I wrote this blog post some time ago in 2018 and it was one of the things that prompted me to talk to you guys about your achievements, goals and recognising how far you’ve come.
I rode Molly for the first time in years today. I’ve owned her for five or six years and the first three we did a lot together. It consisted mainly of me celebrating the days she only reared twelve times on a ride, falling off her over jumps because she has a massive pop and a I couldn’t sit to it, lessons to teach me to jump her properly and culminating in some brilliant jumping practice at Porth Valley 😊 It was an amazing journey. But then she went lame and I had her shoes taken off, then I injured myself, then I got fat!
She’s not had shoes on for at least two years now, the lameness has long since gone. She spent last year living with my lovely friend Sam and then came home. Being the sweet horse she is, it took her a while to settle in, the others bullied her relentlessly ☹ but she’s now got them all sussed out and having walked her out a few times, I felt that yesterday, she was ready to go out for a short hack.
After all that time, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Would she have gone back to being the flighty, rearing, bucking, dancing horse she was? It turned out no. She was an angel. We had a few moments of I’m not sure, I don’t’ really want to go that way. But they resulted mainly in her stopping, me giving her gentle nudges with my feet, a loose rein and clear direction, then we’d be off again. Once up on a time she used to stop dead, go straight up in the air and come back down in the opposite direction!
But what surprised me most was how much I had changed. I had absolutely no fear for one. My position has changed thanks to Sooz Foster and Mark Fuller. My hand position has changed completely too and I no longer cross my right slightly over Molly’s neck. A flaw of mine that Michael Van Houben used to pick up on constantly. When I canter, I pull carrots, thanks to Anne-Marie Beverley Jones! Not that I’ll be cantering Molly for a while. But I’ve not forgotten any of their teachings and despite not having had a lesson for ages, I have tried to practice what these guys have taught me every time I ride. What I haven’t noticed is that my riding had actually changed and it wasn’t until I got on a horse that I remembered being on so well, that I realised.
People often ask me if you should have lessons off just one instructor or swap and change sometimes. Well at camp, I feel that sticking with one instructor is the best policy all round. Six or nine hours of lessons with the same person gives you a real opportunity to try some of the things that they’re asking you to do and then go on to practice them. From your horses’ point of view, the instructor has a measure of what that horse needs from you to bring out the potential in both of you. And it’s better for the horses to stay with a group that they have started to understand. They are still animals with instincts and will naturally be wary or curious of other horses that they’ve not met. But throughout life I think it is very important to work with different instructors because they will all give you something new to think about or try that you may have missed. Plus you’re never going to clone yourself to ride the way your instructor does, you are unique and need to become your own version of a great rider.
Getting back on Molly, I realised that I felt much more secure in the saddle (I still fall off and have been to the hospital physio today because of the latest one!) but I am no longer swinging my legs around or flopping around in the saddle like a sack of jelly. My elbows are bent – those who were taught to ride in the good old days will know that this was a thing, carrying your weight in your elbows to give you soft hands and consistent contact. I used to ride Molly by balancing on her mouth ☹ because she used to pull and I’d pull back. Ridiculous, but until someone videoed me riding her, I had no idea!
I guess what I’m most fascinated by here, is that times move on, things change, but often our brains remember all of the rubbish stuff and doesn’t allow us to see the progression or recession of the present moment. How many times have you got on and thought, ‘Not going that way today, she might spook at that gap in the gateway.’ or ‘Not doing that ride, she might get sticky again on that track or chose to not cross that road and then we’ll be stuffed!’ ? I used to do that all the time! These days I live for the day and for the moment. I expect my horses to be amazing all the time, because they are! And just because they have done things in the past and we’ve failed to achieve the success we wanted to, I will not quit. Why? Because not every situation is the same. Even if my horses are amazing every day, I’m not and sometimes I make stupid decisions (like not tightening my girth and falling off when my horse spooks!) But if things go wrong and I quit, it is NEVER going to get better and that progression that I felt when I was riding Molly yesterday, would not have existed had I quit.
So from now on, I’m going to be kinder to myself because, in spite of everything that has happened in my colourful life, I have not quit on these horses. I have become self-aware and taken something from every instructor I’ve been taught by. I’ve tried my best to be better and for the first time in years, I realised that it has actually paid off.
