Monday, 29 January 2018

How do you begin to write about this?

Zed, and his best friend Fergus
How do you write about a horse that might not be here in a year?

How do you turn a big jumble of feelings and variables and unknowns into a sentient blog post of no more than 500 words?

I guess we're about to find out, assuming you're curious. 

We're six weeks away from Zed's next leg scan. For the first four months of being turned away his hock looked good. No swelling, no heat.

Now it's showing small changes as the ground has become wetter and boggier and the herd have adopted the personas of whippets, frogs and ferrets to relieve their cabin fever. 

I suspect the injury is no better off than it was (the dark Lord Pessimist has spoken) and that the intermittent swelling is a sign of instability and inflammation.


I am loving every minute I spend with my funny little friend. I suddenly know, with total certainty, that if I couldn't go and see him every day, my life would be much smaller. And I also know that makes me a sentimental ninny. 

Years ago, when I took my first proper job on a newspaper, I made the decision to give my horse back to the girl I'd bought him from (she'd had him for 11 years and loved him truly). I was prepared for all the upsides of my decision - more time, more money, less stress: and none of the downsides. I had not anticipated the emptiness of nothing to get up for in the morning except work. That experience has certainly made me wiser when thinking about our animals and letting them go for whatever reason. 

Zed might get better, but no guarantees, and so a wave of bitter sweetness washes over everything we have between us. 

And that feeling has changed things. Water buckets and mucking out are still chores - but they've also become a little more sacred, a little more treasured. I used to fly through them so I had time to ride, but now it's more of a mooching vibe. 

And just being on the yard every day, or twice a day, feels like a slice of mental sugar. 

Hard not to see the funny side when your horse comes in from the field
absolutely bathed in mud!
When I take the left turn off the main road and onto the long sweeping track down to the farm it's the same, same view, but different each time. Under a foot of snow, or with a dazzlingly dramatic sunrise punching out over the valley. Even under thick grey rain. It's the same as a marriage. That familiarity, that comfort, and a different weather every day. 

Then filling haynets, with that sweet alcoholic smell of haylage up my nose. And seeing other riders up in the arena cantering, or wandering up the drive for a cool-off. I've been around horses for so long it just feels like home. It's nothing I want to give up. 

Then there's cold reality to consider. I can't honestly say I'm committed to keeping a young horse with no ridden future. Livery is so expensive (even when you're on a very reasonable yard) and every penny counts at the moment so it would be hard to justify in the long term. 

But I am keen to keep an open mind. Zed's leg might be better (that tantalising hope is something I try not to dwell on) and if it's not there might be other options (could he be a light hack?)

It helps to be able to talk about options - but I do find that most people, very understandably, arereluctant to get involved and offer advice. Some are clearly thinking 'be patient' while others are more towards the 'this horse is doomed' opinion. 

I did have a very useful conversation with his old owner about headshaking as her horse is a mild headshaker too. I'm sure now that Zed's is seasonal as he hasn't been shaking through the winter and now I'm armed with good ideas for getting on top of the inflammation early in the season and keeping him comfortable.

So the year ahead is a mystery, but perhaps I'll know a little more in six weeks. 

Till then we're going to enjoy ourselves, enjoy ourselves, it's later than we think. 

*And the answer is, I don't know how to write about this without veering between callous monster and sappy dope. But I can't believe I'm the only one who's ever been in this situation so maybe I just have to be honest and admit that it's all fairly messy. Some things on here are going to be light-hearted (my horse still likes to roll in an offensively ridiculous way) and some are not, but that is the reality of owning a horse. 

Saturday, 2 December 2017

Hetty and I reunited - Hetty not thrilled

Hetty: "Just gonna sniff this rug and pretend you don't exist"
 Went to play ponies with L yesterday. 

It felt like moving through quick sand to be tacking up and riding again so Hetty was the right choice for my first attempt in weeks. She basically does not care about anything and just tilts her neat ginger ears at you with a wry look if you fumble.

Snow lay all around us so we retreated to the indoor to 'school'. Although schooling suggests learning and the only learning going on was Hetty telling me she wasn't going to lift a finger till I sat up properly and asked for it.

Point taken.

The more she ignored me the more interested I got in re-awakening my sleepy core and legs. To open the lines of communication I picked up the schooling whip (major indignation even though it did not touch her once) and began to ask for gentle lateral work: shoulder in, leg yields, shoulder fore.

She was pretty mad about it but our trot work gained a bit more power and she began to reluctantly straighten rather than hugging the wall with he outside shoulder. After 15 minutes I could feel fury rising off her like steam and I did not want to outstay my welcome even though it felt wonderful to be back in the saddle.

We finished and L took a photo of me beaming and Hetty looking like she never wanted to see me again. 

Blue practicing handsomeness
I don't like schooling for ages. Horses seem to hate it. Or maybe I hate it and that feeling is pure projection. It feels nicer to ask for a bit, improve a bit, say thank you and call it a day. This is clearly why I suuuck at flatwork and need an instructor to boss me about. It was very strange to be riding again. You can feel how weak and curled up you are but at the same time it's so familiar and comforting.

First ride back. It's a start.

