Welcome to my blog about horsey life in the North East - the good bits, bad bits, endless coffees and plenty of mud!

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Two-legged and four-legged horsey friends...

Having horses in your life can turn the most average of days into something special. I went to see my friend Emma today who I've known for 16 years. We met, fittingly, at a riding school when we both started helping out on a Saturday. Back then we were so desperate for our own ponies that we taught our pet rabbits to do tiny little showjumps - I kid you not!

Me, sporting Emma's normal size hat on my massoof head

As adults we've finally found the time and money to fulfill those childhood dreams and buy our own horses (much to the relief of the rabbit world) so when we meet for a cuppa we inevitably end up drifting down to the stables to see Cady or Tia, Emma's beautiful Highland mare.

Today we took the long way round and drove up to Thinford Saddlery to get a sheepskin numnah for Tia. They didn't have her size but we still saw about ten million other things to add to the wish list, like sparkly browbands, lovely Toggi boots ... the list goes on and on.

Then we stopped off to see a couple of trailers for Emma before going to see Tia and her field friends. Muddy and happy as always they soon came over to the gate to do a carrot inspection.

Tia then showed me her new trick - a rather elegant bow and we decided to have a little sit on her in her stable. She didn't seem to mind the fact her saddle and bridle were missing and let us take it in turns to climb on board and put our hands in her cosy mane.

Tonight the rain set in and the indoor school was busy, busy, busy so I settled for taking Cady for a leg stretch and doing a teeny bit of groundwork. After a proper neck scratch I left her munching carrots and drove home to mull through a big pile of magazines donated by Emma.

I've been to quite a few beautiful places and done some interesting stuff in the last few years but there's still nothing quite like a rainy day in the North East, driving round the dustbins and catching up with two-legged and four-legged horsey friends.

Friday, 21 October 2011

Isn't this meant to be fun?

I drove to the yard on Wednesday oozing good intentions with plans to school, plans to work on suppleness and bend, plans to get on the Olympic team...
And came back down to earth with a bump when I realised Cady was not on the same page.

She wanted to know what I'd bought for her - carrots or apples - and when I was going to put them in her feed bowl so she could hoover them up in one go and blend them together in her mouth to make one giant, dribbly smoothie (her teeth are fine btw - this is just another of her little quirks!)

But I tacked up anyway and dragged her out into the freezing cold night feeling sure I could convince her to look where she's going on a 20m circle. My schooling plans quickly became more like an Ancient Greek Odyssey.

First we had to get past the mounting block with the hole in the side (where dragons were nesting I'm sure) then we had to navigate the treacherous new posters in the arena (sideways canter anyone?) and then we had to face the worst peril of all - small children next door...talking!!! The horror.

I'm laughing about it now but I was not amused at the time. As we spooked and shivered past these obstacles I could feel myself getting really annoyed. And the more annoyed I got, the more Cady enjoyed herself, flinging herself about even more and determined not to pay a bit of attention to the cross, boring lady on top of her trying to get her to do something or other with her legs.

Cady's general attitude is 'Meh..'
At times like these I try to take a deeeeep breath and remember how far she's come - she might still be oggling scary posters but she's not rearing at the same time or spinning on a sixpence in a nap-attack. By the next night I'd regained my cool and decided to spend my evening doing a bit of groundwork with her, treating her to a proper neck scratch and removing the field from her scruffy little face.

Rome wasn't built in a day and if I want her to be well schooled I'm going to have to convince her that I'm more interesting than the clacking noise going on next door. Which reminds me of some wise words from someone who'll I'll be interviewing on this blog very soon: "Learn to be tough on yourself and easy on your horse and leave your emotions at the gate."

Monday, 17 October 2011

'It's not rocket science!'

Two weeks ago I went to a balance workshop led by Centered Riding instructor  Joanne Forster - talk about an eye opener. It was rather humbling day, but great fun and I drove straight up to the yard afterwards, apologised to Cady for being crap and booked a lesson with Joanne.

The day of my lesson dawned this morning and it was everything I had hoped for and more. Joanne got me riding with a longer stirrup, a lighter seat and got me on the road to correcting some unhelpful habits.

Cady's status quo is to march around the arena shying and looking at her friends in the field but with some centred riding ideas she slowed down, softened and forgot about the blade of grass she wanted to eat half a mile away.
We also had a good laugh about my tendency to overcomplicate things. Cady is stiffer on her right rein and leans on her inside shoulder - with a tiny adjustment she turned her head in the correct direction and we ended up with the giggles at the simplicity of it all, hence my 'it's not rocket science!' epiphany.
It was a great lesson which gave me plenty to think about and practice while Joanne heads off to Holland to train with Nelleke Deen.

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Amazing how easy it is to get up when it's jodhpurs at the end of the bed...

I ignore my alarm every day of the working week but 6.15am seems perfectly reasonable when there's something horsey going on. This morning it was a trip to a yard in Sunderland to meet the beautiful Juno, a four-year-old bay Clydesdale with a very soft and strokeable nose.

