15 12 2013

I spent another very pleasant afternoon at the riding school with my volunteer hat on today. I managed to convince myself that even though I hadn’t mustered the energy to get going to be there any earlier it would still be worthwhile, and would do me a world of good to get out there rather than languishing indoors the whole day.

I was right, of course, and far from treating me as though I was somehow lazy or unhelpful for not being there any earlier, they were as gracious and welcoming as they have been on the previous occasions when I found them. It was a quiet Sunday this week and there wasn’t an awful lot to do, so I mainly swept up, kept water buckets topped up and tidied away tack and equipment that had been strewn across the floor throughout the day.

I’d like to blog about my interactions with the horses, though, you’ll be unsurprised to hear. On arriving and being told there wasn’t much to do, I went off to shovel up a pile of droppings I’d seen on one of the paths, took it to the muck heap and then went around to see Bramble, hoping for a similar reaction to the last time I called in on her. She wasn’t there, but Quarry was in the small paddock next to the outdoor stables, and on spotting me his ears pricked forwards and he whinnied loudly at me. That was a really wonderful reception!

When I did eventually see Bramble, in fact, it was some time later on in the afternoon after she’d come in from a lesson. She made the sort of noise Muttley (of Wacky Races/Catch the Pigeon fame) would make when I said hello to her, and although she greeted me with a snuffle of my hand, she wasn’t really interested in further interactions and retreated back into her stall, so I left her be. Soapy was similarly unbothered by my presence today, but I felt for her upon noticing that she still has an itchy foot.

Mid-afternoon I was asked if I wanted to lead in a children’s lesson. The ponies were Elvis and Li’l Legs; given the choice, I would have chosen Elvis, but I was handed Li’l Legs and told to wait outside for a moment because she’s frightened of him. (It turns out she’s frightened of Duke, too; we were sharing the indoor school with an adult rider who was having a semi-private lesson, and she was palpably wary as we walked along the poles that had been laid down to divide the school in half. Then she is only wee.) I enjoyed leading again, actually; I think I’ve got the hang of having a firm enough grip on the lead rope to be reassuring, but slack enough that the rider is free to control the pony. At first I didn’t even have a lead rope and was just hanging on to her inside rein, but I picked one up from the side of the school as we walked past and clipped it on while we were walking. The little girl I was riding was funny; at the start of the lesson, she was insistent that she didn’t want to trot at all, she just wanted to walk; by the end of it, she was begging me to let her have a canter. Heh. The girl had been wearing a Christmas jumper with a pom-pom on the front of it (it was supposed to be Rudolph’s nose), and when she was on the ground Li’l Legs kept trying to bite it.

After the lesson, I led Li’l Legs back into her stall, loosened her girth and tied her reins up because she had another lesson fifteen minutes later. Then I went across to the other yard to see if I could do anything there. It was swept up and all of the staff were just hanging around talking by the office, so I turned my attention to handsome Duke, who was staring at me again. This week, he was about as affectionate towards me as Bramble had been the previous week, and it was lovely. I looked over from him to see that Quarry was now back from the paddock and looking forlornly at me, as though he wanted some attention, so I went over to give him some. He responded amusingly, with his lips wiggling around all over the place, then giving me sloppy kisses on my hands and face before trying to remove my glasses in his mouth (I soon stopped him), when I heard a disgruntled-sounding nicker immediately behind me, saw Quarry pin his ears and reach over my shoulder. I turned my head, and saw Duke with his ears pinned attempting to bite Quarry through the bars on the front of his stall, then suddenly kicking the wall between the two stalls with a loud bang that made me jump. I asked Duke what was wrong and walked over to his stable door, and he walked back and stuck his head out to greet me again, giving me that daft baby-horse look and breathing on my face. There was a repeat performance of the horsey-posturing the next time I walked in the direction of Quarry’s stall. Ladies and gentlemen, I believe I have been the object of horsey jealously. As flattering as that was in a way, given its manifestation I decided to just go to the other end of the yard and pet the horses there instead. Duke continued to watch me the whole time I was on that yard, and was soppy and affectionate towards me whenever I approached him. It was funny when I physically couldn’t get into his stall to fill his water buckets because I was being mugged for attention.

