What does that even mean – the 10 days after Christmas? Is it a thing? For reals? No, it’s not real, but that’s entirely the point. You don’t need a new year or a made-up event (even if said event was loosely inspired by the 12 Days of Christmas carol) that points to an utterly random date (January 4th for those of you doing the math) in order to reset your plan or mindset. At any point in time, you can take 12 days or 10 days or just 2 days and start fresh.
We’ve all been there – had high hopes, made the plan, but life got in the way, you got sick, your horse got injured, yadayadayada. It happens to all of us. The thing that separates those who are happiest in their lives with their horses from those that are left feeling unfulfilled is that the happy equestrians don’t let the derailment take over. If a disruption happens, the happy equestrians quickly pick up and move on, even if the only thing they do is take one tiny step that will put them closer to their dreams.
So, if you find yourself stuck, here is a list of things you can do to keep moving forward with your horse dreams. Pick one, pick three or try each of them for just 15 minutes of solid, no phone, no text, no Facebook, no #insta, no music, no distraction time. See what sticks. See what surprises you. See what gives you that a-ha. Take that tiny step forward that gets you unstuck and do it today!
Day 1 After Christmas: Out with The Old, In with the New!
It’s ok to let go of views that are not boosting your or your horse’s positively.
The way that our human brains work is that they need proof. When your brain is learning something new, it takes on the beliefs of those that are instructing it. And sometimes after getting more experience, your brain doesn’t get the required proof that the instructions or beliefs are valid. And that’s ok. It just indicates that those beliefs don’t serve you and it’s ok to let them go. It doesn’t necessarily suggest that the instructor intentionally set out to give false information; it can just signify that the belief (as your brain understood it or as the instructor presented it) might now have new meaning. It may simply imply that the brain can now interpret the idea differently with more experience. So, move on from the belief and don’t worry about it any longer.
The biggest belief I wish people would let go of is that a horse should just be able to do “it” )(no matter what “it” is) and if the horse can’t do “it”, they are either <insert derogatory description> or they need a new career.
There are many reasons why horses can’t do what we ask and once we stop pressuring our horses to do what we want and simply ask them why they can’t do what we ask, this world will be a better place for both humans and horses.
Please just let that perception (no matter who put it in your head) go for good. The sooner you let go of it, the sooner you can move on and become the happy equestrian with a happy horse partner.
Day 2 After Christmas: Does Your Mindset Hold You Back or Drive You Forward?
Your mindset is created by the experiences you’ve had. It can be developed and is shaped by your habits, skills, beliefs and experiences. However, sometimes, negative experiences can create blind spots. Perceived failures can feel as though they are limiting your abilities or they can be perceived as opportunities to grow – all based on your mindset.
I didn’t realize how pervasive negative mindsets where until I started doing some research interviews for my program. I heard several equestrians mention that they were in “training level hell.” Youza!!! Did I hear that right? I had to ask again. When she kept repeating it over and over again throughout the interview, I realized that our industry is sorely lacking in mindset coaching.
If your mindset is not serving to propel you forward into a happy equestrian who trains a happy horse, then look for help from a coach that knows how to deal specifically with mindset. Just keep in mind that helping students with mindset is an extremely unique and specialized skill.
Simply recognizing where your mindset is can put you on the right track and Lao Tzu said it best: “When the student is ready, the teacher appears. When the student is truly ready the teacher disappears.”
Day 3 After Christmas: Feel Your Fears
Let’s be real – fear-based emotions don’t feel good. So, we tend to push them down and ignore them. But that doesn’t mean that those emotions don’t want to be felt. The truth is that if you spend the time to actually feel those emotions, they go away for good. When we ignore them, they come back and come back louder and sometimes stronger until they are heard.
Ok then, how exactly do you ‘feel’ the icky emotions? Whether it be a fear of horse shows or a fear of your horse spooking or frustration that your horse isn’t responding to your aids or that your body isn’t responding as it used to — how exactly do you go about getting rid of those fear-based feelings?
Try practicing when you sense a fear or frustration:
- When you first feel the emotion, acknowledge the feeling out loud. Let the emotion know you are feeling it. Say out loud – “wow, I am feeling the fear of <fill in the fear you are feeling>” or “wow, I am frustrated because of <fill in what is frustrating you>.”
