A bride who organised her wedding in just 23 days after being diagnosed with leukaemia says she was totally upstaged on her big day – by her horse, who was her ‘best man’.
Told she was seriously ill and needed a stem cell transplant, biomedical scientist Natalie White, 30, was determined to finally marry her carpenter fiancé, Jack White, 29, eight years on from her engagement.
Restricted by time and budget, Natalie, of Wolverhampton, West Midlands, opted for a small ceremony, saying: ‘We only invited both sets of parents, but there was a very special surprise in store for me. ‘Jack, my friends and family had arranged for Gibson, my beloved horse – all decked out in special bridal wear – to be my best man!’
‘Although it wasn’t what I had imagined for my wedding day, it was simple and special. We headed off to the hotel afterwards, where the manager was talking to us, telling us about its history, all the while trying to lead us out into the garden.‘I didn’t really understand what was going on, but then I saw Gibson standing there and it was so emotional. I had been loaning him for a few years and I love him so much. He is such a sweetheart. ‘Having him there for the next few hours meant so much to me. I think I spent more time with Gibson than I did with my new husband, as I hadn’t been able to see him as much after falling ill and it was lovely to have him by my side for the rest of the day.’
It seems to me there are two kinds of rider reactions to a horse who is spooked by something - the look and approach or the look away and ignore. Both camps are trying to instil trust and confidence in their horses and, of course, both think they are right. Like many things in equestrianism it can lead to some heated arguments!
I know this from experience as I'm a believer in not making an issue of something that my mare is shying at and instead make sure she is listening to me, usually with the help of shoulder-in (bending away from the scary object). The two people who I often ride out with, on the other hand, ask their horses to confront what is scaring them, saying things like, 'look at it, it's not scary, go on, see…, come on, get closer…have a good sniff…..' which means I have to hang around, usually harrumphing whilst my own horse usually starts to get wound up too! And equally if I make 'helpful' suggestions whilst they're struggling with a balking side-ways horse, their response is often far from polite!
Now, I have to admit, I was just like them, because their method seems to make sense, doesn't it? If as humans, we have a child or friend who is frightened by something that we know isn't going to harm them, we try and get them to overcome that fear by showing them that it isn't scary. And of course, there are many respected trainers who use this method. But, having taken on quite a few horses who shy, I can definitely say that this method has very rarely made them less spooky and it was actually a relief when I got a trainer who said, ' just keep away from that area of the school for now until we've got his/her attention and they've relaxed.' I also had the benefit of hacking out with another trainer (I can't recommend this enough) who showed me that if you keep your horse focused on what you are asking, and particularly make use of shoulder-in when you approach and go past something that has made them tense up, you actually create a much more confident horse, one that definitely shies less and less.
We like to think that men and women are on pretty equal footing when it comes to equestrian sports and equestrianism in general. But look a bit deeper and is this really the case?
There are plenty of female riders who prove that they are just as good as the men at dressage, eventing and show jumping but still, especially in show jumping, there are more men in the top ranks. And what about horse racing? When it comes down to finding investors, male trainers and jockeys still find it easier to get backing and with a sport that relies heavily on gambling, it's assumed, probably correctly, that most men prefer to put their money on a horse ridden by a man. We've also heard complaints from aspiring female jockeys who spend most of their time doing stable chores and get very little chance to ride, let alone compete. However, female jockeys are as good as men and it's even been proven by a study by Liverpool University!
Do men get taken more seriously than women?!!
Unfortunately grooms wages across the equestrian industry are still extremely low, taking advantage of the dreams of young women who are desperate to work with horses. If the majority of grooms were male, would this still be the case? We doubt many men would put up with being so poorly paid.
But it's not just men who are at fault, women are just as likely to discriminate against their own sex. We've encountered women owners saying that they don't want a female jockey riding their horse in a race as 'they're just not strong enough.' Even outside of sport, many women prefer to use a male vet or equine dentist and wouldn't dream of using a female farrier. There is even scientific evidence to show that women are biased against other women.
In a male dominated industry such as racing, when you hear female jockeys being interviewed on TV, and they're asked about sexism in their sport- they usually say that they've never encountered any. This may of course be true, especially for those who have come from racing families. But let's face it, would any female jockey who has fought hard to get rides, really want to rock the boat and risk losing the rides they do have.
And then there's the issue of sexual harassment. As we've seen from Hollywood's #MeToo movement, when the balance of power is so much in the employers favour, especially when the employee is desperate to pursue their dream, this can lead to the employer abusing their position. Also, depressingly women can't fail to notice that you don't have to be working in Hollywood to lose out on a job to someone better looking, even if you would be damn good at it.
