Lifelong Learning

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I love my riding lessons

I’m sure many of you are familiar with being asked a question along the lines of “Surely you can ride by now, why are you still having lessons?” Your answers might vary from having a new horse and wanting to develop your skills in partnership with that horse, wanting to increase or refine your technical riding skills or having someone on the ground who can help you to work out why you might be having difficulties in certain areas of your riding. There are as many different reasons for having lessons as there are riders.

I’m a great believer in lifelong learning which can be defined as “the provision or use of formal and informal learning opportunities throughout people’s lives in order to foster the continuous development and improvement of knowledge and skills needed for both employment and personal development”.

I think, to date, the youngest rider I have worked with was about 8 years old and the oldest was well into her 80’s. Riding really can be a lifelong activity.

So, I really do think that it’s important to continue to have input from a riding trainer, coach or instructor especially if you struggle with self belief and self confidence. I was talking to a group of riders yesterday and we all agreed that it’s also very important to find the correct person to help you, someone who really makes an effort to understand you, your needs and the partnership you have with your horse.

Of course, lifelong learning doesn’t just apply to the ridden aspects of our equestrian lives. We continue to learn about horse behaviour, management, feeding, care of land, horse health and many other things and often build up a huge wealth of knowledge. I think an openness to new learning is vital and am always sceptical when I hear that age old saying “But I’ve always done it this way”!

Equestrian sport can give us personal learnings which have benefits in other life areas too. Learning resilience, the importance of hard work, being able to enjoy success and accept defeat, learning interpersonal skills and how to deal with conflict are just a few life areas which will benefit from our contact with horses.

Sharing knowledge and always learning

From my point of view as a confidence and mindset coach I see how riding and looking after horses can teach us about our strengths and challenges. It helps us to understand why we think, feel and behave in certain ways. It shows us how both positive and negative experiences can impact on our general well being and how learning to handle all of our experiences can make us stronger and, hopefully, more compassionate individuals.

So, keep on learning. Keep on learning about riding, about horses and about yourself. xx


Seeing is Believing

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Seeing is Believing

Through the horse’s ears. You really can feel as though you’re there on horseback.

How your imagination can help you to relax, grow in confidence and learn new skills.

Our imagination is a very powerful tool which we can learn to use to help us in all sorts of life areas.  We can learn to use mental imagery or the ability to create or recreate an experience in the mind.

Most of us do this many times each day either consciously or unconsciously.  Think back to an occasion where you have been daydreaming and remember just how vivid the experience was, possibly to the extent that you felt you were right there in that imagined moment.  Then think of a time where you may have experienced anxiety and remember how your imagination ran away with you creating all sorts of unwanted scenarios which compounded your experience of all those unpleasant anxiety sensations to the extent that you believed that what you had imagined would actually happen.

When we are using our imaginations we experience the greatest effect if we involve all of the senses.  So it is much more than “visualisation”, or seeing things, it is hearing, feeling, smelling and perhaps tasting too.  When we create scenes in our minds the stronger and more vivid we make the whole sensory experience then the more powerful the results.

Here are some simple, horse related,  mental imagery ideas to get you in the mood and show you how you can use all of your senses.  Feel and imagine every detail of the following:

  • The colour of your horse’s coat with the sun shining on it.
  • Putting your hand under a horse’s mane on a cold day.
  • The smell of new leather.
  • The soft sound of a horse’s “nicker” as it greets you in the morning.
  • The smell of fresh hay.
  • The smell of a dirty stable (yuk!)
  • The sensation as you ease yourself into the saddle and take up the reins
  • The image of your horse’s ears as they listen to you.
  • The footfall of your horse as you walk on a hard surface.
  • The feeling as you dismount after an enjoyable ride.

All of the above are likely to be familiar to riders and easy to recall or imagine using all of your senses.

There are three main uses for mental imagery which I would like to talk to you about: relaxation, confidence boosting and skill enhancement and these can be used in any life area, not just horse related activities.

Relaxation

Mental imagery is a wonderful tool to use for simple relaxation perhaps to calm down, to focus, to aid sleep or help you to rest, to escape or have some time out.

Many of us have a favourite place, or perhaps a safe place, which we can develop to aid relaxation.  This might be a place in nature, a favourite holiday location, a beautiful beach or perhaps soaking in a warm bath.  You will have your own place.

