“I want to invite you to truly engage in the moment and agree to CONSPIRE with the most noble of all animals – our silent friend, the Horse..”
Conspiration vs. Cooperation
“To Conspire – With Your Horse“
: to act in harmony toward a common end
This is one definition of the word conspire – in the positive sense. The Latin root of the word is to “breathe with”.
To conspire – with your horse? As a hobby etymologist (someone, who likes to understand the origin of words), I absolutely embrace this phrase.
As I have my morning coffee in the sun room and watch my dogs playing in the yard – in secret agreement that it’s now OK for the 5-month-old shepherd puppy to be a good bit bigger and stronger than the old pit bull mix, who helped raise her from the age of 6 weeks – I realize there is a deep level of connection and unity between them that goes beyond what meets the eye.
In a split-second of play, there is understanding, question and answer, fluid negotiation, all leading effortlessly to unspoken but solid agreements.
I realize that this is what we see in master riders of all walks – e.g. Egon von Neindorff or Tom Dorrance – and that we find so hard to achieve.
It goes beyond cooperation, partnership, and mastery of riding technique.
Instead, it is rooted in the rider’s willingness (the horse is always there…) to abandon all agenda, ambition, self-consciousness and vanity (including the conscious effort to ‘get it right’), reflection and inner chatter.
In that endeavor, joy is our greatest and most effective ally. The joy that comes from being truly with your horse, from humbling ourselves into a heart-felt relationship with our horse, and from abandoning a selfish perspective.
I want to invite you to truly engage in the moment and agree to CONSPIRE – WITH YOUR HORSE (breathe in unison and act in harmony toward a common end), your silent friend and the most noble of all animals.
Today, I want to spend a little time to introduce (or re-introduce) you to a treasure in the equestrian library. Stick with me, even if you read it before and wonder, why you should read this book again.
The Anatomy of Dressage by father and son team Drs. Heinrich and Volker Schusdziarra was originally published in German under the title “Das Gymnasium des Reiters” (literal translation: The Rider’s Secondary School) in 1978.
Since at that time, Siegfried von Haugk’s “Reiter ABC” (The Rider’s Elementary School) was still in print, I assume this was a play on that title, indicating that now the rider would continue his/her education at a deeper level. Or, of course, on “Gymnasium of the Horse”.
NOTE: Since Gymnasium in German means “Secondary School”, this was advanced knowledge, beyond elementary things that the beginner would want or need to know. The book is about elevating your knowledge. Knowing that, the English title falls short and is a bit flat. (Lost in translation…)
Both authors were medical doctors and passionate riders and set out to present the modern art of riding (versus “baroque” riding) from the perspective of anatomical workings between the two moving bodies of horse and rider.
This was new! While classical German horsemanship embodied anatomical correctness, there was – besides Müseler’s classic “Reitlehre” – not much insight into these inner workings for the broader rider population.
NOTE 2: When it comes to translating German equestrian texts, it is CRITICAL to have a translator understand the German language perfectly AND be familiar with the deeper meaning of the German equestrian language, which includes terminology that DOES NOT EXIST in English.
Why You Should Read This Book
If you are interested in really understanding what is needed to succeed in riding, experiencing joy and doing no harm – whether dressage, jumping, or eventing – you will do best when you understand what a knowledgeable instructor MEANS when he or she asks you to ‘brace the back’, ‘stop clamping’ or supple your seat.
This book is like a road map and user manual to the rider’s body and movement at the same time. We learn about the spiral seat, the effects of a lack of suppleness in the rider’s body and how to use your body effectively (in detail) when you perform a half halt. Many anatomical drawings illustrate the points.
There is good reason that this book is still on the USDF required required reading list for instructors.
NOTE 3: HOWEVER, … You need to get the correct information and translation. (See note 2) Therefore, I recommend perusing the internet and procuring a copy translated by Sandra Newkirk and published by Breakthrough Publications. This will even convince those, who previously found the book confusing or unclear.
Now, if you are ready for adventure that takes you DEEP INSIDE (the rider’s seat) and you now know why you should read this book, enjoy Heinrich and Volker Schusdziarra’s “Anatomy of Dressage”. But remember to get the better translation. It will be worth searching for.
