Friday, 31 March 2017

31 days, 34 rides and 1 new favourite

Perfect eyeliner
I set myself a little goal at the start of March, after February proved to be a bit low on riding (nine rides to be precise - life fail).

Admittedly it's harder to ride when your pony has failed to respect his own leg and smushed his soft tissue like a toddler with a banana...

But it's also a pretty crap excuse. Loads of people without a horse ride every day and I decided that if I was serious about improving I better Find A Way.

Having Hetty Princess on loan has definitely helped, we've had some great rides this month. I love her, and I love her Princess ways. Me and her owner, L, have funny little jokes about her being allergic to diamonds and so forth. We're tres witty.

Of course, there's Max, who's appeared here quite a lot lately (yay!). We're off to the John Smart clinic over the weekend which I'm quietly excited about.

And I've also started riding whatever horses I'm allowed to at my yard, which has been great. I've been able to hack out on darling Bramble quite a few times and last week I had a new-to-me horse to ride in my lesson who I was able to ride the day after. 

Beloved Bramble 
His name is Mickey Blue Eyes and he's a fairly large hunter-type with a hogged mane...and guess what colour his eyes are? Go on, guess! 

I'm going to sound a bit woo-woo here, but do you ever get on a horse and like them straight away? Well that's what happened when I rode Mickey. He's a tiny bit green in the school and he needs to relax his neck a bit but I just loved riding him and I think we got on pretty well.

My instructor seemed happy, and the next day I tried to recreate the same improvements when I rode him unsupervised. It wasn't quite as good, because I'm still a bit mentally slow to correct and support, but there were some nice parts to the ride as it went on and I really had to use my brain to get them which is what I need to practice.

Today I jumped him and he was pretty cool, a bit wibbly wobbly in places and halfway through he woke up a bit and took a pull, but it was great experience. I still need to get my brain firing quicker but Rome wasn't built in a day n' all that. 

So Mickey is on my ever-growing favourites list, which is starting to look like the Magna Carta. 

When I've counted through my diary I've managed 34 rides this month, which is a lot better than nine. 

Thursday, 30 March 2017

Head for the hills

Last Monday, Phil took a day off work and I cancelled most of my horsey bobbins so we could take a trip together. 

We've been so busy with our own things lately that we needed a day just for ourselves. 

Nancy came too, because when we politely asked her to go and make other plans she just wagged her tail a few times and climbed into the van before plonking herself on top of our bags with a confident expression on her little gooseberry face. 

Helvellyn was the destination. We've walked it twice together and yet, through absent-minded chatting, ended up taking a completely different route, which worked out uncannily well...

We were at the youth hostel by the time we realised we were going the other way around but the day was wearing on and we decided to persevere. In the youth hostel car park we said hello to a man with a very distinctive Yorkshire accent and exchanged a few words about the route and the weather.

He waved an ice axe at us (it was still snowy higher up) and asked if we had one. We said No and he looked at us as if to say 'bloody amateurs'. 

And on the left, Alan Hinkes OBE
Mountain safety is a funny subject. Plenty of people manage Helvellyn in trainers, without waterproofs and without any supplies. But some don't. People die in the Lake District every year. Personally I like to play it safe. I had no plans to take Nancy up Swirrall Edge anyway, but thought it would work well to walk up to Red Tarn and cut in front of the famous Striding Edge and take the gentle route down. 

So on we stepped. The weather was glorious sunshine and the running streams and fresh air made us feel good. 

I love this pic of Phil and Nancy
A short time later, our Yorkshire friend caught us up and we got to chatting. He said he was meeting a photographer at the top and again I had that nagging familiar feeling. I started to ask what the shoot was for and out it all came. We were in the company of Alan Hinkes OBE, who's been up more mountains than you can shake a very large stick at, including Everest, K2 and Kangchenjunga. 

A few years ago I went to a talk he gave up in Newcastle. Although he paints himself as a grumpy old men, he's actually very nice and extremely knowledgeable and I still remember and apply some of the things he said in that talk to anything I do that involves a risk. Namely, get back in one piece, you can always have a crack at it another day. If someone tells you that who holds world records for risky things, you should probably pay attention.

We also learned something about fitness that day. Alan Hinkes is 63 and he skipped up that walk like he was stepping up a shallow kerb. 

