Thursday, 28 February 2008

Happy Horse!

This is a little out of date, as I don't have internet access where I am living at the moment, and so am writing on my computer at home, then bringing it in to work to put on my blog. All a bit confusing!

I had such a lovely weekend of riding – this is what owning a horse is all about. On Saturday I went for a hack with my friend and her ex-racehorse. It’s such a shame – she has come to the end of her tether with the standard of care at the yard and is moving her horse at the end of this week. Just as I have come back! I totally sympathise with her though; you have to do what is right for you in terms of livery yards. It was a beautiful day yesterday: the sun was shining and it wasn’t too cold. It was a little windy while we were out, but Echo isn’t really affected by the wind thank goodness!

She felt really pleased to be out again – we haven’t hacked for about a month now, so she was alert and interested. My friend and I had a lot of catching up and gossiping to do, so we spent a good half an hour just in walk, but when we trotted Echo felt balanced and forward-going, which was fantastic. At one point we decided to have a canter and Mojo cantered off from walk. I should have thought about this, as Echo has had some time off and has lost some strength, so is finding her canter transitions a little tricky again. She seems to get worried when the horse in front canters off and she gets stuck in the transition. To combat this, she stands still, puts her head between her legs and bounces repeatedly on the spot!

In the past when this has happened, it worried me and I thought there was something wrong. However, I am starting to see a pattern and have realised that it tends to happen when we don’t trot for a period before going into canter. She gets stuck in a walk/canter transition and so just bucks! It’s as if she can’t get her legs in the right order and she gets in a tangle! My friend stopped and we decided to just trot up the hill. However, once Echo was trotting forward (and as we always get left behind because Mojo’s huge) I decided to ask for the canter transition – she was fine, so I called to my friend and we cantered the rest of the way up the hill!

On Sunday, I rode her in the school and she went really well. It was warm and sunny, which always makes me feel more positive, and it was a joy to be riding my beautiful horse. We worked a lot on the left rein, as she felt a little stiff to begin with. After some walk and trot, I asked her for a canter transition and she struck off on the wrong leg. This hasn’t happened for a while, and I knew exactly what the problem was: I didn’t have enough contact in my right rein, and was relying too much on the inside rein for the bend. Not good! We probably did about 8 incorrect transitions, with me really working on getting her into my right hand in between. In fact, although we kept getting the wrong canter lead, the trot in-between started to feel amazing. Finally, I got her properly working from my inside leg to outside rein, and we got the correct lead. I was exhausted! We did a little work on the right rein, but she was tired and so was I, so I called it a day.
It was such a nice day that I decided to graze her by the school for a while and watch some lessons going on. It was nice for her to get some sun on her back, and some grass, as there is none in her field. She gets a huge mound of hay each night, but she always loves to get some good old-fashioned grass! She seems so relaxed at the yard – I definitely made the right decision moving her back. I am able to go down there and ride, spend some time with her, then go home and get on with other things; it’s making a big difference to my state of mind. She is also loving being back in work again – I think she got bored when I wasn’t riding her – she just generally seems very content with life at the moment.

Thursday, 21 February 2008

Horse/Life Balance

I have now moved Echo back to the yard she was at before and am so relieved. I just couldn't get my head around sorting the mess out in my life, as well as having her on DIY livery. The last few weeks have been very tough emotionally, but I am feeling much more philosophical about things now. I am still hurting a lot and I don't think that will go away for a long time, but I am able at least to think straight now, and I realised that the yard she is at now is where she should be. I liked the DIY place, but I just didn't have the emotional energy to devote to her there, and I realised very quickly that I definitely do not want Echo to rule my life.

I met several people at the yard who are all lovely and admirable, but their lives revolve entirely around their horses. They can't go on holiday, they can't go out for a whole day, they can't have a normal job, all because they have to be there at certain times of day to deal with their horse. If this is what makes them happy, then I admire them whole-heartedly for being able to do it. However, all of this has made me realise that I want Echo to be a part of my life, not the centre of it. She is my horse, who I love and enjoy riding and caring for, but I have a life away from her too. Having her on DIY livery was going to distort that unrecognisably.

