Horses have been recorded to naturally travel around 8.1-28.3km per day; with recent studies documenting horses travelling for 12-hours to water and food resources (Hampson et al. 2010). Yes, our domestic horses need not travel 55km to the water bowl that sits in front of them, but, horses are designed to roam. They have slow fermenting hind guts to provide warmth and fuel for the continuous roughage they graze, and distances they travel. Horses have long, strong limb structures, to accommodate hours of continuous walking and running. Even with turnout, domestic horses only travel around 7.2km/day, compared to the documented 17.9km average of a feral horse (Hampson et al. 2010). Incorporating hacking into our horse’s routine would surely improve this figure?
Not only does hacking offer parallel to a horse’s natural lifestyle of roaming, it also mentally stimulates them. Feral horses observe various sceneries and terrains on a regular occurrence, so it is not to my surprise when I read studies which suggest that the domestic horse lacks mental stimulation (Horseman et al. 2016). Despite the lack of research, many riders remark on the positive mental impact which hacking makes on their horses. Many magazine, blog and official organisation sites are also advocates for hacking; reporting that the activity mentally ‘engages’, ‘boosts confidence’ and ‘pleases’ the horse (Moore, 2018; FEI, 2018).
With this in mind, I am always shocked at the amount of people who do not want to hack, purely because they ‘find it boring’, or ‘it doesn’t fit into the horse’s routine’. But seriously, who actually enjoys riding in circles 6-days per week? I don’t – and I can imagine, neither do our horses? I always look at the riders at the top of their sport, and see what routine they have their horses in, as these horses must be thriving in their routine to be so successful.
Carl Hester, for example. A dressage rider, with over national titles, and Olympic Team Gold winner, he must spend every day riding circles, right? To my surprise, Carl regularly incorporates hacking into the weekly routines of his horses, including his Olympic competitors! If hacking is good enough for top riders, it is good enough for us mere mortals, surely?!
Despite its benefits, it doesn’t come to my surprise that hacking is a declining activity. It seems that the roads are becoming faster, and more dangerous, every day. According to the BHS (2019), a survey reported 3,737 road incidents involving horses between November 2010 and March 2019 – that’s 415 accidents per year, and almost 4 accidents per day. It is frightening to think that only 1 in 10 incidents are reported to the BHS, so the reported numbers are likely to be higher; including the 315 horses killed as a result of road accidents.
I used to really enjoy hacking, but, nowadays, the roads frighten me. I am incredibly lucky that Phoebe is un-phased by traffic, but after having a traffic accident with my late horse, I am always so worried. I hear the car coming, and my heart stops for a second. I remember the accident that I had, which left my horse so frightened that we had to make the decision to euthanize him. The aforementioned BHS (2019) survey found that 73% of incidents were caused as a result of cars passing too close, and 31% were a result of cars passing too fast. When I had my accident, the car passed us too close; he didn’t wait, and he pushed past. Sound familiar?
We need to tackle the sides of hacking which are under-supported and underrated.
Seems simple doesn’t it? We need more road awareness to drivers, we need more bridleways (and make those currently available more accessible), and we need greater opportunity to avoid the roads. So, this is what we need, but how do we get it?
- Document your hacking! HatCams are a great way to slow drivers down (they soon go down a gear when they see you are recording!), and are also great in evidence should an incident occur;
- Share your experiences – good and bad. Entice other riders to hack and show us all how much you and your horse enjoy it! Equally, don’t forget to report any bad experiences. Traffic accidents/poor driving can be reported to the BHS or the Police (111), and badly kept bridleways can be reported to your local council.
- Approach your local farmers. You would be surprised that many are open to the idea of seasonal riding passes, especially if you can contribute to its use.
- Petitions? Should we start petitioning for more bridleways or changing use of footpaths? I have seen many have been attempted and rejected – but perhaps if worded correctly and strategized, we might stand a chance? Is this something you all could get on board with?
I would love to hear your thoughts and ideas. Please comment or share them with the equine community to help us combat the problems we face with hacking.