Riding education – whether dressage, eventing, show jumping – follows a certain pattern. Once the rider develops an independent seat, is able to stay out of the horse’s mouth and does not disturb the horse in its movement, the rider learns how to “ride with back”.
Besides our rein and leg aids, there are seat (back) and weight aids. A well-educated instructor will familiarize their students with the concepts and applications of these aids in an easy-to understand format. This takes time and feel and lots of experimenting (until the ‘light bulb’ goes off…).
As riders, we need to effectively apply seat aids and control the suppleness and rigidity of our backs at will. So, our back musculature must both be strong and supple enough to support our spine and ‘do our bidding’.
“To effectively apply seat aids and control the suppleness and rigidity of our backs at will, our back musculature must be strong and supple enough to support our spine during movement ‘do our bidding’.”
Ride With Your Back!
Have you ever heard this instruction during a lesson?
What did it mean?
If we were asked to collect the horse, it meant that you should engage the ‘erector‘ muscles. These muscles straighten the spine and make you appear and feel taller.
In our illustration* to the right, these muscles are called “Rückenstrecker”. The literal translation of this German term is “back stretcher”.
* this illustration of the back muscles is from “Das Reiter ABC” by Siegfried von Haugk
Strong and Supple
Just like in the horse, where strength and suppleness must go hand-in-hand, the rider also needs to be both strong and supple.
For the back muscles, this means, enough strength to
support the spine
engage muscles as needed and maintain this engagement through movement
and enough suppleness to
relax muscles when an engaged back would bother the horse in its movement
allow other anatomical elements to maintain their independence (think independent seat)
The Rider in the images above (Alois Podhajski on Nero) demonstrates the action of the erector muscles.
On the left:
The rider has a relaxed, natural spinal posture, we clearly see the “S” shape.
On the right:
The rider now engages his erector muscles to lengthen the spine (back stretchers…). We see how the hollow of the back has now “filled out” some, because as we lengthen the spine, it becomes straighter, also visible in the shoulder area.
NOTE: When we talk about filling the small of the back, there are TWO ways to do this. A) For collection and B) for driving or encouraging forward movement. Above is an example for collection.
Stay tuned for part 2 of “The Rider’s Back” soon…
The Rider’s Back – A Precision Instrument
We must take our backs seriously. They have a profound influence on how the horse moves under saddle.
In the best case scenario, your seat is a precision instrument, enabling you to have fine-tuned communication with your horse.
In the worst case scenario, an uneducated, weak or stiff rider back (or one locked into the wrong saddle) has a detrimental effect on the horse’s well being and soundness, up to behavior issues and lameness.
For most recreational riders, it is important to understand that we are ‘somewhere in between’. We do our best but may still have situations, where our riding negatively effects our horses, usually resulting in stiffness and tension.
The good news: As riders, we are all engaged in a process of continuous improvement. Let’s stay aware and work at it! As we improve our backs and seats, our horses well being and suppleness improves!
“Life’s too short to learn how to ride right.”
Master rider & instructor Felix Bürkner
As we advance in our riding education and learn how to ‘ride with back’, we learn to use our seat aids, engage or disengage the back. We can have a collecting or driving seat.
In order to use our seat aid – our backs – effectively, we need to have both strong & supple backs.
As we develop our own riding skills, we may inadvertently cause tension and stiffness in our horse’s back.
During this learning journey, it is important to
develop our back musculature
relax and release any tension in our back muscles
do the same for our horses by ‘riding right’ and providing relief from tension & restriction
Ready to Ride with Back?
Take these steps:
Get a massage, go swimming, visit the sauna, roll on a foam roller, whatever it takes to massage the tension of stressful every day life right out of your back muscles!
Have you ever heard someone say that? I have, and it makes me cringe. While certain horse types share similar features (e.g. the Thoroughbred “shark fin” withers), it is important to look at every horse as a distinct individual.
There are several factors to consider when evaluating saddle fit, one of them is BALANCE.
Why Balance Matters
A balanced saddle distributes your weight evenly across the horse’s back and thus prevents discomfort.
In our example image above, the rider sits too far back on the saddle, putting increased pressure on the rear part of the horse’s back. This can lead to:
Hollowing and unable to step under
Rushing under saddle
No bascule over jumps
After some time in a compensatory posture, also to hock and stifle problems
A balanced saddle will put the rider in the right position,…
…namely aligned with the horse’s center of gravity, able to be “in the movement”, not behind or in front.