What has changed about your riding and your horses way of going? Check out your old videos and compare them to the latest ones. I’ve seen a couple of pics recently of how much horses have changed, but I would love to see the videos too!
On Friday evening, Michele put a post down on the camp buddies page to ask who else was eating Pizza and playing trival persuits to remind them of camp. Love it! Who else was?
I have to confess that I wasn’t – partly because I am back to being a vegan now but mostly because to be honest, I’d forgotten that it would have been camp that weekend. Not because I didn’t want it to happen or because I wasn’t thinking of any of you, just because I’d moved on.
Around the time that second lockdown was announced I had a conversation with Tracy who owns the lovely Prince, about how sad it was that we would have to cancel. A few of the things she said made me change my attitude. It would have been Tracy’s birthday whilst she was at camp. What a great place to be to celebrate! She had a lot to be sad about too but she wasn’t letting it spoil her day and by then end of the conversation she had me thinking about what else not doing camp would enable me to do instead. You see there is always a bright side to everything!
Sam asked me why was I always positive about things and since she did so I’ve thought about it a lot. Believe me, it’s a learnt behaviour because I never used to be! I used to listen to myself bringing conversations down, knowing I was doing it and hating it, but I didn’t really know how else to respond. I would look at the negatives in most things because I’m a problem solver and I like to be prepared (for the worst of course!) But then you know what, it got really, really boring. I found myself drawn to people who thought the same and we’d spend hours discussing our problems – this is common apparently! Think about it next time you’re sitting round the table with friends talking horse (it will happen guys, I’m sure of it!) How many times do you talk about how awesome your horse was? How many times do you tell everyone how brilliant he was over that ditch or river that you came across? Or is it all about he spooked at this leaf on the floor or that damn car that passed too close or how no matter how hard you try he won’t go past those pigs!? I’ve learnt something about this lately, it’s called trauma bonding and we do it all the time.
Trauma bonding gives us connection, the people we are having great conversations with about our troubles just get it. They’ve been there, they understand exactly where you’re coming from, they respond agreeably and it feels like there is a real chemistry between you. The energy flows, the determination to solve this problem dwindles and before you know it, you walk away from the conversation thinking, ‘Well it’s ok, they’ve got issues too, it’s not just me and none of us know how to solve it anyway! We’re all in the same boat, so it’s fine.’
There is a chance someone in the group has had a different experience but won’t say so because that makes them stand out. It might break the unity between those who are part of that discussion and instead of bonding, create disagreement, possibly conflict and maybe exclusion of the one who didn’t agree. How uncomfortable would you feel if you were the one breaking those bonds? You know that feeling, when you speak out and the conversation halts and everyone looks at you…oooh it’s sends shivers down your spine!
Now do you get why we don’t try to change the direction of the conversation so easily? Even if we don’t agree?
Conflict is feared for many reasons in my experience. When I was growing up it lead to shouting, doors slamming, someone leaving or someone getting hit, hurt or both. In later life I found myself attracted to people who dealt with conflict in the same way. I understood it, I knew the pattern and predictability equalled safety. I knew when to duck or run! What I didn’t know how to do was resolve conflict.
Not until I learnt that you can’t talk your way out of an argument with a 600lb horse! I didn’t listen to those who told me to beat her until she showed me some ‘respect’ aka fear. I’d been scared all my life, I didn’t want her to feel like that too! Running away from her wasn’t going to help. She was glad to see the back of me! But I had to find a way to get my firey little thoroughbred to like me, to want to be with me and not to be scared of me. Equally so, I had to find all those things in me. She’d kicked me in the face and broken my jaw. The ultimate turning point of my relationship with horses I think. I had two choices, run like the wind, never look back and walk away from horses altogether or stand up and learn to resolve the conflict between us. It was a long journey but we made it and my life would not have been what it is today had we not taken it.
I have no issues with conflict these days, sometimes I am maybe a little too honest and if I say the wrong thing in the wrong way I will be the first to apologise, I have no issues with admitting that I’m wrong either! But learning to resolve conflict in my life has helped me look at things in a way that perhaps others don’t. To me, I achieved the impossible – everything seems impossible until it’s done!- I’d got back on a horse that my father would have happily shot and no one but my friend Simon would touch! Not only that we went on to have some amazing times together. She taught me so much about myself, horses and people.
