I will be on my way to Italy soon to start my well-deserved vacations meaning my blog has some days off too.

I'll be back at the beginning of october!
Talk to you!
Nadja

Roma! Photo: Nadja
PS: Check out "Kicking on" on september 25th….
How to handle a rope correctly? There a different approaches. As I've announced some weeks ago, here comes a post about ropes. I'll discuss the techniques recommended by Pat Parelli and Buck Brannaman and I'll cover the quality of a good rope
There are horseman like Pat Parelli who wants you to just let go of the rope when playing with your horse, no matter how long the rope is. There are others like Buck Brannaman who put emphasis on having your rope nicely coiled and sorted in your hands. Sounds like a huge difference to me.
Both approaches have advantages and disadvantages. With the end rope just falling to the ground, you don‘t have an unsorted bunch in your hand. You don‘t focus on the rope when you should be focussing on you horse. You are less likely to twist the rope around your hand or wrist which can become dangerous. It sounds reasonable for someone who hasn‘t dealt with longer ropes a lot. Still, I see the following problems: Your rope will end up covered in dirt. Even worse: When the sand or ground of the arena is wet, you‘ll have it rolled and dusted like a Wiener schnitzel. That is not only quite ugly to touch, but a sandy rope also easily turns into sandpaper when your horse tries to take off and you need to grip firmly. You‘ll wish you‘d wear gloves. Another disadvantage: Though you are less likely to get tangled with your hands you still need to watch your feet. Coils also build on the ground and you don‘t want to step in them. So If you decide to have the end of your rope on the ground make sure you‘ll throw it out so it lies flat in a line not all coiled up

ropes
My old rope halter plus reins. You can
use them together but the combination
is not ideal communication wise.
Photo: Nadja
I personally started out as a believer of the rope on the ground techniques. It‘s just simpler in the beginning. At the moment I am developping more into a rope in hand keeper - still struggling with the coils. But the dirty rope experience (and I also happened to drag it through horse poop) has kind of healed me from letting my rope down on the ground.
I‘d recommend to try and start having your rope in order right from the start so you don‘t have to change your habits. But if handling horse and rope at the same time is too much, don‘t be ashamed to let go of the end of the rope.

General aspects of a good rope


Here in Germany, light, short cotton ropes are pretty popular - combined with big halters. They might be good to tie your horse but they drive me crazy when leading. They tend to be quite flexibel and stretch easily - which ruins communication right from the start. Additionally they lenghten with time and are usually so light and thin that they can easily wrap around your horses feet (I speak from experience here). In general they are too short and useless when you need some drift, plus when exposed to rain and water, they soak like a sponge. Useless as well. So I highly recommend to not overuse them. 
I prefer the heavier quality in a rope, made of yachting braid, that have life (meaning a core in another material) and are stiff enough to communicate a feel or pressure if necessary. They don‘t lenghten (not even after years in use), often feature a leather popper at one end (which can be useful sometimes), and though they are not waterproof, they don‘t turn into a sponge when exposed to water. Plus: They are not light and flexible enough to seriously cut your horse‘s legs if he gets tangled in them.   
I started working with ropes that featured a metal hook but I found them too heavy on the horse's nose. Now I am using a rope that I can simply tie into the halter. It works perfectly and I am quite happy. 


Ok, here we are with the fourth and final part of this little balance-series. We've addressed the physical and the mental aspects of balance. Today we are talking about the emotional partFor me, the main issue is fear (I'll cover anger some time later).

You'll probably have heard the word comfort zone. When you act within it, you feel safe and secure as you know what you are doing and are quite sure about the outcome. Unfortunately, learning takes place outside your comfort zone. Which is rather logical, as you acquire a new skill or new knowledge which makes you break new grounds. Sometimes that can be rather overwhelming. Or maybe you find yourself pushed in a situation that you feel you are not able to handle. You'll loose confidence and fear starts to come up.

Try the following to cope with your fear:


balance
1. Acceptance
First of all and most importantly, you just need to accept the fear. We are no superheros or superhumans. Fear is just another emotion with its original function being to protect us. It can get in the way of our plans, of course, but it isn't something bad we need to be ashamed of. The more we accept it, the better we live with it. Acceptance doesn't mean we let fear take a hold of us. Instead we take it into account and take action according to what is best for us.

2. Explore the limits of your comfort zone
You need to know your comfort zone and where it ends (that is easy to explore). Try to cross the line every once in a while and try to stay out there for a few moments. Fear doesn't subside by doing nothing - we need to take action. So it's vital that you face your fear, meaning stepping out of your comfort zone and experiencing it. But it's also vital that it does not overwhelm you as that will take away your confidence as well. If it gets too much, retreat in your comfort zone, allow yourself to pause and then, go out again (it's funny as this is exactly the same we would deal with a scared horse: give him some exposure but allow him to retreat as well). Ideally, you feel the fear out there and are able to wait until your feelings change for the better. Take a every step at a time approach and be assured that even if it's tedious if you stick with it, the fear will become smaller and diminish.

