Product review – Glamourati horse glitter kit

My reviews have been getting great feedback, and some exciting search engine results, so I’m pleased to present the latest product I’ve been privileged to test: Glamourati horse glitter kits!  Here’s the upfront disclaimer: I approached Glamourati in the run up to the Equine Partners open days, asking whether they’d be willing to donate anything to our cause, in return for a review and some cross-promotion.  I was delighted when they kindly sent me a glitter kit (and a custom stencil is also en-route!) – this is the first time I’ve accepted a product for free in return for a review, but all opinions are my own honest findings, so read on to get the details.

I was hoping to get my hands on a glitter kit for three reasons: firstly, as I think it’s a great way of attracting attention for a brand if you’re taking your horse out and about (which we do, occasionally, for play days or promotional events); secondly, I knew it’d be something some of our visiting kids would love to use, as grooming horses is a big part of what they do – most of them love plaiting and bathing, so I thought glitter would also be popular; thirdly… well, I’m a girl who loves a bit of sparkle, so I’ll be honest and state that I wanted the chance to bedazzle a horse too!

The glitter kit I received contains three pots of Stardust glitter (pink, gold and silver), three sponges (one for each glitter pot), an instruction card, a bottle of Glamourati’s Shortstay adhesive, and two packs of stencils.  All of Glamourati’s products have been safety tested for use on horses, and the glitters themselves are high-grade with no sharp edges or spurs.

The instructions were nice and clear, so with my wonderful assistant and photographer (my sister), and my semi-reluctant guinea pig/model (Prince), I set to work…

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step one: groom your model!

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step two: place stencil on horse

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step three: apply glitter to horse’s hair

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more glueing… and a slightly-unimpressed Prince

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step four: glitter time!

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Prince was very patient as I experimented

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step five: the stars are revealed!

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the stencil post-use. If you peel off carefully and re-apply the backing, it’s possible to re-use

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a treat for the model!

The benefit of Glamourati’s stencils versus traditional quartermarking stencils, is that they’re adhesive – they stick to your horse whilst you glitter him or her up, meaning you’re not trying to use hands/arms/elbows/other people in order to hold the stencil on.  As you can see from the pictures, I did undertake my test on a lovely sunny day, but I know that these stencils would stick comfortably to your horse in a gale-force wind.  I peeled it off Prince carefully, so as not to hurt or startle him, and so that I could hopefully re-use the stencil, and it worked a treat.

My suggestion to those wanting to use these products with children, as I do, is that an adult/responsible person is the one holding the glue brush – it’s got a consistency similar to nail polish, so it’s very runny and would be easy to overdo it.  I’ve got no concerns about it getting on skin (it’s water-based, so is very easy to clean up), but you wouldn’t want to waste it, or get it on areas outside of the stencil.  Children would have no problem dabbing the glitter on – I worked with the idea that you can always add more, so I went quite carefully at first before I got the hang of it and figured out how much was needed.

The adhesive stencil allowed for a very crisp and accurate finish, giving an impressive design.  If I’d had time, I would have done more stars all over Prince, but I wanted to reward him for his modelling efforts and ask him to stand still only for the minimum time required (I did make good use of a bucket of hay whilst bedazzling him!).

I’ll definitely be getting more Glamourati products in future, as I loved using them and think they look fantastic (I’m now desperate to go to a fancy dress competition!).  Our kids will enjoy the process too, and it’ll help those who want to do something creative but aren’t sure where to start, as well as developing fine motor skills and a bit of good old-fashioned self-control!

As a bonus, here’s a video I took of Prince using his favourite toy – Prince loves having his ankles scratched and will walk up to you and dangle a leg if he wants to be itched!  If no willing humans or ponies are available, he’ll make good use of this stump instead:

A big thank you to Glamourati for supporting Equine Partners CIC by sending us a kit – much enjoyment provided for adults and kids alike, though the jury’s out on what our gelding thinks of having a sparkly bum!