By now you might be wondering what conflict has got to do with positivity and trauma bonding. Well, I guess it’s hard sometimes to be the one who disagrees with people’s low opinions of themselves or their horses. It can be hard to stand up for yourself and what you believe. I find myself constantly challenging people, my last boss actually told me I was very challenging! But it’s easy to challenge the norm when you know that something good stands on the other side of it and I know, that if you guys believe in yourself and your abilities, there is some good stuff waiting on the other side of it! Unfortunately, and possibly especially at the moment, it is normal to join in with the negativity and forget that you have an amazing talent – the ability to resolve conflict with a 600lb animal. It’s easy to sit around and think that not going to camp is bad or it could be that, whilst sad, how cool was it to have a goal to work towards in winter? For me, it’s allowed me the time and space to develop the Find Your Way With Horses program that I know will help a lot of people resolve conflict within themselves. How can that be a bad thing? Better still we’re opening up the one to one programmes – how exciting is that?
I find myself frequently surrounded by people who expect the worst and I still go there myself sometimes, but then I remind myself that expecting the best brings excitement vs. misery, possibility rather than inevitability, I actively look for the good, for the advantages, for the resolve of issues. Everything happens to teach us something if we’re aware and awake enough to listen. I swear horses find us because they know we’ve lost our way and want to put us back on track. I’ve no doubt that most of you can think about 10 things that your horse has done that you’d really rather he hadn’t. Think about 10 things you would never have learnt about him or yourself if he hadn’t done them. Does your spouse/partner/teenager drive you mad? Think about 10 things you love about them. If you can’t even think about one, imagine how you would feel if you got that phone call. Now try again.
The interesting thing about positive people is that they’re pretty hard to find. Sometimes they’re hiding in plain sight and just need to be encouraged out of their protective shells. They think great things but are afraid that they’ll be called a nerd or worst still dismissed if they share those thoughts. In Australia they call it Tall Poppy Syndrome. You have to be brave to stand out like the tall poppy. It’s speaking out and making changes that makes you stand out. You have to know that doing things differently isn’t always going to be well received. But you also have to believe in yourself and be strong in those beliefs. Soon people will join you and eventually you become a positive poppy, proud of the fact that you stand out and encourage others to do the same. You can give people someone to look up to, someone to believe in, someone who is prepared for the best. Let’s face it, no one ever followed anyone who made them feel bad as easily as they did someone who made them feel alive and capable! Remember that awesome instructor who knew nothing about you but made you feel amazing?
You can be the tall poppy among your friends. You can turn the conversation around without being controversial, just be honest. Tell them the conversation is negative and ask them to list ten good things instead. If you were there at a couple of the goal setting talks in summer, you will remember the change when the conversations flipped from what you couldn’t do to what you were going to do! The energy was so negatively charged at first, then suddenly it was raising the roof off the piggery!
My horses make me feel this fluttery kind of joy inside me when I think about them, even after they’ve chucked me off. It bubbles up occasionally and makes me laugh out loud when I’m in Tesco – I haven’t been thrown out for being nuts yet but give it time… What they don’t know is just how nuts I’d be if I hadn’t found this resolve, thanks to my horses, that keeps me sane.
Go laugh out loud in Tesco. Make the guy in line behind you smile. Change someone else’s life by being happy. See what happens when you smile at your horses or you dogs. See what happens when you expect the best 😊 x
I’ve been thinking a lot about you guys during this second lock down. Wondering what you’re all up to, wondering if you’re using any of the things you’ve learnt at camp, if you’re spending time with people you met there or even just chatting online, supporting and encouraging each other. Some of your stories have stuck in my head like the confidence crisis that you were having Angela, or that you didn’t like hacking out on your own Beth. Knowing that camp went some way towards helping you through these obstacles makes me so happy. I’m sure most of us have experienced the joy of helping someone else out when they can, for me, it’s so rewarding, I actively seek ways to do it on a regular basis.
