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

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Do you think he's enjoying himself?

In a stroke of brilliance, some of the girls at the yard organised an informal show jumping/ schooling night yesterday. I think Rodney enjoyed himself! I know I did. He felt great.

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Bank holiday fun + pics

Just a few pics from the weekend....

Cady and I had our second lesson with Sam Brown on Sunday. Cady was brill - she tried very hard and we had some nice moments. It was great fun. Our first few canters were a bit wild and had an Alton Towers ride flavour to them!

One of our later canters, much less 'wall of death'

I have a lot to work on. Phil took loads of videos and I could really see how much I need to work on core strength. At the moment I'm all arms and legs and I need that central power so Cady has something consistent to rely on. I also need to work really really hard at maintaining a soft, elastic contact.

Pretty Cad

I've been riding Cad a lot lately. Most days, in fact, for the past month. I think if we work hard all summer there will be a real improvement. She's hacking out very nicely too.

Mrs Sensible Trotting Pants

Rodney is lovely too. We had a couple of little walks around the farm and he seems happy. He's dropped quite a bit of weight through being on poorer pasture and he looks nice and trim. We went to see him on Friday when it was lashing down and he came over and rested his head on my arm. Bliss.

Suffering in silence

Wednesday, 22 May 2013


I think everyone's thoughts are with the people and animals of Oklahoma who were struck by a devastating tornado on Tuesday.

In amidst the unthinkable loss and sadness, some miracles are beginning to surface.

Here's just one about a blind horse called Fiona who survived Fiona's story

My heart goes out to everyone affected.

Hacking along, singing a song...

We've spent lots of time in the arena lately so for the past two nights me and Cady have been out and about around the farm, seeing a bit of life.

On Monday night we went out with a super sensible, super handsome companion which gave us both a confidence boost. The funniest bit was when a gang of geldings came to the fence and Cady knew she couldn't stop to talk so she started squeaking at them. She's definitely the most interesting horse in terms of vocals I've ever known!

Then last night it was just the two of us. Cady was terrific, really forward and much straighter. I really, really enjoyed myself. When I was leading her back up to the summer field I realised how much better things have been lately. I actually think she saw me as a bit of a prick until the last few weeks but now, I know it sounds daft, but it feels like we're mates!

Now we have a lesson to look forward to on Sunday, watch this space...

I went for a hack with Rod too last night, as I'm just keeping him ticking over until I can get his back and saddle checked. I feel like he has some discomfort so his workload will stay minimal until I know for sure. He's a pleasure to ride out on and we had a very fine old time together.

Happy horsing everyone x

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Looking right versus feeling right

“By letting it go it all gets done. The world is won by those who let it go. But when you try and try. The world is beyond winning.” Lao Tzu

I have a talent for making myself miserable sometimes. The clue to how I manage this is above. I try much, much too hard. Probably nowhere more so than with the horses.

I put so much weight on them because spending time with horses is the thing I really love in this life. I love it so much I crush the life out of it, like when you see a kid holding a hamster and its eyes are bugging out from the pressure.
Through my childhood and teens I wanted a horse so badly I didn't think about much else. I spent my whole weekend at a riding school helping out and ached to have my own.

Whenever I was sitting in a boring lesson at school (erm, all of them) I used to do a mental tour of the yard and picture walking into the tack room, seeing the farm dogs lying out in the sun and going up to the fields early in the summer to catch the ponies with a handful of headcollars.

Now I have my own (how lucky I am. I really mean that. I cannot believe my luck) I often press my face so close to them I can't see them, if you know what I mean.

When I do that it stops feeling right, and that seems to set off a cycle where I think if it doesn't 'feel' right then at least it should 'look' right.

So I tend to start cleaning tack, nagging the horses and worrying about the fact I don't go to any events and thinking far too much about what other people think (when let's face it, they're probably just busy worrying about their own stuff). No one needs to tell me how counterproductive this is. It strips the joy out of the whole marvellous set up.