In our example on top of the page, our rider will be:
Behind horse’s movement
Having a hard time keeping secure balance
Having to use the wrong muscles to keep up with the horse’s movement
Not able to maintain a balanced, independent seat.
How to recognize a balanced (English) saddle
Place a round piece of chalk or a round piece of wood on the saddle. It will roll toward the lowest point. This lowest point should be in the middle or the saddle. If you do not have such an item, imagine you did. You will quickly determine the right spot.
Ideally, this lowest point should also be aligned with the horse’s center of gravity. But, that is another topic (see ‘saddle position’ in Saddle Fit).
Basic saddle fit concepts must be part of every rider’s “Basic Rider Training”.
Exploring saddle fit with your horse can be fun, interesting and quite the eye-opener… I am happy to help you with your saddle fit questions.
As a horse wellness specialist, saddle fit is an important topic for me. An uncomfortable horse cannot perform well. To book your custom Passier saddle fitting or an evaluation of your current saddles, please contact me.
I also recommend to add a book about saddle fit to your library. Here some I really like:
How to discover your rhythm and keep up with your horse
We all have heard riding instructors say to ‘get out of our horse’s way’. This can mean many things, from soft hands to quite legs and especially an independent seat that moves fluidly with horse’s movement without disturbing – well, the rhythm.
What is Rhythm?
Rhythm is the regularity of the footfall. Easy as that.
a strong, regular, repeated pattern of movement or sound.
Throughout much of our day – whether gardening, tidying up or grooming a horse – we human spend with some pushing or pulling motion, engaging arms and shoulders. In addition, human nature is that we tend to want to do too much….with our hands, our arms, our shoulders. Humans are bipeds and have no real need for rhythm unless we jog or run. We can spend days, weeks and months without rhythm and “never miss a beat”, happily stiffening our body into whatever works for our daily work environment (think cubicle) and paddling, pushing, pulling our way through life. This rigidness prevents us from moving freely with the rhythm of the horse.
Humans are bipeds and have no real need for rhythm unless we jog or run. We can spend days, weeks and months without it and “never miss a beat”…
Our horses, however, are quadrupeds built for speed and stamina and for moving over vast stretches of steppe. Rhythm is their default mode.
When training the young horse, our aim is to
not to disturb their natural rhythm and
let the horse grow into a natural movement under the weight of the rider, which – again – means relaxed, rhythmic, balanced movement.
Become a rhythm pro by watching this very nice video
RIDE TO MUSIC
Once you are hooked on rhythm – and you will be – enjoy every minute in the saddle as an exercise in rhythm awareness. If you horse is relaxed, supple, sound and strong enough and you have not ‘taken the forward’ out of him, he will move happily in a steady beat. That is an indicator that a lot in your riding and training is going well.
First, focus on the Rhythm by making sure you and your horse are relaxed, supple, and strong enough. A steady rhythm (or regularity of beat) is an indicator for good training, meaning your horse is relaxed and supple.
After that, we’ll take a look at Tempo (what’s your horse’s natural tempo, how many BPM – beats per minute – in each gait?) and Speed (how much ground does my horse cover in any given time increment).
Stay tuned for a follow-up article explaining the difference between rhythm, tempo and speed. It’s always good to revisit these basics.
Horses have been around for a lot longer than our modern conveniences like horse vacuums and show sheen spray. While we can be grateful to have access to these conveniences, not everything we use today is actually helpful or beneficial. What did experienced stable hands do in the ‘old days’?
Sometimes, it’s the simple ‘old-school’ solution that gets the best result.
“Horses were groomed twice daily, once early in the morning and once in the evening. The tools were simple.”
History of Grooming
Horses were used in different settings throughout human history. ‘Best practices’ in grooming were developed and maintained mostly in the cavalry—as there was a strict need to maintain the horses’ at their best possible health and condition.
Here a tidbit from the history of Fort Scott in Kansas:
Horses were groomed twice daily, once early in the morning and once in the evening. The tools were simple:
I extracted these tips from different sources, books and cavalry manuals. Enjoy!
