To Have a Beginning, There Must be an End.

Happy New Year readers.

It’s been a while, I apologise. Such a while in fact that this feels like a novel experience.

Life has been busy. I’ll summise 2021 briefly, but there was a lot of work (mostly enjoyable albeit exhausting), not a huge amount of going out socially, but sufficient for a wallflower like me. We enjoyed the good weather, did some DIY, met up with family, enjoyed our family time. Not much to complain about really. The horses are fine; Otis still enjoys his retirement, and I’ve finally worked out Phoenix’s winter management in terms of timing her clips, feed, and everything else a sensitive mare needs. She’s working well and I’m pleased. She was 3rd and 6th at the BD Native Championships in Novice and Elementary in November so we are climbing the ladder steadily. And we’re a partnership now. Sure, she’s still very spicy. But I trust her, and she contains the spice because I ask her to. People say she looks easy to ride now, and I guess that means I’m doing a good job because there’s some frantic paddling under the water to ensure we glide untroubled around!

Then we decided to move house. Which I think is when I ran out of time for any blogging. Every waking moment was spent tidying the house or trawling the Internet for ones to buy. That’s all hopefully going smoothly although Christmas has paused everything.

I’ve been thinking about The Rubber Curry Comb a lot recently. I’ve not had the incentive to write recently, even when the time has been available. It took me a while to realise why, but I now know the answer. This blog was my diary as I transformed from student to teacher. As I developed my opinions, as I tried to make the equestrian world a better place. When I was happy, and when I was sad.

Now my life is full. With family, equines and work. But it is stable. I am comfortable and confident in my convictions. I don’t feel the need to get on a soap box. Of course, I’d still express an opinion if asked, and would stand up if I felt it necessary, but I think I’ve given up slightly on trying to teach those who don’t want to listen. After all, my blog reaches those of a similar mindset to me. Preaching to the converted springs to mind. I won’t change the equestrian world. But I can instead focus my efforts on helping those I’m in direct contact with.

I also don’t like the road that social media is on nowadays. Perhaps naively, 8 years ago I was happy to say my spiel, get some feedback and debate with similar minded people all over the world. But now it’s all about the hashtags, tagging the right people, getting a “good reach”. I can’t keep up. I just want to express an opinion.

There are keyboard warriors out there. Which makes me glad to not have become viral! But so many of these popular accounts or figures, with huge followings, are very materialistic. They do adverts, they get freebies, they tag the brands on their gear. In general, they don’t write valid, balanced and educated posts. It’s a diary and the more dramatic the better. It’s all about the thrills and spills. The height of the jump. It’s not about research, or education. It’s a popularity contest, and I’ve never been popular, nor do I wish to affiliate myself with manufacturers without having done the research and experienced the product myself in an unbiased way, so I’m quite happy to bow out of it.

I don’t know where the blog is going now. I don’t want to delete it. It’s a part of my life and helped me get to where I am on life’s path. But I don’t see myself writing any more blogs in the future. Perhaps when I step down from Pony Club, or retire. But I don’t need to write for myself now, and I’d rather stop feeling guilty for neglecting The Rubber Curry Comb, and use my free time to walk the woods with a nearly four year old looking for fairies and talking about The Faraway Tree; or building and rebuilding train tracks and marble runs. It will be here when I need it. And I will still be here if anyone needs me.

So I guess this is it. The end of a chapter. The Rubber Curry Comb will remain online, but it won’t have any new content unless I am struck with the inclination to get out the soap box and preach to my corner of the Internet.

Carrot Stretching

How many of you use carrot stretches with your horse?

I used to do them a lot with Otis, but I`m afraid I don’t do them as much as I should now. He`s still nice and flexible though – at least judging by the way he balances on three legs to scratch his poll with his hind leg!

Anyway, why do we make our horses contort their bodies just to reach a carrot?

Well, in the same way that we stretch our muscles before exercise, stretching a horse can help release any tension, strengthen muscle fibres, and increase the flexibility of muscles. I also find it really interesting to see how symmetrical a horse is. Sometimes it`s very enlightening to perform carrot stretches, as you will find that one side is far more restrictive than the other. Carrot stretches are dynamic or active, in the sense that the horse is the one doing the stretching as opposed to a human creating a stretch by pulling on a limb. They are useful because they can be done when a horse is cold, so you can do it when you bring your horse into his stable for the night, in the field, before riding, and it will still be beneficial, and not cause them to strain anything.

