I blame Anna …..

It’s all Anna Blake’s fault, this post and so much more …….

There’s no blogger or horse author I know of who has published such consistently insightful, readable writing on the equine/human relationship. I blame her for making me and horsemen and women everywhere put their horses first. For delving deeper into the horse’s mind than a forensic scientist with a very sharp scalpel and revealing exactly why aspects of of our time-honoured practices and horseman’s wisdom are counterproductive. For shaming us into thinking about the suffering humans inflict on horses, even unintentionally. And she knows how to do it with a lightness of touch and a sense of rightness that mirror the horsemanship she advocates.

Enough of the fan mail. Except to praise the loyalty Anna shows to her blogging community: she never leaves a comment unanswered and is always encouraging.

I commented rather lengthily on her last post, which led to a brief exchange about amateur horsepeople like me needing ready, willing and able back up in the face of illness or injury. This arose from a heartfelt admission of my own precarious situation.

If you were a reader of this blog before I decided to give it a break in January 2015, you may remember that my health had frequently impacted on my equine plans. Well, I say impacted ….. more like ground them into the dust and spat on them.

Having bought a new horse to live alongside our two retirees in late 2009, I broke a leg – the only horse-related accident – then fractured my jaw and skull, had another leg op., a period of loss of balance, a broken foot, arthritis in my shoulder and knees, worsening osteoporosis….. the litany goes on. So there was never enough riding time to make the progress I’d hoped for. However, time on the ground absolutely transformed my relationship with my younger horse, who initially threw more challenges at me than I thought I could handle but, as time went by, responded eagerly to every learning curve I lobbed back.

Now sweet sixteen, Pom, the one-time Spanish delinquent, became the horse I always wanted.

And just when, last Autumn, we were getting back into fitness after the heat of summer, I was walking up a small bank and turned at an awkward angle to see if the horses were going to follow me out to the field, when I heard an almighty crack and my left leg crumbled from under me. Luckily the horses were still in the barn.

I won’t bore you with the detail (at least not in this post!), but what a sense of déjà vu!

Four months later I am still using crutches and Pom has learned how to pick them up if I drop them. Anna said she’d like to see it, so please bear with me as I’ve not posted a video before, in particular the sound is a bit loud in the first and the second two are rather murky! 

Anyway, now Anna gave me the impetus I needed, I intend to return to regular posting, but, for the moment, for Anna, Cheryl and all of you whose comments and friendship I’ve missed, here are three very short clips:

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A New Year Message from Pom ….

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It’s a little known fact that we horses are great believers in New Year Resolutions.  Or at least Reflections.

Let’s face it.  We can realistically expect to celebrate far fewer New Years than you, our human counterparts.

So instead of going out partying or going to bed early pretending you don’t care, if you humans were to peek into the barn or the field shelter around midnight, you might find your horse and his or her companions mulling over the year past and thinking about what to make of the year ahead.

In smarter establishments than mine, elite athletes may be bragging about the cups they bagged in 2014 and the prizes they have in sight for upcoming seasons.  Some may be yawning – having heard it all before – quietly hoping their sore backs and tendons hold up another year.  Others may be apprehensive about a move away from all that’s familiar or how they’ll fare with a new owner.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASome may be counting their lucky stars that fate delivered them from an unhappy situation and renewed their faith in the future.

At the other end of the scale some poor souls may be shivering for want of a good feed or blanket and worrying about how they’ll be able to help their humans through another year.

The vast, lucky majority of us will be glad of full tummies and comfortable billets.  We are truly grateful to be better cared for than a good many members of the human race.  And if that means we can’t get to gallop over prairies at will or run the gamut of equine emotions within a large herd, we do understand that all living beings have dreams, but have to learn to compromise with workaday realities.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe’ve had varied years in which we have all had new experiences;   mostly pleasant, some disconcerting, nearly all enlightening.

Despite our darkest fears, we were, again, secretly disappointed not to be chased by mountain lions.

We were often told that we were the handsomest, cleverest, good-boys and girls.  We occasionally had to suffer unnecessary swearing and blame for things of which we were completely innocent.  Of course we would not intentionally mucky our water buckets or make unscheduled halts in front of malodorous swamps.

We who have good humans have been the recipients of an awful lot of human love;  gooey, sticky sentiment and inappropriate hugs and kisses.  But that’s a small price to pay if there are also carrots, occasional home-baked treats, well-kept pastures, sweet hay and cool, clear water.

We would love to reassure our humans that we can put up with some mistakes in their riding if what they want is explained as clearly as they can.  Sometimes we wish they would listen when we’re trying to show them there’s a better or easier way. 

And sometimes we just have to say, as emphatically as we are able, that we really can’t understand or physically achieve what they want, or that their riding ambitions are beyond our abilities.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe would also like to reassure them that we understand more about their troubles than they think.  We’ve heard those thoughts rattling round in their brains when we could be having a relaxing hack or a productive schooling session.  We know about the bitchy boss, the dreaded exams, the husband’s complaints or the kids’ taking Mum for granted.  We try to be helpful and sympathetic, where we are able.