At the moment it's all balanced nicely (phew) and I am genuinely enjoying it all in a lovely, easy way. But I still catch that whining voice in my head sometimes, bullying myself to ride, do this, do that etc.

The other day I went to see a friend who used to help out at the riding school too. We'd lost touch for years and it was so nice to see her and talk about that time in our lives and remember that feeling of being 15 and nuts about horses.  I've extended an open invitation for her to come and ride when she can (she has a young family) and I really hope she will.

Our catch up put me in such a lovely mood and it carried into my evening at the yard. Just for a couple of hours I stopped 'should-ing' and just enjoyed spending time with Cady and Rodney. It felt glorious. I did ride, but only because I wanted to. It would not have mattered if I hadn't.

Interestingly, as soon as it 'feels' right, I stop giving two figs about how it 'looks' with the  exception of 'how it looks to my horses'.

I'm going to endevour to let this feeling and approach continue, without trying too hard of course!

Happy horsing everyone x

Monday, 20 May 2013

Weekend catch up + pics

It's been a lovely weekend, but perhaps we better start with the weather!

I had plans to meet my horsey pal for coffee on Saturday morning and then ride. As I pulled on my johds Phil pointed out the view from our back window.

New river begins to form

Oh dear. I set off anyway but the roads were so bad I turned back.

Road closed

At which point we decided the ONLY sensible course of action was to eat bacon sandwiches, watch Saturday Kitchen and then have a four hour nap.
When we woke up, it had stopped raining - hurrah!
And I got to ride after all.

Perfect view

The arena was understandably a bit sploshy so we practiced lots of walking in straight lines, which was much more fun than it sounds. Cady continues to be a very good girl and as beautiful as ever...

Swoon !

Rodney continues very well too. He got his shoes done on Friday and then we had a nice hack and a play about in the arena. He felt fantastic - light and willing. Happily he has also gone back into a field where he has friends (with his headcollar on of course). He seems happy to be caught but to be on the safe side I'm mainly just catching him and then bringing him in for a small feed or a bit of grazing in-hand so he knows that leadropes don't always mean graft.

On Sunday we went to Houghall College for their open day. It was a really good day out and we saw gun dog demonstrations, riding to music, a barn owl and loads of classic cars. We also stuffed our faces with ice cream since it was hot and we felt it would be rude not to.

After we went to say hello to the horses - they looked happy and healthy and were enjoying the sunshine.

Horse riding demonstration
This little chap is called Billy and is in training as a working dog.

Happy horsing everyone - I hope you had a lovely weekend x

Thursday, 16 May 2013

Lovely Cady pops

I had a little ride in the field last night as there was a lesson going on in the arena. After the torrential rain the ground was slippy and boggy and since the field isn't terribly flat I thought we'd better stick to walk.

Cady pops was on her high wire at first. She stomped in from the field and seemed generally restless and unsettled (she is in season) but she was really good too and cooperative to tack up.

I enjoyed our ride. She was having a good stare at the sheep in the surrounding fields and her pals so we did some circles and transitions and serpentines and just diddled about and she relaxed a lot and stopped getting distracted.

I'd forgotten my riding boots so I rode in wellies which I normally wouldn't do. But I feel a lot more trusting that things will go well these days. Cady is  much more reasonable than I've ever given her credit for - she just got nervous when I tried to boss her about and micro-manage.

The night before I took Rodney for a quiet hack. I did notice he was very slightly stumbly on his hindlegs so again we just walked and I'll keep an eye on this. He has a session with Emily the osteo soon and I know she'll be able to give me a good idea of how he's doing. I had left his gel pad off and wondered if that might make a difference?

Last night he took umbridge to the lads fixing the gutter near his paddock so I went and stood with him and offered a bit of moral support. He is such a beautiful horse (especially when he's snorting and dancing about), I have a soft spot the size of America for him!

Happy horsing everyone! x

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Colour or traditional?

I read on Facebook this morning that the BSJA are taking a tougher stance on brightly-coloured show jackets.