So a simple technique to practice is to find somewhere quiet where you won’t be disturbed for a short while (phone off!) and make yourself comfortable.  Then take some deep relaxing breaths in a ratio of 1:2 ie the out breath should be twice the length of the in breath and you are breathing in calmness and out tension.  Personally, I like the ratio of breathing in to the count of 3 and out to the count of 6 but it’s best to find your own count.

Once you are physically relaxed then you can mentally relax using the imagery.  So make your scene as real as possible using all of your senses so that it almost feels as though you are really there experiencing that special place.  Nobody else is allowed to join you there unless you specifically choose to invite them.  Practice this frequently until you have a tool which you can use effectively to help you to relax when you need to.



Confidence Boosting

This is probably the mental imagery technique which I use most often with clients and it can make an enormous difference to the experience of riding horses (or mules or donkeys!).

When we are feeling anxious about riding, or any aspect of our lives, then it is likely that we are practicing negative mental rehearsal where our imagination is conjuring up a negative situation which just adds to our anxiety and can prevent us from enjoying our riding.  I’m sure you can all remember a situation where your imagination has run away with you and created a mental disaster movie!!!  

Given that our brains are super clever at believing what we tell them then we need to find a way to change that story into something much more helpful and to train our brains to focus on what we actually want to happen rather on what we do not want to happen.

Mental activity strengthens the neural pathways in your brain associated with those things you focus on with your thoughts and feelings.  So, if you learn to focus on helpful thoughts and feelings then you will strengthen the helpful pathways and vice versa.

Two simple confidence boosting techniques which you can practice are:

  • Firstly to make yourself comfy as above and allow your mind to bring into focus a super positive past experience.  Perhaps a wonderful ride from the past where everything just felt right, you were having fun, feeling focussed in the moment and felt at one with the horse you were riding.  ( if you haven’t been fortunate enough to have had such an experience on horseback yet then think of another life area where you had your ‘perfect day”).   
  • Allow the sensations associated with your memory to grow strong and vivid, feeling that you are truly immersed in that memory.
  • Then imagine gathering all of those sensations together and store them inside of you and keep them there.
  • The next step is to think of a challenging future situation (start the exercise with something just a little bit challenging until you are familiar with the ideas) but tackle this future challenge with all of the positivity and strength associated with your wonderful memory and notice how that challenge has already become a little bit easier to deal with.
  • Practice this regularly, the more you practice any new skill the easier it becomes.

The second useful technique is to help you to get rid of an unwanted image:

  • If you find that you have intrusive, unhelpful thoughts and images then simply telling them to go away won’t help.  Instead, you need a way of replacing them with something more helpful.
  • So, practice with something relatively easy and unchallenging.  
  • For example, imagine an image (and all of its’ associated sensory information) of a dirty stable.
  • Then SWIPE IT AWAY as you would swipe past a photo on a smart phone or tablet. You might like to link this action with a word or phrase such as “STOP”.
  • Next replace that unwanted imagery with all that is associated with a clean and sweet smelling stable.
  • Build this method up until you can replace unwanted riding imagery with wanted outcomes and feelings.
  • Practice, practice, practice!

Skill Enhancement 

When you are in training or learning a new skill then mentally rehearsing the technique is hugely valuable.  This is something which is practised throughout the sporting world and there is much evidence which shows that the brain cannot tell the difference between something real and imagined so that what you practice mentally is setting up the same neural pathways as if you were practicing in reality.  So that when you come to actually performing the skill it’s almost as though you have already done it.

In mentally rehearsing skills we can practice from an associated point of view i.e. seeing and feeling things through our own eyes and senses as though we were actually there.  This can be very real and powerful.

Alternatively, some people find it easier to mentally rehearse from a dissociated point of view i.e. feeling that we are watching ourselves performing an activity on a screen.  This can be a useful method to use if you are wishing to imagine what a judge might be seeing  or to imagine what picture you are presenting to any onlookers.

So next time you are having any riding coaching or lessons make sure that you take note of all of the aspects of what you are learning, how the horse feels, what you are seeing, the actual movements you are making and then you can continue to mentally practice this new skill after your lesson is finished and note how much easier you find it next time.

All of the above ideas and methods need to be practiced regularly until they become second nature so give them a go without delay!

