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

Friday, 16 December 2011

Frosty mornings and a horse with the munchies

Harvey's been with me for a week now and touch wood, it's been plain sailing.

He boxed over to his new home without a hitch and is proving to be very accommodating which is a nice change from Cady's standard pain-in-the-ass approach to life. 

Actually it's not just nice, it's downright unnerving! I keep waiting for him to have a tantrum at the jump filler we have to walk past on route to the field but he just plods on quietly.

It's very early days but I'm loving having a horse on DIY again. We've had a couple of beautiful moonlit frosty mornings and I really enjoy sorting his bed out and making sure he's got plenty to eat.

Speaking of which - Harvey is one hungry horse!! I've never known such a troffer and I'm delighted as I took his rug off yesterday and he's filling out beautifully. 

I've also chopped a load of his gypsy mane off so he's looking quite handsome - come spring time he'll be a whole new character.

Come the New Year and Harvey's getting a full mot as I believe he has long standing hip and back problems which need to be addressed. He also needs his teeth sorted out and after that we'll see where we're at. 

Needless to say I'm delighted to have him and the fact he's such a pleasure to look after makes the lunacy of having a second horse a lot easier to ignore!

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

What a horse gives back

I once came very close to throwing out a winning lottery ticket.

It was January, cold and snowy and I'd owned Cady for a year and a bit. Her education had stalled completely, I hated spending time with her because her manners were so horrible and I felt overwhelmed by the whole situation.

So with a heavy heart I sat and typed out an advert.

Thank God for timewasters. Out of many phone calls and texts only one woman came to see her. She called after and said she wanted her but couldn't afford my paltry asking price.
I turned her down, reasoning that anyone who couldn't afford the asking price wouldn't be able to afford a vet bill.

Cady. Pic by Corrina Atkinson
I still felt desperate about the whole thing, but the next week I decided to go down and brush her. After that I started calling in after work to say hello (throughout all this she was on full livery so she was cared for though I'm ashamed of how little I bothered with her at that point ).

Then I started leading her out for little walks. The yard manager invited me to an early morning groundwork class, I booked a lesson... Slowly but surely my interest came back and we started to make a tiny bit of progress.

Cady will never make me richer financially but every penny she's taken out of my account she has returned in life lessons. My stroppy little mare has taught me love, patience, clarity and perseverance - qualities that have affected every other part of my life too. 

We can be quick to throw horses away, but in doing so we are often passing up on a huge opportunity to learn something, or many things, that give us priceless knowledge.

*Harvey update: Moving day is Saturday, and all my fingers and toes are crossed that the snow stays away just a little bit longer.

He definitely seems to recognise me now, and he's stopped lip popping (his way of expressing anxiety) when I go to do his evening checks.

He seemed particularly cheerful last night and I'm starting to look at him and imagine him well-muscled and shiny. For all that he's not at his best right now, his legs are clean and his feet are decent. If his mind comes right then he could be a fantastic little horse...

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Friday, 2 December 2011

Harvey update

Harvey is coming to live with me next week so I'm really trying to get the start of a bond going before I put him in a wagon and turn his world upside down again.

This means driving down to Spennymoor every night (where he's staying at Misty Blue till I organise permanent accommodation!) and just hanging out with him while he eats his tea.

With the help of his friends Isabella, Georgina and Lydia, he's had some serious grooming and we've also popped a rug on him to keep him toasty.

God knows what he makes of all this but he's certainly taking it with good grace.

I've often thought horses are incredibly tolerant of the changes we inflict on them and Harvey is no exception.

He stood very quietly while I did a bit of massage work and even let out a big sigh at one point which I'm told is a sign of relaxation for equines.

Either that or he's already bored of being messed on with!

P.s - Cady has not been forgotten in all this - she's still very much Queen bee and I've managed to fit in a fair few rides with her this week, despite the frosty temperatures. Can't wait till her new saddle arrives!

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Santa comes early...

What a week...

Not only is Cady's new saddle on order but I have become the proud owner of Mr Keitel, aka Harvey.

Harvey is a 16.2hh French thoroughbred who's sadly been through some tough times.
My friend and instructor Gail Jeffrey took him on six months ago and now he's been gifted to me as she doesn't have the time to work with him and I do.

I met him for the first time on Tuesday and fell in love with his bran-coloured muzzle about 100 yards away.

At this point in time I don't know how it's going to turn out for Harvey's career - if he decides he never wants another human to sit on him again then I can't blame him.

However, I'm keeping an open mind about the whole thing - all kinds of miracles tend to crop up when hard work takes place!

Regardless, he's found a good home and of course, I will be sharing his progress right here.

Fame at last...

Proud as punch to have my comment published in my favourite mag:

Jumping! And flying....

Headed down to Yeb's yard on Saturday for a jumping lesson. My mount for the day was the fantastically-named Moose - a five-year-old 16hh dark chocolate cob.

We started with a warm up and progressed into grid work. It all went swimmingly till I somersaulted one way and Moose cantered off minus his bridle.


