Its been a funny old year, as they say, horse wise. But as I am ending the year ‘in print’ I’ve been compelled, nay, make that ‘cajoled’ (you know who you are!) into writing what will be my last blog post of the year.
Its funny, as I am a shocking exhibitionist at times, yet at others chronically modest and self-effacing (lets just say there may be a moderate to strong correlation with alcohol!). But I suppose the point I’m making is that whilst I’m delighted to be in print, and was standing in Countrywide today, clutching the last three copies of Horse magazine, I am also mortified in equal measures!
For someone, who in my last post but one, had resigned myself to a winter of dressage, I’ve done rather more jumping than was intended, and my wonderful, comfortable dressage saddle has had about five outings since its purchase in September.
Why? well I guess however much I hurt myself and lose confidence in Jay, I always seem to want to get back on and give it another go. I suppose I’m just not ready to let this show jumping malarkey get the better of me… yet.
Life works in mysterious ways, and to cut a long story short, I’d applied for a masterclass with Horse magazine, when Jay and I were going well. If I’m honest, I’d pictured us, for ever captured in print sailing over 1.10 plus and had thought ‘that’d be rather impressive for the blog!’. But for various reasons the lesson kept being delayed, and in the meantime I had a couple of well documented disasters and went back to show jumping square one, also known as ‘a winter of dressage’. I really thought that the class was now off the cards and was almost dismayed, when an email popped up in October, offering me the chance to attend a masterclass with ‘the hard man of horse’ Rodney Powell.
I didn’t really fancy telling Rodney that I’d given up and gone to dressage, so I bit the bullet and decided to give it a go. Its amazing I’ve got any teeth left all all, the number of bullets i’ve bitten this year. OK the jumps are not the biggest we’ve done, and I know size isn’t suppose to matter, but it does to me. Anyway it was an incredible experience for me, probably slightly less so for Rodney, I’m just not sure he’s used to such a verbose student.
On arrival, I was relatively calm, although I knew there was going to be another lady with me, and in true style had googled her name and freaked myself out by viewing her (extensive) BE results (life was so much simpler pre web). Yes, I would definitely be the more ‘challenged’ pupil. I was doing my best to stay positive, but the clues were there, as the school had a surprising lack of jumps in it.
When Mr Powell announced that we might as well go to the enormous field, liberally sprinkled with not only show jumps but our ‘bete noire’ the cross county solid, I began to lose my nerve.
Those of you that know me, and Jay, and what has happened every time I’ve ridden Jay, in a large field with jumps with other horses, will understand my concern. For those that don’t, the short version goes something like this, ‘big space, huge excitement, bronco one, bronco two with twist, Di dumped, riderless victory gallop round field’. I was also gutted as I look ‘dumpy’ enough in the pictures, without the added bulk of a body protector, but drawing on experience, I grudgingly put safety over style.
For whatever reason, Jay seemed calm, and the lesson progressed well. I know that a huge bronco buck would have looked rather spectacular in the pages of Horse magazine, but I was happy to oblige editorial with a couple of well-timed refusals!
One amusing snippet, was, as I was saying to the lady who organised the shoot that I was a little nervous of the mega field situation, Rodney strode over, asked me what the matter was, I told him, he replied with ‘are you here to learn or not?’ I said ‘yes, of course, but I’m just letting you know i may get bucked off’. I do rather like having the last word (or fifty). Rodney did later comment that if there was a master’s degree in talking, then I must have it.
Being less flippant, the experience was tremendous, and the fact it coincided with a real low regarding my riding and my ability to ride Jay, was in the end a blessing. Every exercise we did, was a real test for me, namely coming into every jump three of four strides out, being told to sit out of the saddle and just let Jay take me in, which he did, although alarmingly fast the first few times. The point being, I suppose that Jay had to think for himself and managed to sort out those long legs of his in time, without me pulling and kicking and fiddling around on top!
And as for the saucepan grip, well, I’ve not been able to hold a pan since, without remembering the fear of coming into a jump, with minimal rein contact, but again it worked, and there have been many times since (although mainly on the flat) where I have adopted this method with both hands. It definitely allows me to give a more equal left and right rein contact and stops me engaging my man-sized biceps in an attempt to manhandle Jay around the arena.