The German cavalry prescribed a minimum of 100 brush strokes (with a horse hair brush) per horse per day. The recruits had to groom their own horses and were subjected to rigorous inspections. Grooming was not only viewed as a means to clean the horse but also to provide a good massage, increase blood circulation and well being. But the recruits were encouraged to be quick about it: “There is no value in grooming beyond the point of when the horse is clean.” (Care of the Troup Horse, 1937)
What’s in an Onion?
Apparently something that makes the horse hoof shiny. Cut an onion into half and rub the clean and dry hoof with the raw onion before entering the show ring. It will provide shine without the unwanted side-effect of attracting sand and dirt.
Laurel Oil for Hoof Growth
Laurel oil (bay leaf oil) has been a staple in hoof care for centuries. The thrifty groom would massage the oil into the coronet band, then sparingly spread a thin film over the rest of the hoof wall. Then hoof treatment was applied to the collateral groove and the sole of the hoof, never the frog!
Caring for the Sweaty Horse after Exercise
The hot and sweaty horse appreciates having his eyes and nostrils cleaned with a damp cloth. Then 10-15 minutes of calm walking in hand, in winter or cool weather covered with a simple wool blanket. Follow up with a vigorous rub down with a bunch of clean straw to dry the coat further, then brush the coat smooth with a coarse natural brush.us.
Less Is More
Do we really need all the chemicals and gadgets that fill up our grooming box today?
“There is no value in grooming beyond the point of when the horse is clean.”
Looking at old sources it becomes clear. A few good-quality grooming tools and the right technique (also read “4-Step Grooming“) is enough.
One thing I am happy about: The old metal curry combs—monstrosities that can do more harm than good—have been largely replaced by gentler tools
“The old metal curry combs—monstrosities that can do more harm than good—have been largely replaced by gentler tools.”
Caring for the Horse’s Mane
The knowledgeable old-school groom rarely combed a mane! Instead, the mane would be finger-combed, then brush the mane until smooth and shiny. Only then would the groom use a wide-toothed comb and—if desired—part small sections and braid loose braids. Ready to pass inspection!
Fun fact:The German cavalry collected all mane and tail hairs in special bags. These were then picked up periodically by the mattress maker! Yes, fine mattresses were made of horse hair!
Wherever there are horses, there will be flies… Besides cleanliness, the old-school barn master prescribed a natural ally in the war against the buzzing pest: swallows. Encourage swallows to nest in your barn and you will keep the fly population low.
If you cannot convince the swallows to nest in your barn, try a ‘spiked lemon’. Spike a lemon with cloves and hang it up in your barn.
Keeping Leather Soft
After cleaning saddle, bridle & other leather accessories thoroughly with saddle soap, the old-school groom would not let the leather dry out completely but instead apply leather conditioner when the leather was still somewhat damp. After letting the conditioner soak in, remove excess fat with a wool cloth, easily made by shrinking an old wool sweater in a hot wash cycle.
Cleaning Sweaty Bridles
In order to remove caked on dirt and sweat before cleaning the bridle with saddle soap, take the bridle apart and soak it for a few minutes in lukewarm water with a squirt of ammonia.Be sure not to forget the bridle in the bucket! Remove after a few minutes.
Never wash the fetlock when washing the hoof. If the fetlock got wet, dry it off thoroughly.
Never trim the hair inside the ears
Never trim the whiskers around the muzzle and eyes (the horse needs them to assess distances)
Some ‘Do Nots’
While the old school groom had a number of tricks in his bag, there were certain ‘Do Nots’ that made sure the groom would not unintentionally hurt the horse.
Here some examples from various cavalry manuals:
Do not use a metal curry to curry the entire horse. Only use it to loosen caked-on mud or sweat on muscled parts of the horse’s body. Never use a curry on bony parts or on hairless areas.
Beyond that, use the metal curry ONLY to clean the brush during and after grooming.
Do not comb a tail! Only finger-comb, then brush with a medium-stiff root brush.
Caring for the Horse’s Tail
The old-school groom would NEVER comb a tail. Instead, the groom would use his fingers to part the tail hair and remove larger pieces, than brush the tail clean with a medium-stiff root brush.
Last not Least: A Tasty Snack!
The groom in old times provided his horses with tasty branches from fruit trees, birch trees and hazelnut bushes. This was supposed to be healthy and good for the teeth. If you’d like to take it up a notch, soak some bread in beer, a snack that was (or still is…) supposedly popular in some parts of Germany. (Note: This tip is provided for entertainment purposes. If you would like to try this, please check with your vet first!