I'm torn - I  love my boring grey jacket but I also love to see other people in colour...

What do you think?

Monday, 13 May 2013

It turned out to be not quite the weekend I'd expected. Both myself and Phil were riddled with cold and felt pretty weak and grumpy...until Sunday evening when we started to pick up. Don't you just love the timing?!

I decided to ride Cady on Friday which probably wasn't the best idea as I was feeling pretty sorry for myself. She was on full mega alert and didn't really settle. I tried a few different things but eventually gave her a pat and called it a day. I was a bit dissapointed that it hadn't gone better as we'd had a brilliant time on Thursday night and I was starting to get that 'cracked it' feeling, but I was still pleased we'd given it a go.

In the evening I went to see my friend Emma and we called into the farm to see her mare, Tia. Emma decided to let her have a blast about in the school, which she loves - here are some of the pics. Even though it's a bit blurry I love this one of her jumping Beecher's Brook!

On Sunday I took Cady for her first ride around the farm in ages. It was the first time in about three weeks that the wind actually died down a bit and I felt like we were ready. Phil walked with us as this is good moral support for me. She was a very good girl and feels much straighter since her session with Emily and more naturally forward.

The only tricky bit was that she's in season and at one point four horses galloped over to see her and she froze. I kept asking her to go forward and felt like she wasn't so much scared as massively distracted so after a while I gave her a small clout and she walked forward and got rewarded. I feel like there must be a better way than this. That said, on our next circuit she went past them much more confidently and she didn't seem upset or rattled so despite the weakness in my riding I settled for giving her A LOT of praise and leaving it at that.

I plan to work hard on getting a better technique than this but also feel a bit torn as I think there are times when you have to get on with it. Thoughts welcome on this one. Would it have been better to lead her past? I was very reluctant to just let her settle in as planting is one thing that has got us into trouble in the past and her adrenalin tends to shoot through the roof the longer she's frozen.

With both of us under the weather the weekend wasn't as horsey as normal but the plus point was spending extra time with Phil. He is always a great help with the horses but sometimes it's nice when it's just the two of us!

Hope you all had a great weekend. Happy horsing x

We spotted this little dude and his spectacular mane while out for a drive and had to say hello

Thursday, 9 May 2013

Buying your first horse

Anyone see Watchdog last night?

If you did then you'll have seen an unscrupulous horse dealer exposed. Sadly there are many more out there and they often make their money from first time buyers unaware of the pitfalls.
If you're thinking of buying a horse for the first time then the most important thing you need is knowledge.
Here are some tips.

1. There's no such thing as a cheap horse.
Boy is this true. You cannot buy a healthy, safe and sensible allrounder with tack and rugs for £1,000. People selling healthy, safe allrounders have a queue out the door of potential buyers willing to pay before they've even finished the sentence "I'm thinking of selling/loaning Copper..."
Not that spending money will protect you, just know that if the upfront cost is small, then chances are the vet's fees, training bill and heartache are likely to cost you dear.

2. Consider loaning first
The best way (I think) is to loan a nice horse on a nice yard and get to know as many people as you can. You'll always have help and back up if you need it and if you're not suited to the horse it's much more simple to move on. If the loan goes well and you feel ready for your own, chances are you'll hear through the grapevine of suitable candidates. If they live on the same yard even better - you can get a proper idea of what they're like. I've bought two first class horses from friends who were everything they promised to be.

3. If it's your first horse, think sensible and safe.
It doesn't matter if a horse is pretty, or shows an amazing trot in the field, if it scares the bejesus out of you then owning it will be a nightmare. Owning a horse is so different to having riding lessons. There's a lot more to think about (worming, livery yards, vets, teeth, etc, etc) so if the horse is difficult on top of that it really isn't much fun.

4. Prepare yourself mentally.
You've done everything the right way, and unloaded your sensible saint. Guess what? You're still in for a rollercoaster. It will go lame, it will most likely have some bad habits and you're probably going to fall off. The first time you see it on three legs your heart is going to stop. Be prepared for the fact that there will be bumps in the road. When they come along remember the drill.

