Two reflections, one mirror

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Isn’t it miraculous that both you and others can see completely different reflections of yourself while looking in exactly the same mirror?

I came to this thought when taking some video’s of my training sessions with my young horse. I ride alone a lot and don’t get the opportunity for direct feedback that much, so I thought the occasional training session video would do me good.

I swear, I almost started to cry when watching them back: unsteady hands, sloppy seat, toes sticking out like some weird stickman, head firmly positioned downward, arms rounded as if I were holding a skippy ball and a ‘meh’ moving horse (for  non-riders: all of these are pretty much dressage mortal sins).

Yeah, ok, there was the occasional good bit, bit overall it was pretty terrible.

Going into my lesson this week, I wanted to start off by apologising to my trainer for having to look at me hobbling around like that for an hour every week. I decided against it and to just see how it went this time, before apologising profusely. Guess what, best training ever! Good seat, wonderful forward supple horse, ready for some higher level training (her words, not mine).

A little bit of mirror time every once in a while is definitely good thing. When riding or at work, taking a minute to look at your strengths and weaknesses can provide a very valuable lesson. Yet, I realise that my mirror image is often my worst enemy: I will ONLY see the not so good stuff and forget to look at the context, progress and achievements. I realise that both when riding or working, I often maintain an unrealistic benchmark, which is then by default unachievable. This seemingly unachievable benchmark however also functions as my ever present drive to do more and do it better.

Merging these two mirror images (mine and how others see it) will help define what to work on, while feeling good about progress made within the right context and the right (realistic) benchmark. Whether working within a team, or on your own: ask someone for some regular feedback on how you’re doing…. how you’re really doing… and then merge it with your of mirror image, see if they match.

Time to review today’s video!

Getting back in the saddle…

Horsenomics 19082016

I recently fell of my young horse.

It’s been, let me think… over 15 years since I’ve exited the saddle involuntarily. So what happened?? I never fall off and am known to have a special type of glue on my butt…

Well, it just happened, but I could see it coming: a spook, shifting saddle, no way to calm this pretty young thing down, so a voluntary leap of faith and boom… hit the floor with a massive thud.

I shook my head (a bit rattled but ok, thank you helmet), checked my limbs (all still there, now adorned with a bruise or two) and hopped back on instinctively. Only later did I start thinking about the significance of this falling off and getting back on episode.

Yeah, it was painful and maybe a bit embarrassing, but also necessary – there would have been no hope in hell to stay in the saddle and calm the horse down. So, falling was the inevitable solution, but strangely getting back on and having another good ride afterwards gave me an enormous sense of achievement.

We all fall sometimes, and the even braver ones let themselves fall. Be it taking a break from a job of which you know you can’t stand staying in any longer unless you leave of a bit, cooling down that toxic friendship for a while or making a relationship break, sometimes you just have to jump off to calm things down and start over. Yes it will be painful, sometimes a bit embarrassing and often really hard to choose to do, but the sense of achievement of getting back in the saddle with renewed resolve makes it all worth while.

So, here I am, recovered from the fall, back at writing on Horsenomics.net

 

 

 

Has talent, needs direction


… That pretty much sums up the young horse I have just had the pleasure to start working with. Heaps of talent and potential, but clearly needs to be shown where his legs are, how long they really are and how he should be using them.

Now, there is a fine line between showing him what his own legs can do and letting him discover his own potential at his own pace and pushing on swiftly (as we know he has to strength and capacity to learn and evolve quickly). It is so tempting to take it too fast and start showing as soon as possible, but we might be risking the trust and physical development of the horse long term.

When we look at new additions to our work related teams, we often count ourselves very lucky to have found that young diamond in the rough. Then, after a little celebration, we need to decide how we want to help this high potential become that shiny polished diamond we know they can be. It is all about finding the right balance between offering the space for them to develop at their own pace, with the odd mistake or over enthusiastic blunder from time to time or rigging them into the performance pressures, which we know they could theoretically handle with ease, but could quell the initial diamond in the rough drive.

