24 07 2012

The stables are closed on a Monday, but that doesn’t mean the club rests entirely. There’s a rota for people to go in and feed the horses and see to various other matters as well over the course of the day, since there are no staff and the club manages everything itself. We receive updates via a mailing lists to the email address on our mobile phones about things we should all be aware of. I’m never rota-ed, and I receive so many emails in a day from the riding club that even though I read every single one they have pretty much become white noise to me.

Yesterday, however, I received one that sent me into floods of tears. As I understood it, it said that Hokon was going to be put to sleep in a week’s time due to illness. I received this in my university library, where I was conscientiously studying in spite of my exams being over. I collected up my things and stormed out, unable to contain myself.

As I made my way home, all sorts of questions went through my mind. Why Hokon – the horse who, in spite of the way he might have treated me on occasion, I love best out of all of them? And why just before I leave Japan to come home?

The question that didn’t occur to me until later was why – if he was suffering enough for it to warrant euthanasia – were they drawing it out for another week? However, when it did, I emailed a Japanese friend not connected to the riding club and asked them to translate the message for me. They said it meant that because Hokon is ill he will have a week’s rest. I can honestly not remember a single time I have ever felt so glad and relieved to have been mistaken!

Consequently, after the register was taken this morning, I made a beeline for Hokon’s stall and, to his haughty confusion, made it the first thing I did to lovingly rub his neck and give him a big hug. He melted at this, and hugged me back with his head in that way that horses do. It might be a daft thing to assume, but I think he realised that I’d been upset about something and wasn’t just there to annoy him this time. Heh. Following on from that, I cleaned out his stall, otherwise respectfully leaving him be. Later in the morning I gave him his feed. He had half a white cabbage in it, which he seemed really pleased about. It was nice to see. He does otherwise look quite fed up at the moment, and appears to be covered in hives. Poor Hokon.

Other than fussing Hokon for reasons he would find confusing even if I could explain them to him in a language he understood, I had a largely successful lesson in manoeuvring during a trot, on Kit this time. Although, I am much weaker at turning left than I am at turning right. This needs work. After that I was given five minutes to cool him down and then washed and groomed him. This was just as much fun as usual; he was largely well-behaved, but fidgety, and tried to nibble me whenever any part of me was close enough to his head for him to do so. He really likes having the top part of his neck groomed. He also sneezed right in my face while I was washing his. I found it hard to mind. Before I put him back, because he has some grazes on his back legs, I applied alcoholic antiseptic to them. This must have hurt because he kicked his legs trying to get me off him as I was doing it, but didn’t attempt to kick me – just sort of trying to get away from my hands. I got there in the end, and returned him to his stall.

Other than that I just did the usual sweeping, laundry and trying to look busy and keep out of trouble, although I’ve noticed recently that whenever I catch Max’s eye he pricks his ears forwards and looks pleased to see me, which is lovely. Especially considering there was a time when he tried to bite me every time I went near him! I knew we’d become friends.

I leave Japan a week tomorrow. It is going to be heartbreaking saying goodbye to all my equine friends!


‘Gravity plays favourites, I know it ’cause I saw…’

21 07 2012

I am very tired. I have finished all of my exams now and school is over, on top of which I didn’t get a full night’s sleep last night and was still out at 6am for a 7am start at riding club. What’s more, even though we’ve just had a couple of unseasonably cool days, the average temperature has risen sufficiently that the normal start time for the club will be put back to 06:30 every morning from Tuesday for the horses’ benefit. That said, now I have no other academic commitments there is no reason why I shouldn’t update every day after riding practice this next week before I come back to the UK. Heh.

Well, in the last few days I’ve been doing a lot of turning up and helping out, but I haven’t done a lot of riding. On Wednesday, I had a good long ride on Max, who on this occasion was willing, although I lost control of him a couple of times; I seem to be weak at turning to the left during a trot. This is undoubtedly because I don’t usually do it as much as turning left, which is something I would like to work on. Anyway, they made me trot around the full length of the dressage arena without saddles for a long time, so long my thighs started to hurt (in that nice, ‘FEEL THE BUUURN!’ sort of way). Heh. Then, I moved onto cantering practice. My sempai was happy with my ability to begin and end the canter, and with my ability to ride with the motions of it, but I have to admit that because I’m still not used to the speed I still find it a bit daunting, whenever I went into a canter I would grab onto the strap on the front of the saddle for security more than anything else. My sempai was shouting at me just to use the reins, but on this occasion I just couldn’t do it! Ah well, give me time to get used to it and I’ll become King Arthur for sure. Heh.

