This evening I attempted to fill in a survey and this was one of the questioned asked. I couldn't honestly answer it because in truth, I don't know if they get jealous or not. Is this an emotion they have the brain capacity to experience? Is this a human emotion that we project on to them because we want to feel as though they care? Or is it more to do with curiosity or instinct? I don't have the answer.
I have been very privileged to be the only handler, rider and owner of a horse and although she was kept on livery yards she knew it was me who did stuff with her. When I got a second horse, she appeared to be jealous of him, often muscling her way in between us if went to him first and then if I rode him and not her, she would stand there in the field, watching us leave, looking dejected and paying no attention to her field mate at all. The emotion I projected on to her was jealously, but was it?
In my experience, horses love routine, it makes them feel safe and secure. I only know this because when you break their routine they show signs of stress or anxiety. Perhaps a break in their routine that doesn't deprive them of anything doesn't cause stress, but it may cause a little confusion. Maybe Tico was used to watching me move from one step to the other, whether I was just checking them or whether I was riding them, I always had a routine. But with Star Ponyboy added in to the equation, my routine had changed and to her something had been lost.
I do know that stabled horses who are waiting to be fed and turned out very much look forward to you turning up. A yard I kept my first horse at, the horses would whinny when they heard their owner's car pull up in the car park! They're so clever. Soon after the door banging or the head tossing would follow. But is it the same for a horse whose only reward when you turn up a scratch or a fuss. My little miniature Charlie loves to have his nose kissed. Molly has to have her daily face rub. Anna likes her neck scratches, whilst Izzy and Tara just love to cuddle in to you and groom you back when you scratch them. And if I was anthropomorphising...omg that word is hard to spell - humanising - Tara, Izzy and Anna, they often make me think they're jealous of each other because they will push each other out of the way to get more scratches.
There were a whole load of other things I couldn't answer in this survey for the same reasons, but what it really made me think about is how often we assume our horses are thinking or feeling something that could be interpreted as human behaviour but in actual fact, these things have an awful lot more to do with survival. And do our survival instincts kick in when we're scared too? Are we projecting this behaviour and it's meaning on to them. Are we the cause of this behaviour?
I'm sure most of us have said at one time or another, 'This horse is determined to get me off, the little [insert desired expletive here!]' Suggesting that he is full of malice or just being plain mean. But the biggest threat to a horse is having a predator jump on it from above and attack it. Hmmm, we are predators so what if we are sometimes perceived to be a massive threat because we are hurting them/frightening them or just plain in the way of them being able to run from something else that is threatening their survival?
One of the things we see a lot at camp is people who are very nervous before and during their first lesson. I once had two riders talk themselves out of riding at all during breakfast! It's ok, we got them on and guess what? They survived and had a great time! Our nerves affect our heart rate and breathing - the two things that horses are designed to listen to if they want to survive. If you ever watch a herd of horses, one can lift it's head up, alert to something and a horse on the other side of the field, even if he can't see the first one move, will have lifted his head too. Their hearing is so sharp, their response to energy is incredible and the minute the heart beat and breathing of another mammal changes, that horse knows it.
So imagine...we have twelve riders getting on, their heart rate and breathing is all over the place. We've got twelve horses who have no idea what is about to happen to them, their pulses are high, they're taking short breaths and they're alert. This is a natural survival instinct for them, they're not being naughty (a very subjective word!) or disrespectful, they're just following their instincts. And although we may feel a perceived threat, we, the rider, are in no more danger than we were when we last got on that horse and rode him in the school or around the same track for the millionth time! Why? Because we know how to ride this horse.
Not so sure about this? Watch a young kid get on their pony in a strange place and see what their expectations of that horses behaviour are. Or watch a seasoned competition rider get on and warm his horse up at the beginning of a competition. If he knows his stuff and his horse there is no tension or stress, they just ride.
Also, notice the difference next time you're at camp, between the way everyone is at the beginning of their second lesson, compared to their first. Look up and observe, you will find people in your group who are just expecting to have a ride no different from the last one. Anxiety shows up when we don't know what is going to happen next. As a rule, you guys get to the other side of that anxiety by seeing the lesson through so that you then have knowledge and experience about what is going to happen. Before that moment, the crystal ball was out, predicting all kinds of near death scenarios!
But you can predict what that horse is going to do - without the crystal ball! You know your horses. You have trained them to move off your leg. So why are your legs clamped to his sides and expecting him to stand still?! And when you are riding out with your mates, do you sit there waiting for them to get on going 'Omg, what is she going to say about the way I ride?' or 'My horse looks so scruffy next to hers, I wonder if she'll want to ride with me and my hairy cob?' Maybe, 'I am so crap a getting him to canter, I hope no one notices!'? Or do you sit there having a laugh about the fact that you still have half the field in your horses mane or that Bob the Cob is going to do his fastest trot ever rather than break in to that illusive canter? I imagine it's going to be the latter and ten minutes in to your first lesson with your group, you'll all be doing the same. So predict don't project. He's not being naughty, he's just being a horse. Unclamp those thighs and ride him like the horse you know he is. Ditch the negative crystal ball and pick up the one that is full of experience. The one that tells the truth about the hundred and twenty times you've ridden this horse without incident. Stop worrying about what might happen and just ride your horse because if you ride him in the way you always do, he will do what he always does - he'll be awesome.