Let’s talk about expectations!
There have been many days which a hack, a show ring experience, a dressage test (the list is endless) has not gone quite to plan. Sometimes, life doesn’t go as planned! The horse spooked, you forgot test, the weather was bad, and so on. That’s fine, we should take the positives and move on.
However, sometimes, moving on is quite difficult to do! I have, before, been disappointed with myself for not getting a Charlotte Dujardin score, in my Prelim test, even though I forgot my test half way around. This is not productive. I thought to myself, “I need to manage my expectations! I am only human. So, before I talk about our wonderful horses, just bear in mind that, alike your four-legged friend, you can only do your best. Some days are better than others, that’s just life!
Onto the most important bit, in my opinion! Our horses. I want us to manage our expectations of our , not just ourselves. Again, we have such high expectations of our horses. We expect them to do the most difficult and challenging things for us, and seldom stop to think why they are doing it. We need to remember that horses are NOT machines! They are animals with their own ‘culture’ – they have totally different natural behaviours than most domestic animals which we are accustomed to. We must consider this, in all aspects of handling, riding, and owning horses. We need to think about what we are asking of them, and we need to think why they may respond in certain ways.
My point is, it is our decision to domesticate horses, not theirs. It is therefore, our responsibility to manage our expectations of them. I have created list of a few scenarios which I think we should consider next time we feel frustrated or annoyed with our horses:
Reality: Horses are herd animals. They rely on each other for safety and comfort. Taking them away from their herd, for a hack or a run around the XC phase, distorts their herd/hierarchical mentality and, often, induces stress and confusion.
Reality: Horses are prey animals. They are built with lengthy and strong limbs to enable them to RUN. This is how they escape predation. This is how they survive. Shying at a crisp packet may be a little OTT in some cases, but it is good to remember where this instinct comes from. It is there for a reason.
Reality: So, this is a little more complicated. Aside from horses with actual anxiety issues, caused by trauma, traumatic weaning etc. (a longer topic for another day!), most horses DO pair bond. Again, this is their instinct. Being herd animals, they rely on each other for protection, warning of predators and for herd behaviours. Pair bonding and herd bonding is vital for hierarchical relationships and the success of their functioning herd.
behave in these ways for genuine reasons.
Reality: As aforementioned, horses are animals, not machines. As most of us are frightened of spiders, most horses are frightened of clippers! This is not because the arachnid and clipper device share ‘scary’ qualities, it is a result of how differently we and the horse are ‘conditioned’. A bit of psychology for you, but in short terms, it is just how we approach things and how our cultures/upbringings affect our fears. You can’t really compare us to a horse, likewise, you can’t really compare fears.
Since when have we stopped helping each other? When has it been easier to pull someone down, than build them up? I feel that this applies in everyday life and situations, but today, I am going to focus on the equine industry.
I won’t bore you with statistics or facts, but it is important to consider the sheer volume of abhorrence and bullying which occurs both online and in-life within the industry. Whether this is some troll commenting ‘you ride awfully’ on an Instagram post, or a livery-yard acquaintance telling you that you aren’t looking after your horse properly. Everyone has an opinion, and someone always ‘knows better’. I have certainly been victim of this – I am sure you have, too? There have been so many times when I have sat and cried in the corner of my stable, or have been too nervous to get out of my car at the livery yard, because of things that other people have said to or about me.
I am not going to profess that this blog will help anyone ‘cope’ with these situations, as there really is nothing worse than someone else making you feel worthless as a result of their own insecurities or mindset. All that I can offer you, is that you know yourself and your horse, truly, and you must weigh up how much the opinions of those matter to you.
What I will do, however, is target this post to everyone. Anyone who has upset another, or has been upset by someone. Anyone who has said or thought something hurtful, or has been on the receiving end of it. I am not going to shame anyone, because everyone can change. Everyone makes mistakes - that is how we learn.
