensations we experience, we first need to take control of our thoughts!
The first step is to notice our thoughts, as far as scientists are aware we are the only species that is able to think about what we are thinking about. You may need to read that again.
Meaning, we can become aware of all the rubbish that our mind throws at us in any given time. Thoughts can range from noticing things in our surroundings, to bringing up prior, possible and painful events. It can run all sorts of possible scenarios though our mind. I’m sure you have all experienced that wonderful argument we have in our minds with our spouse or boss that seems to go over and over and over again without out ever getting resolved. Sometimes it’s an argument that has never happened, or highly unlikely to ever happen but we still seem to replay it again and again causing us to feel angry or frustrated over something we have created in our own head.
Madness…. but we all do it.
If getting your nerves under control and having success while competing is important to you, then you are going to have to do the work. There are no quick fixes here if your serious about developing a mindset that dramatically lifts your game in the arena then your going to have to get a little uncomfortable while learning this.
Do you really want this? What are you willing to do to?
If you want a competition mindset that is focussed, able to adapt and find solutions quickly and effectively then you are going to need to take control and decide what are you going to pay attention to and what are you not.
There in lies the work. You will need to first start to notice on a daily basis how often your mind wanders about all over the place. If you are super determined, write down some of the thoughts that come up on a regular basis. During one of my trainings we had to write down every thought we had over a one hour period. It was insane… I couldn’t write fast enough and the crap that my mind was producing was to be honest, downright embarrassing!
The next part is begin to train your mind to focus on one thing. Your mind is like a muscle. It takes time to build the strength to where you can concentrate and focus on exactly what you want for any given period.
The best place to start is in bed at night either just before you go to bed, or first thing in the morning before you get up. If you are a uneasy sleeper than this is a fantastic exercise to do during the awake times where you can’t get back to sleep. If your brain doesn’t want to sleep then you might as well put it to work for you. You are taking back control remember!
Give your self something to focus on and think about. Some examples are:
* Your perfect day tomorrow. What would it look like if everything went to plan. Imagine your day from the minute you wake up and watch it in intricate detail like a movie.
* Your childhood bedroom. Look around the room and see everything in it’s place like you never left
* Walk through the streets of your favourite city, or somewhere you enjoyed spending time
* Imagine your perfect partner (if you don’t already have one), your perfect car or your perfect house. Imagine it with intricate detail. How it looks, smells and makes you feel.
* Imagine your perfect show jumping round, or your perfect competition. Feel every move, every jump and every obstacle.
The purpose of this exercise is train your brain to stay focussed on a given task you have outlined. When you begin doing this, you will notice that your thoughts drift off ALL THE BLOODY TIME!
Without even realising it you are thinking about horse feed, or something you forgot to do. When that happens, and it will to begin with, just smile and like Brittany Spears says “Oops, I did it again” and go back to what it is you were choosing to focus on.
The more often you do this, the easier it will get and the longer you will be able to stay on one thought.
If you are a troubled sleeper, this will help tremendously as often the reason you are having trouble sleeping is that the thoughts you are having on a continual basis are causing you worry, so like the above example your brain releases epinephrine and cortisol, your heart rate rises and your body is ready to go. Sleep ain’t happening!
When you can take control back of your thoughts and choose ones that calm you, then your brain will release serotonin which helps you body fall back into an easy slumber. This does take practice, and it will take work on your part. But if you can’t sleep, then you’ve got all night to practice right?
It is easy to quit as your brain has become so accustomed to it’s evening shot of adrenaline that it will fight you tooth and nail to have it’s hit. It’s main weapon to gain back control….. is mind games. It will give you thousands of reasons why this whole idea of quietening the mind is crap, why it won’t work for you and why your more broken that anyone else.
I’m sorry to say it, but if your believing that garbage that your brain has your measure
If you can get control of your mind, you will have control of your life
So back to competition nerves. Like any other skill you need to develop to perform your given event, developing the mind is just as important. They say success in competition is 80% mindset and 20% skill.
So if you are wanting to control your nerves, control your thoughts and the nerves and bodily sensations that come with them will change. Start practicing at night when everything is calm and quiet, then progress to doing this during the day if you have a few minutes without distraction.
When you notice thoughts come up during your focus session, just let them pass by and don’t engage in them. Practice this when riding your horse, or training your dog. Stay present with the moment not letting distractions come into your mind. Leave the phone in the car, or at the stables.
I know many people who carry a rock or amulet when competing. When they are practicing these focus sessions they rub or hold onto an object. This is subconsciously linking the calming thoughts and sensations to the object. When you are preparing to go in the ring, have the object handy and rub or hold it like your would when you were practicing your calming focussed thoughts. The action of rubbing the object will cause your brain to release the same hormones that is does when you’ve been practicing.
(For more information on this check out Todd Hermann, The Ego affect)
I have a thing where immediately before I go in the ring, and ideally after the horse before me has gone through the finish flags or left the arena I kiss my horse on the neck three times. It’s only subtle and most people will think I’m just leaning forward but it works for me. I know it’s a girl thing and I can’t see too many fella’s doing that but it is a ritual I have that grounds me. As soon as I have done that, I’m on. It’s game time and look out.
Whether you are feeling nerves to canter or just before you go our to ride 4**** cross country. The same rules apply and it’s all relative. Your nerves and sensations are just as significant and real as an olympians.
Having strategies to manage what comes up, let’s you know you can handle it. It empowers you and allows your brain to ignore all the rubbish and bring to your awareness, manage and solve quickly and effectively what it needs to perform at your very best.