Yeb was a fountain of sympathy - naturally! He asked what the surface was like to land on and then it was back to business with me doing my best to keep my heels down. We finished on a nice note and I thanked Moose for putting up with me.

I haven't had a fall in a while but I'm very pleased to find I still bounce. The next day I did a tiny bit of jumping with Cady in her halter. Everything went really well and the only time we came near to disaster was at a halt, when she decided it would be best to buck/jump/fart in response to a patch of sunlight on the floor. Honestly.

Friday, 25 November 2011

Face your fears and reap the rewards

Confidence is a funny bugger - it seems to ebb and flow like the tides.

There are days when Cady is tacked up and I'm so full of adrenalin that I've got the shakes.
Other times that feeling's just not there and I can hop on like I did when I was a teenager who would get on anything. I don't think it's my age that has made the difference either...
Having your own horse is a wonderful thing but it introduces some complex psychology into the sport of riding.

As a teen I couldn't afford my own so if I wanted to ride I had to take whatever was on offer. And we all know that the horses you can ride for free are the ones that no one wants to get on! I was lucky enough not to meet anything that really wanted to see me in hospital so the whole situation was a no-brainer: My desire to ride was much stronger than my fear of what could go wrong.

Lovely to look at in the field...but who wants to get on first?

When you finally get your own horse, it's a wonderful day. I don't think I will ever forget seeing Zu, a 16.hh black ex-steeplechaser heading up to the road to my old stables. He was an absolute gentleman and looked after me for two years while we galloped around the local countryside looking for scary things to jump.

But in all my daydreams of having my own horse I had never anticipated the days when you don't actually want to ride. You've got time, they're not even particularly muddy but somehow you just can't quite summon the enthusiasm. I think it's something to do with the fact that once you own a horse it's your duty, your responsibility to ride, rather than a rare opportunity you have to seize.

These days my situation is slightly different. Zu could spend a week in the field and hack sensibly whereas Cady requires daily attention. Much like a high-maintenance girlfriend she does not take well to being ignored!

Since January I've gradually learned to ignore my jitters and get on whether I feel confident or not. I was recently lucky enough to interview Charlie Unwin, a performance psychology coach who works with four of the UK's Olympic teams. He pointed out that even the very top riders get nerves, it's what they do with them that counts. I find this thought strangely reassuring.

For me, it comes down to a question -
Do we listen to our gut and opt out or accept our nerves and put our foot in the stirrup anyway?

Everytime I've done the latter it's been a small step in the right direction for Cady and I. In the early days our schooling was worse than terrible and many times I would barely venture out of a walk. We've come a long way since then, mainly through lots of tiny little victories - hundreds of days of facing our fears and finding out they're not so bad after all. 

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Your Horse Live

Your Horse Live is the best horse event of the year - ignore the Facebook moaners - if you haven't been you need to go.

Here's the evidence to back up this bold statement.

1. You had the chance to see Geoff Billington and Oliver Townend bring two freshly-backed four-year-olds into the main arena, nearly fall off several times and then demonstrate exactly why they are at the top of the tree. Really, really entertaining.

2. You could, like me, opt for porridge in the dodgy cafe near the Murder Motel where we stayed and wonder how exactly they got it to look so much like brains....I still ate it and it was very tasty.

3. You could also see Sylvia Loch on top form being the legend she is - slating bad riding practice, being humble and funny and brilliant and then getting a horse to piaffe in about oooh, five minutes. She is the business. If I could wish for another aunty, it would be Sylvia.

Not enough? We also got to see Laura Bechtolsheimer giving a dressage lesson, Anna Ross-Davies and her amazing horse Ice Age doing an extended trot that went into next week, a lovely grey TB named Midge showing how brave she was and representing the Thoroughbred Rehabilitation Centre and Jason Webb using his common sense to start a youngster called Sheer Bliss.

I am now back home and armed with top tips and fresh enthusiasm. Cady is terrified.


Monday, 14 November 2011

Angela Hall Interview: "Every horse has a story to tell"

How does the Californian daughter of a musician end up as the North East’s queen of horse massage? Alison Goulding finds out. Photos by Corrina Atkinson.
CHRISTMAS in Singapore, clients in Russia and early mornings in the desert, working with a Sheikh’s prize horses ...
Who knew life as a horse masseuse could be so exotic? And who knew there was even such a profession?
If it seems a little far-fetched then bear in mind that many racehorses are worth big money and a growing number of horse-owners will go to any lengths to keep their four-legged friend happy – which is where Angela Hall comes in.
Angela, from Durham, launched the Equine Massage Academy in January and devotes her time to teaching students the fine art of equine massage. And despite the dire financial times – business is booming.