After that I did the usual wash, groom and return routine on Max. This was pleasant and uneventful. I’m certain that Max and I are friends now; he always seems to look pleased to see me, and he never gives me any trouble any more. This is especially rewarding for me considering there was a time when every time I went near him he tried to bite me (even succeeded on a couple of occasions).

And then on to today, which was my next riding day. It was more eventful than it should have been, considering I was only supposed to be giving Shirika her norikiri!

Shirika has not been well recently, apparently. I did overhear someone else being told what’s wrong with her, but my Japanese isn’t good enough to have understood it. With this in mind, the plan for her for today was for her regular rider (she’s one of the fourth years’ practice horses) to give her some basic flatwork exercise, and for me to then do her norikiri. However, her regular rider must have suspected she might cause problems, because rather than having me just mount up, slacken the reins and roam around freely, I was supervised and told to keep the reins short. The whole time, I had to keep pulling her back from her attempts to suddenly break into a trot back to walking pace, which resulted in a lot of jerky speeding up and slowing down, but I kept her under control.

After the time was up, her regular rider instructed me to ride her out into the yard and dismount, and it was seconds after I rode her out of the arena that she very suddenly jumped and broke into run. It caught me unawares, and I fell again. However, I was more relaxed this time, I think, and I’m pleased to report that I wasn’t left with any lasting pains anywhere. Shirika herself, after ridding herself of me, oddly just ran into the smaller circle-shaped arena and stopped, then turned around and gave me her characteristic ‘Northern look’.

I was left to wash and groom her afterwards, though, and she was fine from then on, so goodness only knows what was going through her mind. Silly mare!

I can’t quite believe I only have one more week of this now before my return to the UK. It’s crazy how fast the last four months have gone past. The previous semester didn’t go as quickly, and I like to think that it’s been participating in the riding club that’s not only made the time seem to fly, but also kept me going through what has otherwise been a bit of a tough time for me, actually. YAY HORSES!

If the shoe fits…

16 07 2012

There is no update from today. I was so exhausted from the previous day that while I got up and got ready to go to club practice, I ended up about-facing and going straight back home and to bed. I have spent most of today unintentionally lapsing in and out of sleep and I am still tired.

In a way I am glad I didn’t go. I received a notification from the club’s mailing list to say that during practice the nails in Kit’s hooves had come loose and left him shoeless, meaning he cannot be used for practice now. As he is the horse I seem to mainly be getting assigned to at the moment, I am relieved that this did not happen while I was riding him, as I have no idea how that might have gone down.  I hope that both Kit and anyone who might have practised on him today are okay!

I do this for love

14 07 2012

Yesterday carried on in much the same vein as Thursday. I rode Kit again, we did trotting practice. The second-year sempai who instructed me gave me minimal input, only telling me when to trot, when to slow, when to speed up and when to stop or turn, occasionally telling me I was leaning too far forwards or backwards and just saying, ‘Good,’ when I got myself in the correct position. At the end he said I was doing well, and that was it. One of the high-school students rode him directly after me, and we untacked, washed and groomed him together afterwards. He deferred to me because as (technically) a university first-year, in terms of rank I am above him. I wasn’t really comfortable with that, because while I’m confident that I know what I’m doing now, he’s been there longer than me and probably knows better than I do on a lot of things.

Today was a long but rewarding day. I didn’t ride myself, but we were hosting a dressage and show jumping competition at our riding school. This meant that our horses had all been shifted about in the stables to make room for the opposing university’s horses, who were all in situ in usually-unoccupied stalls when I arrived (late, because of a rare train delay). It started 15 minutes early with the usual chores, which were hurried because all the horses that weren’t competing had to be taken for walkies – at which point I kept out of trouble by hanging up washing and putting away clean towels.

The games themselves were full-on dressage, dressage in the smaller dressage arena for the less experienced (but still eminently capable) dressage practitioners and then show jumping. For me, this mainly meant standing around a lot, and then running in to help whenever the wooden poles needed adjusting or obstacles needed setting up.