- deep breath
- get help
- get on with it

5. Try the horse properly.
If you're planning on catching, leading, loading or hacking alone once you get the horse home, make sure you've done all those things at the trying-out stage. Don't let a seller prepare the horse and then just leg you up in the arena unless you have a groom at home who's going to recreate that scenario for you every day. Even if you do, it's still sensible to check the horse isn't perfect to ride but terrible to handle!

6. Avoid wasting time.
If you know a horse is not for you, it's polite to say so and shove off so the seller can crack on. Don't keep riding/trying a horse that you don't like or want.

Happy horsing everyone!

"If you have one true friend, you have more than your share"  - Thomas Fuller

You know you're horsey when...

...your car looks like this. All the time.

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Michael Jung narrowly missed out on a Badminton win at the weekend. Here's a link to the final press conference in case you missed it.

Eventing Nation Michael Jung

His interview starts around the 4.20 mark. He was very gracious and happy with his horse, Sam.

Top marks for great sportsmanship!

Distracted? Moi?

Yet another great blog that tapped me sharply on the back of the head.

Click here to read the complete post:

Building connection

This is the part that made me feel sheepish...

"All horses get distracted - but here's the real truth - if someone tells you "my horse is easily distracted", the person saying this is easily distracted. Distraction by the horse occurs either because the rider is distracted and not really paying attention or connected to the horse, so the horse is left to make its own decisions and choices, or because a second of distraction by the horse isn't instantly redirected back into whatever task they're doing together."

On paper I look like quite a focused person. In reality...scatter-brain doesn't cover it. I don't know if I'm coming or going. I live in my car, my inbox is always overflowing and I marvel at anyone who can remember their own birthday or to swap their slippers for shoes as they leave the house. If I wore glasses I'd have to staple them to my head to prevent from losing them.

So slap on the hand for me, because when Cady forgets she's doing a 20m circle and starts oggling the birds in the hedge next to the arena - it's not her fault! Naughty mummy....


Something is starting to change between Cady and I, but because I'm quite close to it it's hard to see!

I've been riding her every day for about two and a half weeks and I feel like we're just beginning to get a tiny bit more of a 'click'.

It's nothing magical or impressive to watch but I'm working hard to be dependable and calm and to offer straight forward guidance and she is showing real generosity in response.

She's still full of anxiety when we're schooling but over the past couple of nights that's decreased as we've gone on through transitions, serpentines and changing the rein. Instead of bossing her around these little tasks my job is to keep breathing, stay soft and offer her a chance to soften and stop worrying.

It really takes so much concentration that it's not until later when  I'm driving home that I start to register how well she's done and how, in the past, certain things would have caused a problem. During these sessions there's been sprinklers, giant plastic bags, horse boxes too-ing and fro-ing and all kinds going on and she's handled it all in a much more grown up way.

There's one side of the school where she's really wary and she normally braces and tries to step off the track. I'm ignoring this and just focussing on moving ahead into the next transitition and yesterday there was a moment where she just forgot it was a problem and stayed on the track for the length of the school, quite happily.

In the sunshine yesterday we finished with some long canters in the field to build up her tummy muscles, and for fun too! She felt both bonkers and wildly overconfident and excited. It felt really nice to feel that enthusiasm.

The change seems to be melting into the rest of the time I spend with her. She stands still while I brush her and get her ready and at times she's leading much more fluently. I'm going to keep taking this approach with her and let things come together in their own time rather than stressing about 'progress'.

For years now I've been trying to find a magic method of changing Cady but with great humility (and not a little embarrassment) I have to admit I should have been working on myself instead, educating myself and challenging myself to be better. It's not enough to read things and think you know everything - you have to be able to put it into practice and that's an ongoing job.

For these positive changes I am extremely grateful to Cady.

But I'm also very thankful to this blog A year with horses which is truly excellent.

It is extremely well thought-out and written and I cannot recommend it enough. Ditto, the Mark Rashid book I've been banging on about!