Your nerves are only your body responding to your thoughts. They are chemical and hormonal responses to what you are allowing filter into your mind.
Get control of your mind and gain control of your body, your success and your life
If you would like to discuss some of the thoughts that are coming up for you on repeat or you would like some strategies that are designed specifically for you and your situation then get in touch. Seeing you thrive and gain the success that you deserve is what I’m all about. Don’t hesitate, send me an email or give me a call. Let’s get you started on your best year yet
My husband and I are both into the psychology of training and potential. He also trials dogs, and this weekend we are at Canberra Show competing in the yard trials.
I’m only here as support crew. Since my China trip was cancelled due to Corona virus, I have a whole month blocked out with nothing booked in. So here I am, watching dogs manoeuvre 20 sheep around a series of challenging obstacles in a small area within a time limit.
I love watching this sport. Not only is a handler needing to have a dog so well trained that is attentive and obedient, the dog also needs to have enough natural feel and timing to know where to be and how much intent to place on the sheep. The handler then needs to know when to trust that the dog has seen something he hasn’t and is making a decision based on natural instinct and to let him be. Then you have the sheep, and knowing how to manage the “mob” is essential. So much thought and feel goes into getting a leader, shaping the mob up, balancing the sides and keeping momentum. The unconscious conversations going on out in the arena between handler, dog and sheep are so subtle and yet so clear, but the margin for error is huge and it can, and often does go pear shaped. Especially with young dogs.
Sitting in the stands listening to the competitors as they come back from their run talking to family, friends, and other competitors I have found it to be super interesting on everyone’s interpretation of their run.
I hear a lot of excuses, but I also hear a lot of understandings.
I’m lucky that the crew that we have travelled 10 hours to get here with are full of understandings, as were many of the quality handlers there. The discussions are around improvement by having honest, tough conversations and doing the work. Making plans for what they are going to work on when they get home. There is no blame on anyone else, or anyTHING else. It is what it is, they are where they are, and know if they want to improve THEY are the ones to do it.
So far this weekend they have had success. They have also had runs that didn’t go to plan. The conversations were similar, good run or bad run, good score or bad score, fair score or not so much. It was all about the run. What worked and what needs to be better.
I thought I would share with you some of my musings I had while sitting in the stand for 12 hours each day contently listening to the conversations going around me from all the competitors, and of those between the dog and handlers in the arena.
What is an excuse? The dictionary states:
1. seek to lessen the blame attaching to (a fault or offence); try to justify.
2. release (someone) from a duty or requirement.
This is how I see it. An excuse is the reasoning you give something that didn’t go to plan to avoid the pain of having to own the outcome or make any changes. An excuse means WE don’t need to change. Something external to us needs to.
Instead, an understanding. (As per the dictionary)
1. the ability to understand something; comprehension.
2. sympathetic awareness or tolerance.
When whatever happens that didn’t go to plan is seen from a place of understanding, awareness and opportunity give us the ability to see what could come of this situation. It is internally motivated. It is accepting our faults with compassion, and then looking to resolve them through knowledge.
Excuses keep us stuck. Understandings move us forward.
I will give you some examples of how simply the wording of a sentence tells me whether someone is making an excuse and not wanting to change, and someone who owns the situation and already looking for understanding.
Like I mentioned earlier, young dogs do silly things in the arena. They over work the sides, bulge the mob, or get to focussed on one individual sheep and lose the global feel of the whole mob. That’s young dogs. It’s not an excuse, it’s a reality. They are learning.
Here are some examples of differing interpretations of similar experiences from different trialers.
Excuse: The yard was an odd shape. My dog couldn’t get around the side to get a leader
Understanding: I need to teach my dog how to work off balance so I can place him where I need him in different shaped spaces.
Excuse: The sheep kept turning around and wouldn’t get off the trailer
Understanding: My dog was unsettled by the sound of the sheep hooves on the aluminium trailer and wouldn’t sit in the correct position when I asked him. That caused the sheep to turn in and look at him rather then down the race. I can build an aluminium trailer easy enough at home. We’ll do that next week so we can train the dogs on the aluminium surface and get them comfortable with it.
Excuse: The judge didn’t give us enough time
Understanding: I spent too much time setting up for the first obstacle. I need to learn to move with more fluidity and momentum.
Excuse: He got too excited and wouldn’t listen to me. He was an idiot
Understanding: Our emotions overruled the thinking. Maybe I need to spend a little longer in the warm up before I bring him into the arena to get the energy out and get us working together. I didn’t give him enough time to relax in the space
Excuse: There were too many sheep to fit into the drenching race easily. It make it too tight for my dog
Understanding: I had trouble sending my dog all the way up the race to move the leader forward. I need to improve his confidence staying up on their backs for longer.
Any event or experience can be seen from so many different angles. Saying it is only a young dog, or it was a tough course, or difficult sheep is fine if you can see past that. Having reasons for why what happened happened is expected. There is a reason why…. so now what ya gonna doing about it that matters.
If it is an excuse your thinking goes like…
They were tough sheep…(insert crickets here)…… nothing more.
Meaning, I don’t want to know how to handle them better. I wan’t to blame the sheep so I don’t have to do the work to get better. It’s not my fault, it’s the sheep.
If it is an understanding your thinking goes like…
They were tough sheep, but workable… I really struggled to hold the mob together. My dog was always one stride too late, causing one sheep to keep separating from the mob. How interesting.
