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.


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!


the real beginning…

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 spot that will forever fill me with horror.

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.