When it comes to sexual harassment and bullying, again it can be difficult to speak up, can't it? Which is why we shouldn't judge those who feel afraid to speak out either. Some women feel powerless at the beginning of their careers and only feel much later on that they can speak out, as is the case with trainer and ex-jockey Gaye Kelleway.
The only way to bring about change however is for women to value themselves and support other women.
Have you encountered sexism in the equestrian industry?
Let’s be honest, most horsey people don’t spend lots of time cleaning and preening their cars and their most important function is getting us to and from the yard whatever the weather, and as a result are often subject to being forced through mud and pond-sized puddles. In the countryside, these dirt-caked cars are the norm, but prepare to stand out from the crowd when you drive your mud-mobile into town to be greeted by raised eyebrows and concerned looks as you park upside a sports car that has been polished to within an inch of its life!
Here are some of my top ways for spotting the car of a horse-rider from a mile off…
• Your car becomes your tack room… We’ve all been there…we say to ourselves, “Oh I’ll just keep this rug in my boot in case I need it next week,” or “I’ll just put these spare reins on the back seat so I don’t loose them.” Why is it that equestriennes tend to gradually move the entire contents of their tack room into their car?! And that's not to mention extra jackets, boots, scarves etc for myself. Whether it’s a sponge, a saddle or a stray exercise boot, you will struggle to find the actual seats beneath all the horsey items. My car is basically like a moveable saddlery shop, much to the bemusement of my poor non-horsey friends who have to drive anywhere with me. Anyone who gets in my car is now fully prepared to have to sit on a numnah with a riding hat on their lap!
• It also becomes a hay barn… Not only do we shed hay and straw from our clothing wherever we go but ONLY horsey people would think it’s a good idea to stuff an entire bale of hay on the back seat (for the record, it definitely isn’t a good idea). Putting wedges of hay in the car seems like a wonderful solution for taking it up to the field, but actually it leaves your car looking like a combine harvester has just driven through it.
• The smell… Sadly, no amount of air freshener can conceal the aroma of horse poo, horse sweat and tack cleaner. Over the years I have tried pretty much every scent the local garage has to offer, yet people still get in my car and make polite comments about the ‘countryside smell’. Unfortunately, I don't think if I bottled it, they'd buy it!
• The ever- present wellies… I just counted, and I have an impressive three pairs of wellies crammed into my boot. Given that I am at a university in the middle of the city, three pairs of wellies really doesn’t seem necessary. However, a mud-clad pair of wellies is an essential part of my car – after all, I guess you never know when you’re going to need to wade through a field of mud!
• The horsey stickers on the back windscreen… Something I’ve noticed over the years is that horse riders always have stickers plastering the windows of their car. Whether it’s a Countryside Alliance sticker, the British Dressage logo, or, in my case, a sticker that promotes horse & rider road safety, it's a sure sign it's an equestrian's car. I also have a load of rosettes pinned up on my parcel tray above my boot, just in case the driver in the car behind me cares that I won a show last week.
• The dog… A canine is a valuable addition to many horsey families, and are almost always bundled in the car on the way to the yard. As a result, muddy paw prints and dog hairs (combined, of course, with horse hairs) are likely to decorate your car seats, along with various chewed up toys and leads. Dogs are also an essential companion at shows, and more often than not have their own special spot in our lorries.
• The mud… Last, but by no-means least, is the mud that seems to get ingrained into the paintwork of our cars. Driving up country lanes and through fields sure takes its toll, and no amount of cleaning will make my car shine like it used to. It is not just the outside that has suffered – people always half-heartedly ask if they should take their muddy boots off when they get in to my car, but sadly it is far too late for that. Muddy boot prints are now a permanent feature of the interior design.
Although keeping our cars tidy may not be at the top of our priorities, I have picked up a few tips which have helped to keep my car at least slightly presentable….
• Make use of a tarpaulin… Lining your boot with a sheet of tarpaulin can make all the difference, particularly if you are using your car to move hay and straw around. It means that all the little bits of hay can’t work their way right into the fabric of your back seats, and then when you get to the yard you can just shake the tarpaulin out. You can buy them online for about £5, so it is a super cheap and easy solution.
• Recycle old feed sacks… Old feed bags are the PERFECT shape for recycling as wellie bags. I keep all my wellies in old plastic sugar beet sacks, which saves my car boot getting quite so embarrassingly muddy.
• Keep a spare pair of shoes with you… On a similar note, I always keep a pair of clean (ish…) trainers in my boot. Then when I finish at the yard, I can put them on to prevent the inside of my car from turning into a field. Wellies also aren’t safe to drive in, so I always make sure I change my shoes before I go anywhere.