Meaning, what do I need to learn to help my dog balance the eye quicker. Do I need more strength? Does he need to be fitter? What does he need to learn that he does no yet? Who can I ask that can help me?
Being a handler with enough emotional intelligence to keep looking internally for understanding with compassion will always get better results than those that blame outside factors. I heard a great quote not long ago, it’s not quite word for word as I can’t remember the whole thing but it went a little something like this.
When knowledge stops, violence starts. A great handler, when angry with a dog, can still walk up and gently pat him on the head as he knows there is more in this for both of us to learn.
A great handler knows how to balance obedience and trust and is insatiably curious.
Looking for answers to why things happened is awesome. It’s only an excuse if you don’t want to change or do the work when you find the answer.
Moving past an excuse is inserting more after the initial sentence.
This happened because (insert excuse here) … so I need to (insert understanding here)!
Or.. you can even switch it around.
Because I caused my dog to ……. the sheep ……… I need to ….. next time to create ……..
Listen to your language, and play with your sentences. I heard a cool concept a little while ago. It was a coaching session for a young Mum who was having trouble with their relationship. Her husband had forgotten her birthday and she was having trouble moving past it.
Here are two ways of looking at the event.
1. My husband forgot my birthday meaning he doesn’t love me. (Blame, it’s his fault I feel unloved)
2. Someone who loves me forgot my birthday. (I am loved, he just forgot my birthday)
Same experience, different feeling attached to the sentence, different response.
I was shocked when I first started doing this. What an awakening for me.
Listen to your language people… it will tell you an awful lot about your thinking if you are stuck in one aspect in your life.
The best riders don’t jump out of bed everyday with energy and enthusiasm. Ask any of em... I have. Everyone I spoke to told me there are many days where they had aching muscles, things weren’t going so well or they didn’t have the desire in the moment.
One of the differences between them, and those that don’t succeed in achieving the same goals set for themselves, is that they still showed up. The still showed up for their horse, their workout or their partners. The still showed up in the face of pain, fear, frustration and anxiety. They still showed up knowing that they may to get through a full ride or workout, but they were there and ready to give it their best shot anyway.
Your already ahead of the game simply by being in it.
This has been ringing in my ears lately. With a book to be written, assignments to complete on time, and running a business, the horses can often be the thing that is left to last. Even though they are what brings me joy, and drives my passion for learning, they still get put to the when I get time pile.
The thing is, unless I make time, there will never be time. I had to go through my day and rather than hope for another hour in the day, find another hour by looking at something I did that I could replace with riding. Then all I had to do was show up.
Once I was out with the horses the rest took care of itself. I remember thinking that the horses were way down the paddock. My horses live in 100 acre/40 hectare paddocks, so when they went to the top of the hill of over the back it could take 20 mins just to walk out to them. It was a pretty convenient excuse not to ride when I was busy or not in the mood.
However, the horses needed to be ridden so I simply broke it down into two chunks. If I only had to catch and saddle, would I? Yes. And if I only had to ride, would I? Yes. So I only caught and saddled, and then I only rode. The funny things is, once were in the saddle, all the pain or worries are gone. Your just in the moment doing what is needed for them at the time.
This is helping a young horse I am currently starting under saddle too. He is a tricky character and I am needing to take things slowly with him. Some days I feel like we are going no where, but then I think back to the week before and look at the massive improvements. You never quite know what horse you are going to get on a day to day basis, he could be sensitive, over reactive and explosive or he could be calm, confident and content. You just never quite know, so all I can do is show up. Show up and be who he needs me to be in the moment. He’d be an easy horse to give up on, but if I show up with the idea that every interaction and moment to develop our connection and his education is a good thing, then it I’m able to keep the momentum.
I do this when going to the gym too. I like to go early with a great couple of gals who inspire and push me to work harder. But, there are days where my muscles ache, I have no energy and my eyes just won’t open. All I think of then is just get in the car. Preferably dressed, but I’m sure if I rocked up still in my pyjamas I’d still be working out! They wouldn’t hold back. If all I have to do in that moment is get in the car - that’s achievable. The rest takes care of itself. I also have the mantra “I always feel good for working out” and I do. I have never regretted one yet. Even the ones where I virtually dragged my sorry butt out to the car, and only managed to work at 60% of capacity, I still showed up. I still make a step forward even if it was incremental.
Most days I bounce out of bed and am excited by the day. Most days I can’t wait to get on the horses. Most days I am excited and inspired by the work that I get to do and the people I get to work with. But on the days that I’m not - nothing changes. I depend on the fact that what I do has become habitual, my body and mind know that I will show up and the rest will take care of itself.
It’s the accumulation that counts. Not the one off, big show, all in or nothing mentality that gets us ahead. It’s the consistency. It’s the day in day out, mundane stuff that matters. Yes, don’t get me wrong. I am all up for taking massive action when necessary, but 9 times out of 10, that action needs to be backed up - daily.
So, when you next feeling like not doing what you know you need to be doing, just show up. Step in the ring and go from there. Show up like this is important to you, and at the very least you are going to throw another pebble into the well. You will be amazed by how much energy you have, and what you can achieve simply by being there. Trust me - you won’t regret it.
Many of us will recognise the feelings of moving towards doing something that had in the past once caused us pain. Whether it be physical or emotional pain - the sensations are still very real.