Why? Because other people have helped me though some very dark and difficult times and I want to pay it forward. If you can help someone why wouldn’t you?
A wonderful lady, in fact magical is a better word to describe her once gave me some advice. She said don’t give your power away to anyone else. I had no idea what she meant. But at the time I was very unhappy and I felt that someone else was responsible for my happiness and that he had taken that away. I wasn’t first in the queue when they were handing out the brains! I am a thinker and a problem solver, but I don’t do cryptic! So it took me a while and then one day I found this on the internet and I finally understood what this beautiful lady was trying to say to me.
So I did as I was told and I started taking back my power, making my own happiness and living again. He wasn’t responsible for my happiness, I was! And as hard as it was to make sense of it at the time, I had allowed him to take mine away. I had a choice, we all have a choice, every single minute of every day, as to how we respond to the events that unfold before us.
So this blog is to all of you who took back your power. Kelly, your fear was trying to take over until slowly but surely you got hold of that fear and you kicked right up the backside and told it where to go! Now you’re achieving your goal of doing a dressage test. Wow! Just wow!
Gina, well I’ve known you a while now and the change I’ve seen in you this year is massive, you now know you only need to be you and do things your way and that’s good enough.
Angela and Sam – what if you’d never got back on? Look at all the fun you had because you did! All the power is now back in your hands. So proud of you both!
Anxiety is much misunderstood these days and unfortunately, it’s like a weed. It you plant it, feed it regularly, sit back and watch it grow, suddenly it turns into Rapunzel’s forest! Not even your handsome prince of a pony can fight his way through to you. I have a couple who would happily eat their way through but not to come and rescue me from my tower of anxiety sadly, unless I had more food of course!
Now if you take that anxiety and say ok, I understand that you’d like to take over, but actually, this is my life and I’m in control, not you, then you start to see it shrink back. And in the distance you might notice there is a fence, you can’t see to the other side of it but you know that it is obscuring something that you want. And you want it badly! So you take some steps towards it, beating that anxiety weed back, refusing to let it take over. Occasionally it gets the better of you and you sit and watch it grow, maybe even flower, perhaps you water it some, but then the fence starts to loom again. You have to cut that weed back so that you can see the fence more clearly again and with greater determination you set off towards it.
What do you think lies behind that fence?
Sometimes, as you get closer to it, you actually become suspicious of what’s on the other side. What if there is nothing? What if I’ve tried to get there for all this time but nothing changes? And what I get to the other side of the fence and it’s amazing, but then OMG, I have no more excuses and I have to go and do what I have been telling everyone I’m going to do for months?
You toy with idea for a while, but then desire takes over again and you’re out tackling those weeds again. May be an encouraging word from a friend helped or some bossy big mouth who runs these mad camps calls you out on the rubbish you tell yourself? Or maybe you just decided that enough is enough and suddenly you find yourself there, on the other side.
How did it feel?
The moment you got back from that first solo ride? Did you feel the freedom of being able to ride whenever you want to? Did that hit you? The sense of achievement? Maybe there was a realisation that this was all way worse in your head than the reality? But how good does it feel to know that you can kick that weedy anxiety into touch and tell it that YOU are in control of your future, of your happiness of everything you want to achieve in life?
You see you can create your own reality, you can decide how you’re going to live your life. Don’t believe me? Who made you go to camp? Who made you go on that first solo ride? Who made you get on your horse when you were adamant that you weren’t going to because some crazy lady had swapped the instructors around, Sam?
It wasn’t your best mate. Unless she had a hoist and a bit of rope up her sleeve to attach you to it. It wasn’t your horse who tacked himself up and said, ‘Right, we’re off down the road on our own, ok?’ It wasn’t your friend who convinced you to give it a go, unless she kidnapped you, bundled you and your horse in to her trailer and drove you to camp at gunpoint!!
It was YOU!
You beat back those weeds, you met that fence head on and you jumped!
And look what you found on the otherside…
Don’t let anything take your power away from you lovely people. You’ve so totally got this inside of you. You love your horses. Being a horse rider is part of who you are, part of your identity. Own it and be proud. This is your life, you get to choose. If you don’t, someone else will.
I don’t see any hoists or revolvers around here so I think we can safely say that you’re free to go and create the reality that you want.
