Before I tell you what this is all about, let me clarify, the Group header photo is not how the Café looks like 😉 I wish!
At the beginning of last year, I taught someone who was preparing to move countries and wanted to buy a horse once settled. For three months prior to her departure, we met once a week “for a coffee” and I ran an informal discussion about all things horse husbandry with her. It turned out, she had a friend who wanted to take British Horse Society exams and wanted to brush up on her knowledge and ability to chat about it without becoming nervous. The sessions had been great fun and so whenever I heard someone say they would love to learn more about horse care and/or needed some help with their exams, I suggested the ‘Café sessions’ 🙂
Over the course of months these became on/off occurrences on private and semi-private basis but not until one of my London riders asked me about theory learning options had I thought about forming a regular group.
We had our meeting 0 yesterday and I am really looking forward to seeing how beneficial these sessions will be. I don’t really like traditional learning options where someone just tells you everything you “need” to know from one particular source and you sit and listen so I apply my riding coaching style (here are the clues, figure things out and share your findings with me/others) to the theory “lessons” too 😉
If you live in London and would like to join us, please email Wiola at firstname.lastname@example.org. Sessions are about 1h 20 min long, free of charge for Aspire riders (riders on my riding programmes) and £15 per session for all other enthusiasts. We will be meeting on Saturdays at various locations within short walking distance from Ealing Broadway station.
Weekend is coming so I thought we might as well have a chat about one of those subjects everybody has a different answer for! 😉
One of the big questions every new horse owner has to ask themselves is what next? Since this blog is predominantly addressed to aspiring grassroots riders, let’s look at this rider who I will call “Alice” who just bought the “Grey Boy” to do a little bit of everything with, some Riding Club shows, some horse trials, some grassroots dressage championships.
Alice wants to make sure Grey Boy is healthy and happy with her and that they have many wonderful years together. With this in mind, Alice asks for some advice on management and training decisions she needs to make.
Let’s get to some basics.
There are 3 main elements to every horse’s happiness: Diet (nutrition), Environment (turn out options, type of bedding in stable, time in stable, company of other horses, interactions or lack of them) and Exercise (amount of time outside of stable, hours of ridden work, hours of other work). D E E – that’s what’s going to to determine where to keep your boy (not that nice toilet that actually has toilet roll in…although, you know, that matters too 😉 ) .
As far as diet goes it’s important you will have a say in it so go for places that will take into account any changes you wish to make. Avoid livery places where “all horses get the same feed just because that is so”. Unless you found a yard filled just with other Grey Boys and other yous doing exactly the same thing, steer way clear.
Smell some hay. It got to smell fresh. Look inside the stables and check if stabled horses have some hay available. Ask about summer turn out – not all horses can be on rich grass, you might need some non grass turn out option too.
Now environment – look at turn out fields – look for hay stations and conditions of the ground. Are there any trees around for shade? What kind of trees are there? Are they toxic at certain times of the year? Are the fields free from ragwort?
Check if you can decide on what bedding will Grey Boy be stabled on and what’s the turn out policy.
Can horses socialise? They got to be able to see each other, touch each other, play together. It generally makes for a happier, well adjusted animal altogether. Don’t immediately discount a yard with some turn out restrictions. The yard owner might be looking after the land in dreadful conditions so look at the whole picture. You might just have to ride more in the pouring rain so your horse gets enough exercise on a non-turn out days 😉 However, watch out for vague answers and places with stunning amount of fields that look too pristine (just there to look good) or too damaged – bad field management can mean bad stable management too.
Ask for “new horse on the yard” procedure – you want to see a quarantine stable available and turn out introduction being done in stages. If there is none for him, there will be none for the next one and with many illnesses being cheeky hide and seek fellows, you do want to make sure your yard owner is a responsible one.
Same when it comes to first turn out. You don’t want to be told he will have a great time meeting ALL the boys and girls tomorrow…
Ask who he will go out with once quarantine is over – watch out for individual turn out or just two horses per field because separation anxiety can hit your boy like a train if companion gets taken for a ride…and then you might get a phone call telling you your horse has impaled himself on a gate.
Now, delicate matters dear Alice.
If you happen to like your horse shod all round, wrap him in duvet rugs, groom him until you can see your reflection in his shine and are hunting for a new sparkly headpiece on eBay as you read, you might want to avoid those yards where other owners prefer more natural way of keeping horses. You can of course consider also doing it more naturally but if you don’t want to change anything, look for other sparkly friends.
Equally, if you are planning to compete Grey Boy barefoot, use one rug on when really needed, out as much as possible and prefer tack minimalism, do seek a yard with like minded owners. It might seem like a detail now, dear Alice, but you got to trust me here. I get it, miracles happen and varied approaches can work well together, but on the whole, never underestimate the power of like minded support. You will enjoy your riding and your horse much more if you follow this advice.
If on other hand, you are unsure how to keep Grey Boy, then grab some books about equine behaviour, evolution, social needs, physiology and basic health. Read them when the boss isn’t looking. Then base your management decisions on this knowledge (not on what a friend of a friend of a friend tells you about their friend’s gelding’s likes and dislikes).
Now how do you decide which approach to take and which system to follow to make sure it’s all the best for Grey Boy and enjoyable to you…How do you decide who to have lessons with if everyone is telling you different things and prizes that person or another…
One way to go about it is to focus on your values first. What are your principles? Beliefs? Standards? Try this simple one: Let’s say you believe horse is there to do as he is told at all times, to perform when asked and to have no say on the matter. The horse must conform to your lifestyle, time you have for him, resources you have. If these were to be your beliefs, training approach that is focused on why the horse does something and how to approach the issue long term rather than on quick results and super-submission is very likely to irritate you. Equally, if you believe in progressive, solid training on wide foundations, the quick result approach will make your blood boil.
Have a good think about these things dear Alice because the answers might tell you a lot about what you want from relationship with your horse. You see, once you have your principles in place, it’s easy to pick and mix all sorts of training methods because many systems have something that will suit you and something that will put you off. Clarity of your values will make it possible to differentiate and chose.
So there, dear Alice, I know there are many aspects and details we didn’t discuss here but I hope it will give you a starting point on “what now”…Have a great time with your little prince…
“The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret of getting started is breaking your complex overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, and then starting on the first one.”
– Mark Twain
I hope you’ll indulge me today as I spend some time reflecting on partnership. It’s something that has been on my mind a lot this summer and I think now is the perfect time to write about it as Aspire is launching the “My New Horse” program. Yes, I know I’ve owned Flirt for about 3 and a half years and she’s not exactly “new.” But with everything that has happened in the last year, we did have the opportunity for a new beginning. Now I find myself continually staring at her and taking so much pride in how healthy, fit, and simply happy she is – such a change from even one year ago!
In many ways, Flirt and I are very fortunate – a lot of partnerships that encounter as much trouble as we had do not end so well. I often see other riders who fix problems by selling one horse and buying another. But does that teach you or simply put off the issues to a later date? I tend to believe the latter and have gained such a sense of accomplishment from working through the steps and ultimately finding ways to improve. Prior to my accident last summer I was on the toughest plateau of my life. And while I can’t recommend a major trauma incident to anyone, in a way it was just what I needed to move forward. The second time around, Flirt and I built on a stronger foundation and we finally have a partnership that we can be proud of and confident in.
Speaking of accidents, it’s important to note that first and foremost – health is key. If you or your horse is not healthy and pain-free, you’re in trouble. Flirt was injured last summer and managed to hide it too well… we had so much trouble and were so angry at each other… and I feel so guilty that I thought she was being bad, that I didn’t see it sooner, but she only ever felt stiff and then trotted sound. However, I can certainly promise that I will not suppress the instincts that told me something was wrong again! On the bright side, Flirt’s rehab from the injury triggered bi-monthly visits from the chiropractor and monthly visits from the body worker. And now, one year later, wow does my horse feel good. So out of the bad came exactly what Flirt needed to feel her best.