Saturday, 31 December 2016

Thursday, 29 December 2016

Christmas and a trip to the woods


The maddest, shabbiest clip on the bestest pony ever

Christmas was grand this year, in a quietly wonderful way. 

When I was younger I liked the presents and the drinking, but now it's all about the loved ones and the biscuits. So many biscuits.


Dogs aplenty

Sunrise Christmas morning

We had lots to do but I managed to ride very early on Christmas Eve as Storm Barbara stropped about. Then Conrad arrived in style and there was no more riding until Tuesday, when our postponed trip to Hamsterley forest was resurrected.

And what a day. Not a breath of wind, no clouds and glorious sunshine. A far cry from our last attempt which was fog, wearing an overcoat of fog and a hat fashioned out of rain.

Hamsterley is only a ten minute drive from the yard (lucky lucky lucky) and it's well set up for riders. There are hitch rails so you don't have to do everything while holding your horse, and the car parks are plenty large enough to accommodate trailers. There's also a large mounting block which is jolly useful. Not to mention the lovely riding. A lot of people don't like the stoney tracks but there are lots of tracks that aren't stoney and you can even ride on to the moors if you really want to avoid them. 


There are tons of bikers but we found them all smiley and friendly and Zed was alert but un-phased by all the goings-on. As soon as we turned off the main trunk road we were alone and could chat away to our hearts' content while enjoying the glorious trees and welcome blue sky.

My friend and her horse (handsome Max) were the perfect companions. We've known each other for years and we're on the same page when it comes to horses. We like things to be done right (fair to the horse) and without shouting and fuss. Max is extremely mannerly and gave Zed that extra confidence for his first big boys' trip out. It was actually super relaxing and fun. Normally I'm quite wired about new stuff but this time I just really enjoyed myself. Sometimes I worry that my horse won't load but Lynne is very relaxed and cheerful and moved us to our livery yard in the spring so I just felt like it was all going to be fine and it was.


We headed uphill to the nature reserve where there's a long grass strip perfect for a canter. Zed was feeling great so we trotted the first section, then Lynne clicked Max up into a steady canter and then let him out a bit more when it became apparent that we hadn't done anything crazy and launched into orbit.

It felt so, so good to canter my youngster like that and feel him happy and confident and willing. On the way back I gave him a long rein and we finished off with a plodge in the stream. He walked straight in and stood there like it was no big deal at all. 

Loading to go home was no problem and all told I just felt so happy. I now can't wait to get him out and about this year and I'd go so far as to say I have a faith in Zed that I haven't experienced since my first horse who was Mr Schoolmaster superstar. 

So fancy: can't wait to wear these beauties on our travels this year. From my gorgeous mother-in-law, who bucks all
the terrible stereotypes about mothers-in-law and is super supportive to her daughter-in-law, even though I smell like
horse wee wees

Lesson money from awesome Mr Hardy who knows that all I ever want is more horse time!
Today we were both off work and had a semi-lazy day, watching Frasier and eating soup in between walking Nancy at the Ponds. I schooled this afternoon and we worked on our right canter lead with some success. The animals bring me so much pleasure all year around but this Christmas they've somehow made things even more magical. 



However, we were all gutted to hear that my brother's gorgeous dog Stella was knocked down by a car and killed on Boxing day. She was a really great family dog and we loved her so much. We visited in October and Nancy and Stella played so hard that Nancy slept for a week when we got back. Goodbye Stella girl, you were awesome. 

Stella: Beautiful, kind and fun

I hope you've all had a good festive season and a good rest. 

Wishing you all a marvellous 2017!



Sunday, 18 December 2016

"The kind of motivational madness I can make good use of"


All that cuteness

'They' say (so reliable) that the orchestra on RMS Titanic kept tootling away even as the ship sank beneath the waves. 

On one hand I find this troubling: shouldn't they have been lashing their oboes together to make a raft?

But on the other, I feel this is the kind of motivational madness that I can make good use of.

Because whenever I think of those poor, doomed souls it is a sobering reminder that there is no excuse whatsoever for not riding my horse. 

I feel tired, should I ride? Yes.
I feel overwhelmed by the circumstances of my life, should I ride? Yes!
My head has fallen off, should I ride? Yes, damnit! 

Not to belittle the horrible icy deaths of the Titanic musicians by comparing them to myself with a mild headache, but y'know, a loose comparison. 

The only time Zed gets a day off is when he needs one, not when I do. Because even, and especially, if I feel like cat turds, riding is the cure.


Look at that hood though

This weekend being the perfect example. I'm tired, full of snot and our home has been beset by a strange electrical storm that has destroyed our tumble dryer, our television and quite a few other things that you'd really rather didn't blow up the week before Christmas.

