If not now when? - by Kelly Marks

It seems to be true that the older you get the quicker the years go by and after another year full of demo and course organisation I look back and it can all seem a bit of a blur. I realised I’m full of admiration of students when in their introductions they tell us they ‘decided to take some time out for themselves’.  As I wrote in Perfect Confidence, recognising what you admire and even ‘jealousy’ can be used very positively; it can direct you towards knowing what you are looking for or needing in life at a certain time.  So I started looking for the message it was giving me.

This realisation was coupled with me experiencing a real shift in my thinking about the courses we’re teaching.  Over the 22 years, I’ve known on a surface level that students have found the courses much more than ‘a course to help with horses’.  I have letters going years back saying ‘The course with you and your team has helped me so much in my life’ but it’s as if this summer something happened where; and if this were Facebook I’d say ‘OMG!’ or ‘Whooaa!”; it came over me, that what we’re doing is really important for people, far more than I have ever completely acknowledged before.

It actually felt quite scary.  One of my deepest fears is letting people down, and then to realise I have this whole other level of responsibility.  How to be sure I’m stepping up to the mark is the question?  The awareness alone is a big part for any of us to get things right.  As a team we all appreciate that for students on the Five Day Foundation course particularly, the experience of being in a new environment, with people they haven’t met before, coupled with being surrounded by the animals they love so much and want to right by, can make people feel vulnerable and even bring feelings up that they may have pushed aside for a considerable time.  A positive and supportive atmosphere is incredibly important in those circumstances.

It came to me that putting myself into similar circumstances could help me understand more from the students point of view, so when student, Sam Quarashi, told me about the one course, that has a reputation for being amazing, but actually he hasn’t done (he’s done everything else!) after some careful investigation I took the leap and signed up – to a 7 day retreat type experience called the Hoffman Process taking place in December.

‘What you are seeking is seeking you’ Rumi

I won’t be allowed a phone as it’s considered a time to take a complete break from the outside world.  None of the usual coping mechanisms are allowed ie no alcohol (not a big problem for me), no books (that will be a big problem for me!) and not even yoga or running and of course no Pie!  I shall be reporting back in the Spring Edition of the IH Magazine.  It will be ‘interesting’ whatever and I’m sure I’ll be able to find positives to bring back to IH from the experience.


 Kelly Marks and Pie jumping at Lambourn Charity Ride   

        Pie still going strong at 23      Kelly Marks and Pie jumping cross country at Lambourn Fun Ride

Quality Pie Time

Apart from the wonderful connections with students past and present this year a stand out event was some ‘Quality Pie Time’ at the annual Lambourn Fun Ride.  I’ve spent far more time leading Pie round the 3 mile ‘dog walk’ I have round my home than I have riding him.  This is because I’ve had such a limited time to take any exercise it seems a good alternative to getting fitter but still having time with Pie.  Meanwhile Pie gets alternately hacked by two lovely retired ladies 3 days a week so he keeps up a reasonable level of ridden fitness himself.

We missed the Lambourn Fun Ride last year and actually the last time we jumped was at Your Horse Live 2016 when he was ‘brought out of retirement’ after 6 years away from demos to do his party piece and after what was a difficult start to the evening, Pie came in, did his thing, and suddenly we all knew we were on track for the great evening we’d imagined.

As usual on this Fun Ride, I start off thinking we’ve forgotten how to jump (well I usually have!) but there’s always alternative jumps of about 9 inches high you can pop over and after a mile of those, and there’s nothing that gets Pie more enthusiastic than some jumps, I start to think ‘he’s so keen we could probably to the 2 foot jumps (apologies I still think in old money, I mean 60 cm?) then I think we were getting up to 3 foot 6 ins (1.10 cm?) What’s that Monty says about working up ‘incrementally’?! I’ve included a couple of photos here as frankly I think he was amazing! We both went home exhilarated and thoroughly pleased with ourselves.  At 23 years, Pie and I won’t have many more years of that kind of fun but I’m so glad we took that time out together while we still can. Q.  What should YOU be taking time out to do sooner rather than later?

FOOTNOTE: Just the day before the ride I learned two friends of mine had nearly had a Facebook fallout re. ‘The Pony Club Kick’.  If I make it clear that both these friends are IH Members and total horse lovers and sensible women HOWEVER they both had very different points of view on this. So is it a fuss about nothing or encouraging horse abuse?  It’s why I think the Intelligent Debate is so useful in the magazine as it encourages us to look from alternative points of view.