Waiting for us to throw her a stone. And cooling her paws after extreme frolicking
Rather quickly (!) we were at Red Tarn, and what a sight it was. Beautiful, soaring shadows spread across the snow and the surface of the water was a mirror. Mr Hinkes left us with a handshake and we stayed to enjoy the majesty and have a bite to eat. 

Then we walked to the start of Swirral Edge for the view, before wending our way back down to Red Tarn and then beginning the slow descent down to Glenridding and a cup of a tea.

Yoga wanker: although I don't write about yoga much any more, I'm still a daily practitioner.
Normally my view is a big pile of numnahs in the spare room so this proved hard to resist.
Nancy might have counted this walk as the best walk she's ever been on. She kept playing in the snow, racing around and generally just seemed to be loving life. In the van on the way home she fell into such a deep sleep and we didn't have a peep out of her that evening, even though we were eating pizza and she normally sits at our feet drooling and looking hopeful.

The walk has haunted me in such a lovely way all week and my mind keeps returning back to the stillness and warmth of the day mixed with the thrill of the snow. We hope to be out on the fells many more times this summer.

Sunday, 19 March 2017

The big picture

I was going to type out my well-worn path in this post by pointing out all the things I need to fix/work on/change about the way I ride. 

But then I changed my mind.

Let's take it as a given that I'm riddled with faults, just like everyone else, and go for a different angle.

Namely: That today I got to jump a horse I adore, in the blazing sunshine, while chatting to my friend. 

I haven't conquered my lower leg yet, but I've emerged victorious from a five year plus, painfully slow battle to make my daily life what I want it to be.

Today was a winning scratch card, and I'm not going to let nit-picking snootily obscure that blinding, bleeding, obvious, and wonderful Truth.

Saturday, 18 March 2017

Zed meet Saddle: Saddle, meet Zed.

This morning, for the first time in seven weeks, I got to sit on my own pony once more.

And what a little darling he was. 

It wasn't the best-planned of plans, since my main motivation was: "I wonder if he'll try and buck me off? Let's find out!" 

But no such amateur dramatics were forthcoming. We had a little walk and an even tinier trot for five minutes and then I got off and gave him a pat.

Since Nicola's visit on Monday he's had some turnout, and some lunge work in walk, but I think ridden work is better as I can do bigger circles and lots of straight lines which should be less stressful on his body as it regains strength. So today was really just a quick re-introduction to his saddle and an acknowledgement that he's not in a retirement home just yet. 

I still feel extremely tentative about it all, and in no way ready to jump up and down screaming 'yippee' and playing my trumpet, because I just have a funny feeling we're not out of the woods.

He looks sound on the lunge, feels sound to ride, but is definitely much weaker on the left rein. Now, that's either just down to muscle development and natural one-sidedness, or there is a deaper-seated issue with that left leg that's been lurking.

On the plus side, the swelling has stayed away, and he didn't dump me. I will watch him with gimlet eyes and proceed with levels of caution that would make a risk assessor look like a feckless drunk.

Friday, 17 March 2017

Introducing: Mighty Max

Mighty Max
What is the only correct answer to these three questions?

1) Would you like a million pounds?

2) Would you like a chocolate cake the size of a car tyre?

3) Would you like to ride 17.2hh of pure flaming horse hunk?

That's right, you say 'Yes', and you say it quickly. Not: "Erm, ok, yes." Just: "YES, THANK YOU, WHEN? I'M READY."

Air to spare
I haven't yet been offered the first two options, but on Thursday morning bright and early I did find my foot in the stirrup of Mighty Max, who belongs to my friend Lynne.

Lynne very kindly offered to let me ride Max in the upcoming John Smart clinic, so in preparation I asked my riding instructor if we could have a lesson together and get everything tuned in before the clinic.
Settling nicely
Max is an extremely kind and gentle horse, but he also has an engine that is the lovechild of a Monster Truck and a Ferrari. He is one powerful dude, and for the first half of the lesson we were rather, ahem, forward.
Action shot
But this is why my riding instructor makes Harry Potter look like an underachiever in the magic department. She had the whole thing sussed from the start and gradually made the jumps higher and more challenging so we could focus and stop charging about. 