If you’re not sure how to make that happen, let me know and I’ll share some stories that might help you. But only if you ask. I’m not going to expose all of my secrets otherwise, I’ll just stay on the weedy side of the fence waiting for a leg up!
Now those of you who have been really paying attention will have noticed in the last blog the slight change in the title…did you notice? I choose to do that because the differences in agenda can be quite subtle from one person to the next. And now I want this blog post to be all about yours.
When I went to my first camp, organised by a riding club, I was asked to go along by a friend and have to confess, I had to push myself to go. I was running my riding school at the time and taking a whole weekend out seemed like madness. But to say that one camp changed my life is an understatement. Not only my life at that time, but my future. But at the time, all I wanted to do was go and have some fun with one of my horses!
But why do you guys come to camp? What’s your agenda? All of us have different dreams, goals and desires and our horses shape many of them. But I am guessing…in fact I know…that many of you come just because you want to have a holiday and spend some time with friends. But I think secretly, (at least until I set up on you with a goal setting talk!) we have something more that we want to get from camp.
For me I wanted to escape from the pressure of day to day life. I wanted to remember what it was like to just have one horse to focus on, because all of mine back home needed and deserved my attention all the time and I did my best to give it to them. But you can’t beat one to one time with a horse.
I have had people come to camp and spend their entire weekend in the stable or grazing their horse in hand, even sleeping with their horse just because they needed the therapy that horses give you. Would I be right in saying that when you’re with your horse, riding, grooming, grazing, just hanging out – something about your world changes? Do you start to forget the rubbish things in life that get you down – like the state of the house, your idiot boss, how you’re going to pay the rent? This year so many people said that by the end of camp, they’d almost forgotten the devastating effects that Covid-19 was having on the world. But isn’t that what horses do for you if you let them?
And whilst at camp, what do we give them? Perhaps something that we just don’t have normally…our time. Life takes over when you’re at home. It might seem a bit selfish if you spend 4 hours hanging out with your horse in the evening when you’re kids are waiting to be tucked into bed at night! But at camp, you have those 4 hours in fact you have a whole 48 hours or more! And for those of us not lucky enough to live with our horses, how cool is it to go muck out in your onesie? Kelly? Jenna? Hahaha. These ladies have special camp onesies! I love it! We may even have a photo to prove it…
For me the very best time of night is just before lights out. I get to go and check on your horses, give them all reassuring scratches and to just breathe with them. I get to see who they’ve made friends with, how settled they are and watch them do cute things like pass hay to their neighbour or nick hay from someone else’s! But I also get to see you guys relishing in that time to just look at your horses, watch them, kiss and scratch them. I see you lost in your own thoughts with gorgeous smiles on your faces, just appreciating them. Isn’t that time so special? And I don’t know about you guys but the bond I have with which ever horse I bring ( I still have 8! ) grows so much in just that short time. Let’s face it, if life didn’t get in the way so much, wouldn’t we all just spend every minute with our equines?
Maybe you come to camp to learn about your horse and what he can do, six or nine hours of lessons is quite intense and I think wonderful for progression. But how many of you come expecting to see a change in your horse and go home seeing a massive change in yourselves? I see so many of you grow in so many ways. I see people relax and really let go of life’s stresses. Confidence starts to ooze from pores that were frozen solid with fear! Friendships – now this one really gets to me – form and develop that I just know are going to last for a long, long time. It’s happened to me. Some of my closest friends I met at camp! And the truth is, I’ve been scared of people for a lot of my life so friendships have been hard for me, real friendships I mean, like those I have in my life now. And all of them are with people who have a passion for horses.
I also seen massive shifts in attitudes. People are so good at criticising themselves. They beat themselves up, they worry about everything and I swear they have forgotten that they can actually control a 600lb animal – that alone makes them awesome! But many people come with low self-esteem, subtle though it may be. I’ve been studying human and horse psychology for years, I kind of have an eye for this now and I think once you’ve been there yourself, you recognise it in others very easily. So to see this gradual transformation in such a short space of time, means so much to me. The encouragement everyone gets, the support when it goes pear shaped, the fun, the laughter and the letting go of all of that negativity is palpable! Like a cloak lifted from the back of someone who has been shrouded by it for so long it’s made them stoop. But now they’re standing tall and proud, knowing that they’ve got this, they can do it, they are good enough for their horse. They know that baby steps accumulate and they can achieve.