For instance, one person stated you wouldn’t encourage a child to kick a dog – so in their head was footballer, Harry Kane stepping back as he powers his foot into the side of an innocent pony, and probably in the other person’s head is the image of their darling 6 year old daughter, waggling her legs upon the saddle as her feet don’t reach much beyond.  I was pondering this as Pie and I were going around the Fun Ride and even thought about it approaching a jump, Honestly I was sitting back and gripping so firmly with my whole leg going into the fences I thought  ‘How on earth do you ‘kick’ going into a fence?!

You can go more deeply into this subject with Daisy Smith’s instructive article on keeping your lower leg position stable when jumping.  I feel we can take comfort that the Pony Club Kick is something most people grow out of by 16, hence its title, and the answer to a solid leg position is not only about education – but getting older, wiser and likely as not, to quote Lucinda Green, getting a lot more ‘chicken’!

  • Just heard there is an article promised on this very subject ‘Beyond The Pony Club Kick’ for the Spring 2019 Issue of the IH Magazine! Please send in any contributions you may have to The Editor!


Wrath of the Aunt

After the suicide of 14 year old, keen horse rider, Bradley John from Wales,  depressed, or perhaps better put, distraught, through being bullied at school, many of the horse community have stood up to discourage bullying and look out for each other.  Those using social media can use #blowforbradley to show support.  Unfortunately, it’s still ingrained in many parts of horse culture, and if you check out Rosie Jones-Mcvey’s thought provoking article on ‘Old Heroes and Bold Heroes’ perhaps it’s another case of ‘tradition’ passed down by horsemanship’s army background.

I recently had the idealistic idea that if we were to stand up to unacceptable behaviour it would be a start to ‘making the (horse) world a better place but it still seems there are ‘powers that be’ and what used to be the ‘old boys club’ but now as likely as not is the ‘old girls club’, are happy to still enable unpleasantness and what amounts to bullying if you ‘wear the right tie’.

At a recent county horse show while Daisy walked the course and I was holding Jack, he went from being fast asleep to suddenly become agitated and kicking at his belly.  I immediately acted to get him away from other horses as he’d clearly been bitten or stung.  I said ‘excuse me please’ as I went behind a couple of the other competitors already mounted and took him out of the collecting ring to an area away from other horses.  I got his saddle off, had a look over him and he settled down quickly once he knew the damn flying biting creature had gone.

I then heard from Daisy and Sandra, my sister and Jack’s owner, that one of the competitors, had seen Jack was upset and as Daisy was trying to leave the ring after walking the course, stood intimidatingly at the entrance of the ring and said loudly in a mocking tone so everyone could hear ‘Natural Horsemanship working out well for you then?’ As I stated in my letter to the Sports Horse Society, ‘the fact that this woman would be twice Daisy’s age and someone she might previously have looked up to, made her tacky behavior all the more disappointing’.

It was interesting that she made her comment to Daisy, who was just about to jump her biggest course ever on Jack, and not me who the comment was far more relevant to (although I’d have pointed out the name is Intelligent Horsemanship) made me wonder whether this was part of her ‘tactics’ or she thought Daisy was an easy target?   As it happened though it made Daisy all the more focused on jumping the course and they finished 2nd (ahead of the woman) and Embarrassing Aunt that I am, it put me on a mission to make it clear what is and isn’t acceptable behavior; to a relation of mine or anyone else.

I was disappointed though not entirely surprised when the Sports Horse Society replied they had talked to the older rider and she ‘was merely expressing concern’ and I was warned that it was ‘unprofessional’ to put in on my Facebook page.  Not a comment that was well thought out as my profession happens to be communication – in all its forms.  If only they had read the comments that were on my Kelly Marks and Intelligent Horsemanship Facebook page they might have seen how rife bullying and unpleasantness is in the horse world. I was even shocked how volunteer stewards at horse shows spoke up about how they are shouted at and talked down to by competitors and, of course, the children see their parents do this, so think it’s acceptable as well.

As I said at the beginning, the feeling of letting people down is a real concern for me.  By standing up for something I’ve already been told ‘this could count against Daisy in her competition career’.  I haven’t done anything meaningful to help the #blowforbradley campaign.  It’s Bully: 10 Well Meaning Me: Nil, and realistically, are we ever going to change people who chose the path of being nasty for the sake of it?  Most unlikely.  Let no one be down hearted though!  Let’s keep looking out for each other and if all else fails we can always fall back on a good quote:

‘Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.’  Rumi


Click here to read more blog posts.