One thing I know from getting it wrong and then getting it right, is that you will find it easier to achieve and sustain success with horses if you have balance. Not just the kind of balance that helps you to stay on your horse, but the sort of balance that keeps you from having a breakdown or a breakup on the way to success. You’ve heard of work-life balance. It is also important to have horse-life balance.
There are times, of course, when the best way to win is not to keep score, because if you are preparing for something big, balance will take second place for a while. In her book, How We Lead Matters: Reflections on a Life of Leadership, Marilyn Carlson Nelson makes the following observations: “The fact is that being a leader in any field requires discipline, effort, and, yes, sacrifice. It can be all consuming. And during that time, life may not have much balance… Personally, I liken being a CEO to being an Olympic athlete. It’s an exhaustingly gruelling yet richly rewarding time when you’re at the top of your game. And I ask you, when was the last time you heard an Olympic athlete complain about work/life balance?”
However, on the way to peaking for the Olympics, balance will keep the wheels on your mind, your body, your relationships, your job and other important elements of your life.
First of all, I need to acknowledge the person who introduced this concept to me. Her name is Susanne Rix, a behavioural scientist and author of “Superworking: How to Achieve Peak Performance Without Stress”. I will be forever grateful for having participated in one of Susanne’s Superworking® courses in the early 90s.
It’s been a while, though, so what follows is based on my recollection.
In brief, having balance in our lives allows us to function better and longer, with less stress, less downtime through illness or burnout, and greater innovation.
Balance can be illustrated by a simple pie chart. When I first drew my pie at the Superworking® course, showing the way I usually spent my time back then, it contained only four segments, the biggest of which was for work. The other three slices, probably in descending order of size, were for health & exercise, relationship and family. Not good.
A better pie makes room for many more things – around eight segments, in fact. Obviously, not all segments are of equal size all the time, but all need to have a definite and continuous presence in your life for maximum effect. Here is how the segments of my old, sad, unbalanced pie looked, side by side with the balanced pie I recommend and try to achieve today:
The balanced pie needs to comprise the following elements (some of which may overlap) in order to keep us physically, mentally, emotionally and financially fit. The numbers do not denote ranking, as all are necessary for peak performance.
You will note that the above list promotes the functioning of both sides of the brain – this is a key to getting the most productivity with the least effort.
What’s that? You don’t have time to fit it all in? That’s what I thought too, until I tried it. I found that it wasn’t so difficult and the more I consciously sought balance, the easier EVERYTHING became. There’s a kind of domino effect that comes from the wellbeing it brings.
I hope that all that makes sense. Have you experienced anything similar? Post a comment to join in the conversation.
Happy pie balancing!
The horse–human relationship should be mutually pleasurable and rewarding.
You know it is mutual when a horse will leave other horses to be with you, even though you are not a horse; even though you bring no treats or feed; even though you may be carrying a halter or a rope or a saddle.
I have been blessed to share such a bond with a number of very special equines, beginning with my first pony, Beauty. Beauty came into my life when I was nine years old and she was five. Quite a few people commented that Beauty treated me like I was her foal. I don't know about that and I recall actually not liking it when they said it, because I preferred to think that I was in charge! But whatever her motivation, Beauty clearly returned the love and devotion I felt for her. We spent hours and hours just hanging out together. Sometimes there was activity like grooming or riding or teaching her tricks. Other times I just lay on the ground and watched her graze, fascinated by the way she used her top lip to brush the dust from every tuft of grass before biting it off. While I lay there, she stayed close to me the whole time, even though there was plenty of grass elsewhere in her paddock.
Did I feed her treats? Yes, sometimes I would pull a particularly succulent bunch of kikuyu grass on the way to her paddock and feed it to her when I arrived. Other times I would just arrive. Sometimes I would give her a carrot or maybe an apple core and I used to add kitchen scraps to her feed ration, but I did not use food to motivate her to perform.
For example, I thought it would be fun to teach Beauty simple tricks like counting and shaking hands. These things are easy for even a child to visualise, so I had a clear picture in my mind of exactly what I wanted her to do and how it would look.