We’d like them to know that although they are weird-looking because they’re humans, each of us thinks their own good human is the best-looking, most outrageously attractive one they know, even if we would appreciate carrying a few less of their pounds just after Christmas.

When we think about the year ahead, we generally long for safety and security, kindness, good food and company, freedom from pain and anxiety for all our kind.  And for our humans, freedom from the worries that kill kindness and sour their relationships with us – and each other.

Of course we can’t really give you bipeds an inkling of our hopes and worries.  We know you think we exist in the present moment …… but we certainly have more instinct about the future, even if we have less power over steering our own courses than you do.

What I do know is –  we all wish for a

HAPPY NEW YEAR

2015

What’s your horse’s message?  (and can I come back in now, please?)”

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Posted in equitation, Horses, Musings, New Year, Riding, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 13 Comments

Rime and Roses

This weekend I picked roses in the garden, which still held a subtle perfume of summer ….

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Then, the next morning winter arrived, just in time for Christmas.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA frosty, misty morning full of sparkling promise

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnd the boys loving the crunch underfoot in the woods

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhatever you believe, wherever you are this Christmas, I wish you the perfume of old roses and the crackle of a frosty morning, the warmth of the wood burning fire that’s in front of me and those you love within arm’s, or thought’s reach.

Posted in Christmas, Gardening, Horses, Living in France, Musings, Rural Living, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

A (Tack) Room of One’s Own

(With apologies to the spirit of Mrs. Woolf.)

In my last-but-one post I wrote about the gargantuan task of clearing out the top of the barn and laying a new floor over the old one.  And I’m glad to report the job is finished, the junk has been cleared, the stairwell down to the stables has been boxed in (and the stairs repaired) and the horses now have a much tidier, dust-free environment.

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The knock-on bonus for me is that a grotty, dark, cubby-hole under the stairwell, where we used to stash all the gardening tools and equipment (do plastic plant-pots multiply if left on their own in the dark?) has become my first-ever, dedicated tack room.

Ta Daa!!

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Instead of bits and bobs tucked away in cupboards and boxes all over the place and never to hand when you need them, I now have a neat, clean space where everything has its place.  And, oh, how very satisfying that is.

(Some of the gardening kit remains behind the curtain, but it has been dusted and put on shelves, promise).

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In a world where the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse seem to be riding ever closer each time you can bear to be beaten over the head by the news reports, sometimes the only way to keep sane is to organise and feel in control your own little corner of the planet.  There must be a psychological term for it.  Cocooning?  OCD?  Any suggestions…?

And as the weather cools and the sunshine sparkles as it did around 10 this morning – the clocks having gone back last night –  we are getting into the right frame of mind to make the most of the cooler season.

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The Pie, at 28, is under strict surveillance for signs of ageing that we can relieve in any way.  As his main problem is a touch of arthritis in his hips and shoulders, he is presently undertaking the Cucurma Challenge.  Having followed discussions on various forums and read scientific data, we decided to go with a gradually increasing tea to coffee-spoonful of turmeric, with a few twists of freshly ground black pepper and a good glug of omega-rich oil mixed into his usual ration of pelleted grain with apples and carrots (and figs – we have also just come to the end of fig season to the great regret of the horses).

So far, after about a month, his mobility is good, but not miraculously improved, however the most noticeable side-effect is ….. you can guess ….

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA…… they call him “Mellow Yellow” 🙂

Of course, Mr. Matinee Idol had to get his picture taken too once he spotted the camera.

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So this is a time of farewells.  The tourists and the flies (no relation) have largely disappeared with the excessive heat – yay!  Ice-cream is out (but chocolate is in) treat-wise.  Sandals, shorts, suntan cream (yuck) are thankfully back in the cupboard, and the garden furniture is being put away.

And when these guys fly over, crying “grue, grue” (which is French for crane – both the avian and construction varieties) and my birthday is just around the corner, we know it’s time to buckle down to winter with a relieved sigh.

Going….

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Going ….

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Still going …

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Just about ….. gone.   Au revoir!

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Posted in Horses, Living in France, Musings, Rural Living, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 18 Comments

R.E.S.P.E.C.T.

respect
My husband complains that there are four of us in this marriage, and that he is usually last in line for my attention.

He’s not at all impressed when I put forward the argument that the British cavalry became the envy of the world because they always put their horses’ welfare first.

They had it right of course, because the wellbeing of their work-horses made the difference between victory and defeat.  Life and death.  (So I could be accused of exaggerating a bit in order to make my point.)

Thank goodness horses no longer have any place on a battlefield, nor can I make the leap of imagination between keeping horses for pleasure and honing an implement of warfare. But our horses, as domesticated animals, have no more control over their lives and destinies than soldiers of a bygone age and their hard-pressed mounts.  We own them from the tips of their velvet ears to the soles of their swift-tipped hooves:  we owe it to them to take care of them to the best of our means.

So, in my book, the horses’ needs come first, be it feed, water, medical attention, shelter or security.  If my husband feels a little peevish occasionally, I know that, really, he is a secure enough adult to provide for his own needs and be sure of his place in my heart.

Originally I entitled this post, “Just How Much Should You Love Your Horse?” but the answer to that seemed a no-brainer.  If he or she doesn’t occupy a decent sized chunk of your heart you should check you still have a pulse.