I blame Christmas, by the way, all the pressure has whipped my emotions and hormones into a powerful soup that is leaking out of my cranium and polluting everything around me. 

I also have a super embarrassing injury to factor into the equation. I was getting on Zed in the outdoor last week and he walked off a few steps so I tried to jump back down but instead slithered awkwardly off, and in doing so my stirrup whipped fairly hard into my delicate lady area.

An injury, in my lady area. A minge-ury, or minjury if you will. 


Santa's little helper 

And yet, we soldier bravely on #firstworldproblems

On Saturday we schooled as the sun came up, and this morning we went for a super hack around the village. He waved his head around a bit because he needed a wee but essentially he was perfect. 

Looked at nothing, flapped about nothing, even when a car parked up his arse waiting for us to turn off. Not a flicker did he make. After Christmas we are going to try again for our Hamsterley Forest trip and I feel fairly confident that he'll cope just fine. Me on the other hand, might be time to dig out some padded shorts. 

* Update on Zed's Christmas present for people who want a different kind of rug story...

Our Ruggles order arrived last week and I'm generally very pleased with them. The stable rug is maybe three inches too long over his bum but the outdoor is spot on size-wise and a lot of gear for the money. I like the fit and I luuurve the hood, which comes right to the base of his ears. He seems fairly cross that he can't scrub his neck in the mud anymore but he's making the best of it by doing globby headstands that make his forelock go crispy. The clip fastenings have an annoying wavy bit on them but I think I'll get the hang of them soon enough. They seem like a solid option for anyone who has a horse with chunky shoulders and wants quality without a ridiculous price. But maybe order the stable rug in one size down. 

Sunday, 11 December 2016

Zed's Christmas present(s)



So since incidents like this keep occurring, I've decided that Father Christmas is bringing Zed some proper rugs for December 25th.

I have always admired Premier Equine and Rambo rugs, but alas, due to the price tag, only from afar. I've had a few Weatherbeetas but they seem to be too deep and too narrow at the shoulder for him. He's been managing with hand-me-downs but I think, since he brings me so much joy, he can have his own coat.

In the end, on recommendation, I've bought him (cough, sorry, Father Christmas has) a heavyweight 300g Ruggles outdoor rug, with built in neck, for the reasonable price of £69.70 and a stable rug, again with a neck, for a not-too-budget-busting £35. My friend has a horse very similar in shape to Zed and has had quite a few Ruggles' rugs which have stood the test of time. 

Once Zed has road-tested them I'll do a full review. I think he's looking forward to it...

Zed's is navy with red trim, but similar. I'm excited about the elasticated hood.
I feel like this is going to minimise stable stains and chills, which is exciting

Making good decisions

Pretty pony at sunrise

Behind every happy horse and human team, there are trillions of good decisions. The happy horse owner is not just happy with her horse, she's more than likely happy with his rug, his feed, her instructor, her stable, the list goes on. And the great thing about owning horses is that we get to practice making big and little decisions all day long. 

So it stands to reason that the quicker we get good at making good decisions, the happier we'll be, and the happier our horses will be. Happiness is good for everyone, so let's not fudge this up. 

Horses tend to arrive hand-in-hand with sticky situations. After all, what could possibly go wrong between two species that are the polar opposite of each other? But whether those situations become more or less sticky rests on our decisions. 

When things inevitably get sticky with your horse, there are some crucial things that can always make it that bit worse and really spoil your day (and your horse's day, and your husband's day) good and proper. 

Don't spoil a day that starts like this

Screaming and shouting

A better way to put it: have you ever, ever come across any situation in your whole life where screaming and shouting made things better? They are good for only one thing - cheering your team on. And maybe calling for help. But screaming at horses is just a great big obese No. Not saying I've never done it, just saying it's never worked.

Assistance from people you wouldn't let look after your budgie

If you know someone batters their horse, or is generally hard on their horse, and you give them permission to train your horse, guess what they're going to do? That's right. Everyone has their way and there's nothing wrong with that, but don't expect your horse to get special treatment. And don't be afraid to trust your gut. If you don't like the things a person does, feel free not to hire them, even if they are classed as a professional. There are some truly great trainers out there, often just quietly getting on with it with minimal fuss and hoopla. Find them, hand over your money and keep them in business. Don't fund ass-hats. 

