Jump the fence? not while i’m sitting on it please!

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…!

006All 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.

004

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!

a bit of a dilemma (AKA sandy knickers)

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.