It comes down to having a good understanding of what your diamond in the rough wants to be when they grow up and how they envision getting themselves there. Then, help them get there accordingly, which could take longer than you had in mind or might not be exactly the way you would do it, but the long term reward will be priceless.

Just get on with it

T and Me

Some days you really just don’t feel like getting out of bed and getting done what needs to be done… we all have those days on occasion. Thankfully the feeling usually passes quite quickly and we get on with it, because we just don’t have a choice, understand the consequences if we don’t do it or know how good we will feel if the job at hand is done.

Either way, you drag yourself out of bed and get going.

A large part of horsemanship consists of tasks that are just not that sexy, not so fun, physically challenging, scary or downright disgusting. But, we know that whatever the task may be, it is important for the horses’ well being and your own to just get it done or get back on. Getting these not so fun tasks out of the way, clears the path for a better ride, a more relaxing cool down after a hard training and a clean and sorted environment to come back to when you’ve finished your ride.

At work we face similar challenges (maybe not the downright disgusting ones, but mostly similar), where sometimes we just really don’t want to plough through that enormous pile of admin, you have to face the colleague again that tends to make you uncomfortable or start working on that ppt presentation that you’ve left to the very last minute to prepare.

A quick priority check can help you understand if what you’re not looking forward to doing is really really necessary or not: if not, don’t do it or postpone! Yay! But in general, getting the not so fun stuff out of the way, gives you quite the sense of achievement, puts you in a positive state of mind and provides you the space and time to get on with doing what you love.

I will be heading out lateron to clean my mud and dirt loving horse before a ride in the beautiful spring sunshine!

 

Roll up your sleeves

image2I came across an interesting opinion article on horsenetwork.com about how more and more riders are just riders, no longer all round hands-on horse people. Thanks to a fortunate affluent situation in which a groom can be afforded or just simply a limited amount of time.

Whatever the reason, when not spending time in figuring out how a horse and caring for a horse really works, you’re missing out on some basic horse knowledge and quality time spent with your four legged friend.

I love grooming time with the horses I take care of, I don’t mind a bit of mucking out (good exercise!) and very much enjoy a simple walk with the horse: all of this helps to get to know the horse better and anticipate any issues that might arise when riding.

This line of thought can also be translated into the work environment. I have great respect for managers or C-level staff that occasionally roll up their sleeves and come down to the factory floor to better understand what is really going on in their organisation. How can you manage a team, or run a large scale organisation without knowing what and how things are really done? Should you get highly involved in the nitty gritty? Probably not, as this would come across as a lack of trust or micro-managing, but showing interest, learning how your business really works and helping out every once in a while can do wonders for team motivation.

Only when understanding how the business really works, who does what and what the customer really wants, can you come up with fresh new ideas, process improvements or product innovations.

Should you then never hire a groom (staff) and do it all yourself? No, if you can, why not hire someone, but just keep in mind how important this persons’ job is and understand that they are helping you free up time to focus on your training. Just make sure to role up your sleeves, help out your groom (team) and get connected to your horse (business) on a regular bases.

 

The wheelbarrow

mounting a horse

I was trying to count the times I’d attempted to mount a horse that just would not stand still, got easily spooked or was just too big. I assure you, it’s quite a few. I remember a particularly interesting incident involving me, a flapping blanket, a seriously spooked horse, and me on the ground when trying to mount… twice… Social media is also filled with funny videos of people attempting to mount a horse on their own accord to no avail, especially when there is no saddle involved or stirrups to help you up.

There are always a few beautiful exceptions to the rule like the little girls with a sweet pony who will let them hop on via the head and slide over to the back or the magnificent displays of horsemanship the ‘eleves’ of the Spanish riding school display who are taught to get on without stirrups or saddle as part of their basic training.

Generally though, we’ll need to ask for someone to help us at some point. Someone to give you a leg up, someone to hold your horse or just to bring a little stepping stool to be able to reach the stirrups with your leg.

