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

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...