I think the point I’m trying to make in my long winded waffling, is that everyone comes to camp with their own agenda, and that is exactly as it should be. It’s about you. You and your horse, you best friend that you just don’t get to spend enough time with.
So what’s your agenda? Are we helping you to achieve it? Can we do more to help? Do we hit the target you set us? I’d really like to know because you guys mean a lot to me and I want to be of service to you in the best way that I can be x
P.s. Maybe next time I’ll tell you a tale about how you guys have helped me to realise something that I never thought I would x
Lunchtime of the first full day is a combination of deli meats, cheese, tuna mayo, egg mayo and interesting salads. One that went down really well this year was the carrot and orange salad with its yummy home-made dressing on it. We used to make the sandwiches for everyone but then realised that actually you can’t fit that much on a sandwich and people don’t always want a load of bread before they’re going to ride again – cake, cookies and crisps are fine!- but bread is not that exciting is it?
I love lunch time. I get to chat to my instructors about how it’s all going, I get to listen to everyone talking about how their lessons have gone, how pleased (or not) they are with their horses, but mostly how relieved they are that their horses behaved so well, even when they didn’t expect them to!
I have intervened a time or two during the first sessions. I don’t want to see anyone hurt and staying safe around horses by reading them is something I’ve been doing for years. If I think you’re about to get on an exploding timebomb, I will come and help. And guys, what ever you need to do to calm your horses down in those first lessons is fine. They may need you to just walk them round the school in hand, or perhaps be lunged before the lessons start, without the distraction of the others, maybe they need to go and have a graze in hand first thing because they’re not used to being stabled. If you’re not sure, ask. If you need help, ask. I’d rather you were safe and myself and our instructors will do what we can to assist. No question is a silly one. But we can’t read minds and if you want to know something, have expectations, fears, doubts or worries, speak up. That way we can help in the moment, please don’t ever feel you’re alone at camp.
Second lesson usually goes a lot more smoothly, they start again at 1.30 or at 3.15 and by then the horses and riders are much more certain of where they are and what is going to happen. There is no set idea about which schools you will be in except for the first lesson, after that you decided what you are doing next session as a group. Please make yourself heard but also consider each other. And try to remember that 3 hours a day in a schooling/controlled environment is a lot of work for them. I know you want to get the most out of camp and it’s tempting to do everything all on the first day! But progressive training is long lasting, we’re not in to quick fix situations. And if someone is struggling in the first lesson, be patient and supportive. Better still learn from their experience. You never know when you might come across a similar problem. And let’s face, at some point we’ve been glad of the help we’ve been offered when we were having a few issues.
So your horses need to be fit, physically and mentally, but they will also get the opportunity to stop as a reward for their efforts when they get it right. If you just work and work them without stops in between, they don’t get the release which is the best way to let them know they’ve got it right! And don’t forget the praise, it’s as important as the task. Don’t just get to the other side of that jump and breath a sigh of relief then flop! Give him some recognition. Tell him he’s got it right so that he knows that’s what you want. A scratch and a kind word can go a long way with a horse.
After we’ve all fed our horses together around 6.15, it’s dinner time! Usually ready for 7.00pm so that you have chance to get showered and changed. And there is always lasagne! Now I don’t know how this happened, but on our feedback form I have asked a few times what people would like to see on the menu it’s been made very clear to me that so long as there is lasagne, they don’t care! I’ve had a lot of practice in perfecting the recipe but what ever the reason, it goes down a treat. We usually have proper home-made cottage pie, or sausage casserole, maybe cauliflower and broccoli cheese and a veggie, vegan, gluten free option if required. I’m getting pretty good at those too apparently though I confess gluten free used to scare me. I’ve been scared of getting it wrong a lot over the last seven years. I just want you all to be well cared for and looked after so it’s important to me to get it right.