It was also really good to be mixing feeds, tacking up, brushing etc. L says it's nice to have someone ride who'll join in with the graft but that's second nature to me and as much a part of the deal as the ride itself. 

I do so miss having Zed in work. I love riding any horse and Hetty is just so lovely but there's still that little sadness in my heart as I wish he was mended. Now I have to acknowledge that and then get on with it and accept that he's broken for now and mooning about won't help. I would really like 2018 to be a great horsey year and now I have to work out how to do that with no money and no horse!

Which sounds pretty impossible but then I think back to my teens when I used to manage just that, so maybe it's mind over matter...

Gorgeous sunset to finish

Monday, 27 November 2017

Actual positive action no less

Not fully keen on the idea of personal space
 Good grief it's cold today.

My husband bought one of those nifty little electric readers that shows exactly how much you're using so needless to say I have turned everything off. I can't even look at the red dial shooting higher and higher when the kettle is on. It's bad enough that we're haemorrhaging money on the washing machine to wash the cheese smell out of Nancy's blanket collection. 

I don't think my wiser half would approve of me sitting here in a bobble hat and three jumpers, typing through the frostbite, but he's out till half five so madness can reign for now. 

Looking like a tightly-wrapped parcel in last year's rug - bought during the pre-obesity era
I think this stinginess is a common trait between horsey folk. It's all the years of wearing threadbare clothes. While paying trillions of pounds for an endless procession of fully adjustable saddles (that magically are not quite fully adjustable enough the next time the saddler pulls onto the yard A MERE SIX MONTHS LATER.
Not to mention horses that sail through five-star vettings only to prove chronically lame or suicidal the minute you walk them off the box. 

I went to see my little dole-waller yesterday and he's quite content. He didn't want to pose for photos, he just wanted to eat his cooking apple so we compromised: I took photos as he gently mowed me over.
My little money pit

But. You may be pleased to here that I have participated in actual positive action to boost happiness levels! Real action! I am going riding on Friday, on Hetty Betty no less - my lovely loan horse from the start of the year. Her owner, L, has given in to my begging and we are going hacking. If the weather is terrible L has promised to lock me in the indoor until I've cantered about for 20 minutes.

And. Yes, there's more. Another kindly soul has agreed to lend me a horse at the weekend so that is pretty bloody jolly too.

Nancy is crying now, so I am going to swap the Arctic inside for the Baltic outside. 

Saturday, 25 November 2017

Don't give up! Ever!

Semi-retired five year old. 
Good things keep nearly happening. 

But then not happening. And the base line for some of my life remains, well, pap.

Zed is still turned away lame, winter is here, I've been poorly, money is tight and the flat is a wreck with no end currently in sight.

All temporary, all fixable, but I can't lie, there have been some days when I haven't wanted to get out of bed and face the day. I'm grateful for all the good things in my life, of course, and I know so many have it worse, but I just feel a bit squashed.

Thankfully, Nancy will not accept such sulking. This is why we need our animals - they make sure the world keeps turning.

Get up, puny human!
And another good thing actually did happen today. I've been following Diary of a Wimpy Eventer - aka Victoria Brant - on Facebook for a while and find her posts funny and endearing and warm-hearted.

I met a really good friend for lunch and out of her handbag she produced a most fabulous impromptu gift - How to Get your Leg Over - Victoria's first book.

Signed! And with a message I really needed to hear. Purchased from the lady herself, so extra magical.

As soon as lunch was over I sped home, made a cuppa, armed myself with a box of cheese straws and settled down to read my new book from cover to cover.

I loved it. It reminded me of all the home truths I needed to hear - that life is never perfect, that you must have a go anyway, that horses are the answer to EVERYTHING, that people who piss on your chips must be trampled over in the quest for victory..the list goes on and on.

I am officially a new woman - bursting with optimism, renewed hope and a burning desire to be back in the saddle asap.

Aint so bad

I need to go for a frosty hack. A canter would be perfection.

This is now my mission for the week. If anyone would like to lend me a horse just shout...


Monday, 16 October 2017

Soup weather

Let me tell you about soup.*

Soup is for lazy people, like me, who plan to live forever.

Soup is the wholesome best friend that your mum doesn't mind you knocking about with. 

Look at this photo.

I'm actually eating chips for lunch, like an ignorant toddler, but it's ok, because I'm also eating soup. 

Homemade soup, full of vegetables and herbs and all the stuff you're supposed to eat that everyone despises.

Soup has taken my hand and lifted me out of my recent horse-related funk.

After my last gloomathon I tried to think of ways to unbreak my life.

"Start small," said a wise voice, "you can't do big stuff yet. So do small stuff."

"Should I brush my hair?" I replied.

"NO! Too big," came the voice, "Not strong enough yet. Maybe try to eat something that isn't a chocolate biscuit."

Since my unhappy news I've been mainlining hobnobs (the Lidl version, obvs, not made of money). The house has a trail of crumbs through it. 
Or it would if it weren't for helpful Nancy, my own wee Gretel. 

"I'll help, mama human"
But enough is enough. I don't need obesity on my list of problems. So out came the pan and the vegetable drawer and strangely, I do feel better. Plus, with the hurricane formerly known as Ophelia casting us into an unnerving dusk-like state, is it not soup weather?