It. Was. So. Much. Fun. 
Max didn't look at anything. Fillers, fine, bigger jumps, fine, change the pattern, fine. I felt like he would jump anything we put in front of him, no questions asked, and it put a hefty deposit in my confidence account.

There's sooo much I need to work on of course, but what I need most is experience and good old trial and error which is what I got. I rarely ride horses that are so keen so it's really important to suss that out before I sit my exam. 
Still smiling
So today I am feeling happy and grateful: for my phenomenal instructor who gives me all the confidence in the world, for fantastic horses like Max who don't just grow on trees, and for my friend, for trusting me to ride him and for trailering him over so I could. 
Let's not look at my lower leg, look at Max, he's so handsome

Monday, 13 March 2017

Sort of Good News?

Zed and his secret leg, chockablock with mysteries

Well waiting for the verdict from my vet went well.

Time did seem to stand still today, but I did manage to stop myself running into traffic until Nicola arrived to put me out of my misery.

In short, it's Sort Of Good News. With a question mark. 

He trotted up sound.

The swelling is gone

But the leg still has heat in random places when compared to his right, which may or may not mean anything. 

He doesn't react when you press the splint bone hard

But he doesn't like having his tendons squished. Though he hates this on both legs, so not conclusive.

In short, his left hind is full of more secrets than a pharoah's tomb. And if we start prodding about we're either going to strike gold or wonder why we're blighted with a terrible curse. 

Because he'd been on box rest for a month there was no point lunging him because he would have gone off like a Catherine Wheel and any lameness would have been smothered in adrenalin.

So the plan is to get him turned out for a bit, lunge him for a bit, and take it from there. If he looks lame, or the swelling reappears, I'll confer with Nicola.

In short, we shall see. Or we shall have a thousand beetles feast on our eyeballs*.

*I think the classic Egyptian curses are the best.

Help me, someone, please

Google 'Collateral ligament damage hock'.

Hoover, change bedding, clean kitchen

Walk Nancy.

Google 'Collateral ligament damage hock new'.

Make packed lunches for the week.

Make dinner for the evening.

Walk Nancy.

Dust the ornaments. Pick up book, read book, realise not reading book, just picturing hocks.

Think: "What the Fuck is a collateral ligament?"

Throw book down in a temper. Pick it up and place neatly on shelf.

Check phone three million times.

Walk Nancy

Wash fox shit off Nancy. 

Marvel at the ability of Collateral Ligaments to Stop Time and make Waiting for Vet last approximately two months. 

Ughhhh...someone help me, please. 

Saturday, 11 March 2017

Pony Prisoner, Galloping and Setting High Standards

If you wish us well, then wish us luck on Monday. 

We've finally, nearly completed Zed's four week jail sentence and I am hoping that's it sorted and we can get back to turnout and riding. 

He's been pretty good about it, and seems resigned to his fate, but I feel heartily sorry for him. He's definitely fizzy, but seems more lonely than anything. He hates it when his neighbour gets turned out, and the rest of the time they stand staring at each other through the bars like Andy and Red in The Shawshank Redemption.

Each dawn brings a new day and the chance of good news
In direct contrast to the shitty guilt I feel for locking him up, is the happiness of riding Hetty and friends. We've had some spirit-lifting rides out as the sun has reappeared, and even snuck a pipe-opener in on Thursday.

Hetty "American Hill"
I had my lesson on Whisky on Thursday morning and despite the hurricane blowing outside he was really kind to me. My instructor made me stop doing mad nonsense with my inside leg through a lot of canter transitions and even though she had to remind me to sit up tall 90,000 times, she didn't stab me with a pitchfork. She might be heading for a sainthood.

L on Blue

Friday morning came with the chance to ride out on beautiful Bramble, who is an actual samaritan trapped inside a little dark bay mare. I just bloody love her bones and we went for such a relaxing walk into the village. The weather was very, very still and peaceful and it was just heaven. Even with lots of traffic and the school run in full flow - not a flicker - I feel safe as houses on her. You can keep your hot-headed-high-flyers, give me a safe hack any day of the week. 
Then it was time for the PTT and I rode Whisky again for a grid work lesson. Our instructors were being assessed by Marianne Watts BHSI. If you ever get the chance to have a lesson with Marianne, or even stand next to her, take it. She is so knowledgable and such a phenomenal teacher - misses NOTHING and makes you ride better without making you feel like a useless dunderhead. She reminded me not to be sloppy about adjusting my stirrup leathers properly and while we were talking she said: "Only you can set yourself high standards." I love that. It's written in the diary I keep of all the rides I do and I will endeavour to make good use of it. 