Get your FREE Old-School Grooming Poster
I like the simple old-school grooming concepts and prefer to groom in this more fun, efficient, and natural way. If you feel the same, you can get my old-school grooming poster “4-Step Grooming” by sending an email with the subject ‘old school grooming‘. I will then send you the pdf, which you can print out and hang up in your barn!
Hope you enjoyed this article. Be in touch with question!
“I like the simple old-school grooming concepts and prefer to groom in this more fun, efficient, and natural way..”
Stretching with the aid of a treat – usually carrots – is a great way to keep your horse flexible without causing any damage. So-called “Carrot Stretches” can be found all over YouTube and the internet. However, it is important to do it right to get a real benefit.
“Carrot Stretches” are active or dynamic stretches, meaning the horse needs to perform the stretch. In comparison, there are ‘passive’ stretches, where the handler effects the stretch, usually by applying a pulling force to the respective limb.
Please note this important difference:
Active or dynamic stretches – like the ones shown below – can be performed any time with a cold horse. The horse will never injure himself, you cannot overdo it!
Passive stretches can cause damage to soft tissues if performed on a cold horse and —if unintentionally overdone— even on a warm horse.
Therefore, I DO NOT RECOMMEND PASSIVE STRETCHING as it can result in injury.
Carrot Stretches – Safe, Fun, Effective!
Here my tips for safe & fun, basic carrot stretches that help keep your horse flexible and supple:
The Horse Situp
Your goal is to encourage the horse to raise the back by stimulating a reflex when stroking across the gluteal muscles.
Have a relaxed horse and stand sideways behind the horse or place a hay bale between you and the horse’s hind end.
Use your stiff thumbs or a safe tool like a quarter coin to apply some pressure to the left and right of the sacrum.
When you see a slight reaction from your horse – lifting the back or tensing muscles without showing a pain response – glide down the gluteals toward the ‘poverty groove’, attempting to elicit a response where the horse raises the back (see image 2).
Practice this with a safe horse. Once you experience the amount of pressure you need, it will come easier.
To the girth line
Hold the treat by the girth line. The horse should reach for it, stretching the muscles around the wither area.
Your horse may need some help in understanding what is asked. Patience is the key!
In image 3 you see Paladin ‘cheating’. He is a little club-footed in the left front and wanted to minimize the stretch. Ideally, the horse will keep the legs straight.
To the outside of the front foot
Images 4 and 7 show how this is done correctly.
The horse stretches the opposite side of the neck and shoulder and brings the back up.
Note: Paladin once again ‘cheated’ a little in image 4. Do not insist on correctness, rather work towards it slowly.
To the point of hip
Image 5 shows how nicely Paladin can reach for the point of hip.
I started by the shoulder and guided him toward the hip, rewarding him with the carrot once this position is reached.
Tip: If you can let your horse eat the carrot slowly, you will maximize the benefit.
On images 6 and 8 you see how different horses solve this challenge according to to their ability.
The paint horse made it easy for himself by stepping forward with the left front, even on several attempts.
Start easy with what the horse can do and build up over time.
To the elbow
Image No. 9 shows how the horse is reaching for the treat by the elbow or lower shoulder.
Schedule your carrot stretches twice weekly.
Cut the carrots into manageable pieces, not too long (‘snatchers’ like Paladin will munch the entire carrot at once…) and not too small (save your fingers!).
Always aim for what your horse can do, then take it up a notch next week.
Do the stretches on both sides. Every time…
IMPORTANT: Dynamic mobilization stretches, or “carrot stretches,” should be performed on level, non-slip footing in an enclosed area, with the horse standing square and balanced. Encourage the horse to hold each position for several seconds, followed by a moment to allow them to relax their muscles and return to neutral before the next attempt. (Comment provided by CaveCreekEquine.com)
The (nearly) lost art of teaching fundamental concepts
When it comes to riding instruction – especially around the difficult task of teach ‘the seat’ – how would you finish the sentence: “I wish….”???
I wish I knew…. (how to teach a feel, how to sit correctly, how to explain this better, …. you fill in the blanks) may be how many will start this sentence.
I wish I found… (an instructor, a horse, a way, to learn a correct seat, ….) may be another.
