Killer questions

In an uncharacteristic move, I was unprepared for a situation I found myself in the other weekend.  Back in December, I had a message from the director of my summer camp to provide dates of recruitment fairs she’d be attending in the UK and Ireland – former staff were invited along to say hi and help out.  There had been one such person two years previously when I was hired, and I thought it’d be a fun thing to do (plus I needed to see the director and discuss what may or may not happen in 2015), so I agreed to attend one of the London fairs.

Having witnessed someone else do what I knew I’d be doing, I didn’t think about it too much – the day I was hired, a friendly girl (who, as it happened, had done two summers in the horseback department) was essentially entertaining the queue of waiting candidates.  She wasn’t assessing anyone, but she was available to ask any of the more informal questions an applicant might have.  I assumed I’d be in the same position, so I didn’t prepare myself other than remembering what I might get asked.

However, I forgot that things have changed slightly in the meantime – I initially turned down the opportunity to return to camp in 2015, deciding to stay in the UK and start to get my life back on a permanent track.  Some good things have happened this winter, and I wanted to stick with them.  Then my boss also said she wouldn’t return, and the carrot of a promotion was dangled in front of me.  My decision was on the rocks.

Nobody at the recruitment fair I helped at was uncertain.  Once the doors opened, we were inundated with enthusiastic applicants.  I duly triaged the queue, turning away anyone who was seeking a position we’d already filled, and warming up those who we could potentially take.  As I was chatting away, my director grabbed me and asked me to speak to an applicant she’d already approved of – our first candidate for horseback.  I was excited to finally talk horse with someone, but what I wasn’t expecting was that I’d have to vet their skills!  The director had decided she was happy with the person – not an easy feat, she’s justifiably a tough woman to please – and I was to make a call as to whether their horsey experience was sound.

I explained a little about the department – one of the problems we often face at camp is that whoever hires people (a selection of directors travel around the world, and none of them work at the barn) doesn’t know a huge amount about what we do and how the day works, so they aren’t able to answer detailed questions.  Sometimes, it’s clear staff have been accidentally misled, and they get a big shock.  They’re normally told it’s hard work (which any horse person should already know) and long hours are involved (but again, it’s camp, not a holiday – you’re there to work!) but sometimes they seem to show up assuming they’ll ride several hours per day, or during their breaks… not the case!

It’s difficult to give an accurate representation of what it’s like without scaring people off, but I tried my best.  Anyone who loves horses and wants to work with them shouldn’t be phased by the hours, the poo picking and the grunt work, but some are.  So I was fairly gentle.  I made sure to explain that the majority of riders are beginners and that it’s therefore very repetitive.  I laboured the point that if you get an hour in the saddle every two days, you’ve done well.  But I did also point out that none of our horses live in unless they’re seriously ill, so although there’s poo to pick, there are no stables to muck out.  And they all remained keen.

Rightly or wrongly, I didn’t ask them too many questions – the thing I’ve learned over the last two years is that people can talk a great game, have brilliant experience with horses and know their stuff, but when it comes to teaching… that’s a different thing.  You honestly can’t properly tell how someone is as a teacher until you see them do it.  So I didn’t ask for any detailed philosophies there, but I did ask two questions which, to me and the way our barn runs are critical: how confident are you handling horses on the ground; how good are you at picking out hooves?

Those questions sound basic, right?  They should do, but they aren’t.  We do always get a variety of levels of experience (see previous regarding the type of person responsible for hiring staff – non-experts), but it amazes me how many staff seriously lack confidence when they’ve got an excited or flighty horse on the end of a lead rope, or who are reluctant to bend over and pick out eight hooves first thing in the morning (that’s all they have to do once we’ve tacked up!  Each member of staff is responsible for two specific horses – if you as a person do the same two horses once or twice per day for 13 weeks on the bounce, if those horses don’t have at least the fourth hoof in the air waiting for you, you’re doing something very wrong).

Throughout the course of the afternoon, I vetted and accepted enough staff to fill my department, and they’re all lovely.  It was very exciting to take people through that process and see their reactions.  But I did walk away a little disappointed in myself for only thinking of two killer questions – I used to work in recruitment for goodness’s sake!  Anyway, it’s done now.  I got excited about camp again.  So my 2015 is still to be confirmed…

If you’re looking for grooms or junior instructors, what’s the most important horsey quality for you?  Clearly, something else of great importance is that someone has the confidence to speak up when they’re uncertain, rather than do something wrong, but that goes for any job… Do you look for champion hoof pickers, strong biceps for lugging water buckets or another type of X-Factor?  Let me know in the comments!