If you’ve been inspired to bedazzle your horse or pony, I’d love to see the results!  Let me know in the comments or, better still, tweet me a photo via @_kickingon

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The week the wheels came off… and went back on

I’m beginning to settle into my new working/horsey balance pattern.  There’s still going to be some adjusting along the way, but last week saw a bit of a golden opportunity: I would spend both Monday and Saturday at the yard, and I should’ve had enough time to work with and ride Prince on both days.  Should being the operative word.

As it happened, time wasn’t the issue: we spent most of Monday entertaining some guests – employees of the local council who make lots of referrals to us, and came to have a kind of experience day.  We showed them directly what the kids they refer to us get to do, by running some sessions for them.  There were also cookies and cups of tea and lots of questions, all of which was good practice for the coming week (our open days are finally happening!) as we had to be “on” all the time, fielding questions about what we do, how we do it and the impact it has.

Once the goodbyes had been said and the morning declared a success, it was time for Prince to do some real work (having spent an hour conning a group of people into picking him the juiciest grass from the other side of the fence and hand-feeding it to him).  By this point, there was a sideways wind and he wasn’t really in the mood to work, having been in the company for a very extroverted group all morning.  Nor was I, if I’m honest, with a couple of distractions playing on my mind.  But I set to it anyway, grooming him and tacking up to ride.

I realised not long into our ground work session that riding wasn’t a good idea.  Prince gave me a lot of attitude, wasn’t really concentrating and didn’t seem capable of achieving much.  So I got to a place where we’d done something good, then gave up for the day.  I was pretty despondent – handling my emotions is something I’m not great at, especially when I’ve got a goal which I don’t think is going to be reached.  As the play day gets closer, I’ve had far less saddle time than I’d like (I know that’s always the way, but I haven’t really ridden at all, rather than it being a case of getting only three hours of riding a week when my ideal would be six or eight).  When I went home on Monday, I felt pretty hopeless.

I had four days away to try and get myself together, but although Saturday dawned sunny and warm, I still wasn’t feeling any more positive.  But my day started with a surprise: I had to move Bella, alpha mare of the little herd, to another paddock.  Over the winter, she was easy to handle (because she was cold and knew that humans = helpers); throughout the spring, she has become progressively awkward to catch, as her owner’s pregnancy has advanced and she’s not receiving the attention that she thinks she should be.  As an extroverted horse, she’s basically a bit bored, so I played the catching game with her.

Bella and I did a dance around the field, but it wasn’t Bella leading me in a game of chase, it was me saying, “okay, let’s play”.  I had to go a little carefully, as she’s (we suspect) torn a muscle in a hind leg and has limited her mobility a little at the moment, but there was more than enough movement for a quick game.  As we made our way across the paddock, we reached Prince’s favourite spot – small tree stump, which Prince itches on but all of the horses can use as a podium.  Bella was on one side of it, I was on the other, so I backed away and beckoned her towards me.  It’s plenty small enough for her to step over, and she had the option to go safely around either side of it… but she chose to step up onto it with her front feet.  I almost fell over in shock.  I’ve done no real liberty work on my horsemanship journey so far, and here I was with an injured alpha mare offering me a big touchdown.  I stood and gawped for a few seconds, praising Bella verbally, before gently stepping into her space and scratching her neck as she stood on the log.  There was just enough time for me to step back and snap a couple of quick pictures before she got down, stood quietly behind the log and waited whilst I went and haltered her.

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One satisfied horse gave me a confidence boost, and when it came time to work with Prince a couple of hours later, the weather was calm and sunny, I was in a good mood and we were ready to go.  I plaited him up again (my skills in that area are definitely improving!) and away we went.  I played a quick variety of games, trying to get him focused, particularly on picking his front feet up and being aware of where they are – he trips a bit at the moment, even though he’s sound and his tack fits, it seems to be a concentration issue, so I tried my best to get him switched on.

Happy that he was ready to go, I swapped his halter for a bridle and hopped on.  My previous ride a few weeks earlier had involved him expressing some quite serious opinions on going round corners (we were only able to do so sideways at a walk – not ideal), but I focused on where we were at and moved off.  He was a bit wobbly in that he finds maintaining straightness hard (which is due to all sorts of things: not being ride-fit, being inexperienced under saddle, and being ridden in a different paddock to where he normally is), because again, it involves concentrating, but I decided to forgive him the wonky lines and focus on just getting forwards – we have the rest of our lives to ride spirit level lines if we want to, I just wanted to get closer to a point where we might be able to leave the yard and go on a hack one day!