 Angela said: “I decided, recession or not, I was going to go for it and follow my heart.
“I’m teaching a lot of racing trainers who would otherwise have to bring someone like me in. Instead they can train with me and treat their own horses.”
Students have come from as far away as Singapore to learn the skill, and since January Angela has taught 150 horse owners the tricks of the trade on her one-day course.
Others study with her for a year – learning the ins and outs of anatomy, physiology and hands-on practice.
So what do the horses make of it?
Angela said: “Every horse has a story to tell. We ask so much of them and they give so generously. It is wonderful to be able to repay them – even if I only treat a horse once, for a couple of hours he’s known relaxation and care.
“I work with their minds and their pressure points to bring about release.
“It’s the way they relate to me and some of the gestures that they do during and after treatment – it really is as if they are saying thank you.
“I think a lot of owners have never seen anything like it before. 
“The satisfaction I get from seeing horses behave differently and move differently after I’ve treated them is immense.”
As well as teaching and practicing massage, Angela is now doing research into a theory she has about where horses store mental pain.
She said: “When we have problems we can talk to a therapist, but horses can’t do that. I think there’s a spot where they hold their mental blockages.
“I can help any horse – physically and psychologically.”
One of her first clients was her own horse, Seamus, a gentle-giant thoroughbred.
Angela said: “He came to me from Ireland where he had been heavily hunted. He was pretty desperate when I got him, he was behaving like a machine.
“I gave him two years’ rest and only rode him a few times. I gave him some TLC, massage, good food and just let him be a horse again.” 
Angela’s parents came from the North East but moved to America before she was born, so her first encounter with horses was on a ranch. Angela said: “My dad was very entrepreneurial and a jazz singer. He used to go to Deano’s Bar and he knew Dean Martin and Clint Eastwood.
“He was originally from Durham and became very ill when we were out there. He was given six months to live so my parents decided to return to the UK and my mum brought me up here when he died.
“Then, when I was 21, I moved to London and I couldn’t really pursue my passion for horses but I still always knew I wanted to work with animals.”
In London, Angela found a career as an estates facilities manager which took her to Amsterdam and Rome.
She said: “The job meant looking after the infrastructure of big buildings like airports and hospitals and how people function in them.
“It covered health and safety and all the support services like reception, cleaning and security.”
Her last job before she went full-time with equine massage was at Harperly Hall the National Policing Improvement Agency Forensic Centre.
She said: “I graduated in Equine Sports Massage seven years ago after training with Jim Masterson at the Institute for Complimentary Animal Therapies, but I was so carried away with work that I didn’t have the opportunity to put the brakes on and launch the business.”
But this year Angela decided it was now or never and started the business.
Like her old job, there’s still some interesting travel involved.
Angela said: “I was invited to work for a Sheikh in Abu Dharbi. They’d collect me at 4.30am from the hotel, drive me out into the desert and then I’d work on the horses until the trainer arrived
“It was absolutely amazing. They offered me a permanent position out there but my passion is here in the North East.
“I’ve since been offered work in Singapore over Christmas, but I’m not sure if I’ll go or not!”
Despite her huge workload, Angela is planning even more for the future. She said: “I’d like to have an equine therapy centre of excellence and take on horses that need surgery, rehabilitation or a new home.”
Her partner, Garreth Murrell, has founded a charity called Veterans At Ease for serving personnel and families handling Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Angela believes that, in time, their work might cross paths.
She said: “Other ventures like Veterans At Ease have failed because the men cannot open up about what they’ve been through to someone who’s never experienced it themselves. But Garreth was in the military for 10 years so he understands what they’ve been through.
“One day I’d like to bring it all together and use horses as a therapy medium, but at the moment I’m just happy that my phone keeps ringing and I never know what it’s going to be – that’s really exciting.
“It’s a vocation. I was meant to do it, but the timing had to be right.”

Reproduced by kind permission from the Sunderland Echo. For horse portraits search for Corrina Atkinson on Facebook.

Friday, 11 November 2011

Exit Cady, enter Swampy...

Every summer I forget what a swamp donkey Cady is through the winter. The sunny weather gives me amnesia and then one day I wake up and she looks like this:

I'm a hippacrocapig!

If you look closely you can see the expression of exquisite happiness on her face. Despite the mud (she has been rechristened Swampy) I had my second mounted lesson with Gail Jeffrey the other day. Gail doesn't mess about and confiscated my bridle to see if she could make me cry:

Crying inside, smiling outside..

Actually, she wasn't trying to make me cry, she just wanted me to ride with my legs and core rather than dragging Cady about via the reins. And it worked, after a haphazard start we did some good work and she softened and started paying attention and I remembered that my legs work again.

My next bit of education for the week was a lesson with Yeb de Jong. He's got his own yard in Kirklevington but still travels to teach and is the Dog's Bs for getting your horse to work properly. My schooling has been a bit rubbish lately but he sorted us out and when I rode the next night the improvement seemed to have stuck and I was very pleased.

Apologies for the lack of blogging lately, my computer is on strike but business should be resumed shortly. A group of us are off to Your Horse Live so should be some exciting news from that! Can't wait, since this is better than Christmas as far as I'm concerned. Got my cash, got my camera, got my shopping list...


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.