Gail Jeffrey, who has worked a lot with Cady, invited me along to watch her work with Juno, who's been getting very worried about being ridden and started having some explosive moments. He'd been given a full bill of health before we went so Gail was free to step in and get to the root of the emotional problem.

Everyone was pretty sleepy but a lovely pink sunrise and plenty of sugary coffee worked wonders and we all trooped down to the arena to see what was bugging Juno. Gail and Andy, Juno's owner, began work around the mounting block: asking Juno to cooperate and step into place to allow his rider to get on easily.
He seemed pretty worried but quickly understood what was being asked and gradually grew comfortable with Andy handling him and directing him from the top step of the block.

Then it was a question of some basic desensitising work, moving the stirrups about until Juno became totally relaxed about having them every which way. Andy then started to work on having his toe in the stirrup and resting his weight on Juno while praising him and encouraging him to stay still.

Forty minutes later and Juno looked a lot happier to have a rider hovering over him, moving him around the block and leaning on him, all while a helicopter droned noisily overhead! His head came down, his eyes softened and he began to relax his stance. Gail said she felt the root of the issue was that Juno had been rushed through his learning at some point in the past and gave Andy lots of homework for the next fortnight before she returns to work on the next stage with them.

It was a great morning and rounded off nicely with a trip to my old yard to have tea and a bacon sandwich. A group of us are heading to Your Horse Live in a month so that's all booked now and we are very excited about two of the demo horses - a 17hh Friesian and a Lusitano. And I won't even need to ignore my alarm tomorrow, as the weekend will stretch a little bit longer into a morning lesson with Joanne Forster, an expert in Centred Riding. Fingers crossed my back will be ok - I'll let you know how it goes.


Saturday, 15 October 2011

Plan B...

The best laid plans...often go straight out the window when it comes to horses!

Case proved by the last couple of days. After a hard day's work on a fashion shoot I returned all the lovely menswear back to its home in the Metrocentre (thanks for the loan guys!). With the last suit tucked up in bed my back gave out in one giant, painful spasm.

I was not a happy child and drove home with clenched teeth, weeping in a very unheroic way. A night sleeping on the floor didn't work its usual magic but the next day I had two guardian angels who at least got me to stop crying - a lady at work who bunked me up with codeine and my chiropractor, who offered to stay late and put me back together again.

Interestingly, my back problems created a weird dynamic with Cady. In our training session today she started trying to boss me about again - horses are so smart and she's testing me to see if she can push it while I'm 'lame'! Little monkey - thankfully I have some fantastic Godmothers who can work with her and make sure she's not taking a lend.

I'm still too wobbly to ride so while I'm out of the saddle I'm resisting the urge to sulk and instead coming up with some new aims to work towards. We're hacking out in company, starting to jump and competing in a winter dressage series so the riding side of things is progressing nicely.

Now it's time to think a bit more creatively about projects we can work on while I'm grounded and that will work with the dark nights. My overall goal is to keep our relationship tight and hold onto her interest - like her mother, Cady needs plenty going on or she starts looking out the window and day-dreaming!

My first aim is to become proficient in horse massage...since interviewing the lovely Angela Hall and hearing rave reviews from a friend who did her owner's course, I've been curious. Apart from the bonding benefits I'm keen to keep Cady healthy since my back problems will no doubt be having an affect on her straightness and vice versa. Angela's leant me a copy of her dvd so I'll be cracking on with that this week.

Up next is to advance our groundwork. Cady's doing great hacking out with other horses but she's still lacking confidence on her own. To work on this I'm going to start taking her out in-hand in the fields surrounding her home so she gets comfortable with being away from the herd and can see for herself that Sunderland has very few lions roaming about...

Till my back improves I'm also going to aim to broaden my knowledge on 'problem' horses. The fantastic Gail Jeffrey (who I'll be interviewing for this blog soon) has offered to let me go along and see her working on some different cases, starting tomorrow at the unearthly hour of 7am. Early start aside I can't wait. I've always liked watching experts at work and always end up coming away with a boat-load of new ideas. Will report back soon...

Monday, 10 October 2011

First rosette...

A big weekend in my world... Cady and I did our second dressage competition on Friday and came away with our first rosette. It was Intro B and we managed a respectable fifth place. For me, the highlight was her unflappable approach to the judge's table and the fact that my gut was nerve-free.

Cady isn't a dangerous horse but we've had some pretty hairy moments in the past two years - mainly because I didn't have the skill and attitude to handle a youngster so she took over as a rather erratic boss. Fortunately we've put a lot of work in and had some great help from people like Gail Jeffrey, Lyn Coulson and Yeb de Jong and it's come good.

I look forward to going to the yard instead of feeling sick and owning Cady has become a pleasure. Our first rosette feels like a landmark and I hope it's the first of many. I couldn't care less about winning but being able to take part is something special. Motto of the story - if you're struggling with your horse then get some good, professional help and stick in. Nothing succeeds like hard work.