And you know who taught him to be that way?
You did - because you're awesome too!
Which I think leads on to the next topic I've been talking about a lot with a couple of the Riding Pool Members lately...that horses learn to do the things we want them to as quickly as they learn to do the things we don't want them to do... So until next time, don't be a predator or a pussy cat, be the rider that you know you can be and let your horse be the awesome horse you've taught him to be
Much love to you my camp family xxx
It's hard to know where to start a blog when you've been planning on doing it for seven years! I thought I would start with now because in truth 2020 could have been our last year. No one could have predicted how the whole Covid - 19 pandemic was going to affect us all. As luck would have it, I had decided to go and work for someone else for the first time in 15 years and felt relatively safe financially - yet utterly miserable because I honestly thought all camps would be cancelled for the entire year.
I think the pandemic has led many of us to reflect on our lives. For me it made me realise just how much running camps meant to me. I live in a dark pit of despair in winter. I'm like a bear who wants to hibernate but financially that doesn't work! No one is going to pay me to hunker down in a cave and sleep for 6 months of the year. So I drag myself out, cheer myself up by running trainings up at Knightswood and at Chyverton, wonder where the next haylage payment is coming from and LIVE for the beginning of camp season! There isn't anything else that I love doing as much.
It's hard to put a finger on why. It's hard work but it's not stressful (apart from doing groups and stables and praying I don't upset people!) and it feels like I am making a difference. I think we all want some significance in life. Purpose. For me I live by the mantra, 'I just want you to be happy'. It sounds simple, but for many of us in this day and age, being happy is anything but simple. I appreciate that we can't be happy all the time. Without a bit of hardship and misery, we would have no idea what happiness was! But surely a good 80% of our lives should be that way - otherwise, what is the point?
I don't believe in doing anything that doesn't make me happy. That's one of the reasons I've recently handed my notice in at my safe job. I loved it, but the contrast between the unity, the team work and the sheer joy being part of camp, was just too much for me. I want to be with your guys. I want to meet all of your gorgeous horses and watch you all achieve. The transformation over such a short space of time can be HUGE! And it is so wonderful to see. I can feel the euphoria. When you become overwhelmed by tears because something awesome has happened, I want to (and often do!) cry with you! I understand those feelings. Horses can be so frustrating, so challenging and hard to master, there is just so much to learn and each horse is an individual. So sometimes, just the smallest thing can feel like a major step forward. Like when my dear Tara managed to get left canter lead in the school TWICE in one session and everyone else around me was wondering why this crazy lady was laughing and scratching her horses neck, shouting 'Good, girl! Good girl!' Over and over again. It's the little things.
And choosing only to do things that make me happy, doesn't mean that I quit when the going gets tough, it just means that I can recognise that something isn't serving me well, that there are better ways to live and thrive than by doing something you don't like. I believe the key to my happiness is never being afraid to leave a job or relationship. Believing in myself, knowing that I am a fighter and I will find away to support my family and my animals. Maybe I'm weird, because I love hard work, I love to be challenged, these things make me happy! But I think us horsey folk are all the same. How many of us build a great relationship with our horses, get to the point where everything is pretty much perfect, then decide to buy a new one? I can't part with them, so I collect them and share them in my Riding Pool! But I've designed my life so I can do that. I can only do that if I have some faith in myself.
This year I've been doing talks for you all. It would never have happened if it wasn't for Covid-19 because our speakers would have been there. But it's funny how things happen. I started them because it was making me so sad listening to you all beat yourselves up about not being good enough. I've been there. I still go there! But I know that we don't have to feel like that. We spend hours telling ourselves how rubbish we are, but fail to recognise how far we've come. So many of you told me you didn't have goals. But I know that's not true. I know that none of you want your horse to come out of the stable, breathing fire, running you over, biting you, kicking you and bucking like a rodeo pony when you get on! True? So your goal is that your horse is calm, content, trained to not walk on you, will stand whilst you get on and walk away quietly when you ask him to. Let's face it, sometimes in spring achieving that goal can be hard, but it's still a daily goal! How often do you achieve that? How often do you celebrate it? You're dealing with a huge beast who could chose to do his own thing quite easily. Yet how often do we just stand and marvel at the fact that he will walk by us, come to us for scratches in the field, stay in a stable or get in a trailer?! I said it's the little things but actually these things are massive. If you don't believe me, go and talk to an unhandled 5 year old horse, you'll soon be grateful for your occasionally unpredictable but well mannered horse!
I hope these talks have helped you to appreciate that you are good enough. That if you look back you will realise that you've achieved loads and it was all because of you. No one else. And that those achievements are the things that matter to you. I'm sure most if you don't have to get stupidly excited about a left canter lead, but I do, because I know the journey that we've been on to get that left lead. You know your journeys. You know your horse. Are you are enough. Perhaps I will keep doing these talks next season. Maybe I will plan something for November for our first winter camps. Is there anything you're really struggling with? Let me know, tell me what your dreams look like. Let's see if together we can help you get there.
Because of you guys, my year has been utterly awesome, my dreams live on and I thank you all so much for being there, for being part of camp. For playing your part. For caring for and about each other and your horses. You're all superstars in my eyes xx
Hey Folks, I'm Lorraine and the picture is of one of my horses Tara - in our office! I really am the luckiest person alive to get to do what I do.