Blindly persevering with the same plan, or with no plan

Say we're jumping a double and our horse keeps running out to the left. We're going to shorten our reins, use our left leg like mad and change our line to keep him as straight as possible. We'll probably also drop the height a notch to make it inviting and put our stick in our left hand. Right? We are going to do things differently aren't we? Unfortunately, sometimes we're not as proactive as we could be. Usually when we're tired and a bit overwhelmed we resort to the old technique of hoping for the best. Which is fine if we have no intention of ever getting over that second jump. Instead, maybe when things go wrong we can pause, catch our breath and think of a few things that we can do differently, and then do our damnedest to put them into action. 

Anger

See screaming and shouting. Feels good at the time, is actually totally useless and makes things loads worse. If you're seething you've lost control of your emotions and the best thing you can do is pat your horse (however grudgingly) get off, un-tack, drive home and scream into a pillow. There are always times when you'll have to be determined and persevere but if you're angry at the same time it's probably going to escalate in an unpleasant way. 


So if we know what makes it worse, what can we turn to that will have the opposite affect? 

Here are some ideas for things that IMO almost never make a sticky situation worse.

Consideration

Taking time to think things through. Is this behaviour totally out of character? When we have a horse who is honest and sweet and reliable and he suddenly has a meltdown: then that horse is telling you something and you should listen because he's using the only way he can to tell you I HAVE A PROBLEM. Ignore him at your peril.
Has anything else been happening? Different tack? Different rider? Horses galloping around in the next field? Is it just the wrong time to ask what you're asking for? 

When I moved Zed to his current yard I made a bad decision to wait a few weeks and then try and clip his legs out so I could treat his feather mites to a death storm of chemicals. While my intentions were good, this was a bad decision on several levels. Realistically he wasn't very well settled in to his new home and he'd been undergoing large amounts of change which is never the best time to introduce more change. He wasn't even used to being clipped on his body. So I got a well-deserved HELL NO THANK YOU. I gave it a lot of thought and decided to settle him in properly, get him used to some quieter, smaller clippers and get him happy with a body clip first. Three days ago he let me clip all of his legs off in one go, while he nibbled my bobble hat with interest. He stood like an angel. This to me is the classic example of human makes terrible decision, horse reacts appropriately, human must fix, horse forgives. 

"You can totes clip my legs now, hurrah!"

Getting the right kind of assistance from the right kind of people 

If you're struggling with a young horse, get help from the pro who is super good with them and currently training their own baby horse. Do not ask the great rider who only rides their perfectly schooled veteran show jumper. And maybe don't take your older, slightly arthritic horse to a trainer who's competing at 3* and is known for beasting clients until they're so sweaty they slide under the arena gate and melt into a puddle of shame.

Don't go off what people say they know, look at what they are actually able to do. I got two great pieces of advice when Zed went through a phase of leaping about when you got on. One was to shorten my reins as I mounted and have them halfway up his neck as I swung my leg over so they weren't socking him in the mouth but he wouldn't have the free rein to get his head down and start bucking. The other was for when he'd start leaping and squirting as I sat in the saddle or we'd walk away. I was advised to turn him tactfully into the wall so he couldn't get up speed and excitement to bin me down the long side. BOTH of those snippets saved my bottom many times, and came from two people who've started more horses than I've had hot dinners. Listen to those people. They know all the things. 

Courage

Sometimes we understand the problem, we're pretty sure we know the answer, and we have a good support system. Then we must take action, and sometimes that requires courage. Lots and lots of courage. At that point you have to suspend all the thoughts that tell you you're going to die and simply take the next small piece of action again and again until the job is done. Courage is not bravado, or putting yourself in danger: it is having faith in yourself that you can handle whatever happens next. 

One last little thought for sticky situations, assuming you have time to give it some thought. If you haven't, obviously just try and get things safe asap. But if you have got a moment, think of someone you really admire and respect. Maybe your instructor, maybe your partner, maybe your friend. Then just imagine what they would think of your plan of action. If they're nodding and giving you a thumbs up, proceed. If you made them cry, time to try something different. 

Best of luck with your sticky situations, I hope this is useful x

Thursday, 8 December 2016

Updates on the fabilicious one


Zed looking very unimpressed at being papped with a manky old towel. I must try and take some photos of him when he's all glam...

He's been fab this week. Fabby, fabby, fabilicious. 

I had some hols to take so I've had glorious amounts of time to lavish on him (not convinced he's as thrilled as I am about this). 

Monday and Tuesday we did gentle schooling, Wednesday I clipped him again and today was our lesson with YO who grafted us in to shape.

We worked on getting him to relax over his back and picking up his right canter lead which he's had a bit of struggle with recently. He was a bit more tense than usual, possibly because the yard was very busy with a farrier visit, but he worked extremely hard and I was very pleased with him.

