The building blocks of horsemanship – RELAXATION

Since moving to Canada I have been asked what type of “horsemanship” do I follow?

I was rather confused about this, as to me there has always just been “horsemanship”. But since moving here, I have been exposed to many different names given to how equestrians feel horses should be educated.

Growing up, most people I knew followed the techniques that the British Horse society endorsed. There was always a copy of the Pony Club Manual in all its blue glory at the barn. For horse care and education of the rider, I still feel that this is a very good starting point. I then worked with a number of people that used the fundamentals of “Classical” horsemanship. While the general basics were the same as the “BHS” way, there was much more emphasis on the horse’s way of going. This led me to look into the classical fundamentals of equitation. The emphasis being on the harmony of horse and rider and training the horse to be the best it can be while ensuring a long and pain free life.  This should be the goal of any training method.

I have found that if we ride in a balanced and mindful way, the horse is more likely to be co-operative. What do I mean by that…?


As a rider we need to sit in the saddle in a way that does not throw the horse off balance, we need to be capable of holding ourselves together, with a balanced feel of the reins, without expecting the horse to support us. We need to be body aware so that we are not putting our horse off balance.


Understand that our actions will cause a reaction in the horse. If we are not clear, concise and consistent with our aids, we cannot expect the horse to respond in the desired way.


When working with horse and riders, I first thing I ask them to do is to RELAX. Being able to relax is the most import tool when working with horses.

If you are not relaxed, you are TENSE

There are two main reasons while riding when tense does not go well, one is emotional, the other physical:

Emotions take control

Horse are flight animals, if we feel tense they wonder why, and then become tense themselves, They do feed on our emotions, so we need to be able to control our own composure before we can even consider trying to train a horse to keep their own instincts under control. I tell my clients that if they have had a bad day, do not try to train your horse. If you are feeling tense, you may well be argumentative, and most horses will argue right back at you.  If this can be avoided, then do, you do not want to get into a flight you will not win.

Physically cannot move freely

If your body is tense, you will not be balanced, you will not be able to allow your horse to move, and your aids with not be clear, concise and consistent. Basically tense bodies don’t work very well.

How do I relax when I am riding?

  • BREATH!!

OK, I know this is something we sort of need to do, but to be able to control your breathing is important. When we are tense we tend to take quick, sharp breaths. We need to slow this down. Think Yoga…. In through the nose, inflate the belly and out through the mouth.

Sometimes I will SING!! Not much fun for anyone near, but it stops you holding the breath, and it gets the horse’s attention focused on you,

Generally, just the threat of making my clients sing will make them laugh, and so they relax and start breathing better.



Well not literally, I am not sure the horse would enjoy that :-p …

I work through my body from my feet to the top of my head (I find it easier this going from bottom to top, if it does not work for you, try from top to bottom…)  I feel for my foot and see is I am holding onto it or am I letting gravity take control of the muscle. There should be no tension in the legs, the aim is to have them in a neutral position against the horse’s side. (This is the beginning of the passive aid…)  I check that I can feel even pressure on my seat bones, that my hips moving with the horse,  my shoulders down and relaxed, and so on.

If I feel tension, I take a deep breath and let go of the muscle. I may add a little shake if I feel the horse is OK with it, but to be honest, they will just be happy they have a rider that is moving with them rather than an object they have to fight against!

Happy Riding!!


Being an adult with responsibilities sucks!


With Storm not being in a fit state to be ridden, I have been “quietly” looking for a horse to ride.

I was offered the ride on a wonderful, well-trained mare. I was soooooo excited. I had a plan for when I would ride, what shows I wanted to enter, which stable she would go in… I knew it would be tight to fit everything into my day, but I was going to go for it!

Then, my youngest got a virus, nothing too serious, but he needed all my attention. That spare hour before bed was gone, well to be honest; sleep was gone for a couple of days there. This made me think…  If one of the children was ill, or I was ill, what would happen to my meticulously planned riding schedule?

Well, it would have gone out of the window, and I would have sucked it up, because I am a parent, and because my children need me.

Being a parent is a juggling act at best, and adding in horses, adds a whole new bucket load of balls to throw up in the air and try to catch.

I read a lot of articles on ”How I make it work! “ and to be honest, I would like to call “Bu*****t” on them. If you have children, they need to be your first priority. They are only children for a short time, be present, and there for them. There will be other shows, other horses when you have time to fully focus. But for now, enjoy the children, enjoy the ride on your horse when you have the opportunity, but don’t put yourself under so much pressure that you are paralysed by the stress and find enjoyment is gone from both.