One bit of instruction that I struggled with (see photographic evidence) was holding onto the mane a couple of strides out. Either my sense of proprioception (look that one up if you’re not sure what it means, it’s a great show-off word) is way off, or I really think that Jay’s mane resides somewhere near his right shoulder…. but again, even though I never really managed the mane grab, there was no chance that my rigid hands were impeding Jay’s jump.
Since that lesson and also another excellent ‘prize’ lesson, I have found myself back in the old jumping saddle. Having been adamant that I was going to keep the jumps small and ride with style rather than panic, I have in training done the odd course of 1.05m plus.
The lesson with Rodney was the most amazing boost, and it got my blood up again for leaving the ground, but really, that would all be wasted without the help, time and effort of my local trainers and I am very lucky to have such good instructors embarrassingly close to home.
As for my career with Jay? well who knows, I would desperately love a horse that gives me a little more confidence, but part of the reason I love and at times feel something other than love towards Jay is his sensitivity. Sensitivity makes him him, but unfortunately sensitivity makes me me, which is why I feel we’re not the most stable competition partnership. But at least I’ve learnt something this year… Trakheners don’t do gymkhana!
Wishing all my readers, exceptionally long suffering horsey friends and trainers a very merry Christmas, thanks for the support during 2013, I couldn’t do it without you.
Horses are one of life’s humblers, and obviously I’m not yet humble enough.
See you all in 2014. x
For all those selling horses, I know that the following may not be true in every instance. But… from personal experience, my advice to those buying, is to question every aspect of an advertisement, not to be difficult, but to ensure that you purchase a horse that you can enjoy. That said, the following is a bit of fun, and written with a fair bit of tongue in cheek. Ultimately the horse you buy is your decision. My decision was flashy but a bit nuts, but I don’t regret it…
- Not novice ride – avoid at all costs.
- Lack of time forces sale – issues that current rider unable to solve.
- Change in circumstances forces sale / very sad sale – spent all my money trying to sort out this horse, including lots of lessons, a spell with a horse whisperer, a variety of training aids, bits and tack and now have no money left to pay for livery / field rent.
- Perfect gentleman to handle – bastard to ride.
- Never strong – lazy and may have problems getting off the yard.
- Forward going but safe – unstoppable, but doesn’t buck, rear or nap.
- Perfect mother daughter combo – needs fearless pc daughter, and well off mother to pay for horse, lessons, competition fees, lorry etc.
- Hunted last two seasons in Ireland by 13-year-old girl/boy – suit rider with no fear or issues about personal safety.
- Loves XC – knocks down every SJ pole and does rubbish dressage test.
- Bold XC never stops – says it all…
- Star quality could go right to the top with right owner – homebred out of quality unrideable mare.
- Wasted in current home – current home over horsed and unable to deal with quality ride, likely to come with issues.
- produced over 3 top quality foals – unrideable (which is why she was a broodmare in the first place) and past her progeny producing best.
- Never marish – consistently difficult.
- Schoolmaster – lovely horse, who’s worked hard for their keep, now coming to the end of its competitive life.
- Competition horse – completely nuts unless ridden by a pro without a full time job.
- Could make it to the top in any sphere – homebred.
- Ideal pony club horse – ideal for fearless 10 year old pony clubber, likes to go first hunting / hacking / and everything else.
- Talented horse but low mileage due to work commitments – too difficult for current owner to compete with, likely to have mastered evasion tactics.
- Lack of time forces sale of this special horse – even riding this horse three times a day hasn’t solved his/her problems.
- A sought hard to find – lovely but grossly overpriced.
- Anyone’s ride – anyone who doesn’t ask for anything.
- Bombproof – even legs of iron and riding with two schooling whips won’t get this horse off the leg.
- Absolute bargain, reduced as owner moving abroad – don’t even think about taking me to court as you won’t find me.
- One not to be missed – worth a look, but more than likely jockey off to university, so be prepared for a horse that has been ridden by a fearless pony clubber coming off ponies.
- Done it all – done being the past tense, probably a genuine horse in its day, now showing early signs of arthritis or other age related issues.