• Invest in a clothes roller… These can be brought from most high street retailers, and are the life-saving essential that you never knew you needed! They are brilliant for picking up bits of horse hair from your clothes and car seats, and are a must during clipping season (unless you want to end up hairier than your pony).
US rocker and showjumping parent Bruce Springsteen has donated tickets to his Springsteen on Broadway show to raise funds for US team competing at the 2018 FEI World Equestrian Games in North Carolina.
The auction of the tickets and other items is part of a US Equestrian Team Foundation benefit event “Triumph in Tryon” on Friday night at the International Polo Club in Wellington, Florida.
Springsteen on Broadway has been sold out since it began its run in October 2017 and will play til June 2018. The package donated by Springsteen and his wife Patti Scialfa includes a backstage meet-and-greet with “The Boss” and goody bags containing a signed copy of Springsteen’s autobiography, Born to Run, as well as a hoodie, shirt and mug.
It is not the first time Springsteen has added his pulling power to equestrian causes. Before the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, sales of his donated concert tickets and packages raised $600,000. He said at the time:
“Patti and I have been involved with the horse world for 20 plus years since Jess started riding when she was five years old. Needless to say retirement is nowhere in sight for me. I literally play for horse feed night after night.”
Riding horses. In theory it's so simple. Easy some might say.
We've all heard the rage inducing comment from non-horse riders;
"Don't you just sit there?"
Someone once likened it to buying a lottery ticket, just pick the right numbers and you'll win. Sounds effortlessly easy, however we know it's anything but.
Breaking down a problem that feels complicated when you're trying to fit all the parts together is a technique that good trainers use. It allows you to build back up when you're on your own, which helps to create an independent focused rider. There's no point having endless lessons if you can't do the job when your trainer isn't on the ground with you.
In a recent lesson, this is how jumping was broken down for me. There are three essential elements that you need as your building blocks;
3. Be energetic
These three things, which appear to be no trouble at all on paper, in reality take focus, commitment and a lot of energy to achieve!
Whilst Archie is learning to change his way of going and work in a more balanced uphill canter, I am having to work harder. When he understands what I'm asking I hope that he will be more responsive to my aids, allowing me to be the one working a little less hard. At least that's my goal! But it's a conversation that we are having, where often I need to have little more authority, following our motto of "Be More Yorkshire".
Flying round the cross country is exhilarating and exciting but it can be easy to make the mistake of flying flat out between fences and then asking for focus and attention when the fence is approaching. This is a mistake many of us amateurs make, as we compete and train much less frequently, but one that can be easily rectified.
This is what we knew then: It started with a dream of dancing hooves and a flowing mane. He was strong and fast, and you couldn’t tell where he stopped and you started.
This is what we know now: Your horse is frightened and you know it. Or you’re frightened and your horse knows it. And it doesn’t matter who started it. You’re here now.
So the only few lines or paragraph I would have liked to have seen …is the one describing all the methodologies out there one can try, with time and patience and constant forgiveness, before sending a misunderstood horse away to yet another home where lordy knows what will be done to him. IMHO……..
Okay, here goes. If you think this frightened horse is almost within your skill range and you have the aforementioned time and patience and constant forgiveness… or if you have acquired a huge dose of fear common sense but think your horse would be okay if you relaxed…
Begin here: Make sure your horse is sound. No, really, have the vet check him over. Call a chiropractor who does acupuncture. If the horse is the problem, he usually has a problem. Then, be safe. Wear a helmet. Remove your watch and work in horse time. Take good and kind care of both of you.
Anxiety is normal on both sides. Pretending it doesn’t exist isn’t the same thing as releasing it. Acknowledge the weird balance of dread and enthusiasm. Forgive each other again. Then know that this process will take some time.
Words matter. Negative corrections aren’t effective. Yelling “NO!” is a dead end. It isn’t instructive to horse or human. It’s right up there with yelling “Don’t be afraid!” or “Quit grabbing the reins!” or “Stop running!” Telling yourself or your horse what to not do is like trying to deny reality. Instead, create a new reality by using simple, clean, positive words like “Walk on.” “Breathe.” “Well done.” In other words…
Less correction. More direction.
Start at the beginning. Is there resistance during haltering? At the first sign of anxiety, pause and breathe. Humans tend to speed up when we get nervous. Before we know it, we’re wrestling with a thousand-pound flight animal, when slowing down in the first place could resolve the anxiety on both sides while it was still small and manageable. Go slow.
Then do something mysterious. Take the halter off and leave.