This article, written by myself, was first published in Horsemanship Magazine.


Let’s Talk About It

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Let’s talk about it…….

Riding and being around horses is good for your mental health isn’t it?

Well, yes it is until you start worrying about riding more than you enjoy it and I know that there are a lot of you out there for whom this is the case.

What we want is for the time we spend around horses and riding them to be relaxing, fun-filled, exciting, great exercise, a source of friends and sharing experiences, a sense of achievement and success, “me time” away from work and family pressures….and so much more.

I can recall a several times when I was feeling especially stressed, but after a good ride in the sunshine, on a beautiful horse, in the company of lovely people my stress levels fell to a much more manageable level and I felt re-energised, calmer and more able to tackle the issues which were causing that stress.

However, sometimes due to a huge variety of reasons riding and working with horses can become the very source of stress which has the opposite effect to all of the above.

This could come from fear and anxiety, from the pressure of competition, from issues on the yard or from concern about the welfare or health of your horse. Or perhaps it might be due to pressures in other areas of your life such as work or relationships which prevent the time you spend with horses from being as relaxing as you would like.

My approach to helping riders is to treat each person as an individual, “whole” person. You’re not just a rider with a confidence issue. My training in hypnotherapy and psychotherapy combined with many years of working with people with all sorts of issues and from all sorts of backgrounds gives me the experience and skills to be able to help you with mental health challenges so that, together we can work towards you being able to achieve all those health benefits which riding and horses can bring.

Just get in touch – YOU ARE NOT ALONE <3

(Thanks to Lisa Hannah for the photo which was an entry in the 2019 confident riding photo comp <3 )


How has your Summer been?

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I guess we can look at this time of year in a couple of ways, perhaps seeing it as the end of Summer or, if you still think of life in term times and academic years it can be looked at as the start of a new phase.

So here we are at the end of Summer 2019 and I’m wondering how you’ve all been getting on. I definitely hope that you’ve had lots of fun whatever you’ve been up to.

Either way as one season finishes and another begins this is a good time for some reflection.

One of the simplest, and most useful, methods to reflect and learn is to use a three step approach to analyse how things have been going for you. This analysis can be done after any ride where you’ve challenged yourself or have been challenged by events out-with your control. I don’t think it’s necessary to analyse every single ride, we don’t want to risk losing the opportunity to ride simply for fun, but it’s useful to have a think after a schooling session, a lesson, a competition, camp or training day.

I’ve heard this three step analysis referred to as a “Sh*t sandwich” and the reason will become clear!! You can choose to give it that name or another on if you wish!

STEP ONE

What went well? What did you do that gave you pleasure? Which achievements are you proud of? Did you succeed with something new? Did you ride faster or harder and did you jump bigger? Did you feel more in tune with your horse?
You will have your own definitions of success here and the aim of this step is to celebrate those successes and allow yourself to feel pleasure and pride.
It’s so easy to belittle successes and I really do feel that it’s important to allow ourselves to enjoy each and every success, great and small.

 

STEP TWO

This is the step where you have a think about those things which didn’t go well and work out why that may have happened.
So, have a think about any mistakes which have been made and work out why they happened in order to learn from them.
What else happened which, if you were given the opportunity to repeat that experience, you would like to do differently?
Looking at those things which didn’t go so well, why did they happen? Were they things over which you had some control or were they due to uncontrollable events? Had you set goals for yourself which were achievable?

I do talk a lot about being positive and learning but, don’t get me wrong, I totally get that sometimes you can feel upset, angry, “down” or just simply “rubbish” and I have those feeling too. However, the important thing is to acknowledge those emotions, understand them and then let them go, avoiding the risk of over generalising them and believing that because something has happened which you’re unhappy about it means that everything is rubbish!

STEP THREE

Step three is simple – just repeat STEP ONE!!
This means that you’re finishing the exercise on a positive note and, whilst making sure you take the learnings from step two on board you’re actually allowing yourself to enjoy the pleasure of your successes.

If you carry out this simple three step analysis then it will help your overall confidence as you see how it is possible to celebrate the good stuff and learn from the “sandwich filling”!

Happy Autumn to you all as the sun gets lower in the sky.

 

(Thanks to Lynne Blore and Rosalyn Cowie for the lovely photos which were entries in the 2019  competition)

 


Preparing For Your First Show

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So you’ve decided to enter your very first show. How are you feeling?