The physical changes of holding the breath, the jittery stomach, mind racing and dry mouth are just to name a few. These sensations are often strong and uncomfortable. They are enough to prevent us from doing something even remotely close to the original traumatic experience.
Of late, I have had several new clients come to me after having had a fall, or experienced some sort of challenging event looking to find a way out of the fear and frustration. Recently a new client came to see me after her horse reared and fell over on her. She had lost all confidence with the horse and found her self dismounting if her horse did anything as much as lifting his head. Those close to her thought they were helping the best way they knew by saying “just get back on, kick him and get over it” or “It wasn’t that bad, he only fell sideways” As much as it was all well intended, it certainly wasn’t helping her to functionally process the event and create a way forward.
I like to share with you an overview of the process that we worked through to get her to where she was once again able to ride her horse calmly and effectively managing any situations as they arose. She is now back enjoying her riding and her horse is a much more confidant and willing partner.
There are three parts to managing the traumatic riding experience. Trauma may sound like an over dramatic word, but there are different levels of trauma, and if you are the one experiencing it, any event where even for a brief moment felt life or death, or caused a situation where you sense of belonging and connection (love) was compromised than traumatic would describe the event aptly.
We need to look at our responses in the past, the present and the future to bring about both mind and body breakthroughs
Part 1 - Managing your stored memories and emotions.
Emotions impact where and how memories are stored. The more emotional an event is, the more likely we will remember it and those memories will have more clarity. Think of the last time you smelt something familiar and it bought you right back to your first boyfriend or first breakup.
Our brain does this so it can collect as much data as possible to prevent us making the same mistake again in the future, or to help us experience a positive event again. It collects a visual time stamp, and many other pieces of information from the senses. This has helped us to survive, find food and reproduce for eons.
We no longer need to try berries to decide what ones are poisen and what ones are healthy or fend off hungry lions but we still have experiences that will shape the rest of our lives. Often the more emotional the event is, during recollection of the memory in your mind the colours will be brighter and the picture clearer and more vivid. Many suffer flashbacks when confronted with triggers of the past event which can lead toward a full blown anxiety attack.
Our brain is so advanced that our thoughts can cause the brain to release chemicals into the nervous system which cause changes in both feelings leading to actions and unconscious bodily functions. It can be tricked though, and we can use this to our advantage.
During meditation or deep relaxation the brain can move into theta brainwave patterns, this means that the brain is in a very suggestive place. Here we can change the emotions and thoughts connected with the event. This will directly change the automatic response from the rider should the event arise again in the future.
I do this process in a very structured manner with my clients but you can do it at home by yourself. Simply take some time to sit quietly and remember the event in your mind. Pay close attention to the colours in your image, whether you are looking through your own eyes or as an observer and what emotions or feeling in your body come up for you.
Then, say to yourself that you no longer want to feel that way. Decide on how you would rather see the event. You can decide to feel empowered because you are now learning how to better communicate with your horse. You can feel calm as you have seen how the event ends and know that you are safe. You can change the outcome of the event by creating a different ending in your mind. Your subconscious brain is such that when in a deep state in can’t always tell the difference between what is real and what has been created in your mind, therefore you can quite literally change the emotional responses attached to the event.
In the above example, the rider found even thinking about her horse rearing caused her anxiety and created her body become rigid and tense. Her decisions became erratic and her mind foggy. This had an obvious effect on her inability to manage her responses when the horse was needing direction and confidence from the rider.
We changed the emotional responses by attaching pride in the fact she is still riding and wanting to understand both herself and her horse more. We also attached calm and compassion for herself in the situation. Finally we added a layer of security, a safety net if you like where no matter what happened she knew she could handle it. We replayed the rear over several times until she no longer felt fear, but instead felt certainty and calm.
Then it is onto the practical Steps.
Step 2 - Knowing what to do if the situation were to arise.
Uncertainty can be incredibly daunting for many people. As a human race we love to be certain of an outcome. It is why we like to “line all our ducks up in a row” before we proceed with a task. The more certain of the outcome we are the more likely we are to pursue it. This is a problem when we are wanting to dare greatly and take big steps but that’s a whole conversation for another day.
Right now, we want to increase some certainty by knowing what to do if the horse was to rear.
In the horse rearing example, I spent quite some time discussing how a horse rears and why we need to keep forward movement to prevent the horse from going up. I also explained position and what we need to do with our body to prevent the horse going over and to have us in the most secure position once the horse come down to effectively manage the behaviour and ride away.
If we are in a position to practice the movement until it become subconscious then we would do that, but in the rearing example we were never going to encourage the horse to rear simply to practice what to do in the case of.
Instead we visualised the scenario, remembering we teach our body to behave in certain ways simply by imagining. We did this over and over again until she felt 100% confident that if the horse was to rear, she could predict how she would respond.
Step 3 - Knowledge is key, and prevention is better that cure.
In this step, we look at what caused the horse behave in this manner in the first place and how can we prevent it happening in the future. It where we become empowered simply through knowledge.
In the rearing example we looked at the riders aids, and made adjustments where necessary. We clarified the why’s and how’s of the aids as well as defined the outcome. I tweaked her position and we had him looked at by a equine body specialist to make sure there was no pain triggers in the horse.
We then looked at the horses responses to the forward aids and whether they were appropriate. We found that this horse’s initial response was to go sideways rather than forwards off the leg. In the past the rider had then pulled him over with her reins. He reacted by popping up and down on the spot. First I needed to ensure she was using the correct aids appropriately and help her with her feel and timing.
