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Many of these blogs I wrote some time ago and appeared on my old website. Please ignore the date is says it was published. Enjoy. 

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  1. Do we love our horses unconditionally? Or do we love them for what they can do or give us? Is our relationship with our horse based upon conditions? It got me thinking of what it means to be a friend to our horse.

    What Are Friendships?

    We are driven as a species to be social, so too are equines. We are driven to seek out meaningful relationships. Friendships form a basis of how we engage with our fellow man. In the modern world there are many types of friendships we experience in our lives: from soul companions, true integrity friendships, very close meaningful friendships, childhood friendships, best friends, activity based friendships, old friends, new friends and social media friends….the list can go on. Each friendship is different. It got me thinking, what do we base our friendships on? What sort of friend are we to each other and our horse?

    They say you miss something or someone when it has gone. So true. My dear friend Sue died this year, she was a true integrity friend. She never judged me. She always stepped in when others would leave. She accepted me for who I was, my flaws and weaknesses she never tried to change me. She accepted my beliefs and values as I did hers. We may not have seen the world the same way but we respected each other’s opinions. We would agree to disagree and hold no hard feelings. Our friendship was not based on being on the same page. We could go periods without seeing each other and be totally comfortable in our friendship and drop back together with ease. I trusted Sue as she was dependable. She made me feel significant, special and I mattered to her. We had a friendship that lasted over 40 years and never over that time did we hurt each other. As at the heart of our friendship was thoughtful, open, honest, respectful communication. We placed a high value on our friendship so we placed being kind to each other above anything else. We encouraged each other. We shared many happy times, enjoyed sharing stories, listening to future plans and supporting each other. During my cancer treatment Sue was there, she helped me get back on my feet. As did my family, other friends, Kez and Marley.  

    Sadly as a species man is also driven to want things. Sometimes this is what other people or a horse can give us. And this can create friendships based on conditions. Here lies the problem, what if one side of that friendship can no longer meet the conditions of the friendship? I have been on the receiving end of this many times, as I am sure have you at some point in your life. The reactions and behaviour you experience from the friend who had placed conditions on your friendship when you can no longer meet up to what they want from the friendship can be at best hurtful and at worst end the relationship. Here you will learn if the friendship is based on conditions or a true integrity friendship. If it is a true integrity friendship they will see they have hurt you and it will really matter to them. Many a time I have apologized for hurting someone, I will acknowledge their feelings and the hurt I have accidently caused. I will do this before I explain myself and my actions. Sadly I have been hurt by people who have not given an apology, then I know the friendship is a conditional arrangement. It is then no surprize that they don’t care when I walk away.

    It got me thinking I am a good friend? To my horse Kez, I can answer yes. Because I love him for who he is not for what he can give me. He was purchased for my husband and I to share to ride. However that dream was not to happen. Kez has conditions that mean riding is not for him. We love him for who he is and it is an opportunity to enter his world and enjoy a relationship without riding being on the agenda. A friendship with a horse can be profound and life changing. And Kez has certainly changed my life.

    Am I a good friend with other humans? That is debatable, as going through cancer treatment and living with the cancer gun pointed at my head has changed me. I am still to some degree finding myself and I know I am work in progress. I recognise I am less able to take on other people’s stress and pressure. Scratch my surface, it is a thin layer of coping and under you will find self-preservation kicking in. So on reflection I am probably not a good friend right now as I have so little I can give to friends who have conditions attached.         

    For us we get over the hurt, pain and loss of broken relationships and move on. For a horse that can no longer meet the conditions of the friendship / partnership with the human it can have serious implications. It is no surprize that we have an equine crisis as for many people having a horse in their life has conditions attached. This and we live in a quick fix world with a throw away attitude. Throw into the mix overbreeding of low value equines. Plus the lack of seeing the value of non ridden equines. They are not worthless. All this creates the perfect storm.  As humans we are free to make choices over our friendships with each other. A horse has no choice over who is its’ owner or control over the type of friendship the owner wants with it or what conditions the owner attaches. So I go back to the start of this blog as to what type of friendship do we have with our horses?

