seriously, the guy has a point

16 04 2017

Not horsey, but a very interesting and well-constructed argument.

Hello, and Happy Anniversary

4 04 2017

Hello, blogosphere. It’s been a while. A heady mix of adult responsibilities, the need to sleep, development of a social life and finally-diagnosed ADHD conspired to keep me from here.

BUT here I am again, writing to you today on a mobile phone on public transport, headed for the stables. It’s almost like being in Japan again… except the bus doesn’t have aircon and the phone is *much* smarter.

It’s five years today since I took up riding again. How about that? Well, I’m pleased to say I never stopped. Where did I leave off? Oh, that’s right – with the end of my partnership with Puzzle, and the beginning of my loanership of Luna.

Well, I’m delighted to say that Luna and I are much better suited to one another, and yes, we’re still together. I see her three times a week. In summer, when the horses are all out on 24-hour turnout, that means I ride three times a week. In winter, it typically means I ride twice and do all the jobs another. One of the days I have her is Saturday, and typically we go out with a friend on a hack first thing. We’re really spoiled for nice routes to ride out on, although we do have to go out on the roads quite a lot.

My confidence as a rider is much better. I wish I had more opportunities to have lessons on Luna, but even without she’s taught me a lot. She’s naughty, but never nasty, so she’s been a good match in terms of my level of competence; she gives me just enough to think about, while at the same time looking after me. She is also really good fun to hack out on. She’s confident, rarely spooks, and has a fast, flat, balanced canter. I think she would make a good jousting pony!

Five years have got me to where I am today, and while it hasn’t always been easy and there have been times when I’ve wanted to give it all up, I’ve arrived at a place where I can’t imagine not having horses in my life any more. To the next five years!

An Ending and New Beginnings

21 10 2015

It is with some disappointment that I must declare that my part-loan arrangement with Puzzle came to an end this evening.

This did not entirely come as a surprise. While we had gone for another few months of no issues leading, handling or riding, over the last three weeks – possibly as a result of the temperature dropping and there being less grass in the fields for the horses to eat – we had another couple of incidents, both in which he got away from me and I didn’t know how to handle it. Both of these were a knock to my confidence, and as his human quite rightly pointed out, the partnership we had forming was too much on his terms and it wasn’t really safe for either of us any more.

I could tell that it was more difficult for her to tell me this than it was for me to hear it, and I felt quite sorry for her, to be honest, so I just did the best I could to make it easy. She is right, though; I am not experienced enough for a tricky character like him, and if his behaviour wasn’t immediately nipped in the bud it would only escalate further until he was routinely difficult with everyone just because he thought he could be. And that’s aside from the very real possibility that one of us might end up injured.

I didn’t ride him this evening. I seem to be coming down with a chesty cough and cold so I was only planning a short and sedate one anyway, but after our conversation I decided just to groom him and hang out with him in his stall. I decided that while a bit of gentle walk and trot would have been nice, any spooks from sudden fireworks would have left me gasping for breath and I would rather not have had to deal with that with a faulty respiratory system. He was completely sweet and loving towards me in his stall, but I have grown used to the contrast between the angel in the stable and the devil on the end of the lead rope now.

This is not all doom and gloom, though; this very same evening, it has been agreed that I will instead loan one of his friends, Luna. Luna is a sweet little dun with a whiskery face, who is forward going, bomb-proof and much less complicated than Puzzle. The pony at the bottom of the herd hierarchy, my observation of her is that she is quite happy to be left to her own devices and not get embroiled in any silly pony politics.

It helps that she shares a name with the goth princess from My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. Heh. The added silver lining to this cloud is that now, I will be able to hack out on a weekend with Puzzle and his human, which is good for both of us, as the other lady we used to ride out with will shortly be leaving and taking her two horses with her.

A blessing in disguise? Watch this space, I guess.

And this is Luna!

And this is Luna!

Stubble Fields at Dusk

16 09 2015

Here is a transcript/translation of a conversation I had with Puzzle this evening:

Me: ‘Now, canter.’
Puzzle: ‘I’m gonna trot really fast behind Kira!’
Me: ‘No, canter.’
Puzzle: ‘Oh okay. Canter.’
Puzzle: ‘NOW GALLOP!’
Me: ‘No, canter.’
Puzzle: ‘Will this really fast trot do?’
Puzzle: ‘Gee, okay, I’ll canter.’
*canters for three strides to the end of the field*
Me: ‘Now walk, please.’
Puzzle: ‘HAPPY NOW?’