Room with a view

There seems to be something about this time of year which makes me crave a miniature change of scenery.  Or it’s that during the post-Christmas tidy up I pull my finger out, look beguilingly at my Dad and he grits his teeth and fetches his hammer.

When I got my first iPhone five years ago, the amount of photos I took on a daily basis increased rapidly; when I re-discovered my ability to leave the country two years later, I went a little nuts, and I suddenly have a vast collection of digital photographs, rivalled only by those who have children.  It’s kind of fascinating that, not only have photos gone from being an extravagance to normality, but that it’s also become far more difficult to take bad ones (bad in terms of the actual quality of the shot – it’s arguably far easier now to take pictures which are poor in terms of composition, and that are unflattering to the subject).

I can pinpoint the reasons for my own excitement about photos easily: my trip to South Africa was largely funded by a generous gift from my grandparents, and as a sign of gratitude, as well as a nod to the fact that it was a trip now beyond either of them given their ages, I made sure that I documented the trip heavily.  Given the volume of output I create, I sometimes find going through my photos and choosing ones to print a chore; depending on my mood, it can also be a sad task to trawl my pictures and be reminded that the fun is over for the time being, but I try to remind myself that it’s not forever, and there is more to come.

At some point, I decided to try and up my game a little, and Googled basic tips on composition.  I can’t remember the source, but the top rule I found is the “rule of thirds” – this is the single easiest rule not only to remember, but to implement effectively.  Here’s what I now try to do:

  • Place the main subject of your image in a third, rather than the centre – your images instantly become more interesting, as the viewer’s eye is encouraged to look at the surroundings as well as the subject. It gives better context, especially with subjects who are moving (horse people listen up here!)
  • If you aren’t great at fractions, most devices will have a grid mode – play around with your phone or camera until you figure out how to make it display a grid, which then allows you to really see how your image breaks down, like an extra viewfinder
  • I most frequently find myself applying the rule of thirds laterally (so I place my subject towards the left or right of the frame, whether it’s a landscape or a portrait), but often use it vertically too (meaning the subject is in the top or bottom of the frame, as opposed to the middle), and occasionally use both (subject is in one of the extreme corners)
  • Of course, there are exceptions to every rule – sometimes your subject is enormous, and there just isn’t a suitable spot for you to take the photo from in order to change the positioning; sometimes, it just looks right for it to be centred. But next time you’re taking pictures, just give it a go.  Particularly if it’s a stationary subject, like a landscape – take your picture as you normally would, then take another shot applying the rule of thirds and compare them

I didn’t mean for this post to be a photography lesson, but somehow it happened anyway!  My main point was going to be this – show you all the views I currently wake up to.  Because, for me, one of the beautiful places I’ve been to just isn’t enough:

display-landscapes-scenery-pictures-photos-memories-travel-south africa-safari-greece-melissani cave-cave lake-hawaii-oahu-rainbow-memphis-portrait-camp-team-summer

Above: these frames were hung this time last year, and I’ve just switched two of the original shots out for other prints – the small silver frame on the left now contains a shot I took last year in Hawaii (which completely disobeys the above rules!) and the one at the top in the black frame was taken in Greece (I’d forgotten about it, because it’s hidden away in an album!  It was my sister’s idea to bring that one out).  I’m really pleased with how this now looks, and can’t wait for the new pictures to go up alongside them…

memories-photos-friends-selfie-portrait-beach-hawaii-oahu-scenery-landscape-riding-horses-trail-san francisco-california-las vegas-holiday-summer-camp

…and above are the new pictures waiting to be hung!  I’ve made a classic mistake though: we only have one picture hook in the house, so “buy picture hooks” has added my “to-do whilst waiting for new job to start” list.  These are all photos from 2014, and I took all but one of them!  The “between the ears” shot is also the one I use for the lock screen on my phone, and it gets better every time I look at it – there’s a lot of movement in it which brings it to life, and helps keep the memory powerful in my mind.