    Kez Catherine Slade

  2. Many people who knew my horse Merlot when I first got him would have said he was a problem horse. I rescued him from a very abusive home. My sister even said “It costs no more to keep a good horse than a bad one.” A true statement for sure they cost the same to keep. The implication was to replace Merlot with a better horse. This was the hidden message. In the equine industry difficult and problem horses are often sold on, discarded, put on the scrap heap if they have a problem. Yes Merlot had all sorts of problems, rearing when led, biting, kicking, many ways to remove a rider etc. Traditional methods focus on fixing a problem not your attitude to the problem. Harsh abusive methods had been applied to Merlot by his previous owner to try to work through his problems with the result of the owners failing and wanting to sell him fast and cheap. Try changing your attitude to problem and see how everything changes and a totally different pathway opens up before you. Merlot certainly didn’t like, trust or respect humans so being handled, interacted with and ridden was met with a negative outlook and a range of behaviours most humans would rather not be presented with.  

    I have a huge pile of examples I could select to explain what I mean the problem is not the problem it is your attitude to the problem.  So here I will describe just one of Merlot’s problems to help you see how changing my attitude and thinking changed how I move forward to solve the problem. Merlot was not good to mount. To cover mounting issues in depth is a book. Here I offer some ideas to prompt re-thinking your attitude to the problem and approach. 

    Firstly I ensured Merlot was healthy and physically comfortable, vet checked and professional saddle fitting, dentals etc.... He was pain free, however I knew he was emotionally unbalanced, so I needed to factor in his emotional reaction into the training. With emotional balance, you can’t convince me horses are not emotional. An emotionally unbalanced horse is at least unhappy, at worst emotionally traumatized and dangerous. This allowance for emotional balance and factoring this as part of the problem for many is a different attitude to the problem. I go beyond this and ask why? I want to fully understand why Merlot says no to being mounted. At the start Merlot would refuse to be mounted, if you did manage to mount, he would shoot forwards or explode. The problem of mounting is not the problem, the problem was a tangle of issues:- fear, anxiety, stress, a memory of pain, confusion, poor past training, negative abusive past experiences. I worked on trust, our partnership bond and being respectful to him. Merlot’s memory of being ridden was un-enjoyable. This was the problem. All I had to do was observe and listen carefully. From this information I changed my position away from mounting to solving the reasons why.   

    So I invested in the relationship, the five foundation stones. I worked on emotional balance, with activities that were enjoyable, calm, relaxing. To make training effective I needed to recognize what is a meaningful accomplishment from Merlot’s perspective. Tapping into these strong internal motivational forces and using positive reinforcement training encouraged speedy learning. By making our activities positive, fun and enjoyable it motivated Merlot to learn. It helped him to see I would not abuse him, I was different to the previous humans in his life. I listened to understand him. I believe training that focuses on positive interactions leads to lasting positive memories in horses. (Positive reinforcement is marking with a bridge noise the desired behaviour / try followed with a treat). I also had to tip the balance of scales of his negative past with loads of positive experiences. Training was progressive and logical so each new experience was a natural next step. Success is paved with looking for a try, even the smallest try, rewarding and then giving the horse time to absorb the learning. With horses like Merlot with complex histories this requires industrial quantities of patience.  

    Merlot was a scared and emotionally unbalanced horse with complex issues when I got him, a fear aggressive. Mounting was just one of many places this surfaced. Equine empathy allows you to read and understand fear and emotion. With Merlot I accepted mounting issues would be part and parcel of a much bigger picture. So working on the bigger picture would be the answer to fixing the mounting issue. The mounting problem is not the problem changing my attitude to the problem enabled me to see it in full glorious three dimensional colour to see the problem that needed focus. 