It’s important to give yourself the very best chance to have fun and enjoy your day and there are some simple steps which you can put in place which will help you to minimise any feelings of tension and nervousness. In this piece I am delighted that Sean Whiting who is Director of the country and equestrian specialists Houghton Country is sharing his top horse show preparation tips for beginners.
Sean’s tips are all things which are within your control and which you can absolutely do to ensure that you and your horse are prepared and ready for action.

Sean says:

While you’re bound to be excited about taking part in your very first horse show, it can also be very nerve-wracking. But, regardless of whether you’re going to be show jumping or showing off your newfound dressage skills, you’ll give yourself the best chance of enjoying the experience by properly preparing for it.

So, I’m going to share my top horse show preparation tips that will ensure your first competition is as stress-free as possible. My advice should help you to bag some extra points from the judges, too!

Always read the rules very carefully

Even the most seasoned of horse riders know the importance of reading each horse show’s rules very carefully, because they can differ a lot from event to event. So, as soon as you become aware that you’ll be taking part in a particular competition, it’s vital that you get a copy of the rules, pay close attention to them, and start your preparations with these rules in mind.

The rules of your chosen competition will dictate everything, from what you need to wear and how your horse should look, to what you might need to do in order to be eligible to compete at a certain level. It’s also particularly important that you check what tack you can use well ahead of time — especially when it comes to your horse’s bit. This information gives you the opportunity to find and change to an alternative if the bit you currently use isn’t acceptable. Plus, it will allow you to put in extra schooling at home to get your horse used to this change without the nerves and excitement of competition.

If were to ignore the guidelines of your event, you could turn up to your first show and find that you’re unable to compete for one reason or another, or you might miss out on vital points because you aren’t quite presented in the way that you should be — this is especially true in the showing world. So, always check the relevant guidelines before starting your preparations and, if possible, speak to other people competing in similar classes or the show organisers if anything is unclear. 

Attend a similar show as a spectator first

If you’ve never attended a horse show as a spectator, I would highly recommend doing so before you compete for the first time. Everything from the noise to the overall atmosphere can be quite intimidating if you aren’t used to it. And, on show day, you’ll also have the added pressure of actually taking part. If you can volunteer to be a groom for the day for one of your friends, this will give you a feel for how everything works ahead of your debut and should help to take a lot of stress out of the experience. 

Horse shows can also be a lot of fun for those watching so, while you might be going for research purposes, you’ll have a great time too. 

Step up your grooming regime

You should already be grooming your horse every day to keep their coat in the best condition possible but, when you know that there’s a competition the horizon, you’ll want to step up your regime — especially in classes where turnout is an important factor. For example, you may decide your horse needs a bath to get the best possible shine from their coat, or to remove stains or excess grease. All of the horses at competitions look preened and poised so, if yours doesn’t look its best, you’ll stand out for all the wrong reasons.

You also need to check whether there’s a specific way in which your horse’s mane and tail need to be presented, especially in show classes. This is often dictated by the breed of your horse and the type of class you have entered. You aren’t typically expected to be plaited up for show jumping classes, however you may choose to go all out regardless, because it’s a great way of giving your horse a professional and polished look. 

Make sure you have the right equestrian clothing

It’s not just your horse you need to think about: you’re going to be the other half of the team. So, you need to put just as much work into ensuring you look the part.

The rules around what you can and can’t wear will differ between classes and events so, again, you need to read and follow the relevant rules closely. But, once you have an idea of what your competition look needs to consist of, I would recommend investing in the highest quality pieces that fit with your budget. With equestrian clothing, you often do get what you pay for. So, to ensure you look and feel your best, it’s a good idea to opt for pieces from a reputable brand. Plus, quality horse riding attire can last for years, so you’ll be able to wear yours to plenty of other competitions. 

Give your horse plenty of time to warm up

I’m sure you’ve very used to helping your horse warm up before training at home, but I would recommend giving them plenty of extra time before your first few competitions. The noise and atmosphere of a competition is likely to be completely new to them, which can be very distracting, so it might take them a bit longer to get into the right frame of mind. Plus, the more you practise before you head out in front of the judges, the more prepared you’re likely to feel. So, give both you and your horse plenty of time to warm up and get in the right mindset to compete.