I am delighted to report that I am now riding her again. While she was at the DIY yard I only rode her twice, as I didn't have the energy to do it. She was never very settled there, and the thought of her being on edge and shying constantly and it all being a battle was just too much to face. Back where we are now, I lunged her on Sunday, then rode her Tuesday and yesterday, and she was brilliant. She is a little rusty (as am I!) but we have not lost anything due to the time off, and this has been a huge relief.

I am being much stricter with myself now. On evenings when I don't plan to ride, I am not going to go down to the yard. I was going every evening before, which was unnecessary. I pay livery so that I don't have to do that. I am also making sure that I don't spend ridiculous amounts of time at the stables - I love being with Echo, but it is also important that I get my work done and that I have a social life too, so I am limiting myself time-wise as much as possible.

I'm going hacking this weekend, which I'm really looking forward to - I have missed it so much! She has lost a fair amount of strength and fitness, so it will only be short, but I so appreciate the facilities that I have now. I (almost) vow to never whinge about anything ever again.

Thursday, 14 February 2008

Horses that have meant a lot to me.

Part 3

I had been working at Sheepcote for about a year by the time Joe came into my life. Serena had bought him for her daughter, as she had had a coloured cob on loan and been devastated when she had to go back. Joe was designed to soften the blow. However, as the child was only about 9 and Joe was nearly 14.2hh and VERY wide, he was a little too much for her to begin with. For the first few weeks he was ridden by a very novice working pupil in our daily lessons. He had been in a riding school for a couple of years and had probably come over from Ireland before that. He was opinionated and very strong, but he had a lovely eye and a very generous temperament. He couldn't canter in balance and used to poke his nose out in a typical riding school fashion.

When the girl who was riding him left, Joe was passed to me. The idea had apparently always been for me to school him, as a kind of project. The yard was amazing, but there weren't going to be many chances for me to compete, as the schoolmasters were too old and I wasn't really brave enough to ride and compete the youngsters. Joe was the perfect solution. The first time I rode him I couldn't believe how wide he was. I couldn't use my legs! However, I managed to ride him really forwards in trot, and by the end, we had managed an outline (of sorts!) At that point, I realised we were going to have a lot of fun!

I started riding Joe in September 2004 and in December, we went to our first show. He was beautifully behaved, but it was my first real experience of competing and I didn't have a great deal of 'ring-craft'. We came out of it with a 2nd and a 6th - I was absolutely thrilled. We competed through the winter, doing pretty well and qualified for a riding club championships held in August 05. I stopped working at Sheepcote in order to go and train to be a teacher, but David and Serena were very kind and allowed me to keep riding Joe, as they were quite short-staffed and didn't need him for the lessons. By the time of the championships, Joe and I were schooling at roughly medium level, perfecting our canter half-passes and starting to work on changes. I am absolutely convinced that if I had asked him to stand on his head, he would have tried. He put absolutely everything into his work and was desperate to please me. I will never forget our partnership.

When we went to the championships, I was confident that we could do well. I was doing a test before the championship one and this did not go terribly well. Joe was not very enthusiastic and I couldn't get him off my leg. However, we came out of it with a decent percentage and I realised that we could do so much better than that. Before the championship test, Serena helped me warm up, then told me to gallop him round the outside of the arena before going in. I was worried that this would blow his brains, but it was the perfect thing to do. He trotted down the centre line with determination and impulsion, and the rest of the test was brilliant. I came out of the arena knowing that we couldn't have done much better. It was agonaising watching the score board while the next 6 or 7 riders went. However, I won the class with 70% and I have never been so proud. The photos of the day do not show how smart he looked - I hadn't realised there was a mounted prize-giving and so had taken his plaits out. However, we got to do a lap of honour, and since all Joe had really done was an extended canter for the last year, the chance of a proper burn around the field was very exciting. He set off at a collected canter, then suddenly realised that he was allowed to go. With a buck and a squeal, we set off at top speed - it felt fantastic!

When I started my teacher training, Sheepcote got more staff and so they needed Joe for the lessons. I also then bought my yearling and so I stopped seeing so much of him. The following spring, Serena phoned me and told me Joe had suddenly gone down with acute laminitis. I was devastated and went to see him immediately. He was in a lot of pain and the vet didn't really know whether anything could be done. It seemed that the laminitis had probably been caused by something in his past - possibly ragwort poisoning or worm-damage. Either way, he was past help. He stopped eating and had lost the will to carry on. I will never forget the phone call when Serena told me that he had died. I missed him so much.