However …..  loving your horse in a Mummy’s lickle baby, matching pink accessories, sugar lumps on tap, kind of way is not going to do anything for either his or your self-respect.  And if you’re that kind of girl, you don’t need a horse;  get a designer dog in a designer handbag (preferably a soft-toy kind of dog).

So where does Aretha come into it?

When I was having my initial difficulties with Pom, friends were quick to say I was “too soft” and he should be taught Respect.   At the time I was too busy teaching him to trust and not to eat me.

To me Respect doesn’t work unless it’s mutual.  It doesn’t mean that you lay down the law and your horse jumps to attention the minute you apply hand or heel.  It means that you both respect the same set of rules, so that you’re rowing in the same direction up this difficult river of partnership and at the same time you respect each others’ differences.

Here are a few suggestions.

R: Reassurance (Mutual).  As partners you are there to support and reassure each other, sing off the same hymnsheet, work toward the same end, trust each other.   If he scares the living daylights out of you once you enter his box, or she cowers before your authoritarian diktats, you are not a marriage made in heaven.

E: Empathy.  You don’t have to fall into exaggerated anthropomorphism to know that as highly evolved mammals, horses have most of the same needs and basic emotions as humankind.  Shelter, food, company, security, health, freedom of expression…  The conditions you provide affect his wellbeing profoundly.

S: Space.  Both of you will have areas of personal space you want to call your own.  You don’t want to be head-butted in the face because you quite like your nose to be centrally situated.  He might detest your urge to touch his ears when he’s eating.  Both of you have a right not to be hurt or annoyed by the other.

P : Preferences.  You might not like high speed travel.  He might not like the sudden appearance of men in flourescent lycra on racing bikes.  You have your natural human fears.  His are no less valid.

E: Empathy.  I know I already mentioned it.  It’s probably the most important point. Think how you would feel in his place.

C: Character.  His easy-going nature might calm your nerves or her highly strung reactions might need your steadying hand on her mane.  Your natures may be complementary or contrasting, but you need to find a workable harmony.  If, after giving the partnership every chance of taking root you have to admit he’s a country boy who prefers the wide open spaces and he’s never going to realise your dressage dreams, find him a happy home elsewhere.

T: Tact.  You want his prowess to look effortless.  He wants your aids to be as light as possible.  Tact comes out of mutual understanding and empathy.  Politeness isn’t just a social nicety, it oils the wheels of conversation in many guises.

I’m sure all of this comes naturally to you.

In an ideal world respect and love should go hand in hand.

Sometimes it takes a sense of humour to remind us.

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Posted in equitation, Horses, Musings, Riding, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 12 Comments

Dusting off the Past

It had to be done.

Nearly thirty years’ worth of old furniture, boxes of books and clothes, tea chests full of glasses and crockery I hadn’t seen since we moved from London, rugs, building materials, ladders, scaffolding, gates, seven pairs of French windows (don’t ask), off-cuts, left-overs, might-come-in-handies, ancient stuff left by the previous owners that might have “historic” (certainly not material!) value, even other people’s larger, cumbersome belongings we offered to store for them ….. we’ve had to dust off, sort through and steel ourselves to part with as much as possible.

Of course it should have been done years ago, but, as you all know;  unless you’re an iron-willed minimalist, “stuff” tends to aggregate according to the space available for storage.

And we are lucky enough to have a lovely, big barn with space for the horses’ loose boxes, firewood storage, and workshop downstairs.  Upstairs is one vast beautiful space, with stunning timber work, where we keep the horses’ hay, the tractor … and just about everything else.

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(Space finally cleared at the far end.)

To back-track through the ages – and forgive me if you’ve read about this before – in the mid 1980s we bought a dilapidated house to restore and with it were outbuildings, ruins and land that came as an unexpected plus.  The big barn, which had been rebuilt at the turn of the twentieth century was in the best shape of all, so we were able to pretty much ignore it and keep filling it up with our worldly goods, whilst we got on with restoring everything else.

At the beginning, people used to visit us and say, “Lovely barn … shame about the house”.

The barn was full of hay which must have been more than twenty years old and still smelled sweet.  Nutrient value nil.  But we knew the hayloft was well aerated (it had a network of overhead wires that meant tobacco must have been dried in there) the structure and roof were sound.  And we abused it by filling it full of our junk.

And it’s true what they say.  You never quite finish restoring an old house.  So you hang on to everything; Just In Case.

The tipping point was the dust.

We used to get a winter’s hay delivery from our neighbouring farm and sweep out the dust and leavings as the horses transferred to grass.  Now they come in every night of the year and we collect the hay, bale by bale, from the farm up the lane, so the loft is never empty of an open bale.

And the dust has drifted, thick as Christmas snow, on everything stored up in the hayloft and it dribbles through the gaps in the old floorboards, down into the horses’ boxes and everything we’re trying to keep clean down below.

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(The residents are looking forward to a dust-up …)

After much debate, we found the cheapest solution is to lay down a new, chipboard floor over the old, sound-but-gappy planks.  It’s chosen, paid for, and awaiting delivery from a friend’s sawmill, before France goes on holiday for the whole of August.