Carrot stretches are useful tools in conditioning horses as you can teach them to stretch and strengthen more specific muscles than when riding or lunging, and you can also trigger the release of some tighter, bad muscles (like the brachiocephalic muscles on either side of the underneath of the neck – yeah, you know the ones!)

Quite often physiotherapists or vets will recommend particular carrot stretches  to help the rehabilitation of a horse, or to help prevent re-injury.

Below are a couple of carrot stretches that you may want to get your teeth  into. Remember, it make take a few attempts for your horse to understand so be patient and don`t expect them to be able to do the full stretch.

Stretch to point of hip

With the horse standing square, or as close to square as he naturally goes, slowly use the carrot to guide his nose around towards his point of hip. When he reaches his furthest point, hold it for a few seconds before rewarding him with the treat. Make sure you perform this on both sides. This stretch stretches the shoulder, neck and intercostal muscles on the opposite side of the body and strengthens those muscles on the side he is turning towards.

Stretch to the side of the forefoot

Again, with the horse standing square-ish, get him to follow the treat down to the outside of his front hoof, without bending his knee. This slight abduction stretches the muscles in front of and behind the scapula on the opposite side and strengthens those muscles on the near side.

Stretch to the girthline

Now it is important that this stretch is brief, and a stretch as opposed to Rolkur. G get the horse to follow the treat down between his front knees towards his girth. Otis loves this stretch, and has been known to take his nose so far between his legs he somehow touches his tummy! This stretch causes the abdominal muscles to engage and is very good for stretching the nuchal ligament and the entire topline. The horse should not lift, or bend a leg in order to perform the stretch. The longissimus dorsi muscle, lumbar muscles, gluteals and nuchal ligament are all stretched, whilst the abdominal and chest muscles are strengthened.

Let me know how you get on; if your horse is more flexible than you thought, asymmetric, or just greedy!

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Making A Living

I was reading a back copy of Horse and Rider last week and there was an article about careers in the equine industry.

I was shocked, if I`m honest, and I don`t know who to blame. Let me explain.

There were a variety of people interviewed about their jobs; a saddler, dental technician, riding school instructor, veterinary nurse, head girl at a race yard, equine insurance advisor, and physiotherapist. All of those interviewed got up in the early hours to do their horses before work (except for the insurance advisor, who got up to commute to London) and they all worked long hours, six days a week, and most of the self employed did paperwork right into the evening.

I`m a self confessed workaholic, but I don`t know how these people keep it up – they deserve a medal! Whilst I want to make a success of my career and earn enough money to have a good standard of living, I am also acutely aware of the fact I need a non-horse balance in my life. My Dad ran his own garden machinery shop, that was open five and a half days a week, but that was usually six days a week plus the over time. It put a strain on our family – going on holiday was a logistical nightmare, my brother and I used to do two or three hours of work at the shop each evening after school, and later in the evening we were often called upon to hold a “pin in place” so the mower deck could be fitted. If we were being collected from a friends then the journey inevitably involved a detour to deliver someone`s repaired ride-on lawn mower. I`m not complaining; but the business controlled our lives and my parents worked incredibly hard for it, which meant they could give us the best opportunities. But money doesn`t pay for your Dad to go to Awards Evening, and I think both my brother and I were aware of that when we saw our friends with their parents as a set.

Although I`m pretty sure I would have been so embarrassed by my parents at school I`d have banned them after the first outing …

Anyway, because of this experience, I`m really conscious of having at least one day at the weekend when I don`t ride, and I just do the minimum chores for the horses, and don`t spend all morning gossiping at the yard. I go home, I spend time with family and friends, I tidy the house, I weed the flower beds, I read a book, and ultimately try to forget about horses and work. You may have noticed that there tends to be a gap in my blog over the weekends. I like to think that this makes me a more rounded individual, and means I put more effort into my work during the week because I`ve had that little bit of time off.

This brings me back to the interviews I was reading in the magazine. It made me wonder how these professionals managed to have a healthy social life (I don`t mean partying every weekend, I`m talking about seeing a variety of people and keeping in touch with family and friends), and how do they keep in touch with the rest of the world when they`re so shattered after work they fall into bed? It`s a standing joke that horsey people don`t know who the Prime Minister is, or that they haven`t heard about the recent terrorist attacks. It`s sad, really. I love knowledge and learning, so I hate the thought that I could be ignorant to wider society, yet I know I don`t have half the general knowledge that my younger brother has because he has more, but less demanding hobbies, so networks around a larger spider web.