Teaching the seat is difficult as we attempt to explain something that needs to be ‘felt’ to be understood. But there are some simple steps that can help improve the way we teach and learn a functionally correct seat.
An elusive concept
‘The seat’ is an elusive concept. Observing various riding lessons, I get the impression that the seat has become something external, something that needs to ‘look right’ versus ‘feel right’. “Heels down, shoulders back!”
Or something completely removed from function. “Collect him/her!” “Ride a circle!” “Stay by the wall, don’t drift toward the inside!” Without mention how the seat will contribute to reaching the goal, which is ultimately always the communication with the horse.
A ‘correct’ seat always puts function before form. If we want to do more than learn/teach how to ‘sit pretty’ (and often stiffly), we need to ask for/provide better riding education.
5 Ways to re-introduce ‘Seat Education’ into Riding Lessons:
Give (instructor) and take (student and instructor!) longe lessons
Free to focus on our own body and how it interacts with the horse, we can gain security, relaxation and independence and truly observe and correct our ‘functional posture’.
Use a horse that is in rhythm and calm on the longe line and that responds promptly to voice commands.
Practice on a barrel
A barrel or a sturdy saddle stand can be a great tool to start practicing an independent seat. Make sure to fasten the saddle to the barrel or stand so it will provide a true experience when the student is asked to respond to shifts in position.
Have the student respond to rein pressure or pressure to various parts of her body by shifting pelvic position and balancing from the ‘seat root’.
Identify off-center posture that feels ‘normal’ to the student. It is easier to identify and correct a postural habit on a static barrel and then take this new awareness to the horse.
Explain (students ask for explanation) how the seat contributes to all exercises you are teaching (learning) or commands you are giving (given)
Example: Some horses drift to the inside of the arena. The way to counteract this is counter-intuitive. Humans tend to want to ‘push’ with their shoulders. This will bring the rider into the a position that exaggerates the problem and thus causes frustration. One needs to do exactly the opposite, which is counter-intuitive for humans. The instructor needs to take time to explain the role of the seat in detail, otherwise the student continues to struggle.
Address tension and postural habits on the ground
Many clients look for improvement in their horses by releasing tension and thus enabling functional posture in their horses by booking horse massage and especially Masterson Method® sessions. Releasing tension in the rider’s body before mounting can produce similarly positive results.
Ask the student to stand straight, identify any imbalances, then ask to stretch and stand again. Observe how awareness contributes to improvement.
It is with great sadness that I read how some of the really bad news around equestrian sports come from my country of origin: Germany. The widely read ‘Suddeutsche Zeitung‘ had the following headline: ‘The End of Torterous Horse Practice‘.
Misuse of Brushing Boots – Right Under the Spectator’s Nose
The practice in question: Bandages and brushing boots – meant as protective gear – are spiked with pressure points and tightened to the point of pain. The purpose: When show jumping, the horse will now lift his legs higher and be sure to avoid any type of contact with the jump. The unsuspecting spectator simply sees a spectacular show jumping performance.
A ‘Lame’ Decision?
The FEI’s General Assembly in Montevideo recently decided to prohibit the practice (in German called ‘Zuckis‘) – starting in 2022. So the remainder of 2021 left to torture horses legally. For many horses, it will come too late. They will end their torturous career in the service of an overly ambitious prize money hunter.
Wraps Getting a Bad (W)Rap
‘Zuckis’ are now in the public eye – it’s a good thing. The flip side: Wraps and other leg protection are getting a ‘Bad Rap’, much like nose bands. Important to remember: It’s not the piece of equipment per se that is at fault. Real protective gear for horse legs like wraps and brushing boots are a blessing and protect the fetlock joint from injury. It’s the abuse of the gear that makes it ‘verboten’. If we ask our horses to maximize their athletic potential in jumping, we do need to protect the horse’s legs.
So, the remainder of 2021 left to torture horses legally. For many horses, it will come too late. They will end their torturous career in the service of an overly ambitious prize money hunter.
What can you do about it?
Let Common Sense (& Compassion) Prevail!
It’s once again up to the spectators to raise the flag. Become aware, speak up, don’t applaud when you witness such practice (especially not on easily-shared social media) and DO THE RIGHT THING yourself – modeling this to kids and younger riders to raise compassionate show jumpers!