It was a very long day, over the course of which the temperature crept up above 30 degrees and the humidity was crushing. We’d all been promised lunch, but in the end we didn’t get given it until gone four o’clock, by which time I was in such dire need of both sustenance and a sit down that it was taking all my powers of concentration not to pass out where I stood. I had crept off to eat a rice ball I’d bought at a convenience store before I arrived just to break a note for some change during a break in competitions when there was nothing to do, but a third year found me eating it and told me off, saying that eating during club activity time was forbidden. I apologised, explained I was so hungry I had started to feel sick and defiantly ate the last few mouthfuls in front of her anyway, but rice balls are only really very light snacks and it didn’t really help to keep me feeling full for the four hours that followed.

Nevertheless, it was nice to feel a part of what was going on, and I did feel proud when our team won most – but not all – of the awards. Our horses were obviously a bit stressed at the commotion, although many of them were also pleasantly inquisitive about what was going on, and while on a normal day they can often be recalcitrant and a bit belligerent, from the way they reacted whenever I approached one of them I felt as though on seeing me they were taking comfort from having a familiar person close by, which was lovely for me. Even Hokon let me beep him on the nose without grumpily trying to bite me!

Oh, and one of the opposing team’s horses appeared to be an Arab! It had the distinctive Arab head-shape. I was excited at seeing this, as I have often been carried away with the romanticism associated with the breed, but I saw why so many people have a problem with them and refer to them as ‘spooky nutters’. The horse in question was difficult about the simple act of being rode into the arena – apparently because it was far too interested in everything else – and then, after demonstrating it could do the rider’s bidding beautifully if it wanted to during the warm-up, flatly refused to jump with a haughty air about it when the time came and everyone’s eyes were on it and its rider. Having said that, I have completely fallen in love with the thoroughbred breed. Masochistic? Me?

In the end, when the other team had left and taken all of their horses with them and we’d finished clearing up the mess, our team captain gave us all an ice lolly, and called the event over. We started at 06:45; we finished at 17:30, having had a 45 minute break at around 16:00. I don’t even want to think about how many hours that was. And I don’t even get paid for this!…

We interrupt the scheduled programming…

12 07 2012

This is nothing to do with my riding endeavours, but it is relevant, and since according to my stats I get visitors from all over (presumably who share my love of all things equine) I thought I’d share it here.

Just over a year ago a very close friend of mine passed away unexpectedly. She was a horse-lover like myself, only she was so much more involved than I ever was; in addition to riding them and working with them, she studied them (and worked towards a degree in Equine Science), and even when she had to stop riding regularly because of real-life commitments as an adult, she continued to work as a volunteer for Redwings Horse and Donkey Sanctuary right up until her untimely death.

To try and continue her good work, her family have set up a page in memorial on Just Giving. If anyone would like to donate, please feel free to do so using that link.

Catch up!

11 07 2012

I went a few days without updating again, I’m sorry! I’m now in my final week of classes at university here, and my birthday happened at the weekend, so I’ve barely had time to catch up on myself let alone blogging and correspondence.

Anyway, on Saturday, which was my actual birthday (so I was really happy to be going riding!), I had a pleasant but unremarkable time. It started with the usual chores and so forth; my own time in the saddle was just in order to give Max his cool down from being practised on by other riders, but given that that pretty much meant I was left to roam around in the main riding ground (amongst the other riders – this indicates that I’m now deemed competent enough to do this, which is nice) wherever I liked for ten minutes and still afforded me valuable horse-control practice, I totally wasn’t complaining. I was also pretty much left to wash and groom him unassisted (but supervised, albeit with no input from my overseer) afterwards, too, which was nice – although one of the things I was told to do was to wash his privates and the surrounding area :S I didn’t mind, of course, and given that the gelding in question didn’t object in any way to my handling of him I guess I did an okat job of this, but it’s a bit of a weird thing to be able to say that you’ve done! I admit I was smirking to myself and thinking ‘Happy birthday to me!’ as I was doing it. Heh.

On Sunday I arose after just five hours’ sleep having rolled in some time around midnight to go to riding club again. I didn’t get to ride, but there was still plenty to do around the stables. The club was holding a barbeque in the afternoon which I had been looking forward to, but before we got to do that we had to do a bunch of gardening around the stables – pruning trees, pulling up weeds, taking plant waste in heaps up in wheelbarrows and dumping it on the mountainside, then finally redistributing the earthy substrate in the yard, which had been washed away to the outside edges by the rain. Unfortunately, because of this, I had to leave to go and meet a friend I’d arranged to go out with late in the afternoon just as the barbecue got lit, but I was at least praised very highly for just how tidy the areas I’d been left to get on with were – that’ll be the OCD again!