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from the way this was captured, in my head this looks like we’re doing a piaffe… maybe one day!

Having walked around for a while, checking steering and brakes, I nudged Prince into a trot and found him much more willing than before.  I continued to focus on transitions, forwards and gentle steering and, eventually, we cornered at a trot!  See below for triumphant video:

Please excuse my hideously out of practice riding, and Prince’s aforementioned wobbly form.  It’s a work in progress, but that’s now the key word: progress was again made.  I’ve got everything crossed that I’ll ride at the play day in a month, but I’m trying not to hold my breath…

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look at his beautiful swishy feathers!

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and we can do backup too!

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Oh, and the other thing?  I realised whilst I was riding that when I checked my Timehop app on Saturday morning, a photo had appeared from a year ago of me riding another 15hh black horse… on a different continent, in a different type of saddle and of a completely different build, but either way – two years, two 15hh Black Beauties.  It’s funny how life works out!

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on the left: Murray in the US, 2014; on the right: Prince in the UK, 2015. Spot the difference!

Careers I won’t have

A few weeks ago, when I collected Prince from the field for a workout, I noticed something which should’ve been apparent before: his hooves had disappeared.  As an Irish cob, Prince is always going to be a hairy horse, but as he hasn’t been clipped, ridden or, really properly groomed this winter and lives out full-time without a rug… well, things have got a little out of control.  Prince’s feathers resembled tentacles, I described him as part-horse part-Kraken, and decided that something had to be done – particularly because the podiatrist was due to visit.

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Prince: blissfully unaware of what awaits

 

Then the outside tap broke, which meant that we had no outdoor water supply at the yard for a week or so, meaning that I couldn’t wash Prince’s legs, so the trim got put on hold, and I found myself upside down, scissors in hand just an hour prior to the podiatrist’s arrival.  Prince was stabled overnight the previous day, so that his legs would dry… except there was so much matted hair that the underneath didn’t quite dry.  There I was, trying to dry, brush and figure out how to trim some serious dreadlocks, but it had to be done.

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See what I mean? Tentacles

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one very hairy horse

 

I’ve never given a horse a hair cut before: when I had a pony on loan, he wasn’t clipped, and if any trimming needed doing, my instructor did it (I don’t think I was deemed quite responsible enough at the age of ten).  I asked my friend for some rough guidance as to how far I should go, seeing as I couldn’t remember what Prince should look like, but we ultimately decided that whatever had to go had to go, and if I went too far or messed it up, the hair would grow back.

I set to work, dearly wishing we’d got our act together and built a podium already, so that I could stand Prince on it and not be pretty much upside down with a pair of kitchen scissors in hand trying to do a rush job.  I was, however, finding a new level of gratitude for horsemanship training meaning that Prince and his friends generally don’t care where you put yourself in relation to them, as long as you tell them first.  I pretty much broke the BHS rules on this one: I still didn’t sit or kneel on the floor, but I did put a mounting block right by Prince’s hooves and sat exactly in the firing line whilst I painstakingly trimmed his feathers.

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first hoof… looks like a severe fringe. Sorry, Prince!

 

It wasn’t easy, because the hair was so thick and damp, and it doesn’t look pretty – I decided it’s a very good job that I have no designs on being a groom – but I managed to reveal Prince’s hooves in time for the podiatrist’s arrival.  Part way round, I figured out a semi-decent technique for trimming layers in, so that it looked a little less like I’d used a bowl to guide my cutting, but by the time I got to hoof number four, I was a bit tired, suffering from blood rushing to my head and clock-watching with time ticking away.  Prince was blissfully unaware, munching on a haynet and without too much of a care that he now looks like a horse who’s been given the kind of hair cut a three-year old child might give to one of their dolls.

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the finished result. I think the near hind suffered most!