And what is great is that, since I last posted, we have a helper, one afternoon a week, who’s a hard worker and a joy to have around and who is making a great difference to whittling the “to do” list down to manageable.  So, instead of forever chasing my tail to catch up with myself, I’ve been able to keep up a regular riding programme with Pom.  Getting down to the school before the sun scrapes over the trees, before the heat and horseflies kick in, and making up for all the time we’ve lost for one reason or another.  We’ve had such fun.

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And we’ve learned a lot about each other and where we are after four frustrating, hit-and-miss years together.

So, as we wait for the new flooring to be delivered, Eric and Rob have been ferrying old bits of pool liner, extinct bikes, decrepit garden furniture, bits of plasterboard, dead tools (and plenty of other things they probably judged it better not to tell me about) to the recycling plant.  Whilst my back was turned an abstract installation of crappy old caned chairs whose bottoms had fallen through appeared in the courtyard, to wind me up.  Back in the day I’d restored and re-caned a dozen;  these had been kept for “spare parts”!

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And I’ve made a start on deconstructing the cardboard boxes and packing cases.  It could take a while.

First up was the box containing some of my childhood books and mementos.  I didn’t realise quite how early the horse obsession had set in, but pony books were among my very first reading aids.  Here’s a little spread of what I found.

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I’ve already admitted to reaching a ripe old age in a recent post but looking at the books I’ve saved – possibly verging on antiquity – I got all overtaken by nostalgia.

“Watch the Pony Grow” (top left) just about finished me off.  I was probably too small to turn the pages myself when I acquired this.   Most of the books have birthday inscriptions, so friends and relatives had me down as horsey from the get-go.   And what a gift to present-givers to know the recipient has an obsession they can readily cater to.

I’m going to luxuriate in delving back into those pages and reliving a well-spent youth.

Does anyone else remember Princess Pony Annuals, Thelwell and the Jill Books?  What did you read that inspired your riding?  I’d love to hear …..

Posted in Ageing/Aging, equitation, Horses, Living in France, Musings, Riding, Rural Living, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 21 Comments

A Pleasure, A Niggle and A Funny Incident

The Pleasure

I had the pleasure of watching a dressage competition, not too far from here, last weekend.

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In only its second year, word had obviously spread that the previous year’s organisation and welcome had been a success.

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And this year, alongside FFE dressage classes (French Equestrian Federation), there were events under the aegis of the Masters du Cheval Iberique, who organise similar classes and leagues but are open only to registered Spanish and Portuguese horses.  They have slight modifications in the tests and give extra points to competitors who compete in traditional Iberian dress/tack.

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Though sadly my photos didn’t come out, there were two riders in Spanish dress, one of whose sombreros blew off twice in the wind (the gusty wind spooked a few of the horses).

 A Mrs. Italian Sparkly Boots, of a “certain” age, did a very creditable freestyle to music which she and horse were pleased about, and there were a few others including a super-competent Miss Embonpoint whose horse shied and reared at one gusty moment, but recovered and went on to prove a star.

A very elegant rider on a huge KWPN mare had a little girl run right out in front of her as she was coming round the outside about to begin her reprise, which put her horse on edge, but she managed it beautifully.  (Little girl and her blasé parents were very lucky she wasn’t mincemeat.)  I spoke to the rider after and she had come over from Bordeaux and competes all over south-west France.

Not having been to many dressage shows – in person – ever – I was in horsey heaven. Wonderful horses; from the riding schools (“Poney Clubs” in France) who imported a small contingent of their best horses and young riders, to very sophisticated rider/horse combos used to competing at a regional, even national level.  There was an astonishing array of horses and riders to observe and scrutinise throughout the two days.

I went with a friend on the first day and just had to go back for more on the second …. I didn’t agree with everything I saw, but it was all a good learning experience.

I was hoping to find that there was a niche I could aim for at the lower level.   And, yes, I was inspired.  Will we enter next year? … Mmm… it’s certainly a challenge ….

The Niggle

A non- horsey subject:  do you value good service – and are you a generous tipper?

Have you ever worked in a service industry?

If you’ve ever waitressed or stood behind a counter, answered a ‘phone or welcomed visitors, you will certainly have a view on “interacting with the public” in a professional rôle and been miffed if you’ve been treated with a lack of respect.  (Though I’ve witnessed some people who work in these rôles to be the worst customers – maybe out of misguided payback?!)

I wouldn’t pretend to be an extrovert, but I’ve waitressed, air-hostessed, welcomed customers in various circumstances and it is easy to recognise people who are big enough to appreciate good (or your best effort at good) service.  They are well-mannered, polite, smiling and reasonable.  And, in the relevant circumstances, they leave an appreciative tip.

Occasionally I meet up with my girl-friends for lunch.  We refer to ourselves ironically as “the ladies who lunch /the coven/the lunch club”, because we all work hard and it’s unusual, rare even, that we have the time to meet.

In our neck of the woods, restaurant service is generally professional, but goes no further, unless you initiate a conversation … a little banter even …

If I ever get a glimmer of individuality through the professional attitude from whoever’s waiting my table, I will make it my mission to engage with them and make their day a little more interesting if I’m able, and if they’re up for it.