I have such fantastic memories of Joe. He was the most honest, hard-working and generous horse I have ever met in my life and he will always hold a special place in my heart.

Tuesday, 12 February 2008

Horses that have meant a lot to me

Part 1

Part 2

When I moved up to Lincoln, I was desperate to find a riding school to help out in. The prices were noticeably cheaper there than in Surrey, so my parents were able to afford for me to have lessons. I started at one yard, but it really wasn't for me. Without wishing to offend anyone, it was very 'BHS' and far too concerned about health and safety for my liking, even in those days. I soon moved on and found a yard that was much more suitable. There were only about 15 horses there, but it was fun and there were kids my age helping out and looking after the ponies, so I thought it would be good.

I rode there for about a year, helping out at weekends and then the following summer, had the most fantastic holiday. There were about 6 of us, all about the same age, all with the same passion for horses. As you would expect, we each had a different 'favourite' pony, and heaven forbid anyone would ever have the same favourite as you. In our eyes, they were OUR ponies. My favourite was a little Fell pony called Dalmore. She was only about 13.2hh but was stocky, so I didn't look enormous. In my eyes, she was perfect. I would have spent every minute with her if I could. What I loved about her, probably more than anything else, was that other people didn't like her. She was awkward to ride and used to jog persistently out on hacks. She wouldn't jump unless she felt like it, and she generally didn't!

In those days, my confidence was sky-high and I would have done anything on Dalmore. We had jumping lessons bareback, with no reins and holding cups of water in both hands, we rode bareback in a headcollar down to the field, we took part in gymkhanas and little local shows and we went on endless hacks around the local common. What I learned from her has stayed with me ever since. When other people used to ride her, she would get excited on hacks and start jogging. As a result, the rider would then shorten the reins and tense up. She would then shorten her neck and jog more, followed by more jogging and more tension. This is why no one really liked her. I dodn't mind her jogging. In fact, being a teenager, I thought it made me look pretty 'cool' as my horse was 'feisty'! Because I didn't shorten my reins and tense up, Dalmore stopped jogging.

I used to ride her all round the common and by the river holding the buckle of the reins. People were amazed that she didn't jog with me, and this was my little secret! It taught me very early on that we often blame horses for problems we have caused ourselves. If you don't react to something, the horse forgets it quickly. If you tense up, they think there is something to be worried about. I had to show Dalmore that I wasn't tense, which meant that she had no reason to be either.

It was on Dalmore that I had my first experience of competing. OK, they were only tiny local shows, but she was brilliant. Or terrible, depending on her mood. There were a couple of times where she ran backwards out of the ring, mowing down the steward, or where she would dig her heels in at the first fence. I soon learned that if she jumped the first fence, we would have a clear round. Otherwise, there was not a chance that she would go over anything!

As far as I know, Dalmore is still in the riding school - she must be well into her twenties now. I saw her a few years ago when walking my dog on the common. She was jogging away as usual, but looked happy and healthy and I very much hope she still is. She gave me so many good experiences and so much of what I want from Echo stems from what I got from Dalmore. I have only just realised that all but one of these profiles/stories are about mares. That probably says something about me, but I'm not sure what!

Monday, 11 February 2008

Horses that have meant a lot to me.

Part One

Picasso hadn't been at the stables for long when I first met her. She was a huge (or at least seemed huge to a 12 year old me) tri-coloured mare who was about 5 years old. I rode her a couple of times in my weekly riding lessons, and wasn't overly struck by her really; I had another favourite pony that I begged to ride each week. I used to help out at the local stables all day every Saturday, and in return, I got a free riding lesson each week. My parents couldn't afford to pay for lessons, but this way I learnt lots and got to be one of the official 'helpers', a title much sought after amongst the ordinary 'lesson kids'. I felt very important. However, as a treat one summer, my mum offered for me to have a horse on loan for the week, meaning that I would be there every day and ride as much as I liked. I was desperate to have the favourite pony, but the owners of the stables needed him for lessons (I clearly wasn't the only one that loved him!) They offered me Picasso, and I decided that she would be better than nothing.