- Good doer – just has to look at a blade of grass and you’ll be calling the vet for suspected laminitis
- Would suit competitive amateur or professional – talented but likely to have dumped the competitive amateur before they even got into the SJ ring or first jump at XC, amateurs avoid at all costs,
- Will excel in any sphere – homebred done next to nothing but quality breeding.
- Owner retiring – you may not fancy the horse, but may be a good deal going on lorry, rugs, saddles, etc….
- Real confidence giver – no mouth, not responsive to aids, but its own sense of self-preservation will get you through
- A real eyecatcher – flashy, catches the judges eye, especially when entering the ring on two legs.
- Quirky – good-looking horse (probably chestnut) on for about a quarter of what they’d be worth minus the quirks.
- A real character – similar to quirky, i.e. talented, loveable, but highly unpredictable.
- A favourite on the yard – loved by all who don’t have to ride it.
- Great BYEH prospect – lovely horse priced at the ‘money to burn’ market.
- Safe, irish hunter – quiet mare worth about 5k and on for 8k.
- Currently excelling in dressage, with scopey jump – buy for dressage, as if jump were as good as it sounds it would be on for top class event prospect.
- 5yo BE affiliated at BE 100 – great prospect if you are a consistently competing at novice or above.
- Genuine horse, happy at BE 100 or below – this is the type I want to buy, but they seem to be rather short on the ground. D x
Hello, its been a while (since June to be precise) and its now the end of the summer, with long nights and bad weather to look forward to…
Its been a long, drawn out difficult summer for me, my friends, family and work colleagues, who have all been bored to absolute rigidity regarding my ‘to sell or not to sell’ dilemma. This ongoing saga, peppered with a few disappointing and demoralising views of potential steeds has dominated, what should have been a wonderful summer.
Not that I haven’t had a good time, I’ve just not done it on horseback (as they say), this summer I’ve had more success riding my surfboard than my horse. So there is to be no post summer round-up, highlighting the thrills and spills of middle-aged show jumping. In fact last week, I contemplated giving up horses completely, this week however, I am contemplating a winter of dressage…
Its odd, but I never thought that I’d be ending the summer having spent three months trying to work out exactly what I want from my riding and whether my drive to compete is greater than my desire to enjoy and pursue other activities, such as cycling, surfing and maybe even having a bash at Kite Surfing (another tick on the bucket list).
All this soul-searching is important, as a new horse is a significant financial investment, which once in my hands is only going to depreciate. Young, (slightly) cheaper greenies, need to be ridden everyday, and whilst older schoolmaster types may seem the answer, how long has one got before arthritis and any number of age related problems start to take hold? and don’t get me started on the whole minefield of reading between the lines regarding over optimistic adverts. I may do a separate post on what those familiar phrases really mean!
So for now, Jay is staying, yes, he can be a tinker, but sometimes ‘better the tinker you know’. As to my future plans, well, I might try a winter of dressage, he works nicely on the flat and I’ve never explored his (or my) potential in this area. Maybe I need to stop acting like such a diva and realise that I’m lucky to have a horse at all. If the show jumping isn’t quite working out at the moment, taking the pressure off myself and Jay might be just the ticket. Training for dressage is much more convenient and competing doesn’t reduce me to a quivering jelly of nerves.
I just need to get over this little niggle in the back of my mind which keeps telling me I’ve failed, and allow myself to cut myself some slack. Riding is a hobby and I need to start enjoying it all again. After all, who knows, if I can brush up Jay’s canter on the flat and produce a softer, more responsive horse, that surely has to help our jumping.
I guess, if I’m honest I worry that a brief sojourn from jumping, may end up as a permanent break, but I think I’ll park that thought and deal with it at a later date. After all, following some rather hairy hacks with Jay, I was wondering whether my days of barreling up and down the beach were over, but a fantastic ride on Putsborough beach a couple of weeks ago put paid to that particular theory. (See photo, this was taken last year, and it was much sunnier for the ride). Thanks to Big Lilly, the lovely 19 year old thoroughbred/warmblood cross. She’d done advanced dressage in her time, but sadly there was no room in Tony’s van to take her home.
I suppose this is the reality of all sports, things don’t always go to plan, and rather than being down and beating myself up, I should be grateful that I can simply swap disciplines and dip my toe into the world of dressage. After all, Pammy Hutton said that our flatwork yesterday was the best she’d seen us, so it has to be worth a shot.
