Last summer I went on theory course focusing on centred riding presented by Cynthia van der Wal from the paardenstudio. It was a beautiful setting on a lovely farm in the polders of North Holland, and the evening sun glowed across the fields as we arrived. Before the course began we watched the herd of horses Cynthia uses in her therapy having their evening feed and then moving from their communal stall out into the paddocks. The young andalusian mare kicked up her heels as she saw the calves playing tag in the next field.

The course was an extremely interesting introduction to centred riding techniques, focus, breathing, balance and grounding all being essential to sucessful communication with your horse. Cynthia introduced each element with useful excercises so we could experience the techniques without the added factor of sitting on an unpredictable horse.

It was a very pleasant evening, with only one fly in the ointment – me! Being a farm, there were several flies buzzing round the table, settling on the coffee cups and trying to eat the cake. We all spent a fruitless half hour wafting them away with pieces of paper, until a particularly pesky fly settled right in front of me.

I picked up my course folder, and, after first letting people know I was going in for the kill, sucessfully dispatched it! There was a horrified intake of breathe from two of my fellow course members. They informed me that as practising Buddhists they considered all life as sacred – even that of a fly.

I was mortified, of course, but, unable to bring the fly back to life swept its lifeless body under the table, and let the following fly settle on my coffee cup and clean its wings to its hearts content.

And the moral to the story? Whether you are arriving in a new country, or are simply meeting people for the first time in a new setting, think first, before you act. Become aware of cultural norms before you break them.

And my apologies to the fly, and my two fellow course members!