Those of you who know me well will have noticed a very important picture was missing: that’s because it has a special home.  Above is possibly my favourite shot of the summer (I’m sort of sad I didn’t take it, but that’s because I’m the subject!  I’m eternally grateful to my friends James and Eva, who were shooting “my” horse and me from the banks of the river that afternoon).  My Mum repeatedly says that the only time I smile is when I’m on a horse (it’s not true, I swear!), but I defy a horse person not to smile when they see this – I’m grinning, the horse is engaged and enjoying himself, the sun is shining, and I remember being in the saddle that day thinking “I get paid to do this”.  I was trying to figure out how to position my new frames, and then I glanced up and remembered there’s a huge chunk of real estate on one side of the room that I haven’t touched.  There was also a vacant picture hook (abandoned from the days when I last hung a clock there many years ago) begging for attention, and the fact that it sits above my rosette board?  Well, that just felt like a sign.  I will never win a rosette with that horse, but that picture deserves many prizes in my book.  Now I just have to save some money so that I can fill the space around it…

Marginal gains

Throughout the summer, I often found myself discussing horsemanship classes with other staff at the barn: when we all arrived, it emerged that I wasn’t the only one who was interested in the idea, and that two of the new staff actually had a lot of experience with it.  I was intimidated at first, but as I was the one scheduled to teach the classes, I just had to get on with it.

The other instructors were mostly busy with other classes whilst I was teaching horsemanship, but they were sometimes available to drop in and either assist or work with their own horses alongside the kids.  It was always a comfortable atmosphere of everyone learning from each other, with no real hierarchy.

Towards the end of the summer, I sought advice from the others more frequently, as the kids were progressing and I again began to feel a little out of my depth.  One of my colleagues watched one of my classes and came away impressed by how far the kids had come.  She asked me how I’d done it and my initial reaction was to laugh and tell her it had been an accident.  She pushed me to think about my process a little more and here’s what I told her…

  • Safety comes first. It has to.  I establish rules at the very beginning – they’re not written down, they aren’t commandments, and there aren’t loads, but they are clear: no horses or people are to get harmed physically; listen to me and ask questions; other than that, use your imagination
  • Once the kids have the basics, I rarely step into the bubble they have with the horse. I teach from a physical distance: normally, I’m working in a small arena anyway, so I’m never far away if I need to step in, but the horse has to see the person holding the rope as the leader and their partner, it’s disruptive for me to be too close.  So I lean on the fence and watch, sometimes not even saying much…
  • This is where it starts to sound a little hippy-ish to some: I’m not teaching the kids a physical skill, I’m teaching them to think. I go over the basics of biology and psychology – what horses do and why; how we impact upon that; how to observe the horse and look for the smallest of changes.  They learn how to set up their session and judge when they and the horse are ready for the next activity.  They have to be able to go it alone, I help them to arrive at the answer, rather than giving it to them…
  • I give them stuff they can do, then feed them the next thing they can do. The kids have to succeed, otherwise they lose motivation.  It’s also a way of giving the horse confidence, as they’re feeding off their human partner.  In addition, this is a way of controlling the situation and keeping it at a manageable pace for all of us
  • I don’t seek perfection. For me, there’s sometimes a bit of smoke and mirrors involved in teaching: I want my students to enjoy the experience and learn something new; I’m not an expert in this, I don’t feel qualified to tell them firmly that what they’re doing is absolutely wrong, so if the result is right and they’ve stuck to my rules, I’m not bothered if the journey wasn’t perfect.  It’s ego again – everyone needs to feel good about themselves

When I’d finished explaining, my colleague thought for a second before announcing that my strategy was “clever” and giving me a pat on the back.  I was flattered, of course.  I’m not sure for how much longer I’ll continue with exactly the same ideas, how long it’ll be before they grow and change, but for now I’ll take it, and be pleased with what I’ve done.  It’s a start, at least.

Getting to know them

Easily the most frequently asked question I get from kids about the horses is, “how old is he?”  My mind boggles every single time, because I honestly don’t think it ever occurred to me to ask the age of my mount as a child.  If I were looking to buy or loan a horse, I’d certainly want to know their age, but when I’m riding one for an hour or so, I’m really not bothered.  There are many more important markers of fitness to work for an hour other than age, so it drops down my list of priorities.

There are other things the kids are curious about and, apropos of nothing, the current second favourite seems to be, “do they know us?”  Meaning: can horses tell one person from another; do horses prefer some people over others; do horses remember certain people?  My answer to all of those questions is and always has been a resounding yes, but my appreciation for horses’ abilities in these areas has recently improved.