Anyone selling a MW second-hand dressage saddle?!
I blame my dad, why? well as a barrister, being able to view a situation from every single one of the 360 degrees is a bonus. But as a human being, deciding whether or not I can possibly sell my best mate, it’s a definite headache and the cause of a few sleepless nights and many tearful conversations.
I’m sure this is normal, as there can’t be that many times in life when you decide willingly to offload your best friend for a nominal amount of cash, no matter how difficult they may be sometimes (pimps, scoundrels and bastards excluded).
As it happens, it looks like my decision will be conveniently deferred. As rather perversely, selling horses is a costly a business, and fixing the exhaust that dropped off my lorry on Friday evening and coaxing it through its imminent MOT is now the cash priority.
I also have another much more pressing decision to make, which far supercedes Jaygate. So Jay is going nowhere for now, and funnily enough, after a weekend of tears and upset this feels rather reassuring. Winning Badminton will just have to wait a little while longer…!
All this decision making and unmaking has led me to think about Major Patrick (pictured left as a four year old on his first trip to my expansive, 3 mile local beach)!. He was my first horse, circa 2002 and eleven years on, I still bitterly regret the rushed decision I made to sell him on. Exchanging him for a man, (yes imagine that!) who later showed himself as more rodent than human. I tried to buy my horse back, but it was too late, even though the new owner had fallen off after a week and was in hospital with a broken femur.
So I thought, in this post, for all you civilised ‘yardy’s’ (the horsey kind, not the Jamaican crack house wardens) I’d introduce you to North Wales, horsey hicksville. A place where in winter you wage war twice daily with gale force winds, horizontal rain and mud up to your knees just to feed and check on your hardy nag (in this case a four year old Polish/American Arab).
A place where you end up with more crap and Stockholm tar over your body than on the horses hoof, which you have to hold up, and dress all in one go, normally in a storm, in a field shelter by the light of your headtorch, as you have no hard stand on which to rest the foot.
A place where even my instructor refused to mount my rather unruly four year old, who managed to burst and break his way through a number of bridles and long reining lines.
A place where I had so little money for accessories that all, and I mean all my riding, from galloping along the beach to attempting to jump driftwood, was done in a synthetic dressage saddle.
One of the reasons I had no money? well I seemed to end up with my very own bit bank containing bits of every variety from low port comfort snaffles to happy mouths, to single jointed snaffles, bits with no bits and everything else in-between, in an attempt to tame the beast. But as I mentioned in my last post, it wasn’t the beast that needed to be tamed or trained, but the beast’s owner.
If this is beginning to sound like a bit of a nightmare, well, there were plus points. These included a total lack of well meaning onlookers, no chat relating to what everyone else had been out doing, and the proximity of both the Menai Straits and the 3 mile long beach.
As for the horse, well after a couple of tough years, with the aid of a few books (thank you Michael Peace), I taught myself how to lunge, long rein and look after my Paddy. I was then rewarded with the most enjoyable hack I’ve ever sat on, we would literally go for hours and hours and I mean ‘go’. This horse, who would not even look at a puddle as a four-year old, was at six wading chest deep, virtually weightless, through the river that runs into the Menai Straits. He would regularly allow himself to be untacked, on hot days, so we could swim together in the sea (much to the amazement and surprise of the local fishermen). That’s the beauty of having a cheapo synthetic saddle! Also note the hicksville get-up consisting of wellies and my stick made that morning by breaking off a piece of local green stick willow!
Somewhere in these rambles is a point and my point is this, that I wish I still had Paddy, not as my only horse, but because I only realised how good our relationship was once it was over, (sound familiar anyone?).
Now I’m not saying that Jay is my one and only, or that we’ve done much swimming in the sea together, but maybe a bit of horse polygamy is the way forward for me. I may yet wangle a way to have a new, younger steed (which no doubt will present with a different set of issues) and keep my older buddy, if in somewhat less glamorous surroundings. I don’t know, it could all be a pipe dream, and this time tomorrow I will doubtless have changed my mind again. But hey isn’t that what makes me female? not to mention the improved view up here on the fence!