3. Preparation
Try to be prepared. Think of what you are trying to work on and break it down into pieces: Is there any equipment you might need to succeed (I am not talking gadgets here. I mean a helmet or a high quality rope)? Are there some maneuvers your horse needs to know to help him understand you (don't go on a walk or ride with a horse you barely know. Check him out first)? 
For example, If I knew there could be some trouble getting the horse from the pasture, I'd choose a long, firm rope to allow the horse to drift plus not have him close and all over me (what happens if your rope is too short).

4. You are in charge, not anyone else
You feel your fear, not anybody else. It's your business, so don't let anybody push you over your limits. You need to protect you in order to stay safe and confident. You are free to choose what to do and what steps to take. It's your responsibility. Listen to the advice of others but decide for yourself.

As I am not the most confident rider, preparation for me is vital. I don't expose me or my horse to situations that I know are likely to get out of control. And I don't let myself be pushed to go there. Here's still one example when a situation got out of control and how I handled it: 

The frisian I take care of once a week ran me over several years ago when I was leading him from the pasture to the barn. Apart from a few bruises (the biggest one took my confidence) nothing happened. The next time I led him the same way I was tensed and anticipating him running me over again. He too was nervous but nothing happened. I led him again and again, and at some point the fear subsided. I not only faced the situation again and again, but I also tried to be better prepared: I worked with him on not invading my space plus I had become more aware of the fact that he tends to spook when he has passed something frightening and the scary object is right behind him. Another horse might have trouble passing it in the first place, he freaks when you think it's already over. So as scary being run over was, the experience has taught me some valuable lessons and makes me a better horse person. Now I can lead the frisian with confidence - anywhere.
(One more friesian-fear-story you can find here).

To end this post and the series, here are some more articles that I find very helpful

Anna Blake writes about how breath can help you, how to turn fear into something to eat and that we need to make friends with fear. On of my favorite posts of hers is this one about confident riders.
Anne Gage is a confidence specialist and has a lot of tips in her vault.
Pat and Linda Parelli share some ideas on emotions here.

Did you like this series? Is there anything I could have done better, anything I've missed? Let me know, I'd love to hear from you!

We covered the physical part of balance, now let's continue with the mental challenges.
I become mentally unstable when frustration takes over. I start with doubting my capabilities as a horsewoman and rider. I doubt I will not make it to the next step, will never be a self-confident enough rider, am generally not able to live up to the horse's need - the list is endless.
Sure, physical balance is vital, but the mental setup is important too. You are more likely to fail if you think right from the start that you won't make it anyway - sometimes this mindset will even stop you from trying in the first place! So let's change something about that.


When you feel frustrated, try the following


1. Continue with your plans. Don't ever let your frustration and self-doubt get in the way of what you desire. You can change your approach, your teacher, your methods, your clothes - take the steps that you think are necessary to help you leave that dark place. But don't you quit!

2. Start a blog. If you feel that is too much time to invest, read blogs. Out there is a supportive community of fellow riders who have experienced just what you are going through. You will get advice, help and many words of comfort when needed - and you avoid scolding or stupid comments that might come up in social network groups or message boards.

3. Don't expect too much in too little time. I know you want something and you want it now. But developing skills - no matter which ones - takes time. Allow yourself to try and to fail. Don't expect things to happen perfectly at first try. They will work out in the end, and that is what counts.


4. Write a list with your achievements or just think about them.  What helps to cheer me up is to take a closer look at what I've achieved so far. I check my little successes, that raise my sense of achievement. For me, that has nothing to do with ribbons, but of course, you can fish them out too. I look at challenges I was facing in the past, situations or maneuvers I had trouble with. And then I check the outcome. Am I still stuck where I was or did I manage to change something, did I develop? Here are some examples
  1. After dropping out of the riding club, I thought I'd never ride again. I felt like a complete failure and didn't think anybody would entrust me with their horse, let alone riding it. Well, today, people pay me for taking care of their horses and for helping to develop them.
  2. I thought I'd never get side movements. That I'd be never able to ask a horse to sidepass, do shoulder- or quarter-ins. Well, right now we are working on yielding to the leg in trot.
  3. I had huge problems to ask my horse to lower his head. He was just non-responsive and counted on me giving up. Well, we fixed it (by asking and waiting long enough).
So whatever your successes are, make sure you are aware of them and your achievements. Celebrate yourself and give yourself some credit, you deserve it!

Anna Blake who writes one of the (if not the) best horse blogs I know did two great pieces relating to frustration: "What to do when nothing works" and "This too shall pass"
In a post from January Dressage Hafl addresses the "blue monday", the most unpopular day of the year, and gives some tips to cheer you up.