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
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.