As this extraordinary and hugely challenging year 2020, draws to a close I thought I would end it on a positive note as we are hopefully in the beginning of the end of the restrictions we have all been under. I know a lot of people have lost family members and friends, or suffered from the strain of not being able to visit sick relatives and friends in hospital. I think it is important for us all to stay positive where and when we can and help those around us who are are not in a position to.
Hopefully we can get rolling in 2021 and here are my 12 tips of Christmas for you all and your riders.
1. Take this unique opportunity to reflect and focus on what it is you truly value about horses and what you have missed. These are the things that mean the most to us and in spite of all the challenges are what you should set your plan for 2021 around. We will probably never have an opportunity to re evaluate like this again.
2. Sweat the big stuff. Ok what does that mean. Basically try to cut out the small things that do not matter that are maybe niggling you and bringing you down or might have done in the past. None of us are perfect, do not be too hard on yourself, having all the gear might not make you as happy as you think, maybe just being with your horse has maybe become a new and meaningful way to spend time, so if it is just do it. Find some time for yourself and do not feel guilty.
3. Is your fitness to ride at the level you wish to ride at good enough ?… I know how important this is going forward, for example, if you need to work on your core strength, this can be done at home and a good instructor will help also you achieve this in the saddle and explain how to use it when you are riding. Ankle stretches when done right can help riding posture enormously too in a subtle way, try it out.
4. Have you kept your horses as fit as you want them to during the lockdowns? It will be very important that when you resume more athletic riding in the Spring of 2021 that your horses do not pick up small injuries as a result of poor preparation. Leg stretches for your horses can be invaluable in avoiding injuries and are simple to do, there is a lot of advice online about this. Flex your horses hocks regularly.
5. If possible do some road work or riding on a firm surface. A lot of horses and ponies will now have softer tendons and ligaments due to any inactivity they have had. Check out some training routines for this preparatory work, it has never let me down in five decades working with horses in a professional capacity. This will also possibly help to keep expensive vet bills at bay.
6. Money is going to be tight in 2021 going forward, so have a plan about where and what you spend money on. Look for things that avoid expense, like number five above for example. Ride well and in balance, do not have a 1000+ pounds saddle and sit lop sided, get a decent saddle that fits and sit properly in balance.
7. Avoid schooling contraptions, to cut corners, unless you know exactly how to use them. Avoid the damaged suspensory ligament epidemic that is sweeping the horse world which is often caused by horses being tied up, on the forehand in their work then ridden in the wrong way on the wrong surfaces by the wrong people. Do not cut corners, get professional knowledgeable help. A penny spent on good advice will always beat a pound wasted on the wrong advice, and some.
8. Do not waste money on expensive gimmicks that do not work. I have still not come across anything better for horses than correct, considerate riding. Never assume you are a good rider. Yes, of course horses might become ill or injured, that is unavoidable, but do not make matters worse with slack riding. If in doubt book a lesson. There are not enough people receiving correct professional, honest, yet still empathetic tuition these days, just do it. Find an empathetic qualified instructor, they might save you a lot of money in unnecessary expense on ancillary services good riders never need.
9. I have personally never needed a back person to a single horse I have trained or ridden in five decades. Maybe I am lucky or maybe the reason why is because I have been taught to ride in balance and go with the horse. Many, many issues which lead people to use ‘back people’ are caused by poor riding or using the wrong equipment, it will be very important to not do this after a long period of relative inactivity for horses.
10. Introduce somebody to horses. I am always hearing, reading and experiencing for myself (horses saved my life) about how horses can help people who are feeling down. We all know people who are fed up during these difficult times so take someone down to see your horse. They do not need to do anything, just standing by them alone or with others or just brushing them can be hugely beneficial to people, spread the magic of horses, we owe it to them. This costs nothing but a bit of time, it might make a huge difference to someone, show leadership on this.
11. Keep an equine diary. I cannot stress enough the potential benefits of something as simple as keeping a diary. Whenever I go to work with horses, particularly the retraining and redial work I often cannot get the accurate information I need from people. This will help with other professionals too, vets and farriers and will give you and them a more clear picture of all the effort and expense you put in to your horses. It can also be self reflective of how you feel and can be private too. There is no closer secret than a secret between a rider and a horse and looking back can be as fun as it can be useful to any professionals you employ.
12. Finally …have some fun if you can. Life is short and can be brutal in how it treats us and those around us, so make some happy times with your horses, have a laugh it is good for us all, maybe even be a bit silly… but safe and as always I sincerely hope all my friends with and without horses all over the world have a great holiday time, be it secular or religious and that my 12 tips of Christmas help you keep one eye on bouncing back in 2021. All the very best and happy holidays one and all.
This article is dedicated to Michael Tatarsky, my lifelong friend and confidante… lost to Covid 19 in 2020… RIP Mike.