These people interviewed must be in a similar situation to my family as I grew up, being very busy and life revolving around work, which puts pressure on your children and relationships, without you really noticing, and then the individual becomes isolated in their frantic world, and doesn`t realise because they are so busy to-ing and fro-ing until it is too late, and they are alone. Which is a scary thought, and one I`d hate to find myself in.

This brings me round to why. Why do they need to work such long hours?

Finances are the first thing to pop into my head; I find people seem to want something for nothing, and we in the industry and constantly made to feel like we should lower our prices to attract more customers, when really we should stick to our guns and have fewer customers but make the same amount of money. I had a prime example the other week; a client asked if I could look after her horses while she was away. She has two. I said that I would be happy to, although I don`t offer it on my website or adverts, as I`d rather attract lessons and exercising. She asked how much to feed the two of them and poo pick the field, taking about half an hour. I quoted ten pounds, and she looked at me incredulously.

I went away feeling very pricey, but in my head it wasn`t enough. A ten minute drive to the yard, half an hour to feed and poo pick, and ten minutes home. I would have to allow an hour of my day for this job. Ten pounds to a self-employed person is not very much when you consider the cost of fuel and running the car. I ended up shrugging my shoulders, I didn`t need the job, and I certainly wasn`t doing it for less.

She hasn`t asked me to look after the horses while she`s away.

This instance made me think about how people wants something for nothing, and forget about the quality of the service provided, and the aftercare of them as a client (for example, getting that text from me to say how the schooling session was today, or that I noticed a minute cut on the left hind). I`m lucky, I feel my clients find my rates reasonable; they cover my costs, and I know I`m generous with my time; and clients and their horses are in safe hands. But with the public driving down costs everywhere lowers standards of living, and increases the duration of the working day, and encourages a substandard service, which then reflects badly on the industry.

I was talking to a friend last week who told me about a young girl she knew working her way up the equine industry`s steep ladder. This girl was offered great opportunities in her job, in terms of riding lovely horses, going to big competitions. But it came at a price. When you broke down her earnings and her daily working hours including overtime, she was on the hourly rate of a mere one pound an hour. Now, this is an extreme case, but people like her can never improve their expectations from life. You can`t save to go on holiday, you can`t move into your own accommodation, you can`t afford to live, ultimately. Surely it`s time that employers woke up and started paying proper wages to those on the first rung of the ladder, giving them sensible working hours, not exploiting their willingness to stay up all night with the colic case (yes, get them to care for the horse as your priority, but then spoil them with an extra day off or take them out for dinner). If those at the bottom started to be paid more and treated better then they would have more incentive to do a good job, and would be happier in the working environment, which will cause the horses to be happier and healthier and this cheer would move up through the ranks to the yard managers and other professionals.

Another factor that encourages you to overload yourself is that, ultimately, we are a leisure industry, which means that horse owners want our services on weekends. Which is fine, but it`s so important to remember to give yourself time off during the week in lieu, so you can recover physically. I think sometimes the public are at fault too; if you book a dentist appointment for yourself you expect to take time off work, well how about applying the same to your horse`s appointments? Work from home on the day the farrier is due, or take a half day holiday for the dentist. Either way, I think horse owners can do a bit more to help those in the industry have their weekends. But then those in the industry should balance themselves too. The first riding school I worked at had a policy that each member of staff must work one weekend day, be it Saturday or Sunday. This meant everything was fair, and the staff had one day off that the rest of the family had off. I`ve seen other riding schools insist that staff work both weekend days. To me, that`s unhealthy. You can`t spend quality time with partners who work Monday to Friday, you are limited to social events you can attend, like weddings, and it means you become isolated have strained, or absent, relationships. Employers should want their employees to work to the best of their potential, which can only really be reached by them having a healthy work-life balance, and this can be encouraged by having a weekend day off.  As a self-employed person I`m lucky enough that I`ve managed to do all my teaching after school, so I have free weekends at the moment so I can spend time with family or compete and enjoy my horses. If I do teach at the weekend, for a pony club rally, for example, I will try to give myself a half day off during the week. Self employed people, who need to work one weekend day should make an effort to give themselves a day off in the week, not lengthen their working week to six days, as in the long run it is unsustainable. In the winter I will move over to teaching on a Saturday morning, but I will work out which day in the week to have off, so I can still do my jobs and mentally rest myself, leaving Sundays to see non-horsey people.