Over the next several rides, we retrained the forward aids, and engaged the sideways leg aids. I helped her to establish an a forward contact that allowed her horse go into the rein rather then resenting it.
To help with understanding the process, I taught her the ice-cream example of becoming aware of and responding to the “little things”
The “little thing” Ice cream example
Imagine you are watching a mother and child interact. The child has asked for an ice cream. The mother says No, and the child then drops her lips and cries a little. The mother holds her ground knowing full well that the no matter what the child does, he will not be getting an ice cream that day. After a minute of two the child gives up and forgets about the ice cream.
The next time the child asks for an ice cream and the mother says No, the darling little mite will give up sooner as he knows that an ice cream is not coming as a result of tears.
Now lets look at another mother and child. The child has asked for ice cream and the mother says No. The child drops the lip and begins crying, the mother get angry and the child cried a little louder and harder. Eventually the mother gets sick of the tears and give up. The child gets an ice cream.
The next time this happens, the child will know that if he tried hard enough, eventually Mum will give up. After the initial No, the child starts screaming this time, and even throws himself to the ground. This embarrasses Mum who then rushes to the ice cream man to get an ice cream as quick as possible to get this kid up off the floor. Each time this happens, our darling little human thinks he has to get a little worse in order for mum to give up and get him an ice cream
The same can happen with horses. If a rider notices the horse make a tiny drift sideways when unwanted and he corrects it early the horse puts up little confrontation. It is actually quite a pleasurable conversation.
However if the rider didn't notice it until he had now gone a fair bit sideways, it becomes a lot harder to the rider to enforce the aid, and harder to the horse to correct himself. The horse may react by pulling the reins and lifting his head, or even pushing into the leg and going the opposite direction. If the rider then gives up because it got too hard or he became concerned and stopped asking for the correction, the horse will then put more effort into the wrong behaviours the next time. It wasn’t the horses fault, we have taught the horse to offer inappropriate responses to aids.
Knowing what to notice, and being aware of the subtleties of horse movement and behaviour is key. Timing is crucial and when to take the pressure off is actually more important then when you put the pressure on
Developing this knowledge and experience takes time, but working with a coach who is able to take through this process and offer suggestions and information that is relevant to you and your horse at this time in your journey will make the process faster and far more enjoyable.
In the example of the rearing horse, the rider had many challenges to overcome in the process. However she worked through this process feeling inspired. Her goals of completing a elementary dressage test were achieved and developed a far deeper connection and understanding than ever before.
She now knows what to do should he rear which gives her certainty. She is aware of the tiny little subtle changes in the horse that if left alone will become big problems in the future and could lead to a rear. In those scenarios she is able to help the horse and respond appropriately when the little things come up. She is no longer paralysed by the prior memories and is in fact grateful for them and where it has led her.
I have used these three steps for many other traumas that come up for horse riders. From fears around jumping oxers and ditches, to fears of cantering and riding out of the arena. You can adapt this process to help you through many of life's challenges.
I hope you have as much fun playing with this concept as I have. It really has been a life changer for me xx
As I sit here having returned from 4 days away at Zone PC Jamboree I am reflecting on what has been a great opportunity for me to practice ‘bringing myself back to balance” and helping my children do the same.
This term is something I use in relation to virtually everything. It is finding the balance between yin and yang, high and low, lots or none. It is important in riding, horsemanship, healthy eating, healthy habits, emotional intelligence and virtually everything in between.
With nearly 200 riders competing for a few handfuls of ribbons there is inevitably going to be winners and losers when it comes to results. We can throw the expression “It’s not about winning, but having a go” around until we are red in the face, but what does is really mean?
For me personally, there is more to it than just having a go. Otherwise we would all only try just enough to get by and not strive for excellence. I am a firm believer in Theodore Roosevelt’s quote
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
The gladiator in the ring didn’t just wander on in and have a bit of a go. He dared greatly.
Records get broken by daring to dream. Without failure and then persistence and grit we would never to get to see what is really achievable for a human body and spirit.
Competition is important - it keeps us pushing through the hard days and knock backs just to do better that you did the time before. It drives us to continue on a journey even through uncertainty and fear. It gives us something to keep moving towards. I am up for all of that. Every last little piece of it - but my emotional state is not dependent on the outcome.
As I think over the week with my children, there were many ups and downs. Heartbreaks and highs. I had to keep reminding myself not to get caught up in the emotion of the experience or hold onto it for any length of time.
Whether it was a rail at the last fence, dropping a peg or missing out on the jump off by one time penalty, the kids were disappointed. Thats OK. They had goals, and they had dreams. That particular dream didn’t come to fruition but that’s OK. It was not a time for me to tell them what they did wrong or make them feel unworthy but it was also not a time for me to try and make them feel better by making excuses or giving them something else to think about.
All I could do for them was to say “Yep, that sucked. I’m feeling with you”
I gave them a hug and let them feel the emotion and then let it pass when they were ready. If given the space to do so, these emotions can pass in only a few minutes without tears or tantrums just deep breaths. They simply breathed through it and let it go before it built up and became unmanageable or caused them to over react for the event that had unfolded.
When they had fully experienced the emotion we could then look at what we might do in the future to better prepare and come up with a plan to improve. It was no big deal. Just back to the drawing board.
The same went for the moments where they succeeded beyond our expectations. The wins and the super performances. I also had to not get caught up in the emotion. I felt the pride or excitement for them in the moment and then I too let it pass and bought myself back to balance.