Taking part in your first equestrian competition is likely to be very exciting, but also quite stressful. However, by taking my tips on board to ensure you’re well-prepared, you should be able to give yourself some peace of mind.  

In our next blog we will look at my top tips for getting your mindset ready for your first show now that you have the practical things in place.


The Four C’s of Mental Toughness

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As riders, in order to get the most out of our riding, achieve our goals and have total belief in our abilities, we need to develop the four C’s of mental toughness.

 

 

 

Whatever discipline you have chosen and, whatever level you are riding at within that discipline, having a strong mental attitude will help you considerably. It will help when you are learning new skills, overcoming challenges and coping with the stresses of competition.

The following list gives suggestions of helpful attributes for each of the four C’s.  Read through them and, being honest with yourself, give yourself a mark out of ten for each one.  This will give you an idea of your strengths and your challenges and highlight areas which you can work on.   

It is likely that you will have periods of time when you’re feeling mentally tougher than others but the aim is to increase your strength in each of the four areas.

If you need any help with this then do just get in touch

 

1.  Commitment and Motivation 

  • I let go of mistakes and focus on what I am going to do next
  • I don’t give up even when the odds are against me
  • When I don’t achieve my goals it makes me try even harder
  • I am prepared to work hard in order to see improvements 
  • I can raise my game even when I’m not in the mood.

2.  Concentration

  • I know how to relax during tense moments
  • I don’t get angry, even when I make a mistake
  • I am able to focus on the things which I can control and don’t worry about bad luck
  • When riding, I focus in the moment and on the task I am performing 
  • I am able to make correct decisions even when under pressure.

3.  Control

  • I can stay focussed even when I have other distractions
  • I can control distracting or unhelpful thoughts when I am riding
  • I am able to control my nerves so that they don’t harm my performance
  • I am able to control my emotions when I am riding
  • I am able to quieten my mind and avoid overthinking.

4.  Confidence

  • I bounce back quickly after any mistakes
  • I am able to trust my talent and experience rather than try to over control things
  • I am able to overcome self doubt when it creeps in
  • I still believe in myself, even after a poor performance
  • I have a strong belief in my abilities.

 

 

Photo credit: Dave cameron

                                      

 

 

 

 


Jennifer’s Story

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Jennifer is a client with whom I have been working for some time, helping her to overcome some significant anxieties and regain her enjoyment of riding. She very kindly offered to allow me to publish her story and share it with you, so huge thanks to Jennifer for volunteering to go public and for her kind words about the work we do together. It is a huge privilege to be part of a rider’s team and to have somebody trust me enough to allow me to tell others about how they have been helped is deeply moving.

In her own words, here is Jennifer’s Story:

Lola

I was on holiday on Skye when my daughter first announced that she wanted to go pony trekking. I decided to go along with her for old times’ sake, because I rode from the age of 8 to the age of 28, when I gave up after a particularly nasty accident.  I had under-estimated how afraid I had become in the ten years since I last rode a horse (and rode in an ambulance). I knew I’d be a bit nervous, but I was not prepared for the extreme physical response. I tried to get on the lovely sensible cob they tacked up for me, and blacked out for a moment, with the first panic attack I ever experienced. The people at the yard were lovely about it, and I got on eventually.  I ended up going on a hack with two leaders beside me, one at each side of the poor, blameless horse, who never put a foot wrong. I was sobbing quietly with fear and turning round now and then to force a smile and wave at my daughter… I was making bargains with the universe at that point… ‘if I survive this hour, I’ll never ride again and I promise I’ll try to be a better person…’ 

Because my daughter loved her pony trek, I booked her weekly riding lessons at an absolutely first-rate local riding school. I couldn’t even watch at first. Then I did, and then I suddenly wanted to ride again.  I booked myself in for weekly one-to-one lessons. In my first lesson, I got off when my instructor had to step out of the school for a moment. I was too afraid to sit, by myself, on a stationary horse. I didn’t like riding, and I didn’t like that particular horse. I’m pretty sure she was laughing at me. 

Although I always planned to call up and cancel my lesson, I found that I went back every week, for some reason. I rode the same horse, who got steadily smaller and less frightening… My instructor was brilliant, and I was getting less afraid. 