That's all for now. 

I'll update on Monday either way, hooves crossed for happy news (and turnout). 

Monday, 6 March 2017

I'll be walking my dog

The hillside over Billy Row Farm

The moors near Hamsterley Forest

Close to Billy Row

One of the glorious mornings last week

About 500 yards from where we live

Friday, 3 March 2017

Horsey people are the bestiest people

Hetty looking surprisingly upbeat at the thought of riding out in tonight's rain
I'm tired, happy and saddle sore tonight. Which is great for my soul but probably not conducive to great writing. So I'm going for a picture-heavy post, interspersed with whatever dribble I can tap out before I fall into a pringle and tea-swamped coma.

Hetty is proving to be a bad ass mo-fo dream boat. 

We schooled on Monday which was great fun. There's a nice indoor school at her yard and we took it in turns to call prelim dressage tests for each other. L, Hetty's owner, also let me sit on her horse Blue, and I was pretty blown away. He's very rhythmical and powerful to ride, with three great paces. I can see very well why she has such a soft spot for him.

The past two nights we've been hacking. Top marks to Hetty, she is bombproof and I feel super safe, even when traffic flies past and sprays us with puddles. She is also very polite to do and makes funny expressions while tilting her head to encourage you to hand over any and all treats. 10/10 for adorable. 

Thursday kicked off with a bloody brilliant jumping lesson on Super Basil. My instructor made me do slightly meatier jumps in a figure of eight with a final turn down the centre line over a straight bar. My job(s) was to be accurate with every approach and depart and to keep my position while still making good decisions. I'm not allowed to just sit there drooling any more.

Basil is a first rate schoolmaster to jump on and gives me buckets of confidence and it felt like we were hitting our stride. He's got a strong canter but he never feels like he's going to burst out of his bridle and if you ask him to speed up or slow down he will. I've always loved jumping and found it thrilling but now I feel like my instructor is gently but persistently bashing me into being effective and specific rather than smiley and hopeful. 

I still need to get all the different bits stitched together but I feel happy about that, rather than dreary. I think my attitude has switched from gloomy nit-picking to slightly scary levels of cheerful optmism.
Basil psyching himself up to be awesome at jumping all the jumps 
A lot of this cheeriness, weirdly, has come as an odd side-effect from Zed's injury. I felt really overwhelmed and boosted by the number of friends who offered me rides and it's made me want to ride more than ever. The horsey community here is so strong; I've experienced a humbling amount of generosity. 

I had a sit on two of the horses at my yard today: Miley and Whisky, who've both appeared on this blog before. They are chalk and cheese but I really warm to both of them. Whisky let me into the dreamy canter club while Miley tried really hard which was especially nice since I rudely woke him up from his morning snooze. 

When I was riding Miley one of the girls at the yard offered me a sit on her loan horse - a very pretty skewbald mare called Indy. I've admired her from afar and I really enjoyed a little trot around on her, she's obviously clever and a bit fidgety, almost as if she's asking questions all the time. Again, it was so nice to be offered a turn and then to chat about her quirks. Good times all around. 

Blue on the left and Hetty on the right
Zed is doing ok with his box rest, and I'm proud of him. He does have a buck on the walker but it's not a full on meltdown and he's been okay with walking to and fro, though I do stay switched on in case he decides to cannon ball down the yard. I can't say I'm looking forward to trotting him up when the time comes but we'll cross that bridge when we get to it. He's enjoying a good itchy brush every day too and his tiny bit of remaining coat after clip-mageddon is moulting like stink so I'm quietly pleased I did shave so much of his crazy guinea pig fur off. 
Sweet Miley 

Big Whisky being a handsome divil
All in all, it's been my experience that events that feel disastrous (Zed going lame) can actually turn out pretty good when the dust settles. Not that I'm pleased Zed's hurt himself. I'm just very reassured that horsey people are the best people and you can rely on them to rally round when you're up the creek without a paddle.