Readers, I planned to write this blog in some sort of chronological order. But then as they say, best laid plans of mice and men… I will return to my original plan, but am just compelled to write about recent events.
Recent events that may, i’m afraid shatter the illusion that riding is all about hard work and determination. That definitely plays a large part, but also, especially as a hobby rider, having a ‘tool’ that works with you and you can work with, is as important as all the hours spent training, riding and competing.
Now the next bit ( no pun intended) may seem a bit horsey, but please stay with me, as with anything in life, the quick fix, the free lunch, and any other relevant platitude, does not always, in the long term yield the desired results.
Here, as they say, is the technical bit… for about seven days i’d been riding Jay in a KK ultra universal bit, commonly known as a ‘gag’ but doesn’t universal bit sound so much nicer? He’d been going like a dream in it on the flat, and by that, for the non horsey readers, I mean that I can get him looking really smart and really soft, with no more than a little bit of leg action and the odd twiddle of the reins. This seemed like a revelation compared to my previous bit, which felt like I had to go ten rounds with the equivalent of a 650kg Mike Tyson, and that’s, surely enough to make anyone’s eyes water.
So far so good. I decided to try the new (and expensive) bit out in my jumping lesson. The jumping was going well, and I was still thinking that I couldn’t believe that it had taken me over three years to discover this ‘wonder’ gadget. .
But pride, always comes before a fall, and in my case two falls… having jumped nicely round a course of I suppose a metre plus jumps, the anti was upped. And it was upped to my ‘waterloo’ which is trying to jump a straight line through two jumps at angles that my brain just can’t seem to compute a straight line through.
It reminded me of a similar ‘waterloo’ i’d encountered climbing, although since riding I realise that rock climbing is ‘easier’ in the sense that you only have one mind and body to control. But the ‘block’ was similar in that no matter how much my knowledge of physics told me that a rock boot with sticky rubber sole could hold my bodyweight at a certain angle on a sheer piece of rock, ( a move called smearing) my brain found it hard to accept..
I encountered a similar ‘block’ on my little Honda NSR (at that time a half power GP motorbike), when I realised that the weight of me, my bike, and in reality my whole existence, relied on a bit of rubber about the size of the palm of my hand, that was in contact with the road.
But in reality, smearing in rock climbing and banking on a bike are similar as they both rely on the physics, namely the angle of dangle and stickiness/softness of rubber.
But none of this prior knowledge helps me in my showjumping quest and the point of this post, which is, I suppose that there are no shortcuts in life. I know this, and am irritated by the fact that for one or two glorious moments I thought I might be wrong.
Why did I think I was wrong? well, with the loveliest collected canter comes great responsibility. That beautiful canter generated by a stronger bit, means that tightening in panic, when faced with a difficult line is simply not an option. Otherwise you’re very likely to end up where I did tonight, which is on the floor,(twice) with sand in my knickers, eyes, teeth and bra.
So I’m back to the good old snaffle. which is disappointing, as I had a taste of feeling like a proper rider, which I admit was amazing, if short lived.
And you know what the real joke is? it’s this, that I can get Jay to go fantastically on the flat in the aforementioned universal bit, but this is not dressage legal.
As I said in a previous post, I am not an advocate of authority and think there should be an ‘underclass’ of dressage that allows any type of bit, to allow the less than perfect rider some sense of achievement.
So, how does this post resonate with non riders, well, gadgets and quick fixes, whilst an attractive diversion, can never really hide the real issues.
Its a bit like the dutch boy with his finger in the dyke, you block one hole and another couple or more burst through, impromptu.
My last post has been bugging me, not the content so much, but the name, ‘the beginning’ as of course this relates merely to the start of my show jumping folly. The real beginning began a long, long time ago!
In fact, probably around about the time of this photo, taken in 1974. I think the anorak is a bit of a giveaway, but it would probably be ‘retro’ these days. I was about five years old, somewhere in the New Forest and can’t remember the name of the obliging, rather sleepy (but ginger!) pony. These were the good old pre-health and safety days, when a riding hat plonked on the head was good enough (elastic chin straps started to appear a few years later).
These were the same days when myself and my sister crossed each other going in different directions over the middle part of a triple jump, it could catch on…. (guess who was going the wrong way?) well it wasn’t older sis.