Then tonight I popped in to give him a leg stretch and we also had an itching session. He loves having his stifles scratched and I'm suspicious that his feather mites have moved back in. I did manage to clip out quite a bit of his front legs a few weeks ago so I'm wondering if I should try to take the lot off and spritz him with frontline. His leg hair is sooo dense that doing them with a comb and scissors a) takes forever and b) doesn't really take the hair down as much as I'd like. 

It's either going to work a charm or he's going to look like a mad poodle...


Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Four ways to succeed with your horse

Not relevant, just handsome

I originally wrote this as 'Four common mistakes amongst horse owners'. But as soon as I published it I got that uncomfortable icky feeling you get when you realise you've added to the big elephant dung pile of unhelpful, judge-y ass hat blogs that are already cluttering up the internet. 

So here's my second attempt to round up four solid ways we can help ourselves to do better and be better with our horses. 

1) Ride the horse that's right for you, right now, somehow.

Obviously we all set out to buy the right horse, but for a thousand reasons, often the horse that's looking at you from over the stable door is giving you sleepless nights. Maybe he's too young or too hot. Maybe he's the perfect horse for you but his tendon is bulging like a stuffed mattress and the vet is taking an extra holiday this year because of your bills alone. 

But are you going to cry like an overtired toddler ? No, you are not. You are going to book a lesson with a great riding instructor and ride the horse that is old, sensible, sound and possibly all three.

Or you are going to take up your nice friend's offer to ride their lovely happy hacker. Or you are going to go online and find a great loan horse that needs mucking out and a bum-load of fuss in return for rides. 

I haven't jumped much this past year, and I'm as rusty as a scrapyard, but last Friday I got the chance to ride a schoolmaster in a gridwork  lesson and I had my foot in the stirrup faster than you can say crosspole. I rode horribly, like a sack of coal, but that lovely horse gave me a big fat deposit of confidence. 

If we want to ride, we must find a way. And who knows, while we're building some muscle and a bit of skill, maybe our horse will come sound. Or we'll feel more confident to ride him again, or we'll develop the reflexes to stay put when he skips 6ft sideways. 


When your arse outgrows all available rugs 

2) Get on the right yard. 

You love nothing more than hacking out in the countryside, and your yard steps out onto a motorway. You work really long hours and need to be able to ride in the evening but there's no lighting in the arena. You like the social side of horse ownership but it's like a ghost town. Find a way to change things (ask nicely for lighting, organise a yard ride etc) or shop around till you find something that can get you where you want to go. 

Under no circumstances would I ever have bought an unbroken three-year-old if I didn't have access to a yard with great facilities, run and staffed by people who've been quietly backing horses all day long for years and years. And it was still BLOODY HARD! Imagine trying to do that on my own in a remote field in the wilds of winter, miles from civilisation.

There are yards out there where people are knowledgable and pleasant, root them out like a truffle and never, ever leave.

3) Practice the things you're 'bad' at.

Don't overthink it too much, just grab a scrap of paper and jot down a couple of things you'd like to be better at. Maybe it's your right canter strike off, or flying changes, or seeing a stride. Put that bit of paper safe somewhere and go about your business. A week from now, pull it back out and ask yourself honestly if you've done anything that will help you get a bit closer to being good at your chosen action. If you did, jolly well done, go and make a hot chocolate and put your feet up with Horse and Hound for half an hour. Or are you feeling sheepish? Just turn the paper over and list a couple of things that could help you and endeavour to try them in your rides this next week. 

E.g. Flying changes:

I'll do some simple changes using the long diagonal when I school on Monday.

I'll practice some 5m loops down the long side to practice controlling straightness and bend.


'Entertain/feed us, humanoid'

4) Remember this is a choice, not a chore.

The government does not hand out horses. No one is making you own one. Yet it can easily become a chore and a burden. That's human nature a little bit - we start off being so excited to own a horse than even mucking him out gives us a buzz, and then little by little it gets a little more tiresome. Every time I catch myself dragging my feet I give myself a mental karate chop in the windpipe. We need to remember that this is the life we have chosen. This is the life we want. 

And if it isn't any more, it's perfectly okay to be honest, and plan your exit. No one will be cross with you, so there's no need to be a martyr. If you're sure you want the horsey life, be happy about it. Mucking out saves you a gym membership, riding is fun and challenging, and the money it costs keeps you off hard drugs. Only 10 per cent (if we're lucky) of horse ownership is rosettes, galloping in the sunshine and fluffy cuddles, so there's got to be an effort to enjoy the 90 per cent that is hard work and mud.

Legit proof that we leave the arena