When you both volunteer for the halter, proceed to ground work. Ask for something small, like walking next to you, but you stay out of his space as much as he stays out of yours. Walk together independently. Take time to get it right; let him test your patience.
Think less about whether he’s right or wrong, and more about what your senses are telling you. Practice being less complacent. What are his ears saying? Use all your senses to “listen” to your horse. Soften your visual focus by using peripheral vision to see a wider view of your surroundings. In other words…
Less brain chatter. More physical awareness.
Listen to his calming signals. Cue his movement with your feet instead of your hands. Laugh when he gets it right, and even more when you do. Keep at it until both of you have let go of all the breath you’ve been holding. Then feel the anxiety begin to shift.
Stay with ground work for as long as you want. Build confidence by ground driving and doing horse agility. Your horse doesn’t care if you ever ride him again. Your relationship isn’t defined by proximity; it’s defined by trust. If you don’t share confidence on the ground there’s no reason to think it will magically appear when you’re in the saddle.
When it feels right, groom him and tack up. Go for a walk in the arena and stop at the mounting block. Check the strap on your helmet and climb the steps. Lay a soft hand on his neck and if he’s nervous, breathe until his poll releases. Until his eyes relax. Until he is peaceful and your belly is soft.
Only go as far as the beginning of anxiety and stop there. Release it while it’s still just a flash of an idea.
Then be mysterious again. Step down and go untack him. Remember where you started and celebrate the progress you’ve both made. Know there will be setbacks, so let this time be precious.
Find a good ground coach. Someone who is calm and breathes well. Then take tiny challenges, one after another. Slow and steady, throw your leg over and sit in the saddle at the mounting block. Breathe and feel your thigh muscles. They might need some air, too. Remember you love your horse and melt what is frozen. Dismount without taking a step and call it a win.
Next time, take a few steps. You don’t need to feel like you’re alone on the high dive… ask your ground coach to click on a lead rope and walk beside you and your horse to start. Take baby steps so everyone succeeds. There is no shame in working as a team. Then climb off before you want to.
Think rhythm. All good things for horses happen rhythmically: chewing, walking, breathing. All bad things come with a break in rhythm: bucking, bolting, spooking. Good riding for the horse means rhythm so that’s your first concern.
You can count your breath, focus on your sit-bones like a metronome, or ride to music. Whatever you like, just so it connects your spine to your horse’s movement in a slow, confidence-building rhythm. Then walk on.
When emotions arise, notice them. Refuse to demonize yourself or your horse. Breathe until the feelings get bored and leave.
This is the secret: Remember that science says that a horse’s response time is seven times quicker than ours? While they come apart ridiculously fast, they can also come back together quickly, if we ask them to. Humans believe in a snowball effect; if the horse shakes his head or any other small infraction, the inevitable end is a train wreck.
It isn’t true. If you take a breath as soon as you feel anxiety in your horse, and he will do the same. Other days, your horse might notice you go tense and blow his breath out so loud that you hear it and take his cue.
It’s a partnership; sometimes we carry them and sometimes they carry us. It doesn’t matter who starts it. Just so we all come home safe.
Then one day you notice that the dark thoughts are rare. Instead, you’re distracted by something bright and shiny. It’s your childhood dream, balanced with common sense, right here in real life.
Anna Blake is a horse advocate, equine professional, award-winning author, and proud member of the herd at Infinity Farm, on the Colorado prairie. She trains horses and riders equine communication skills and dressage, and writes parables about horses and life. | Relaxed & Forward: AnnaBlakeBlog
Lady Gaga adores horses.
It all started when Gaga first moved to California, and her record label gave her a mare for her birthday.
“I guess, when I moved to California, the sunlight was really good for me — I was happy. The sunshine helped to keep an optimism in my music. And while out there, I developed a special connection to horses. It began when my record label gave me a horse for my birthday: an Arabian mare named Arabella.
"I had never taken a horse-riding lesson. I literally did not know how to ride a horse. But I just grabbed her by the mane and rode her bareback."
Any equestrian will tell you that that's a amazing feat. Arabella, Gaga's first horse, was so well-trained that it inspired the singer to get her a boyfriend, a stallion named Tigger.
" With him, I have to ride with a saddle. When I ride him, it always makes me feel so powerful, because he is so powerful. There’s no pressure. I just get on the horse and go. It’s sort of a metaphor for all the guys I’ve been with.”
“My body’s been through a lot over the years. Riding has forced me to be fearless pretty quickly. It’s all about down here, in that woman area. Balance, strength, persistence.”
Gaga seems to have found strength and inspiration from riding.