And, unless our meal has been appalling, if the service has been good, I’ll tip at least 10%.

If I’ve enjoyed the meal, I want to be welcomed back.

But my lunching friends are not always of the same opinion.

Have you a view on tipping?

..And A Funny Incident – Two Into One Will Go

A few nights ago, we went out to do our “last thing” check, provide the night’s haynets and skip out of the horses and, oh no, couldn’t see the Pie looking over his door.  Was he alright?  Was he prone on the floor?

Then we saw his head poking over the back gate of Pom’s box.

There is only one back door in the barn and Pom has to come in through Pie’s stable, pass into his box on the left, then, in principle, the heavy interconnecting door is bolted behind him.  Either bad Mum left the bolt undone or Pom opened it whilst scratching his behind on the door (it has happened before, but the former is more likely).

Pie, trying his luck, must have pushed through, though the door is heavy and swings shut automatically.

How long they had both been in there together I don’t know – the floor was fairly stirred up, but apart from a small bite on the Pie’s neck, there doesn’t seem to have been any worse handbagging. 

A second bolt has since been added!

**************

May has been glorious here.   The garden has been a symphony of colour and perfume thanks to a mild winter and rainy start to the year.  Sadly my husband slipped on the stairs and broke his collarbone and one or more ribs.  Sigh.  He’s not a patient patient.

I  have finally persuaded him that we need some help in the garden and today we met a gardener proposing his services for the heavier garden jobs.  A new chapter opens.  Great news for me as I’ve been keeping up a regular schooling programme and would rather be concentrating on riding Pom, while he’s still in his prime, than teetering on a ladder tackling the huge box hedge or hauling wood… I really hope this works out well.  Cross fingers for us.

Posted in Customer Service, Dressage, equitation, Gratuities, Horses, Living in France, Musings, Riding, Tipping, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Horsemanship, Health & Ageing; A Cavalière on the Cusp

Recently we went to dinner with a great friend to meet the new man in her life.  Her three children helped to make the meal and the conversation round the table was lively and easygoing.  The talk turned to Finn’s school skiing trip and I said I’d always meant to try skiing, but somehow never got around to it – despite the fact that we’re only a couple of hours’ drive from the Pyrenees.

“You should try it!” said Finn (13), “There are loads of old people on the slopes.”

Embarrassed pause – then laughter all round.

Of course anyone over thirty is “old” to Finn, and his “ancient” Mum (and the new man) are ten years younger than me and my husband.  But the fact is, Eric’s already turned 60, and those two dread numerals, instead of hovering on my horizon have now lumbered into full view and will be tapping me on the shoulder towards the end of this year.  (Yeah, hands up, I’ve been coyly skirting round the issue until now.)

You really don’t give it too much thought, or as little as you can manage, as you putter through your fifties (Hell, it takes you long enough to get over the shock of Being Fifty) but once you turn 59, you cannot get, “Yikes, I’m nearly 60!” out of your mind.

Now riders will often tell you that equestrianism in its many forms is one sport in which you can continue virtually as long as you are sentient, citing Lorna Johnstone and Hiroshi Hoketsu, dressage Olympians at 69 and 71, not to mention a slew of eventers and showjumpers in their fifties’ prime as doughty, though exceptional, examples.

Naturally, you need to have a decent level of fitness to handle and ride horses and all the exercise involved in looking after and riding them helps keep you that way – a virtuous circle if you’re lucky and doing it right.   But not even the fittest rider can count on their continuing good health, despite their best efforts.

When I began this blog, I was in my mid-50s and optimistic enough about my health and fitness to have recently bought a new horse.  We still had two horses living a pleasant retirement at home, but I found that my life had a large, active-horse-shaped hole in the middle without riding.  Even exercising a friend’s Lusitano just wasn’t the same as having the intense one-to-one relationship of riding your own horse.

I’ve written at length about breaking my leg, then fracturing my jaw and skull, so if anyone new to the blog really wants to know more about this era, the posts back in 2011-12 will fill you in, otherwise I won’t dwell on events other than to say that it takes a long time to get back in shape once you’re over fifty and at the stage of life where you need to pay attention to your thinning bones, lack of energy and unpredictable moods.  Once you’ve lost your levels of health and fitness at this age they are harder to regain and maintain, especially mentally.

In other words, instead of moaning and resigning yourself to getting older, you have to make a determined effort to manage yourself with much more forethought and really Think about how, when, where and why you ride.  And generally live your life.

With hindsight, this is all more clear-cut when you’re young and fit.  Your time, family and financial commitments are much clearer, whether you’re a cash-strapped student, a Mum or Dad with a job or a single, career high-flyer.  If you have no health or fitness problems and  if your time and financial constraints allow, you take your ability to ride for granted.

Being suddenly prevented from doing as you want for physical or mental reasons gives you some insight into how hard it must be to be permanently disabled or at the mercy of debilitating conditions or diseases.  Or prevented by any other insurmountable (sic) problem.  And just wanting to get back to riding after injury is not, in itself, enough to make it happen.

I could have, but very fortunately did not “lose my nerve” and couldn’t wait to get back up there, probably because my injuries were caused in banal circumstances and not as a result of a jumping mishap, or a terrifying bolt or spook (and I’d had plenty enough of those as a very young rider and bounced back).   Even so, it was a possibility near the beginning.