Within a week, she had become the most important thing in my life. What had seemed like a boring, big cob, started to whinny at me when she saw me, fell asleep when I was grooming her and took enormous care of me when hacking out in the forest on my own. She never shied or bucked, even though I was totally inexperienced and a pretty shocking rider, having only ridden for less than a year. Looking back, I'm amazed that the owners let me do so much with her, after all, she was quite a young horse and they hadn't had her long. After my week was up, I would see her every day. However, my parents moved the whole family away from the area at the end of that summer, and I was devastated to leave Picasso. In my spare time I would draw pictures of her (I still have lots of these) and write stories about us winning shows together. When we were in the car I would imagine I was galloping her along the verges and fields, jumping all the hedges. I came up with every scam I could to try to buy her. My parents were not in a position for me to have a horse, but I used to write daily schedules to show that I would have enough time to do it all myself.

Picasso began my love of coloured horses. I had no idea that a horse could bond so quickly with a person and that someone's life could be entirely dominated by thoughts of one animal. I still think about her. She developed a back problem and started to buck people off, so the riding school sold her to a dealer. This broke my heart, as she was so very special. I hope that she found someone to care for her - she could have made someone incredibly happy.

Sunday, 10 February 2008

Me, myself and I!

I got tagged by Dressage Mom This is a new one for me, and I decided that I'd do it.

The rules are...

You must post the rules before you give your answers.

After you've been tagged, you need to update your blog with your middle name and answers.

You must list one fact about yourself for each letter of your middle name.

Each fact must begin with that letter.

If you don't have a middle name, just use your maiden name/last name.

At the end of your post, you need to tag one person for each letter of your middle name. (Be sure to leave them a comment telling them they've been tagged and need to read your blog for details).

Here are my answers -

E - Emotional

V - Versatile (nearly went with verbose ... Tried to steer clear of violent and vindictive!!!)

E - Enthusiastic (Again, some inappropriate ones came to mind... elephantine?)

This was really hard! I could think of adjectives for pretty much every other letter...

I tag: Rachel-Catherine
Grey Horse Matters

Dressage Mom also wrote profiles of 8 school horses from when she was younger. I will have a think, as I would like to do my favourite horses justice and be able to describe them clearly. I will post about it shortly.

For those of you who left lovely comments on my previous post, offering support and advice, I am so grateful. I am feeling a little better and starting to get things organised. Echo is almost certainly going back to the old yard for a while - two lovely people from the present yard have been looking after her this weekend for me, so that I could come home and get myself together. I'll get there!

Sunday, 3 February 2008

Sad and scared

Ok, as this is Echo's blog really and I don't like to bore people with my personal life, I will keep this short. I'm going through a bit of a rough time at the moment, as of yesterday, when my boyfriend decided to break up with me. This is a little difficult, as I have obviously just moved Echo to her new yard and neither of us have really settled in yet. My immediate thought was that I have to get Echo back to her old yard for a bit, just so I have some stability and can go away for a couple of days if I need to. It would also enable me to take my dog to the yard with me as his daily exercise, rather than having to walk him separately, as the new yard doesn't allow dogs anymore.

The problem (there are lots of them) is clearly money. I moved her in the first place because I couldn't afford it there. Now that I am facing it all on my own, I don't know if I can do DIY at the moment. I'm just not sure that I can do everything and piece back together the shattered bits of my life. For example, I really just want to go home and see my Mum for a couple of days as soon as I break up for half term, but because of Echo being on DIY that is going to be so hard to arrange - if possible at all.

A couple of friends have offered to pay for her to be at the old yard for a couple of months, until I get myself sorted out, but I don't know about after that. I don't know if it's massively unfair to Echo to keep lugging her about, disrupting her routine. She doesn't feel settled yet and I am definitely not settled at the new yard yet. I'm sure it would get better, but right now, when I'm trying to organise moving out and finding somewhere new to live and getting myself together, I could really do with at least Echo being secure and settled.

I really don't know what to do...about anyhing. Obviously I'm still feeling emotional and hurt by it all, so should not rush into big decisions, but the thought of teaching all week, and doing Echo on my own and organising moving, is very scary right now. So if I don't post for a little while- it's not that I've forgotten you all!

Daily adventures while training my young horse.