I encouraged the kids to do the same. Enjoy the moment. Feel the thrill and excitement, then let it pass, breathe and be grateful. Then back to the drawing board.
I made a point of not getting caught up in the ups and downs. It wasn’t always easy. Especially when my little people were hurting, it is so hard to not try and make it better for them! But they do need to learn how to move through the pain and the disappointment themselves. They need to see it as part of the process.
Pain, fear and disappointment are not negative emotions.
They are simply emotions.
They are part of a human experience that we have on a regular basis.
Our emotions need not be dependant on an outcome, on a ribbon or achievement of our goals.
Why wait to be happy when ……..
Why look to outside influences, people, places or things to bring us joy when we can experience it anytime we choose to irrelevant of external factors.
When we work from a place of quiet stillness, and move easily and effortlessly through a full range emotions nothing gets stuck. We can choose where our balance point is.
This way we have a clearer head, become more compassionate and able to be fully present for our 4 legged or 2 legged learners.
This creates courage, resilience and perseverance in our kids and horses. They are more willing to dare to fail, and to keep getting back up. They know that we are a balanced and centered place to come to where they can safely manage their emotional and physical state. There is no shame or pressure here…. just space.
As a coach, you are free to draw on any emotion required to best serve your rider. You can create a space and an environment to nurture growth. You are available and present to offer the best part of you that is required at the time. Your riders will Thank You for it and their results will speak for themselves.
Here’s to finding your balance point
If you are looking for some space to feel, or find your self stuck in an emotion, I am here for you.
No judgement, just space and opportunities to express.
Step into the arena and get in touch x
So, the school holidays are here. For those of us in the Southern Hemisphere the longer days and warmer weather are drawing us outside for longer. If you are a fair weathered rider you might have recently bought your horse back in to work and ready to get out and about. We have many more hours available for us to rider so how can we keep it interesting and still be progressing towards our goals. If you are in the Northern Hemisphere perhaps you are looking for things to do to keep the sessions fun and engaging while stuck in the indoor.
Here are a few tips to keep the motivation up for both you and your horse.
Create a challenge with a friend
Get a group of like minded friends together and each week one person in the group puts forward a challenge. You can use an object (like a cone/pole) that everyone in the group will have, or something you can do in the arena. Have someone video yourself completing the challenge and post it on a group page along with the rest of your friends.
Look for new things to try on the internet
We are all guilty of spending some time on the internet doing very little except for scrolling through facebook or youtube videos. Why not use it to your advantage and look for new things you can try with your horse. Look for things that are out of your comfort zone, or unfamiliar to you. You may even look at pages from other disciplines for inspiration. Look for something small that you can start to practice right away.
Have a go at a different discipline
If you are a show jumper, check out some reining patterns or horseball. If you are a dressage rider, try some tent pegging. Google equestrian sports worldwide, watch a few videos and then come up with your own version of how you can practice some of those skills. You can even look for a club in an area near you and go to a practice day and try something new. For a good laugh check out... buzkashi. I don't suggest finding a dead goat to use but there are plenty of alternatives
Place 10 objects in the arena and create a game using them
Grab some friends and each person bring an object or two. The challenge is to find as many things to do with each object as possible. You can pass it, have the horse go over it, put their foot on it, balance it on the horses rump while walking....anything you can think of.
Sometimes just the experience of sitting on a horse bareback can be scary. You don't need to line up facing a jump to start to feel insecure, it can wash over you the minute the horse takes an initial step forwards. However that is not a reason to avoid bareback as riding without a saddle is hugely beneficial for both horse and rider. It develops a better seat and balance, and helps the horse to relax connect more with the rider. Whether you are up to simply walking a few steps or cantering a full jumping course spend some time bareback. Your horse will thank you for it.
Ride in a halter
Obviously if your horse has never been ridden in a halter before it is a good idea to start in a small yard before progressing into a bigger space, but riding in a halter alone helps to accentuate out other aids (legs, seat, weight etc) and improves communication with the horse. It is also pretty fun and liberating. You will be suprised how well your horse accepts being ridden in a halter. If you are feeling ready, and your horse is calm try riding with a pieve of string around their neck only. Keep the halter or bridle on so you have something as a back up if the horse need some helps but see how you go. It will give you an opportunity to clarity your seat aids.
Ride in a different paddock, on a hill
If you are lucky enough to have a large area in which to ride, then take advantage of the different spaces. It is easy to get into the routine of riding in the area or one certain part of the paddock but if there are other options take them. Use it as an opportunity to mentally prepare for a competition where the horse is in an unfamiliar space and is being asked to perform as well as he does at home. If the space you have at home is in on a hill... great! There are huge benefits to doing your flatwork session on the side of a hill. If it is noisy... great! Ride in your comprtable area first and then go to that space after he is calm and do your cool down and finish in that area so he thinks of that area as relaxing. Look for all the weird places to ride. It will force you to be creative in what you are asking of your horse.
Have an outcome but be prepared to shift your focus if necessary
Having goals and outcomes for our sessions are important, but so is adapting that outcome depending on what comes up as your progress through your ride. Think of it this way, your outcome for the ride maybe to improve the canter, walk through transitions from left to right but you horse is becoming anxious and tense. You will then need to chunk the exercise down and find what part is causing the problem. Once you know what is happening you may spend the next little while helping the horse to improve that aspect before putting it all back together. You may notice that your horse is dropping his shoulder to the right, as you prepare for the upward transition back to canter so you may then work on exercises to straighten him. There are many exercises to help. If you are not familiar with them, google different exercises and go through and try each one. Once he is straighter then you can retry the canter walk though and notice how much easier the horse finds it. Every movement or skill has several other skills intertwined into it. It is like an orchestra. Listen to your horse and you will start to hear whether it is the violin, the drums or the bass that needs a bit of work.