And the healing of bones was just part of getting better.  My whole organism suffered over the next two years;  weight loss, hair loss, loss of balance to the point of being unable to walk and a loss of appetite for life itself.  I sunk into a slough of depression far deeper than I realised, until I was finally out the other side and, only now, three years after initially splintering my tibia do I finally feel as if I’ve spent some several months of quality time being “well” again, physically and mentally.

It’s also a frightening thought that, if I hadn’t been able to keep the horses at home and continue to support them financially, and rely on my husband’s help and goodwill, I might have been forced to give up altogether.  I feel so relieved about that.

And now I can honestly say that I am feeling better it is all relative, because now I am well into my sixtieth year on this planet, I am forced to acknowledge that can never get back exactly to where I was before.

It may or may not be relevant to you, esteemed reader, be you my senior, junior or equal in age, but allow me to reflect on what I’ve learned in the process of passing through the fire and, I think, becoming a more “three-dimensional” rider and human:

– In periods when I’ve been physically or mentally unable to ride, I’ve been able to read much more equestrian writing, in books and magazines and particularly on-line, that I wish I’d had access to earlier (and been able to put into practice with my last horse, who I always felt had oodles of unexploited potential).  I was much more of an instinctive, natural rider, but I awoke to the importance of marrying the physical and the mental, in horse and rider.

– I’ve learned the importance of reading and listening to my present horse in minute detail, being forced to do much more groundwork with him than would formerly have been my preference.  It’s done us both a world of good.

– I’ve finally learned patience because I’ve been forced to go so very slow.  I was thinking today that my horse and I have arrived at a place in our schooling now where we could otherwise have been two years ago – but maybe our mutual understanding would not have been consolidated in the same way.  I learned to wait, withdraw, wait and quietly explain until my horse understood what I wanted, which earned lavish praise, until his unwanted, challenging behaviours trickled away.

– One of my early posts, “Horse or Garden”, posed my dilemma on a fine-weather day. Now it’s always Horse first.  My troubled junior rebel is now a poised teenager – 13, like Finn.  He’s attentive, listening, light off the leg and in the hand and improves with every session.  The garden can take second place, though it does take a lot of satisfying work and gives me immense pleasure in a different way.

– In earlier posts, eg.  “January Blues”, I was also searching for riding friends, fed up with being isolated.  Well I did find some lovely people to ride with but here’s a thing with some riders;  they are so fully committed to improving their horses and riding that they get into the habit with other people and their horses, and not always from a knowledgeable point of view.  I know because I’ve done it myself.  Yes, I’ll always listen to another point of view, and it’s lovely to have horsey friends to share rides and experiences with, but I have learned to have more belief in myself and my horse (and sometimes keep my opinion to myself as long as no one’s getting hurt).   As an aside – the horsey world I’m on the fringes of being relatively small – I ran into an old friend with whom I’d fallen out many years ago and we were able to have a normal, pleasant exchange of views.  Which felt like an old mental cloud drifting away.

– Clicker training was a great discovery, in part because it validated the reward-based training I prefer, but also because it was a new avenue to explore and made me extend the range of things I could ask my horse, because he devours knowledge like a dervish and needs ever more to swallow up.

– I’ve learned to think about the way I work and not ignore the way my body or mind are letting me know they’re feeling, in the same way I would for my horse.  I’ll take a break or change in what I’m doing when I need to, before continuing a physical or mental task.  Or not be ashamed to take an easier, less taxing way.  Moving a muckheap or spring-cleaning the house doesn’t all have to be completed in one go!

– Maybe I’m not necessarily a better person, but I feel a little better about myself.  Doing more “right” and “good” than, even unintentional, wrong.  Considering more before acting.  Appreciating when other people/horses do not feel physically or mentally able to do things.  Worrying less if other people disapprove of me.  And maybe cutting them and myself a little more slack.  After all, nobody’s perfect, especially not me.

 

Yes, Sixty’s not too far off, but bring it on.  I think I’m ready.  I’m All Grown Up now (or very nearly).

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If you’ve got over a difficult time in your life and feel it’s improved you as a rider and an all-round human being I’d love to hear about it.   I always welcome readers’ comments …..

Posted in Ageing/Aging, equitation, Gardening, Horses, Living in France, Musings, Riding, Rural Living, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | 11 Comments

Fresh New Year, Fresh New Horse

It’s not hard to guess if and where my sweet-itchy horse is itching.

As soon as he sees me he will either plonk that part of himself directly in front of me or point to it with his nose.  Though he’s an acrobatic individual who can scratch the top of his own tail with his teeth, he’s used to me doing the scratching with a plastic brush or applying one or other of his lotions and potions (there have been more than a few as you probably know) as I try my best to keep his mane, tail and coat intact.

Commenting on my “Zebra” post, Sara Annon kindly suggested a new line of inquiry, threadworms in the nuchal ligament as a possible cause of itching.   And as Pom continues to be itchy even through winter I’m checking it out.   Aha, something new to worry about, but also a possible explanation for the everlasting itch!