I became reasonably confident, if not exactly bold, and  decided that the horse was actually lovely, and the only one I could ever ride. I bought her in October 2017 and I was full of excitement and optimism. Unfortunately, we had a few setbacks over the winter, and I fell off more times than I can remember now. My confidence shrank, and my anxiety made my poor, sweet mare anxious. The more tense I got, the more likely she was to spook, and the more she spooked, the less confident I became. I tried a few things (every book ever written on the subject, an instructor who specialised in nervous riders, prescribed medication even… ) but none of it really made an impact on my lack of confidence because it didn’t address the underlying issues. I’d got to the stage of being nervous around my horse on the ground too. 

By the time I contacted Jane, I was desperate to move past my fear or riding so I could enjoy this again. I really didn’t want to part with my mare, but the situation was making me miserable.

Jane took time to listen and understand, then worked out how we could tackle the causes of my anxiety. She worked on both the bigger picture and on the small triggers that provoked a fear response. We worked  on a plan to tackle the issues stage by stage. We set short, medium and long term goals and she cheered me on when I ticked them off. I learned some relaxation techniques and some confidence-building tools, and we used hypnosis to support these.  They are all tools that I can use in other areas of life, too. I’ve found them surprisingly helpful for more than just riding.

Hacking out on Lola

It’s worth mentioning that I also have regular lessons with an excellent  instructor – Jane’s work is non-ridden, and away from a yard environment, which felt very ‘safe’ and comfortable for me, particularly in the early stages. I personally found the two approaches worked very well and gave me quick results. As I learned how to manage my fear, I found that I was able to get more out of my riding lessons, becoming calm enough to concentrate on learning the skills to make me a better rider. As I improved technically, my  confidence increased, and being a better riding gave me the confidence to know I could handle my horse safely. I stopped scaring my poor mare with my own nervousness, and I’m quite surprised (and really delighted) by the progress we’ve made together. First time I hacked out for an hour by myself and enjoyed it was just the best feeling. I kept ticking off the goals; riding a dressage test, hacking along different routes, schooling alone, jumping… it all started to fall into place for me, and it was just amazing.

Jane helped me to change my mental approach to riding, to manage my expectations and to challenge myself without triggering fear again. She didn’t show me how to ride in spite of my fear –Jane has taught me how to ride and enjoy it, without fear.

I have gone from being anxious from the moment I thought about driving to the stables, to riding my own horse every day and looking forward to that time above all else. I’ve even started jumping again. As my horse is resting after treatment for the next few months, I will enjoy the privilege of riding a very handsome young cob belonging to a friend, and I’m really excited to start working with him; to have the confidence and skills to ride him.

Lola is currently recovering after some treatment.

Jane has given me back my confidence and I can’t express how grateful I am to be able to love riding again. Maybe even more than I did first time round.


I am on a Mission…….

A recent FaceBook post seemed to strike a chord with a few people, and It’s something I need to be aware of personally, so I thought I would expand on it a little.

Be proud of your achievements.

When a new client comes to see me for their initial consultation session, or when I meet riders at talks and clinics, I ask them what they do, or wish to do, with their horses. I have lost count of the number of times riders have replied “Oh, I am JUST a happy hacker” or “I ONLY ride at home” or “I ONLY jump little fences”.

So my mission is to get people to drop the “I JUST….” and “I ONLY…..” When you qualify your achievements and the activities you enjoy doing, in this way, then you are telling yourself that what you choose to do is unworthy of celebrating and therefore you will come to believe that, as a rider, you don’t deserve praise or that you are “less” than other riders. This is simply not true.

Each of us makes choices about what we do with our horses depending on our lifestyles, other commitments, experience, the horse we ride, confidence levels and a host of other variables and we don’t need to justify that to anyone. The only thing which we must do is to look after the welfare of our horses, everything else is a choice.

Now, if you describe yourself as ‘Just a happy hacker” but actually you’re an “unhappy hacker” or you’re saying that you do one thing but actually wish you were doing something else, then that is another matter completely. It is part of my job to work out, or to help you to work out for yourself, how you can learn to expand your comfort zone, be happy and content with what you choose to do or to push yourself to compete at a more advanced level and I certainly enjoy the challenge of helping a rider to fulfil their goals.

You can apply this to all sorts of areas of life as well as riding. So no more “I ONLY have a small business” or “I JUST run a couple of kilometres” etc etc.