I am not giving up on my ambitions or dreams, I am admitting I have responsibilities to my family which need to be taken care of first, and this is what being a parent is about. As my time permits, I will ride, train, and coach, and I will make sure I am also taking care of “me”. The dressage ring will still be there when the children are adults in their own right!

PS: If you have a significant other, then remember that relationship is important to, because if you are sick, the horses still need to be fed! 😛

Being responsible

So, I was standing with the vet, my farrier and Storm. We all had that look of “despair” that only comes with not really knowing how to help your animal friend.

Storm is suffering right now, his main symptom is sleep deprivation caused by anxiety. He is being looked after to the best of our abilities. He is well fed, with a nice grassy paddock, next to other horses, and gets fussed over by us on a regular basis. He is not starving or mistreated; he has a safe home, and will always be cared for. While, I find it upsetting and worrisome that he is not happy, I know he is in a safe place until he crosses the “Rainbow bridge”.

For this I am very grateful.  Not all horses are so lucky.

Horses are a luxury, are expensive, and time consuming. I see so many horses for sale with comments like:

  • “Due to life change….”
  • “Due to going to school…..”
  • “Old Companion horse ….”
  • “With a sad heart….”
  • “Rider not able to fulfil horse potential…”

What happens in the long run to these horses that get passed on?  Hopefully they find good loving homes, where they are correctly cared for. This does not always happen.

Thanks to the “wonders” of the internet, I see so many animals that have been abused, starved and let down by their human caretakers. I know that life is not perfect, and sometimes, your only option is to sell. Is possible, make sure you know where that animal is, and with whom.  If the new owner does not agree to let you know how the animal is, then be suspicious.

Currently shelters and rescues are overflowing, and this is due partly to animals being bred because someone thought it would be a “good idea”.

If you decide to bred, ask yourself why?

What is the plan for the foal? (Or for that matter, puppies, kittens, goats or any other pet animal you may have?  )

Do you have the time, money, expertise and experience to raise a horse that will be a good citizen, and if the worse happens and you have to sell, will they have a chance of finding a good home?  A poorly bred horse, which bad conformation, and no training is at even higher risk of ending up in a bad situation that a horse that has good training and a “leg at each corner”.

For my part, I bred storm, and this is what I did to help ensure he would have a good start in life:

  • Made sure my mare was up to it. She was grading with the British Sports horse Registry, and was awarding good marks.
  • I chose a well-known stallion, standing at a reputable stud.
  • He was registered and got a passport
  • Made sure I was financially stable, and had an income that would allow for the keep of an additional horse
  • Made sure there was an emergency vet fund. Insurance can be beneficial, but make sure you have appropriate coverage

Please, just be honest with yourself about the reason you wish to bred.

The issue with FaceBook…



I, like many of you, am a member of many Facebook groups that are dedicated to all things “Horsey”. I love looking at the pictures, and stuff, but then, there are posts that concern me, and these are the ones that generally start with,

“Admin, please delete if not allowed.”

I can feel my anxiety start to creep up as soon as I see that sentence.


The questions that followe tend to be ones that should be answered by a professional in the subject.

By professional, I mean someone that has education, training and experience in the subject matter that is being asked about. Google does not make you an expert. Google is not a diagnostic tool, and while, it can help provide information after a professional diagnoses, the, diagnose does need to be done, with the help of diagnostic testing, by a professional that is trained to diagnose, perform diagnostic testing, and interpret the results.

Think about it, how many times have you googled your own symptoms, and ended up being told to phone for emergency services or get yourself to the hospital now!! Or you have convinced yourself you have a serious condition with no treatment options, but it turns out, it is something a lot less ‘news worthy’ which is easily treatable. (Guilty 😛  )

Here is an example, there was a horse with a swelling, the comments ranged from a self-inflicted kick, insect bites, to pigeon fever. Quite frankly, it could have been anything. The most worrying comments were the statement of fact comments, which seemed to be saying it is “Blah” and you have to do x…y..z. There were some quite desperate measures being described. Measures which would cause much more harm than good, for example, draining a swelling that is not infected, will most likely end up with the swelling being infected. It is something that vets will not do unless they are certain it is already infected, and there is no other path of action. You cannot tell if a swelling if infected just by looking at it. It takes blood work, and/or diagnostic imaging to be certain.