In order to explain, I need to rewind to early August.  As our third session of camp drew to a close I was preparing my campers – whether I taught them riding or horsemanship – for visiting weekend, when they’d be able to demonstrate what they’d learned for their families and friends.  Whilst teaching my classes – polishing riding routines and pushing kids through new ground work exercises – I found myself feeling horribly jealous of the horsemanship students.  Most of them had been with me for six weeks by this point, and all were working beautifully with their horses: if I ever had to take the rope and demonstrate something, I found the horses to be remarkably responsive, and far more willing than they had been at the beginning of the programme – a testament to the hard work the kids had put in.

But it wasn’t me the horses were responding to, it was the kids who had been working directly with them.  One of the first things I learned and decided when teaching horsemanship, is that you really have to do it from a significant physical distance most of the time.  The horses are very easily distracted, and in order to help them focus and encourage the students to be more independent, I mostly stay well away and hover by the edge of the arena observing quietly.  I’m sure that if a stranger were to pass by, they’d wonder if I were teaching at all.  So my literal involvement had been minimal – I’d truly stepped back and allowed the process to happen, becoming more of a facilitator or coach than anything.

I’d thrown a huge amount of energy into teaching these classes, and had abandoned the idea of working with my own horses during the day.  I’d then been lazy about keeping horses in to work with them after dinner in the evenings, preferring instead to spend time with friends or relax in the sun.  So although I’d facilitated improved relationships between students and horses, I had nothing of my own.  I spent a few days pining for something I thought I wouldn’t achieve, waved goodbye to the campers who were leaving and then took stock.

Two of my students remained and, for the first time in six weeks, I had an hour each day where I had no students (and my other two classes had both become private lessons).  As the kids who remained were now six weeks into the class, I no longer had the excuse that they needed a lot of help, as well as the fact that I was now only responsible for one horse and human per class, rather than two.  It was time to pick up a rope again.

My boss and I formulated a plan, deciding that I would continue to work with two of the horses I’d been supervising, with my third hour reserved for my favourite horse, who needs a lot of entertaining (even more so when he lost a front shoe, therefore rendering him unrideable until the farrier was able to visit).  I stepped a little cautiously back into the ring, at first going through the motions.  I can’t remember what happened in order for me to do what I like to call pressing the fuck it button, but that’s what I did: I realised there was nothing to lose, so I should probably make the most of the remainder of this opportunity and just see what happened.

A week later, my three horses absolutely know me.  The one who was off work playing Cinderella would trot to the fence of his field and whinny whenever I walked past (at least eight times per day as I head to and from classes, the bathroom or to catch other horses), but wouldn’t give anyone else the time of day.  One of them – who is actively despised by most instructors because it takes a very particular type of rider to make him move – volunteered a movement at a canter when I was teaching him a new pattern during one of our most recent sessions (I almost fell over in shock, but instead cried “good boy!” and cheered him on).  The final horse pricked his ears, lifted his tail and peeled around the indoor arena on the end of a lunge line, completing a tricky pattern at an enthusiastic trot which rendered one of the other horsemanship instructors speechless.

Horses shouldn’t surprise me like this, but they do.  Following about an hour per day for a week, I’m confident that those three horses know who I am, what we do together and remember certain things about me.  How much they’d recall and how quickly if I were to disappear for a few months, I don’t know.  But getting started is far easier than I thought.

Finally did it

It only took about six weeks, but I finally caught my favourite horse’s amusing noise on video.  I’d never heard a horse blow raspberries before.  The day after I caught this, we had a horse with colic: I spent most of the day walking the colicky horse around and, as if to give instructions on what he should do, this bay horse stood by the gate to the field watching me and making this noise for an hour.

First and last

When I first knew last summer that my job at camp would involve escorting kids on ridden trails, I felt a huge sense of responsibility to both them and myself.  I saw it as a privilege – rather than a right – that my boss trusted me enough to take kids and horses out of her sight and control.  Those who don’t know horses might think that there’s only so much that you can do in 45 minutes… they’d be wrong.  Anything can – and does – happen when horses are involved, so I was acutely aware of the fact that these rides wouldn’t often be at my own pleasure.

I quickly learned that when you’re escorting a ride, you’re mentally riding each and every horse in your group.  You’re trying to anticipate their movements and help the riders out, whilst ensuring that everyone is safe and enjoying themselves.  It’s a juggling act and, until you know both the horses and the kids, it’s pretty nerve-wracking.  And even when you do know your equine and human companions, you can still only guess as to what’s going to happen.