“I go on trails, ride, gallop, I’m not a ‘planning’ type of horse rider. I wake up, write songs, go for a ride.”
READ MORE: Lady Gaga Strips Down - V Magazine
I hear lots of horror stories in my line of work. “My horse just started bucking, for no good reason.” “He was flying like a kite on the end of my lead rope.” “One minute he was walking next to me and the next, I had smashed toes, my head knocked sideways, and he was running away.”
In that instant, your horse goes from being your soulmate to guilty of conspiracy to commit murder. Slightly less paranoid riders would call his behavior a psychotic break. He became unpredictable. Uncontrollable. Is the term betrayal overly dramatic? He broke your trust.
Lucky for you there are some rail-birds ready to dispense training advice. Put a chain over his nose. Run him in the round pen until he gives in. Get a whip and show him who’s boss.
Whoa! Slow down. Can we rewind? Tell the lynch mob that you’ve got this. Because if the only response is hindsight punishment, riders are doomed. Here’s a radical thought: How about listening to him in the first place?
Disclaimer: There is the very rare occasion when a pain response forces a horse to explode without warning. Think bee sting. If there is an extreme response, look first at his physical condition.
In most cases, the horse runs away just one step at a time. He gives warnings repeatedly, as his anxiety grows. He holds it together as long as he can. If you’re listening, you have time. Learning to respond to calming signals from your horse can save both of you.
When I ask riders for the long version of what happened, the story unfolds differently. Maybe he was hard to catch that day, or impatient and a bit barn sour at the gate, or maybe especially girthy during saddling. She got complacent. Small details were ignored for expediency. Some of us are so busy in our own heads that we don’t even notice the small details. The rest of us were taught to plow on ahead no matter what because we can’t let the horse “win.”
Then his discomfort got confused with disobedience. Horses just have one way of communicating and it’s with their body. If a generally well-behaved horse nips or tosses his head, don’t think you can “correct” his anxiety with escalation. When we get resistance from a horse, pause and breathe. Then resolve the anxiety while it is small and manageable. Let your horse see you as worthy of his trust.
The biggest reason to listen to your horse is because you have the awareness equivalency of a blind, deaf, hairless mouse. Horses are prey animals forever; their senses are so much more acute than a human’s that we literally have no idea what’s going on, even if we’re paying attention. Let that sink in.
On top of that, science says that a horse’s response time is seven times quicker than ours; the fastest response time of any common domestic animal. When things come apart, it happens fast. It makes sense because flight – the instinct to sprint away from perceived danger – is the species’ primary defensive behavior.
I italicized instinct for a reason; it’s the important part. Is it fair to ask for obedience above instinct? The short answer is yes, our safety depends on it, but it’s complicated.
Say we’re walking to the arena. From the horse’s side, they pull their head away and graze because it’s their instinct to always eat. Horses are designed for full-time grazing. So we react by jerking the lead-rope. Fighting instinct is a bit like fighting gravity but humans have a plan and a clock ticking, so we get adversarial.
A rider with a greater understanding of her horse’s instincts and needs might feed a flake of hay while tacking up and then actively lead her horse to the arena by keeping a good forward rhythm in her feet. He has food in his stomach and she gets to ride within her time constraints. Best of all, there is no fight before the ride even starts. You can tell it’s good leadership because everyone “wins.”
Most of all, no one betrays anyone. The best reason for a rider to study and understand horse behavior is that learning their logic can keep us from a runaway of our own – an emotional runaway.
Granted, it’s a little easier to be logical in a discussion over grazing rights than it is in the middle of a dangerous bucking incident, but we have to start small.
And it doesn’t hurt to acknowledge that, when you look at it this way, horses and humans aren’t that temperamentally well-suited to each other. So it goes; I don’t see either species giving up on each other.
All of this is to say that when your horse appears to overreact to his surroundings, he isn’t wrong. And adding our over-reaction on top won’t make things better.
At the same time, it’s our nature to think we know everything and that our plan is the only thing that matters. It’s a good reminder, even if your horses live on your property with you, that you are only a small part of their experience. They have fully dimensional lives, with emotional ups and downs, that have nothing do to with you at all.
If you want an unthinking partner with limited intelligence, dirt bikes are a good option. Otherwise, spend more time understanding and less time wishing horses were different. It takes more than a lifetime to understand horses. You don’t have any time to lose.
Yes, you could say that I’m making excuses for horses and, not as sympathetic as I should be toward humans who have been hurt and frightened. I just want to suggest that we be a bit more careful about the words we use to describe horse behaviors. We must learn to accept and support each other’s instincts for self-preservation because that’s how both species will flourish.