Welcome to my blog about horsey life in the North East - the good bits, bad bits, endless coffees and plenty of mud!

Thursday, 26 April 2012

"It's great to see someone break through a barrier"

Here's an interview I did with Charlie Unwin after I watched his demo at Your Horse Live 2011. This piece originally appeared in etc Magazine so it's not angled for horsey readers - that said, I think anyone who saw Charlie at YHL or has an interest in the psychology behind sport and performance might enjoy it. 

Former Durham University psychology graduate Charlie Unwin speaks to Alison Goulding about the art of coaching an Olympic team. 

No less than four Olympic teams have Charlie Unwin on their payroll.
He’s the go-to man for athletes who want to make sure their brain power matches their muscle power. 

Specialising in applied psychology, Charlie has first-hand experience in delivering results under pressure. 

He served for seven years with the Royal Horse Artillery and toured Iraq as a platoon commander conducting counter-insurgency operations.
After the army, he was selected for the GB Modern Pentathlon Team for the World Championships.

He competed in five World Cups, and became British Champion in 2007. 
Now he runs a coaching business called Performance Legacy and his prestigious clients include FTSE 100 Companies and the Olympic teams for pentathlon, equestrian, fencing and beach volleyball.

Charlie, 31, said: “There’s not a single Olympic athlete that doesn’t get incredibly nervous - they just have an incredible ability to focus on their goals and the story they give themselves. They generally have a much stronger imagination than a lot of people. They can naturally imagine the key steps in their performance as if they were doing it. They rehearse it again and again in their minds and then recreate it. 

“Top athletes make it look easy - people don’t recognise the effort behind it.”
But it’s not just Olympic athletes who can benefit from Charlie’s approach.
He said: “Applied psychology is a broad field that a lot of people can relate to. 
“What might happen is that someone comes to you with a specific ailment - it might be that their performance is dramatically affected by nerves - dealing with that isn’t always so complex when you see what’s behind it. 

“What’s more complex is being able to help that person go from there and sustain high performance in whatever they do. 
“The success is really in creating the right environment around that person to perform their best.”
So why did he choose the North East for his degree education?
Charlie joked: “I really wanted to live in a castle! And the psychology course was one of the best in the country.

“Durham was phenomenal - I can’t praise it enough. I have so many good memories. It’s just one of the those places, and I think they’ve even worked out the figures, something like 80 per cent of couples who meet there end up getting married, and I can really see why. 
“It’s one of those places where you have a special experience.”

Charlie cites the army and his athletic career as his two major influences. 
He said: “In the army I learned what performance under stress meant in a military sense, but sport has also had a massive impact on me. 

“The army came first for me and was very values based. Planning is a key army value and so is delivering plans to others. You can be overwhelmed with information and there’s only so much you can take on before you become bogged down. It’s about realising - what information do I need to do my job really well that will allow me to focus and lead?

“As a sportsman I was a lot more focused on being an individual but recognised key elements of motivation, like getting up at 5am to train and recognising how my day-to-day goals drove my motivation.”

Through his own experience, Charlie now helps others reach their peak.
He said: “We can minimise the things that stop us from doing our best. 

“In some senses it’s common sense that’s not commonly applied. 
“My aim is to get people comfortable with being uncomfortable - to realise that uncomfortable situations don’t feel nice but that needn’t stop them from being their best.
“It’s great to see someone break through a barrier in what they’re doing.”

How to: Find out more about your horse

Here are some things to do with or around your horse that might give you a bit more insight into their world, or allow you to enjoy their company in a different way.

1. Have a walk around their field. I did this the other night as one of the mares came in injured and I wanted to make sure she hadn't been caught on anything. I found out where their scratching post is, a load of twigs and branches that they've been chewing on and playing with and a bit of the fence they'd smashed. I also noticed that on one side of the field there was a ladybird on every post next to yellowy, orange patches of lichen. I've no idea why they gather there but it was a nice buzz to find out a bit more about the nature in the field.

2. Graze them inhand. The crappy weather means my two are having the odd day inside just to give them a break from being constantly soaked. To keep them sane and happy I take them out to graze on the verge for a few minutes. It's a really nice thing to do and a good way to stop them tying up.