There are strict rules for trails where I work, which my boss has developed during her 10 summers at our camp.  There are certain parts of the trail where the only gait you can travel at is a walk, and times when you must use your best judgement from day to day.  At the beginning of the session, trotting is forbidden, as the horses have had a few days off and are pretty lively.  Trotting is also off the table if the weather has been poor.  Cantering is only okayed once riders have successfully cantered in lessons – something which is just plain common sense.

Despite the rules, we had a few issues last summer, but I doubt there will be any surprise that I stuck to the rules religiously.  I wanted my kids to be safe and not scared.  But above that, I didn’t want to be the one who returned home with a horse who had left behind a shoe or sustained an injury.  The weather was incredibly hot for much of last summer, and our horses all work around four hours per day, so I was also reluctant to flog them.  I also didn’t want my privileges to be revoked, so I did my best to play by the rules.

It paid off, as I’ve been given a good number of trails this summer too.  My boss will supervise the departure of many trails, but leaves me and our other returnee to sort ourselves out, trusting our knowledge of the horses to allocate them appropriately to campers and decide on a suitable order for the ride.

I taught one of our frequent fliers for all six weeks of his stay this summer, meaning that he and I have wandered the trails with his class many times.  He’s always appreciative of our rides, and taking him out is a great experience.  When his final trail arrived, my boss decided to come with us, even though the numbers didn’t dictate it to be a necessity (her rules are one staff member to every two or three campers, depending on horses and rider ability – this class is my advanced one and, as I only had two students, I always took them out alone).

I knew from the beginning that it would be fun, partly because the responsibility was off me as I was happy for my boss to take charge.  She rode at the front on one of my favourite horses, and I was on her favourite horse at the back – a change from our usual situation.  This was actually our first ride out together with campers in our two summers working together – she prefers that one of us remains at the barn at all times, rather than escorting trails together, but this was an exception.

As both campers are capable riders, it was a speedy trail from the outset.  We waited and walked through the early rocky stages of the trail before taking a quick trot up a side road to the open field which serves as our usual cantering space.  Sure enough, there was a canter around the side of the field towards the woods beyond.  As it was the end of the day and we finish that class a little early to feed the horses, I knew we’d have to go some in order to get home, but my boss was determined and flexed her rules with good judgement.  I wasn’t surprised when we trotted a couple of the less muddy sections, but was a little shocked – though pleased – to get another brief canter.

The trail descends along an old riverbed before snaking up through the woods – it’s my favourite section of our trails, because when the light catches just so, the view through the trees is beautiful.  I didn’t get to see my favourite view this time: we trotted up the final steep section, and I saw my boss canter away once the path levelled out!  There are a few sharp turns, but the horses were more than capable and seemed excited to get the chance to blast around the woods.  My riders handled the ride brilliantly and I got to kick on and enjoy myself as my horse powered along the track.

When we emerged from the woods, my boss turned in her saddle and announced we’d have a final canter, and that this time she was going to let us go a little faster.  We surged through the tall grass along a track I could probably canter smoothly in my sleep, and pulled up grinning at the corner of the field to begin our amble home.

We made it back to the barn in good time to help with feeding, and I dismounted feeling exhilarated after my ride.  It had been a fun week on the trails for me, after the previous session had been a slight washout with the amount of rain we’d had, as well as being the perfect way to say goodbye to a treasured student.

Definition through translation

Sometimes, I don’t think I’ll ever fully understand America.  Never do I feel this more than when I’m talking to my riding students.  I hope it isn’t the case throughout the whole country – and, surely, it can’t be, because the US does produce good riders for international competition somehow – but certainly for the majority of kids who ride year-round and choose to ride at the camp I work at, the concept of a flatwork lesson is a completely alien concept.  If these kids aren’t jumping, they don’t consider it worth their time to be on a horse.

My classical riding education is somewhere between lacking and poor, and certainly nowhere near finished, but unlike one child I currently teach, I didn’t reach the age of 14 before learning what “change the rein” means.  Now, imagine my surprise when said camper’s answer to my question of “what do you do during your lessons at home?” was “oh, you know, dressage and jumping”.  I stood and scratched my head for a second, asked her to ride a serpentine and was met with a puzzled expression.  Earlier in the summer, a different camper – who rides nicely and is a very sweet girl – had expressed an enthusiasm for learning dressage.  “Okay,” I answered, “do you have any ideas of what exactly you’d like to learn?”  Her reply was, “I’d like to ride a working trot.”  This from a girl I’d given several cantering and jumping lessons to.  I bottled the response, pointing her at my boss, as I didn’t have the heart to give the answer which ran through my head of, “what kind of trot did you think I’d been having you ride all this time?”