 

The finer points of grooming are clearly on the long list of skills I need to improve… I suspect there are a few more dodgy equine hair cuts in my future, but hopefully not at a critical point, such as prior to a competition or social engagement.  Sorry, Prince – I’ll try better next time!

Testing the waters

It feels like spring is trying to mount a charge: the daylight hours are increasing, and I even spot a glowing orb in the sky on some days.  It’s definitely getting a little warmer (though I still choose skiwear for the yard), and rain is a slight surprise rather than an expected occurrence.  Having fed the horses this morning, we pulled our chairs out of the tack room and into a patch of sun to have a drink and a chat whilst planning our work for the day.  I almost felt my face change colour.  As we contemplated what to do, I felt myself itching to make the most of the day and get out of the barn – space is limited in there, and due to the underlying concrete, trot work is very limited.  I’ve been aching to get Prince onto a longer line to see if we’ve improved over the last three months, so we decided to brave the sticky field and work outside.

Previously on "Becky and Prince": working in the barn last week - Charlie can't resist sneaking into the picture

Previously on “Becky and Prince”: working in the barn last week – Charlie can’t resist sneaking into the picture

Off I went, hauling my feet through the clay-mud with a 22 foot line determinedly in hand (and plenty of treats in my pocket – I’m definitely going to need a bumbag this summer, I thought to myself, as I realised that the one benefit to winter is that coats mean pockets).  Prince seemed happy to be remaining outside rather than being taken to the barn for a workout – I’m getting just a little concerned as to what he might do when I finally get him under saddle… this horse is definitely ready for a good run!

I warmed him up for a few minutes on the normal 12 foot line, before switching to the 22 – it’s three months since I’ve used it, and my experience is still very limited, I find it hard to juggle the knitting and an unconfident horse who is easily confused by my body language, but we both have to learn somehow!  What disappointed me most is that I had to put my gloves on: I always worried about burns when I first started working with ropes, until I realised how much gloves negatively affect my feel, and that I’m generally working in a small space with a short line – the horse doesn’t have far to go, and ultimately if I have to drop the rope and let him, it’s no big deal… until you’re in a 10 acre field with a very strong and panicky cob on a 22 foot line.

Generally, we’ve definitely improved.  Relaxation is offered far easier than it was in the beginning, and that’s been our main aim.  Prince even offered some canter of his own accord, which always shocks me given that he normally only canters for food!  The one thing that’s become obvious we need to work on quickly is the speed with which he returns to me: he’s a 15 hand horse with 12 hand legs, but he’s a lot of horse widthways (hopefully not for long!) and once you call him in, he really barrels at you in relief.  So I have to get him to be more controlled with his return, and I have to stop jumping out of the way!

Things are going in the right direction though, and progress is being made.  I ended the session pretty tired from the mental and physical workout, and I’m sure Prince had a lot to think about too.  Here’s hoping the weather and fields continue to improve, so that we can really crack on.  It might even be time to get his trainer back to see what she can advise, now that Prince and I have a relationship and can work together in a reasonable fashion…

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.

Six weeks until summer

The countdown continues!  Six weeks today I’ll arrive at camp, which will remain my home for 13 weeks (if not 14… more on that later!).  For the time being, day to day life in the UK rolls on: trying to cram in as much horse-time as possible; spending time with family; staying in touch with friends around the world who I’ll be reunited with in the US; preparing for my trip by thinking about what I’ll be taking with me…

As I approach my second season, I find myself thinking about how different it feels compared to last year.  Although I’d spoken to various people who’d been to camp before, and one in particular who did the exact job that I’d be doing, I still didn’t have a great idea of what I was in for (which was probably a good thing!).  This year, I go in with my eyes wide open, and some different goals as a result.

One of the horses I’m hoping to see again is Aussie, somewhat of a camp veteran and, despite the fact that he was off work for a large part of the summer with mild lameness, he’s an absolute star.  If he’s back and we can keep him sound for the summer, I know we’ll have a lot of fun.  I took this video towards the end of the summer after using him for a lesson with one of my advanced riders and turning him out in the field – I think he was glad to get down and give himself a massage!