It doesn't matter what discipline you ride, having a clear set of goals and outcomes is vital and each session is designed to move you and your horse a little closer to that each time. Laser focus is great but if it is to rigid it can become uninspiring for the horse and they shut down and develop resentment and frustration so to avoid that have some fun as well. You can use all of these suggestions in such a way that they continue to move your forward towards but with some imagination and inspiration which will keep both you and your horse coming back for more!
When you are enjoying yourself the connection with your horse deepens, and you find the flow. Solutions come to you and your aids are fluid and clear. Your horse is well aware how you are feeling each and every time you are with him so taking to the time to be in the right state of mind is worth it. Be creative, and enjoy.
I've just finished a week working at a club in China where on arrival I noticed the ponies were considerably more spooky than most. The coaches needed to move quietly around them and it didn’t take much for the ponies to get a fright and jump away which in a riding school environment is not ideal.
I began by watching the coaches interacting with the horses both on the ground and while being ridden, and other than being a bit more cautious I didn’t see anything to tell me the ponies were being roughly handled or spooked in any way.
I did notice though, the coaches hardly used any games equipment, cones and didn’t even own any jump rails. It might mention this is a beautiful facility, with immaculately turned out ponies and all the newest gear but the arena was stark and spotless.
The answer became obvious when a coach mentioned he was having trouble with one of his students who had fallen previously due to the pony spooking. She was very frightened and refused to trot. In conjunction with some mindset strategies, I suggested some games to bring the fun back into riding and gave an example of having the rider pick up and place a plastic cup from one pole to another.
Oh, we can’t do that was the reply. The pony will spook. And there lies the problem…
Let me explain it to you a little more.
Imagine a pony who has had a normal start in life. He can handle some spooky objects but hasn’t been exposed to much.
One day a rider picks up piece of paper from mum and it spooks the pony and he jumps to the side.
Now we are going to look at this two ways: Rider A and Rider B
Rider A thinks that was scary. My horse can’t be ridden with paper. He is too scared. He never picks up a piece of paper on the pony again.
Rider B thinks, my pony didn’t like that much. I had better help him get used to and less scared of the paper and goes to work exposing the pony slowly to the paper until he can accept it confidently.
Next both Rider A and Rider B are both offered a drink on their pony. When they reach over to take the cup the pony snorts and steps sideways showing he is worried and about to jump away.
Rider A thinks my pony got a fright with the paper last time, so will probably get a fright with the cup so I can’t pick this cup up from him so I had better get off or not take the water.
Rider B thinks, my pony is worried about the cup. I had better help him to become confident while I reach out - before picking the cup up and make sure my reins are short and I am ready to help him if he gets a fright when I do. The rider then takes a few minutes to help the pony relax while holding the cup and makes a point of picking up and placing the cup back down several times to ensure the pony is fully confident.
Lastly both riders are asked to join in on a game where they need to pick up a an object from a drum.
Rider A chooses not to join in as he says, my pony doesn’t like things being carried on him.
Rider B chooses to practice picking up the object first while the pony is relaxed then when he is happy joins in on the game and has a great time.
If I had to put a young rider on one of the two ponies I know what one I’d choose. Just think if the rider got hung up in a stirrup or took their jacket off while riding one could be very dangerous as he would be spooky and reactive and the second would more likely wait and be accepting and calm.
Same pony in the beginning, but in a short space of time - two very different ponies at the end.
The same goes for us humans. I was reading an interesting article yesterday and it was talking about how the situation is created where some have major anxieties about leaving the house.
It doesn’t take much to get from an initial mild panic attack in the supermarket to full blown can’t leave the house terror and this is very real for many.
It starts by a young person not being taught by their parents how to handle small setbacks and problems with emotional intelligence and resiliance. The child’s problems are often solved by the parent stepping in and trying to rescue the child. The problem with that is the child never learns how to rescue themselves so when there is no longer someone there to rescue them they do not know how to themselves and can’t cope.
Often a young person in this situation will then be involved in a dependant relationship with a partner who follows on from the parent and continues to save them, but if that too fails and the partner is no longer around it can cause huge anxieties leading to high anxiety levels.
Only one mild stress or panic attack in the supermarket, may lead to more larger panic attacks as they start to worry about having another panic attack in public. This leads to another panic attack, and another to where they become so worried about having the panic attack that they have one just thinking about leaving the house.
This is a big generalisation but you seem my point
This of course can be solved, but it takes some time to learn how to manage their emotions and start to work through, process and move past those feelings.
It all starts the same way as the pony in the beginning.
When we are challenged we’ll either -
Step away from it and avoid any further challenges that look even mildly similar. As we lose confidence in what we can handle we take on less and less until we quit altogether
We continue on and do what we need to do to get to where we can handle it. We become confident at it. The next time a similar or larger challenge come up, we take that on too and learn what we need to in order to succeed.
In a short space of time one will be complaining that it is all too hard and their life is difficult, and the other will be handling success and abundance.
Both started with the same challenge in the beginning…
What will you do when the next challenge comes up?