In the meantime, Pom’s seemed no better recently, so I reckoned he might have a build up of product and, as the weather is very mild, could do with a New Year freshen up.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have one of those ritzy stables that have proper, drained, horse shower areas with warm water? And the infra red dryers.  Well yes.  If money grew on trees.  But we are happy enough with our simple loose boxes in an old stone barn with a dirt floor.  The farrier likes to visit;  he maintains it’s warmer in winter and cooler in summer than more modern installations.  (Maybe he’s being tactful?!)

In summer there’s the cold hosepipe outside for showers and in winter, in the barn, we get by just fine with buckets of warm water and sponges etc.  Pom is no fan of water, but he appreciates the feeling of being clean and less itchy. (The Pie, however, feels underdressed without an outer layer of mud, which, though he loves a shower, he’ll re-apply as soon as he can find a patch of dirt to roll in!)

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So, Pom had a thorough shampoo of mane and tail, rinse and towel-dry, enjoying the massage, but, as I didn’t want to turn him out still damp underneath his daytime cover, I thought I’d introduce him to the hairdryer.   Ever so gently.

We targeted, clicked and rewarded, demonstrated it working, on low, on me and little by little gave his mane and neck a gentle blow dry.  I didn’t insist, as it wouldn’t make sense to mix electrics with a frightened horse, but it touches me to see how much he will trust me now in most situations.

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As I say, he’s no fan of water, showers are tolerated, and, out on rides, puddles are never crossed without a good deal of persuasion.  I watch in awe as cross-country eventers flip through those water jumps with ease, but I don’t think my life, or his, will be long enough for me and Pom to do anything of the sort!

However we regularly face some quite impressive cross country features…

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The Paris-Toulouse train line passes through a tunnel about a mile from us and we have to pass high over the tunnel mouth, alongside a deep cutting which has recently been revealed in all its scariness since a tree-cutting gang left it fully exposed.  Should we deviate from the track, there is one mighty steep drop down to the railway line.

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Recently, we’ve had enough rain to keep the puddles topped up so we faced a devil-or-the-deep-blue-sea choice.

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Walking in water didn’t seem so difficult after all!

Wishing you all a happy, healthy 2014…

Posted in equitation, Horses, Living in France, Musings, Riding, Rural Living, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Laughable Futility of Making Plans

And why cock-eyed optimism keeps us making more….

Back in the bad old days, when life was “nasty, brutish and short” for both man and beast and denizens of the Western world paid a great deal more attention to the Bible (since healthcare was down to the local wise woman or barber-surgeon and war and peace depended largely on the whim of the local overlord) they were advised that it was useless to predict what might occur in the future since, unless they coincided with the will of the Lord, all one’s careful plans would be as so much chaff in the wind.

“We’ll meet again at Yuletide, God willing,” would have been said with real feeling.

The Qur’an teaches the same thing;  unless your plan coincides with Allah’s greater scheme you are less likely to succeed than fail.  And so it is unsurprising that in those Muslim countries where life in this brutal era is far more precarious, a living hell on earth for some, you seldom hear anyone express a wish for the future without adding the obligatory “Insha’Allah”.

When was it, exactly, that we in the “West” thought we could be responsible for our own destiny and start believing in our own supreme powers to cook up and see through our plans?  Sometime after two unimaginably destructive world wars made Christians begin to doubt warfare on that scale could possibly be the intention of their Divinity?

Or when TV showed us all the other parts of the world, where different Gods seemed equally indifferent to the pleas, wishes and the plight of their faithful?

And mankind’s own scientific and technological advances backed up the hubris that he had a good deal more control about life and death, and alleviating the possible misery in between?

Business ethics started to overtake the ten commandments and catechism by rote sometime in the later 20th century, between the first publication of Cosmopolitan magazine and the apotheosis of capitalism in the nineteen-eighties.  Most people’s idea of personal development suddenly had less to do with character and spirituality than developing a top-class CV and having a Life Plan or a Business Plan that would make them millionaires by 30.

We were encouraged towards goals and tick-lists, qualifications, progress markers and competition with our peers.

Reaching adulthood on the cusp of this period I couldn’t help but be confused.   Attending convent school and church on a Sunday with my parents,  we soaked up “do as you would be done by”, “it’s easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than a rich man to enter the gates of heaven”, etc., etc. and all the Christian virtues that helped society stick together.  After a fashion.  An old fashion.   Next thing we knew, my father, who worked for an American oil company, came home preaching the latest on time-and-motion studies, marketing strategies, the bottom line and other imported credo.

Then, Margaret Thatcher was pronouncing, “There is no such thing as society” and Gordon Gecko uttered the immortal, “Greed is Good” which soon lost the ironic quotation marks.

And so, it became usual to think that if things were not going right in our life, it could only be Our Fault.   We couldn’t have planned for all the eventualities, been cautious in times of belt-tightening or bold when temerity was called for.  We obviously hadn’t drafted our life like a business opportunity! How on earth could we expect to survive without a plan?

Touching wood, crossing your fingers, not treading on the lines of your black cat, throwing salt under a ladder and saying a little prayer …. how irredeemably old hat.   And yet, probably no more nor less effective than having a plan!