14 09 2015

There’s lots to update about from me, but as work, my social life and my horsey life are keeping me so busy it feels like there’s never any time to write about it!

Things are still going well with Puzzle. He still tests the boundaries with me from time to time, but it’s stopped being a terrifying experience and is now instead just something that makes me tut and roll my eyes, and I deal with it. He is so smart; I worked out that he worked out that I give him the benefit of the doubt if I think he’s frightened, so he started pretending to spook. Only, he wasn’t very convincing. He does seem to be genuinely terrified of the corner of the school where the electric fence clicks and makes a tiny flash, unless you put a cone in front of it, at which point the cone becomes an opportunity for him to show off how clever he is (much like gates).

He got fat at one point and his owner became quite concerned about him, eventually resolving to lunge him three times a week in the mornings. We also put him in what I termed a ‘VIP area’ a couple of times; an electric fenced-off starvation paddock within whichever field the herd were in at the time. He was completely unbothered by this and, if anything, seemed to enjoy having his own space, although he would sulk if the horses are moved into an uneaten paddock next to the one he’s in and he is left behind for a couple of days to give them a chance to eat it down before he can go in and engorge himself.

In terms of riding him, I seem to have gotten the measure of him. He is such a confidence-giver; once he’s gotten over his initial fit of ‘oh I’d rather not thanks’, he will do pretty much anything you ask him to. I have found that the trick to keeping him forward and engaged is to keep him doing lots of different things, so he doesn’t have time to think about anything that’s happening in the world around him. He is steady in his paces, and while he will get overexcited and run along on the forehand when asked for an upwards transition, it’s easy to bring him back by making him stop and repeat the exercise.

I do still feel like I would like some structure to my evening sessions with him, though, as well as someone there who can point out faults and give me suggestions of things to work on. I would also really like to learn to jump! Both because I feel confident enough to give this a go now, and because I know that it’s something Puzzle enjoys and is good at. There is a jump paddock next to the arena, and sometimes, while I’m trying to ride him into the arena, he will lean against the outside rein as if to tell me he would rather go in there and play. Unfortunately, while I have liaised with Puzzle’s owner’s regular instructor, we haven’t been able to set anything up because she’s always busy at the times when I could see her. I would like to find an instructor I can see regularly at some point, but as I said to Puzzle’s owner last time I saw her it might have to wait until life and work have calmed down.

So I’m still having my weekly riding lessons at the riding school. Actually, since the weather cooled down, they’ve been better, although this evening I was feeling a bit sensitive and got on a pony who is nervous and sensitive by nature. The results were, sadly, confidence-shattering, but we’ll see how things go. I will try and ride her again because often getting the feel of a horse or pony I’m not used to knocks me sideways a bit the first time.

In other horse-related news, I went to Bolsover Castle and saw the Grand Medieval Joust, in spite of the best efforts of the bank holiday weather to prevent it. I still want to become a knight and joust! I might be nervous and sensitive by nature myself… but I can overcome it with enough practice! 😀

Decisions, Decisions

13 08 2015

Things have been going great with Puzzle since his human came to the yard and showed me the appropriate way to put him in his place, and I have been really humbled by the care with which she has overseen my growing confidence in handling him. My concern when I began having difficulties was that she would feel that my not being able to deal with it without her intervention would defeat the object of there even being a part-loan agreement, as I think I had expressed previously, but she has shown great empathy, saying that she was happy to come down to the yard for as long as it took for me to feel confident with him – on the grounds that she’d been through it all with him herself and knew what it was like. Thankfully, however, all the groundwork and my sticking to my guns during the spats he and I have had in the intervening period (both on the ground and in the saddle) have led to my first evening alone with him last night, being a resounding success, in that there were no dramas at all and he behaved beautifully for me, even sticking close to me when he thought he might be in mortal peril (at the hands of the man who comes to the farm to shoot rabbits).