- Check in with your body and acknowledge what physical sensations you get in your body from the fear or frustration. Say out loud – “I feel like my chest is constricting” or “I feel my hands are sweaty and clammy” or “I feel my heart is beating a million times a minute”. For every physical thing you feel in your body, say it out loud – “I feel like my <party of body> is <describe how it feels>.
- Make a habit of doing these two steps every time you recognize that you are having a fear-based emotion.
The more you can feel and acknowledge the emotion, the quicker it will go away. You will feel physically lighter and clarity will return. Your horse will most definitely thank you for feeling your emotions instead of taking the fear or frustration out on him. Most importantly, you will really become a happy equestrian.
Day 4 After Christmas: Train Your Eye
Train your eye to know what correct bio-mechanical movement looks like. Take notice of how your horse moves. How your trainer’s horse moves. How a racehorse moves. How horses playing in the pasture move. How injured horses move.
The worst thing the majority of equestrians do is to allow their horses to move in a way that is biomechanically incorrect. And it’s not because you are mean or demented or because you don’t love your horse, it’s just that no one has ever taught you how to train your eye. And, unfortunately, by allowing that movement, what you are doing is allowing your horse to continue to use compensation patterns. Compensation patterns can be created from injury or tension or lack of strength. The more those patterns are used, the more that they create bad muscle memory.
Spend some time to develop your eye. Go to a thrift store and get a used tripod to put your phone on and take videos as you ride. Ask others to watch you ride your horse. Ask your hubby to video tape your horse from behind as you walk or trot and watch how your horse’s hip, pelvis and stifle moves. Learn to see what relaxed and powerful and EASY movement looks like. Horses that are moving biomechanically correct don’t struggle, they don’t swish their tails, they don’t open their mouths and require a flash. Horses that are physically strong and free of tension move with ease because they are moving the way that mother nature intended.
As part of your grooming ritual, make sure you look at your horse’s teeth and hooves every day. And really look. Are the incisors on top and bottom even? Are there any hooks or is there a hook on one side and not the other? Are any of the teeth broken? When you rest your finger on the bar or the roof of the mouth (be careful of the canine’s if you have a gelding) does your horse struggle to move his TMJ? Sounds silly, but I can recall many times when I report broken teeth to the owner and they have had no idea.
Recognize what an unbalanced hoof looks like as if you are looking at someone else’s horse. You pick your horses hooves daily or more – use a critical eye every day. Have someone show you how to hold the horse’s leg so you can eyeball the hoof and determine if it’s balanced. People call me because their horse just doesn’t feel right, and unfortunately, I see a lot of horses that have a hoof with a medial wall higher than the lateral wall or have a short heel and long toe. Just imagine hiking in boots when your instep is higher than the outside of your foot or running around in clown shoes. All of these things an impact your horse’s performance and make them more susceptible to injury.
If you’ve ever watched American Ninja Warrior or Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s new show (The Titan Games), it’s pretty easy to see when the humans are having a hard time. Learn to notice when your horse is having a hard time of it and find out why instead of just calling him lazy or spooky. Once you start noticing that the horse is having a difficult time and the movement is not easy and relaxed, then you can start to formulate a physical development and tension release plan to change it.
Day 5 After Christmas: “What We Learn with Pleasure We Never Forget.” — Alfred Mercier
The same applies to your horse. I am sure you know your horse’s whinny, but do you know your horse’s learning pattern?
When training gets more difficult either physically or mentally, horses (like children) revert back to things that are easy for them. In some cases, horses may offer something that they know; that they can do easily or that they find fun. In my horse’s case, he reverts to offering Spanish Walk. When training for him starts to get physically more demanding, he all of a sudden gets amnesia and offers Spanish Walk with every aid. Because I know that this is his learning pattern, I also know that when he brings out his inner Andalusian, I need to step back and do some more muscle development, tension release, or both. I might even need to break the training down into smaller bits so that he understands what I am asking of him. Or I might need to break it down into the parts that he has the physical capability to offer me and shape or develop those pieces more slowly. I have learned the hard way that training goes much quicker if I don’t just assume, he can do “it”.
As training increases horses revert back to old patterns. If you know the patterns, when your horse reverts back to those patterns you can take the hint and readjust your training plan. You don’t get frustrated or become harsh or start using unnecessary gadgets or devices. And most important – your horse doesn’t become frustrated and anxious. It’s a win-win and creates happy equestrians and happy horses.
Day 6 After Christmas: Learn Something New TODAY!