3. Talk to them. I'm sure most horseowners do this anyway but it's one of my favourite things. I ask them how their day's been, what they've been up to and what they'd like to do next. I've never had an answer yet but they do seem to listen and I hope that it translates into them realising that I care about them and love them.
Also, during stressful moments, it always helps me to sing the Eastenders theme tune. Not sure why.

4. Look at how their feet/teeth are wearing. My dentist explains how everything's working and lets me feel their teeth when they're in the Speculum. My physio shows me how muscle problems or nerve damage alter the pressure they place on their feet. Harvey places more weight on his near fore so has more wear and tear in this leg. He does this because of nerve damage in his right side. It's a good indicator of what's going on with them and really interesting if you can get a good professional to explain it clearly. 

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

The horse will tell you

The rain has set in and washed away 90 per cent of my enthusiasm for riding. Not that Cady and Harvey mind, it's business as usual for them and they're enjoying the satisfaction of plastering their faces with improvised mud masks.

Last night was just clear enough for long enough for a play in the round pen. Join-ups with Harvey are a piece of cake but in the past I've struggled with Cad as she gets very distracted and spooky in there.
I decided to have another go with her using my new rule - 'Do less'.

I tend to meddle with Cady too much and it's made her less inclined to make her own decisions and give new things a try. But since I've started hacking her out on her own I've had to sit back and let her grow up a bit.

I've learned the hard way that I can't force her past stuff she's scared off but if I give her a minute and keep asking gently she usually finds the courage to go past whatever it is. I tried this last night in the round pen; rather than trying to chase her into the corner she's wary of I just stood in the middle, used my body language to steer her out and gave her some time to do it herself. 

She went round at a slow snorty walk and by the end of the ten minute session she was happy to trot around the outside without fuss. Arguing with her just gives her the chance to avoid the thing she's scared off and argue back. We even managed a join-up which felt lovely. It's reminded me that a horse will tell you what you need to do if you shut up and listen for long enough. 

Horse whisperer speaks

Great article: 


Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Dentist for Cady monster

Wasn't Cady brave getting her teeth done? There was a LOT of eye rolling but she was very calm - probably because Kev Hallett is so patient and chilled out with her. Good professionals make for an easy life.


Having my daft Facebook comments appearing in Your Horse always gives me a warm feeling!
My thanks to Kim Hardy who spotted this one. 

I really like being friends with Your Horse on Facey because they ask nice questions and get good debates going - they're in touch with their readers.

In other horsey news - Cady and I went on a big grown up hack yesterday and she was marvellous. Being brave doesn't come easily to her but she tried very hard. My friend Mark came along and bless him, went and stood next to all the scary things she didn't want to go past so she could see it was safe. This saved me having to get off every five minutes which is good for my decrepit bones! 

I was reluctant to start hacking her out until I read a really nice post on Kelly Mark's Facebook page about handling spooky horses. She recommended lots of patience, not being afraid to get off and lead past scary bits and touching anything that's upsetting your horse while they stand and have a look and their adrenalin levels come down. This is another example of how useful the internet can be when you're a horse owner - keep your eyes open and there's some good advice out there. And, unlike everything else horsey, it's free!

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

And now, the news

Well I've had a couple of weeks off from the blog. I wish I could say its because I've been teaching Cady to jump five-bar gates, but I haven't.
I've just been a bit lazy really and since I was off work last week I was nowhere near a computer...
Anyway, here's the news in brief.
1. Cady thinks her new yearling field companion, Honey, is her long lost foal and is behaving slightly like Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction in a bid to keep her to herself.

2. Harvey has a cut on his leg (boo!) but it's not serious (Hurrah!) He has been remarkably wimpy about having it cleaned and keeps turning round to angle  deeply hurt looks at me.
3. Cady and I have been going on walks together (in-hand) and even done two tiny hacks. By tiny I mean no more than 200 yards. There's been a considerable amount of reversing and attempted rearing, but Rome wasn't built in a day and if I have to piddle around the arena one more time I'm going to scream.
4. Yesterday they had a holiday while my friend and I took my throwing knives for a road test. Not strictly horse-related news but I can recommend it as a marvellous stress-buster...