So, to learn from these mistakes, I follow these three simple steps…
1. Ask yourself, do I need support?
You’ve got to start somewhere. Jealousy and hurtful comments towards other people usually stems from one’s own lack in self-confidence. I have certainly been in this position – but I know that this comes from my own insecurities. I know that people who have been hurtful to me have done so for the same reason.
So, let’s turn this around. Why not ask the person whom you are jealous of, to help you? Ask them how they jump 1.20m? Ask them to show you.
Think to yourself, how can I turn this around to be productive, not counterproductive? How can this thought help me and other people, not the opposite? – Because, let’s face it, not only do these thoughts and comments hurt those to whom they are directed, but they hurt you, too. Be grateful for the things you do, the people and horses you have in your life, and the achievements you have. Build on them!
2. Ask your friends, do they need support?
Honestly, what have you got to lose? Be nice! Although this should be altruistic, you will get something back from it; whether this is a good feeling inside, the joy of seeing someone else happy, or returned support.
You can’t give someone a leg up with one hand; literally and theoretically. You have to mean it, and be invested. That means, in terms of the aforementioned analogy, you have got to believe what you are saying! If you don’t believe what you are saying, neither will anyone else.
Think about what you say and the way you say it. I am not professing that we must rehearse every line in our head before speaking, but the phrase ‘think before you speak’ comes to mind. People do have feelings, especially about their ‘pride and joy’ horses. Support the people who surround you, whether these are friends, livery yard associates, other riders at a show - make them feel how you would want to feel. So what, some people only jump 50cm? So what, the successful dressage horse in the box next to you is ‘just a cob’? Does this really affect you? No. Does this affect your horse? No.
3. Look at the bigger picture.
We never know the full story. We can never assume it. All we can do is be approachable and friendly, and give our support to those who need it.
If we all just made a promise to say at least one nice thing to another rider, even just once in a day, I believe that it would make a huge difference. Think of all of the happiness that we would be spreading. I think our horses would appreciate it – we are of much more use to them as happy owners than those sat crying in the corner of the stable!
We need to cheer each other on.
Does my horse ‘listen’ to me?
Whilst horses cannot ‘talk’, or speak our language, it is suggested that they are able to understand many of our communicative techniques. Wathan et al (2016) found that horses are able to analyse facial expression of conspecifics, to gain social information. More recently, Proops et al (2018) found evidence of this analysis being used by horses to gain information on heterospecifics; in particular, humans. This study suggests that horses remember human emotional expressions, and associate the memory to the specific face from which they saw it displayed.
One of the most distressing things I that had read when researching this topic is how negative facial stimuli affects horses. Smith et al (2016) measured stress parameters against photographic stimuli; finding increased heart rate to be amongst the most expressed when negative stimuli, such as a frowning face, is presented. Perhaps bear this is mind when you are around your horse?
So… horses are great listeners. But do we listen to them?
In light of this, another phrase comes to my mind… a Winnie-the-Pooh (A. A Milne) quote, of course.
This quote makes me feel so sad, because it really is so true. While horses clearly ‘listen’ to us, we don’t always listen back. They spend time to monitor our emotions, yet do we do the same?
The reason that I am bringing this quote up is because this is something I held onto when I lost Rakker. I think it is easy for us, as owners, to stop paying attention. I don’t mean ignore your horse - I mean, get so wrapped up in worry and paranoia that you forget to ‘listen’ to them. I hold my hand up and admit this. Having a sick horse is not easy, and becoming over-focused on keeping them ‘well’ can cloud communication between you both.
When I had the decision to make, I thought about this quote. I thought “What is Rakker saying?” “What does he want me to do?”
Sadly, a genie didn’t fly out of a lamp at this point and give Rakker the magical powers of speech. Instead, I realised that I was being so selfish. I thought I wanted him alive because I would miss him too much if he went. I didn’t stop to think about what he wanted – I wasn’t listening to him.