If you feel you need to ask for advice on line, and take advice from a random internet person, I think you need to consider why. If you are trying to avoid vet fees, perhaps you should consider if you can afford your horse? If you cannot afford the vet fee, then, you cannot afford the horse. This is harsh, but true. If you are unsure if your horse needs a vet call, or some “home care” will resolve the issue. Ask an equestrian professional that you trust and see what they say. And here is a tip, if they make a suggestion without seeing the horse (or at least good photos), talk to someone else. There are good “Rules of thumb” to follow regarding injuries, and the same regarding swellings and those annoying but inevitable “lumps” horses have. But if you are ever unsure, then call the vet! That is what they are there for, and what we pay them for. And, please start with the vet. There are many “Equine professionals”, but many are unregulated, and have minimum training, and while there are some awesome equestrian people out there, they are the exception, not the rule.

Here is a good article on when to call the vet, or please have a look at you local horse society website , HCBC, or BHS for example., they will quite often have good information for you:

But, just in case you are interested, my rules of thumb are:

  • If I can see anything other than skin – Call the vet
  • If there is a yellow fluid – Call the vet
  • If there is a laceration that is near a joint and /or longer than my finger and is more than just top layer of skin –  Call the vet
  • Any type of puncture wound – Call the vet
  • Something I have never seen or dealt with before…. You have guessed it…CALL THE VET!!



On letting go

Storm is the sort of horse that makes people stop and stare. When he is moving, especially free, he has awesome movement and presence; he has the ‘X’ factor. So, he should be the competition horse of my dreams… Right?

And here is the kicker…it has just never happened.

His breeding and conformation is good, he feels awesome to ride and I can even sit his lengthened trot! But we have never really got the competition thing together.  Due to a series of life events, he has had to go on the back burner, and then when I do have the consistent time, he has managed to gain another “issue”. Strange and seemingly random swellings are his speciality.

For so long now, I have felt to blame for his lack of progress, the absence of rosettes and titles that a horse like him should supposedly have. The pressure I have put on myself to go out and show what he can really do has been a constant niggle at the back of my mind. Until the other day…

As I was walking him to his stall for the night, again failing to do anything with him, I thought, why the stress? Yes, he may be capable of the higher level movements, but does he care?

Does he care that he does not know how to piaffe on command? I doubt it.

Does he care he is not out at shows every weekend? I think he is probably pleased he is not.

Do I love just being with him, and working on his manners and ground work, and enhancing his way of going under saddle?  Yes.

So, do I have plans for him? Yes, of course I do. Would I like to go to competitions with him? It might be nice. Does it matter if I do not? No!

So I am letting go of the pressure I put on myself to make this awesome horse a “winning machine”, and to just enjoy the process of discovering what we can do together, even if no one else ever sees it.

On the passing of N

I recently made the hard decision to have my long term partner, N, euthanized.

When I looked at him the week before, I realized that my vibrant, exciting, “in your face” horse had gone. What I show in the paddock, was an elderly, sore, unhappy old man, he was having trouble eating, and moving around, even with the bute he was on. He had stopped neighing when I opened the back gate to go to the barn, when being led, his head was low, and he was getting unsteady on his feet. Previous to this, we had him checked out, had his teeth floated, and a general checkup, there was nothing extraordinary wrong with him physically, but the glint of mischief, and love of life was gone.

He had Cushing, which was a big factor in his general well-being.

I called the vet the following day, and the arrangements were made.

I am glad I chose the date and means for N’s passing, it was the final act of kindness I could offer my old friend, who has been with me for the last 16 years.

He was originally bred in the Netherlands, and was imported to the UK by a dealer that produced show jumpers. He was a big horse, so he thought he would be able to jump… N ran away from poles rather than over them. So, he came to me to have a go dressage.   He then came to Canada with us, where he was shocked at the snow in Calgary, and decide to grow a somewhat warmer coat!

He would always let everyone know that he had “arrived”, but was always happier in human company than with his own kind. He was a very vocal horse, especially around feed time!

He was not perfect, and I was often the only one that would handle him, but under saddle, he was a gentleman.

He is greatly missed by myself and my family, and of course by Storm and Daisy.


Horses do not go quietly


For those that know horses, and have been around them for a while, you will have heard many horror stories of horses dying under terrible circumstances. The ” and they fell asleep under the apple tree and peacefully past away” tales are only seen in stories.