Then after dinner we have a talk or a demo of some sort or other and over the years they have varied a lot! From Clare Hocking teaching us about balance by kneeling – yes kneeling!- on a yoga ball and playing toss and catch! To the lovely Bea Hawkins giving us a talk on the digestive system for which she brought a beautiful life sized model in to show us just how big our horses guts are! We’ve had a Trystan Stock, my lovely farrier do a talk and a q&a session. Marvin Firth has been a few times to talk all things Chiropractorish and done some vet talks too. Su Nunn did us a lovely demonstration of how to ride and tack up side saddle this year, it was amazing, like stepping back in time. So you never know what you’re going to get!
Recently, because of covid-19, I’ve been giving some talks about goal setting and recognising your own abilities, being nice to yourself and celebrating your achievements. They seem to have had an impact so I might start doing more of these and maybe even replace quiz night because believe me, what ever you think, you are enough. For your horse, your partner, your kids, your boss – whatever. You are enough.
So Sunday pretty much follows Saturday except for the celebration we have after all of the lessons have finished around 5pm. We like to get everyone together to say a massive thank you to our instructors and photographers, but also to you guys. And it’s time to hand out a few rosettes to recognise those who have done something special during camp. Sometimes it might be that they looked after everyone else in their group, encouraged everyone loads and had a great time. Other times it might be that they’ve moved on massively in confidence or achieved way more than they expected to. There are no set rules about who gets recognised and actually, it’s really hard and my instructors hate me for it, because in truth, you will all have achieved something! Also we find that the camaraderie and love you guys have for each other is just awesome. It is what makes camps so special, it’s why I keep doing them. I truly am the luckiest person alive to get to do what I do for you all and I thank you all from the very bottom of my heart because without you, my life would not be the happy one it is and I would never have met such lovely people and horses x
P.s. Part 3 of What’s your agenda is going to be all about you…intriguing eh? I hope to see you there x
What the agenda?
Just before camp, we get quite a few people asking for the itinerary. It’s usually people who are super organised and want to plan ahead or they are slightly apprehensive first timers – sometimes a combination of both! But I think it’s only natural when you go anywhere new to be asking ‘What on earth is going to happen to me when I get there?!’
I often wonder if we should rename our itinerary and call it an agenda instead. But doesn’t that word go so much deeper than just a list of our plans? Do any of us have exactly the same agenda when it comes to going out and playing ponies somewhere?
Our itinerary in it’s simplest form is that you arrive of the first evening, set up camp for the next two or three days of lessons. But why do we do it this way I mean after all, I hate camping and I would much rather spend an extra day in my own bed than sleeping in a field! Well it’s because the advantages of getting you altogether on the first night more than make up for a sleepless night or two.
You see the first night is all about getting you guys talking, making connections with new people through your horses and breaking bread with others has long since been recognised as beneficiary to making connections (albeit garlic flavoured with a bit of pizza in our case!). It’s why we have networking breakfasts, do business over lunch or dinner. It does after all, make you stop for a minute, take time out of your busy lives and be still, therefore allowing time to get to know each other, share some stories and have fun.
To me it is also an indicator of how nervous or confident you might all be as a group. Sometimes the energy in the room on the first night is electric, lots of excited chatter, people discovering they know each other’s horses or have friends in common or have competed against each other but never had the opportunity to really talk. Other times it’s my job to get those conversations started because no one is eating anything as their nerves are getting the better of them. We used to have a hypnotherapist come and give us a talk to help us to get rid of a few anxieties, set some goals and just have fun. What was fascinating about that was how much calmer the horses in the stables became as their owners started to calm down too, even though there was quite a distance between the two buildings! There was rarely any food left after either because suddenly everyone was feeling much better and hungry.
This year has been a bit different because of the Covid 19 issues but normally we put everyone together in their riding groups to do the quiz. One of the things I am most insistent about is that absolutely no one feels left out at camp. I don’t care what you ride or how you ride, you’re as entitled to be there as anyone else and I don’t want anyone making judgements about each other based on their horsemanship skills or preferences. Save that for the show ring or facebook, better still don’t be that person! Over the years we’ve had a few people criticise others and I’ve stepped in. I want you guys to feel safe, to feel as though you can be who you really are with your horses and to get the most that you can out of camp. I don’t want you to be scared of asking a question you think might be silly or to be worrying about the fact that someone on your camp has a top class show jumper when you have a little cob off the moor, we’re all horse owners, we’re all on our own journey and that journey is different for everyone one of us. It’s about your agenda, no one else’s. I think a great saying is ‘What other people think is none of your business, it’s what you think that matters.’ I’ve no idea where I first heard that but it has stood me in good stead many a time when I have let the words of others push a few buttons.