Let’s all agree to DROP THE “I JUST….” AND “I ONLY…..”!!

Whatever you choose to do, do it with a smile.


Some thoughts on Spring

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“Spring drew on…and a greenness grew over those brown beds, which, freshening daily, suggested the thought that Hope traversed them at night, and left each morning brighter traces in her steps” – Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre.

Today the sun is shining brightly, it’s warm with that familiar Scottish chill in the air and a couple of layers of clothes are still needed. On my usual lunchtime dog walk I took a few pictures of tree buds ready to burst open and new leaves about to unfurl. Spring isn’t usually in too much of a rush to arrive in this part of the world.

Rowan leaves opening in the sunshine.


When we’re in full winter we often yearn for the longer days and warmer sunshine of spring to arrive and the same could be said for our longings when things aren’t going as we wish with our horse riding or any other area of our lives. In the winter we might wish that things were better or different and as spring arrives hope increases, positivity grows and, just like the leaves unfurling on the trees, opportunities begin to appear. Sometimes our, metaphorical, spring comes quickly and at other times it might feel as though it will never arrive.

My job at Horse Riding with Confidence Scotland is to help you to find your spring when you’re struggling to see it and feel that you’re stuck in your winter season. What a joy it is to help someone to open their eyes to the spring which wasn’t too far away but they were just unable to grasp it or it was just beyond their awareness.

My promise to you is to help you to find your very own spring, whatever that means to you, to assist you to find solutions which are sustainable and which can be used in all sorts of situations and to overcome all sorts of challenges. Working together we will work out what is going on and come up with a plan of how to move forward. Drawing from my training and fifteen years of experience of working with horse riders I have a varied and extensive tool box which I can share with you.

I don’t offer you a quick fix, magical solution which will make all your problems vanish in only one session. However, what does come quickly for you is a renewed sense of springlike optimism that things can and will change for the better. Over the last fifteen years clients have had an average of four 1:1 sessions and for every average number there are some who have needed just one or two and others who have had many more. My aim is always to help you to help yourself to regain your enjoyment of riding and be in a position to achieve your goals whatever level you are riding at or aiming towards. Some, but not all, clients will have hypnotherapy and this can often speed up the process by accessing the unconscious mind and helping you to use the inner strengths which you may have been unaware that you had.

So, as the spring always follows the winter, changes will come for you too. Perhaps your spring will arrive more quickly than you expected or perhaps it will take a little longer than you hoped but changes will occur and, working together, we will make sure that those changes are the one you are searching for.

The larch trees are greening up nicely and have these delicate pink flowers.

Some Musings on Perfection

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I have been thinking of perfection quite a lot recently and wondering about the best approach in writing this piece. I do a lot of my thinking whilst dog walking and today decided it was the right time to sit down put together my thoughts and share them with you. So, I have decided to look at perfection from two points of view, firstly those perfect moments which we experience without consciously going looking for them and secondly consciously striving for perfection and how that might affect us.

This isn’t the place for a philosophical discussion on the meaning of perfection or even its existence, many Phd theses have probably been written on this subject and, I suspect, haven’t come to a definitive conclusion. Simple definitions of “perfection” are “The state or quality of being perfect” or “The action or process of improving something until it is faultless”. Each of us will have our own idea of what we find perfect, no doubt you have heard a friend describe a partner, or a horse, as being “perfect in every way” and you have (privately I hope!) thought “no thanks, not for me”!!

I know that I have experienced “perfect” days which have been memorable for many reasons. Could they have been different? Definitely. Could they have been better? Perhaps. Does that make those memories any less perfect? I don’t think so.

Two “perfect” riding memories spring to mind. One was quite a few years ago riding in a large group in Glen Tilt on my young Highland Pony. We were cantering along the river side and suddenly, for a moment, I felt like I was flying. I realised that Gigha had just effortlessly cleared a stream and for a moment I actually was flying. I was totally in the moment and therefore didn’t interfere with her in any way. A perfect memory which brings a smile every time I think of it. Another rider may have not enjoyed that moment, may have ridden it differently but for me it was perfect.

 

The above perfect moment was riding Gigha, the yellow dun on the right here.

