As we all move forward as best we can in these uncertain times I am giving over my monthly article over to a wonderful tale of success about a private riding client of mine. Karen Barnett NHS frontline .
Karen is a community matron in the North Liverpool region of The County of Merseyside in the UK and manages patients with chronic long term conditions both in their own homes and in care homes. The aim of her dedicated work is to prevent and or reduce hospital admissions. We all know how important that work is these days. It is a frontline in front of the hospital frontline, so to speak. Karen’s work focuses on maximising therapy to help manage conditions more effectively and promote better well being for often very elderly, frail people. Karen works as part of an integrated community nursing team. Karen openly admits that she loves her job and she has been in the same role for the last 16 years and worked for the NHS since 1981, when she first started as a nursing assistant. In short, Karen is an NHS hero, and every bit as much a national treasure as anyone else I have heard named. She deserves a medal.
Karen is also a keen horsewoman and recently found herself in a very challenging situation with her beautiful coloured mare called Maisie. Maisie is a spirited mare rising 13 and that spirit has led to a few riding issues… read on.
How it all started.
A year ago now before all the lockdown difficulties I was giving a lecture to The Mid Cheshire Bridleway Association and Karen was in the audience. I had met Karen before but she had now got into a situation with Maisie that was not good and they were heading for trouble by the sounds of what she told me. Karen asked me if I could help and I said ‘yes of course I could’.
Rider confidence issues for Karen were clear to spot, most importantly Karen admitted to having them too.
Working specifically with riders and their confidence issues now for over twenty years I know the problems riders often face, how they start, how they get worse, or how they improve. The mounted police officers I taught for a long time nearly all had riding confidence issues to a greater or a lesser degree, it is the nature of things and only a very few horse riders have a very high level of capability and confident competence in all riding situations. Even these riders can have issues too at times, no rider is exempt, we all need to remember that too. The biggest issue is often getting riders to admit they have anxiety and then and only then, can the real journey of changing both the physical, as well as the mental dynamics begin.
Maisie wanted to be in control and that made Karen anxious.
To me riding is about keeping things simple, can we, as horse riders, stop, turn, change speed, up or down when we want to? and achieve all of these things in basic but proper control, jumping included? In my experience the root cause of most, if not all rider confidence issues, revolve around these basic fundamental principles. Also does a rider have confidence and true belief in their own ability to achieve these things, that is also crucial to success and riding with confidence. Otherwise negative thoughts will take over. In short, we all know when we are in control of a horse and when we are not, if we are true to ourselves and capable of sound judgement. If the answer to any or all of these questions is no then the rider’s confidence will drain away, sometimes gradually, often suddenly. Karen is very true to herself, wears her heart on her sleeve and wanted to get things sorted out.
Maisie was threatening to bolt.
An assessment session was set up at Karen’s own private menage, which Karen has worked hard for all her life to own, so there were no contamination issues with Covid 19 and all the appropriate precautions were taken, I think it is safe to say Karen knows a lot more than me on that score! I hopped on board Maisie and she straight away rounded her back and started the usual behaviours I know all too well when horses are all for bolting off. This was a real live dangerous situation, I had never sat on Maisie before and although I have done that many times it is always a challenge and it called on a fair degree of my experience to get Maisie to relax. The situation was demanding my full attention. I could see immediately how Maisie would make a lot of riders tense.
The relaxation processes for horses that are tense involve a skill set.
Over the years I have built up a set of strategies for dealing with tense horses, mostly riding the fit racehorses as well as young police horses in all manner of challenging scenarios. It has been quite the journey and there were plenty of falls, some injuries and a lot of learning. Basically these processes decide the outcome of a situation with a nervous rider, a nervous horse, or both. What I immediately realised was that Maisie unlike some horses in these situations, seemed to want to relax. After the critical first five or ten minutes Maisie had not bolted and had settled to the point where I could school her. We had a chance. What I needed to do was assess if Karen could develop this skillset to follow the relaxation process I had followed and if she could we might make a breakthrough. Karen was going to have to be very brave to achieve this. Karen never struck me as a woman with anything less than plenty of courage, it was game on.
Karen is a highly skilled and extremely competent health care professional.
I could tell straight away that Karen’s confidence and competence in her professional working role, was clearly obvious. What we had to do was establish if Karen could practise the skills I could teach her which she required when riding and attach that new skillset to her personal strength of character and then have faith in herself to convince Maisie she could do this effectively. If Karen could do this, we would be cooking with gas.
The first riding sessions for Karen.
In the first few riding sessions Karen made rapid progress, she was very easy to teach, a great listener and therefore learner. The sessions involved basic control and often included video which I then sent to Karen for her to reflect upon. It was not plain sailing as Maisie really means business when she gets tense, but Karen was discovering how her own tension had been setting Maisie off. Instead of ‘freezing’ with tension. Karen listened to what I said and began to use a range of ridden exercises and methods to compose herself, as well as give Maisie something else to focus on. It had a incredible effect. The exercises worked, they convinced Maisie that Karen could not only be in charge but could stay in charge not just in general but also when Maisie became anxious for any reason. Karen began to really understand what caused Maisie to be tense, why and more importantly her own role in the process. Improvement was rapid and sustained. Karen had made a massive breakthrough, she knew she had, I knew she had and most importantly of all Maisie knew she had. She liked her new composed and capable owner! And it was great for such a wonderful frontline NHS professional to have now found her own therapy in her own situation and could now continue her vital work as a health professional with an even greater degree of conviction.
The next steps for Karen and Maisie.
As for all riders, once the basics of control are established a decision can then be made where to take things. Having smashed it with that, the next challenge for Karen is to take this new skillset and composed but productive state of mind out on the roads and lanes of Cheshire, England when hacking. I am very much looking forward to helping Karen maintain the tremendous improvement further and would also like to take this opportunity to publicly thank her for all her’s and her NHS colleagues efforts over this last year!