Commons sense tells us to differentiate between those, who protect their horses with brushing boots and those, who abuse gear to realize their own ambitions in equestrian sports. Compassion mandates us to speak up for the horse – no matter where and when.
Spot the Offender
When visiting or participating in an event, here some things to look out for:
A helper runs into the warmup ring before the horse enters the arena and quickly tightens the horse boots (there is a term in German for doing something very quickly: ‘Ruck Zuck’ – therefore the boots are called ‘Zuckis’ when used for this torturous practice).
The horse lifts his legs unnaturally high and overjumps.
The horse seems tense and in a rush to get things over with.
During the ride, the horse kicks out repeatedly with the hind legs, as if to get rid of something (the ‘Zuckis’…).
I am grateful for you, the reader, who is undoubtedly NOT in the ‘Zucki’ camp!
From Stone Age to Rocket Age, humans have been practicing collective and individual gratitude (e.g. Thanksgiving Holiday, Thank You cards, Prayers and Offerings, etc.) and there is good reason for it: Gratitude is Good Medicine!
Gratitude is Good Medicine
Have you ever felt warm around the heart when expressing gratitude to someone? Then you did it right! That’s the kind of heart-felt gratitude that feels good to you when expressing it and to the receiver – whether human or not…
No Lip Service, please!
In our brain-centered, head-heavy world, we tend to rationalize, organize, streamline, multi-task – all brain-based ‘surface modes’ that do not get to the core of feelings. To express gratitude so that YOU & the RECEIVER FEELS IT, please let it come from the heart.
Let it come from the heart!
Try this exercise at home:
Stand in front of a mirror (or talk to your dog or an imaginary friend 😉 and say “Thank you for [fill in the blank].” How do you feel?
Now let’s try that again: Feel you heart area. Really direct your consciousness to this area. Then imagine, you heart had lips. Relax you shoulder, soften you gaze, smile a little and say (with your heart lips) “Thank you for [fill in the blank].” How was that?
In step 3, you ‘lip synch’ with your heart. If you do it right, you will feel your heart area and other parts of you body – perhaps your hands – warm and feel pleasant. This is the kind of FEELING you want to convey when expressing gratitude.
5 Ways to Show Gratitude in the Barn & Beyond
Simply say ‘Thank you for […]’ whenever you feel there is something to be grateful for. Example: I say “Thank you for providing such caring help to Regalo.” to my helper and friend Bettie – either in person or even via text! Important: You must look the person in the eye (when in person), smile, and ‘lip synch’ with your heart. Then it’s a real gift!
Leave a little note. That can be a sticky note with a smiley! Example: I have a little book that my dog walker and I use to communicate. I draw little smileys next to my thank yous and often say “I really appreciate that you….”. Find opportunities to express your thanks to others with little notes they find in unexpected places.
Share a little. Baking something? Got a little too much of something? You certainly have experienced an overabundance of something. Instead of putting it in the freezer or the cupboard, why not attach a little ribbon and a thank you note and express gratitude by sharing. You can find plenty of opportunity! Example: When I buy a big bag of Forage First horse treats, I put a few in a little bag and leave it for a helpful barn friend’s horse with a little thank you note.
Picture that! You may have a smartphone or a phone that takes pictures. These can be easily shared. Taking a picture of something someone else loves or has helped you with and sending it to them with a ‘Thank You’ is a great way to show gratitude. Example: Take a picture of your friend’s horse (“Thank you for […]. I saw your horse in the pasture and thought you’d like to this picture.”)
Book it! Accidentally bought the same horse book twice? You may have done this before, if you are like many horse people on a horse book buying binge… This book will be someone else’s treasure! Write your heartfelt thanks into the cover and give it to or leave it for your helpful barn friend.
You got this!
These are just some ideas. You know best who to thank and how to do it. Practice is key! Here some tips:
Practice heartfelt thank yous at home – you may be in ‘brain mode’ and give ‘lip service’ without realizing it!
Grow your gratitude vocabulary – create a little collection of terms and phrases that express your gratitude. Write them on a card or in a journal. Soon, they will be anchored in your gratitude tool box!
Say less – mean more! A simple heart-felt ‘Thank You’ is better than a stream of words that come from the ‘head’.
Be grateful! For everything. Food, air, your old paddock boots, a cup of Joe, fair weather, YOUR HORSE!
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