Having a ball

I’ve been trying to sit down and write about this for a few hours, but I’ve been struggling to focus because it was such a fun experience that I’m finding it difficult to put it into words.  I wasn’t expecting to ride until the weekend, so when I received a message yesterday inviting me out for a ride, I grabbed the chance with both hands.

I had a feeling it was going to be a good day when I arrived at the yard and was greeted enthusiastically by all five horses popping their heads out of their stables to say hi.  I got the horse I’d be riding ready, pleased to see him again having not been able to spend time with my friend and her horses for almost two weeks.  Sadly, she ultimately wasn’t able to join me, but she very generously told me to do whatever I wanted with her horse whilst she reluctantly holed up in her office.

With James the horse ready and raring to go – he’s been struggling with some jealousy issues whilst my friend works on her project horse, so she was relieved somebody was able and willing to give him some attention – we headed out to the arena to spend some time together.  I was frantically trying to remind myself of everything I’ve been learning and working on at this yard – I’m practicing some natural horsemanship skills in the hope that it can help the team at camp work more effectively with our horses this summer, and I’m incredibly fortunate to have access to some clever horses and a well-versed owner to assist me in my mission – so, although I usually fail to go into a session with a clear goal or picture in mind of what I want to achieve, something positive usually happens (even if, at the time, it appears to not be such a good thing).

I find working alone in this scenario difficult, because I’m still very attached to the “am I doing this right?” mentality.  What I keep having to remind myself is that it’s not really a case of correct and incorrect – as long as the horse and I are both safe, there’s always something to be learned, providing my behaviour is also consistent.  I was also concerned today that I’d be rusty – my rope-handling skills still need a lot of work, especially given that I’m not the most coordinated person at the best of times – but I decided the best approach was to leave my worries at the gate and give it everything I had.

James was in easily the liveliest mood I’ve seen him in, so I quickly chose to take full advantage of that.  I put him to the test straight away: when I got to the arena, there were a few pieces of equipment I wanted to move around, so I made his rope safe on the saddle and left him standing by himself whilst I moved poles around.  I’d usually be very anxious to leave a horse standing tacked up without being tied up, even if I knew they were in a safe place, but these horses are used to being treated a little differently and, as I mentioned, I wanted to test him.  James passed my test – as soon as I moved away, he followed me around like a dog, clearly eager to be involved with me and curious as to what we’d be doing.  I knew it’d be a good session.

With the poles in place, I decided to make a bolder move than I ordinarily do and rev the horse up a bit.  As he’s older and has a tendency to be a little lazy, I haven’t managed to get any trot work out of James whilst on the ground without resorting to classical lunging-style techniques, but I had a good feeling this time.  If anyone unaccustomed to these methods had been watching, they’d have thought it looked very strange, but I shrugged my inhibitions off and began to run around the arena – James followed at a bright trot, stopping abruptly every time I did: the plan was working.

With James listening to me, I continued to work him on the line, watching as he lifted his tail and gave some playful bounces and skips throughout the session.  I tried not to think about the part of our practices I’ve generally been worst at – mounting up.  He’s around 16.2 hands (for the non-horsey, that means he’s about 5’4” measuring from the ground to the base of his neck) and his owner has taught all of her horses to stand quietly and sensibly next to anything their rider chooses to stand or sit on, which is a tactic designed by her so that when the horses are out hacking, they can be re-mounted easily should the rider need to get off and back on again.  The way we do this at home is to sit on top of the arena’s post and rail fence and guide the horses to stand next to us, with our knees touching the side of the saddle so that there is no “leap of faith” whereby you need to fling yourself at the horse in order to get on.  Previously, James has literally led me in a merry dance when I’ve tried to do this – he knows the rules, but most of the time he gets me in a flap and stands facing me wearing a smug grin and waiting to see if I can figure out how to re-assert myself on the situation.

Mainly due to the fact that he can be twitchy about his girth, I stopped periodically during the in-hand work in order to tighten it slowly until I was satisfied that it was safe and we were also at a point where it was time for me to ride.  I knew that this smart horse would figure out what was next the minute I pulled the stirrups down, so I prepared myself for what I had to do next and headed over to the fence feeling determined.  As I climbed up, something unexpected happened: James sidled over behind me and positioned the saddle next to my knee as soon as I sat down.  Huh.  Outfoxed by a horse, again.