By ‘listening’ to Rakker, I made my decision, and, as you’ll know, it was his anniversary was on Tuesday. I let Rakker sleep on the 2nd July 2018. I decided to take him to my local vets practice as he had been there many times before – he expected needles and vets. I didn’t want to stress him out by doing it at home, as he was always such an anxious horse when his home routine was disturbed. My vet, who Rakker knew well and trusted, sat with me, as we let him sleep. Rakker’s head was in my arms, as my tears rolled down his cheek. I still get upset with myself for crying because I so badly didn’t want to upset him. But he wasn’t upset. It was honestly like he knew. He was calm and he looked happy. He was led looking at me and he just drifted off, in my arms. He went peacefully.
I have honestly never cried like that in my life. It doesn’t matter how long you’ve known your horse, losing them is the hardest thing you’ll ever go through as an owner. Whether you’ve known them for one month or ten years, the pain and overwhelming feeling of loss still applies to you. Don’t let anyone tell you that you shouldn’t grieve for the horse you’ve known for one month; only you know what you had with that horse. Only you know what you went through and the times you spend together.
Despite all, what I do keep in mind is this:
By letting him go, I listened to him. I let him talk to me, and I listened. I didn’t let my own words overwhelm his.
It is so easy to get wrapped up in life. We can become so focused on the little things, forgetting about the bigger picture. Many of us have goals. Whether it is competing at BE100, or gaining >70% in a dressage test, these aims can cloud us; overcoming the joy of owning a horse.
I have been that person who has sobbed next to their horse at a competition when the test sheet came back with a low score. I have been that person who sits in the stable, moping, wondering why things didn’t go better in the show-ring. I have been there. I think we all have? At the time, you can’t understand why your horse refused the jump; why the perfectly good dressage test resulted in a low score; or why, no matter how hard you try, you just don’t seem to be winning. These feelings can overcome you. They can jeopardise the relationship which you have spent so long to build with your horse; removing the reason why we get up at such unholy hours every day to see them!
1. Just pause when you feel like this. Think to yourself… “Am I actually going to remember losing this class in 10 years’ time?” Try and remember what it felt like BEFORE you got that score sheet, or it all went ‘wrong’.
I don’t think I am breaking news when I say that horses cannot read test sheets, or jumping penalty scores. All they know is that they tried their hardest for you and had a wonderful day out. They can’t understand why you are upset with them for, let’s say, getting a tad expressive in the canter transition, when all they were just doing their best Valegro impression, to wow the other horses (!). Sometimes it’s rider error, too! I can openly admit that there have been days which I have not given 100%; days which stress and fear of other things in my life have overcome me. I cannot expect my horses to be perfect all of the time, if I am not?
Horses also have bad days, too. They have their own stresses and fears in everyday life, just like us. These, we may not even recognise, because they can’t tell us! Phoebe can’t tell me if she had a really stressful night because the wind was rustling leaves on the stable roof. She can’t tell me that this has made her on-edge for our competition, so I won’t judge her for it. So, when you come first or last in that show class, make them KNOW that they have won, to you. They have won your heart, at the end of the day. Remind them of this. Regardless if you and your horse won the class, or not. Think of small victories. Remind yourself of the positives.
2. Don't compare yourself to others (easier said than done, eh?)
- because, everyone is different. Just because someone else has the same age horse, is the same age rider, and trains at the same level, doesn't make you the same. Everyone copes differently at competitions, everyone has different strategies of training. It certainly doesn't mean that one way is better, or right, over another, it just means that you just have to find the strategy which works for you and your horse. If all horses and riders were the same, everyone would be at 'top' level!