We all need a little leg up in the work environment too every once in a while. Someone who can introduce you to the right people when looking for a new job, who will advocate for you to help you get your promotion, or simply someone to talk to when a bit stuck. Call it what you will: a ‘kruiwagen’ in Dutch  (literally translated wheelbarrow – someone that carries you in), a ‘torpil’ in Turkish (literally translated a torpedo – someone that breaks through the barriers for you) or a sponsor. We will all need one at some point in our careers.

So how do you get yourself one of those handy wheelbarrows? It all comes down to keeping your network healthy and actively involved and then racking up the courage to ask for help. Normally people will be very inclined to help people move forward as it is a most rewarding activity. Make sure though, that when help is provided, you thank your wheelbarrow accordingly, keep them involved in your progress and make them feel appreciated as you never know when you might require their help again in future.

Heading out to go buy one of my own wheelbarrows a cup of coffee and then will do another attempt later on today of getting on my horse as per the picture example 😉

Smile

smile

I was flipping through some feedback forms we used to use during our ‘train the trainer’ sessions, where we would have our participants do mini versions of their training as a closing exercise and provide feedback accordingly.  One of the constructive feedback notes for the participants that stood out most was ‘smile more’.

This also reminded me of  when I was giving cold calling training: the first step recommended before even picking up the phone was to take a deep breath, stand up straight and smile – the person on the other end will hear it and be more inclined to respond in a positive manner.

The smile is an amazingly powerful tool in the business and training environment. It is scientifically proven by Albert Mehrabian in 1971, the results of which are still often quoted today, that our body language and in this case a positive show of body language makes up over 55% of how the message is perceived (7% are the actual words and 38% the tone of voice). So, smiling could influence 93% as it also supports a positive tone of voice.

When working with horses, the smile can work in an equally positive way. A recent study has shown that horses can actually distinguish positive and negative facial expressions from a distance . Not only can they define what mood you’re in when you’re entering the barn, but they will certainly sense any form of tension once you get on. Which in turn (as horses are the great mirrors of our disposition), will result in a less spritely and cheerful horse than normal.

Taking a deep breath, and smiling before even entering the barn or getting on the horse, can be a very powerful way to put your training on the right track from the get go. Also, during training, taking a deep breath and smiling your way through will help you calm down, release tension and exude positivity, which will result in a better ride.

So, what if you’re just having a really bad day….? Do it anyway. Even putting on a fake smile will already help you shift your mood, even if only a little, towards a more positive mindset.

It’s an absolutely gorgeous sunny spring day, filled with fun challenges and horses. I have absolutely no reason not to smile, so let’s see if the people and horses around me will smile back at me today.

 

Donkey vs wild horse

  
One of my managers once compared my work style to that of a wild horse. An interesting statement, yet meant as a compliment. He explained to me that he had a preference for having to rein in a wild horse vs having to kick ahead a slow donkey.

While the wild horse might run in the wrong direction, or go about things a bit too fast and enthusiastic, at least there is energy to work with, which can be channeled into great things. The slow donkey type on the other hand will be extremely reliable and consistent, but won’t be coming with new ideas or show initiative for change.

I too like working with ‘wild horses’, both in the office as well as in the riding arena. They might give you a few too many rodeo experiences or head off a bit too fast, but at least there is forward motion to work with that eventually can be chanelled into the more demanding exercises. Often in dressage training you will see riders asking for collection in the horses’ movement before there is any energy or forward motion to collect to start with. This will look good in the moment, but has no beneficial effect long term and can even be demotivating for the horse.

Reining in the wild horse without restricting them in both the office and in the arena is not an easy task. It will mean that you have to trust them to run wild and you will have to let them make mistakes, but eventually they will find their way to great achievements with the right kind of guidance. The donkey however, will be predictable and easier to manage short term, but it would not be realistic to expect fresh ideas or initiative in the long run.

It is very tempting to rein in the wild horse too much too soon, and if this is done consistently, then at some point, as with the dressage training, there will no longer be any energy to rein in.

Take a chance on a wild horse and enjoy the ride!

Cheeky boots

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I’ve been trying some different things lately to see what works best for the horse I have recently started working with. 