Then we come to the question of long hours. We, in the equine industry, are exploited. Yes, we love our horses and care for all of the ones we work with, but ultimately we cannot work all hours of the day. I have another example of this. I was booking in a new client for a morning, weekday lesson, and said my first slot was 10am. She was surprised. I explained that I worked the yard before hand, and 10 meant it wasn`t too early a start. “Not an early riser?” She asked. This got my back up. Yes, I am an early riser, hence why I rode Otis at 6am every day last week before the sun got too hot. However, my working day starts when I get onto the yard, so if I have a 10am lesson, my working day starts at 8am, regardless of whether I`ve ridden my horses before. If I teach after school, then my working day finishes at 6.30pm. For those who work the office hours, it may seem that I am not around the yard at the same time as them (before 8am and after 6pm), but they are doing their horses before and after work; I`m actually at work and their are doing their hobby.

With that little rant out the way, I can get back on track. Just because we are usually early risers does not mean that we should be expected to be around the yards at all times of day and night. Again, this goes back to the individual monitoring their working day. I split mine into two shifts if possible; today I worked early so I could be home by twelve, and will be going back out at four to teach this evening. Obviously this isn`t possible every day of the week, but giving yourself a couple of siestas a week can really help you feel like you have a better balance on life`s weighing scales and you have chance to pop to the shops or catch up on the cleaning. I sometimes think that horse owners should consider our working day a little more, especially when booking appointments – it`s a two way thing, does the timing work for you, the client, and does it also work with the professional.

Standing my ground is something I find quite difficult; I will always do my best to fit in my clients, and to fit around them, but I have learnt that sometimes you just have to say “sorry I can`t do Wednesday, what other day can you do?” and very often they offer a different day, and everyone is happy.

I think I`ve had my say for the day. It`s really important, in any career, to make sure that work doesn`t consume every aspect of your life, and that you can still spend time with those important to you, and I think the equine industry is one of the biggest culprits for exploiting the willingness of professionals to bend over backwards, but also for the professionals to get carried away with their love of all things horsey and work themselves to the bone, and forget to see the world and learn new things.

That Monday Morning Feeling?

Do you have that sinking feeling on a Sunday evening, when you realise the weekend is over? Do you count down the days of the week until Friday night?

I`ve realised over the last couple of weeks I`ve come to realise just how lucky I am. On a Sunday I positively look forwards to Monday morning when I get back into the routine of getting up early and working on the yard. Seeing the horses, friends, and then teaching after school. Mondays usually ease me into the week gently with only a couple of lessons. Then on Tuesdays I have my brain tested with an advanced dressage lesson – lots of lateral work and complicated questions about aids, scales of training, degrees of shoulder in etc etc. Then after school I have some more lessons. I sometimes have a couple of horses to ride and if not I have an elongated lunch break to make up for teaching into the evening. The rest of my week continues in much of the same way.

For me, each day is different and brings new challenges and contemplations. Even if I have had a “bad day” it is by no means a negative experience. My feelings are usually based on the fact a lesson hasn`t gone as well as expected, or that my day has been long or busy, or that I`ve been rained on and am cold and wet. Of course, I look forwards to the weekend, but that`s only because I`m tired and need a rest, or want to spend time with family and friends.

  

Take today, for example. After the yard duties were done I taught an interesting lesson with cavaletti. Then I schooled Llani, who is really showing huge improvement in his leg yielding and lateral work. So on this high, I went to school another horse where I used lots of poles to improve his canter and practised some new exercises so that I can use them in my lessons, and then I hacked another horse. He`s an older boy, but with plenty of life in him still. 

We went for a long canter along the gallops – I always let him pick the pace as sometimes his energy levels are a bit lower. Today, however, he cantered merrily along with his ears pricked. The wind sent tears running down my face and I whooped with glee and the horse accelerated, his hind legs pushing him forwards along the gallops. He was thoroughly enjoying himself!

  

As we galloped I couldn`t help but laugh as the wind whistled around me, flapping the horse`s mane up and down. When I brought him back to walk, he jogged towards the next path, so I let him have another canter – much to his delight!

So after a day like today, with lots in store for tomorrow, I think I would be mad not to enjoy my job. But I count my lucky stars that I look forwards to going to work every day.