One of the most important aspects of horse ownership is planning for the final days of you equine friend. As horses get older, they, like us, may suffer from chronic disease, for example Cushings or arthritis. Or, just the amount of injuries stacks up and cause long term pain.

The first decision that you may find yourself making is:

Are they well enough to be ridden?  

If the answer is no, BUT they are happy and still enjoying life and their condition can be controlled with simple intervention, then what is their plan for retirement?

If the answer is no, and they are in constant and uncontrollable pain, what is the “end of life” plan?

So, you decide that your horse has earned a retirement, and you have found them a good situation, you need to keep on checking in with them and answer the following question:

Is my horse happy and enjoying life in retirement, and is/are their conditions(s) well controlled?

To help you answer that question, you need to keep an eye on them physically, for example, check their weight, the quality of their coat and feet, are they still eating well, are stool and urine still normal in both volume and sight for them, can they still roll and move around without pain?

If anything physically changes, then you need to call in the vet.

But, we also need to watch their mental wellbeing too:

Is my horse, still recognizably “my horse”?

Has their behaviour changed, are they still interested in their surroundings, and are they still a herd member, or are they being picked on?

If the answer is yes, investigate.

If your horse is no longer enjoying life, and changes in, perhaps, feed, routine, or even spending more time with them is making no impact, and your vet has ruled out any new or changes in age related conditions, this means their quality of live is diminished, and you need to be honest with yourself and work out who they are still being kept around for.

As I mentioned above, when horse dies, it is normally due to a catastrophic event, where emotional decisions need to be made in the moment. This is not good for anyone.

To help yourself out, make a list for your horse, taking into account their issues, the interventions that you are happy to make to help them live a bit longer? For example:

Would you allow surgery?

Would you take them off the property?

Would you be happy injecting them with powerful pain meds every day?

And stick to it.

A quiet, planned euthanasia is better for everyone than a “Your horse is about to suffer a long and painful death if we don’t …” decision.





It’s cold outside! And very icy…..

The horses are getting a little ‘ Jumpy” due to lack of exercise and that is making everything a little …dicey…..(I am sorry… too good an opportunity to miss…)

Take a little extra time to make sure you do everything safely and just enjoy giving your horse an extra scratch while we wait for the thaw….

Then… we can complain about the mud and flies again. 😛 img_20161209_163137


Please be safe!

Let’s start with one word…. SAFETY

When you are around horses, the first thing to remember is to ‘BE SAFE’


Horses are prey animals, they are strong and highly responsive to stimuli in their environment

What does this mean? They have an incredibly fast flight or flight instinct.


Let’s break this down. As they don’t want to be someone’s lunch, their first response to something that they sense as dangerous.. is to run away. For example;

One day, they may catch you walking towards them with the long snake-like thing, known  to us as “the hose”, they are going to want to run away, regardless of the child lovingly grooming them. Next thing you know is that the child is in a heap on the ground, and the beloved pony is heading for the hills.

ALL horses still have this instinct, although their trigger levels may be different.

My point?

When you are around horses, especially with people with small amounts of experience, like children, be vigilant. Do not take shortcuts with safety. For example,

  • If someone is grooming a horse, beware of what you are doing, as your movement could well impact the situation.
  • When you are leading a horse, NEVER wrap the rope around your hand
  • Give the horse space, those legs are powerful, and horses are quicker than you. If a horse turns into a flight animal, you need to be able to get out of the way.
  • Beware if the horse is in closed space or is in a vulnerable situation, like lying down. In these situations, the horse will be on alert, and their trigger point will be lower than normal.

Some Safety points for riding

  • WEAR A SAFETY HELMET that has been designed for horse riding.

           Your brain is important, protect it.

  • Wear appropriate footwear.  NOt sure if your footwear is OK or not, then test it. If it can slide through the stirrup, and it can get caught, then it is not appropriate. If you fall off, you will be dragged along by the foot, which will spook your horse more, which could well kill you.
  • Tack should be appropriate for the horse and rider, and should be correctly fitted, for both the horse and the rider and be in good repair.
  • Keep hold of those reins! Horses can spook at any time, be ready for this to happen.
  • NEVER let reins, lead lines, or any other piece of tack drag on the ground. Think of undone shoelaces and the consequences of tripping over, then apply that to your horse!

ALL horse are capable of tripping or spooking. And just because you have not had a serious fall yet, does not mean it is not around the corner. So, apply some common sense and minimize the “impact”, and be safe.