I was noticing some small signs of discomfort when asking a few of the more advanced moves and was dealing with a bit of a ‘heavy’ horse at times. Besides doing some serious self-reflection (was I giving the wrong signal?) and booking the osteopath for a check-up, I also decided to give a few tack changes a try. Mind you, he’s had the same tack (saddle, bridle and bit) for years and years and is very used to it.

First, I had a close look at the saddle, while super comfy, it might not leave enough space for proper shoulder movement, not something we can change immediately, but it is certainly something to keep in mind for the next major purchase. Then, I had a look at the bridle and bit and decided to put my ‘cheeky boots’ on and give a full double bit dressage bridle a try.

Now, if you have been reading my blog for a while, you will know that I’m a ‘less is more’ kinda girl, but, …. WOW what a difference. All of a sudden I had a super light horse in my hands, forward, carrying himself, ready and willing to work and super responsive to my leg. It seemed that giving him a stable, solid, yet slightly more intrusive tool to help me ask for certain exercises was working in our favor.

It is by no means my intention to continue to ride him on the double bit all the time, but using it every once in a while could be a good way to promote forward movement and relaxation. With this type of tack change, in particular I would only recommend to go there if you have had previous experience in riding with this type of bridle under supervision.

This idea of putting your cheeky boots on and making a change takes me to the office environment. How many times have we been in the office, trying to complete a task, in the way it’s always been done…We feel something pinching, something is not right, but hey… it’s always been done that way, so it’s probably right… right?

It takes a lot of courage and creativity to venture out and try to approach things differently, and you will probably also have to convince others that it might be time for a change. It’s not easy, but even though you feel like you might be pushing your luck, it could really turn out in your favour. Do be aware that it really helps if you know what you’re doing, if you can explain the benefit of the change to your grandmother and if you have full confidence it will do no harm…. let’s call it taking a calculated, well thought through risk. There is no point in changing things just for the sake of change.

And what if it doesn’t work out your new way? Well, going back to the way it used to be is easy, and, you’ll probably have had a good learning on why the old way was better. It is not a failure to try and realize something does not work: you will most likely be recognized as someone that is willing to think out of the box and come up with creative new ideas. A win either way.

So, go ahead and put your own ‘cheeky boots’ on and give something different a try.

 

House of cards

Have you ever tried building a house of cards on a shaky surface? Have you ever tried building the house of cards, without laying a steady foundation? In both cases, you might have gotten it to a stage where it looked pretty good, but the moment you wanted to continue and add on some more, the house of cards came tumbling down, right?

This is much how I view the build-up of a horses’ training schedule. You will find difficulty in moving forward to more advanced work, if you have not taken the time to lay a solid base.

‘Don’t bother with shoulder-in or any other movements if you are not able to influence the length of the horse’s steps. There is no hope in hell until you can.’

– Kyra Kyrklund,  five-time Finnish Olympian and popular clinician

We’re all tempted at some point to show the moves that look good vs the moves that do good, but this house of cards could in the long run come tumbling down.

Training-Scale1 dressage

Why? Several reason: The horse could feel pressured into a move he’s not ready to do, and will remember it as a negative experience making it more difficult to ask in future. The horse could injure him or himself if the basic muscle build-up is not there yet. And last but not least, for ourselves, we will get frustrated if at some point we get ‘stuck’ in our training and have to go back to basics, because we realize we missed a few steps.

 

Not laying the base for your house of cards is also quite commonplace in the work environment. Cutting a few corners to get a quick win, skipping the due diligence because we simply think it’s a good idea, focusing on activities in stead of strategies, starting your business on a whim, skipping the financial long term business planning…

All of these actions will most likely turn out great short term, but you could be risking your house of cards tumbling down long term as the time was not taken to lay the solid foundation.

I am definitely guilty of wanting to go for the gut feel quick win on occasion in the business world, due to sheer excitement of getting things done, and have had to pay the price on certain occasions.

With horse training however, I religiously follow the principle of building up slowly to avoid my horses’ house of cards to come tumbling down in future. It might not look so exciting in the training arena, but come and have a look at us in a high level dressage test in a year or so!