When they said I could go, I waited in the foyer for a moment to send a text message before setting off home, when one of the owners came and told me there was no way I was walking down the road in the dark by myself, and said they’d arrange for someone to give me a lift. So one of the Interchangeable Emma’s dads gave me a lift home, which was nice. I was shocked to hear their disbelief that I’m completely happy to work at the stables for nothing, though; I couldn’t seem to make them understand that I love horses so much, and I’m so glad to have found a school where they’re so well taken care of without all of the elitism that’s assumed to go hand-in-hand with equestrianism that I was just glad to be able to help out in exchange for more time around the animals.

Tomorrow is my final riding lesson of the year. I’m actually finding myself really hoping that I get paired up with Duke again, partly because I think it’s good for me having to face a bit of a challenge, and partly because I’ve been told a number of times by experienced riders that if you’re friends with a horse that bond carries over into your relationship with them from in the saddle. For having seen him (if only briefly) being ridden by someone else in a private lesson, I’d also be really interested to give that a go myself at some stage in the New Year – I know that horses behave very differently when they’re on their own to when they’re around other horses, and I’d be interested to see how different he would be.

I was going to sign off this post with a video I recorded of some of the geldings all running around together in the indoor school, but my internet connection doesn’t want to upload it fast enough and I’d like to go to bed now, so you’ll have to wait until tomorrow’s exciting update 🙂



Messy Christmas

11 12 2013

Since I really haven’t been making the most of my stable-visiting rights since I was made an official volunteer at the riding school, this weekend I saw to put that to rights. I won’t lie – on Sunday morning I snoozed after my alarm went off and struggled to get myself moving when I eventually did get out of bed, meaning that in the end I didn’t make it to the stables until about 11am, but it didn’t really matter in the end – when I got there, they just seemed really happy that I’d come at all.

As it turned out, it was a really good day to show up. Unbeknownst to me, the school was having its Christmas fayre, and they were really busy as a consequence. Admittedly this meant that I saw some things that made me cringe and feel sorry for what the poor equids had been subjected to – mostly, there were horses pulling carts decked out to look like sleighs while wearing antlers, and two of the small, white ponies were on display in temporary stalls with tinsel plaited into their manes, Santa hats secured under their head collars and red and green glitter glue on their hooves. Poor things.

The day proved to be utterly delightful in spite of that, and I bit my tongue and told myself that much as the horses concerned deserved to have had their dignity spared, the day was helping to raise the profile of the school and make money that would go towards their keep. My first job of the day was leading pony rides, which was a nice job I could live with, and all the better for it bringing me into direct contact with the ponies!

I was paired up with Paddy. In terms of appearance, he is practically indistinguishable from Elvis, so I mistakenly thought that that was who he was to begin with (and apologised to him afterwards when I realised my mistake). I have ridden Paddy once before. He is a very cheeky and random wee fellow. The Interchangeable Emma who handed him over to me warned me that if I didn’t watch him he’d try to ‘get’ me, and demonstrated that he just really loved attention, specifically in the form of you pulling your cuff over your hand and vigorously rubbing his lips with it. She demonstrated, and it was clear that he really did love that, so I did the same and got a similar response. From that, when I was stood not giving him attention, he would attempt to nip at my arms with his teeth, but I gently bopped him on the nose before he ‘got’ me and t0ld him off for being rude. After that he decided to lean on me instead, and one of the Interchangeable Emmas told him off for being lazy. Heh. He was an awkward bugger when I was leading him, frequently stopping and having to be dragged on forwards, but I was surprised by how easy I found it to talk to the children as I was leading them around, which was a requirement of the job. Many of them hadn’t ridden a horse before and were understandably quite nervous, but I think they all left with a smile on their face, which is good.

Following that we led the ponies back in and untacked them, and had a break for lunch while the raffle and nativity took place in the indoor arena. I looked in on a bit of that while I ate the homemade soup I’d taken with me, but as soon as I had finished eating I went charging off to be around the horses again, partly to be around in case anything needed doing and partly just because I wanted to be around the horses. Here, I interacted with Blue, the friendly-but-spooky horse who only the instructors are allowed to ride, who was watching all the people intently, and locked onto me as soon as I neared his stall, nuzzling at me as though for reassurance. I gave his neck and withers a rub and his lips went all trembly, and he inclined his head towards me, until he’d obviously decided he wanted me to change sides, at which point he made this clear in the same way cats do when you’re scratching them behind the ear.