I wish I could say the same for my lessons at the riding school. I feel like since I’ve been loaning Puzzle, my lessons – which I wanted to keep up for liking my regular instructor, and feeling like I had made friends with some of the horses who reside there – have served only to knock the confidence that Puzzle instils in me, and consequently I don’t feel like they are really doing anything to progress my riding ability. I’m fully aware of the factors at play here: Puzzle is relatively unspoiled by only having two regular riders, and hasn’t had the spark beaten out of him by riding school work, for one thing; in my lessons, I ride in a group of mixed ability, and it’s often hard not to take feedback in the context of how much, how little or what kind other people are getting at the same time as you; and sometimes, especially with riding, things get worse (or plateau) before they get better.

Nevertheless, even on a Wednesday night when we’re alone and just practising things in the little school on the farm, I feel like I get far more out of Puzzle – both in terms of cooperation and us helping each other to work better – than I do out of Ben, for example who I’d previously thought to be the confidence-giving schoolmaster. Take Monday’s lesson, for instance: all we did in the structured part of the lesson was circle work with walthroughk-trot transitions, and Ben didn’t want to go forwards; as a result of my instructor shouting at me to ‘sharpen him up with a tap from [my] whip’ over and over, I began to feel like my aids had crossed the line into animal abuse of this poor, usually-hard-working creature that just didn’t want to play that evening. It broke my heart, and left me dispirited. Contrast that to my free practice with Puzzle two days later, in which we didn’t end up doing what I’d intended (a cross between pole work and bend work, incorporating shallow loops) because he was in a very nervous, spooky mood, but he worked willingly for me as I slowly worked him up through transitions and circles to walking and then trotting right into the scary corners, and finishing by cantering large around the school to release some tension. Took some building up to, and some thinking outside of the box to get there, but he was switched on nevertheless, and I got something out of it.

Added to this is the fact that Soapy, the horse at the riding school I had the greatest fondness for, is now gone. They told me she would be leaving this week, but when I arrived with her retirement gift of a packet of Polos, I was told she had already been taken away. Disappointed, I resolved to give them to the staff member who I thought was taking her to pass on, only for her to tell me that having promised her she could have her, they’d given her to one of the clients. Aghast, I expressed my regret and my sympathy, and she said that she was disappointed (understandably), but not surprised, and went on to tell me things I won’t disclose here but that shocked me. Which may have, in addition to how my riding lessons have been making me feel, contributed to my growing feelings that maybe it’s time to be moving on.

(I gave the Polos to Ben, incidentally, to say sorry for hitting him with my whip so many times.)

Puzzle’s human, and the other human with whom I tend to hack out on weekends, have a freelance instructor who comes to the farm to teach them. Both of them speak very highly of her, and have recommended I have a lesson with her on Puzzle, each for different reasons. I’m certainly up for giving her a go to see how we get on. There are things I think she could help me with – helping Puzzle canter on the left rein first time, for example – because she knows him, as well. This would also be a considerable financial saving as her lesson fees are pretty cheap.

My reluctance doesn’t really stem from any feelings of disloyalty to my current instructor or the riding school as much as from not having the excuse to go and see the horses with whom I consider myself to be friends at the riding school, and having three opportunities per week to ride as opposed to the two I get with Puzzle. Having said that, though, with Soapy gone, none of the other horses seem as exciting to me any more. Ben tolerates me. I haven’t seen Bramble in months. Dan and Elvis are both funny, but can take or leave me regardless of any feelings I have for them. That only really leaves Paddy, who is as daft as a brush and as loveable as anything, but my relationship with him doesn’t extend beyond giving his lips a rub once a week until he gets bored. Suffice to say, I don’t think he would miss me as much as I would miss him.

And so I’m toying with the idea of quitting my riding school lessons to have lessons on Puzzle, and focus on building a partnership with a willing pony ‘who will turn his hoof to anything’ (as stated on his advert) – at least after his initial, Oh all right, if I must. There seem to be more advantages than disadvantages, and I feel like I am learning far more about both horses and riding from my continued association with him than I am at the school. I just can’t shake my reluctance to let go of what I have in my regular lessons, still. Thoughts from other riders would be appreciated.