And why am I reflecting on all this right now?

Because at this time of year everyone seems to have a plan in place.

“What have you got planned for Christmas?” everyone asks from the first leaf fall.

Since so many families are fractured or re-assembled, far-flung or feuding, I suppose some kind of plan needs to be in place if you want Christmas to be a family affair with limited potential for nuclear disaster.  And, unfailingly, the thankless chore of orchestrating who gets together, with whom and when, falls to the adult females of the family.  (Would Christmas festivities take place anyway if it was left to anyone else? Another whole debate!)

I’m no big fan of all the hoo-ha about Christmas.  Our credit card bills won’t be imploding and you won’t be able to spot our house from outer space.  Our remaining rump of family is far away in Australia, and my man and I are neither especially religious nor material-minded.

We haven’t exchanged presents with each other since early in our relationship, when a series of unfortunate errors of judgement (thick cream woollen sweater, horizontally-ribbed, anyone?) allowed us to draw a line under the dreadful, reluctant slog round the shops.  We now put the festive thought into buying big-ticket family necessities, such as attachments for the tractor (though these are far too difficult to wrap and hide under the tree).

The biggest plans we usually make are to do something relatively traditional to mark the day, ingrained in our DNA as it is, (and so as not to be complete curmudgeons,) without falling too heavily for all the marketing and maudlin sentiment.

However, I do like to put up a Christmas tree and look again with fondness on the old decorations;  listen to carols on the radio and get together with friends or at least catch up with some news in a card (though Lord spare us boast-post, please).   Living in France, we are not subject to quite the same commercial bombardment as in the UK, though the French have made a valiant effort to catch up in the last decade.

Usually we have a more or less traditional meal – the English and French fare being similar save for the pudding – with friends who either don’t have anyone close or whose family, for whatever reason, cannot be with them on the day, and sometimes we just choose to have a simple dinner on our own.

Occasionally we have been invited to celebrate with other people and also, very rarely, we have been away, either back to the UK or away for work.  My dream is to be able to get away from the whole shebang for a few days one time, and this year we actually started to make plans to spend Christmas in Seville with another couple.  Direct flights from Toulouse have started up recently and, as luck would have it, a young couple living very close by started a horse/pet sitting business and seemed ideal to take charge of the boys for a few days.

But, as luck had second thoughts, the young couple split up and the horsey half moved away for work, so I held off making bookings until we found another horse-sitter.

Then, a few weeks ago the friends we were to travel with said they didn’t want to go away as she had fallen and broken her ribs – after only recently breaking her wrist.  We could only commiserate and offer to have Christmas day at our house instead.   As it was, we hadn’t found anyone else to look after the boys.

Finally, last week, we heard the news that they are separating, at least temporarily, over Christmas ……… and I have every sympathy with both of them because something has gone terribly wrong under the tranquil surface of their life and we are bereft because we didn’t realise or offer some kind of understanding or support before.  She has gone to stay with family and he may still join us for Christmas day.

Plans, eh?!

And then there’s the New Year’s Resolution – a planning farce if ever there was.  Rather like going to confession when I was too small to really understand the concept and confessing the same sins week in, week out (always getting the same “Ten Hail Marys” penance – it should have been a clue), I look back at diaries from years ago when my aims scarcely differed from one decade to the next and were rarely realised.

Just for a laugh, this is a table of my equestrian planning since 2009….

Plan 2009:  buy well-schooled Iberian horse/ finally get to grips with classical riding.  Actuality:  after months of searching bought delinquent Spaniard who bit everything in sight

Plan 2010:  make progress                                                                                                              Actuality: we made some progress;  there was, in truth, no further backwards we could go (without transport), and yet….

Plan 2011:  consolidate progress                                                                                            Actuality:  whilst mounting bareback, achieved compound fracture of the tibia, unresolved until later in the year, when I fell over and broke my jaw and fractured my skull.  Result, overfamiliarity with hospital, retrograde equestrian progress.

Plan 2012:  stay fit and well                                                                                                   Actuality:  Plate removed from leg, then broke toe wearing high-heeled sandals – duh; next, loss of balance for several months due to inner ear problems, diverted by helping a friend through her relationship problems, sudden death of darling old horse, tired and demoralised.  However, we did achieve plan B, “Acquire a Horse Trailer”

Plan 2013: concentrate on getting back to riding, get horse out and about in trailer Actuality: incessant rain, draining depression, some riding and external training, after initial willingness horse developed intractable (sic) van phobia, rain turned to Amazonian heat with insect life to match, put off most riding and trailer practice until autumn.  Now, finally making up for the last three years….

Plan 2014:  Erm … nothing I’m willing to risk going down the drain by committing to writing!

OK, we would never get motivated and move on without looking forward optimistically to what might be, but, when plans go awry, as well they may, at least you can build character by being resilient, flexible and, like the proverbial Pinyatta, able to come back for yet another bashing.

And so, on that pragmatic note, I wish each and every one of you out there, whatever your beliefs,

 A MERRY CHRISTMAS AND A HAPPY NEW YEAR

“Insha’Allah”, of course.

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Posted in Christmas, equitation, Horses, Living in France, Musings, Riding, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 12 Comments