    I shifted my intent from mounting to helping Merlot not to be fearful, anxious, tense, and to be balanced emotionally. It totally shapes a different approach and frees you from worrying about fixing the expression of the problem. I knew once I solved the route cause, Merlot wouldn’t have a problem with being mounted. Horsemanship is about building a strong relationship and confidence. Merlot was often tense and anxious. He was frightened, emotional, tense and anxious and in this state he could not effectively learn. To teach Merlot to be calm and relaxed, to overcome fear I had to recognize his comfort zone, where he felt safe. Go at the pace he could cope with. I used a graded approach and retreat technique reinforced with targeted rewards. This plus allowing Merlot time to learn and reflect that things are ok. He had to learn there was nothing to fear. In the early days our mounting training never took place at the mounting block or involved mounting. Never consciously did I ever think in terms of how is our mounting training going. I accepted it was part of a much bigger picture. As time passed and our relationship developed I saw huge differences in many areas for Merlot one of which was his mind set on mounting. This was achieved with a combination of working on the relationship, helping Merlot grow in confidence and self-esteem, find security and emotional balance, and to learn horsemanship ground games. It is essential you also consider what is in it for the horse when we ride. I did a lot of work on thinking about how to make being ridden as meaningful, enjoyable, rewarding and fun for Merlot. And to seek his permission to be ridden. Plus I had to be a trusted, respected, calm, confident, consistent, positive, thoughtful partner who communicated sensitively. The horsemanship ground games are only one aspect, they enable control of your horse in any direction backwards, sideways, forwards to pick up selected hooves and to place. Master this and you can position your horse easily at the mounting block. Compliment this with positive reinforcement and the horse will be motivated to present and wait at the mounting block. We need to get all aspects right for our horse to look forward to being ridden and to give us permission. I cannot remember when we fixed our mounting problem, it just disappeared. I do remember however a huge turning point when one day I arrived at the field and Merlot left his herd at full speed to be with me. In his mind being with me was better than grazing and hanging out with his herd, wow. I valued our relationship as the most important aspect. I would never ever compromise this for anything or anyone. This and my refinement of my horsemanship enabled me to have an incredible magical connection with him. I earned this from Merlot, he was a fantastic teacher. It is true when the pupil is ready the teacher will arrive. Merlot taught me so much, this complex, plain little bay horse had layers. Every day he taught me something new. Again I remind you the problem is not the problem it is your attitude to the problem. My attitude was I was open to learning, trying something new, listening and learning from my horse. I also viewed problems as opportunities in works clothing for personal development.  I hear you ask - So how did it work out re mounting? Fine, he would happily present at a mounting block, or if directed go in a ditch so I could mount from the bank, or if I climbed on a fence or gate he was happy to come alongside for me to mount. Permissive riding is what matters. 

    merlot p finished

  3. It's a tricky word "ownership". I have one horse Kez. My horse is part of our family. Yes we are responsible for Kez and are his guardian. The relationship I have with him is a partnership and friendship. So thinking of how the word ownership could impact on the relationship is tricky. However if someone was to try and steal him I would be right away claiming ownership. 

    For sure it is uncomfortable to think of ownership of another sentient being. However guardianship, ownership whatever you want to call it is about stepping up to the plate of responsibility for the equines in our care. Many of us who own horses it is about a high quality of life for our equines that is compassionate and ethical. There is a growing tide of us who see a spirit and soul in our horses and we seek the very best for our equines, mentally, physically and spiritually. The relationship is at the heart of everything we do.  

    Sadly in the UK we are in the grip of a horrific equine crisis and there are many equines who have no caring, loving, compassionate guardian. I think we all need to reflect upon the issue regarding equine ownership and what it means for horses. Horses have very little legal protection from neglect, abuse and a poor quality of life. I don’t have the answer to this crisis. However I do feel passionately that all equines deserve the right to a good quality of life. This is down to humans to provide. I feel for the greater good and welfare of all equines it would be good practice to have a working system of accountability and tracking. Humans are the guardians of the equines in their care and sadly many horses are being failed by the system.

    Currently legal ownership of a horse isn’t always easy to prove. Even though equines by law should have a passport, and be chipped this is issued to aid identification of an animal not provide proof of ownership. Many breeders operate outside this system and plenty of equines have no passports or chips. Even horses with passports legal cases are common around ownership of equines. So when the equine is suffering who does the buck stop with?

    We have an overbreeding crisis, along with an upsurge in welfare concerns and prosecutions. Welfare charities have limited scope to act, they are full to bursting and reliant on donations to fund their work. We need to remember they are not state funded. So donate, be it time, money, fund raise and join campaigns for change. Councils and police have very little funds and resources to tackle the matter either. Its collective pressure that may influence change, sadly lots of horses will suffer before this happens. Solutions are being collectively explored and pressure is being applied to get this on the political radar. One aspect to the proposed solutions is accountability of ownership.