Then I was back today after two days’ rest. First of all I mucked out Napoleon’s stall. It amuses me that he’s such a soft, soppy horse when he’s so tall, handsome and elegant-looking with such an affected name. The whole time I was mucking out around him, he was smacking his lips together in that insecure-horse way. Out of respect for his nervous disposition I pretty much left him alone, just giving him a gentle nudge whenever I needed him to move out of my way, but it is really funny to watch when a horse is doing that, and it makes such a comical noise.

Immediately after that, I had a successful rising trot-practice lesson on Kit, who today did everything I asked him to first time. This went on for about 20 minutes, and then I gave him his norikiri for a further five minutes, then rode him out into the yard, dismounted without any assistance and lead him back to his stall, where I removed his tack and took it off to be put away. Then, I made him up a bucket of Pocari Sweat, but he seemed to decide that I was tastier; after having a little to drink, he moved on to vigorously licking my shoulder instead, expressing no further interest in the bucket I tried a few more times to wave under his nose. After that I was left completely unsupervised to wash and groom him all by myself. He was lovely the whole time, playfully trying to nibble me whenever I was standing close enough to his head for him to do so (although it startled me a bit when he started nibbling my bottom as I was bent down drying his hooves…) I cleaned his face, washed the area under his saddle and his legs/hooves, towel-dried him, groomed him and applied Hoof Hardener to the underside of his hooves as they are a bit soft and jagged. Then I asked a sempai to check I’d done everything right before putting him back. I even filled out his daily record sheet by myself this time – in Japanese and everyfink! I noticed it hadn’t been done for yesterday. Tut!

I must admit that after all that I didn’t really want to put young Kit back; I wanted to bring him home with me. I WANT ONE! I WANT TO DO ALL OF THAT EVERY DAY!

Amusing side note: I live an hour’s commute from the stables, and to get to club practice on time I have to get up at five o’clock in the morning, and leave my apartment for six. To save time, rather than taking my riding gear there and getting changed when I arrive, I put my riding clothes on before I leave and take a change of clothes with me. Today I forgot to do this, and so I had to return home smelling of sweat and horse and no doubt covered in Kit’s hairs for a shower and a change before attending my evening class. Heh.

An Ending of Sorts

6 07 2012

… No! Of course I don’t mean I’m quitting… at least not until I have no choice about it! I mean I’ve cleared my name by carrying out my sentence for my absence last week and have re-joined the ranks of those who are allocated to ride every day.

The horses were, in order of getting cleaned out: Max, Max again, Hokon and Kit. Heh.

It seems that my having been allowed to ride on Sunday must have been something to do with numbers, because I didn’t get to ride again until this morning after I’d cleared the final strike against my name. Today’s practice was trotting on Kit, who I was a bit nervous about riding again, understandably I think (especially after witnessing him spook and try to throw the boy who went before me, who is a much more experienced rider than I am).

He was okay today, though. All the mistakes were mine, but as I’ve always seemed to find with lessons recently I was rubbish and getting everything wrong to begin with and doing things right by the end of it. Today’s lesson seemed largely to be about getting to grips with controlling the horse in the main riding ground whilst trotting, and I learned some things I didn’t actually know until today. Like, if you want the horse to turn you can do it by kicking them in the opposite side to the direction you want them to go in, and how to time this. I feel a bit sorry for horses generally now, though; their whole existence seems to be about getting kicked in one manner or another and having to ascertain what was meant by the particular kind of kick they’ve been issued with!

Another nice thing I got to do recently was holding bowls of Pocari Sweat for the horses to drink while they were being washed/groomed after being ridden. In particular, Tosuka (who is a mare! As it turns out.) It seems the horses really like Pocari Sweat; Tosuka was so excited about getting to drink some that in her eagerness she accidentally inhaled some through her nostrils… and then snorted it back out in my face. This was adorable, and I found it hard to mind.

Also… the club is being featured in a weekly magazine here!

AERA Magazine

This is for AERA Magazine, a weekly opinion rag produced by the Asahi Shimbun. I am on the lookout for a copy of the issue so I can buy one for posterity! Fifth person in from the left (dressed all in black) in the main picture is me 😀 I’m famous!

Oh yes, and the horses are (left-right:) Yuki, Shirika and Max. The one in the other picture is Daria. Heh.