Bolstered by beets, today I donned my smelly waterproofs to go and ride out on dear Bramble.

Dear Bramble is my antidote to Broken Zed. While I pour money and heartache into him, she quietly coddles my soul by being sound and sensible and asks for nothing much in return. She tends to be a tad on the curvy side so our yard owner nicely lets us trundle around the village together. She's like a good pal after a messalicious break-up. 

After our ride I gave her a solid brush and she fell asleep. What a darling. 

Llamas. Are you even a farm if you don't have llamas.
I still need to work out how I'm going to stay sane this winter. Money is tight till the flat is let or sold so my Stage 3 is on hold. And I'm preparing myself for the fact that Zed might not mend. The bicycle has been dusted off and I'm back to riding which are both good things...but...I need a plan. A trusty plan. I need some excitement and hope in my life. Phil understands. We keep watching Rocky films and staring at each other. 

Tiny voice says: "Let the plan incubate."

* Soup is definitely something to consider if, like me, you count vegetarian pizza as 'basically a salad'. I'm sure it offsets some of the damage. I feel, based on zero science whatsoever, that I could live to 90 just by eating soup every day. 

Saturday, 14 October 2017

Denial, and gardening

I dislike, very much, putting anything on my blog when things be gloomy.

But a little gloomy they be, and life ain't all sunshine and rainbows so, here.

Zed went slightly lame again in mid September, and then more lame a few days later, in his other hind leg.

A scan showed that his injury had flared up with swelling and scar tissue. Xrays for hocks, stifles etc didn't show anything awful for either leg.

The upshot is. Zed gets the winter off.

My reaction was to make a giant metaphorical cake of denial which I spent weeks eating.

"It's totally fiine!" I'd say cheerily, with icing in my eyebrows.

I munched my way through many slices of denial - painting the back room a weird sage colour, a brief and unconvincing attempt to start running again, and possibly my favourite - 'I'm gonna be a gardener!" which shored up my spirits for all of 38 minutes.

Zed had a good summer, but he didn't work hard by any stretch, and now he's broken again. Now part of me wonders if this is ever going to knit together. Coupled with the headshaking, I've just had to postpone thinking dark thoughts until he gets scanned again in the spring.

I've also got my old flat to gut and redecorate as of next week so I predict that will keep me good for a bit.

But after that. I need horses. I need to ride. I'm so sad without them. 

Saturday, 2 September 2017

A great big giant round-up

The early days of settling in
A lot has happened since I last posted - and here is the great big giant round-up to prove it. Complete with forty million photos, many omissions and a whole heap of rambling.

Bear with me.

Number 1. We're in our new house. Moving was gross. There were so many tears, so much sulking. Endless feelings of hopelessness when confronted with the biggest pile of boxes I've ever witnessed.

I still shudder when I see cardboard but on the flip side, the new house is heavenly. It's light, airy, enormous and still has many of its original Victorian features. Every morning we wake up and can't believe how beautiful it is to live here and be custodians of so much history. The painting is underway, we've done lots of guerrilla gardening along the side of the house and most important of all - it feels like home sweet home. 

My favourite things are the log burner, the large red rose tree in the back yard and the kitchen. We loved our rental but this is next level.

Our families and friends have been fantastic (big shout out to the mums) and we can't wait to entertain here over Christmas and the New Year. 

She was soo tired on this day and did her best prawn impression
Nancy seems to be coping just fine. She's found all the sunny spots and there are many great walks in every direction so she's a happy girl. At the moment she's going through a water baby phase and loves nothing more than a good swim.

Sniffing the air at Stanley Moss

Champion swimmer

We've also hit the jackpot with dog care as our friends have set up a business about five minutes away and we trust them implicitly to deal with the diva when we're away or at work. They're on Facebook as Dogs Best Friend - Durham  if any of my Durham friends are looking (just mentioning them as they're truly great, I don't get anything for it).

Zed is a superstar. A week after we moved we did our first riding camp and he really blew me away with how good he was. We did games, the pub ride and our first little try at jumping.

And he just loves it! He came to life. Since jumping is only my favourite thing in the whole world this is more than music to my ears.

My hero

Pub ride - totes jealous of my shandy

Our first tiny plank to an even tinier dog-leg. Nailed it.

The camp was both a great demo of how far we've come, and a kickstart for more. I've ridden fairly consistently since then and our confidence is growing day by day.  He still has days when his headshaking is bad but it doesn't show up when we're riding so it feels manageable, although of course I wish I could wave a wand and make it vanish all together. 

We also squeezed in a quick trip to Edinburgh with my family...

Goofy with chicken legs, but my husbie is handsome

...which was so refreshing. We had a lot of good conversations while we were there and coupled with the house, we're starting to think more about the future, what we want, and how we're going to get there.

Which is so exciting. And while that all brews away in the background, the seasons are changing and the atmospheric weather is giving us some moments to remember.

A sight for sore eyes

In summary, it's all love.

And watch this space. 

Hope you're all doing great and have had a good summer (or winter for my friends down under)