My lack of confidence held me back – this horse has fooled me before, and I didn’t want it to happen again so I did something I perhaps shouldn’t have and failed to trust him.  I tried to duck around and figure out if he was stood square – I was concerned that he might move away at the crucial moment – but couldn’t see properly, so I did something I’ve watched his owner do when trying to build a horse’s confidence and wiggled the saddle with my hand instead.  When he remained still, I praised him and waited a minute longer before getting on.  Part of me wanted to send him away so that I could see if I could align him correctly by myself having failed to do it previously, but my gut told me not to look this gift horse (sorry) in the mouth and just get on.

The saddle is where I’m much more comfortable, assertive and confident around horses, because it’s the habitat I’m used to, so although James was feeling pretty lively, once I was mounted up I was happy.  As he wears a halter when ridden, it’s a great chance to test my ability to manoeuvre using my seat bones, thighs, balance and other body parts rather than relying on rein contact.

Buoyed by my positive in-hand session, I pushed myself in the saddle too, expanding on some things I’d achieved previously.  I re-visited the trot to halt transition I’d managed before and was pleased when it went well, then racked my brain for something else I could try.  I settled on walk to canter, which I knew could be tricky given James’s tendency to be less than quick off the leg and, although he was in a bouncy move, his walk was still typically sedate.  I summoned my best visualisation powers (the words of riding instructors past ringing in my ears: “think gallop!”), asked the question and got the answer I wanted!  I’m pretty sure I squealed with joy at that point, and repeated the exercise a few times throughout the session to make sure it wasn’t just a fluke.

As I was riding around, I pulled my phone out of my pocket and took a couple of videos.  Below is the most interesting of the bunch (sadly, that’s not saying much!), and is unfortunately shaky, but it’s been on my mind for a while to put more pictures on my blog and, strangely, I didn’t take any today.  So instead, here’s a quick video of James playing his favourite game of kicking a ball around the arena.

I’ve come away from every session over the last six weeks excited by the new things I’m learning, but mostly daunted by the task in front of me.  Today felt like the first time I had a bit of a breakthrough and could see that I really have taken some significant steps – it’s made me feel more positive about what I might achieve when I get to work with the same group of horses daily: if this is what I can do when I’m getting maybe an hour or so per week, the potential with full-time focus is enormous.  Hopefully, I’ll continue to learn as much as possible from James before I fly out for the summer – I can’t wait to see what he’ll teach me next.

Why I’ll thank you but might not say “please”

My parents did a good job.  I was brought up to be many things, and well-mannered is one of them.  Unfortunately, I also grew up as a rider, and riding instructors don’t ask, they tell.  In fact, it’s more common for them to demand.

Even if you’re only performing exercises at a walk, commands are rattled off at a gallop.  By the time a series of instructions have been given, coaches often have to return to their initial prompts, as their pupils have focused on the most recent pointers and let the first ones slide.

It’s partly a lack of time – when a student needs to be told to put their heels down, point their toes ahead, pull their shoulders back and down, keep their thumbs on top, sit up straight, lean back, squeeze with their legs, give with their hands, lower their hands and relax, there really isn’t time for a little word like “please” – but also due to the sheer necessity that the rider obey the instructions.  The art of staying on a horse and making it do what you want it to is not about choices, negotiation and options, it is about balance and control, things which generations of riders before us have spent years honing.

For me, asking “please” is a gesture of politeness, a consideration for the other person to make.  There is the option for them to deny your request.  But none of the instructions above are optional – all are essential for the rider to stay balanced and as safe as possible in a precarious environment.

Whilst my riding instructors did now support my parents’ insistence that I say please, they did back up the use of thank yous.  One particularly memorable teacher refused to let his charges dismount unless they “make much of your pony” – old-school riding instructor speak for “give your pony a pat”.  Horses are still wild animals – they do what we ask of them out of choice.  They carry us for pleasure or purpose in a way that we cannot reciprocate.  To thank them for their efforts is only polite, and something I continue to do to this day.  It is also something anyone can do, whether you are a beginner who has spent half an hour in the saddle completing their first lesson, or a decorated professional whose mount has seen them safely home yet again.