3. Remember you are only human, and your horse is a only a horse!
I think it is quite easy to forget that horses aren’t humans. They are so emotional and intelligent, it makes us forget that they have only been domesticated for ~6,000 years. But, it is vital to remember that they ARE horses. They are herd animals, prey animals. They rely on numbers for safety. Naturally, horses are routine animals, and as we know, stay in the same herd for most of their life. Our domestic routine totally disrupts their natural behaviour. Just remember this when you ask your horse to go for a hack, or around the cross country course at an event. Even just bringing them in from their field for a groom, you are asking them to leave their ‘safe-place’ and their herd, making themselves vulnerable. For you. Horses get nothing from going out competing. The only thing they have, is that they are with you, so, make this the best experience for them. You deserve to be happy as a rider – after all, you are already among the privileged few to own a horse. Likewise, they deserve to be happy as a horse – they don’t owe you anything. They do what they do because they know it makes you happy (and a few treats certainly won’t go amiss!).
Equally, you are only a mere human. So what? You forgot the test movement? You almost flew off when your horse took a stride out? So what? Your horse doesn't care! Your horse is just happy that you are in their life, to feed and look after them. They don't mind if you only want to hack, or if you just want to bring them in for a cuddle tonight. Don't beat yourself up, you are doing great!
4. Remember this...
On the very wettest of days
"This place is a shit-ing shithole" - Overheard from a frustrated and rather wet trainer who proceeded to stamp through knee deep puddles, in a manner similar to a pissed off toddler!
On the long days
"The only thing I like about this place is that this is second time I've pressed E3 and it's given me two Yorkies" - Overheard from a desperately hungry and sugar starved boyfriend at a three day show in a very wet April.
On the eventing days
"She doesn't want to fall off, she doesn't want to waste an air canister" - Overheard in response to a rider desperately clinging on to their horse after taking a flyer at a fence and trying not to hit the deck.
On the bad days
Shouting "NO" to your horse, and then in a whisper "Why did you do it? We talked about this!" - Overheard in response to any silly behaviour which you really wish your horse wouldn't do in public!
On the hot days
"Water is good for you, why won't you drink for me!" - A regular comment overheard when your horse decides the water out of the container that came from home isn't the same as the stuff that it actually AT home.
On the showjumping days
From affiliated competitions where you overhear "This collecting ring is a bit scary..."
To the unaffiliated days where you overhear "I can't cope with the faffing in this collecting ring". The particularly appropriate response to this was, "I think you've done too much showjumping." - Guilty as charged on that one I'm afraid!
On nearly every show and training day
"Don't just sit there!" - Overheard from nearly every trainer. Words nearly every rider has had shouted at them at some point I'm sure, particularly when nerves get the better of you.
On days where the tack shop has a sale
Person 1 - "Do you really need more <insert any horsey item>?"
Person 2 - "Well no, but it's on sale!!" - Overheard on a regular basis, usually related to some superfluous item of tack. Most commonly when you're trying to buy rugs you don't really need!
On days when the pony classes are on
"She's ten and she's making that course look like sticks on the floor. Why the hell can't I do that?" - Overheard from depressed adults who realise these kids are always going smash us when it comes to guts and speed!
On days when the non horsey family come to watch
"I'm surprised, I thought everyone would be really stuffy and posh"
Oh the irony. Us equestrians are muddy, smelly, sweaty and dirty most of the time, that is apart from the few moments when we are in the ring and then we gleam.
On all days
Exclamations of love and delight followed up with loud wet sloppy kisses and lots of hugs. Words being shouted out or whispered softly by so many riders as they exit the ring or untack at the lorry. Despite all the heartache and disasters these wonderful animals are simply fabulous in every way.
As it says on the tin, this is a personal blog about the journey Archie and I are taking in discovering the world of eventing. Archie is a 6 year old Irish gelding, and I am a 26 year old horse addict. I didn’t grow up in a family with horses, and Archie was the first horse I ever owned, having loaned for over 20 years. I hope that we can show other riders who perhaps don’t feel that they can achieve their dreams, that anything is possible!
It is not one of my strengths to keep friendships going. I actually suck. That might be due to the fact that I like spending time on my own. Enjoying the amenities of online shopping, I would not even have to leave the house if there was no Hafl making sure that I get out from time to time (sure, going to work is a must, too).