As well as the quiz we’ve played a few games in the past and I intend to do that again in the future once we can get up close and personal again. My intention is to get you all laughing and chatting and believe me, some of the games we’ve played have made people giggle a lot! Especially the simulation ones where we have people sitting on each other’s knees and pretending to do rising trot! I’m not sure if it’s the jiggling that causes the giggling but it’s set a few people off in the past!
I do find that bringing people together in this way means that the fear of being judged by others disappears somewhat and as a result most people are a lot less worried about bringing their horse in to the arena for the first lesson because they’re no longer riding with strangers, they’re riding with friends! All that leaves you to worry about is riding your horse the way you always do – oh and maybe how scary your instructor is going to be! They’re not, I promise you!
Each day we encourage people to feed their horses at the same time. One of the highest stress factors for horses on livery yards is that people are coming and going at all kinds of times and feeding their horses or turning them out. Horses are clever and they know who is coming to feed them but we’ve built that in to them, it’s not their instinct. They move together in the wild, they eat together, they drink together, their base instinct doesn’t allow them to forget that when they are together they are a herd. Some get extremely stressed when their new next door neighbour goes out without them or has a feed and haynet when they don’t. Others seem to not bother at all. But to me if we are trying our best to reduce any anxieties that they may have, just simple things like feeding them together isn’t hard to do. After all, we have dragged them away from their usual environment, put them with a load of strangers, locked them in stables that they are unsure of and then gone to bed! I did have one group of horses that I had to leave the lights on for all night, if I turned them off a few of them seemed to join forces in screaming the place down and trying to kick the back wall out! Soon as the lights went back on…silence.
Both mornings whilst you’re at camp, we feed you a cooked breakfast to set you up for the day! We have cereals, toast and preserves for those who can’t handle that at 7.30 am but there’s plenty of choice. Riding times for the morning are at 9 am and 10.45 so some people get to have a lie in but on the other hand they have an early finish. If I get an inclination that some riders are nervous, I often put them in the first group so that they can get it over with and relax for the rest of the day! By lunchtime, around 12.30, everyone is fine, but I need strategies to make sure that you all are and over the last seven years I’ve learnt a few!
The first lesson can be interesting. Horses pick up on nerves, some more than others, riders all have different agendas and have come to camp for different reasons and try as I might, sometimes I can’t make the groups work perfectly every time! Six hours of lessons over two days is a long time for both horse and rider, even if they are fit it can be mentally exhausting so your first lesson is just an assessment really. There will be some standing together listening to the information that everyone is giving their instructor, this is a good way for the instructor to assess your horses temperament. It takes your mind of what your horse is doing for a moment and this often indicates how settled the horse is. If you’ve been holding him together whilst you’re out on the track, then him standing still whilst you talk is not going to be easy. I guess it’s about discovering which horses have more go than whoa and about understanding the other people in your group. You can learn so much from other people and what they’re being taught if you’re teachable. And when you hear an instructor use similar words to those they’ve said to you, then you can see what that other rider is doing. Also you realise it’s not just you that does that!
We always have tea, coffee, squashes and cake for you to help yourselves to so that you can refuel and of course the cake competition is vitally important! Recently it has become the dessert competition because some made the most delicious banoffee pie once and lots of people do gorgeous brownies and cookies, so the word cake became too restrictive! And of course it’s not about the competition, it’s about people bringing something nice to share, making a bit of effort to ensure that everyone else is having a good time too. You’ve no idea how much I appreciate the time put in to this little thing that makes a HUGE difference and I love receiving your gorgeous offerings in the piggery when you arrive, so exciting! So thank you xx
I think this might be long enough for now so I will write part 2 and post that separately so I don’t bore you to death – we have horses and lives for heaven sake, who has time to read my wafflings?! See you in part 2 x
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.