In less pensive news, at the weekend Damian paid us a visit, and was able to get this amusing video footage of me turning Puzzle out after riding him:

Round Three: Not Such a Big Horse After All

23 07 2015

Back to being smitten again. I had a very productive evening on the yard with Puzzle and his human tonight, in which I feel like I learned a lot. He wasn’t really any different than he had been on the previous occasions, and I don’t really think his human’s presence on the yard made that much difference; certainly not to the extent that I would have expected.

I went along expecting to do groundwork. Lots and lots of groundwork. And groundwork we did. First of all in his stall, while I was grooming him and tacking him up; she spent a while showing me how to get him to move out of my space, to walk on, to move his quarters, to move back and to stand. I had to get to grips with getting him to do one thing at a time, and not confusing him by asking him too many things in a row. This struck me as essentially meaning shoving him around, although I soon realised that in effect this is no different from what he does with the mares in the field, with the added bonus that it keeps me safe as well.

Once I had him tacked up, we escalated this to me walking him in hand and doing the same things; asking him to walk on, walk around, stand, and back up. The tips I was given were to remain in line with his shoulder and close to it, so that if he were to try and push me, he wouldn’t be able to get enough power into the movement to do anything with it, to carry a whip in my free hand, and to raise it to his face if he made any move towards biting or lunging at me. To use voice commands, but to make these secondary to positive and clear body language. Also, to use the elbow closest to him if needed to emphatically push into him, or to push him away if necessary. All of this also worked really well. He got grabby and bitey with me again, but I responded as instructed and he backed right off. I carried on walking him around, making him stand, backing him up and walking him around with no pattern to it in and out of the stables for a little while, and I found that soon, he was listening to me rather than going ‘Oh all right then, if I must.’

At his human’s suggestion, I mounted him at the block outside the school and rode him in. As usual, he was perfectly well-behaved under saddle. His eagerness to show off how clever he is at operating gates whenever we have to close one behind us is still really, really sweet. His human stayed with us in the school for a bit, but he was working so nicely for me once we started going around that she kindly laid out some poles and a cone (to guide us into the spooky corner!) for me and then left us alone. I hadn’t expected to ride this evening and thus I didn’t really have a plan, so in the spirit of the groundwork we’d been doing, rather than have an exercise-for-horse-and-rider session, I thought I would have a making-Puzzle-think-and-not-know-what-to-expect session.

The two poles were laid parallel around x down the centre line from A to C, so I could use them as a check for straightness or ride across the school from B to E and go over them for balance. After a gentle warm up in walk and trot with lots of sudden turns and tight circles, I started using the poles to ride between, and to transition from walk to trot or trot to walk as we passed X, and change the rein at the end of each pass, mixed up with circling and riding over the poles as we went. Sometimes, without warning, I asked him to halt after getting all four feet up over the first pole, before going over the next one. And then sometimes I asked him to go large and canter. This got really exciting when he decided the poles were jumps. He seemed to be having real trouble striking off on the correct leg on the left rein tonight, so rather than keep making him do it, I moved onto other things. He was going so nicely for me in the end that for our cool down I just gave him a long rein and continued the circling exercise on both reins with the occasional halt at x. Super fun.

I did some more groundwork with him in the school immediately after dismounting at his human (who had returned by this stage)’s suggestion. I was actually astonished at just how switched on to me he had become by this stage. It was all going beautifully until I led him out of the school, but then turned back to get the gate behind me, at which point he must have thought I was taking him back in there as he got really strong with me, in much the same vein as he had on the two previous occasions. This time, his human intervened to show me what to do, and he was just as bad with her as he had been with me previously. He did eventually calm down, but we decided it would just be easier to keep him walking on rather than me wrestle with him just for the sake of closing a gate.

He was totally sweet after that, and as I gave him a scrub and doused him in fly spray, he stood wherever I told him to. Probably because I’d tired him out as much as because he was now listening, but the transformation from what had gone before was remarkable. It seems that he has been argumentative in general since last week, and his human put it down to his having remembered that he could; I now just need to keep on top of this and remind him that no, he can’t, actually. And actually, I think that will make him feel more secure with me.

I feel well assured now that he is still the same sweet, clever boy I met a month ago and really wanted to get to know better, and a lot more confident that if I had to put up with another arsey episode I would know what to do about it. The agreement is continuing into August and all the dates have been agreed upon. I am all excited about it again 😀