When Waliento arrived at our barn in late 2017, I had no idea that he would become what I would call Hafl's best friend. During winter, they spent their winter turnout together and watching them play showed that they really like each other. Whenever they can, they play and tease each other, run around, squeak and bolt. Hafl is like an older brother for Waliento now, teaching him not to panic when on a trail ride, showing him how to behave while cantering in the great wide open, making sure he is not shitting his pants when we put obviously dangerous objects into the arena. Hafl even seems calmer than ever before just like he is thinking: need to be brave, little brother is watching.
I guess Hafl had best friends before. It all started with my other horse back in 2009, a guy he really liked. After selling him and moving for the second time, he met Wax, a friend's horse and together they explored the world and even made it to the sea. After we parted and moved to other barns, Hafl did not seem to have a particular horse he liked until Waliento showed up.
Hafl and PE, back in 2010
It is really fun to see such a relationship even though sometimes they take it a bit too far. Turnout season is right ahead so I am already wondering whether the grass will be more important than playing with this friend.
Haffie best friends
Does your hose have a best friend?
I can’t believe Freddie has been home for a whole 6 months! Fred had been injured since last June with a hole in his superficial digital flexor tendon. It’s been a long road since he came home in August with 24/7 box rest, icing, bandages and confined turnout, as well as hand walking him every day for 3 months. The biggest worry about this kind of injury for me, was the fear of the unknown… was it healing, or was all this time and worry going to be for nothing?
Freddie is actually a very easy going thoroughbred, as long as there was good grub he wasn’t worried about messing about or potentially further damaging the leg. However there were a couple of occasions where I did nearly have heart failure! The worst of all was a matter of weeks before his scan on November 1st where he decided to run the Grand National in his tiny paddock, bucking and flat out galloping for about 20 minutes! No heat or swelling showed from the legs so I prayed everything was ok…
One less thing to worry about.
The middle of October was also when I decided to turn Freddie out full time in the field with friends Inky and the pony Munchkin. Fred had started to become a bit of a hooligan being brought in at night and was very wired up on his walks. We decided that with a matter of weeks to go until his scan the leg was most likely to have healed or not and Fred having the odd run about wasn’t going to make a lot of difference. We turned Fred and Inky out and then released the pony… moment of truth - NOTHING!… absolutely no reaction at all! Munchkin went straight out to eat and Fred didn’t look up from munching!!
The biggest challenge - Freddie’s weight.
When Fred first came to me he dropped an awful lot of weight within the first week. We believed this to be a bit of an adrenaline shock after leaving a racing yard after 7 years of his life, and also just the change in routine. Thankfully, he picked up after feeding him coolstance corpra and dengie alfa a chaff. However nearing the end of September we realised that this feed combination was not working for Fred. It was sending him a bit nutty and I will put my hands up to admitting that I didn’t realise that alfa a was more like rocket fuel than a conditioning feed for a thoroughbred on box rest! I have literally spent ALL winter looking for a combination of feeds that will put weight on Fred without sending his brain crazy, but finally I think I’ve found the answer…. ! Linseed oil! I have been adding linseed oil to the feeds for just over three weeks now and it has really started to make a difference. He has more condition over his back and bottom and his belly looks much better, much fuller and barely any visibility of his ribs. He is now on coolstance, speedi beet and high fibre nuts too.
1st November was the big day! It was scan day… after months of waiting it was make or break, I was petrified. The team at Whitelodge Vets are fantastic, Phil arrived and set about setting up the scanner ready. Phil scanned both legs and then gave us the verdict… SUCCESS! The hole in Fred’s superficial digital flexor tendon had completely healed and was now filled with scar tissue. I was so unbelievably happy, best day ever! Let the fun begin.
So, by the end of Fred’s recovery time he had become a bit wild and was ready to get on with a job! I had changed his feed, but he was feeling rather 'well' and his hand walks had become a slight challenge for me. He would get overly excited and quite honestly it scared me a little! After all, hand walking a 16’3/17hh horse who is getting very excited and growing even bigger is a bit daunting! I will admit I was frightened of him and I was scared to get on him in less than two weeks. Had I over horsed myself and had I let my heart take over my head?