Happy horsing everyone! Hope this hasn't been tooo serious! x

Monday, 6 May 2013

The big bank holiday blog + lots of pics!

It's been a busy three days in horse land....

On Friday, osteopath Emily Bewsey came out and did a fantastic session with Cady, who was very well behaved - particularly on the lunge showing Emily her paces.

This really deserves a post of its own but I'm so happy to have excellent professionals like Emily to help. For a while now I've been very pleased with the team who help us - farrier, instructor, osteopath, dentist, livery yard, vet etc... They offer excellent, reliable services that actually make a real difference to the horses.

Gorgeous Cady having a drink in the Saturday sunshine - how lucky are we to have a horsey life?

Emily's assessment was that Cady is doing well, but needs to use her tummy muscles. She also re-jigged her balance pad so the saddle sat a bit better. Cady changes shape a lot so this was important. Cady uses her left shoulder a lot (we think possibly connected to a giant splint she picked up as a four-year-old) so some schooling should help her re-balance.

Then on Saturday it was time to try and bring Rodney in. He'd been AWOL for a week and showed no signs of warming up to the idea of being caught. My plan was to put all his friends in the next field, leave a nice big feed in the pen and gently walk him in.

He did go into the pen but then shot out like a champagne cork when we tried to shut the gate. After a few near misses we decided it wasn't working as he was just galloping about getting sweaty.

In the afternoon a gang of the yard girls came up and kindly offered their services. We tried to usher him gently into the pen but he was having none of it and was so animated by this point we just let him run and get it all out of his system.

Eventually he drifted over to the pen but when one of the girls tried to shut the gate he jumped out over the fence, snapped the top wire and went for a trot around the farm.

Fortunately the farm has lots of gates so we were able to enclose him again by which point he'd had enoough - he'd given us a gallant and dramatic last stand and was ready to concede defeat and be caught.

I walked him off in the arena and then was finally able to give him a good scrub down on his face where he's losing his hair. It still needs to grow in but it looks an awful lot better now and he must be more comfortable.

He's now in a little starvation paddock and gets hay morning and evening. He has friends in the next field and it's the best we can do for now. The summer grazing is just too much temptation and I think he would have ended up with laminitis had he stayed there much longer.

Rodney's new home: still on high alert after his dramatic Rambo-esque attempts to avoid capture

Yesterday the calm returned. I took Rodney for a short walk just to stretch off his legs and give him a change of scenery. He seemed a bit disorientated and emotional and was shouting for his friends but I hope he'll settle soon.

Remembering that he also has a job to do! It felt great to be back on him

Then it was time for Cady to come out and play. We wanted to take her for a hack but it was blowing a gale and I didn't feel it would give us the best chance of building confidence! Instead we set up a little obstacle course of cones in the arena and played around them.

You can see from her tail how strong the wind was - we look like an Arctic expedition leaning into it.

It was really good fun and she was excellent, despite some seriously spooky moments - one when my coat leapt off the fence and landed at her feet. She shivered from top to toe but quickly got her mojo back. What a clever pickle!

We often warm up with a few minutes lungeing so Cady can let off any 'steam' ha ha!

I hope you all had a great bank holiday - happy horsing! x

Thursday, 2 May 2013

Start the real learning

I've discovered a whole lot of horsey blogs lately - there's gold out there if you look.

One is called Eight horses one winter and is written by Tom Widdicombe. Tom now has a new blog (there's a link on the home page) but there are still many posts very much worth reading through on the original.

In an interview where he discusses his decision to stop giving lessons, he said:

"Well, I think the teacher/student thing can really prevent the freedom that you as a person need to learn. I get tired of people relying on their teacher. How many times have I heard people say, ‘Ah I must ask so and so about that’. I just want to say, ‘For gods sake, get yourself to the point where you can work it out for yourself. Get to the point where you aren’t scared of making mistakes and learning from them. Get beyond needing the security of a teacher to look after you. Then you will start to learn for yourself. You’ll start the real learning’.