Every person I help into the saddle will make much of their pony before I assist them in their dismount.  Because all good work deserves thanks.

One down, three to go

Having discussed how camp is meeting my general expectations in my previous post, it’s time to reflect upon my specific reason for being here now that the first session is over.

When I decided to teach riding at a summer camp, I shied away from riding-centric camps, as I was concerned that my limited experience would not be good enough to be an effective staff member at such an establishment.  The camp I’m working at is theatre and arts-focused, so horse riding is not anyone’s priority: the campers ride horses to give it a go and have fun, rather than as a serious pursuit.  We accept children who’ve never been on a horse before, those who come on an annual basis and don’t otherwise ride, and those who ride regularly at home, so we get a mixed bag in terms of ability and enthusiasm.

I had anticipated some of these things prior to my arrival, but hadn’t quite taken in how much of a change in approach this would require on my part.  Fortunately, I’m not alone.  Most of the horseback team are first-timers at camp, and we’ve also pretty much all grown up on horses.  When we compare notes, there are huge similarities in our previous experiences: we were all taught to ride by instructors who were demanding and tough but fair.  There is no room for toughness here.

When a child falls off a pony at any of the places I’ve learned to ride – even in the current era of health, safety and litigation – they are dusted down quickly and thrown back on the horse (there’s a reason the phrase exists).  It seems harsh to the uninitiated, but it’s an approach which works.  When a camper falls off a horse here, a radio call is sent out and two nurses and a doctor turn up on a golf buggy.

I spent hours – probably days, if you add the time together – walking and trotting in circles whilst being screamed at by many instructors, receiving orders barked incessantly from the age of four in an effort to improve my riding.  At the end of each session, I’d get a small amount of praise – normally the damning kind, labelled “constructive criticism” – for my trouble.  I currently find myself praising the minor victories I gain, as the campers are not in my arena to become star riders, but in order to stay on a horse and be able to tell their parents that they’ve ridden one.

The gear change is still causing me some communication and efficacy problems.  The way I was taught to ride is as familiar to me as breathing – the commands and delivery are automatic, as is the language of horses.  The challenge for me in the next session will be to translate that effectively, and ensure that my riders improve and have fun.

Fresh pair of eyes

As I mentioned previously, I’ve spent many years in the saddle.  On and off horses, I’ve also previously assumed various positions of responsibility.  Very little about horses or responsibility has weighed as heavily with me as combining the two currently does.

The passage of time has often caused me to reflect differently on situations I have held a strong opinion on, but rarely so much as it does now.  Perhaps the worst thing is that I see both sides: I know what it’s like to be the excited child on the pony, having a limited sense of danger but a strong desire to push the boundaries as far as possible.  But I also know what the thoughts and opinions of the adult in charge of – but not related to – said child are.  And how it is now my duty to keep children, staff and animals safe.

It’s juggling whilst on a rollercoaster – often literally.  I’m in the front seat of the carriage, staring down the rocky slope and choosing the path which the others – the children and horses who aren’t mine – must follow.  My own fears and doubts have to be cast aside in favour of guiding everyone else safely along the trail, and as well as riding my own horse, I am riding the horses behind me, and correcting the riders upon them.

I have always been aware – and weirdly proud – of how dangerous my chosen sport is.  As a friend in a different department recently put it, “Your sport’s crazy – it maimed Superman”, a rare recognition by a non-horse person that serious injuries in equestrianism are far from uncommon and don’t just happen to amateurs.  There have been times in the past when riding a horse has scared me: I’ve “lost my nerve” twice, plus there have been moments – usually when learning something new, pushing myself further, or working with a different horse – when I’ve doubted my ability or been frightened of what I’m considering.  But now I understand what it’s like to feel the fear of watching others attempt to control a horse.  It’s far scarier than anything I could do myself.

Any advice on how to stay calm when watching and advising the offspring of others straddle a sentient being with varying degrees of experience and competence would be greatly appreciated!