Take a break from the same old thing and teach your horse something new outside of your discipline.
Consider teaching your horse how to come to you when you whistle or how to ground tie. Like playing with props? Teach your horse to pick up a ball or paint or play the piano.
Want to work on strength? Teach your horse to pick his hind leg up under his belly button and HOLD it there! Teach your horse a line dance to free up his shoulders.
Taking some time to break up the monotony and think outside the box can bring some fun back into your training life. If you have a horse on stall rest, using clicker training can help to enrich your horse’s mind even if the body has to stay still.
Day 7 After Christmas: Create Your Ninja Warrior Horse
Strong horses have an easier time doing their job, whether its dressage, jumping, barrels or distance races. Strong horses are physically able to do what you ask and its way more fun to ride them. Strong horses are less vulnerable to injury. Most importantly strong and athletic horses are happier because they are physically able to do what you are asking.
Spend some time creating a strength training plan for you horse.
I always suggest to my clients and students that they start with the gluteals (medial gluteal and superficial gluteal muscle). The primary function of these muscles is the flex (close) the hip joint which then brings the hind leg forward. Having strong gluteals will give the horse its power. Once the glutes are properly developed, then adding more precision work on smaller muscles can happen.
Day 8 After Christmas: Is N-SYNC Having a Comeback Tour?
Although N-SYNC may be history, being in synchronization with your horse will never fade away. I see a lot of small women riding really large warmbloods and large men riding smaller quarter horses in my practice – not that there’s anything wrong with that!!
No worries though, all equine-equestrian ‘couples’ can physically be in sync with each other. And let’s face it, when riders are in sync with their horse, that’s where the magic happens and the dancing begins. And once you’ve felt it, you always want it.
So, how do you know if you are in synch with your horse? The easiest way to become in sync with your horse is to walk with them and match their stride. Horse’s have this innate ability to synchronize with other beings which is why they are such great healers. And we see this all the time when two horses are in a hitch together and have identical leg movement.
There is absolutely no question that your horse has the ability to synch with you, but can you synch with your horse?
Spend 5-10 minutes before you get on your horse just walking around the arena and match your horses walking pattern (both front legs and hind legs!) Match the length of the stride as well as the frequency. Find out (on the ground) what a nice working walk with your horse feels like in your hips before you get on to ride. Then ask yourself: “Am I truly opening up my hips enough in the saddle to match the true stride length and frequency of my horse?” If not, make adjustments to your movement and flexibility in the saddle.
Once you are in truly in synch with your horse, then you can ask your horse to synchronize with you. Find out what your normal stride or normal hip movement in the saddle looks like when your horse matches it. Video tape it. You may be surprised at how simply opening up your hip to match your horse’s stride can affect your horse’s gaits under saddle. You may also find that if you synch with your horse before asking your horse to synch to you, your horse may be much more amenable to your aids.
Day 9 After Christmas: Accountability is the Glue that Ties Commitment to Results
Have your horse at home? Only able to ride during off hours due to your day job?
Sometimes we all need just that little bit off oomph or push or prodding to keep us on track. And if you have your horse at home or aren’t at the barn during peak hours, it can sometimes make things lonely or harder to keep our commitments. Sound familiar?
That’s an easy fix – find an accountability buddy.
Don’t know where to start? Find a buddy locally through a riding group or if you are remote, find a group or buddy online. If you need a place to start, feel free to join the Facebook Group: Live Love Horses and post there to find someone who is working toward the same goals as you are. Or just post your goals and successes to get encouragement, feedback or questions answered from the group. Training at home can sometimes be lonely, so having a place where everyone has your back; shares your successes and empathizes with your setbacks can make a world of difference in your mindset and happiness with your equestrian life.
Day 10 After Christmas: Use your Body’s Poetry – Move Your Body!
If doing Day 8 exercise above made you think about your own physical ability to move freely and openly (in the hips, ankles, wrists or elsewhere), you may want to start a physical training and development plan for yourself.
Yoga or Tai Chi are great places to start to improve flexibility, strength and balance; all things that are necessary to ride effortlessly and to be an effortless load for your horse to carry.
If you are up for a challenge, you can challenge yourself to create a truly independent seat. Starting on January 28th, I will be hosting my “Create an independent Seat Challenge”. If this speaks to you, feel free to join the Facebook Group Live Love Horses for more details.
CHEERS to your best year yet!