My more recent memory of perfection was during a lesson on a youngish horse who can be a little bit bouncy and I find the canter transition a bit of a challenge. This one time, the coach was chatting to my friend and I asked my horse for canter and gave a loud “woop” as we executed the transition “perfectly”. Nobody else saw it but they knew from my reaction that it had been good. Could another rider have ridden it in a more balanced way, more accurately or “better”? Quite probably, but for me at that moment in time it felt perfect and at that moment, on that day I don’t think it could have been any better for me so therefore it was “perfect”.

The above moment was experienced through these ears.

 

These moments to treasure are, really simply that.  Memories of special occasions and experiences which in our subjective opinion were pretty well perfect.

,This is very different to the perfection which some people strive to achieve in their lives, whether as riders, in a different sport or any part of their life.  This type of perfection is actively sought after and worked towards.  For some time I have been encouraging clients to find a word other than “perfect’ to describe what they are looking for, believing that constantly looking for perfection isn’t helpful.  However, I have changed (or am changing) my opinion.  I think this change has been partly influenced by watching the film “Free Solo” where rock climber Alex Honnold tackles the 900m rock face of El Capitan without ropes or any other form of protection.  He works towards this feat meticulously with multiple rehearsals of the most challenging parts of the climb and many years of experience leading up to this.  He literally needs to be without error because the consequence of making a mistake is certain death and he achieves his goal saying that, for him, the risks on the day were minimal but the consequences of failure were ultimate.  But was it perfect?  Could he have done it differently?  I can’t answer those questions but I know that he did it as well as he possibly could have done on that day and survived to tell the tale.

Asking for people’s opinion on perfection via FaceBook I got some interesting answers.  Sari M said in answer to the question “Do you consider yourself to be a perfectionist?”  “Yes, or at least, I used to be. It was quite overwhelming to realise the amount of nuance available in horsemanship, how many tiny things there are to improve on, and as a perfectionist it felt like nothing I did could ever attain perfection. I’ve since come to realise that it’s more about the journey than the finished product!”

To the same question Nicola K said “I used to be… certainly striving for perfection with myself as a rider, which naturally resulted in ‘over trying’, tightness and tension … of course these passed onto the horse! These days I’m grateful for the brief rides I fit in, but the perfection days taught amazing control and I miss the precision”.

Susan C said “Totally relate to this sometimes striving for perfection gets in the way of actually doing what I should be doing and remembering what’s it’s all about ‘HAVING FUN’ “

If you are a rider who takes competition seriously and is aiming to be the very best that you can be then perfection needs to be thought about and carefully considered whilst at the same time asking yourself what “perfect” really means to you.  For example has your ride been perfect if you achieve a clear round?  Well, yes on the score board with zero faults but could it have been ridden differently?  Probably.  Were there aspects of the round which , if you could do it again, you would choose to ride differently?  Does it matter to you?

Thinking of dressage or showing where your result or your placing is down to the opinion of the judge rather than clearing fences then perfection is most definitely subjective.  In a competition with more than one judge then you will get more than one opinion or score for each part of the test.

So to strive for ‘perfection” can be a risky strategy as it could lead to dissatisfaction.  But, NOT to strive for perfection could lead to failing to continue to make progress, failing to get better and I doubt that you would want that.

I think that the key lies in being aware of what your goals are, recognising your strengths and acknowledging your challenges.  If you do that then you can constantly try to build on your strengths, work towards overcoming your challenges, develop your technique and your horse’s skills so that, as a partnership, you are always developing.

If you are striving to be the very best the you can be then I think that is something to be truly proud of.  If the very best you can be is considered by you, your coach, the judge and the course officials to be excellent then I really do hope that you can enjoy that and strive to experience it each time you compete.  Is that perfect?  Only you can decide whether the answer is yes or no. (In this context I think “excellence” is being as good, and correct, as you can possibly be given your levels of skill and experience).

I think ultimately the best way to look at perfectionism is to CONSTANTLY STRIVE FOR EXCELLENCE AND ENJOY MOMENTS OF PERFECTION ALONG THE WAY.  In this short video we can see Horse riding with Confidence Scotland sponsored rider, Jodie Neill enjoying a moment of perfection whilst constantly striving for excellence.

I would love to hear any feedback on these thoughts and ideas and if you have any experiences of perfect moments or achieving excellence then please do share them if you feel comfortable doing so.