Realistically, the definition of dressage is a wide one.  Those whose only knowledge of equestrianism is the Olympics may well believe dressage to only exist at the highest level, whereas true linguists may prefer to define it as controlling one’s horse (therefore, technically, if you are in control of your horse, you are doing dressage), but many equestrians will probably land somewhere in between.  I would certainly expect a teenager who’s been riding since they were little to know what “change the rein” means, and I would also anticipate that they have an understanding of bend, collection and extension, plus some lateral movements, even if they aren’t able to successfully demonstrate all of those things on any mount.  But perhaps I’m too tough?

Many riding establishment proprietors will probably testify that clients are economical with the truth when it comes to their skill level, and when you don’t see the place a student normally attends and the kind of horses they ride, the only way to judge is from what you see in front of you, but surely there is a standard qualification out there somewhere?  Is it possible that some stables are teaching people to walk, trot and canter around an arena aimlessly – and without consideration of their horse’s way of going, or the scale of training – whilst giving the impression that this is true dressage?

I’ve thought many times during the last two summers that I’d love to be a fly on the wall when my students return to their usual riding centres, and observe the teaching.  No instructor is perfect, and it’s entirely possible that students misunderstand, misinterpret or outright lie, but something very different to my own horsey upbringing is going on over here, and I’m not convinced it’s the good kind of different.

Dressage: controlling your horse, piaffe and passage or increasing your awareness steadily over time, in order to improve the technique of yourself and your horse?  You decide.

State of the instructor

Thanks to some supportive messages from a friend, I’ve realised a few things.  The third session of camp has finished, and we’re into the proverbial final furlong (sort of: the final session of camp has started, but there’s an extra week tacked onto the end which I’m staying for this year).  I was feeling disappointed with myself – I wasn’t surprised that the lofty ambitions I had for this summer hadn’t been met, but I was still a little down about it.  There were so many horses I wanted to “fix” (or at least improve), but time has been my biggest enemy, with lack of consistency from other staff coming an incredibly close second.

Because that’s the thing with horses, no matter what your approach is: consistency is key.  And the fact of the matter is that these 30 horses are being handled by 14 different full time staff, plus goodness knows how many campers, plus the occasional other bodies who float through.  We’re not all on message – even I’m not on message some of the time!  There are moments when I could do with someone to give me a slap and remind me what my principles are, because when I’m in a hurry or trying to do five things at once, my beloved ideals go straight to the wall and the quickest course of action takes over.  Ultimately, working at a busy barn is far different to the controlled environment of a private yard which is home to five horses.

There was a day recently when three of my colleagues approached me separately and asked me if I could “do something” about a certain horse.  At the time, I was enthusiastic that they’d seen my approach as a valid option, but urged them to get involved, citing the fact that my diary was already full of horses I worked with.  I let each of them know that they were more than welcome to join my classes, which would be the best way for me to help them.  And that’s when they lost interest.  They weren’t looking to engage on that level and make that effort, they wanted me to do it for them.  But that’s not how this works.  I shrugged it off initially, accepting that they just weren’t that interested in learning more.  And then I felt guilty, because I thought I should be able to help more horses.  Which is when my friend had to get involved and tell me to have a word with myself.

It took a day or so for the message to really sink in, but my realisation was this: the responsibility isn’t mine alone when I’m working as part of a team.  If something isn’t working, we all have a duty to change it and improve.  I’m happy to help, but it’s not up to me to fix everything, it’s not my job to be the solution.  With horses, every handler has the responsibility to behave consistently and ensure that the horse is treated and behaves in the appropriate manner.  One person twiddling a rope for half an hour per day isn’t going to cut it: it’s about the way the horse is approached, handled, tacked up, led, even spoken to by everyone.  Otherwise the positive voice and actions get lost in a sea of white noise.  How is a horse supposed to sort through the inconsistent actions of over 14 different people and figure out what to do in order to be treated properly or praised?  It’s no wonder they do what they think is best, not what they know is right.

This isn’t the end, and it’s not a surrender.  It’s a realisation of what I can achieve within the current limits.  A philosophy I was told about a few months ago was that when faced with a challenge, one should find a way or make one.  So that’s what I’ll be doing next, because I can’t accept the current situation as best practice.