A couple of things strike me about this photo, number one, is that old habits die-hard, and I am guilty of riding without tying my hair back. However, having been reprimanded quite sharply only a few months back by Pammy Hutton (dressage trainer extraordinaire) for committing the same crime, I am somewhat of a reformed character on this front, proof that you can teach an old nag new tricks. I think the actual admonishment that rang out over the large indoor school at Talland, went something like this ‘the whole picture, Diana, would be greatly improved if you TIED YOUR HAIR BACK’. I suddenly felt 12 years old again.
I got into the same trouble at school, for similar reasons, I never wanted to tie my hair back, pull my socks up or wear my navy knickers. Now for anyone who has not had the ‘pleasure’ of navy knickers, they consisted of a rather large, definitely unsexy (I think this was the whole point) pair of over knickers that the nuns at my school encouraged us to wear, in an attempt to protect our modesty…
It seemed particularly important to don said knickers for any kind of sport, and the image of me being made to bounce up and down on a trampoline in a rather brief pair of bright red briefs, will stay with me to the grave. This was the ‘punishment’ dished out to me by one very exasperated trampolining instructor. I admit it, I was infuriatingly insolent as a teenager, authority was just not something I saw the point in. I wonder if I have the same effect on my current tutors?
But I digress, this post was not really meant to be all about knickers, navy or otherwise. So back to the second thing that strikes me about my five-year old self, and that is the sense of joy. Pure joy, in a (much) younger version of me, living in, and enjoying the moment, a young Di who has not yet learnt to be so relentlessly hard on herself. This joy and this photo, has kept me going in my darkest moments with Jay, as this little snapshot from the past, more than any words, reminds me of why I ride.
On October 16, 2009, as I sat waiting for Jay to arrive on a new yard, I had a similar sense of joy and excitement, if somewhat tempered by the irritatingly adult emotion, apprehension.
Bringing a new horse, onto a new yard, with new people who had no idea about me, was challenging. What would they think? would they be supportive? Would they be friendly?, would they think I was over-horsed? which quite honestly, at that time, I certainly was.
How long would it take for my new horsey compatriots to twig, that no matter how much I bleat and moan about my lack of ability, woe betide anyone who tries to stop me in my tracks. The true force of my grit and determination, is something I tend to keep under wraps, even from myself. Which leads me to think that maybe my self assessment as a sanguine, laid back character, is a little more fantasy and a little less fact.
Being a shy child has led me to believe that I am shy as an adult, but as anyone who knows me can verify, once I get going, I am fairly unstoppable in the conversational department. So I think that what I’m not very good at is what I’ll call ‘first contact’ the very first words that you utter to new people, as so often those first sentences can rank you (temporarily at least) anywhere between hero or zero.
Knowledge of this, often results in typical ‘over-compensation’ as demonstrated on that first weekend as I strode ‘mock’ confidently up to a couple of lovely ladies, getting ready to head out on their weekend hack, and promptly invited myself along. This boldness, well actually bare faced cheek, amounted in the end to madness. Not only did I ruin their weekend hack, reducing what should have been a canter filled jolly at pace along the Wansdyke, to a steady, broncing walk (I’ve still not been there since), but I also managed to scare myself and probably Jay silly. I spent three-quarters of that hack hoping, praying and promising to the ‘god’ of riders in distress that if I made it home without real mishap, I’d not be so foolhardy again.
There are few things, for a novice rider at least, as disconcerting as sitting on an exploding, unknown, bomb of a horse, wondering if the knock down price paid was still too much.
We made it back, but not before Jay had bronced three times, each time resulting in me losing one or both of my stirrups and landing half way up Jay’s neck. Bronc #1 at the cows in the field, bronc #2 at the gate as he thought he was being left behind, and bronc #3 on the Wansdyke itself with a rather ferocious ditch on one side, when my companions tried a trot.At least being scared blocked out what would have been overwhelming embarrassment.
The Wansdyke, beautiful place but will forever fill me with horror
I rode back, as tight, tense and at the same level of breaking point as Peter Stringfellow’s thong, and had never been quite so relieved to be back on the yard on terra-firma.
This was my first inkling that the absence of ‘good to hack’ anywhere in the advertisement, had some real significance.