To actually teach my pony to shake hands, I began by applying a bit of pressure to the back of her right fetlock, and then lifting her foot as if I was going to pick it out. Next, I looped a rope around her fetlock, stood in front of her, said "shake hands" and gently tugged on the rope. This was repeated until she figured out that I wanted her to move her foot. When she did, I dropped the rope and gave her praise and caresses. Repeat. Beauty caught on very quickly until she raised her foreleg forwards and close enough for me to touch it briefly. Much lavish praise and an end to the lesson. As you can see in the photo above, after just a few trick training sessions, Beauty became a willing hand shaker!
There are endless things you can teach a horse and in my experience, all of them can be accomplished quickly and successfully through a kind and logical process of:
Accordingly, I do not advocate feeding treats as a reward during basic training. For one thing, your horse is not a dog and is not motivated to perform in the same way. Furthermore, the over-use of treats can lead the horse to expect and then demand them, including under circumstances where it is inconvenient or unprofessional to provide them. For instance, you do not want your horse searching your pockets or whipping his head around for a little snack when you are in the show ring! At the more dangerous end of the spectrum, the constant and indiscriminate feeding of treats can lead horses to nip or bite from a sense of frustrated entitlement.
Please do not think that treats will make your horse love you. Horses love other horses and they even love stable mates like cats, dogs and goats, none of whom ever feed them treats. In the same way, just as Beauty did with me, they will value the bond of companionship and teamwork they share with you far more than a piece of carrot or apple, but only when you have earned that bond by providing companionship, leadership and fun together.
Treats do have their place, especially if the horse earns them or as a nice surprise, but if care is not exercised, feeding treats will actually make your horse disrespect you. He is too big and potentially dangerous for that, so make a treat an occasional event. And if you put that carrot in the manger instead of hand feeding it, your horse will love you just as much and respect you more.
Do you have a story or an opinion about feeding treats to horses? Please share in the comments section.
Some of the above text is taken from my book. Click here to find out more. (Chapter 7, Teaching to Learn is especially relevant.)
Here’s an exchange with a reader about a common hock condition that may be of general interest.
ZQ: Hey Joanne, I was just after some advice. Orlando has come up with two soft lumps on his hock. And we've had X-Rays and they came up clean, so the Vets told us just to put him on bute for a week and it should go down and 2ish weeks rest in the paddock, but it's hasn't gone down at all. He's not lame or anything and it's got the vets stumped so I was wondering if you had seen anything like it before? I'll attach a photo! Thank you x
Images kindly supplied by Zoe Quintieri
JV: Hi Zoe. To me it looks like a bog spavin, often caused by a combination of conformation (e.g. straightish hocks) and sudden exertion (e.g. jumping, polo turns etc.), which places strain on the joint capsule of the hock. The bad news is that the swelling may stay there as a blemish. The good news is that if there is no heat, pain or lameness, it should have little or no effect on Orlando's usefulness. You could try rubbing castor oil into it once a day for a couple of days. Castor oil is a mild blister, so, according to Richard Chapman BVSc in his book "Do I Call the Vet?" the horse will resent this after about 3 days. Stop immediately and repeat after two weeks. If no improvement, stop doing it altogether but if it appears to work, keep repeating the process. Worth a try. How old is Orlando?
ZQ: Okay thank you so much!! He turned 6 in September so he still a baby, but it came up as he was on a spell for a month so could he have done it in the paddock? Or does it come up after they have stopped working?
JV: Not sure about why or when or how long it would take. He could have done it charging about in the paddock. Anyway, he should be fine - just keep an eye on it. You asked a good question with great photos - would it be OK if I worked them into a blog post, as it might help other people?
ZQ: Okay! Thank you so much, I rang the vet today as he wanted to know if the swelling went down, so when he rings back I'll see what he says but from what you have said it does sound like it is a bog spavin! And yes you most certainly can! We asked so many people about his leg and no one knew what it was so it would be good to help other people!
JV: Thank you!
From a very early age I have been able to tune in to what horses and ponies were thinking and what they were likely to do next.