A passing child who seemed to know all the horses rather well told me that the reason why Blue is so nervous is because Benno had kicked him. I think he’s probably just an insecure young horse, really, but Benno kicking him can’t really have helped much, especially as he’s relatively new to the school. Benno was in the next stall sticking his nose out, so I went over to say hello, but all I got was haughtiness, so I went and fussed Dandy instead, the tall, inquisitive bay horse I spoke of in my previous entry on volunteering. He was similarly receptive to me as Blue, and that was lovely. I overheard someone saying that Bramble was in the outdoor stables, so I went off to say hello to her, calling in on Paddy on the way past, who pricked his ears up and walked over to brofist me with his nose. I think I made a friend!

When I called in on Bramble she had her hindquarters to me, but the horse in the stall next to her, who I didn’t know, had his head out, so I went and said hello to him. His (he might have been a she, I don’t know!) reaction to me was very much, ‘Ooh hello, a person!’ – he seemed delighted that someone had come to see him, but since I was no-one he knew and I didn’t have any food he quickly lost interest and went back to his hay.

Bramble’s reaction to me, however, was off the scale, and was really what made my day, all in all. When I returned to her stall door, she was facing me, but was stood having a wee. I’d already called out, ‘Hello, Bramble!’ before I’d realised this, and her eyes were fixed on me as she went about it. She looked so pretty in spite of the activity she was engaged in, and I got my phone out to take a picture of her once she’d finished her business, only she didn’t give me a chance to take a picture, for as soon as she was done she marched forwards to the stall door, stuck her head out and demanded my affection, nuzzling at my hands, resting her poll on me and gently nibbling at me with her lips, sniffing at my face, companionably exchanging breath with me and inclining her head with trembling lips as I stroked her withers. She seemed genuinely happy that I was there, and considering that she is known for being a grumpy and obstreperous mare, that was really lovely.

Eventually I tore myself away from Bramble to go and see where I could help out. The visitors were already dwindling in number by this stage so it was mainly a case of commencing clearing up. I went around to the RDA yard (this is the one on the opposite side, which had been closed to the public for the purposes of the day) to see if there was anything I could help with; Li’l Legs, the smallest pony, was being manhandled back to her stall, and let’s just say it was fairly clear that she wasn’t happy at having been made a laughing stock with her embellishments. Only when they took the tinsel out of her mane and sponged off the glitter glue did she calm down, after which she retired to her stall, where she stuck her nose in some hay on the floor and quietly sulked, leaving her roommate, wee chestnut mare Lily, to handle the PR. In the next stall was Maddy, who was not in a good mood. She pinned her ears when I said hello to her, and was attempting to bite Lily through the bars in front of her stall (although she couldn’t actually reach her).

So, I helped by sweeping up all the discarded tinsel, glitter and other rubbish. I was amused, as I did this, by the way that all the horses were intently watching what I was doing. As the public filed out and the fayre drew to a close, I moved on to sweeping up outside while the Interchangeable Emmas mucked out the stalls, and pushing the wheelbarrows to the muck heap. The muck heap is quite a feat of engineering; it’s just a pile of manure that’s been strategically built up so it has its own ramp for you to push the barrow up along to the top. Quite the baptism of fire for my new Doctor Marten’s boots. Heh.

Other than that, I was mainly involved in sweeping, filling water buckets, cleaning out feed buckets and putting them out to dry. With it not being a normal day, we finished early so I was able to walk home in the light. Of course, I did all my my chres with frequent breaks to fuss and talk to the horses. Heh.

I promised a happy anecdote about Duke, didn’t I? Well, mid-afternoon we took another short break. Feeling slightly awkward as I did about spending this with a bunch of people who knew each other really well in which I was the odd man out, I made an extended trip to the bathroom. When I came out, I could see through the glass of the fire door to the yard that he lives on that he had his head out of his stall (which I have never seen before) and was looking right at me. Quarry was doing the same in the next stall along, and they looked funny both looking at me, so of course I went to say hi to both of them in turn. While it was nothing like the reception Bramble had favoured me with earlier in the day, Duke seemed genuinely happy to see me, and graciously accepted my fusses. (Quarry did too, but there was nothing unusual about that.) Furthermore, later on as I made my final water-check and went in to top his buckets up, he actually looked up from his hay and acknowledged me as I entered his stall.

I am sure that all the affection I received from the horses on this day was really just a result of them being a bit stressed about the yard being busier than they’re used to, and seeing a calm and familiar person who was on hand to give them some attention was of reassurance to them. Nevertheless, it’s still nice, and I’m loving that I’m getting to know all of their personalities.

I suppose you’d like some photos?…