This strikes a chord with me. Myself and horses can do well in lessons but are only just beginning to recreate the same results when it's just the two of us again.

I now try to have my lessons a fortnight or more apart and the aim is to really work hard on the advice given. I've failed if the instructor has to come back and teach exactly the same lesson. It means I haven't taken what they've said and used it or worked through it. I'd rather try and throw up new problems than hide behind my 'usual suspects'.

It's taken me a long time to get to this point. When I first had Cady I relied on lessons because I was frightened of what might happen if there was no one there to look after me. It was an important phase to work through and I'm at the point now where I get on with only about 5 per cent trepidation. I would like this to become 0 this summer.

* I've finished reading Horses Never Lie, by Mark Rashid, and highly recommend it. It's a book about where the right attitude can take you and I can see myself re-reading it many times.

"That's when I really deserve to spend time in the hedge"

I remember reading ages ago that when two people speak to each other, they can get trapped by emotional habits that obstruct true listening and appropriate responses.

So one friend asks another: "Have you bought the theatre tickets yet?"

And instead of sticking to yes or no, the respondant dives into this complicated narrative about not having time because x,y,z happened while feeling a bit huffed at being 'pestered'.

Meanwhile, question-asking friend is a bit bewildered and hurt, they were only asking, after all.

This applies well to horses too.

Cady sometimes asks me: "Erm, do you really want me to go past that scary thingy?'

And instead of saying "Yes, please" I launch into a terribly emotional sequence that's eight pages long.

Like this: "Yes I do want you to go past it. Of course I do. We went past it yesterday so why are you asking? Are you questioning my decisions? why do you overreact about EVERYTHING?!"

At which point she goes cross-eyed with confusion and rightly tries to fling me in a nearby hedge.

Realising this, I'll be working hard to keep things much simpler, so the conversation becomes more helpful to both of us.

Cady: "Erm, do you really want me to go past that scary thingy?"

Me: "Yes, please."

Cady: "I am not sure I want to. Are you sure you want to?"

Me: "Yes, we can take our time and you'll be able to rely on me because I'll be giving you lots of support so everything is clear."

Cady: "It looks weird. I feel a bit out of my depth."

Me: "Ok, well, I'll jump off and lead you past today and perhaps tomorrow we can come back and get a lead from your friend so you know it's OK."

Cady: "Alright mum, that sounds fair enough."

I also need to avoid the other kind of conversation, the one where she says: "What do you want me to do?"

And I'm thinking about what's for tea...That's when I really deserve to spend time in the hedge.

We had a good ride last night. The best bits were: feeling totally absorbed in the moment, a really nice leg yield, some cantering on both reins and Cady's increasing attention. She's still not totally relaxed but I feel like it's just a question of time, practice and consistency.

Happy horsing everyone! x

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

No big deal!

WARNING: Please do not scroll down if you have a problem with feet or blisters!

I have been unable to resist posting a photo of one of the blisters I got from pursuing Rodders on Monday night. It's just too monstrous to let it go unacknowledged. I'm viewing it as a medal of stupidity and plan to never get one like it again if I can help it!

Last night at the stables was gorgeous. I went up to the gate of Rodney's field and said hello but didn't try to catch him and then enjoyed a mess about with Miss Cady. I was really pleased with her. She's still a bit tense and my contact is patchy but there was so much going on and she tried very hard. We had ponies zooming about, a loose horse and horse boxes and trailers coming and going. The last time we schooled amidst that kind of level of activity she stood up but last night she was vastly more patient.

My favourite bit was when two people suddenly appeared out of the house that overlooks the arena. Cady zoomed and spooked but I tried to do what I've been reading in the Mark Rashid book and just concentrated on the task in hand. There was a really clear moment a second after when I felt I could hear her say: "Oh. Ok then, nothing to worry about - no big deal." and she just relaxed back into the job.

To me, this is a huge deal and very exciting!!!!

Happy horsing everyone xxxx

Here is The Beast: