Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Autobiography of a Nobody

I have taken a bit of a break from blogging over the last few months, mainly to get this book finished, and also work on the next one. I know this book is not strictly about horses but there is quite a bit of horse stuff in it.

If you have enjoyed reading my other books or my blogs you may enjoy this one too.

Kind Regards


Sunday, 8 April 2012

Interview with Annie - Number 3 – January 2012

Annie - Hi Tom

Tom – Hi Annie, is it that time of year already!

Annie – Yes it is. It soon goes by doesn’t it!

Tom – So shall we get straight on with the interview or do you want to have a coffee first?

Sarah – I’ll tell you what, you get on with the interview and I’ll make the coffee. How does that sound?

Tom – That sounds good to me.

Annie – So Tom, I’ve heard on the grapevine that you have packed in teaching horsemanship. Is that true?

Tom – Well yes it is, so shall we end the interview right now.

Annie – Well, I’d like to carry on if you are happy to talk about it. I’m intrigued to know why you’ve quit. Did you suddenly decide or has it been coming on for a while?

Tom – Well, I didn’t feel comfortable teaching for a couple of years really. And then we were learning a lot of new stuff ourselves. Big stuff that was causing us to almost completely change some fundamentals of the way we were working. Sometimes I would be teaching and I would be feeling like I was almost making it up as I was going along. I know I’ve always slightly had that feeling anyway, which I think you are bound to do really if you are constantly learning yourself, which of course is what you should be doing anyway.

Annie – Yes, but if you realise you are always slightly operating in new territory and have always been doing that anyway, why the sudden change?

Tom – Well Annie, I just got tired of watching people going around in circles.

Annie – What, you mean you are tired of schooling horses?

Tom – No, no, no, not that kind of going around in circles. I got tired of telling people the same thing over and over again. I kind of got to a point where I thought, you know, either listen to what I am saying or don’t keep asking my advice. It sounds terribly intolerant I know, but it does get very trying sometimes on that front.

Annie – Well, give me an example of the kind of thing that would annoy you then.

Tom – Ok, well you know where my strengths are in horsemanship don’t you. Well I think I know anyway. I am reasonably good at the basics, and I actually think if you don’t understand and implement the basics into your horsemanship you are never really going to have a happy horse and get good results with the work that you want to do.

It’s simple stuff but for some reason, and I’ll say here straight out, mostly the reasons are that some people have unreal ideas about what horses are, what horses need from people, and what people need from horses. While people are fiddling around trying to manifest unrealistic dreams between them and their horse, well, I can’t get involved in that stuff. It’s the basics, the fundamentals, the simple stuff like the horse just knowing and understanding what it is you want, and vice versa. I don’t know how to say it simpler than that really.

Annie – Well ok, can you give me some examples of confusion that people take to their horses.

Tom – Well I can, but whether I should I’m not so sure. People are very sensitive about this kind of thing. I kind of came to the conclusion that I’d quietly leave the scene and let people sort it out for themselves, if they wanted to.

Annie – Well I’ve heard you say that now you are old you don’t care, so go on, just say it. What’s the worst that can happen.

Tom – Well, the worst that can happen is that the internet goes mental and my wife’s business completely ditches because of my big mouth. But yes, sometimes I do think someone needs to stand up and say ‘for god’s sake, stop treating horses as if they are humans’. I mean it has to be one of the most ugly things you can ever see doesn’t it - people feeding titbits to their horse for every little try. I mean why! Anybody can see that a good horseman can get their horse to quite happily try and do anything without a titbit, so why do people do it. I’ll tell you why, two reasons, because the person doesn’t understand the mind of the horse, and for some weird reason thinks that the horse will work better if it’s fed carrots every few seconds. And secondly, people think they can short cut good horsemanship by using tricks. Well, they can’t. They think that the horse’s mind works like the human mind, or maybe they want it to be that way.

To be honest it’s the same with humans. If you can free up the human mind from the need to be constantly rewarded then he will work better too, so they are wrong there too.

Annie – Well, now you’ve done it haven’t you. You’ve just lost all your clients by speaking your mind.

Tom – Yep, that’s it. Now even if I wanted to teach there wouldn’t be anyone to teach. Ah well, so now I have finally retired. Can you not come round here again Annie.

Annie – OK Tom, so we’ll make this the final interview. I was hoping to get enough to make a book out of it but never mind. It’s quite fun hearing you get all fired up about this stuff. So now let’s get back to the big changes in your horsemanship over the last few years.

Tom – Yes Ok, it’s actually very interesting because we arrived at a point where we realised we needed to be much more proactive to help to get the horse to operate in a way that is mentally and physically beneficial to itself. We realised that what we wanted to achieve wasn’t just going to happen by what you might call ‘good fundamentals of horsemanship’.

Annie – So before that you thought that everything would sort itself out if you got the basics right?

Tom – Yes, although I am sure some people would be thinking that what we are doing now is the basics. But actually, we arrived at a point where we could see that what we needed to happen couldn’t just happen as a bi-product of good horsemanship. We needed to get in there and help the horse find the correct way of doing things.

Annie – I think an example would help me understand what you are talking about here.

Tom – OK, well you can see that most if not every horse favours one side over another, much the same way as we are either right or left handed. So an example of this might be that the horse always prefers to put his weight on to one front foot rather than the other, and because of this he finds that going one way is easier than going the other way. In fact this can become so extreme that some horses can only go one way around a circle.

So we can teach the horse to even up his weight onto his two front feet and get him to practise going in this balanced way. He can then take this balance through to the point where he begins to even up both ways. Now I know this is a simple example and this may sound obvious to you, but I can tell you that loads of riders have their horses going around and around trying to get them to even up both ways, but in fact what they are doing is have their horse going around practising how not to do it right. Instead of helping the horse get better they help the horse get worse. If you find yourself practising what you don’t want, you need to change things around straightaway. But if you don’t know how to do that, and your horse certainly won’t know, then you are in trouble.

Annie – So are you saying that the horse won’t naturally put itself right no matter how much softness you have going between you.

Tom – Well yes I am really. I know of some really good trainers who do believe it will all work out, but I’d just say here, why make it hard for yourself, and the horse. It’s actually very easy to get in there and straighten your horse up.

Annie – That’s interesting.

Tom – And here is another thing. Most horses won’t naturally carry their rider in the correct weight bearing posture, nor will they understand front to back balance. Some will. Some have been bred to be that way, but actually if you personally aren’t aware of these things it won’t take you long to knock that out of even them.

Annie – Weight bearing posture and front to back balance – did you mention that last time.

Tom – Dunno, maybe. But the fact is you need to teach your horse to lift himself up at the front, and to be in balance. Now there’s no way on earth he is going to sort that out for himself. He has no idea he needs to do that. But once you understand what it means and how to do it, it’s not that difficult really.

Annie – Actually I’ve watched you and Sarah doing this work. It almost looks like the horse enjoys it, wouldn’t you say.

Tom – For sure I agree with that. It puts the horse and rider together in the moment. It feels good for the horse and for you. You know, I’ll tell you one more thing here too. You hear a lot of people using the word balance. I think they must think balance is just, ‘not falling over’ or something. The fact is that if you are using restrictive tack, or you have trained into your horse some muscular tension, say for example your horse is pulling back away from the bit, or leaning on the bit even, or you are using or holding muscular tension in yourself to manufacture the movement of your horse, then you and the horse can’t truly be in balance. You might be still standing up, and you might be still going along, but you are not ‘in balance’, not in the sense that without physical force you could both move as a unit in any direction. Actually, now I’ve said that I can see that it should be described more as ‘at a point of balance’ - that makes more sense.

Think about how much effort it takes… no, I’ll tell you what, let’s do it this way. Let’s balance this coin on its edge. Now, how much effort does it take to knock it over. Virtually none, and that is because it is in balance. That is how it feels when you ride a horse in balance – it should be effortless.

Annie – Wow, I’m starting to get a picture of what you are talking about there. Blimey, it does seem a bit silly to get all this sorted out and then to give up teaching.

Tom – Well, not really, not from my point of view anyway. There’s some good teachers out there – way better than me – and certainly way better riders too, and anyway, I’ve got a bit of a bee in my bonnet about teaching at the moment too (laughs out loud). Do you think I should get some therapy?

Annie – Ha hah hah, well, I’ve always thought that. But anyway, what’s your problem with teaching?

Tom – Well, I think the teacher/student thing can really prevent the freedom that you as a person need to learn. I get tired of people relying on their teacher. How many times have I heard people say, ‘Ah I must ask so and so about that’. I just want to say, ‘For gods sake, get yourself to the point where you can work it out for yourself. Get to the point where you aren’t scared of making mistakes and learning from them. Get beyond needing the security of a teacher to look after you. Then you will start to learn for yourself. You’ll start the real learning’.

Annie – But surely there is no need to re-invent the wheel. Your teacher can save you a lot of time and effort can’t he.

Tom – No, not really. The thing is I can tell you something but until you actually understand it for real, not just in theory, then you don’t know it. So even if hundreds of good horsemen have worked this out before us, which they have, we still have to work it out for ourselves when we get to it. You aren’t re-inventing the wheel – you are discovering good horsemanship.

Annie – Wow, we’ve covered a lot of ground there in a very short time haven’t we. I still think it’s a shame you’ve quit though.

Tom – Well, not really Annie. Like I say there’s more knowledgeable people than me out there, and to be honest I’ve got plenty of other things to do at the moment anyway.

Annie – Ok then Tom, well, thanks for the interview. How’s about I come back in a year and see how it’s going.

Tom – Yep ok then Annie. And what are you up to anyway – you can’t still be a student.

Annie – No I’m not. I’m doing quite a bit of freelance stuff at the moment. Gonna go and see if I can sell this interview now…..

Tom – Ha hah hah, you’ll be lucky!

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Ask yourself this?

Are you making progress with your horsemanship?

I am constantly amazed by the money that people hand over to trainers in return for not a lot really. If you want to employ a trainer to help you progress your horsemanship, here are some guidelines I reckon you should follow.

a) You should make tangible progress in every session.
b) You should leave with more knowledge and less confusion than you arrived with.
c) You should understand what the job is that you are trying to do.
d) Your horse should understand what the job is that you are asking him to do.
e) Your trainer should be concerned if you are not making progress.

That is some basic stuff just about your sessions – The next list is about you and your horse, and is just my opinion. I would go as far as to say that if these things aren’t happening you need to think about what you and your horse are actually learning in your training sessions.

a) You should be learning to relax on your horse.
b) Your horse should be learning to relax with you on board.
c) You should be training your horse without the use of force or restriction.
d) Your horse should be learning to carry you correctly.

Put in a nutshell, I guess what I am saying is if you are using any bracing in yourself, you shouldn’t be. If you are using restrictive tack you shouldn’t be. If you are pulling your horse in at the front you shouldn’t be. If your horse is over-bending he shouldn’t be. If your horse is worried about the bit he shouldn’t be. If you have a backwards pull in your hands you shouldn’t have. If your horse isn’t going forward when you ask he should be. If you are doing all the work to keep your horse going you shouldn’t be. If your horse is travelling on the front end he shouldn’t be. If your horse isn’t willing to do what you ask he should be. And finally, you should understand what riding in balance is.

If you don’t understand anything about any or all of the above you should ask your trainer to explain these things to you, and make sure that you understand his/her answer, and that you are happy with it.

Monday, 2 May 2011

At last!

At last we have written down some principles.

Photo taken at this weekend's clinic

Working with respect for the horse’s physical and mental well-being, and with the aim of improving both.

Teaching the horse to understand, be physically able and mentally willing to do what you want, rather than the rider having to push, hold, cajole, argue, force and ‘manufacture’ the horse.

Understanding that balance is crucial for your horse, especially when carrying a rider, and working to develop it right from the start of training.

Recognizing that without ‘feel’ results will always be mediocre, and that it can be learned (but maybe not taught).

Saturday, 23 April 2011

The two ways to train horses.

Surely there must be more than two ways to train a horse. Well, I don't think there are. You either train the horse to accept restriction or you train it to work in freedom. You might think that there is a spectrum between those two extremes, but there isn't. There is a spectrum of restriction, ranging from simply appalling to not too bad. But freedom is freedom, it isn't on a spectrum and you are either doing it or you are not.

One thing is for sure, it's quicker and easier to train a horse to accept restriction, and if you measure progress by what the horse can do, you might even begin to think that it is indeed the best way to go. Walk, trot, canter, hack, hunt, jump, or even do some fancy moves. You can get your horse to do all this pretty quickly by holding it in place. Once the horse has accepted the pressure of the bit in his mouth, and the power of the riders hands and legs, then all he has to do is surrender and go wherever he is pulled or pushed.

I guess it is fairly obvious that I don't like that system of training very much. I can see it suits some people's needs, but the thing is it's not very good really, is it? The horses might be doing a semblance of the job, but there is always something wrong with how it's being done. Because of the restrictions the horse has no natural balance, so his movements are always, at best, going to be slightly wrong. I mean, think about it, if you take away all the physical support from the rider and the tack, could the horse still do all that stuff. Let's face it, he wouldn't have a clue. The restricted horse is trained to accept the movements that the rider physically makes him do.

To sit on a horse that understands to travel in balance, and happily moves to the smallest ask - now that's what I call a nicely trained horse. And producing a horse like that, now that's what I call good horse training.

Thursday, 31 March 2011

So what is dressage?

So what is dressage? Is it that ghastly stuff you see where people pull their horses around using severely restricting equipment? Is it forcing your horse into a shape that you saw in a book, but at the same time having no idea why you are doing it? Is it doing fancy moves to show off to your friends? Is it a competition? Is it honing your riding skills to such a degree that you can manufacture the horse that you want? If you think it is any of the above I have to say straight out, for the sake of the horse, I disagree with you. So what is it then? Well, I’m pretty sure it’s exercises to help your horse travel straight and in balance. This is important stuff to a horse, physically and mentally. Straightness and balance make horses feel good. But it’s not something you can force on the horse. You have to train the horse himself to maintain the correct way of going. So if you are using your tack or your seat or your arms or your legs to keep your horse on track, then the job isn’t done. People may think you are a good rider, and you might be too, but the truth is you are manufacturing the horse. Our 2011 clinic plans are now up.