When Less is More

Kansas Carradine has a conversation with Gretel at the Byron Bay Equestrian Centre.  Photograph Candida Baker

Kansas Carradine has a conversation with Gretel at the Byron Bay Equestrian Centre. 

“The next frontier is of a spiritual nature. Our success is no longer defined by our accumulation of material goods, but by being in service to a worthy cause.”

 Ariana Strozzi

 It’s a wonderful thing in life that we can know, or believe we know, a lot about something, and still find that there is plenty more to learn.

Last Sunday I had the opportunity to attend a clinic given by one of the Cavalia riders, Kansas Carradine, at the Byron Bay Equestrian centre.  If you haven’t yet caught up with Cavalia, think Cirque du Soleil with horses…

Carradine, who grew up in Hollywood (her father was David Carradine) has been involved with Cavalia and with trick riding for many years, but on the side she has been discovering a whole new area – Equine Guided Education.

After studying with Ariana Strozzi of Skyhorse Ranch in the US for some years, Carradine is now teaching this most gentle and yet revealing of horse practices.

I thought horse-whispering and natural horsemanship were already a world away from most of the accepted practices we learn on how to interact with horses, but Equine Guided Education takes it a step further – with absolutely no riding involved, and with the horses at liberty in an arena, the session quickly becomes more about what the horses show us about ourselves, than what we might traditionally consider we should show the horses!

With four horses at liberty, there was bound to be a bit of non-verbal discussion, and one mare, Gretel, and her follower, Lucy, quickly established themselves as the leaders. Another mare, Belle, and a gelding, Brierley, seemed, at first, to be much more on the outside, and yet, as the day progressed, the seemingly disinterested Brierley connected to those of us in the group in an absolutely magical way as he went quietly from one person to the other, choosing to stand by us, and in a couple of instances, to offer healing.

Tesse Ferguson, Manager of the Byron Bay Equestrian Centre, with her girls, Gretel and Lucy.

Tesse Ferguson, Manager of the Byron Bay Equestrian Centre, with her girls, Gretel and Lucy.

It was surprising too, to see this most submissive horse, firmly suggest to the other horses that when he was with the humans they were not to come near.

We were asked continually to think about ourselves, how did we react being in a group of horses?  Could we imagine being a horse?  What issues did the different horses behaviour bring up for us?

It was a day full of surprises and revelations.  Some of the ideas that Carradine brought to our attention intrigued me.  She talked of how important it is to horses – and of course for ourselves – that our inside and outside landscape must match, that we must, as she put it, be congruent.  She asked as us to look at where our attention was drawn, which horses we were drawn to and why.

At one point three of us role-played being one horse, and were asked to silently move amongst the horses, as if we were a horse, which was an extraordinary spatial experience – particularly when we were sawn in half by a horse coming between us!

To truly try and put oneself into a horse’s hooves is to begin to understand their immense sensitivity to their environment – and to us.

Brierley initiates communication...

Brierley initiates communication…Photography for this article by Candida Baker

 

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Happy Next Month Resolutions!

It really is that time of year again, isn’t it? You know, the time when we’ve made all those New Year resolutions and now we’re finding them hard to keep.

No matter that we know full-well that we want to stop smoking, or drinking, or we want to exercise more, or be generally calmer, kinder, happier, more saint-like people, our human fallibility overcomes us, and quite soon, probably around now, we find we’re just simply back where we were before.

Why exactly is it that bad habits are so hard to break – and good habits hard to make?

Well, to begin with there’s a little thing called the brain – and its neurons love a well-trod path.

Deviate from that path – the double-shot latte at 10am, for example, or the hidden nail-biting indulgence just before bed, and anxiety sets in.

Scientists believe it takes three weeks to break – or make – a habit, and they’ve also found that people who complicate their habit-breaking rules are far less likely to succeed.

Also – and here’s the reason why so many New Year resolutions fall down – our brains and bodies need to be on the same page – fully united in the habit-breaking goal. Not easy when Christmas and New Year have left us all exhausted, surrounded by relatives, and children on school holidays, not to mention anxious about money as well!

The beginning of January is often not the best time to break a habit. A better New Year’s resolution would be to say that on February 1 you’re going to start your new regime, and give yourself a month to get prepared.

So what can you do to help yourself stick to a goal?

The first thing the habit-experts suggest is to break ONE habit at a time, so no multi-tasking – taking up exercise, giving up smoking, drinking and swearing all at once. Pick one, and make the rules simple.

Rather than telling yourself you’re going to exercise four times a week and do several activities, concentrate on something really achievable and easy – a 30-minute walk twice a week, for instance.

One thing the brain does need, however, is a replacement habit. I gave up coffee eight weeks ago, and replaced it with something just a little more exciting than my normal weak black tea – Earl Grey with a dash of sugar or an iced tea or a chai. I couldn’t say it was easy, but it did work. I also decided this year I’m going to try and pace the changes I want in my life throughout the year instead of enthusiastically dumping them on one little day.

Our New Year’s resolutions often set us up for failure, partly because, as Moshe Bar, director of the Cognitive Neuroscience Laboratory at Mass. General and Harvard Medical School explains in the Boston Globe, there’s more to the issue than just willpower.

“Our brains seek to be rewarded constantly, those rewards – manifested as pleasure and positive mood – are made up of neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine and endorphins. Those molecules stock the shelves of the best opium den in the world, the one right between our ears, and we’re all hooked on them.”

To summarize, neurotransmitters are nature’s trick for encouraging us to do what is supposedly best for us, and every time we achieve a goal, we go to our ‘happy’ place. However, the little pleasure centre in our brain is also activated by drugs, alcohol, food and sex, to name just a few. Fortunately the pleasure centre is also activated by exercise, meditation, creativity, singing and movement, to also name a few.

Hence the need to replace one habit with another, and even that, say the experts, should be done with a plan. If you want to replace watching TV with going for a run for instance, and you are experiencing a lot of inner resistance, try simply wearing your running shoes in the house for half-an-hour in the evening… walk about the house instead of watching television. Give your brain the chance to get used to the idea.

And use the SMART acronym so widely employed in business: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Trackable. It really works.

So what do you do if it’s just about now that you’re feeling despondent – the memory of all those best intentions being put firmly back in their box, and if you’re really hard on yourself a little balloon in your brain going ‘failure… I knew you couldn’t do it’?

You can still do it. Just prioritize your resolutions. Take one, make a plan, replace a habit, don’t beat yourself up. Give yourself a few weeks to introduce your brain to the idea that it’s going to work with you not against you on this one, and start again on February 1.


Happy habit breaking or making…