    We must celebrate and showcase excellent horse ownership. We must be proactive. We all have a voice, so promote good practice. I for one give up a lot of my time, expertise and resources to make available horsemanship resources for FREE. I feel the time is now to take on board the issue of horse ownership / guardianship and celebrate all good practice in all its’ rich and diverse forms. This is for the greater good of all equine welfare. We must not shy away from this challenge because we are uncomfortable with the word ownership. Now is the opportunity to shape what is great horse ownership. This modern world is a harsh place for horses without good guardianship and protection. Many suffer. We are not just the guardians of our own horses we have the potential within ourselves to share what is good practice, promote it and celebrate it. When was the last time you shared a bit of good practice or knowledge with others? My one voice alone will not impact the bigger picture. It may help individuals on their journey with their horse. The more individuals who then pass on good practice the wider the message is heard and felt. The ripple effect is amazing. It is the power of the collective, if we collectively raise the bar for equines it filters out far and wide. Let us collectively be the voice for change. If you have insights, expertise, knowledge, experience share as widely and as freely as you can. Promote what you love and the good practice out there and resist the urge to bash what you hate.   

     kez eye

  4. There is great merit in practice to refine your skills, but don’t confuse this with chasing perfection. It is fine to aim for the stars and to recognise by doing this you will achieve great heights but targeting perfection can be unrealistic. It can set you up to fail and erode confidence. I meet people who regularly beat themselves with the perfection stick. They feel they are letting themselves and their horse down by not being perfect. Remind yourself all any of us can offer is our best, to strive to improve your best and that refining our skills is a journey not a destination. Recognise too that this is all your horse can offer too. Yes you and your horse will make mistakes and at times let each other down. These mistakes are part of the learning journey. Give yourself and your horse permission to make mistakes and you will enrich your learning. 

    Perfectionism fuels the inner critic, providing constant nagging reminders that you are not good enough. Left unchecked this erodes confidence quickly. It's the wolf dressed in sheep's clothing, a villain masquerading as the good guy. It can cut your self-confidence to shreds, kill your motivation and send your performance down the tubes. Perfectionism will suck every ounce of enjoyment and satisfaction out of your horsemanship.  

    Part of the cycle of loss of confidence can be setting your-self unreasonably high standards to be executed perfectly. This undermines confidence, because whatever you try to do is not good enough. You find it hard to focus on the positives as you tend to focus on what has gone wrong. When building confidence it is about stepping outside your comfort zone, expanding your world, trying something new, doing something unfamiliar or even trying something that is scary.   

    Think for a moment...

    • How is it possible to do something perfectly when it’s something new or unfamiliar?
    • How is it possible to do something perfectly when it involves uncertainty, anxiety or fear? 

    This sets you up to fail. Perfectionism for confidence building isn’t a great tool to use as it does nothing to encourage ‘giving it a go’ or giving your-self permission to learn from mistakes. And if you do give it a go, the outcome is bound to be a disappointment and the whole exercise is probably never repeated. The only way to build self- confidence is to actually ‘do something’ and experience that amazing feeling of success and achievement yourself. So you can see just how damaging a perfectionist attitude is to building confidence because it discourages taking action. 

    Another thing about being a perfectionist is that the little things often don’t count. They’re just not important enough to matter and not worth doing. Even if they are worth doing, they’re certainly not significant enough to warrant any credit. So you don’t experience that all important sense of progress and achievement. 

    On the other hand, the big things are way too scary to ever contemplate and are best avoided too. Even when you do attempt them it’s often a step too far, and with unrealistic expectations the outcome is bound to be a disappointment. Small manageable steps are the way to go for building confidence, with plenty of recognition and self-praise every step of the way, no matter how small. 

    Having unrealistic expectations will guarantee disappointing outcomes. That does nothing to inspire confidence and encourage perseverance. The key to good self-confidence is therefore, having realistic, achievable standards and expectations.  Swap perfectionism with a burning desire to better your best. Accept mistakes are part of the learning process and view them as golden opportunities in works clothing.  Use better your best to motivate you and to push you outside your comfort zone.

    This is just one small nugget I am sharing with you taken from the confidence building workshops I run. If you find yourself holding the perfection stick I say burn it, dig a hole and plant a tree on top, chuck it over the hedge.

    riding