Let the journey begin!
The 14th November was the day that I finally climbed back aboard Fred, 178 days after my first and only ride. I was super excited but also very nervous. He had had 6 months out of the game and I was about to jump on at a saddle fitting! My boy surprised me again - he stood like a complete saint for the whole fitting until we’d picked our chosen saddle. I then tacked him up and jumped on. He seemed a bit shocked as to where his mum’s voice was now coming from but he was a complete angel.
I rode him up the driveway and out onto the road to get a feel for the saddle and to ensure the saddle fitted. I was ecstatic, Fred behaved like a dream and we even had a few strides of trot, he felt huge though! The first time I rode him he had been off a track for 3 days, he was a muscled up athlete, big but not this big I swear! He’d since been off for 6 months and gained a nice summer belly, lost a lot of muscle and looked like a completely different horse. It would now be a case of riding and schooling him back into work and gaining back the topline and muscle he’d lost.
The following Sunday was Freddie’s first hack, Emma who owns the pony that Freddie lives with walked with me to be safe, but once again he was a total star! He didn’t put a hoof out of place and loved every minute of it, he seemed super proud of himself to be back in work.
Fred has continued to be super out riding, we have ventured all over the Quantocks and had our first few canters. We’ve faced every imaginable that’s scary and Fred has remained very sane only dancing about and really looking after me. We have only had one moment of utter madness and that came when he saw his old racehorse friends out and we had a display of squealing and mini rearing/jumping! I aim to ride him at least 5/6 times a week although with the recent weather that is proving sometimes difficult! (Snow in March!) He is really good though and hacks out alone or in company completely fine. Due to not having a school at home I have only been hacking and lunging Fred but aim in the next few weeks to get him in a local school to really encourage him to work properly and gain some proper topline and muscle.
Kaitlin and Freddie xxx
Dressage is a delight, when it’s done right. It looks effortless and elegant. Non-horsey people love to tell you ” I could so do that, it’s easy, you just walk in a circle”, but when you try it’s simply the hardest thing in the world. Walking in a circle should be easy. It’s not. Crossing over from one side of the arena to other should be easy. It’s not. That is not to do it perfectly straight, in balance and without any random wiggles or change in rhythm.
After a winter’s break from dressage it feels daunting thinking about re-entering the area and trotting down the centre line. Neither Archie or I have ever particularly enjoyed dressage, competing as necessary for eventing and happy to train at home to improve both of us, but never truly embracing the dressage competition life. For one thing I fail totally at matchy matchy, everything we own is black. It’s just easier to hide the mud!
At last the Menopause, is something that we're beginning to discuss openly and having listened to an enlightening programme on all the symptoms that women can suffer from we started to wonder how many older female riders have experienced a dramatic drop in their confidence because of it.
The Menopause affects all of us differently but many women find that it can make them feel incredibly tired, which coupled with another symptom, insomnia, can make trying to work, look after kids and run the household (yes unfortunately usually this still comes down to a woman!) AND keep a horse, seem an increasingly daunting task. This alone isn't good for our confidence.
But another symptom of these hormonal changes that can be particularly debilitating to riders and isn't as well known is an increase in ANXIETY, making many women become more worried and fearful. So, if you've noticed that in your late forties and into your fifties you've suddenly become hyper-aware of potential dangers when riding and handling horses then it could be a symptom of the menopause. It's not just you! And maybe this knowledge will stop you being so hard on yourself and other women who seem to have lost their nerve!
It's actually quite a relief isn't it, knowing that it's your hormones that have caused this dramatic drop in confidence rather than the other excuses that you keep putting it down to. We riders are a pretty tough bunch and find it hard to cope with what we often see as 'weakness'. Women often become terribly depressed because of it and claim that they 'feel like they have turned into another person,' one that they don't like very much!
So, don't suffer in silence. For more on the Menopause take a look at My Menopause Doctor.