It is not uncommon when coaching to find yourself in a position where a student is unable to complete a task or exercise that is being asked of them. I use this checklist to make sure we are finding the true cause enabling the learning to continue, and the horse and rider to build on their confidence, connection and performance.
I think of it in three stages. First the coach, then the rider, then last the horse, in that order as rarely is it the horses fault.
Here are the steps I use when a rider is having trouble completing a task.
1. Do they understand the skill. (Coach)
2. Can they physically compete the task? (Rider)
3. Is there a belief that could be preventing them from trying? (Rider)
4. Do they understand the skill? (Horse)
5. Can they physically compete the task? (Horse)
6. Is the horse responding correctly to the aids? (Horse)
1. Do they understand the skill?
This is where I check in on myself and make sure I have explained what I am asking well enough and that they have interpreted what I am asking correctly. I often ask the rider to describe back to me what it is that we are asking for so I can check in that we are both looking for the same thing.
I might clarify some of the language I am using i.e; how “big” is a big circle, what a square corner looks like, where exactly we are wanting to place the horses feet etc
This is a good time to look at other ways of describing the exercise. Perhaps have another rider show them, walk it yourself, hop on the horse and complete the exercise, draw it in the surface of the arena, draw it on your phone, show and example of it on your phone.
2. Can they physically compete the task?
Do they have the balance, co-ordination, skill level and strength to do what I am asking? Do I need to adapt the exercise? Have I explained the aids required well enough and are they using their body in the correct position. For example, a rider is having trouble stopping in a straight line after trotting through a series of trot poles. I will check in first they know what I am asking, and then I will make sure they are using their position to the best of their ability.
3. Is there a belief that could be preventing them from trying?
This one is surprisingly common and gets overlooked more often than not. I will give you a few examples. Imagine a rider who no matter how many times you tell them, won’t shorten their reins. They will often have a belief that having short reins means they are pulling on the horses mouth. They don’t like the idea of having hard hands and pulling on the mouth so they won’t shorten the reins. If you as the coach are then able to show them how by having short reins actually makes your hands softer and lighter they they will then want to shorten their reins as it is moving towards something they believe in.
Another example is if a family member who the child looks up to immensely, has told the rider to always push their feet forward to prevent them getting bucked off. When the coach comes along and adjusts the riders position so the legs are more under the body the rider will not want to hold that position as it goes against what they have been told by someone they respect greatly. To help them I find the best way is to acknowledge that what the family said is very true and correct in some situations, however in this situation a more upright position will give you better results. By acknowledging the family member’s information as still being true (or at least has a purpose), the rider is not being asked to go against what he believes, or disagree with someone they respect but rather adding more information to what they already know.
Then I go back and ask the same questions of the horse
4. Do they understand the skill?
I always ask this if my horse is having trouble. I need to check in with the horses body language, emotions and reactions to see if there is some confusion in what is being asked. If necessary I will break the skill down into small chunks and go through each part and see where the confusion might be. For example, if the horse is having trouble with a leg yield, I might go back and check in with a turn on the forehand, and a turn on the hind quarters and see if there is any confusion there. The idea is that we treat it like a doctor would try and find what is the underlying cause of an illness. They need to rule certain factors out first.
5. Can they physically compete the task?
We have already checked in the previous steps to make sure the rider is sitting correctly, using the correct aids, and made adjustments where necessary so give the horse the best opportunity possible so now we need to look at the horses body.
Much like humans, we need to make sure the horse is physically able to complete the exercise. Do they have the strength, fitness, balance and co-ordination? Is there a pain issue that we are not aware of? Is the saddle fitting correctly? If jumping, are the fences the correct distance? Has the progression been such that the horse is mentally and physically prepared for the exercise. Do we need to lessen or lower the effort required of the horse so they can achieve the outcome.
It is important we nurture the horses confidence and work ethic so make adaptations here to help the horse enjoy his work and find reward in challenges.
6. Is the horse responding correctly to the aids?
This is another often overlooked question but is actually quite common. Examples of this is a horse who pushes into the sideways aids, or resents the forward aid and actually slows down when the leg is closed on the horse. It is imperative we check in to make sure the horse is positively offering appropriate responses to cues. If not, we need to help the horse understand the response we are asking for. If I get to here and find an inappropriate response then I go right back to step 1 and start again with the new question in mind.
Other things to look at here is whether there has been a previous experience that could be worrying the horse or causing him to overreact? What do we know about the horses past that would influence his decisions. Was he asked to jump fences to big to quickly and lost confidence? Had he been ridden by someone who gave mixed signals? Has his diet changed? Is his paddock mate screaming from the stables?
These questions need to be taken onto consideration and responded to accordingly as they could ultimately affect the horses ability to perform the required task. Make any adaptations necessary. Simply understanding these factors and taking them into account allows us to look at the horses behaviour from a different perspective becoming more compassionate and understanding. This requires us to coach from a more creative and intuitive place where we can find solutions that enhance both the performance and connection of the horse and rider combination.
These questions are going through my head all of the time, throughout every lesson. It is not something that takes hours. It is part of the coaching process. I am consistently checking in to ensure optimal learning is taking place. Questions and answers come in and out of my mind. The lesson will adapt and evolve as the horse and riders needs evolve and adapt. Yes, I have an outcome for every lesson, but there are many and varied paths we can take to get there.
I believe the most important thing is if a rider is struggling to perform an exercise we look at ourselves first, then help the rider before moving onto the horse and remember:
We don’t have the right to influence a horse until we are first in rhythm with him.
Happy coaching xxx